I am not on heroin, I’m expressing freedom from love and sex. I’m celibate as a monk from here on out. Retire my jersey, I’m out of the game. You can leave your hat on — and all the rest of it too. Quoth the bard, “Love stinks.” If you ever wonder if I want to get in your pants: I don’t.
The title of this piece is an actual quote. I heard someone say it while they were having really remarkable romantic troubles. You can switch the genders up in this essay to suit your tastes. The sentiment works any which way. I am not advocating a lifestyle. This is not an aspirational document. It’s just that I’ve been thinking: I’ve approached love like the depraved addict in “Heroin.”
Love and sex have always been indistinguishable to me. I loved everyone I ever made it with, or I wanted to love them, or I tried to love them. Whatever it takes to pick up strangers and have casual sex, I never had it. My game was serial monogamy. I was good at that for many years, traipsing from relationship to relationship. But I started living like I needed a partner to make me whole. I am not a sex addict, but I behaved like a love addict. And isn’t that what addicts are supposed to do: quit?
I knew I’d turned this corner not too long ago when I went on a walk with a beautiful, eligible bachelorette. It wasn’t a date, more like an interview for a date. You know what I mean. It was the kind of thing where, classically (and innocently) one would present oneself in the best possible light while looking for clues about further possibilities. If one were feeling bold and the vibe was right, one might even make a move. And I mean this woman was very desirable. But I started thinking, “I hope this beautiful, charming woman doesn’t kiss me.” I was relieved when nothing happened. Instead of knocking myself out to demonstrate my reproductive fitness, I walked away without a twinge. This dating-game fail was a win.
I was Born and Raised on Venus
“I can tell just by the climate, and I can tell just by the style/I was born and raised on Venus and I may be here a while” – Monster Magnet, “Negasonic Teenage Warhead“
I’ve been lucky. My sex/love life began at 16 and lasted more than 30 years. I’ve rarely been single. I had tons of bangin’ sex and none of it was casual. I did everything and I found partners who did everything and I drank my fill from the well.
And now I’m sick of it. I’m human and I still feel attraction and lust. But more and more I feel a certain existential horror about the biological compulsions of mating and pair-bonding.
I’ve known true love. I’ve known it many times — which puts the lie to it. How could it be true if it ended? We act like love is a feeling — songs reinforce this. But it’s more like what the philosopher Wittgenstein said: “Love is not a feeling, love is put to the test.” Although I associate falling in love with tingly tummy feelings, “soaring hearts,” and other biochemical cascades. Maybe that rush of the cementing pair-bond is what I was addicted to.
I was married for seven years. My longest relationship lasted eight years. So something like “the seven-year itch” is real. That’s been the best I could do. And it was pretty good. I had many two-year relationships, and some shorter ones full of hope. I have known utter and complete devotion as a rule. I never cheated, and to my knowledge, was never cheated on. I trusted everyone and gave them my all. You might be able to find women who would disagree, and who would find fault with how I handled things. But most exes don’t hate me.
I was a good lover. Many lovers told me I was the best — I’m sure they said that to others too, because I said it to several women myself. I always meant it! But not that many people can be the literal best. Every new lover does some unique thing, or has a twist on an old technique, or some delightful surprise. A new lover is like a Christmas present. You get under that wrapper and it seems like the best. But it’s just newness. Even when it has been said to me: I was just the new guy making with the razzle-dazzle. When I brought my A-game, I was GGG (“Good, giving, and game” – Dan Savage). But I have also been the worst.
Well, not the worst. But over 30 years of great sex I have suffered every form of sexual humiliation known to man. My dick has betrayed me in all the ways. First I had to learn to work it, embarrassing myself with inexperience. I have also known the stigma and shame of sexually transmitted disease. And even Casanova knew the agony of erectile dysfunction.
Besides sex, love can bring pain too — as Neil Young has spoken so eloquently upon. The end of love can be the most terrible thing in life. Having known great loves, I’ve seen those loves end, normally in seismic sadness and sometimes, all manner of drama. I’m not going to miss that.
“This might have been a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that people need a little loving and, God, sometimes it’s sad all the shit they have to go through to find some.” – Richard Brautigan, “The Betrayed Kingdom”
More terrible than the end of a great love is being in the middle of a great love helplessly watching it slide toward the end for stupid reasons. Jealousy destroys love like a molecular acid. The most unholy hassles I have ever dealt with have been those of unnecessary jealousy, by ostensibly feminist women, toward other women who were not a threat to them. How many strong women have I known, who professed to love the sisterhood of women, but who were convinced innocent women were trying to steal me, and then gave me hell about it?
