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If We’re Being Honest, I Probably Wouldn’t Seriously Have Sex with Thomas Cromwell Right Now

May 10, 2014

No doubt we’re just one philosophy grad student away from definitively unraveling the mystery, but for now, nobody really comprehends what the fuck time is. It exists too silently and behindly to be confronted head-on. It’s always creeping through. We don’t really notice it, and then we really do.

More and more often lately I come across competitions and courses and prizes for “young writers,” opportunities I’m too old to even hypothetically consider submitting to or applying for. Rebeginning your life has certain numerical consequences; I didn’t start writing for realsies until I was 27. I’m less and less interested in editing, let alone publishing, the manuscript draft I finished at 28: at first I was eager to start shopping it around, I guess to “prove” that I was a “real” writer or some shit, but now I see it more as a test of my seriousness, emotionally necessary and professionally useful, a fruitful scrapyard for future projects—but not as my first book. I’m busy with my jobs, I’m hard on myself, my mental health is what it is. I’m psychologically allergic to self-promotion. I write in fragments, I think forever before I connect them, I connect them in strange ways, then I edit them for 200 years. These are not characteristics of a high-output, “top 40 under 40” kind of writer. Top 90 over 90 is a more realistic list for me to shoot for.

It’s not that I feel old, exactly. Of course every morning while getting ready for work I notice the assorted physical deteriorations and ominous foreshadowings that everyone my age notices, and of course in those creased grey subtly saggy moments I give a mental eff finger to the aging process that turns every body into gravity’s floppy playground. Anyone who says they don’t mind watching themselves (“themselves,” is that where we’re at in the gender-neutral reflexive pronoun debate these days?) age is a damn liar. But I know I’m nowhere close to old, objectively. I felt older when I was a kid than I do now.

If anything, I feel like I’ve spent my adulthood getting younger and younger. It’s as though I’m on the wrong side of a lengthening bridge and it’s too late for me to start trying to cross it. Since creating this blog I’ve made 453,000 jokes about being a spinster and hating dating and whatnot, but let’s see how it looks with the rhyme and implied cat humour removed: I’m 34 years old and I’ve never been in a relationship.

Before you ask: I’m pretty sure I’m just fine to look at. Strangers have bought me drinks. I’ve been asked out by friends, colleagues, and Skytrain passengers alike. Verily, academic and professional authority figures have been known to flirt unto me. Sometimes after doing a reading I’m taken aside and asked for my phone number and/or e-mail address. Yes. Yet: without involving my toes, I can count the number of dates I’ve been on. Some were platonic and pleasant, a couple were awkward, one was downright awful, and only one–my first date, in 1999–ended with a kiss (uncomfortable, unwanted, and unreturned). Long, long ago in the distant past (i.e., 2005) there was a short series of makeouts—all with the same person, none sober. In fact I was so drunk on all four of those occasions that I had no memory, the next morning, of how they started or what they felt like. And I had no desire, the next morning, to repeat them. I spent the night at that person’s house three platonic times and one comically unsuccessful semi-unplatonic one. And that’s it.

Over the years I’ve lost several very close friends who had told me they weren’t attracted to me but then at some point changed their minds, or who actually were platonic friends but then kicked me to the curb at the instigation of a new romantic partner, or who weren’t ready for a relationship and needed a sort of nonphysical but emotionally exclusive “rest area” to safely hang out in until they could move on (with someone else), and I experienced each of those losses as a breakup. I say “breakup” despite not knowing how a real breakup feels. I say “breakup” because it’s the closest word to the true word and the true word doesn’t exist. We name what we comprehend; we name what is. I’ve studied my language, among others, in depth, and can find no words for a great deal of what I am and what I experience. I feel less and less describable, and by extension less and less human.

For some reason I feel like I can’t, or shouldn’t, talk or write about this without padding it with humour and flippancy. Why? Because it hurts to think about it. Because I don’t want to admit the growing impact it has on my life. Because I don’t want to make my friends and family uncomfortable. Because it’s unpleasant to take on this much vulnerability, even in a blog post that twelve people will read. [Twelve AWESOME people. –Ed.]

Every day I feel more separate from my peers and even from my closest friends, all of whom are, probably needless to say, in relationships or looking for relationships or looking for different relationships or at the very least looking for sex. I constantly find myself in bizarro, unnavigable social situations that do no favours for my already high levels of introversion and anxiety. Mazillions of times I’ve found myself trying to explain to a married friend over coffee the grief of having just broken up with (or whateverthefuck) someone I never dated or even touched. Or trying to bitch in a witty and accessible way about how I felt the other night at a party to which every other guest had brought a partner. Or trying to describe without Clint Eastwood-like “get off my lawn” old person rancor how alienating and frankly exhausting it is to know that any time I attend a social event I’ll be the only one there who is not simply “not seeing anyone right now,” but who never hasn’t been single.

