After a breakup, a woman goes through several predictable stages. Each woman moves through these stages at her own pace and not necessarily in the same order. Some of the earlier stages include the panic stage, the puking stage, and the “I’m going to die” stage. These are generally followed by the “I’m going to be alone forever” stage and the “I’m pretty sure I can find affection at the bottom of this pint of chocolate ice cream” stage. Somewhere in there is probably a stage in which she shows up at her parents’ doorstep in tears and spends between several hours and several days hiding under her mother’s bedspread. And when she’s mostly healed—still feeling twinges of grief and sadness, but enjoying life again—she will enter the “I want sex again, please” stage.
Once this stage begins, it does not end until the next object of desire has been obtained. It is often painful in its intensity and can cause night sweats, short-term memory loss, and impaired decision-making. The horny stage typically first manifests itself as elaborate daydreams about former sexual partners, and thoughts such as, “Sex with _____ has been the supreme achievement of my life. I must again have sex with _____ in order to be fulfilled and happy.” As one well knows, obliging such thoughts is often self-destructive. A woman is advised to ignore them, rather than going into the glove compartment and locating, for the fifty-seventh time, the ripped piece of envelope bearing the phone number of the hottest guy she has ever had sex with. That ripped piece of envelope should remain in its rightful place just in case she ever decides to demean herself during other moments of impaired judgment, such as the slight, pleasant drunkenness that makes every contemplated action a fabulous idea.
She will turn forward, this woman, and march into a new phase of her life.
This is where I was at four months past Joe. It was spring break, and I had no money to travel, so I spent my days reading poetry in cafes and wine shops and my nights in karaoke bars with Ray and Tim. My petite frame was burdened by a sexual energy that I believe, had it been harnessed, could have been used to power the whole city of New York. I had resolved to get laid before week’s end. A midweek karaoke trip held the promise of a hookup with a guy we thought was named Wade, but he never called. It was just as well, as the whole household barely survived the two-day flurry of agonizing when each of us confessed that the bar had been so loud, we couldn’t really hear his name, and that it was indeed possible that his name was actually “Wayne,” which of course meant that I could not go out with him anyway, lest I violate my self-imposed rule of not fucking guys named Wayne.
Later that week I found myself standing in my bedroom with an ex-Marine from St. Louis, whom I’d met in a bar. Neither of us had ever hooked up before. We made out a lot, and talked, and giggled, and when we discovered that we were both working on a book, he said he’d brought his manuscript and asked me to take a look at it.
While he rifled through his bag, I began to panic. A certain incident at the bar had not escaped my attention. While writing down a song request, the ex-Marine had asked me how to spell something. Alarm bells and sirens had gone off, but they were dulled by my inebriation and my single-minded focus on sex. Now here we were, with no turning back, and I was about to see the real him, his true language skills laid naked in front of me. Should I not like what I saw, I was trapped.
The novel was about a boxer. Not a dog—a pugilist. The story wasn’t bad, but the spelling was so horrific that I was thankful I was still somewhat drunk. As soon as I started reading, I knew right away he was one of those guys who senselessly adds apostrophes when pluralizing nouns. There is no panic more harrowing than the panic I feel when I even suspect that the guy who is about to put his penis inside me thinks there is nothing wrong with the sentence There were many cat’s. Fortunately, the story was 80 pages or so, which allowed time for my panic to recede into indifference. The ex-Marine told me he was dyslexic, so I figured he had an excuse, even though those homophone errors still grated on my nerves.
As I eventually discovered, the ex-Marine had been impotent ever since his stint in Iraq, where a gunshot wound to the head had left him with nerve damage. The irony that it was Easter weekend did not escape me.
“Oh god,” said my friend Beth, picking up on the irony right away. “You mean…while I was in church singing ‘He is risen,’ the Marine…didn’t?”
I was glad things worked out the way they did. The ex-Marine—who was kind, loving, and funny—spent two days with me. We showed each other patience and compassion, and he made me feel beautiful and perfectly normal—something I sorely needed to feel after thirteen months with a denigrating asshole.
What I learned from my hookup is that sometimes when you think you’re seeking the physical act of sex, you’re actually seeking something greater.
And that sometimes, you might find yourself listed in a random person’s cell phone contacts as “Sweet Sugar Cheeks.”
With the word “sugar” spelled horribly, horribly wrong.