We all know men can be jealous too, and that when men get jealous, women can die. Men are the worst and I’m glad I never fell in love with one. They bring more violence and fatality to the table and we all know it, so Jesus Christ if we men could just stop being so awful that would be great. Never having loved a man, I have never known unreasonable, controlling, and/or abusive jealousy from one. For that I’m grateful. Because the jealousy I’ve known from some women has caused me such astronomical strife, to imagine it even worse leaves me dumb.
Everyone feels flashes of jealousy sometimes. It exists naturally to help secure pair bonding for procreation, so a little has been adaptive during evolutionary history. But it can spin out of control and ruin everything. And in my experience, it has never been about anything real. The jealousy inflicted on me has always been for nothing.
One jealous lover made us stop watching “The L-Word” because she was jealous of the fictional characters. She once made me promise to never fantasize about Wonder Woman. I was just reading a comic book but any woman was a potential threat. She was jealous of women on stage, and of my female friends. I’ve seen that last one a lot.
I am allergic to jealousy. I sort of think Duluth is a jealous city — it’s part of its small town charm. Regardless, if you are a particularly jealous person, you are likely fucking up your relationships. Stop demonizing and punishing your partners. Get help.
The lover who almost killed me with her bare hands did it for fear of affairs I was not having. She was also one of the loudest proclaimers of her love of women. I tried telling her that jealousy of other women is not feminist, but you try being a man out-feministing your girlfriend. It doesn’t go well even if you’re right. I will not be missing jealousy.
The semi-positive side to abuse is that it trained me to notice abusive patterns. Perhaps too well. I see them everywhere now in the clear light of my lingering hypervigilance. I’d hoped to become an increasingly better person the older I got, accumulating wisdom and a thick skin and so forth. But (shrugs). So much for the myth of progress. My emotional register got set higher and it never went all the way back. I feel threatened more easily, and I react more strongly. Every relationship I tried to put together the past few years blew up on the launch pad. I am less capable of managing insecurity. I am less able to tolerate, say, a little normal jealousy. I am triggered. I cut people out of my life if I even get a whiff of narcissism or abusive behaviors. I don’t stick around to find out if you really want to fight me about nothing or not. I’m not risking it. I bring negasonic warheads to a gunfight.
A Fatal Flaw in the Logic of Love
“I found a fatal flaw in the logic of love and went out of my head/You love a sinking stone that’ll never elope, so get used to the lonesome/Girl, you must atone some/Don’t leave me no phone number there” — The Shins, “Gone for Good”
One of the worst things about love is how everyone puts on their best face in the first months of a new thing. By the time you’re all in love and happy, the mask slips and you find out who you’re really in love with. For instance, I’m way more of a stress case than I let on. I’m more depressed than I let on. I’m bad with money, and I’m generally irresponsible. I don’t want to meet your mom. I’m an introvert, but I act like an extrovert. I’m complicated. I have all sorts of problems that gradually come out. I almost don’t realize I’m minimizing my bad qualities — no one does. I tell myself I’m going to change for you and that I’m turning a corner and that I’m going to try harder than ever to keep my bad side in check. But I never do. And you never do either.
So we wake up to all these problems and creeping resentments. Some couples can get through that and work on it and it’s fine, but we all know the statistics.
Knowing someone is difficult even over many years. That is love’s fatal flaw: it’s blind. My marriage really started getting in trouble at the five-year mark. It took that long to know we were exquisitely mismatched, but by then our lives were inextricable. It was a disaster.
Evolution created love to make babies. That’s it. Even if you don’t breed, you’ve got more time to help your sister with her kids, for a net gain of more breeders. It’s all part of the plan. Messy divorces and broken hearts just propel folks to their next mating opportunity. Love’s blindness is a feature, not a bug. It’s diabolical.
Biology vs. Free Will
“The only winning move is not to play.” — War Games
I can’t deny the creeping horror of being a vessel for the recombining of DNA. Life is a “soft machine” as William S. Burroughs put it. He also said humans wouldn’t be free until we left our bodies behind, because then we wouldn’t be subject to biological drives. Biology forces questions of free will upon us. Sex and love drive us around like robots. The best you can hope for is that you’ve pointed yourself in the right direction. But you can’t turn it off.
Neil Gaiman once noted that sex makes us part of something larger than ourselves, and that there is a beauty and a mystery to that. Another author to wrestle with cosmic forces larger than ourselves (and thus indifferent to us): Lovecraft. I’m just saying.
I remember reading many years ago about an evangelical sect in Texas who thought sex was dirty and evil. And some of the men were getting back-alley castrations. I felt it was so terrible and wrong-headed.