I like to tell myself this isn’t about whether there’s another person in my bed or not, but it is of course very much about that. I’ve known people who actually can’t imagine going a month without sex. A month! Actually! In her first book, my mentor from the writing program I took at SFU has a poem about a time when she had to be away from her partner for one night and how difficult it was. One night! I know that in a poem you can totally just write whatever, but I’m pretty sure that one was based on real events and feelings. Occasionally someone tells me I “just haven’t found the right person.” I also occasionally say that to myself or to someone else, usually when I feel like I need to shut down my inner monologue or an awkward conversation. But it’s ridiculous. With all due respect to me, my brain obviously isn’t functioning like other people’s intercourse-wise. Even if I went out tonight and found a/the “right person,” someone who wasn’t put off by the statistical anomalies, who didn’t perceive me as a project or a curiosity, and who I actually wanted to bring home (which is the biggest hindrance of them all), that still wouldn’t begin to solve the problem. It’s not because of cruel fate that I am where I am. There’s not some magical person out there who’s going to show up and put an end to all this. I’ve missed out on things, I’ve failed to accrue certain basic common human experiences, and if they were to happen to me at this stage of my life they would, necessarily, happen in atypical ways and would likely have atypical consequences for both parties. I worry that even if I were to somehow find myself in a relationship it would be short-lived because I’d be useless or exasperating, on a practical level, as a partner. There are many respects in which I’m not 34, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about that.

I have a vivid memory of my best friend telling me, shortly after we met, about being pursued by a guy who was interested in her but had never had a girlfriend. She found him frustrating and declined the offer. As she put it to me, putting it to him (I assume these weren’t the words she really used at the time but rather a condensed and de-euphemized explanation of why she rejected him): “ ‘I don’t want to have to teach you.’ ” She’d been 19 or 20 at the time. I don’t want to have to teach you. Quite a sentence. If that’s how one of the kindest and biggest-hearted people I know felt at 20, how does a more averagely kind and normal-size-hearted person feel at 30 to 40?

In a sense I become more mythical every day. Ladies like me hang out in classical literature, not at pubs in Vancouver. Female virginity has weight; it impresses, in both senses of the word. It works for Artemis because she’s nonhuman and forever 21. It works in some men’s (and women’s? but no, yeah, especially men’s) sexual fantasies, but as far as I can tell those storylines aren’t, let’s say, overly realistic, and they tend to end with the climax. The denouement is nothing but questions. Of what physical/emotional value is she to him one minute later? Are they still hanging out the next week? What does he say to his friends? (Do I want to know?)

As bullcrappy as the interpersonal stuff is, what bothers me more is that I feel unentitled and unqualified to write about the things that are—or so I keep hearing—most universal and most vital to human experience. The whole point of writing is communication, connection, coming together (figuratively!) at the middle of the bridge. If I can’t manage my half of the trip, I ask myself oftener and oftener these days, then what the fuck am I doing trying to be a writer at all?

(After the Banff Centre Week of Crying last April I told myself I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing courses until I got some therapy: a promise I’ve kept so far, in that I’ve done neither.)

I wonder, am I capable of creating a novel with psychologically credible and accessible characters? What business do I have attempting to write about love? Every time I try, I end up with a poem about language. And okay, fair enough, I do fucking love language; words are the business. But independently of emotions they don’t suffice, and nobody wants to read a poem about a 34-year-old woman making figurative love to a dictionary. I feel stalled, incomprehensible, messed up in a way I can’t quite articulate.

I’m not ending this with a proper ending because if it had reached one I wouldn’t be where I am. I don’t know what an end to this would look like. I can only hope I’ll have found out by the time the 2070 Top 90 over 90 list is posted on the Geist website.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. unterfeichtauerin permalink
    May 17, 2014 1:11 pm

    Woah! I find it very brave to post thoughts as openhearted as these! I particularly like your description of platonic breakups, very true. And maybe you’re actually a very lucky person: you can take several of your loved ones to bed simultaneously, or is there any chance of dictionaries getting jealous of one another? Just stay true to your personal needs, and I’m sure you’ll remain a fascinating writer. A novel lover, as the old librarians’ joke goes…

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