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Do you have problems with your love life? Do you hate your job? Is your social life lacking a certain zing? All of these questions and more can be answered through literature—or maybe at least by the people who create it. With that in mind, we here at the Lambda Literary Review have started our very own advice column called “Reader Meet Author.” Think of the column as a sort of a “Dear Abby” for the LGBTQ literary set. You can send “Reader Meet Author” questions for publication to ReaderMeetAuthor@lambdaliterary.org.
This month’s author is Lashonda Katrice Barnett. Barnett was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She is the author of the recently released novel Jam on the Vine (Grove Atlantic). She is the editor of the volumes I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters on Their Craft (2007) and Off the Record: Conversations with African American and Brazilian Women Musicians (2013). She has taught literature and history at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, Hunter College, and Brown University. Barnett’s short fiction has won the College Language Association’s Margaret Walker Award and she was recently published in Guernica‘s issue on the South.
I worry that my friend’s dating standards are too high. He is always asking out these Adonises and then constantly bemoaning the fact that they won’t return his advances. He is moderately attractive, but nowhere near as attractive as the guys he’s always asking out. He’s always complaining to me about his crippling loneliness, and part of me just wants to finally say, “Well, maybe you should stop chasing these dreamboats and start having more realistic expectations.” Do you think telling him this is out of line? I don’t want to be rude, but I am sick of his bellyaching about being forever single.
Dear Straight Talk:
It sounds as though your friend enjoys the chemistry-driven pursuit to romance while yours is more pragmatic and based on “realistic expectations”: two very different approaches to courtship. One of the great challenges, but also potentially a great joy, in healthy adult friendship is our ability to dispense tailored advice, advice that truly considers your friend’s personality—but not advice that would necessarily fit your life. Telling…let’s call him Chase…to set his sights on less than his dreamboat will more than likely leave Chase moored at the shore. Consider that Chase (and this might even be one of the reasons you like him, and why he’s a friend) might derive a lot of pleasure and esteem from his ability to indulge a passionate pursuit versus realistic expectations or playing it safe.
If you want to be helpful, you might consider talking to Chase about how he macks, his approach and his ideas for what constitutes a good date. I think many of us appreciate a friend that tries to help us manifest our dreams, not change them. You can also choose silence. You don’t have to speak to Chase’s pursuits at all. Amazingly, empathy can be given through a nod, a pat on the back, saying with gravitas, “I know it can be tough to be single. I hope you find someone soon.”
When my girlfriend and I first started dating five years ago, we had sex at least three times a week, but now, since we have moved in together (two years ago), the passion has just fizzled. She is my best friend, and I love her dearly, but it seems our physical attraction to each other has just disappeared. I think maybe after spending too much time with one person, desire and passion—which are byproducts of mystery and wanting—just naturally fade. Is there a way to get the passion back? I do love my girlfriend, and I don’t want to break up, but I really miss having great sex.
Need My Mojo Back
Dear Need My Mojo Back:
Never, ever give up on bed bliss. Let me tell you why you, especially, shouldn’t. With relationship history comes the added luxury of intimacy with your girlfriend, which can (read: should) lend your sex life richness—if you’re communicating. Because it’s physical and feels so wonderful—a lot more wonderful that talking can feel—we often forget that sex is a form of communication, so when I hear about a mojo problem, I automatically wonder about the state of communication.
That said, companionate living will NEVER (and yes, I am shouting at you because this hits home) take the place of a romantic life. If the latter is what you need, you are wise to acknowledge the problem: it is real.
I’m leery of presenting you with “add and stir” remedies. A weekend at a charming Rehoboth Beach B&B might not do the trick. In fact, I can almost assure you that renting a bed at another location won’t ignite her passion—without communication and a newly, dually articulated commitment to the sexual relationship. To get that talk started, you might explain that for you, devotion to sexual and romantic expression is part and parcel of intimacy. Explain that you derive joy and self-esteem from giving sexual pleasure and that you especially miss pleasing her in this way. And if all of that doesn’t work, just quote the line from one of my favorite lesbo flicks, When Night Is Falling: “I’d love to see you in the moonlight with your head thrown back and your body on fire.” (Desperate and excited on a recent date, I said this to a woman slightly hard of hearing, which means I had to repeat it. She laughed so hard, she choked on her margarita. Have I mentioned what a wonderful aphrodisiac laughter can be?)
You are ahead of the game with intimacy on your side; now’s the time to trot that baby out and make her run the race. But do understand that intimacy is a Venus flytrap. You have to feed it, and it doesn’t eat fluff; it wants blood, the stuff life is made of. Revive your intimacy with the “stuff” of your life—which is to say, don’t reach out, reach in.
You noted that you’ve been living together a couple of years. People change. Sometimes, the changes are so subtle you don’t take note. May I suggest you get to know each other again? Share music. What is she listening to these days? Why does she love it? Cook together. Looking for recipes online together can be surprisingly erotic, especially if she’s reading the ingredients and directions aloud. Take advantage of sharing the experiences that naturally emerge in your lives. Go to some of those annoying Facebook events that keep popping up. Whatever you do, don’t create debt to resuscitate the relationship; it will only compound the problem.
If it turns out that the love boat has sailed—which I truly hope isn’t the case for you—do know that you can maintain a beautiful, deep friendship that may even surpass the love that was present during the partnership. All is possible in love, with some work!
I have a friend who lost a partner to cancer recently. Can you recommend any books, fiction or nonfiction, queer or otherwise, to help them grapple with the grieving process?
Friend in Need
Dear Friend in Need:
I am sorry for your friend’s loss.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying is a canonical grieving text. Also, my friend Kate O’Neill recently published Surviving Death: What Loss Taught Me About Love, Joy, and Meaning, which can be purchased at Amazon. Two books by nationally recognized grief educator Harold Ivan Smith may also be useful: Partnered Grief: When Gay and Lesbian Partners Grieve and ABCs of Healthy Grieving: A Companion for Everyday Coping. The best queer novel I have read that deals with grief is Emma Donoghue’s Hood.
Now, may I advise as a person who has experienced the death of not one but two partners, and as a bookish person who loves reading more than she can say?
People, not books, got me through.
Near to me now as I write this is my girlfriend who lost not one but two husbands to sudden death—and both marriages were solid, loving and happy. When I asked her for books that helped, she couldn’t emphasize enough how much talking—which is to say, her community—comforted. No book titles sprang to mind. And she is also bookish.
Curiously, a 2011 study debunked Kübler-Ross’s theory of the Five Stages of Grief and, not surprisingly, found that while grieving, “we oscillate;” we experience vast fluctuations from day to day. Checking in on a friend often, simply being an ear, can be enormously helpful. Propose doing things your friend likes to do, or suggest doing something new. Or maybe just pay your friend a visit and sit in silence—whatever it takes to impart that your friend is not alone because that is the damn killer with grief: you can feel so damned alone. My friends showed up for me. They didn’t even call or text ahead. Sometimes, they caught me at home; sometimes, they didn’t. No matter. They kept showing up, with food, with flowers, with music, with memories of my beloved, with laughter, and with tears of theirs to mingle with mine. They are still showing up to this day, and I will never forget them for it. Maybe you’re that special friend who doesn’t suggest a book (a therapist will do that); maybe the best gift is not a book, rather your nearness.