“There’s making love, there’s sex, and then there’s fucking.” I forget who said that to me when I was young and impressionable, but it made sense at the time.
Making love was what people in “The English Patient” did. It was very serious and probably set to violins.
Sex was what people did when they had to hurry up and go to work but still felt like getting bent over the breakfast table/bending someone over a breakfast table. Or else sex was for when you’d been up all night drinking cheap beer and having the same pointless “Terminator” vs. “Terminator 2” argument (don’t doubt me, the answer is always “Terminator 2”) and needed to achieve an orgasm just so the evening wasn’t entirely a waste. It was utilitarian, though satisfying.
Fucking was pure joy. Fucking was – “We just came back from a party and I have now removed my dress in the elevator and discarded it on the landing and who gives a shit what the neighbors will think when they find it in the morning, because you need to hurry up and fuck me now.” Fucking was something to brag to friends about when they decided to give you a hard time – “Please go ahead and continue laughing at me now that I’ve managed to spill a second mimosa on my dress in the middle of what was supposed to be a classy brunch – at least I’m hungover after a wild night with someone who’s, like, seven years younger.” But it had nothing to do with love – even if it happened in the course of a committed relationship. It couldn’t really be meaningful, because meaning would weigh down the experience and hence make it impure.
Some years later, as an allegedly grown woman, I was sitting in a park and reading about how sexual reproduction may have evolved in order for living organisms to deal with mitochondrial mutation. Oh the brutality of evolution and of being alive, I thought, as I read these lines from author Jill Neimark:
Around 2 billion years ago, two prokaryotes—two bacteria bobbing along in the primordial soup—engaged in what might be likened to the original sex act. One invaded the other. One ate, the other was eaten, and both lived to tell the tale.
Is it any wonder why sex is so fraught?
I turned to my husband – I love him, and my relationship with him is the definition of “fraught” – and told him that the human need for physical intimacy disturbs me. The desire to merge with each other is convenient for nature and evolution, for the mechanisms that propel us forward, but not for us. They’re too taxing on us, even as our bodies crave this experience, even as our souls (I believe in the soul) seek it on some other, more mysterious level.
My husband thought about it and told me that, “It’s not hard when intimacy is just the natural extension of wanting to be with someone. It’s not hard when intimacy is ordinary.”
Thanks, Captain Obvious! I thought at the time. But weeks later, I came back to his statement and wondered – is it really that obvious? Least of all to someone like me?
I have a fragmented psyche as the result of past trauma, and I used to think it made me tragic and unique. In reality, it just makes me kind of annoying sometimes, not to mention a poor decision-maker.
For example, the reason why I was so devoted to the idea that love/sex/fucking are three separate categories was because I’d always viewed my own sexual desire as something separate from who I was. There was Real Natalia, well-read, teacher’s pet, cries at Bob Dylan concerts, and then there was Natalia’s Shadow, who really needed to get laid, but only with dudes who had zero interest in Real Natalia (because Real Natalia wouldn’t go for that shit! She was noble/tormented/a budding intellectual! She needed dudes to keep their dicks out of her! When you think “intellectual” do you also think “with a dick in her”? No!)
(I should’ve had a simpler attitude. Like Rodney Dangerfield)
If you guessed that this arrangement, which, I realize, sounds like the plot for a esoteric porn film from the 1970s, has resulted in me sleeping with people who are bad for me, you win a prize (well, you would win a prize – if I wasn’t broke).
It’s a common phenomenon. So common, that we’re used to automatically derive validation from it when it happens to someone else. “That dude said he likes Ayn Rand so of course Janie’s now making out with him. At least I’m not like that. I draw the line at Ayn Rand.”
We think that love can somehow “cure” this problem. “All Janie needs is someone who’s not Paul Ryan! Someone who loves her! And then she’ll be fine!”
Love and commitment don’t work like that, however. You can’t get into a relationship hoping the other person will save you from yourself. Think of it as trying to make an alcoholic get help. Unless said alcoholic *wants* to change their situation and takes the *necessary steps*, all efforts by others will be fruitless.
The even sadder truth is that we tend to attract the very people who push our buttons in the first place. Have serious, unexamined issues? You’re going to end up with someone who will bring out those issues in you.
If they don’t want to bring them out, you will do your damnedest to manipulate them into it. Trust me. Having seen some shit in this world, I know what I’m talking about.
So what do you do? Killing yourself is messy, and far too satisfying for your enemies (who will celebrate with a coke-and-champagne-fueled orgy the minute you do it). You can engage in emotional separatism and be utilitarian when it comes to all relationships, but this is also how people wind up marrying into the Trump family. Swear off relationships altogether? It’s a strategy, even though it sounds really sad.
What I realized recently, as I sat there contemplating the possibility of yet another relationship ending, feeling sad and wanting to drown myself in my wine glass, is that heartbreak and loneliness are themselves a paradox. The universe has a design to it, and we’re part of the design whether we care to be or not. Is a tiny part of something much greater ever really alone? And do we *feel* alone precisely because of the overwhelming greatness of what it is we are part of? I’m thinking the answers are no and yes, respectively.
