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.

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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Classics pt. 6: ‘Only’ but not lonely

Sorry for my extreme delay in posting, dahlings! Settling into the West Coast has been consuming (though tonight will be day 14 on my friends’ couch, and still no work). Partly related to that, and also a number of other blog-related changes looming, I’ll probably continue this “classics” series through the end of November then hopefully launch new content starting in December. Thanks for bearing with me ...
Originally posted Oct. 22, 2004.

I don’t know if it’s the change in the weather, but something about the onset of fall makes loneliness sting just a little more. Especially here in the East, there’s something when the chill creeps in to hug unguarded skin that reminds you you’re not in anyone else’s embrace. There’s nothing at all affectionate when the wind tries to cop a feel. It’s like this season brings on a nesting impulse — that makes you wish for a warm body in your bed at night to press cold feet against in the dark.*

Like sister, the brother
Between lonely baseball viewing, and a recent conversation with my youngest brother, I’ve given some thought to longing. You see, I used to be the queen of it (now I’m probably just more expert at repression). Having a chat with the “little” brother (21 as of last month) took me back. We were talking about his weekend entertainments which, since he’s still in training down Pensacola way, tend to be limited by the bus routes extending from his base. Walmart is a frequent destination.

But what he really likes are coffee shops — being the romantic Broadway child that he is (not that all four of us turned out that way, but we so-called “bookends” sure did — creative and moody, just like our guitar-playing pap). Being a most notorious latte fiend myself, and one who is fond of the cheerful buzz created by caffeine consumed in cardboard, I can appreciate his taste. The problem, however, is that my youngest brother’s sensual side is sadly underdeveloped. Not enough, for him, to drink in the civilian chatter, or savor the aroma of those infamously scorched Starbucks beans. Oh no. Like the piner-in-training that he is, he’s gotta sit there wishing he had company. And probably not male company. Probably not even a sister’s company. Most likely: unrelated, female company. Apparently he feels this way quite often.

Now, lest my mild sarcasm confuse you, I’m really not using him for sport, but for example. Rewind nearly ten years previously, to a dim-lit Arizona curb along the sidewalks of a mall. Sitting down, awaiting her parents’ taxi service, we find a young and romance novel-addicted Anna, passing the time with daydreams of the Crush. What if suddenly he were to drive by? Wouldn’t that make everything happy? Indeed, there was a period where every time I found myself alone in an undesirable circumstance, I’d simply imagine myself away to a place where the Guy of Gal Broadway’s Hour was actively onstage, and saving her from boredom, unhappiness, or solitude.

In search of pro-choice relating
Freshman year of college: alone in a small, Midwestern town, suddenly separated from my fam by several states, a massive ocean, and some countries, I reached a new low. Like many young college women, I was becoming obsessed with choice. Only it wasn’t the choice of what happened to my body, but the choice of people to be in my life. It had dawned on me that practically no one in my life was there voluntarily. I was born to the same parents, we had the same classes … or some other circumstance contrived to bring us together. But none of those people who knew me were acting as free agents in seeking my time. Only a boyfriend, I was convinced, would be demonstrating that commitment.

God, of course, didn’t quite see fit to let me get what I thought I needed (although He did at least relent on my first kiss). Eventually I decided that maybe His choice mattered most of all. This didn’t stop me crushing on guy after guy (without which we wouldn’t have this blog, to make the obvious point), but over time I learned to enjoy my own company.** Good thing, because there’s a helluva lotta dancing I would’ve missed out on without learning to do it myself. Of course, the solo act doesn’t work so well with swing dance — and too much solitary “practicing” actually makes you a rather bad partner — but in general getting comfortable with “me” has helped.

Before you worry I’ve gone off the psychoblather deep end, however, let me clarify. I don’t mean that Anna got narcissistic (any more than previously), but that I learned to — most of the time — stop escaping into dreams of company. I’ve gone to movies by myself, even bars by myself (which, as a chick not looking to hook up, is a pretty ballsy thing,). Of course, part of this is just my social makeup — at least surrounding myself with people grants a pseudo sense of interaction. I mean, I could be eavesdropping, after all. That’s why I was always so bent on studying at coffee shops in college and grad school; doing all that work at home laid bare my loneliness, diminished within sightline of others.***

Daydream unbeliever
It’s a lesson I hope my brother will learn, because I think he’d enjoy his present more. And not just because, someday down the line, he may be so overwhelmed with noisy children that he actually starts to long for the solitary days of youth, but because I think contentedness is a habit. Just like dreaming your way from the present is a habit. If you’re always casting your mind off into fantasy, you’re training yourself to be perpetually unsatisfied. Eventually the only thought that makes you happy might be imagining yourself, imagining to be happy. Yes, that would be a masturbatory fantasy, you’re right. Kind of sad, considering most of us probably start the fantasy habit because we’re alone. It’s just that, somewhere along the line, there stops being anyone but the fictional someone whose company can actually — supposedly — make us happy.

Me, I’m hoping for a real man, with real kisses, and real sex (and real passion for Jesus). But until he comes along, happiness in absence is better than a dream.

*Not that they would get to do the same with you, of course; isn’t the point how other people satisfy your needs? Forget about their needs; this is America, where selfishness is patriotic! Or something like that …
**And that of God as well.
***Earshot being part of the social-study package, since I never sought to labor in the library.