Valentine’s Day is fun, but this week the Cut is celebrating self-love: we’re indulging our all whims, desires, and worst impulses. Join us for five days of ME ME ME ME ME.
One Christmas, when I was growing up, a well-meaning neighbor left a dozen homemade pecan rolls on our back porch. Someone in my family let our 12-year-old cockapoo out into the yard, and he ate the whole shebang. We spent a good portion of the holiday break at the emergency vet clinic while Opie clung to life, his pancreas tumid with sugary nuts.
“I don’t understand,” wailed my sister. “Why would he eat a dozen pecan rolls?!”
But I understood. I knew. It was because nobody stopped him.
Long before his later, peaceful death from natural causes, I realized that my voluptuary dog and I were not so dissimilar. I’m not a person of modest appetites: I love drinking, overeating, gambling, certain drugs, and having casual sex with horrible people.
The only thing that keeps me from doing all of these things at once, and constantly, is a crispy thin-style crust of self-restraint. So when challenged for Journalistic Purposes to spend a week “treating myself” — eating what I wanted, smoking what I wanted, sleeping with whomever, and otherwise indulging myself in hepatically disastrous ways — I wasn’t concerned about being able to complete the task. I was concerned that “doing only exactly what I wanted” would be a little too easy.
To wit: I am 31, unmarried, and nonreligious. I live by myself. The phrase “in the privacy of my own home” covers an awful lot of behavior that I don’t feel particularly bad about, and nobody is around to make me.
I don’t say this proudly. I get hangovers. My weight fluctuates. I give blow jobs to the deeply undeserving. Yes, sometimes it “bums me out.” I would love to be one of those one-glass-of-wine bastions of female composure. Instead, I am a woman who routinely falls asleep with a face full of makeup, loudly digesting a hoagie and rousing my emotionally diseased lovers with my bourbon snores.
So I wondered how I could make a week of “treating myself” interesting for me and for you. I don’t think I can say anything exciting about substance abuse that hasn’t been written before and well, in the mid-century literature so beloved by the terrible child-men I have sex with.
I live in Los Angeles, so I considered practicing the kind of reverse sensuality we enjoy locally. Here, “treating yourself” frequently translates to Martinizing one’s genitals, and hiking. But that wouldn’t be doing “exactly what I wanted” in the strictest sense, because let’s be real: Deep down, nobody wants to hike.
I wondered if there weren’t a DIFFERENT kind of indulgence I could practice — if there weren’t conduct from which I actively refrain, even with my own chubby whore’s lax code of ethics. Something seedier and sadder than the usual second-act-of-a-musical-biopic tropes of VD and pills.
I concluded that, thanks to technology, temptation and indulgence are available in a myriad of new and crisply damaging forms. And I’m not just talking about moonrocks, which, yes, okay, are great too. Sorry.
Here is what I did — for one week — that was bad for me. And also “exactly what I wanted.”
Comedian John Mulaney said it best: “In terms of instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.” He’s right! Thankfully, my calendar for “Me Week” is ripe for the blowing-off. I decline to put in “face time” at a friend’s birthday party and reschedule a work phone call, just because I don’t feel like taking it. Exhausted after a long day, I cancel on the friend who invited me over, even though I know she’s already bought steaks, wine, and deeply perishable lettuces.
The pure pleasure of “not having to be anywhere” is admittedly fantastic. But on all other levels, acting lazy and unreliable actually doesn’t feel that great. I know people who have chosen to end longtime friendships over this exact kind of selfish interpersonal sloth. It’s very inconsiderate! Ultimately, I feel as gross as if I’d eaten too many potato skins.
I write, publicly, for a living. This often involves receiving criticism — sometimes directly, and sometimes via what depressed lichen-people on social media like to call “subtweeting.” I accept that criticism is part of my job, and I try to freak out about it as little as a person with human feelings can. (I have trained my eyes to avoid reading comments that contain phrases like “can’t believe someone is paid to do this” and “parents” and “disappointed,” in much the way government agencies police private emails for sensitive terms like “pipe bomb.”)
As much as I’d like to, I try to avoid beefing with strangers. Particularly with other women in my field. Unfortunately, some of them are not as beatific as I am: A colleague texted me a few weeks back to let me know another writer was saying semi-meanish things about me on Twitter. So in the spirit of this long, dark Cheat Week of the Soul, I drafted a cutting, if late, response: “Thanks for reading. And by the way, I’ve enjoyed following your career.”
Immediately after I’d spent hours coming up with that tweet, I realized I couldn’t send it. It just didn’t feel good. I mean, it kind of did, but whatever. I’m not that much of a penis.
Through a lot of luck and a little effort, I’m on cordial-to-excellent terms with most of my exes. I’m Facebook friends with some of their wives and girlfriends. I harbor no ill will for those who came before or will come after me. I rely largely on my glittering personality to attract a man, so anybody else with whom he enjoys relations is generally going to be hotter and thinner.
