You see a flower floating in a candle holder at a bar you haven’t been to in over a year and get stuck in a memory. It’s warm but not glowing. You remember the feeling but can’t place why this vague, far-away moment seems to matter so much. Until it happens. Two months of your life return to you in a wave that ebbs with a disheartening realization… You haven’t had decent sex since.
People’s conscious minds constantly let go of thoughts, memories, and reason, but the unconscious stores it all. From the miniscule to the imperative to the things you’d rather not say, what we aren’t thinking about on a regular basis is often more important than the lusty financial woes to which many give precedence while daydreaming. As a simple example, and assuming you’re not asthmatic, when was the last time you had to consider breathing?
Despite the individualistic, entrepreneurial environment that we modern existers are designing for ourselves, there are certain self-aggravating qualities ingrained in all humans that are inescapable. Qualities like needing sleep, releasing gas and, frequently, perpetual dissatisfaction.
Let’s presume life without a partner is good. Your job is fine, your social life is active, and you keep your mind from stagnating by pursuing passions and hobbies outside of your everyday commitments. One might presume that some sort of special love interest will come along eventually. One might be correct. Conversely, if there’s little sign of said someone special on the horizon, your brain may be forcing an uncomfortable feeling on you. Whether it’s a longing for something you’ve never had or the memory of something you almost did, it is probably not doing you any good.
Even if the last person you went on more than six dates with was obviously wrong for you, it can be hard not to think of them until they’ve been replaced by somebody or something better. The memories of having exclusive company stick. The last impressions of melding with a familiar body stick. Meanwhile, the confidence once spawned from being an object of hope and desire for another fades. As Harvey Danger puts it in their one hit wonder, Flagpole Sitta:
“Fingertips like memories
I can’t forget the curves of your body
And when I feel a little bit naughty
I run it up the flagpole and see
While phrased provocatively, Sean Nelson is singing about loss. A recollection he’s failed to abandon because, as stated later in the chorus, he’s “not sick” but “not well”. It’s the kind of deficiency that one might mistakenly call stubbornness. In reality, a part of him cannot move on because there is a void that needs filling. No pun intended.
Sex is the human condition: a simple argument made many times before that also happens to be accurate. As a species, we have spent the past 300 millennia evolving to a point where the concept of surviving by instinct is novel. Conscious thought has led us to become more than we once were. Nevertheless, our primal nature still matters a great deal as the unconscious will always control who we are. It is what has brought us this far. To quantify, the unconscious mind has 200,000 times greater capacity for thought than the conscious.
“The physician Jonathan Cole documented the case of Ian Waterman, who suffered nerve damage and lost parts of [his] unconscious sense. Through a process of painstaking work over many years, Waterman was able to use conscious thinking to monitor his body. He laboriously taught himself to walk again, to get dressed, and even to drive a car. The problem came when he was standing in the kitchen one night and there was a power outage. He could not see where his limbs were and hence could not control them. He collapsed to the floor [in] a tangle of body parts.”
-Excerpt from The Social Animal by David Brooks
So, where does that leave us? We need our unconscious because we’re pretty much helpless without it. The current era of enlightenment we inhabit is largely a product of our instinct staving off extinction by forcing us to invent, accept the intricacies of thought through philosophy, and develop an elaborate system of social dependence.
Whether or not one has the monk-like ability to endure celibacy for decades at a time, there is no such thing as someone who is happy alone. Sci-fi nerds and scientists hold dear the concept that there is other sentient life in the universe, common people seek fame by embarrassing themselves on reality TV, and VICE Magazine readers hate everyone but still seek the company of those as miserable as they are.
The point is that you cannot rely on the conscious mind to run your life. You have to be able to immerse yourself in the unknown, both internally and externally, in order to find comfort in your meaningless existence.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Let’s try a non-sexual hypothetical. Say you are unhappy with your job. Everything about it is the pits. What do you do? You could sit at your desk waiting for your next cheque, staring as the Facebook newsfeed updates itself, or you could use the obvious spare time you have to enhance what you know.
What’s that? Nahhh? It’s very possible that the doldrums are overwhelming. I get it. Why conjure up precious energy for an employer that doesn’t appreciate you? Except that it’s not about them. As long as you can convince yourself to accomplish something (anything), you’ll improve. Then you can actually have a skill to bring to your next position: competence.
The same applies for the sexless among us. Try, fail, learn, try, fail, fail, fail, try, learn, succeed. There are googleplexes of motivational posters and neon-flared internet memes that say the same thing, but where most of them miss the mark is in the need to be primal. What they should really be saying is “Try or you will fail… you fucker.”
Doing is hard, making excuses for not doing is easy. For instance: As someone whose political compass points very left (west?), I believe that everyone should be able to eat and live in relative comfort. That doesn’t mean I give much to charity. It means that I believe the governments and wealthy of the world should. I work hard enough for my money that the top 1-2% should be doing my good deeds for me.
We are all self-serving, greedy, horny bastards who like to think of ourselves as decent. We are not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have what we believe we need.
If you feel displaced, despondent or otherwise defenestrated, try trusting your ingrained instinct. Not the instinct you consciously think you should have, the one you’ve got. Stop checking Facebook at work and learn a new trick in Excel. Stop staring at flowers floating in candle holders and realize that while you may be lucky enough to occasionally experience a satisfying meaningless encounter, truly great sex involves feelings. Essentially, happiness is a privilege you can only earn when you understand the thoughts you don’t think… you fucker.