The Art of Sleeping Alone / No Sex Please, We’re French (article)

The Art of Sleeping Alone / No Sex Please, We’re French

(Link): No Sex Please, We’re French

Excerpt

    Sophie Fontanel stayed magnifique through a long dry spell.
    By Hanna Rosin|Posted Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at 11:40 AM

    There is a general formula for the “living without” memoir, whether the person is living without money, imported coffee, toilet paper, the Internet, or sex, which is the subject of Sophie Fontanel’s The Art of Sleeping Alone.

    The writer begins with boundless enthusiasm, puzzling giddily over the logistics of, say, bartering for gas or sending actual letters by mail.

    This brief phase of idealism is followed by despair as months drag on of wandering through the desert, parched. But then the deprivation leads to an important lesson, about greed, or vanity, or our frantic need to fill the void, and our narrator is forever changed.

    This formula works because it’s the perfect balm for our eternally Puritan souls, which thrive on occasional doses of extreme self-denial. But it leaves out one important factor: Some narrators are French.

    Fontanel is not only French but also a senior editor for French Elle. An American woman enduring 12 years of sexlessness might incur occasional bouts of alienation from her own body, a sudden overwhelming urge to don a muumuu or pair of denim overalls, because why be fetching if you don’t have to? Quelle horreur, Fontanel would remark, for there is no ontological reason why the desert has to be actually dry. She makes a passing reference to baggy clothes and flat heels, but otherwise she remains throughout the ordeal altogether magnifique.

    “I had no sex life,” she writes on Page 1, but then immediately follows that with: “It is true that those years were in large part filled with sensuality, when dreams alone gratified my longings, but what dreams!”

    In her telling, the “singularity” (she prefers that term to “abstinence” or “celibacy,” she’s said in interviews, even though it sounds a little translated from the French) she sustained between ages 27 and 39 sounds sexier than most people’s actual sex lives.

    She even looks sexier—so much so that a man puts down his briefcase to stare, children tell her she is beautiful, and her friends and exes press her about who she is in love with. “In a photo,” she writes, “I discovered that I’d begun to glow.”

    Several American writers, including Anna Broadway and Hephzibah Anderson, have lately also given up sex, though generally for shorter periods of time.

    Anderson gave it up for a year after seeing an ex-boyfriend walk into a jewelry store with some blonde and propose, and Broadway as a reaction to too many friends with too many post-hookup hangovers.

    Both do it with the aim of emerging more empowered or less passive or otherwise in control of their sex lives.

    But Fontanel would never fall for such dour, instructive Americana.

    Even the initial scene of Fontanel’s renunciation involves a kind of ecstasy: Fontanel, one of only two guests at a ski resort, comes upon the owner, “tanned, athletic” Jonas.

    There are three logs on the fireplace and one Johnny Hallyday playing on the stereo. She could go to bed with Jonas, mais oui, but instead the mere thought sends her body into lockdown and her mind into a 1,000-thread-count reverie: “With the snow all around, my destiny seemed to me like an Eden sweet with birdsong. My life would be soft and fluffy. I was through with being had.”

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