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Lusty Lady

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Friday, March 20, 2009

The ethics of sex writing, or Monday night's meltdown

Warning: If you don't want to read about my sex life and/or puking, don't keep reading. Seriously.

So on Monday I was at SXSW and got an email from The Frisky editor Amelia asking if she could run my Dealbreaker on The Sexless Guy. I’d sent it a few weeks ago, and had written it pretty soon after my last trip to San Francisco, that didn’t end too well. I’d assumed she didn’t want to use it. I was kindof distracted by the conference and also figured it’d be good to make a little money and get my name back out there. I paused, though, because that heat of the moment urge to share (or, yes, as some might say, overshare) had passed. The act of writing in itself helped; I didn’t feel quite so strongly or emotional about the topic. But I agreed, for various reasons, and then it went up and I blogged about it, sending the link around as I do with any new piece.

And then a few hours later I got an email from my ex. It wasn’t a mean email, it was short and to the point, and basically said the piece was hard for him to read. After I read that, I kindof lost it. I had just been in the panel Sex Lives of the Microfamous, where we were talking about rules we have for writing about other people. As now famously quoted in the New York Times, someone (Kris Krug, according to Nick Douglas) said, “You can blog about me or you can date me, but you can’t do both.”

The thing is, I wasn’t ashamed of what I wrote. It was something that had been on my mind for a while, and it bubbled up from that. It wasn’t just about my ex, but a pattern of men I’d dated, one that clearly had a strong effect on me. But it led me to wonder: Why exactly did I write it? For the $150? To send some passive aggressive message to my ex? To have some kind of final word?

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt, and we hadn’t really been talking much, mostly by my choice, so I didn’t want to call him. As I watched the comments at The Frisky pile up (currently 43), I realized that maybe I wrote it for the same reason I’ve written most of the personal, revealing things I have: to connect with other people. In that sense, my ex was in no way the target audience. If he were, I’d have been able to say some of that directly to him. But what would be the point of that? We were already broken up and we’d discussed this issue between us. It wasn’t about fixing it or rehashing it but more about declaring something for the future that I need out of relationships. I think that is sortof the point of the dealbreaker stories, aside from entertainment; that by trial and error, by seeing traits or behaviors in people we date that we don’t like, we can figure out what we do.

But still. I felt awful about having hurt him, because that wasn’t my intention. It wasn’t really a secret either that I felt that way, and I admire and respect him, and value his opinion of me. It was killing me that maybe I’d squandered any high regard he might have held me in. I tried to convey that to him, but email is not always the best format, and I kindof wished I hadn’t seen his email to me, but I had, and it settled into me, all over, making itself hard to ignore.

We were at this event at Whole Foods, sitting in the sun, mingling with food bloggers and basking in the good weather after the previous day’s chilliness. I ate. A lot. These amazingly delicious mushrooms, some meat and potatoes, a rice ball. I drank the free iced tea and tried to chat but couldn’t really. I went to The Onion party where the sight of more food really grossed me out. I’d eaten too much and just felt out of sorts while everyone was preparing for all kinds of revelry. I went to the Feministing/Pandagon party and was offered a drink, but I at least wisely declined. Then I left and started walking, I wasn’t really sure where. Stopped at the hotel to charge my phone and rub my itchy feet on the carpet.

Then I was in our room, alone, and it all kindof hit me. I was upset because I missed him, especially there. How could I not when I was hanging out with his cousins and our mutual friends, when I kept hearing and seeing things I knew he’d have appreciated? Way back when I booked our joint smoking room, I’d envisioned us going there together, being this geeky blogger/writer couple and having yet another out-of-town adventure.

I really felt like I could not proceed with the night with all that food in my stomach. It was painful and annoying. We’d been joking about it earlier, but I went in the bathroom, knelt in front of the toilet, shoved my fingers in my mouth, and puked. Once, then got up, drank a little water, then again. I can’t even tell you how relieved I felt. Physically, in a way, but mentally. I’ve never gotten high (I’ve tried to smoke pot twice in my 33 years, with an emphasis on tried – it didn’t really work) so I don’t know what that’s like. Drunk, I know. Even that, though, takes a little while. There's a time delay between drinking and feeling drunk, and even if it's short, it's there. You have to wait, and as an impatient sort, I never liked that. But making yourself puke is this instant rush of satisfaction. What you want to do is accomplished, just like that. It doesn’t even hurt, even though it’s gross. For me, there’s a sense of both accomplishment and transgression to it, and I wanted and needed both at that moment. I felt so awful about myself that I needed to do something to myself to prove that.

Anorexia doesn’t have that high of the a-ha moment. It’s a slow, drawn out, neverending thing. You wait to eat, and then wait, and wait some more. You’re always waiting, always hungry, and it has to be this round-the-clock vigilance because you could be good up to hour 23:59 an din that final minute, ruin it all. Making yourself vomit isn’t like that; in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s like saying you can be bad and bad and bad and bad and stuff your face all you want and in moments, undo what you’ve done. Of course that’s extremely seductive; imagine if you could undo all the stupid things you’ve done in mere moments.

It’s not something I make a practice of; maybe I wind up doing it once a year, when I’m feeling like I’m at some sort of crisis point. I fight the urge at other times, take walks, drink seltzer, try to remind myself that tomorrow is another day and I’ll get through whatever the present painful moment is. But sometimes that rush is exactly what I need, in fact, to remind me that I don’t want to be there. I think we all have rock-bottom go-to places that we need, if only as a benchmark to remind us how much we don’t want to settle there. At least, that’s how it is for me.

