I Had No Sex Life

"It was rich, a perfect match for my body and myself."

Eric Gaillard / Reuters

For a long while, and I really don't wish to say when it was or how many years it lasted, I chose to live in what was perhaps the worst insubordination of our times: I had no sex life. It is true that those years were in large part filled with sensuality, when dreams alone gratified my longings, but what dreams! And if I felt drawn to anything, it was only in my thoughts, but what thoughts. . .

I realize now what that life was made of: a life in no way insignificant; on the contrary, it was rich, a perfect match for my body and myself. Yet nothing was simple, and these words I write would once have seemed leaden to me, so ashamed was I at times of my singularity, a strangeness worse than difference. Everyone knows that even people who are different have a certain sexuality worthy of the name, things to show for it, defeats they can lay claim to. Whereas we, the loners, an army that does violence only to itself, a small tribe, unavowable and hence unknowable in number, we understand instinctively that speaking out will allow the world to send us deeper into exile--and foster the kind of stupid nonsense people say about whatever they cannot comprehend. They turn us into scapegoats who reassure all others on this point: however problematic their carnal pleasures might be, we offer proof, through our most definite exclusion, that their circumstances are still better than nothing.

After a few months, my friends became curious about me in the same way. I was already a journalist, meeting lots of people through my profession, and I lived as part of a pack. Sometimes there were ten of us at a simple impromptu weeknight supper. And almost all of us went in pairs, so my solitude could not pass unnoticed.

One couple, Vionne and Carlos, were the most tenacious. It's incredible how much of a ruckus a couple can kick up. At first they had admired my courage; I'd been able to feel like a heroine. Those halcyon days were over. Now barely had they said hello when they'd ask if I'd found someone. I'd shake my head--and they'd pitch a fit of amazement, pressing me to explain how that was possible: Was I doing all that was necessary? They'd check out what I was wearing with a knowing air. No dress was cut deeply enough. My hair was too messy. I had to show more leg. And stop being such a pal. And the heels--why wasn't I wearing heels? Carlos had a theory that heels were the decisive index of a woman's accessibility, since no woman perched on them can take off at a run. And it's true that if I compared myself to Vionne--Vionne's long lustrous locks, Vionne's staggeringly high heels--I must admit that of the two of us, it was Vionne who attracted men, Vionne who already had one--and a Spaniard to boot.

I had noticed this when my father died: no convalescence is allowed to last too long. People tolerate your inactivity for a while, but alas, that can cease overnight. You are still grief-stricken; they have finished mourning your loss. Same thing now: my freedom had to be paired with availability, or else it became a disorder. I pleaded my cause with vigor. I certified that I was just fine, a feeble argument I attempted to shore up by alluding to Robert Redford's love for me. They were appalled.


"You're sleepwalking!" they told me, and glanced disapprovingly at my flat-heeled boots. What good would it have done me to inform Carlos that Coco Chanel had worn the same ones, that they came from Church's English Shoes (founded in 1873) in Paris, that they were bespoke (a restyling of a men's model), and that I'd waited nine months for them?

If there was a party, everyone in turn would come sit next to me to regale me with how he or she thought I should live and what I deserved to have. What it boiled down to was that I should live like them. Elvire, one half of a tightly knit couple, would forget that her husband was clinically depressed. Guillaume, married to a harpy, maintained that if one laid low and said amen to everything, things worked out. Maria, fed up to the teeth with her children, wanted me to have my own. Assia loved women but it was killing her mother. Patrizio had bruises on his shoulders from his chronically jealous wife. Not one of them could stand my singleness, because it could have been theirs. And the marginal couple, Sabine and William, doleful swingers, who absolutely had to stay together to have someone to swap--even they found me peculiar. I was discovering conventional behavior in the most liberated milieus: broad-minded people, against any form of censorship or constraint, who boasted about how they pushed boundaries. Well, I blasted them back in the other direction, and they flung their hands up. They had ingested the most useless hodgepodge of drugs, blitzing themselves so completely that they'd forgotten I'd seen them do it, whereas I was mainlining the purest of ideals, of the very highest quality--and this shocked them.

This post is adapted from Sophie Fontanel's The Art of Sleeping Alone.