Wale Ayinla

I am lying on my back, on the bed where M. lies half-naked. The fan in her hand swooshes as it cools sweat off her body, and the sun filters in through the half-raised curtain. This is the third time M. is visiting me, and on every occasion, there has been a sexual flame around us, one which pushes us into the world of ecstasy, a devotion of wants. 

I think of what the world around me calls people like us, people not bound by a defined relationship, people matched together by sexual innuendos and satisfaction. In the words of Harold Kushner when expressing his concern about a generation of young people growing up afraid to love in When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: “…it hurts that they would have seen the risk of loving and have it not work out.” He further expressed his fear by believing that  they will grow up looking for intimacy without risk, for pleasure without significant emotional investment. “They will be so fearful of the pain of disappointment that they will forgo the possibilities of love and joy,” he concluded.

In an article titled ‘It’s Normal to be Scared of Love’ on MindBodyGreen, Sheryl Paul admits that so many people are scared of relationships because they have a fear of love. This is an unhealthy yet true assertion – the body gets lost in its waywardness toward uncertainty. This also explains the cynicism around love and commitment among young people. Most of us have been there: the heartbreak, grief, and the constant betrayal of hearts.


It’s a Monday afternoon and the first time I choose to be idle, not because of the unavailability of work but because of stress-induced fatigue carried from the weekend. M. beckons me to join her on the bed, her face burning with passion. Her back arched, leaving details of her body displayed on the bed. I make an excuse for the heat, how uneasy it makes me, and how it disorients my immune system. She will not accept that feebleness, and I am not bowing to the pressure of her pulls. I whip out my phone and start making notes. 

Look at me and look at you
Look at what you made me do
Look at me and look at you

Lana del Rey’s ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ cements this moment. These past few months have been my most vulnerable moments. Found love, made love for the first time, walked into the arms of someone I did not love but was available for sex. The bewilderment of freedom. I am opening myself, yet torn I am between different worlds. Isn’t it strange how indifferent we become when we are unconventional? I am given to the world, over and over again. I learn to live every moment, every day, in my lover’s arms and voice. This isn’t sexual objectification. It is uncertainty towards the changing power of desire. A need to be wanted. “Everyone wants to know more about love,” bell hooks writes. We want to know what we can do to love and be loved in our everyday lives.

I am being filtered through music, my feelings made into a wing lost in rhythm. I am obsessed with the devotion with which I encounter every song. Today, my playlist is filled with songs that sharpen my eyesight to the situations around me. Lyrics that are devoid of selves. 

Love as a word is harmless, but to what degree do we decide what can be inarticulate yet loud, and dangerously present in our lives? It is common to note that we encounter ourselves every day through people. The idea of other people perceiving us as loving or loveless is a disadvantage that directs us towards already established cynicism. Zadie Smith believes that the greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free. In the words of Toni Morrison, “Love is never any better than the lover.”


“Can we pretend we’re back before this all started?” Chelsea Cutler sings in ‘310 Bowery.’ 

What do we make of beginnings? The first time of things. My first sex was with M. It was steamy and lasted over an hour. It was strange to view myself wilding, being driven by and by in the wheels of pleasure. It had its magic, being my first time. I had wished it were with someone I loved, but M.’s sexual prowess covered up her flaws. How easy for me to say that I shared my body with someone I couldn’t share my heart with. How easy it is to make a disparity between love and desire, between wants and needs.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asks after, holding the bedspread over her breasts.
I look at her, wordless, not because I don’t have the answer but because of the austereness around the declaration. I have a girlfriend. I shuffle for the right words not to make M. feel used and make me feel less guilty. This is the thin line between love and what bell hooks calls “sexual obsession.” 


At what point do we fall out of love with one person and embrace the love of another? Whether partly or completely? Suffice it to say that love expires. It is diminished by time. Time’s role in all of this is accurately justified. Growing up as a Christian, I was taught that love is kind and patient. At what level does love feel stretched or overstretched? Do we grow in and out of love? In one instant, you feel like your world depends on a person and that you cannot do without them. Then the next moment, you feel lost in your world with them in it. 

In 2015, Jean Twenge and Ryne Sherman published the ‘Archives of Sexual Behavior’, which has been widely cited, claiming that millennials have fewer sex partners than previous generations. This is a surprising conclusion when placed with bell hooks’s assertion that her young listeners believe that love is for the naïve, the weak, and the hopelessly romantic. In her words, “Their attitude is mirrored in the grown-ups they turn to for explanations.”

There is a place of greed in every romantic pursuit, negating the purpose of love’s calling. Sharon Salzberg puts it this way: “The fading away of greed and hatred is the foundation for liberation.” She continues, “Liberation is the sure heart’s release—an understanding of the truth so powerful that there is no turning back from it.”

I must confess that bell hooks’s All About Love is an essential book for this discourse. The author opines that to live our lives on the principles of a love ethic (that is, showing care, respect, knowledge, integrity, and the will to cooperate), we must be courageous. We need to bear the light of love through our hearts and daily interactions with people.

I may be wrong about love, and my interpretations might be biased, but narcissism is not an enabler of love; instead, it breeds contempt, alienation, and emotional desecration.


M. texts me two days later.

She is hurt, not because I love someone else but because I deprived her of sex when she wanted it. I have thought about this many times: do I want to be cut open by the desires I cannot tame? Many of our choices stem from loneliness and despair. My girlfriend lives three hours away from me. This is my first shot at a long-distance relationship, and it feels like my heart is in two different places.

I am living on the words of Sam Sax in ‘Kaddish’:

I wonder what they found when they cut him open

Wings, I bet, I bet they found wings.

How fleeting emotions can be. How both instant and far away love can be. How loveless we can be made by constant gratification of pleasures, over-commitment, and loyalty. To love is to be intentional. To love is to give wholly what can be shared. 

Wale Ayinla is a Nigerian poet, essayist, and editor. He is the author of To Cast a Dream (Jai-Alai Books, 2021), selected by Mahogany Browne for the 2020 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize. His works recently appeared on Guernica, Cosmonauts Avenue, Strange Horizon, North Dakota Review, South Dakota Review, TriQuarterly, Rhino Poetry, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He has a Pushcart Prize nomination and several Best of the Net and Best New Poets Award nominations, and in 2020, he was a finalist for numerous prizes, including the Jack Grapes Poetry Prize. His manuscript, Sea Blues on Water Meridian, was a finalist for the inaugural CAAPP Book Prize and the 2020 Sillerman First Book Prize.

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