“Ugh, Natalia,” you’re thinking. “You lured me here with ‘fucking’ this and ‘getting bent over breakfast tables’ that, and now you’re talking about the universe, you stupid bitch.”
Bear with me for a moment, though. Here’s a gif:
When you consider yourself as a part of something (be it the universe, or, say, a group of people who reads long blog posts on the internet,) you get closer to seeing yourself as whole. When you feel whole, you’re not desperate to be with anyone. The less desperate you feel, the more capable you are of love – but not just any kind of love.
Seeing yourself as whole is the first step toward achieving the state I like to refer to as “seamless love.”
I’m sorry that I make my ideal of love sound like the kind of underwear you’d wear under a too-tight dress (OR AM I?), but it’s unavoidable. Because so many of our problems with love, with intimacy, and with ourselves lie in the seams – i.e. in the compartmentalization of our feelings for ourselves and each other, which in itself is the direct result of us forgetting that we are part of something bigger.
Compartmentalization affects us fairly straightforwardly. Consider the hero of Adelle Waldman’s “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” and his sex life:
“He had always had a hard time talking about sex… Typically, the only way he could do it, state aloud what he wanted, was to go all out, sort of become a different person – the kind who could tell, not ask, a woman to take him all the way in her mouth or to suck his balls or to get on her back and spread her legs. His voice, when he said these things, sounded different, hard and flat, stripped of its usual amiability. To get to this state, he had to drum up a certain contempt for the woman (because he didn’t speak to any human beings this way, in any other context)…
… It wasn’t really a place he liked to go… After he came, he inevitably felt a bit disgusted, with himself and the situation, by which he meant, in large part, the woman he was with.”
Leaving aside the obvious considerations – such as Nathaniel P. being a douchebag – please do notice the obvious psychological compartmentalization. It comes in different forms, but it almost always has the same effect – you’re never really present, with yourself or with others.
Seamless love, on the other hand, is my idea of love – both toward yourself and toward the people in your life – as continuous, unbroken narrative. “I like rain on a strange roof, I like gratuitously quoting Faulkner, paperwork makes me sob, men who open their eyes midway through a kiss make me smile, I like the number 8.”
Or, “I like sleeping on your chest in the early hours of the dawn, I like the stupid tattoo you got when you were eighteen, it hurts to consider a future without you, it hurts when you hurt me, it tickles when you kiss my neck, you are always a part of me, you are in the sky over America as sunlight peels away from the East Coast and I’m watching it from a plane with no one beside me, you’re caramel that sticks to my teeth, you’re everything I’ve ever feared and everyone I’ve ever coolly betrayed.”
The unbroken narrative lends equal weight to how we process the positive and the negative, the private and public. It re-casts desire as organic, as much a part of you as your liver or that place in your mind where you keep your most bittersweet childhood memories.
Loving “seamlessly” is not a magic trick that will help you avert heartbreak and disaster. But I do think that it can help someone deal with pain more holistically.
Pain, after all, is also not alien to our being – it’s part of who we are, if only because we’re all fragile. It’s true of the pain we inflict on others and the pain that they inflict upon us – which isn’t to say that I want to cast it in a positive light. Pain just becomes easier to handle when you claim it.
For example, I’ve written on this blog before about the guy who raped me – he’s a predator and a sadist, there is nothing positive that can be said about that. But I’ve begun to take the immense hurt he inflicted on me and to kind hold it close to my chest in my mind, instead of trying to run from it (I tried that for years, it follows everywhere). I came to see that there were damaged parts of me, flooded with darkness – by him, by others, by myself – that have begun to change, grow more inhabitable, or at least more knowable.
And if you consider yourself as whole, the following fact also becomes unavoidable – your fuck-ups are also part of who you are, and not some unfortunate byproduct of not having met the right blandly handsome billionaire/the right underwear model named Portia Hootyboob yet.
Ultimately, the theory of seamless love centers on reconciling the different parts of who you are and, as the result, seeing yourself clearly. There’s a reason why in all of our mythologies, for example, ghosts are mysterious beings that haunt you/sneak up on you/are glimpsed from the corner of your eye. That which cannot be seen clearly is scary and confusing. And when you’re no longer scared and confused, you’re halfway to figuring out what to do with yourself, really.
I’m saying this as someone who believes that nobody really knows what they’re doing. I certainly don’t (and if I ever tell you that I do, it means I’ve probably been replaced by an alien pod person and you should alert the appropriate authorities immediately).
I offer this theory of seamless love to you not because I’m hot shit and I have it all figured out. It just feels like it fits. It feels right and good and I hope you can use it.
I’m 33 today and I felt like giving you guys who read here a gift and this is it.
This blog exists because of how good-looking and generous you are.