I felt better, kindof, but still really out of sorts. I kept wandering from party to party but none of them felt right, until I got to Beerland. I walked in and this girl Gillian was belting out “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes and it was awesome. I’d been Tweeting some of my feelings, because I really couldn’t figure out where to put them or what to do with them, and because we were at SXSW and my friends are constantly connected, when I got there I got at least five hugs and “Are you okay?”s. I got invited back to Minneapolis (for a spanking). I watched my friends kick ass at karaoke. And I felt better. Not perfect, but better.

The thing with the whole dealbreaker piece is that I know it was never meant to be a personal affront. With any of the sexless guys I’ve dated, it was never I don’t want to have sex with you so much as I’m not in the mood. I get that intellectually, but my whole point was that it still feels the same, and for me, I place a lot of value in who I am sexually, in what that kind of connection brings me. Maybe I place too much emphasis on it, but I just know I felt buoyed when I found someone who was the sexless guys’ opposite. Because it’s not just about, well, sex, though it might seem to be. It’s about affection and desire and interest and attraction, which often get conflated. For me, it’s not so much about “doing it” a set amount of times as feeling wanted, which is what I was trying to express.

Orion67 posted a great comment at The Frisky, about his use of anti-depressants and the resulting low libido:

I can tell you from personal experience that finding fault with yourself is not the place to start; I have seen this first hand with my wife. We decided to sit down with each other and discuss the problem and how it affected our relationship. It isn’t a new concept; communication and mutual respect for each other is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. Before I sound like I am getting on my soapbox, I cannot pretend to know everyone’s issue with this problem; I can only speak for myself.

The first part of our conversation was to differentiate between sex and love. So many of the issues we faced were centered on a false understanding that the two are one and the same. At first she felt I did not find her attractive (which was totally not the case). She disclosed to me that she even had fleeting thoughts of infidelity on my part which I assured her was the farthest thing from the truth. As a result of our discussion, I tell my wife how much I love her and express my affection for her every day. I also let her know how beautiful I think she is.

I think there’s some great discussion going on there, and I’m glad to know I’m not alone in reacting the way I did. I’m almost wrote, “I’m glad I’m not wrong in reacting the way I did” and that’s the thing I told my ex the other day about this; there is no right or wrong. I don’t think there’s any “should”s when it comes to libido or sexual frequency, it’s a matter of your desires being compatible with someone else’s.

We talked the other night for a long time, and I realized I’ve missed him a lot. It would be much much easier in some ways I think to not try to be friends, because I start getting all these “what if” scenarios in my head. What if we could have...? But there are only so many ways that can end, and if this were the only issue between us, I’d say, okay, maybe there’s some kind of way for us to get back together and make things work. That’s not the case though, and I’ve had to make my peace with that.

So to everyone who asked, thanks, I’m okay. Good, in fact. The panel and this experience gave me a lot to think about, about why I write and what I write and the purpose of it. I don’t necessarily have hard and fast rules like everyone else in that room seemed to, but I hope I have a little better sense of the impact my words can have.

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At March 20, 2009, Anonymous rachel said...

Anorexia doesn’t have that high of the a-ha moment. It’s a slow, drawn out, neverending thing. You wait to eat, and then wait, and wait some more. You’re always waiting, always hungry, and it has to be this round-the-clock vigilance because you could be good up to hour 23:59 an din that final minute, ruin it all. Making yourself vomit isn’t like that; in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s like saying you can be bad and bad and bad and bad and stuff your face all you want and in moments, undo what you’ve done. Of course that’s extremely seductive; imagine if you could undo all the stupid things you’ve done in mere moments.

Wonderfully put, Rachel. I remember writing something similar when I had bulimia: "it's a way tp get rid of mistakes, a way to make it seem like the past never happened."

At March 22, 2009, Blogger Neve Black said...

I'm sending you a big hug. :-)

At March 26, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This makes you seem so lost, Rachel.

At March 27, 2009, Anonymous Jolie du Pre said...


I've been avoiding your blog and your Tweets lately because, well frankly, they've gotten too depressing. You constantly berate yourself and treat yourself badly.

Throwing up your food, even if it's once a year, is not admirable or cool. Your body deserves to be treated better than that.

As far as what you wrote - that was his problem - NOT YOURS. But you chose to make it your problem and as a result, you treated yourself badly by throwing up your food. You have a right to write what you want. He's an adult. He's not a child. He called you, but unfortunately, the result was a meltdown on your part. Did he meltdown? Probably not.

I've been reading your stuff for a while, and the way you've been lately has been going on for a while - I know I'm not the only one who sees that. There's something going on with you that needs to stop. My wish for you is that you heal - and soon. There are a lot of people out there who care about you.


At March 27, 2009, Blogger Ichael said...

This is a very powerful entry. Thank you for sharing all these thoughts. There's a lot of different stuff going on here.

First, I hope everyone reading your post has the information they need about the dangerousness of bulimia.

Second, I've given your 'dealbreaker' a lot of thought in regards to the men who may not be ready to have sex as much as you'd like or go after it as much. You should have what you want sexually in a relationship, but also shouldn't you work towards practical solutions to your sexual needs? It sounds like you are tying it in with your self-esteem, in which case that seems less healthy than just wanting someone who can 'keep up' with you. It sounds like you are saying the dealbreaker is that your partner must make you feel desired all the time, but wouldn't it be better if that wasn't such a hard issue for you and it could be more of a mutual desire thing that you do together? Just an idea.

Lastly, I'm friends with an ex of mine who was very important to me, and it is hard, and sometimes I have to treat the friendship quite differently than I would any other friendship, but in the end she is a beautiful person who improved my life in beautiful ways. If our friendship isn't worth a little extra intention and care, I don't know what is. You have to do what's best for you in the end, but sometimes what is easiest isn't necessarily what is best.


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