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What Happens When We Embrace ‘The Art of Sleeping Alone’?

the art of sleeping aloneI was in the bookstore last night with a friend who’d wandered into another section. I wanted to look at a book on the top shelf, too high for me to reach. I noticed that to my right there was a very tall man, so I said, “Could you do me a favor?” He turned to me and said, “Who, me?” That was when I realized just how handsome he was. I can’t say I didn’t notice the muscles peeking out from under the sleeve of his t-shirt upon first glance, but I was truly focused on the pragmatism of his height. It wasn’t until he spoke that I thought, “Uh-oh.” I asked him if he could reach a book off the top shelf for me, in a way that was clearly about a friendly hand rather than flirting. He walked over to me and said, “Which one do you need?”

“The Art of Sleeping Alone,” I replied. Except I said it like this: “The Art of Sleeping Alooooooooone.” Just like that, with a reeeaaalllly long, awkward o, indicative of the fact that maybe I could use a Big O instead.

I was interested in the book because I’d just read a great interview with the author, Sophie Fontanel. Fontanel talked with Salon’s resident relationships columnist Tracy Clark-Flory about the 12 years – yes, 12 years – she went without having sex. In that interview, Fontanel dropped all kinds of wisdom-filled pearls, like:

“I think it’s a mistake to think that women are always expecting love. We are expecting to be in good hands, even if these good hands are just for two nights or one week.”

“Sometimes, making love just once, if it’s good, it’s better than making love every day.”

and

“In French, the title of my book was, “The Desire.” It’s interesting, because my book seems to be about a lack of desire, but it’s not. It’s about a very big desire, a desire too big for reality.”

Amen to all that, sister! I have come to a similar place in my life, when for the first time I’m not interested in having sex just because I’m supposed to want to have sex. And it’s not that I’m practicing some kind of rigid abstinence, I just don’t want to have sex for the sake of having sex, just to prove that I can. Not that I’ve ever had that much sex “just because,” but since my divorce four years ago, I certainly spent some time both wanting to have sex to prove that I could have it and – after I had it – wanting to have sex because that’s what you’re supposed to want. Because sex is viewed as some kind of magic cure-all. But it’s not. Fontanel argues that sleeping alone and rest are the things that heal us, when we need them. In an interview with New York magazine, she says:

Don’t be afraid of being single, and don’t be afraid of being single for a long time. I don’t believe that the more you have sex, the more you want to have sex, or the more you are having sex, the better you are at it. I think it’s the more you want to do it, the better you will be. You’re not going to forget how to make love, you know? You never forget it. But when you have waited a long time and you return to sexual activity, it’s very amazing because everything is new.

Fontanel talks a bit about privacy (or lack thereof) in relation to writing “The Art of Sleeping Alone” in a lovely op-ed in The New York Times, and I think a lot about privacy every time I write about my own life. As a writer and comedian, I share stories from my life in the hopes of reaching others who might benefit from the telling. So that said, I’ll divulge that as of this writing I haven’t had sex in a year. (Don’t worry, like a disappointing encounter, this year has gone by really fast.) Furthermore, the year prior to the sexless year I just spent was filled with sex so intense that I often joke even if I never have sex again, I’m good. Before that, I hadn’t had sex since my marriage ended a year-and-a-half earlier. I’ve never been a serial monogamist and I’d never had a one night stand prior to getting married, so I’ve endured plenty of “dry spells” throughout my sexual life. As Fontanel notes in her op-ed, some might be cruel and say a person goes through stints in the sexual desert because no one finds them desirable, but of course we know that’s not true. Most human beings could have sex any night of the week if all they were looking for was the act itself. But I’ve decided that I’m trying a different approach to romance now. Rather than try to find someone I’m “attracted” to – physically and/or as a result of the intoxicating pull of the familiar-yet-unknown – and fall in love with them hoping they’ll fall in love with me, I’m going to wait for love to find me – if it ever finds me – and then relax in knowing that nothing is more attractive and sexy than loving someone who loves you, too, and who will gladly let you know it.

Image: Simon & Schuster

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