| The Curse of the Singles Table |
By Suzanne Schlosberg
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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One Thousand Days
I could tell you that I came to the most remote corner of Arctic Russia because of an interest in life on the tundra in the post-Soviet era. Except it wouldn't be true. The reason I'm here is that I have gone one thousand forty-four days without sex.
Let me clarify: I did not come to Provideniya to get laid. That would be like traveling to North Dakota for Ethiopian food. There are maybe forty single guys in this town, and it appears that the majority are border guards wearing the type of oversized sunglasses last seen on Starsky and Hutch. Not a good look, really.
The truth is, I came to Provideniya-a near ghost town of crumbling concrete with no cafes, no hotels, not even hot running water-because it seemed like the perfect place to commemorate my One Thousand Days. My own personal New Millennium.
The fact that I have been stranded here for a week seems especially appropriate. The fact that I don't really want to leave comes as a bit of a surprise.
I can't recall exactly when I started counting, but at some point, back home in Los Angeles, I did some calculations and determined that I was closing in on a historic milestone. One thousand days, in case you're doing some calculations of your own, is ninety-two days shy of three years. It is just thirty-six days shorter than the duration of the Kennedy administration. Other than my parents' former housekeeper, Esperanza, an ex-nun from El Salvador, I do not know anyone under the age of seventy who has even approached this record.
With no prospects in sight, I am, at age thirty-four, becoming the Cal Ripken of celibacy.
Now, I'm sure you're wondering how I got into this predicament. Do I look like Freddy Krueger? Do I dress like Barbara Bush? Am I too picky? Too bitchy? Too shy? Do I have agoraphobia? Chlamydia? Really bad foot fungus?
Good questions, all of them. Questions that I have, at one time or another, mulled over. Questions that members of my family ask frequently and loudly at our Jewish-holiday gatherings.
The short answer to all of these questions is no. Or, as they say here in Provideniya, nyet.
I suppose I could have sex. In fact, just last month, through my Internet dating service, I received the following e-mail from a twenty-one-year-old bicycle messenger: "I would like to spend a night with a wonderful woman. I am young but I am mature. I am French, also. I love pleasure, exchange of energy! What about you?"
The thing is, most consenting adults can find sex, if they're willing to go to bed with someone they're not especially attracted to or fond of. But here's the other thing: Yes, I'm looking for sex, but I'd like something more, too. At the very least, I'd like a little mutual desirability. I'd like the tiniest spark. And I'd like a guy who can utter the phrase "I feel" in a context other than "I feel like eating at Burger King."
Don't get the wrong idea: I am not all that virtuous. I'm certainly not saving myself for Mr. Right. I'd be perfectly amenable to taking Mr. Remote Possibility for a test drive. But somehow, despite my valiant efforts over one thousand days, even he doesn't seem to have made an appearance. As a consequence, I've been left in a state of sexual deprivation that I previously thought impossible. What's it like to go without sex this long? Well, let's just say that unlike Cal Ripken when he was riding his streak, nobody's cheering, least of all me.
During my epic dry spell, I've been out with so many guys that I have developed a system of dating strategies complex enough to warrant doctoral study. I have vowed to broaden my search, to try harder. I've vowed not to try at all and just "let it happen." I've tried to appear more available and less assertive. I've tried to appear less available and more assertive. I've done just about everything but lower my standards or give up completely, because the truth is, I still have hope. Greater miracles have occurred. Remember the South American rugby players who survived a plane crash in the Andes in the dead of winter? If they could live for ten weeks on toothpaste and the flesh of their deceased teammates and still manage to walk out of the mountains alive, surely I can navigate my way out of singlehood, no?
Still, as I stand by and watch almost everyone I know get paired off, I do wonder what's going on. Is this bad luck? Is it fate? Is this predicament of my own making? I've never believed there is just one perfect match out there for me-there are probably dozens, if not hundreds. But why do they all seem to be in a witness protection program?
Some months ago, it became evident that my countless efforts, large and small, would not keep me from reaching One Thousand Days. Short of a miracle to throw me off course, I was headed straight toward this ignoble benchmark.
Clearly, an event of this magnitude called for some sort of tribute (to myself, of course, for my remarkable endurance). I briefly considered a solo trip to Death Valley, but commemorating my dry spell in the desert. . . I don't know, the concept just seemed unimaginative. A few friends suggested I go somewhere fabulous, like Tahiti or the Italian Riviera or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But fabulousness was clearly not what the situation warranted. Fabulous is for your honeymoon, not your impersonation of the Virgin Mary.
