Original art by Kaori Nagata (website, instagram — and thanks!)

Love, Sex, and Loneliness

This one time, I walked empty Shimokitazawa streets with a girl I met at a bar. We drank. Talked. Laughed. Drank some more.

We left as the sun began a slow creep from between buildings.

“Is it that time already?” I said.

It was just the two of us.

We talked about… something. I don’t remember what. It was lost in bodies that walked too close together. Eyes that held a second too long. Voices that hid messages behind their words.

And all of it lost to long empty glasses of wine and whiskey.

We stopped at an intersection. Down one road, home. Down the other, the blinking neon of love hotels.

I was supposed to say something. I’m not sure what.

There is a particular key for doors like this, I thought.

I said, “Will I see you again?”

She said, “Maybe.”

And then I walked home, alone.

I stumbled into bed. Wondered why there was not another body in it with me. Thought that might be nice. Sunlight filtered in through windows that still didn’t have curtains.

I wrote a long letter to a girl I used to know.

I shouldn’t have done that.

My coffee that morning tasted like regret.


My friend once had sex with four women in two days.

He told me this the way you might tell someone you hunted and killed a dragon.

He had rode local trains to foreign stations. Braved unknown apartments and beds too small. There were noisy neighbors and unwanted phone calls. A missing condom. A near miss of some kind.

Masterful planning, he said. Strategic thinking. These are the keys to maximum efficiency. Success.

The stamina? Well, that’s to be expected.

I remember saying, That sounds like an awful lot of work.

I said this the way you might tell someone you’re surprised they had to do someone else’s taxes, as well as their own.

And I wondered why we were so different.

How.


There is something to be said for instant gratification.

And it’s certainly convenient to cut out the middle-man. Get straight to business. Avoid small talk. Do away with the feeling-out process.

It’s transactional: I pay my body, you pay yours.

Simple. Straightforward.

And isn’t that what we both want?

I wonder why I feel that someone always gets a raw deal, there.


I sometimes envy people who engage in flings. The people who cheat, too.

I like the idea of the carefree attitude. The nonchalance.

Who’s it going to hurt? they say.

This question is odd, because I always think if I was asking it, the answer would be me.


Perhaps, a confession.

I have never had excellent sex the first time.

The first time is awkward. Bumpy. Somewhat uncomfortable. Filled with fumbling. Nervousness. A few apologies.

It’s like putting Ikea furniture together with naked bodies.

We always find a way to completion, but that sex irks me like a table with one leg too short.

I feel like getting to know a person’s body is like learning to play a beautiful instrument in a very particular style. It takes time. You have to get to know the instrument, and the way it feels in your hands. The sounds that make the most sense.

I don’t like the idea that we might all be amateur guitarists, plucking out the opening to Tears in Heaven on each other before finding another guitar to play the same thing.

And I can’t stand the idea that someone might remember sex with me as the next-door neighbor’s son practicing for his piano recital.

But perhaps that’s just me.


My friend had a wonderful girlfriend. A truly beautiful young woman. Stunning to look at, kind hearted, and soft spoken.

She was a part-time model.

I sometimes wondered why she bothered with my friend, who was, at best, something like a template. The sort of person who, if he were a car, would be introduced as the economy model.

One day, sipping at coffee, he said, “Do you know what she said to me the first time we finished sex?”

“I don’t.”

“She said, ‘Is it over now?’

He went on to say she wasn’t very interested. Didn’t much enjoy it. Didn’t much get it. Saw it as a responsibility. A duty. Work.

It was something she penciled into her schedule.

Thursday night: love making.

He said it was like dancing with someone who didn’t feel the rhythm. Didn’t listen to the music, or understand its effects on her feet. Her body. Her soul.

“What is salsa without the passion, man? What is it?” he asked.

The question felt surprisingly deep.

I tried to get inside the head of a person who waits for it to end. Who thinks about dinner, or stares blankly at the ceiling. Who hears the chime of their phone, and wonders who it is. Sighs at having to wait to check.

And I wondered if I could be with someone whose heart beat in time with my own, but whose body didn’t. Wouldn’t.

Perhaps couldn’t.


Another friend once confessed he was afraid of sex with his girlfriend. Not the act itself. He loved that. It was that he didn’t know how it would end.

“I don’t know who I’m cuddling with when we’re done,” he said.

Apparently, his girlfriend had dissociative identity disorder. She would sometimes wake up as another person. It was erratic, and random, and confusing, but sex would sometimes flick that switch. He wondered if there was a connection.

“What is a guy supposed to do, man? I really think I love this girl.”

I shrugged.

“I guess you find a way.”

This was not good advice.

But it wasn’t bad advice, either.

Love doesn’t always give you the luxury of choice.


I think it’s funny that we can’t choose who or what we’re attracted to. It’s funny we can only be guided by experience and instinct.

I sometimes think we could solve all sorts of problems if we had simple switches for that.

Look, I actually hate all these things about you, and we don’t get along and we never will, but we’ve been together this long and it’s just wasted time and money to go looking for someone else. So I’ve just decided to stay with you. I’ve hit the love switch, and I’m just going to keep it on, so I guess we’ll just ride it out. Okay? Okay.

Although, having written that, I feel like more of us do that than don’t do that.


I sometimes wonder if such a state exists as, “no strings attached.”

In my experience, there are always strings.

It’s just a matter of how many, and whether you feel them or not.


My friend once asked me why I didn’t go out more often.

“How come you don’t play the crowds, man?” he said. “You’re a good looking guy. Friendly. A city like this, it’s take your pick, you know?”

I shrugged.

“If I was out on the town, sleeping with every beautiful woman that would take me home, I wouldn’t get any work done. I wouldn’t be a writer.”

“What would you be, then?”

I paused.

“A poet, I guess?”

We laughed, but there was poetry in that idea.

Something funny and tragic at the same time.


A guy I know once drove two hours for sex on the other side of town with some woman he’d never met. They exchanged a few words, watched a little television, and then got to it.

He said later it was like a fix. That he was like a junkie, and sometimes you just need a hit.

“But she wasn’t Amy,” he said. “I’ll never have that back again, man.”

He said afterwards he felt a dark, empty, loneliness. He drove home as the sun came up, to a messy apartment where the curtains were always closed, and everything reminded him of a lifetime of failure.

It was never just sex he wanted. It was always a connection.

It was always love.

I thought about waking up in an apartment that still didn’t have curtains. About a long letter I wrote, and coffee that tasted like regret.

And I wondered if I would have felt the same, that night in Shimokitzawa, had I chosen left instead of right.


I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong to any of this. Not really.

There’s just the things you want, and the things the other person wants, and somewhere in between, the space where you meet.

I guess in the end, we’re all of us just people putting Ikea furniture together with naked bodies — all of us hoping we find something we like enough to keep, and make a part of our home.

And some of us are satisfied, and some of us settle for a table with one leg too short.

And that’s just the way it goes.

That’s life.

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