I just finished reading this memoir, which I recommend to anyone that wants to understand certain aspects of promiscuity. It is a coming-of-age story that a young American woman confesses about her past as an insecure and emotionally needy girl. As a young girl, she dangerously and playfully pursues boys in order to feel loved, needed, wanted, worthy (of their attention or affection); she desperately hooks up with them to primarily assure herself she is desirable. As her search for ‘Prince Charming’ becomes hopeless, she gets addicted to promiscuous adventures, but only to find herself more and more miserable and regretful due to the fact that none of the hookups or flings materialize the way she imagines them. She eventually overcomes her paralyzing desperation, obsessions with boys, sexual misadventures, and feelings of emptiness and guilt when she learns to love and respect (and to be confident about) herself. After the turbulent waves of adolescence and the tough years in college and post-college pass, attending a graduate school, she writes:
I make a tentative decision. No more boys for a while. Just to see what will happen.
Days pass. I spend time with friends. I teach. I read novels and work on my own. I even try reading a self-help book about how to find love. The gist is that when you can love yourself entirely, only then can others love you too. Duh. Any moron knows that. But how to love yourself after a lifetime of self-degradation and effacement? That would be a book worth reading. … Some days, I sit in my small apartment with my loneliness, an unwanted guest, the pain intense enough that I keep my arms wrapped around my middle. I can almost envision it in there—a tiny girl with dead eyes, sitting alone in the dark. I hold her tightly, trying to bring her back to life. On these days, I don’t want a boy. Being alone feels more honest.
A few times I go out to solo dinners at a sidewalk cafe and watch people walk by. I see a movie by myself and cry the whole way through. A few people glance at me, but I don’t care. I don’t have to answer to anyone, and that feels nice.
I joke with friends about what I’m doing, calling it a moratorium on my vagina. But it’s actually quite serious. I’ve crossed a threshold somewhere. We all have the opportunity to find that place where awareness trumps our actions. And I’ve reached that place. I can’t go back.
… A few weeks later, I meet M. He lives with a boy I slept with during my summer of love, but this doesn’t stop us from taking an interest in each other. … I like this guy. He’s someone I could be friends with, someone I could see wanting to have around. When I’m with him, it feels different than it usually does. … Something important is happening here, and it isn’t just that I’m not jumping to sex. I’m realizing love might look different for me than I thought it would. I don’t have to feel all that craziness to be in love. Instead, I can feel like I do: calm, satisfied, and whole. … This isn’t a story about how some guy finally saves me from myself. I’m my own hero here; I do the saving. … ‘I’m happy you found him,’ Dad [says on the phone]. ‘Now don’t screw it up.’ I [hang] up feeling hurt, feeling old familiar things….
The memoir is not only brutally candid, intense, but also enjoyable and easy-to-read.
The author’s words, why men/boys should read her book:
I think boys and men could benefit from reading the book to get a better, more realistic perspective on what girls are thinking and feeling in [promiscuous] situations. There’s so much cultural silence on the subject, and that silence includes the invisible lines between boys and girls. … Boys do not have anywhere near the same restrictions put on them as girls do when it comes to their sexual identities. We expect boys often to have more experience than they do, but that’s it. Boys are allowed to direct the course of their sexual growth, whereas girls can’t own their sexual desires, even in a presumably healthy way. As mom to sons, I see it as my job not only to talk to them about their own experiences, but to help them understand girls and girls’ behavior from a more realistic perspective.
So that should answer your concerns as to why I (a guy) chose to read this book. Anyway, I don’t understand why some people think a guy shouldn’t read books written by women that talk about ‘feminine stuff,’ yet women have been reading books written by men for centuries!? I find that unacceptable. Guess what I want to read next? The Feminine Mystique! Call me whatever if you like. There shall not be boundaries, especially when it comes to reading, exploring new perspectives, my 11th commandment.
Despite the rather prurient title, Cohen’s memoir is a deeply poignant, desperately sad account of a confused, directionless adolescent girl’s free fall into self-abnegation. Growing up affluent in New Jersey in the 1980s and smarting from the recent breakup of her parents, 11-year-old Cohen begins to recognize the power her nubile body has over men. Being wanted becomes her greatest hope; once she and her older sister, Tyler, begin living with her father when her mother decides to attend med school in the Philippines, she latches onto other girls with whom she treks into New York City to bar hop at places like Dorian’s Red Hand and pick up older, eager boys. Stunningly, the father is not alarmed by her early-morning absences, but seems to encourage her popularity, buying her clothes and treating her as a grownup. Gradually, hooking up with boys becomes a need, a way to bolster her faltering sense of self-worth. A litany of dreary sex acts follows with young men she doesn’t particularly like and who don’t like her, regardless of STD scares and a college rape. The painter mother of one of her boyfriends does initiate her into more intellectual pursuits, awakening a redemptive desire to become a writer. Cohen’s memoir of a lost childhood is commendably honest and frequently excruciating to read. — Publishers Weekly