Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Classics pt. 7: In search of an 80-percenter

Just a few entries left in this retrospective series ... This one comes from nearly two years ago, when I was first considering a West Coast move, and starting to cool off from previously overheated romantic expectations.
  • If you want a pastor’s take on that issue (love as an ultimate), mine has an interesting talk from earlier this month.
  • In other media recommendations, Paste’s September issue had one of my favorite samplers so far, not to mention the quiet debut of a certain writer you might know ... ;)
  • And finally, Mediabistro’s hosting a panel on the journey from blogging to book deals, for those intrigued by media goings-on. While I only know the moderator, it should be an interesting discussion.
Have a grand Thanksgiving, dahlings!
Originally published Dec. 8, 2004

Last night was a certain consoyvative book fair, as I believe I mentioned. Held at the club of a snotty Ivy-league institute I once dreamed of attending, it promised to be an Event. By the time I spied a plump, middle-aged woman decked out in unfortunately short, tight dress and possibly the most God-awful fishnets I’ve ever seen, it became officially surreal (as is the case with any event that induces Mensa flashbacks). Or maybe that was the moment Lickwit joined us, clad in his trademark black turtleneck. We stood there the four of us (Best Friend had acquired a man too), attempting to make conversation in pointed ignorance of all the strange personal history shared by our group. Drinks were consumed in rapid succession.

I had too little energy to regale the group with my normal stock of blog-related tales (besides, a somewhat awkward conversation with Lickwit in earshot, though he knows of this bit o’ pink by now), but my possible move did give our chitchat good steam for a bit. Our fourth (whom I’ll call the Closet Whipster) was like a pitch-boy for the West Coast, Bay area in particular. Highly advantageous male-to-female ratios! Though guys most likely geeky. But hey, if I could get past that point, they’d probably be quite desperate, which somehow translated to potential husbands, good fathers, etc.

I couldn’t quite follow all the complicated math in his reasoning. I mean, after all as Amy Sohn recently concluded in a wince-worthy piece for New York magazine, bad looks doesn’t necessarily make a man as grateful as you’d think — unless he’s fat. And in any case, Steven Rhoads (remember him?) had this very interesting if possibly not-P.C. (remember that?) point in Taking Sex Differences Seriously about how women tend to pick men based more on things like, well, wealth, power, status and other indicators they could provide for and defend a family. (He’s a big fan of evolutionary biology and psychology.)

They save you from the cat
But my point was not to revisit Sohn’s painful writing, actually — or even the September BOTtoM (blogging early on no coffee affects one’s concentration, I guess). I was prepared to concede Closet Whipster had a point. After all, I’m nearly convinced computer techs are the new firemen. I mean, really, who else can rescue you when your clicker has turned into a freaky cat and you don’t know how to change it back? (No this has never happened to me; it changed to something besides a cat.) Talk about gratefulness…

However, the prospect of hoards of men with bodies permanently dented by their computer-cave chairs, efficiently dressed in clothes designed to repel the offal from most printers’ toner cartridges, did not exactly cheer me up. In fact, it was downright exhausting. Suddenly the clichéd observation of various friends and family over the years —“it only takes one” — took on an aura of comfort I clung to like the rope that carried Tarzan home each day (yeah, don’t razz me for the wacky metaphors this morning).

I know we romantics-disguised-as-cynics are supposed to be all about “passion” and “spark” and “soulmates” … but honestly, doesn’t all that drama sound a wee bit intense? Instead of someone who feels compelled to describe his probably dissatisfying job in pompous-if-witty, “I’m better than it and better than you” phrases, sometimes I’d be quite content with a guy I could swap dull-day stories with: “So how was your day?” “Enh.” “Yeah, me too. But I did see a funny comic strip today …”

The 80/20 rule
I mean, really, when you’re getting past the life-is-all-about-SEX stage, the ability to get by without pretense ought to count for a lot. Maybe this is just adjustment-to-full-time-work overdetermining my thinking, but I feel like there’s a lot to be said for someone you can just relax around. No (or at least less) need to construct a self you think he or she will find most pleasing; you can even forget to suck in that less-than-firm stomach. No need to muster clever conversation. Just someone who’s quite willing to stand there chatting with you, whiling away another evening neither of you will remember two months from now. You know — the kind of desultory conversation that (at least in my family) unfolds almost effortlessly.

A friend of mine once talked about working with junior-high kids in terms of what he called an “80/20” rule. Eighty percent of the time is spent doing unremarkable things, but twenty percent of the time is a really meaningful experience you could not have had without all the time invested in that eighty percent. The other day I was talking to a friend who still can’t seem to move on from a decidedly ill-fated relationship — and I mean ill-fated both in terms of its demise and the satisfaction it would have yielded if longer-lived. Apparently she’d been getting most of that 20 percent right up front and was convinced the rest of the relationship would follow suit. “But what would be there when the passion fades?” I asked her. I mean, it’s sadly but a mere cycle; it won’t be there at all times. Any relationship can always deepen and improve when it changes, but it will change — and if you’re not prepared for change to happen, watch out for disaster.

So, while I think that, yes, the capacity for that über-exciting 20 percent is important — and one would hope a little bit of it gets front-loaded into the relationship — on wearying nights like last night I find myself more drawn to someone I could comfortably spend that 80 percent with. You know, someone you could build a whole relationship with and be your whole* self with.

Ah, yes. Thoughts from your in-desperate-need-of-latte and still far too romantic (gulp) blogstress. What was that Tal Bachman song? “Romanticide”? Maybe that’s our next Spooning Fork… Ta till Thursday, dahlings!

*As in, entire, not, fully well.