I tossed and turned in bed. I had reached a certain age and like most men at that moment I began to peer over the hedge into the second half of life. Somehow it seemed like a shock that I would never be with another woman. I knew this was the marriage vow I had taken many years earlier—the words “forsaking all others” echoed in my ear—but it was as if I was reading the fine print of a contract I had happily and hastily signed in a moment of heady romance. Now I was wondering how I was going to make good on this contractual agreement. No one? Ever? For as long as we both shall live?
It didn’t matter how beautiful or loving my wife was; she is both. The question really had nothing to do with her. Nonetheless, for the health and survival of my marriage I knew that my attraction to other women and the desires that threatened the rhythms of my family life needed to be answered. The more I stuffed these desires under the sofa cushions or kicked them back under the bed, the more insistent their shrill voices became. And the more an unspecified irritation and impatience crept into my relationship with my wife. I saw marital resentment, emotional detachment, and worse starting to lay siege to our home. I needed to know how any man—or woman—could possibly and joyfully forsake all others for one other person.
The next morning I awoke with a jolt as if I had been shaken. I couldn’t stop thinking about Don Juan—the universal symbol of passion and the endless quest for pleasure. What would make the world’s greatest lover give up his endless liaisons and commit to one woman for a lifetime? How would he have fused his endless lust with an enduring love? And what if he had kept a diary? What secrets would it contain?
What could I learn for my own relationship with my wife?
Over the next month the entire first draft of the novel wrote its way through me in a long ecstatic embrace of the Muse. And then of course the honeymoon ended even with my Muse. I continued researching and revising for five more years as I tried to do justice to Don Juan’s fascinating world of Golden Age Spain. I slept in an active convent, took lessons in Spanish dancing, and lay on an actual rack that the Inquisition used to torture its victims. In the process I learned a great deal about love and passion that are as relevant today as they were four centuries ago. Here are five of Don Juan’s secrets that I learned in working on his diary.
The Secret of True Passionate Love: When the Lost Diary begins, Don Juan believes only in the reality of lust and dismisses what he calls the “madness of love.” In our cynical time, we can understand Don Juan’s skepticism. He, like many people, questioned whether romantic love is anything more than a fleeting feeling. Ultimately, he discovers True Passionate Love—the fusion of passion and compassion, of the desire we feel for our partner and the kindness we show to our partner. Eventually, Don Juan comes to see that, yes, “the heart is forever unfaithful and the feelings of love will come and go, but true love is not about what you feel, it is about what you do—and don’t do.”
The Holiness of a Woman’s Body: For Don Juan, sex is a holy devotion. Most of us have lost our understanding of the sacredness of our sexuality, so we try to deny our desire out of shame or become obsessed with the shell of the sexual appetite. In either case, we forget that our bodies and our sexuality are holy. Indeed, through pleasure Don Juan knew one could glimpse the very soul of a woman. “When a woman feels the fullness of her pleasure, her soul rises up above her body. It is for this reason that there is nothing more beautiful than a woman whose desire has truly been satisfied, for there is no physical form as radiant as the soul that dwells inside every woman. The priests tell us that the body is like a thorn to the soul, but I have seen the truth—it is only from the body that the soul blossoms, and our soul cannot be separated from it in life.”
A Way to Touch a Woman: In the Lost Diary Don Juan shares many of his secrets for pleasuring women. He tells us, “There is a way to touch a woman that takes from her like a thief who steals her soft beauty, and there is a way to touch a woman that gives to her, changing her body into a treasure for her to cherish.” Instead of groping and grasping, Don Juan reminds us that in each touch we must give as well as receive pleasure. And in these caresses a man must always remember that anticipation is everything and that restraint is the defining strength of a true caballero (which roughly translates as a true gentleman knight).
The Pleasure of a Familiar Kiss: After countless nights of pleasure with women from virgins to widows and nobles to slaves, Don Juan learns that there is more pleasure in the kiss of one you love than in a thousand nights with a stranger. In our world where we are constantly told that what is new is more exciting and tantalizing than what is known, it was a revelation to me to be reminded that real pleasure comes from the alchemy of lust and love. Both the Arts of Passion, as Don Juan calls them, and the Arts of Love, require, like any art form including writing, daily practice and sustained lifelong effort. We think that our passion and our love should come automatically, easily, and so we fail to master them.
The Secret of Marriage: If you believe Mozart, Don Juan had 1003 affairs, but by the end of his diary, he has fallen in love and chooses to forsake all other women for one woman. What allows Don Juan to make this sacrifice? Don Juan discovers that all women are contained in one woman—as all men are contained in one man. One does not have to swallow the world to understand the essence of womanhood, for contained in each woman are the secrets of all women. “Most men only take a small taste of a woman but to truly know one woman’s body, heart, and soul is enough for a lifetime of satisfaction.” And it would certainly be enough for me. Thanks to Don Juan, I had found my answer.
Douglas Carlton Abrams is the author of The Lost Diary of Don Juan (Atria, 2007). He is also the co-author of several books on love, sexuality, and spirituality with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, and Taoist Master Mantak Chia. This is his first novel. For more information, please visit www.LostDiaryofDonJuan.com.