An old episode from HBO’s The Sopranos—though, I guess all Soprano episodes are old now—entitled “Camelot” has a scene with a woman who claims to have enjoyed an affair with John F. Kennedy.
She tells Tony Soprano that what she learned from the experience is that when you’re dating a powerful man, you better be sure that you make him feel powerful. That line left me pondering the value of looking beyond the surface when cementing a connection with someone, as well as two specific incidents in my life.
I was at a nightclub when I bumped into a stranger who looked like she had slid off the cover of a fashion magazine and onto the dance floor. This was some time ago. But even though I can’t remember what she was wearing exactly, I remember how I felt when I saw her outfit: stirred.
So, I approached the stranger and said, “Damn, you really stand out tonight.”
She smiled and then we enjoyed a conversation.
There’s a sublime comfort in recognizing the moment when someone has finally seen your invisible qualities. Maybe it’s because the invisible traits are the ones we truly value. Or perhaps it’s on account of knowing that someone who’s able to perceive the nuances in our selves is someone who genuinely sees us. The woman was certainly fashionable, but when I spoke to her I chiefly praised her pursuit of individuality. She wanted to look good but she also wanted to stand out, something I likely noticed because I also value standing out. So, though she appreciated my noticing her fashion, she also took delight in my understanding what she was saying with her fashion.
Another time, I was volunteering in Ecuador.
I was part of a group of people who were helping to refurbish an orphanage. But a lot of the time we just played with babies. Blind babies. Abandoned babies. Developmentally challenged babies. All cute babies. And out of the 20 or so infants, only one of them had dark skin. In fact, other than any time I looked in the mirror, that baby was the only dark skinned person I ever saw on the property.
When we first walked into the nursery where all of the children were playing, half of the Spanish-speaking staff almost instantly let out a collective “Awww!” in flawless harmony.
I’d like to think that every once in a while I have this effect on people but, this time, it wasn’t me. It was the baby girl with dark skin. She saw me and, while wobbling on both feet and soaked in a blackness that matched my own, wore a smile that threatened to push her cheekbones behind her ears. I couldn’t stop myself. I had to smile back because I knew exactly what she was feeling:
Neither of us was alone in the world.
There are also more understated moments when it seems that our hearts have eyes. I love dancing. So when I meet a partner who seems to instinctively understand how a good song gives a soul orgasms—and how deep the connection exists between our souls and our soles—I have the pleasure of recognizing everything from the curves to the colors of someone else’s clandestine love affair with music, and having mine recognized as well.
But these unspoken connections aren’t always a matter of “it takes one to know one.” People whom I don’t know to be writers offer me feedback almost as frequently as those I know to write regularly. And with writing, more than being told that I’m good with words, or that I’m funny, or that my grammar is correct, I really appreciate when someone says that I’m brave with words, because sometimes writing is scary.
And one doesn’t have to be a writer to recognize when someone else is taking a risk.
The Soprano character’s philosophy about powerful men also made me think about dating’s more combative side. Like it or not, power is always going to play a role in our adventures of sex, dating and love. And some of the coldest (but truest?) advice I’ve ever received is that the person who cares least about a relationship is the most powerful person in the relationship.
Personal experience confirms this for me. I’ve definitely had great first dates where I was willing to put in work to make the second date happen. But when the other person felt less enthusiastic—and could go on the date, or not, and be fine—the power rested in her palms.
Additionally, power in relationships shifts like boats in a storm because of the unpredictability of humans. One day you’re in love and the next you’re just not that into the person, or the situation, or your status as a heterosexual, anymore. And that precariousness can complicate really seeing whom a person is which, no matter the nature of the relationship, can be hazardous, which is partly why it’s so important to be deliberate when learning a person.
In the 17th century, France’s Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, was trying to get on the good side of the king, Louis XIV. So he threw a party at his recently completed chateau, Vaux-le-Vicomte. The event, on the surface, was supposed to be about the new pimped out pad, but was really Focquet’s attempt at climbing social and political ladders.
The celebration was a plush affair with the finest food, music, booze and even fireworks. All of the most important people were present, at Nicolas Fouquet’s home—which was more extravagant than the king’s castle. But, of course, the king was honored and thanked for attending.
Nevertheless, three weeks later, Fouquet was locked away in prison—by order of the king, and spent the last 20 years of his life in solitary confinement for trumped up charges.
Instead of flattering Louis, Fouquet humiliated him by failing to see the invisible: King Louis XIV was young, arrogant, and always had to be the center of attention. And Nicolas Fouquet had upstaged him, even though he was only trying to show Louis a good time, and flatter him, and keep the object of his affection close to his side—like we all do when we’re in love, or lust
But Fouquet failed. He took his shot and he missed.
There’s another old HBO show where a gay scarface would roam the streets of Baltimore, toting a shotgun and a stolen drug stash while spouting the occasional maxim like, “All in the game.”
One of his sayings feels especially apropos at the moment, in light of Fouquet’s downfall and the importance of taking care to look beyond the obvious—and the surface—when trying to build relationships that matter:
“When you come at the king, you best not miss.”
Author: Quentin Lucas
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Philip Edmondson/Flickr