Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On "Sex, Lies, and Cruising" by Cathryn Chapman **

After recently reading a couple of indie titles that surprised me with their quality, I decided again to try another such title. As a piece of chick lit, this one was obviously not aimed at me in terms of being its primary audience, and my ultimate interest in it suffered as a result.

Ellie is a Brit chick who goes to work on a cruise ship following her boyfriend's breakup with her. She figures some time focusing on fun, on dating around, and on her photography career is what she needs. The ship is an ideal spot for such. She sees great sites. There are lots of available men, and no one is interested in anything too serious.

The problem is that Ellie actually is interested in something serious, as much as she tells herself she isn't. So when each guy she gets involved with seems interested primarily in casual sex--despite his protestations to the contrary--she is ultimately disappointed. Complicating things is a woman named Maria, whose ex Ellie sleeps with during her early days on board. Maria, as it turns out, isn't nice to anyone, however. And like most, she's out for a good time mostly, though she'd gladly settle in with one rich guy. Much of the plot ends up revolving around Maria revenging herself on others and them revenging themselves on her. She's malicious, but she's smoking hot, I suppose, because men keep falling for her--and regretting it.

Ellie is pulled into all kinds of quick-sex relationships and is frequently surprised and disgusted at herself and her actions. She reminded me a bit of a woman I went out with occasionally twenty or so years ago, who would often fall for almost any guy that took a "liking" to her.

I say "almost" because even Ellie has standards, which is perhaps what made for the most intriguing part of this book to me: what women want. She didn't like George, a kind fat guy who tried to make conversation with her one night at a dance club. She didn't like some other guy on the beach who talked endlessly about himself, though she pretended to like him to get another guy jealous and to eventually land him.

Who did she like? Confident friendly men who were "not like the other guys," who were nice, and who treated Ellie as if she were really what they wanted, as if she were special and sexy. And they were curious about her, her life, and her ambitions. Each started off as a friend who quickly ramped up to lover status when some other guy seemed played out.

I was never very good at dating. I lacked confidence, and I probably didn't do a good enough job making the woman feel as if she was really wanted by me sexually or that she was terribly special. Part of this was for religious reasons--my aims weren't primarily sexual but marital (not that the two need be exclusive, but I tried hard to keep the first pushed down until the latter was clearly in sight, which generally became never). (The want always seemed hard to play, as well, because if you want too much, almost any given person will run away: we want what we can't have, as the old adage goes.) The "special" part was also not something I was good at, and still, now that I'm married, I find difficult to make happen, perhaps because I'm not one to throw out compliments lightly--mostly because of men like those Ellie keeps falling for. Words are cheap; actions speak so much more of what we feel. But we need both, as Ellie's experience shows.

At the heart of each of the seeming strongly sexual characters in this book (save perhaps for the predatory men Ellie falls for) is a vulnerability each is hiding. Almost no one is as confident as they seem; they are playing a role, trying to fulfill some nitch that their parents expect of them by attracting the right kind of partner or, if not able to do that, at least more of them. That is perhaps the hardest part of love, that until we are willing to be vulnerable and hurt, we likely won't find it, and some, willing to expose that vulnerability, end up being hurt over and over and over and over.

Interested readers can sample and purchase Chapman's book here.

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