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November 8, 2007

Three Letter Word—November 9, 2007

Every time I sit down to write this column is torturous. My friends and coworkers hear me whine about it every week. Time moves quickly, weeks pass, and I still don’t know what to say. I am beginning to suspect that my topic is too broad. Sex is all over the place, even when you aren’t having it. There are so many facets that I don’t know how to pick one. I don’t have something like a sex work profession, a polyamorous relationship, or an active role in a thriving kink community to give me direction. Nobody sends me letters. (If you’re out there and you want to, however, feel free. My Internet presence is vast and accessible.) So where do I even start thinking about what to talk about? A more worrying question: Do I have any authority to even speak on the subject?

True, sometimes I have sex. This isn’t incredibly impressive. I’m certainly not a fount of sage advice; anyone who knows me personally can tell you that I make plenty of mistakes. Regarding most things, sex among them, I rarely have any idea what I’m doing. I guess my advantage is that I’m not afraid to bring it up. I talk about sex. A whole lot, in fact, and so I suppose it’s not a big jump from there to writing about sex. That, and I’m an exhibitionist.

I have few qualms discussing my romantic history, but motives are often fairly intellectual. I make the dangerous assumption that people will find this interesting, simply because I’m fascinated by other people’s intrigues. My inner sociologist is delighted. The subtleties of social interaction are certainly illuminated by learning a thing or two about old flames. But psychological gossip is not the only cause for my stupid jokes, for my brief backstories. When everything is out on the table, I’ve found, the past is easier to accept. Secrets mean shame, and while shame has its excitement, it isn’t conducive to maintaining healthy relationships. And so we hit upon something I have wondered a great deal about. How can you (or I) be friends with someone once sex becomes involved? I doubt I’m qualified to give advice. For me it’s been about 50–50, equal wins and losses from the struggle with post-coital friendship.

Of course there is a difference between an ex and a former hookup. The ex question is presumably more complicated, although I can state the obvious with relative confidence. Nine times out of ten, or some pretend statistic, having sex with an ex is not going to help things be less uncomfortable. Guilty bangin’ with an ex from home, as many of us can attest, is usually a terrible idea. But really, it comes down to what went wrong in your relationship, and how those problems will affect your potential friendship. Things certainly get interesting when you’re still in love. A lot of friendships are difficult and emotionally demanding, but possible. Again, it’s a complicated question.

When you somehow find yourself having hooked up with a friend, things can go a number of ways. You can fall into dating, or decide to. You can get really freaked out and not hang out for a while until it’s appropriate for you to pretend to forget it happened. You can immediately start pretending to forget. Or you can, perhaps even maturely, acknowledge what happened, address any emotional or dramatic repercussions, and figure out if you want to do anything else about it. Denying that something happened is childish, insulting, and impractical. The odds are that most of your friends already know, and are simply waiting for you to bring it up. And, obviously, whoever was involved knows, and you need to respond to that if you want to stay friends. No awkward silence is going to eradicate the past. Part of friendship is openness, so a step back physically needn’t entail a step back emotionally. Friends talk, so I say talk, even if I don’t know what I’m talking about.