From GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO PEOPLE YOU HATE by Rebecca Fishbein, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2019 Rebecca Fishbein. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.
My two favorite sex positions are missionary and sleeping alone.*
*I know everyone’s crazy about backward cow horse or Wax Alien or whatever, but missionary is underrated. It’s not fancy, but it feels like I’m getting a big hug, and I don’t have to do any of the work. It was also my first sex position (and for way too long, my only one), so I know how to do it, or at the very least I haven’t gotten any specific complaints. If you have any, please direct them to my publisher.
One might argue that sleeping alone is not in fact a sex position, but it gives me almost as much pleasure as sex itself. Sometimes it gives me more, because sexual experiences, like men in general, tend to be disappointing. It is a luxury to sleep alone. I shared a room with my sister for our entire childhood, in part because we lived in a small apartment, and in part because my mother claimed it would “make it easier” for us when we grew up and had to share space with a romantic partner. My mother is not in any way a professional child psychologist, and this tactic backfired big-time. The day I got my own room, I swore I would never share another, and I have mostly held true to this, much to my ovaries’ chagrin.
It is great to sleep alone. When you sleep alone, no one makes noise but you. You can sniffle and snore and rustle and pass gas all you want. When you sleep by yourself, nobody breathes in your ear or shakes you awake or cares if it takes three hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer YouTube fan videos to put you to bed. Every time I spend the night with someone or someone spends the night with me, I end up hoping my bed buddy will stop breathing in his sleep, and I can only assume it’s the same for them. This extends beyond romantic partners. A few weeks ago, a friend and I shared a bed at a wedding in Boston. Neither of us slept much, we each snored when we did, and in the morning everyone was cranky.
I’m not the only person who knows the joys of solo sleep. According to the U.S. census, unmarried men and women make up 47.6 percent of total households in the United States, totaling about 110.6 million Americans. Sixty-three percent of those single Americans have never been married. And for women seeking men, the odds aren’t good—there are 88 single men for every 100 single women. Back in Charles Dickens’s time, spinsters were invisible undesirables whose fathers got stuck supporting them because they were too plain or picky or unusual, or because one treacherous lover rendered them clad in their doomed wedding dress for life.
The truth is, I am often alone now, not just when I sleep. Once upon a time, though, I was almost never alone. I had coworkers and happy hour buddies and weekend friends with whom I spent way too much money at the Meatball Shop. I had roommates who spent whole days and evenings marathoning bad movies and episodes of Friday Night Lights with me. I had men who “stopped by” on Saturday nights to steal my attention, then later summarily dumped me. I had confidantes who met me at bars to share stories about the men who stole our attention and later summarily dumped us. I was very busy.
Even when I had all these friends and coworkers clamoring to clog up my calendar, I feared that I would lose them. I worried all the time that my girl-friends would find boyfriends, that my man friends would find girlfriends, that the men I liked would find other women to fill their heads—that each and every one of my acquaintances would abandon me for better options. In my solitary future, I would become that sad woman who ate alone at restaurants while the happy people pointed at her and laughed. I would die in my apartment, carpet beetles nibbling at my decaying flesh, while everyone else was at brunch.
As luck would have it, that paralyzing fear of abandonment did in fact come to fruition. When I was young—you know, like two years ago—people told me the good times would come to an end. “You lose friends as you get older,” they said. “Also, no one will date you after you turn thirty.” I still have one more fuckable year to waste, but I have already noticed a precipitous drop in friends. Some of my old go-tos did find serious partners and, in folding these partners into their lives, tumbled out of mine. Some moved to Los Angeles. Some just moved uptown, but they might as well have moved to Los Angeles.
Some disappeared on their own, because once we didn’t work together or live together or commute on the same train line, we didn’t have all that much tying us to one another. When we met up on occasion, we’d reminisce about our old connections, but beyond that and a superficial catch-up, hangouts were too pitted with awkward silences to warrant second attempts. It is strange when a friend becomes a stranger. You’ve grown too distant to share with each other the warts and vulnerabilities that make a person real, but you remember what it was like when you saw them unpeeled.
Sometimes these friends disappear without your noticing, until one day they reappear and you realize how far you’ve drifted from each other. A few years ago, I went to a party hosted by a former college classmate. We’d been close at school, sharing our crushes and heartbreaks and unending insecurities; but once we left the nest, the real world was for us to compete. When we’d meet up, it was just an opportunity to measure our successes, or maybe it was just me with something to prove. We stopped being real friends, and soon ceased seeing each other in general.
I can’t remember why exactly I decided to go to this particular party. I was in the middle of one of my many romantic crises, and when that happens, I say yes to invites as a rule in case I manage to meet someone I can use to make the object of my affection jealous. Perhaps that was my reasoning. Whatever the deal, I went.
She was surprised to see me. “Oh, hello!” she said, eyes wide, when she opened the door. “You came!” I smiled and started to tell her I missed her, when she squealed and brushed past me to hug someone she liked better.
Of course, in many respects, I am never alone. People are goddamn everywhere. I live with two roommates in a tiny apartment, and though I fantasize each day about residing somewhere where I don’t have to listen to another person have sex, unless I sell all my earthly possessions or move to deep Staten Island, I will never be able to afford my own place. I reside in a city with over eight million people, and every single day I bump into at least three of them on the sidewalk because I refuse to look up from my phone while walking, lest I miss one of Cher’s tweets. Every day I am crushed between human bodies on the subway or kept awake by bodies breaking up outside my bedroom window or infected with the flu by a body sneezing near me at the coffee shop. I am never free of the reminder that there are billions of people out there, which only serves to heighten my awareness of my relative aloneness.
I have mentioned my captivation with the concept of cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am—in terms of how it played out with anxiety, but it also has practical applications. When my mind broke at nineteen, I liked its suggestion that nothing existed beyond the borders of your own brain because it let me avoid scary things like death, war, and my macroeconomics exam, be- cause none of those things were real if the cogito held true. I also liked it because it let me be a bad and selfish person. I could stand up dates and talk shit about nice people and not recycle, because nothing mattered except me.
I still like the cogito, but not for the same reasons. I don’t think it means that no one outside my head exists or even matters, so much as it’s a reminder that the person you matter most to is yourself. That is not an excuse to stick straws up sea animals’ noses, but it is an excuse to stop fearing you’ll be the last one left without a partner in crime. No matter how many people flit in and out of your life, you’ll always be stuck with yourself.