The Desire Artist

You know what it’s like. You’re only reading this because you think that maybe you’re different from everyone else. Maybe you aren’t seeing things, feeling things right, but you are.

But I’m going to write this anyway. Just so you know. So you can think: well, at least there’s someone else out there who thinks about sex all the time but is simultaneously scared to death of it. Not the sex. Not the mechanics. If all we ever had to experience were the mechanics, we’d all be fine. It’s all the shit that goes along with it. And it only gets worse.

When you’re young and your hormones are screaming in your veins like four-year olds having a tantrum at the supermarket, you’ll drag your genitals through a garden full of broken glass just to have someone slide their fingers into your pussy. When you get older, and the cacophony of urge grows quiet, every goddamned surface becomes reflective, and you’re the idiot in one of those awful hospital gowns with their ass peeking out. And it’s not as great an ass as it used to be, either.

I know there are people for whom sex isn’t enormous. They do it like they eat breakfast. They do it when they’re hungry and need it. They consume pleasure and sometimes they’ve happened upon a fairly good restaurant but sometimes it’s just McDonald’s. Memorable or forgettable, they walk away sated, intact and occasionally a little queasy. But that passes

I never wanted sex to be that way. When got it that way, I decided to give it up for a while, hoping to reclaim something momentous in the act, perhaps at a later date. Perhaps with someone who wanted it to be momentous too.

The saddest thing about giving up sex is how easy it is. To this day it still stuns me how the dry years slid so easily over each other, like pages in a book. The ache I thought would surely drive me crazy became an easily ignored tenderness at the back of my mouth. It came, it went, I prodded it with my tongue from time to time, but it didn’t require fixing.

That scared me. It reminded me of that story, A Hunger Artist, by Kafka, about the guy who starves himself for a living and people come to see him get thinner and thinner, they’re amazed at his discipline, his ability to deny himself. That’s why they came to look. But all the time he felt guilty for cheating them; he knew he was a fraud because not eating was the easiest thing in the world; he just couldn’t find anything he actually wanted to eat.

That’s what it was like for me. The hardest thing in the world was finding anyone I wanted to fuck. Not because my world was full of unattractive people, but because none of them were attractive enough to compete the blissful lethargy of going without. I felt, somehow, like that was a sin—the not wanting.

So I made up for it. Instead of forcing myself out of that lethargy and visiting the gym of the flesh, I fell in love with a man who would not have me.

As procrastinations went, it was—if I may say so myself—pretty damn baroque. I’m not sure when I started to want him, but in retrospect I think it was conveniently after I knew he didn’t want me.

To his credit, it wasn’t an outright rejection. There were just so many elaborate reasons why it wouldn’t work out, why he couldn’t face the idea of becoming that close, why it would just signal the beginning of the end of something beautiful. Stop rolling your eyes. Those kind of excuses serve a purpose, you know.

Like any good piece of fiction, they allow you to suspend your disbelief, maintain a modicum of self-respect and invite you to indulge in years of what-if daydreams. As a writer, I had to admire it’s potential as an engine of creative sublimation.

Unrequited sexual desire can eat up your life, your attention like nothing else. You get to feel all the thrill and angst and urge of a new relationship without ever having to get undressed or consider contraception. You can spend years hatching amazing narratives that jump back and forth in time: if I’d only met him sooner, or, once we’re old we can meet and laugh at how badly it would have all turned out, and everything in between. But never once do you have to really consider the reality of changing your life or the dreary prospect of inevitable boredom. You can live in a comfortable state of perpetual, poignant, delusional hope.

Then one day, something monumental happened. Something, awful but revealing. It blew through all the baroque excuses like a hurricane through cheap curtains. All the spindly glass columns that supported that suspension of disbelief shattered. I really did attempt to take up the thread of my fabricated, hopeless romance, but I surveyed the wreckage and realized it was beyond repair. All the love in the world couldn’t blind me to how badly I’d built that fiction of perhaps.

I was left thinking… fuck, I’m going to die without getting laid, again. I was back to being haunted by how acutely unnatural my life had become. How selfish, how miserly with my time and my affections I’d grown. How cleverly I’d kept potential lovers at a distance.

And still there was something holding me back. That dismal, romantic yearning for sex to be important, something worth the effort of all the space I’d have to give up to get it. Something more than the consumption of the adequate.

No, I told myself. You’re just making up reasons not to get laid. Just go do it.

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