But other times in my life, I have on occasion found the barking insistence of my own sex drive to be a burden. Certainly, it can be an unwelcome distraction, that lifelong inability to get it off one’s mind. Even with a sex-positive attitude, I have found my sex drive — sometimes — exhausting. Like the trope that “men think about sex every two minutes.” It’s true! I have definitely wanted my own sex drive to just fucking quiet down so I can focus. I never wanted to mutilate myself. But once in a great while, I thought of those poor Texas bastards and glimpsed a sliver of sympathy. They just wanted to turn it off.
Perhaps they had read Stanislaw Lem’s description of all the mating that occurs worldwide in the span of one single minute, in his story “One Human Minute”:
Every minute, 34.2 million men and women copulate. Only 5.7 percent of all intercourse results in fertilization, but the combined ejaculate [is] a volume of 45,000 liters a minute … the stream of sperm, forty-three tons of it, discharged into vaginas per minute — its 430,000 hectoliters is compared with the 37,850 hectoliters of boiling water produced at each eruption of the largest geyser in the world (at Yellowstone). The geyser of sperm is 11.3 times more abundant and shoots without intermission … that forty-three-ton impregnating stream of sperm flows without stop, and the law of large numbers guarantees that it will be as constant as the sum of solar energy striking Earth. There is something mechanical about this, inexorable, and animallike. How can one come to terms with an image of humanity copulating relentlessly through all the cataclysms that befall it, or that it has brought upon itself?
Somehow the dating world will survive if I withdraw from the tsunami of dicks.
Dodging Bullets vs. Walking Into Buzzsaws
I reflect on the number of times I’ve been torn up over someone unattainable, only to find out later it would have been a disaster. I’ll be agonizing over woulda shoulda coulda, and then hear she’s an anti-masker for instance. So, if it had worked out, it wouldn’t have worked out.
But the number of such bullets I’ve dodged is less than the number of buzzsaws I’ve walked into. Even with advance knowledge — people literally warning me away from someone — I only double down. I say, “I can handle it,” or, “I want to find out for myself,” or, “Now that I know there’s drama I feel even more attraction.” Then later I complain as if I wasn’t warned.
I have also tried warning people away from other people, only to inadvertently drive them together. I’ll be like, “I’m telling you, she became a physical threat to me,” but his eyes light up because she’s pretty.
The heart has no idea what it wants.
Love vs. Infatuation
“I’m making bad decisions/Really, really bad decisions/I’m making bad decisions/On you” – The Strokes, “Making Bad Decisions“
I pursued people even when I knew I was a hot mess. I feel an enormous freedom turning away from my neurotic and destructive drives. There is power in refusal.
People say if you’re going it alone it’s because of trauma. But I’m not going it alone. I’m going it without the pair bond. I used to praise one of my earliest girlfriends for teaching me to love with my whole heart. Perhaps I misunderstood the lesson, because now I think all I learned from her was manic co-dependence. It took two to tango of course, we just really nailed the doors open. My love has always been all-consuming, and I wake up among smoldering ruins.
One of my therapists told me: “That’s not love: it’s infatuation.” He described healthy love as measured, built slowly over months of dating. One shouldn’t hurl oneself into it and give everything away. In other words, the opposite of the only thing I know. He was describing sexuality that turns to love only when you truly know each other.
Either that therapist is crazy, or I am. Because like I said, you don’t really know someone for several years, and by then it’s too late. I am clearly possessed by unrealistic romanticism. I cannot tell the difference between love and infatuation. I’m still not convinced there is actually a difference.
Fetters and Solace
Consider the Liz Phair song “Fuck and Run.” Ever since I first heard it in 1993, I thought the lyrics were, “I want a boyfriend/I want all that stupid old shit/fetters and solace.” I considered that to be a perfect encapsulation of love’s dilemma: fetters and solace. I meditated on the wisdom of it for years.
Turns out I misheard the lyrics entirely: the words are “letters and sodas.” They’re still good lyrics! But they describe a teen’s conception of young love, as opposed to the broader wisdom of my inaccurate version. That pretty much sums it up: I’ve misunderstood love and sex my entire life. I prefer a mistake more than the truth. So I’m giving up the solace, but the fetters too. Like Steve Martin in The Jerk: “All I need is this chair …” Except I’m serious. Go on without me.
This is not some reverse-psychology fakeout to make myself unavailable and therefore impossibly more alluring. What I’m looking forward to is when the pandemic is over, someday I’ll be talking to a strange woman in a bar and she might assume I have ulterior motives. And I will show her a link to this essay to prove I’m not hitting on her so we can keep having a good time.
Or, I’ll show her the link if she’s hitting on me. You might be beautiful and maybe I’m even enjoying you flirting with me. But you’re “never gonna get it.” – En Vogue, “My Lovin’”
-All my essays here.
Leave a Comment
Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here