The worst advice came from Kate, a friend who's appointed herself my own personal airbag, ready to deploy whenever she thinks I'm about to get hurt. "Go pamper yourself at a spa!" she insisted. "Blow lots of money on beauty treatments!" It was obvious that Kate had never been to a spa and had only read about them in perky women's magazines.
I, on the other hand, have been to several spas, having been sent on assignment, as it happens, by the various perky women's magazines that I write for. I can tell you that the suffering usually begins with a facial. You are led into a dark room by a pale, stout Bulgarian named Magda, who wears a white lab coat and uses a giant magnifying glass to inspect your pores under the blinding glare of a floodlight that could do double duty in police interrogations. She then demands to know what cleansing, toning, and moisturizing products you use-and why you have so little regard for your skin as to have purchased any of the products you just mentioned (if you could think of any). Suddenly you are engulfed in steam, and Magda gouges her sharpened thumbnails into your nasal cartilage, sighing as she extracts blackheads visible only through her electron microscope. Then she grabs a spiked pizza slicer and rolls it all over your face.
It's one thing to have endured one thousand days without sex. It would be like pouring lemon juice on a canker sore to commemorate the occasion by visiting a spa.
Pampering was out. But what was the alternative? I was searching the Internet one night when I hit upon a trip that seemed to strike the perfect tone: the Arctic Ocean Ride of Pain. It was an eleven-day mountain-biking and camping trek along the unpaved Dalton Highway, the most remote road in the United States, stretching 450 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska, up to a town called-I loved this part- Deadhorse. Temperatures would likely be near freezing, and there would be no showers, no toilets, and except for the world's northernmost truck stop at mile 174, no services at all. "Let it not be said that we didn't warn you!" the tour company's Web site offered. I should mention that I'm an avid cyclist, so this trek seemed to offer the proper amount of torture without the risk of death.
I did more research and discovered that I could cap off the Ride of Pain with a two-day side trip to Provideniya, a town 6,000 miles from Moscow but just an hour by prop plane from Nome, across the Bering Strait. I looked at the world map on my office wall. Russia, an enormous, orange blob, appeared to have a lot in common with my celibacy streak: It looked bleak and endless. It seemed like my kind of place.
Now, you may be wondering: What's the difference between spa pain and Arctic pain? It's all in the expectations. If you sign up for something that sounds fantastic but turns out to be dreadful, you end up feeling ripped off and bummed out. But if you go in expecting misery, you can only be pleasantly surprised.
Today is day seven of my two-day "side trip" to Provideniya. Back in Nome, the tour company operator had mentioned that planes can't fly out of Provideniya when it's foggy. What she didn't happen to mention is that (1) it's almost always foggy here, (2) foggy or clear, the airport is closed on weekends, and (3) even on weekdays when the weather is clear, airport power outages can still keep you grounded.
Every morning, my fellow inmates and I gather around our apartment window and gaze out at the fog, wondering when the requisite stars will align to spring us from this joint. The others in the group-two retired couples from Texas and a shy, forty-ish software engineer from Seattle- are becoming increasingly anxious to get out of here. Last night when Yuri, our local guide, mentioned that a group of Japanese scientists once got stranded in Provideniya for a month, the whole lot of them looked positively stricken.
But I could hardly contain my good humor because, personally, I'm in no hurry to go anywhere. I'm still basking in the glory of my arm-wrestling victory over a Russian teenager the other day at the rec center. (Hey, he started it.) I've got dozens more American slang expressions to teach Yuri-"You're bullshitting me" is his new favorite-and I'm still perfecting the Scrabble board I made out of notebook paper and duct tape. I've got stuff going on.
Besides, as I look at the rusted tanks and decaying boats outside, it occurs to me that I've been given a rare and unexpected opportunity. For the first time in ages, there is absolutely nothing I can do about my streak-no online dating services to pore over, no setups engineered by well-meaning friends, no strategies to implement simply because they're so wacky they've got to work. Without any pressure or distractions and only time on my hands, maybe I can finally get to the bottom of things. Maybe I can figure out why, over the past one thousand forty-four days, I managed to get so far off track. How did I go from being a person who has sex to being a person who thinks an abandoned military outpost in Arctic Russia is a really great place to vacation?
If I can figure that out, then maybe I can figure out a way to put an end to the Streak, and begin the rest of my life.
Excerpted from The Curse of the Singles Table , by Suzanne Schlosberg . Copyright (c) by Suzanne Schlosberg . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top