October 1, 2015

SEX ON THURSDAYS | Detaching Attachment

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My counselor told me not to have sex with any particular man more than once in the first year of recovery. Anymore, he cautioned, and you’ll catch the feels. I ignored his paid advice.

This weekend I spent two nights with the man I had been dating for a couple months over the summer, and it was odd. We had established that our attachment would be a controlled one, anticipating that neither of us desired a long-distance relationship after our summer together. Yet sound and scent are separate sensations, and I couldn’t talk myself out of pheromones. A month had elapsed since we smelt one another last, and the pungent stink of his pits got me rock hard. The sight of him and the sound of him got me going too, no doubt, but the scent of him — no longer reduced to a lingering whiff of his t-shirt in my armoire, but fully realized as a potent stink bomb — made my sex drive cascade. A month out, I felt as though my attachment to him existed in a composed, demarcated space. Yet I was thrown off-kilter and into an ambivalence that I hadn’t anticipated. I found myself in a pickle, desiring to be with a man that I can’t commit to (and to whom it would be unwise to commit), enmeshed in an attachment that is seemingly unfair and counterintuitive for us both.

Compelled by the reality of a tight and competitive marketplace, gay men are good at talking about sex. We are less good at acknowledging when it causes us to feel bound to one another. Stroked by a narrative that encourages the reverse anthropomorphization of ourselves as Bonobos, we are often embarrassed when we want “something more.” We might think that it negates the liberation of queerness. Yet I implore you, and myself, not to contextualize these impulses as mutually exclusive. The liberatory nature of queerness is couched in its capacity to rewrite standard narratives. Contrary to normative drivel, attachment need not be possessive, constraining or forever, for queers and our peers alike.

Instead, think of attachment as a shared space of mutual feeling and fulfillment, imbued with context and articulated reciprocally. Articulation is most critical. Unspoken attachment induces vertigo. It is an exhausting waltz of dancing around what you’d like to say forthright. Suddenly, the delusion arises that saying “I want you” implies “I want everything with you,” and for fear of being misconstrued, you stay silent. In that moment, attachment feels like an imposition. If you’ve never discussed the parameters of your affiliation, being attached might feel like an intrusive violation of your partner’s personal space.

Unarticulated, both you and your partner are liable to read the typical narrative of attachment into your relationship. If not deconstructed, the dominant narrative of attachment as possession, of inclusion predicated on the exclusion of others, will wash over. Feelings of jealousy and possessiveness might fester. Yet through the vehicle of authentic communication that our queerness, in my view, engenders uniquely, queer people can locate the motivations for and the desired outcomes of attachment.

Attachment is a wanting for both partners to actualize and thrive in a space of shared support and encouragement. What those qualities look like in practice is entirely up to you. Attachment can be as dynamic and fluid as other queer modes of being. It can be relational or platonic, sustained or casual. No motivation or hoped for outcome is more valid than any other.

For me and the man I had been dating, the depth of attachment is evident. We now exist in a context wherein we can’t meet one another’s needs — he no longer has a sustained physical presence in my life.

That is fine. At first I thought the attachment embarrassing. I now recognize the power of queerness to create and reclaim spaces that extend not only to the sexual and to the gendered, but to the core of how we affiliate. It’s hindering to think of my attachment in a normative fashion, as validated or invalidated by monogamy or romance. If the goal of attachment is to realize ourselves in modes that are better accomplished jointly than separately, then our attachment isn’t comprised by a change in context. It only means that we must relearn how to relate to one another and continue to be constructive, positive presences in one another’s lives. We can forge a space that leaves both of us fulfilled in relation to one another and to our lives more largely.

My counselor was right about catching feels. What he failed to note is that while catching feels might mean I’m attached to someone, attachment is not immutable.

Masc. Dom. Top is a senior at Cornell. He can be reached at [email protected]. Anal Retention appears alternate Thursdays this semester.