The worst kind of conversations happen through formalism, where the things being shared are true and honest, but the reason for their having come up in conversation are defensive and superstitious.
A date is the practice of rhetorical formalism, rote interview answers exchanged in fear of falling afoul of our partner's ideological composition (e.g., I'm not fucking a Republican, an astrologer, a Rutgers grad, a musician, someone who listens to Vampire Weekend) by either over-explaining or repeating the ideological fragments we think will keep a nice happy hour from devolving into a talk radio inquisition (e.g. I canvassed for Obama, I'm a Gemini but I don't take it seriously, I don't even know who Vampire Weekend is).
My interests include cooking, learning new languages, and writing essays about people I've slept with. How about you?
Being a sex writer fits neatly into this conversational jitterbug, a subject that inevitably comes up during the mid-date screening process, accompanied by a no-less predictable line of questioning that always seems to end with, "You're not going to write about this, are you?"
This is a difficult question to answer, in part because its difficult to know what kind of answer its poser wants. Letting a writer into your life is like letting a jackal into the living room, then asking whether it plans on ripping open one particular sofa cushion. Maybe, and maybe not, but a mess is going to be made no matter what.
This should theoretically be a big negative on the list of reasons to date someone: the possibility that all of your intimate exchanges are being silently cataloged and will later reappear in a context beyond your control, where the unreliable interpretation will transform into historical fact.
Surprisingly, no one I've ever been out with has especially cared about the fact that I'm a writer who periodically writes about my love life. I once had a date walk out on me after I told her I thought poetry was dead, but discussions of my sex writing have mostly produced curiosity and amusement.
Knowing that, during the awkwardness of being isolated into a group of two, with an overarching canopy of romantic possibility established before either person really knows whether its warranted, your partner is interested not just in having sexual experiences, but in processing them, in coming closer to their own half of the encounter and better understanding their reactions and wants within it, can be reassuring.
For all its possible implications of being with a hypersensitive overanalyzer, there comes an accompanying sense that whatever happens during the date, a writer will at least make an effort to hold themselves to account for having contributed to it, up to and including awkwardly contentious parleys about politics or a not-too-distant past following Phish cross-country.
When I wrote my book of assembled sex stories last year, I realized my ideal form for it was impossible. I'd wanted to have each story accompanied by a companion piece from the person I was writing about. Only one woman was willing to write about her experience of me after having seen my account of our time together.
I had been in a not especially generous frame of mind, distraught over the departure of an ex, which left me pursuing dates for structural reasons, something I thought would be a healthy part of moving on. All my stories were about disengagement, how much of my thoughts I'd withheld from my date because most of those had to do with another person and another set of wants that had nothing to do with them.
I had expected her account to be righteous and angry, and rightly so, but instead she wrote a sweet and optimistic account of me and our time together. Instead, she called me "beautiful," which was not something I'd been prepared to hear.
Beneath the postures of pessimism and despair that come with a good, hard breakup is the the self-loathing that accompanies them, the disgust at being susceptible to such weakness. In writing about my sex life then, I was every day reminding myself that not only had I shit the emotional diaper but, like a drooling babe, I was incapable of expurgating the offending carbon matter on my own.
Or more simply, I thought I was ugly and the more honest I would be with whoever it was that wanted to date me, the more I would have to admit things that, to me, were humiliating weaknesses.
All worthwhile sex writing must eventually confront this point, the necessary founding of love in an acceptance of someone else's most humiliating parts, to find in their balance with all the person's more admirable qualities some honest, mortal beauty. The threshold apprehension one feels on dates, the slow unfolding retreat to questionnaire conversations about subjects neither person especially cares about is a subconscious reaction to the suspicion that were we to be honest with one another, we would by definition be ugly. One either rejects this impulse as absurd and gets on with the process of intimacy by consciously fighting against or ignoring it; or else one hastens home to write about it after the fact.
If there is always something unpleasant about the prospect of losing control of one's narrative in someone else's post-hump confessional, there is also something reassuring in finding someone so overwhelmed by the formal impositions of dating culture that they can only handle processing it honestly in private.
To trust one's partner with all those thoughts would be the first step toward not writing about sex, to sharing the processing with a trusted other, which would need no paper trail thereafter, preliminary acts in a narrative that would need no medium, nor author, but would instead create itself spontaneously, an act of trust generating another.
In that way, a date with a sex writer may be a preliminary way to move from the stilting formality of a date into a human exchange with someone who is by nature likely to be at least conscious of their own flaws, and probably more likely to be entertained by yours.