I haven't had sex with a stranger in over two years. I haven't allowed a mild crush to develop into a romantic obsession in almost just as long. It's heartbreaking.
Fantasy, limerence, longing, and lust were the gift wrap that papered over my depression. New sexual encounters were a raison d'être: something that really moved me. When you have depression, there's the constant nagging question of "What's the point?" While we can't live for another person—and love alone is not enough—the states of fantasy and lust, and the neurochemicals they release, are enough to rig our systems temporarily. We get high and moving. We can keep going.
Of course, after every short-lived high is the inevitable comedown. Each time I came down off a sex or crush high, I thought, Never again. The crash in neurochemicals came from so many places: the absence of communication following an encounter, a deficit in validation, an unreciprocated declaration of emotion. I kept finding myself in the same emotional place over and over: a barren world of devastation. I felt utterly homesick for someone I barely even knew.
It wasn't for any moral reasons that I finally quit engaging in casual sex, sexting, and the cultivation of crushes and romantic obsessions. I'm a proud slut and an authentic romantic, and I revel in the stories of others who are still in full-time pursuit. But the pain of disappointment and chemical withdrawal eventually became so fierce that I had to quit the game. I had to stop this whole way of life—or, at least, try to stop, because the pain now outweighed the pleasure. My behavior only caused more depression and anxiety, when what I sought in casual sex was to quell those very things. If it still worked, I'd still be doing it.
But it's also sad when the things that work so well to relieve us from our depression eventually stop working. How do we escape ourselves next? Some days, when I'm stuck in a void, I forget why I stopped in the first place. I don't remember the pain, but I experience euphoric recall around all the wonderful, exciting elements of this way of life: the aesthetic intoxication of kissing and touching a beautiful new person, the excited preparation and beautification before an encounter, how alive it made me feel, how I felt I had a purpose, how I did not have to think about death or greater meaning when a crush was everything, the poetic sexting, the narcotic feeling every time a new text came in, new cocks to taste and explore, the attention a person would pay me when they wanted me, being told I was hot and beautiful by multiple people at once.
I liken the elimination of this whole way of life to a breakup. There's a period of mourning when you break up with someone, no matter how painful the relationship. Over time, it gets easier, but first, you think about them all day, every day—then, once or twice a day, then a few times a week, then a few times a month. But no matter how much you think you are "over" a person, there will always be times when you are propelled back into a state of mourning. Sometimes it's when you have a dream about them; sometimes it's just when life feels hard, boring, painful. This is how I feel about an entire way of life. I often miss it deeply.
Frequently I find myself walking right up to the line between fucking and not fucking, sexting and not sexting. I behave in ways that allude to past behaviors without actually engaging them. I'll intrigue or flirt a little with a person without making it clear that's what I'm doing. I'll tell a person they are attractive, or talk about their love life—just to talk about sex with them, but without talking about sex between us. The longer I stay out of the game, the more I see my intentions behind things—the way I sexualize life. I see it everywhere: in friendships, the way I present myself to the world, the way I write.
Sometimes, in a more direct reminiscence of the way things used to be, I'll find myself at 2 AM creating an account on Tinder or Pure. I tell myself that I'm just doing this to "see" if I still can; I do it to make sure the option's still there, and that my current departure from the game doesn't mean that I can never reenter it again. I also do this for a small hit of neurochemicals, the equivalent of a bump of coke—just a little hit, not a full baggie. When I match with someone hot on the apps, I always get scared and delete my account. It's a visceral reaction: some self-protective part of me that takes over. This part of me is relieved I don't have to go through with the cycle anymore. Another part of me is relieved that I can still have it if I ever want it again.
I don't think that my other way of life was entirely about the sex itself. It was about self-esteem and validation. It was about connection without having to talk too much. It was about youth: the fear that I'm growing old and all my first kisses and first fucks are behind me. This thought, the idea that everything is all already over, is the voice of depression.
Depression says that what I have in my life already is not enough. Depression puts blinders on me so I can't see the beauty that already exists in my life. I want so badly to want what I have, but it takes an active daily gratitude list to combat rejecting all of it. It feels so much more natural to look at what I don't have and want that. It is so much more intoxicating to look at beautiful people and fuck them.
I think it's important to admit it when we still want things that hurt us, rather than pretending we're totally over them. In my healing, I'd be lying if I said that I don't look back wistfully.
Yet somehow, I'm staying on this side of the line today. I do not want the consequences: the anxiety, the feelings of rejection, the deep well of heartache, the compulsion, the need to make conversations with my friends solely about processing my sex life. I don't want any of these things that inevitably come with the experience. But of course, I still want the high.