Saturday, March 3, 2012

Diary of a separation

Am I lazy or have I just become used to intimacy?

I got a message from Mark, the aspiring sitcom writer this week. I have been really, really hopeless with Mark since dumping him by email after three dates. For a while he kept in what felt to me like oppressively close touch, emailing and texting and suggesting we go out for a drink. In return, I behaved like an evasive weasel, expressing generic positive thoughts about the "going out for a drink" scenario, then going silent or finding an excuse whenever he suggested a concrete date. Finally he got quite cross and asked if I really wanted to see him again and I said that he was putting too much pressure on me and that no, if he kept being so insistent, I wouldn't actually want to see him again. A fairly poor performance in the maturity stakes from both of us, really.

This email, coming after a break of a month or so, amused and appalled me in equal measure. On the one hand it was conciliatory and thoughtful: he said he was in a "strange place" in his life when he met me and he knew he had been far too pushy when I had been very clear about wanting to keep things very casual. On the other hand, I found it hard to concentrate on his apology once he used the expression: "lazy sex" in describing our abortive relationship.

Lazy sex? In context, it was obviously not intended to be insulting, but somehow it doesn't sound great either. "Lazy?" Am I lazy? I wonder. I didn't just lie there with a pained expression, did I, like some Victorian newlywed being ... bothered? I think back, slightly nervously and come to the conclusion that lazy or not, the kind of sex we had is the only kind I know how to "do". This makes it worse, somehow.

No one likes to think they're not very good at sex, but even so, I'm inclined to think it might be true of me. We're all supposed to be GGG, "good, giving and game", according to the wise and funny US agony uncle Dan Savage: I'm not even sure I can muster one out of three. "Stilted, vanilla and inarticulate" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Having stewed over the email for a few days, I'm considering take holy orders and giving up the life of the flesh altogether, but instead I confide in my best friend.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing, laziness," she says, when I tell her, but she doesn't sound entirely convincing.

"It's not great though, is it? It's not 'the sex was mind-blowing, I scaled hitherto unimaginable erotic heights'."

"Well, you obviously didn't think that either, did you?" she points out, very reasonably. "Or you'd have been keener to see him again."

"That's true."

I check with my other friend Anna. "Do you think I might be bad at sex?"

"Oh," she says reassuringly, "I don't think it's really possible to be very bad at sex. A little enthusiasm goes a long way. That, and blow jobs."

I'm still not sure though. Being separated is a bit like being 14 again in this respect. "Am I normal?" I ask myself repeatedly, but this time, there's no Just 17 problem page to put me at ease.

It's funny. Sex – wanting sex with other people – was a big part of why we broke up, but I've surprised myself with how much I actually miss "married" sex. The sex I (occasionally) have now is more exciting in prospect: there's the uncertainty, the novelty, that moment of happy realisation that indeed, you haven't imagined it, this person does want to sleep with you. It carries a tiny but powerful vindication: yes, I can be desirable.

But sometimes that moment is actually the best bit: the actual sex that follows can be awkward, strange, comic and very lonely. It's easy to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable with someone you don't actually know very well and those aren't the best circumstances for losing yourself in the moment.

Sex in a long-term relationship is often lazy, I suppose: it's sex where you both know what you want and need and how to get it without superhuman effort. It can be selfish, or opportunistic, or an accident of proximity: it's the kind of sex where you might not even bother to get undressed.

I miss that easy shorthand you have with a long-term partner, the instinct you develop about another body and its reactions. I mean intimacy, I suppose.

Intimacy is ... not having to make an effort? I don't think Dan Savage would approve.



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