Writer Wesley Yang spent three weeks poring over the entire compendium of New York's popular Sex Diaries feature: 800 pages of printed out Diaries and their associated user-generated assholia. New Yorkers, it turns out, are a smug bunch of wankers.
If you've ever read about the paralegal who keeps on seeing some dude she calls The One Who Cries for lackluster sex, the sweet but dim college boyfriend who doesn't seem to realize his girlfriend doesn't love him anymore, or the lady who followed her cheating boyfriend to Mexico, as well as that guy who comments obsessively on every post, and wondered, Who are these people? Well — they are real. And they have all the tattoos you'd expect.
From left: The Polyamorous Paralegal, The Horny Editor Visiting The 'Rents, and The Expat New Yorker Trying To Make It Work In Paradise.
Analyzing all of humanity's sexual habits — or even all of the city's — based on a self-selecting sample that is, as Yang writes, comprised of "bizarrely oversharing New Yorkers motivated by the impulse to brag or, as often, the urge to fling their terrible abjection in the face of the world," seems a little daft, but the editor of the feature, Arianne Cohen, hazards a few conclusions anyway. "Married Diarists have approximately triple the amount of sex as single ones (even twenty-something singles) simply by dint of sharing a bed," she writes. "Manhattanites are more likely to have intimacy issues, while Brooklynites are more likely to cheat. As for which gender has sex on the mind more often, I'd say it's a draw — though men are more likely to masturbate, somewhat commonly in public bathrooms."
And, whoo boy, is there a lot of masturbation. Communications technology, in making us all reachable, in giving us all the permanent option to do something or someone else, has made us each subject to "the nagging urge to make each thing we do the single most satisfying thing we could possibly be doing at any moment." Human relationships are a menu of choices, constantly updated via Facebook. "In the face of this enormous pressure," Yang writes, "many of the Diarists stay home and masturbate." (And, though they can't have helped, maybe it's not really the cell phones that bring it out in us. Joan Didion seems to have made the exact same point about the tendency toward option paralysis in this city — minus the self-abuse — when she wrote in 1967, "Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about.")
Then there's this:
An inordinate number of Diarists find themselves at the brink of enjoying one sexual experience, only to receive a phone call or text from another potential suitor. They become a slave to their compulsion and indecision. Consider these snippets in a week of one Diarist, who is deeply conflicted between her Pseudo and Ex:
2:55 p.m. Pseudo G-chats me. Looks like he might be interested in hanging out tonight after all. 9:30 p.m. Meet up with Ex and friends at bar. Text Pseudo to see if he's up for doing anything.
2:20 a.m. At a bar with Pseudo and other friends. Ex drunk-texts me: "Wanna fuck?" 3:17 a.m. Half-bottle of wine plus mucho beer plus a few rounds of shots leads to me texting Pseudo, "Let's get out of here and go back to my place." 3:18 a.m. Pseudo texts back, "I don't feel like dealing with you."
11:45 p.m. At a bar with Pseudo. Ex drunk-texts me.
1:30 p.m. Ex calls and wakes me up. Says he needs to talk in person. 7:49 p.m. Text Pseudo and tell him about convo with Ex. Pseudo replies that he's sorry, he hopes I end up getting what I want. What the hell does that mean? I have no idea what I want, clearly.
This compulsive toggling between options winds up inflicting the very damage it was designed to protect against.
This would be funny if it weren't absolutely true.
Yang, with the diaries, paints a picture of an aggressively devil-may-care kind of young New York that isn't entirely aware of its own contradictions. We seek romance, but avoid emotional exposure. We hedge "The anxiety of appearing overly sincere" against "The anxiety of being unable to love." One 26-year-old diarist says, of his girlfriend, "I want to love her. And I should. I just, well, don't. She's the best girlfriend anyone could ever hope to have. I wish that were enough to love her." Another, aged 39, spends a moment every Sunday looking for M4W posts by Steve, "a disgusting person I slept with back in April," on Craigslist.
There's a thick vein of neurotic self-loathing in these stories, which, though rarely elegantly expressed, has its own kind of appeal. Maybe we shouldn't be asking what the sex diarists tell us about our behavior, but what our willingness to read their reports says about us.