Occasionally, when a guy’s new girlfriend or his ex hasn’t immediately warmed to me, I’ve tried to be pretty cool. By which I mean, I actively fantasize about having lunch with her so she can see how sweet and fun I am over a sizzling appetizer platter. I’m just an easygoing gal who tries as hard as anybody else! LOOK HOW MUCH WE HAVE IN COMMON. NO, I’LL PUT YOU IN MY PHONE. Ha ha, girl, you have ranch on your lip.
I admit that sometimes I feel tempted to use the internet to look at photos of these women, the ones who don’t like me. So this week, I do. It sucks. It causes actual, profound physical discomfort. I delete Instagram.
I love astrology. I love thinking that my apartment is haunted. I still have three pieces of rose quartz a tarot-reader told me I would need to carry at all times in order to find true love, because my fire spirit was repellent to men. I also realize that this is not the way a rational person thinks or acts, and as such, I try to limit my impulse to hurl gypsy curses or talk about what a Cancer I am. I mean, I know most of those puritan ladies were innocent, but this kind of nonsense is why they used to burn us at the stake.
But who cares? I’m on moral shore leave! So I read my entire unhinged Susan Miller horoscope AND my ex’s, light some Guardian Angel candles I bought from a botánica, and open an envelope containing a voodoo spell my friend bought me in New Orleans. The voodoo spell turns out to be very involved. Its extensive list of ingredients includes red wine, nine plums, and something called “devil’s shoestring.” Instead, I drink the wine and watch an episode of Ghost Adventures where one of the ghosts’ bros insists that a ghost tried to touch his penis. I worry about what Susan said about my ex being “especially charismatic” this month. What the fuck does that mean? Also, NINE PLUMS?
Look. I’m not trying to come off like a chill Fonzie robot who thinks it’s cool for having conquered dainty human frailty. But in certain cases, I find crying to be exceptionally indulgent: like at the death of a celebrity or movies where talking animals are separated and subsequently reunited with their families. If a “good cry” is indeed its own kind of pleasure, it’s one I typically try to deny myself.
Not today! It’s id week, and the baser part of my animal personality structure wants to weep down like a little bitch. (I also try not to use the word bitch ever, but please remember that from an ethical standpoint: SPRING BREAAAAAAAAAK.)
There is one thing that I am ashamed to admit makes me cry without fail: YouTube clips of The Wonder Years. I call up the ending of the episode where Winnie blows off Kevin for an older boy and then gets in a car crash. Kevin climbs on Winnie’s roof and they start playing that Bob Seger song and exchange I love you’s, and, oh God. Oh my God. Where did my youth go? How could Kevin and Winnie go on to find mature love with other people? Why is my own private life an Apache ambush from a Cormac McCarthy novel? I miss my mom.
I love pornography. I am not ashamed of this, because there’s such a bounty of material out there created by sex-positive feminists, queer filmmakers, and other conscience-palliative perverts of the Pacific Northwest. Every once in a while, though, I pine for the grody smut of my youth, the kind that used to be glimpsed in the blue-lit rumpus rooms of sexually precocious middle-school friends.
So, I decide to seek out some good old-fashioned oppressive male-gaze ADULT CINEMA. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the least sexy part of porn is looking for it. It’s difficult and convoluted, and the ads. My God, the ads. I’d venture to say some of them are more repulsive than a thousand alcoholic single thirtysomething bloggers.
I can’t finish. When the guy in the video finally ejaculates on the woman’s once vogueishly augmented breasts and some of it gets in her hair, it just makes me miss the last man for whom I had true feelings. I close the laptop, stare out the window, and eat a plum.
Why do we abstain from things? Excesses of cake and alcohol may make us sick in the long run but feel great in the moment, whether we’re consuming them joyfully with friends or to escape the churning cafard of being alive. But those kinds of self-regulated pleasures are meant to make us feel good, or at least better. The “gratification” I chose this week couldn’t have been less so; in most cases, it caused immediate, and lingering, discomfort. If hooch made you feel bad immediately and not, say, 12 hours later, fewer of us would probably do so many damn shots.
But while I can defang a hangover with a greasy breakfast, there’s no egg burrito that can quell the agony of seeing someone I love looking happy without me. You can always lose weight or dry up, but awareness is indelible. The future will doubtlessly continue to bring new, exciting ways to mess ourselves up, chemically and emotionally; in some cases, abstinence really is better than moderation, so as not to grow hair on the palms of your very soul. Pleasure is meant to distract from misery, and when pleasure is misery, there is no hydrating Gatorade, no Canyon Ranch, no methadone for it. Humanity is finite and ungraftable. Have pizza instead.