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, August 21, 2006

Classics pt. 3: Back to the male bag

Welcome back to my summer retrospective! (And thanks, by the way, for your patience with this departure from fresh posting. Will resume such once I finish the book, at which time I will also revisit all the lovely responses to my poll. Thanks to all those who took time to answer — especially those who shared a bit more about your lives. I really did enjoy that further perspective on my readers.)

Originally posted Aug. 12, 2004

... A few new readers have stopped by with interesting questions:
In reading some of the posts off the glossary sidebar, I’ve gotten the impression that you are a single girl in NYC who is currently unemployed, not seeing anyone, and have a pretty strong Christian background. Yet you don’t appear to let yourself be rigidly bound by what I’ll call traditional religious Christianity, which can be refreshing. As you write about some of your frustrations with The Captain, Hapless Hesitater, etc., I find myself wondering, “Is she trying to find Mr Right and get married, or is she seeking just a dating relationship? Is she a virgin and is determined to be celibate until she gets married?” And so on.

Best wishes,
A Curious Reader
Dear Curious:

According to a guy I spoke with last night, “biology is the only truth” and therefore the dominating urge/issue/purpose in life is to pass on one’s genes (funny, I always thought you could do that through the Good Will pickups...). Therefore, his answer would be that I’m really bent on having babies. Lots of ‘em.

While I did once aspire to bear 10 children ... naturally ... today I’m inclined to chalk that up to some weird childhood combination of a) strong-but-latent libido, b) ignorance about the pain in labor, and c) fascination with even numbers — if not fertility drugs.

But I guess that doesn’t really answer the Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now question. Which is really a question of pseudo-commitment or ... commitment. I seriously doubt that most people (at least, most romantic people) go into relationships actually hoping for eventual breakup and dissolution. If and when you’re getting involved with someone you really like, isn’t there some sort of unspoken hope it actually works out? Not that you necessarily want to have to make a commitment to that at some point, but you hope it magically never gets old, or you imagine there’s something better, so that at the end of your life you’re still with that person and it’s comfortable and you’re settled and happy.

We go in prepared for disappointment and pain, but I would guess most people hope for a good long run of the state somewhere between the exciting beginning and comfortable middle of a relationship. However many of us may balk at committing to something (and someone) going forward, I’m sure far fewer of would mind looking backward and discovering we committed to something good without expecting to do so. We wouldn’t so easily settle into the pseudo-commitment of most relationships unless deep down we secretly hunger for a risk-free version of the pleasures of commitment.

It’s like the conversations I often had during grad school with a good friend of mine. On a typical night, we’d meet up at the local 24-hour diner to down endless cups of coffee (mine probably decaf, and chased by 2 glasses of water). Eventually we’d call it quits, and climb into the old-school cab of a truck she called Bessie. A turn of the key, and it would rattle to life (except for the one night when it didn’t and her dad had to come and rescue us). Five minutes later we’d pull into the parking lot of my apartment building and idle over the speed bump extending from the walkway to my building. Ostensibly, this was the scene of a 30-second goodbye wherein I gathered my things from the books, papers, lotion bottles and coffee cups she always had strewn across the floor, and opened the creaky door to jump down.

But somehow by this point, despite the many hours of chit-chat already passed, the dark and spacious enclosure of the truck cab encourages an intimacy not possible under the bright lights and silent music videos of the smoky diner. Invariably we launched into a conversation that would last 10, 15, 30 minutes or more. But did we acknowledge we still had things to talk about? That we weren’t prepared to call it a night?

In short, did we park the car, shut off the engine, and maybe even take the talk upstairs?

No. Never.

The conversation had a life of its own that both of us fed on and encouraged, but its length was always uncertain. Thus we could never admit we planned or wanted to say more than perfunctory goodbyes. The idling truck provided the safe space of the temporary while sustaining the intensity of the parting. Because we didn’t know how much there was to say, killing the engine or going upstairs might be presumptuous; we might exert all the effort to do so only to discover the moment was gone and there was no speech to justify such an action.

So … we stayed, while the gas underwent its quiet chemistry, and the “unmarked” car of the security service sometimes crept past suspiciously.

It seems like a lot of relationships have that quality: people find something that’s comfortable and stimulating in the immediate, but don’t know how strong or fragile the bond is; any kind of change seems to threaten it, so you accommodate your life and expectations to stretching the moment as long as possible.

In dating, at least, I don’t want that kind of anxiety (clearly I don’t mind when it comes to conversation). After years of driving myself crazy with intensity of desire and an inability to satisfy it, I’ve decided people are basically like post-it notes or sticky-tape. We were made with a keen stickiness so that when two pieces adhere, they bond tightly. But, like tape, sometimes that bonding can be messy: the pieces aren’t aligned right, or you somehow get weird wrinkles in it. Pulling the tape apart just makes things worse, or at least reduces the stickiness. Re-stick the tape enough times, and it doesn’t stay stuck to much at all. So … because I want to bond as long and closely as possible, I keep stopping short of actually sticking to someone. Sure, my inner desire to stick to someone else makes me crazy, but I just try to remind myself that I’m waiting till the pieces are aligned right (in which I mean no allusion to some sort of fate or alignment of the stars ;)) and I can stick with full abandon.

Did that answer your question? ;) I guess I’ll save my thoughts on opportunity-cost and fear of commitment for another day …


High Fidelity
High Fidelity
What Color Is Your Parachute Workbook
What Color Is Your Parachute Workbook