A few months ago, in March, near the end of the fearful Year of the Pandemic, I reached out to an old friend because I knew he had written a script three or four decades ago for a book that became the basis of a wildly popular Netflix series. I remembered that the script had been optioned, but his name was not included among the credits. I wondered what the hell happened. That query led to a fond reunion in the shape of some back-and-forth on email (I don’t recall what he told me about the script; possibly his agent dropped the ball) and we fell back into our old accustomed banter, first in cyberspace and later in a phone conversation. We initially met long, long ago in the 1980s, when I was an editor at a moderately “hot” women’s magazine, and he was a rising journalist in the ranks of even hotter and more sophisticated publications. He was married, I was married, but we carried on a bit of a flirtation nonetheless.
I’d always admired him, and sort of lusted after him, and now here we were nearly 40 years later. And I immediately plead guilty to a certain amount of come-hither badinage that probably went on far too long. The next thing I knew, he sent me a photo of his penis at half mast with words to the effect, “Wait till you see how it looks tomorrow.”
I was floored. I’d thought this sort of thing went out of fashion a decade ago when Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress for sexting obscene material to a minor. But maybe not. The Jeff Bezos scandal three years back intimated that The National Enquirer had photos of him below the belt, but he deftly quashed the brouhaha by threatening legal action.
Now, of all the courtship rituals indulged in by the male of the species, sending photos of your penis, whether lightly draped or proudly unsheathed, has to rank among the most bizarre and, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented in the whole of human history. I can’t think of a single notable heterosexual lover, from Napoleon to James Bond to Regé Jean-Page, who was caught wooing with the kind of visuals intended to demonstrate "Hey, baby, I got a great big package for ya!"
I would have thought that Representative Weiner's antics put an end to that trend in Internet "dating" (I use quotes here because it seems there was not so much as lunch or a martini involved....just a solicitation to online hanky panky). The behavior, for a time, seemed not limited to teenage boys with locker-room fixations about dick size, but afflicted even males of a certain age, whether married or divorced or simply looking to impress.
My long-lost New York pal’s behavior recalled, for me, a time when I was living on Upper West Side in the early aughts. I had re-entered the online dating frenzy, and received an email from someone totally unknown to me. Part of her handle read "beyondlove," and the subject line was "thank you." It didn't look like spam, so I opened it. My correspondent informed me that she was distressed that her boyfriend of eight months had been writing to me over Christmas of the previous year. "He carelessly left open an email on my computer," she informed me (I guess to let me know that she hadn't taken the initiative and broken into his account). She told me she'd discovered that "David" had sent me photos of his dog and his house at the shore. Now I was never really a promiscuous emailer, one who maintained multiple correspondences and then forgot the names of her prospects—but I could not for the life of me remember this guy.
So I asked for more details and "beyondlove" sent a few. The dog was a golden retriever, and the house was a beautiful shingled Cape with a pretty front porch. And then it all came tumbling back to me. Yes, we’d been flirting online around Christmas time. Because I was dateless over the holidays, I had posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a yuletide companion. Nothing too naughty, at least for starters: hot chocolate and tree trimming, like in some stupid-ass Nancy Meyers romcom.
David seemed like a good possibility, even if he was many miles away. We'd gone to the same college; he sounded smart and savvy and directed me to the website for his law firm, where his official corporate portrait showed a man I would definitely trust to defend my interests in court. He also sounded a bit full of himself (women, he wrote, would get in line for his favors), but I played along and sent a couple of photos. Then came his of the house and the dog. And a short time later, he emailed me himself in the altogether, his face cut from the photo, holding a kielbasa-sized erection.
And now I was really turned off. Not at the size or heft of his member—which were both indeed impressive—and not because this was the first dick pic to come my way. A few times I posted ads on Craigslist looking for a "mature relationship" or something resembling a reasonable first date, and the response was, in at least a half-dozen instances, a photo of the respondent's pride and glory. Sometimes with a line or two of text, sometimes without.
What is wrong with these guys? An informal poll of my women friends reveals that they find this tactic extremely puzzling, if not downright vulgar. I can only assume that since men get the hots for all sorts of revealing photos of the female anatomy, they assume the ladies will have the same reaction. And drop everything to run down to Starbucks for a coffee date.
But to the best of my knowledge, the parallel ploy to arouse interest with what is known in the porn trade as the “money shot” simply doesn't work on women. Whenever I received one of these, I would giggle or gulp and then pass it on to my best gay male friend, who had more of an appreciation for the subject matter.
“Beyondlove” and I had a few more exchanges. My advice was to dump David: if he "cheated" online, how far would he go outside cyberspace? I never brought up the subject of his cock shot....the woman was in enough pain without further details. But I realized, post Weiner's wiener, that at the time, in my saved mail, I held enough evidence to seriously mess up "David's" career, if I chose to go in that direction. Or if he chose to go into politics.
As for my friend from the ‘80s, I’ve scarcely heard from him again. I felt deeply embarrassed, and when we did try to catch up on Zoom, we discovered there was nothing there but a few fond and moldering memories.
My advice to any men reading this post, single or tempted to stray, is to keep it classy, and remember Robert Herrick's advice to women four centuries ago. Simply translate the duds into tight jeans and a shirt unbuttoned just so:
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction:
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher:
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly:
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat:
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
Or just send the poem. She'll be at Starbucks in no time flat.