Any good lingerie comes in a set. This is the second part; here's the first.
I am, right now, dating one man, occasionally fucking another, and enjoying intense sexting with a couple others whom I may or may not meet. It hardly matters. They give good words, and I careen through the day with a hot, wet, clamoring little knot in my cunt. I could not be happier. I owe it all—this sexual renaissance, this renewed slutification of me, this rebirth of delighted promiscuity—to a $236 set of lingerie and an epiphany.
My therapist’s office has walls the reassuring color of Cream of Wheat, just as had her last office, and the one before that. My X bailed on me on Labor Day; the day after, I called my therapist for an appointment. I hadn’t seen her in more than two years, our six-year relationship having wound down to conversations about politics and the stunning blind hypocrisy of Maureen Dowd. On my end, I didn’t see the purpose of paying my therapist to talk about things that I could discuss with my friends for free; on her end, she pronounced me “integrated.” We parted ways.
Reeling in the aftermath of the bailing of the X, the emotional tender debris strewn about, flotsam and jetsam eddying in my psychic stream, memories and moments bumping up against my consciousness’ pilings and shaking them seismic, I called my therapist. Her name, like my name, is Chelsea, which is to say that neither one of us is named Chelsea but the name that isn’t Chelsea is the same.
Freud would have a field day with that last sentence.
My first visit to Chelsea passed in a red-rimmed miasma of pain—pure, primal emo history and a handful of Kleenex. The second one cleared the clouds slightly, as if a big straw broom swept across the psychic sky. The third one, though, that was when I had my lacy unmentionable epiphany.
I told my therapist about the last time I’d seen my X, the hour in the park when he’d dissertated on all that was wrong with me and all that had pushed him to bail: my negativity, how I didn’t listen to him, my taking him for granted, and the fact that we weren’t sexually compatible. I told my therapist how I’d left that park and walked to a tony lingerie store where I had a $100 gift certificate, and how I spent that plus about $200 more. I told her how, previous to getting sized in one side-eyed glance by my saleswoman, I had no idea of my bra size. And I told her how previous to purchasing this ridiculous expensive confection of a bra (and the subsequent four I bought online thereafter, drunk with the knowledge of my actual bra size and the pleasure of the feel of a well-fitting bra) I’d been wearing a friend’s hand-me-downs.
“Chelsea,” my therapist said in her Long Island accent, “you can’t wear second-hand underwear!”
They were nice, I said. Really expensive castoffs from a friend who’d had a breast reduction, I said. They were lovely, I said. Really, I said. Much nicer than I could afford, I said. I protested, perhaps too much.
My therapist tented her fingers and narrowed her eyes. “Have you considered how your X is like your hand-me-down underwear?” she asked. No, I hadn’t. My X, you see, was lovely. All physical beauty and internal fortitude. What were a few worn places, a bit that needed mending, a spot of slag, the not altogether impeccable fit? I loved the X and his unspeakable history. I felt comfortable in the low susurration of pain. I recognized myself in those small tears, that bit of bagginess, this occasional poke in the ribcage.
I turned it over in my mind, the image of this one purple bra that, once sleek with elastic snap, now sported one nearly severed strap. I thought of my X in the park, his patient, relentless, self-righteous juggernaut of cruelty. In the split screen of my mind, I saw the bra on one side, my X with his ancient tattoo gone blurry to resemble corn blight on the other. I realized what you already have; she was right: my X was exactly like my hand-me-down bras. He was not, as I liked to see him, a magic vintage leather jacket, all glamorous patina and flawless cut. He was the second-hand bra, the best I could do for myself in my limited circumstances. He was, I realized, settling.
And this was the epiphany: that I had accepted this man and his poor fit in my life just as I had accepted wearing my friend’s second-hand underwear—as a matter of course and as sign that this was the very best I could do. It wasn’t. It isn’t.
These days, I know what I want: caressing unmentionables, intriguing men, luxurious sex, sparkly conversation, the comingling of the previous, and the quiet satisfaction of the door shutting when it’s over. I don’t know where I’m going with this juggling fine experimental phase, this sexual walkabout. I don’t know that it matters. I do know it’s not settling and that it fits me, exquisitely.
And at the root of it, there’s a certain logic to the unmentionables metaphor. In his mock-heroic narrative poem “The Rape of the Lock,” Alexander Pope called the petticoats of imperiled heroine Belinda’s her “sev’n-fold fence,” charging fifty sylphs with the fortification of her corset, hoops, and assorted underclothes. Wittingly or no, Pope understood the imperative of the unmentionables. Visible only in glimpse and flash to others, they are things women wear closest to their naked flesh, signifying intimacy. To we who wear them, however, they are the very personification of how we see ourselves.
Lingerie, underthings, underwear, foundation garments. Underneath it all, these little bits of fabric and fancy, of boning and lace, speak volumes about a woman’s relationship with herself. We all have to compromise, but we don’t have to settle. I don’t wear my stupid crazy expensive privileged set of underwear every day, but I could. Lucky is the man—or men—who gets to see me in it.