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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Classics pt. 8: Appetite clarity

Welcome back from Thanksgiving! Sorry for the posting delay, but searching for work has taken a higher priority of late. I am pleased to report, however, that I should very soon be able to make a formal announcement about some blog changes for the new year, and a resumption of fresh posting. Meanwhile, here’s this further piece from the archives (there are only 2-3 more in this series, I promise), which calls for a bit more reader response than usual, as you’ll see at the end. Thanks for sticking with me, dahlings!

xo from Oakland,
Originally posted Feb. 4, 2005

My thoughts on food, as Poster Boy discovered over dinner once, can be strangely precise at times — and even oddly applicable to sex. He, in fact, demanded to know if my consumption philosophy – “Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied ... which also leads to pleasure maximization” — was directly applicable to the (indirect) subject of this blog. I pled the fifth, avoided his gaze, and slowly licked off my fork.

Which is an indulgence one is wont to enjoy when appetite clarity has been achieved.

You know that state — or probably you do. I first encountered it one night toward the end of grad school when I had the sudden craving for a particular dish at this hip Thai restaurant downtown. Acting on impulse, I drove down there after class, put in an order for take-out, then schlepped my meal up the street to Irish Pub for a Guinness chaser. And you know what? It was exactly what I was hungry for. Ah, the delight in that meal.

The craving conundrum
By no means does this always happen. I’ve sometimes ordered eggs with cheese because it was an unsatisfied craving from the day before, only to discover that the chicken quesadilla I’d been eyeing on the menu really might have been what I was hungry for after all. And then there are times I’ve craved (from New York) the mixed-beans dish served by a Tempe, Ariz. health-food restaurant. Too bad.

Other times you’re so famished it’s impossible to choose anything at all. This sometimes happens to me at the grocery store or when trying to place an order in a restaurant. A state of near-panic sets in and I buy random things like cottage cheese, beer, and that one spice I’m out of. Or I have to figure out the meat-hunger. Is it beef I want, or chicken? Maybe fish or pork. My roommate and I also have the salty meat craving, often late at night. And Best Friend faces the brunch dilemma: sweet or salty?

But enough about food. (I’ll let you fill in innuendos for all the foregoing.) Appetite and its satisfaction can be a curious thing — similar, I think, to the difficulty of sparking someone who lights your Roman candle as well (as Blogfather has so humorously written about). So let’s recap the scenarios:
  • You know what you want, you get it, and it’s what you want!
  • You “know” what you want, you get it, but it’s not what you want.
  • You know what you want, but you can’t get it.
  • You don’t know what you want, but you have to get something so you make a desperate choice and hope for the best.
  • You have a general idea what you want, and you then select within a range of possibilities satisfying that broad criterion.
As with food, so relationships?
The other night I was getting ready for bed, and feeling a little lonely or whatever. I want a husband, I sighed morosely to myself. But did I really? Sometimes women — especially Christian women, but maybe others as well; I don’t know — have this odd fixation with husbands. I don’t just mean baby-hunger, either. I mean, to the extent you start keeping a journal of letters to this spouse long before you’ve ever met him — or at least, been asked to marry him.

And yes, gulp, I’ve kept one too. Of course, the letter-spread has been greater in recent years. Writing the silly things is akin to that awkward phase in junior high where getting dragged to family reunions starts to feel very odd and uncomfortable. You’re right between the children who play kiddie games, and all the grown-ups who sometimes try to gamely chat you up but have no idea the true anxieties and traumas for a 13-year-old.

In the beginning, this ridiculous journal seemed a “safe” way to jot down modest sexual fantasies. “If I’m thinking of this with my husband, it’s all right, Lord, right?” Christians, you see, have this keen fixation with thought-life: Not enough to merely refrain from doing something; you’re not supposed to think about it either. At least, not much.

And truthfully, I largely see the sense of this. I mean, if I spent all my free time imagining the sex I wish I was having ... that’s just not very healthy. But for a time I was hopeful that the main “sin” in fantasy had mostly to do with the partner in question, and not the whole having-lascivious-thoughts business.

Dear Mr. Special
But then there was the other problem. As the serial crusher I have been, it was always extremely hard not to write the letter as if that hoped-for husband could be the guy I liked at present. Given, after all, that I hoped to someday give these letters to a real flesh-and-blood man ... and would have to withstand his hysterics at the juvenile content within (I started writing them at 17) ... it seemed ill-advised to have too many shades-of-current-crush letters. Especially at the rate the crush kept changing.

So how the hell do you write a letter to an unknown spouse? In a letter penned after grad school, I waxed cagily self-reflexive, in penning-the-online-personal-ad mode:
It’s such a different project from prayer — and that’s a good thing. But in the beginning I think writing these was a bit like prayer. The romantic mysticism of my paper has long been my religion. That’s how I know it so well.
Four months later (and circa the first date with Hapless Hesitator) I wrote:
I begin to wonder if “marriage” is not some word — as in, “I want marriage” or, “Please let me get married!” (meaning soon) — that has long since become a placeholder for whatever I am hungry for. In the soul, that is.
If it’s what you think you want — and it’s been persistently missing, as much as unhappiness has been present — how easy to decide that Missing Item X is causally linked to Present Unhappiness Y. But alas, this is where appetite clarity can lead us astray. For if there is clarity, there is also very much Appetite Confusion. That topic, however, will be reserved for the next Sexless post.
Alas, I never wound up writing that promised follow-up, so I’m curious as to my readers’ stories: what have you learned about following your appetites, er instincts, in love? When they’ve led you astray or made for difficult choices, how have you resolved the Lovin’ Spoonful’s dilemma (did you ever have to make up your mind)? Email your stories, and I’ll include a few excerpts in next week’s post. Lastly, thanks to all those who’ve been buying iTunes through this site — I finally got my first commission check, a whopping $1.15! Oh yes.