I Have No Excuse For My Early 20s

By Sarah Nicole Prickett

If the urge to self-create isn't totally inextricable from that to self-destroy, I have no excuse for my early 20s. Possibly we all live our worst habits then: Snorting baby laxatives we believe to be coke; buying books at Urban Outfitters; reading Pitchfork daily (ooooh, I'm dating myself. I've never said that before!). Still, there remain two things for which I can't forgive myself.

The first is that I believed, with the full stretch of my untenderized heart, that “pure love” meant not being loved in return. The other is that I baked.

Like, I baked cupcakes.

These two things might really have been one, born of the same will to seem goddess-y and good. I now think of committed bakers as martyrs, spending hours as patient and measured as vengeance just to make something that melts on the tongue in a hot sec, and which, the faster you swallow it, the happier they seem. Certainly I had a little of my mother in me. Maybe I wanted a talent with which to impress the other sex. In any case, my best advice from lived experience is this: All time spent baking is better spent learning to give excellent blowjobs. Both practices are delicious, messy, endearing, and saleable to tourists, but the latter doubles as praxis, say, if you decide to become anarchically slutty, and plus, is lots more lucrative.

If I could re-do the year or two during which self-worth was a crucial, unspoken pursuit, I would have had sex for money, not for love (because, how will I ever pay my student loans now?). Then I would have loved to be loved in turn, not to be martyred. Five years ago, on Valentine's Day, I published my first personal essay in the Globe & Mail about wanting to fix up a man. I loved him unrequitedly, I thought, for eighteen months. It wasn't love at all. It was selfish: I wanted to feel that I deserved more than I was getting or would ever get, rather than doing the harder, more worthwhile work of finding out what I actually deserved, or of earning it, daily.

After that year and a half, he'd love me too, and we lived together off and on, mostly on, for the better and worse part of three years. Begun unequally—not least because he had been my professor, and was 13 years older—it was a relationship obsessed with equality, with evening the score. One of us always loved the other more, and said so, and whenever one (usually me) wanted to end it, the other would say, let's make a deal. When finally it did end, I made a deal with only myself: To be done with equality. What's fair, after all, is not always equal. I would seek reciprocity.

Equality, in the context of the couple form, means that you do for a person what you want him/her/whatever to do for you. Reciprocity means you do for a person what s/he wants done. You do as much as you can. You don't keep score. (And, note this: Couples form not just between people who love each romantically and/or have sex, but naturally between any two people inclined tofuck each other, whether or not they do. The closest thing I have to a boyfriend now is one of my best friends who is straight and single and 24 and superbly a boy, not because I want a boyfriend or him to be it, but just because he's all those things, and those things add up to a socially constructed, convoluted something I can't alone controvert. I'm told he is in love with me, but I think it's only that he is afraid of actual love, and I don't blame him. I was him. To find out what you deserve from another human being is terror on the level of an AIDS test.)

When a couple-thing is reciprocal, I find, I never use words like compromise. There's no “meeting half way.” There is really the opposite, the allowing for opposites, in reciprocity. Where equality demands a constant likening to the other (like, “Why don't you buy me things? I bought you this,” and that, and so on), reciprocity wants maximum unlikeness, to be always what the other is not, and so, desires.

It's like that perfect Beyonce/Jay-Z song, “Bonnie & Clyde,” like when he says: “She do anything necessary for him, and I do anything necessary for her, so don't let the necessary occur. Yep!”

At the very beginning of this year I turned my heel on the best, most heartfelt self I'd been for anyone. He and I had felt the same way about each other at the same time, all the time. If there is magic, we made off with it. We were two for the road and half a thousand miles apart (he is in Toronto and I am in New York) and if he had asked me to marry him I would have done it in jeans. But he didn't ask me. I didn't ask him. And now, if there is anything I know about happiness, it's that it exists flickeringly in the present, often in the past, and never in the future; that it is futile as a pursuit. I knew that if we persisted any longer I would begin to need things from him—promises, responsibility, care—that I should need from myself. Finally, I knew that if he moved to be with me, it would be huge, and wrong, and I could/would do no commensurate wrong. You can't live in New York unless you need to live in New York.

I didn't want to be that need for anyone. The necessary did not occur, yep. It's over; we will always have been happy. We never failed to reciprocate. I think it's my only, almost, perfect relationship: In which nothing was sacrificed, save for the desire to believe ourselves selfless.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @snpsnpsnp


Where Are All the Women?