Sex and brussels sprouts

My Ikea bed frame rapped lightly against my wall as the hands of a guy I’d met two hours prior at the Abbey gripped the headboard.

“Why did I buy this bed?” I asked myself. “It’s so plain. I could have done so much better.”

At age 21, my relationship to sex sucked.


When I was a teenager and every other guy my age seemed horny enough to hump a hole in drywall, I was content to keep ignoring sex. Like boiled brussels sprouts, sex seemed like a hot, soppy mess that I was better off without.

As I got a little bit older and couldn’t avoid sex anymore, I started having it obligatorily and with the same damp enthusiasm with which one approaches a bowl of brussels sprouts drowned in cream of mushroom soup. I would lead my suitors back to my place, ritually grab lube and condoms and kiss just long enough to heat things up, the sensual equivalent of 60 seconds in the microwave.

The sex was always rote, boring and miserable– typical hookup sex– clothes coming off tentatively like you’re being forced onto stage naked, not too verbal because you don’t know each other very well and tense for the same reason.

So my mind usually fluttered off to something else, like wondering whether I should dispose of my Malmo bed and try to find something a little more interesting and nuanced. Of course, even at 21, one can only maintain interest in sex for a few minutes under these conditions.

As my new friend did his best to keep the mood alive, mumbling mindless things like, “yeah, baby, that’s it,” I tried to engage.

“Who’s your daddy,” I asked, because it sounded like a porny thing to ask, but not because it seemed like a good idea.

“Uh,” he paused, “I don’t know.”

When that fell flat, I tensed my body, grunted something insincere about arriving at my destination before collapsing into the chilly demeanor of a feigned post-coitus.

That scene would play out many times before something finally clicked into place years later (meaning way too recently) after several years of the stability and security of a long-term relationship with my boyfriend, James.

One night recently, while James and I were eating balsamic roasted brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan, it hit me.

“Malcolm Gladwell says you’ve got to do something for 10,000 hours to become an expert,” I said.

“So?” asked James, one eyebrow slightly elevated.

“So that’s how much time I’ve spent choking down brussels sprouts,” I announced, “and look at these, I love them!”

“No, that’s not even close to what he meant,” James said.

“Yeah, huh!” I exclaimed like a defiant four-year old. “And that’s why sex has gotten better, too!”

James shook his head, looking down to his plate as the diners around us in the packed restaurant pretended not to hear me.

“You know, we could make these at home. We could also roast them, or probably make a salad out of them with cranberries and toasted pecans, wouldn’t that be good?”

“Yeah,” James said quickly and quietly, wanting desperately for me to be silent.

“I’m going to be this innovative with our sex life, too!”

James stopped talking to me and opted to communicate with a series of tepid mmm hmmms until we got home.

“I meant what I said, you know,” I told James. “Come on, I’ll show you,” I said as I led him to the bedroom.

Later that night, right as James was nodding off into a restful sleep after an invigorating roll in the sack, I leaned over, brushed his hair behind his ear and softly whispered, “Say my name,” as I stifled a fit of ill-timed giggles.

“Jackson,” he replied, “shut the hell up.”

As I lie awake, watching blue shadows dance across the ceiling, I wondered what kind of brussels sprouts we’d have tomorrow. And also, what we’d eat for dinner.

Pills, pills, pills

I was at a party with some friends several weeks ago when the familiar discussion of our “issues” came up.

“I used to have such a hard time speaking in front of crowds,” my friend, Monica, said, gripping a sweaty red Solo cup. “But my doctor gave me some Paxil and I’ve been fine ever since.”

“I can totally relate,” offered my friend, Nolan. “I get panic attacks all the time at work. It’s like I’m going to vomit. I have Zoloft, but I always forget to take it.”

“That’s so funny,” added another friend, Ava, “When I’m manic, I’m great with people, but some days, when I’m on a downswing, it’s impossible. Especially when I’m not taking my Xanax.”

Ava has bipolar disorder, but only intermittently. And when it coincides with her borderline personality disorder, she’s an especially hot mess.

I wanted to speak up and contribute to the conversation, but I didn’t have anything to say. There was a period of time when I thought I was allergic to the tree outside my apartment, but I took a Claritin and that was as far as it went.

“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered aloud.

“You probably have ADHD,” said Ava, as she popped a pita chip into her mouth and crunched so loudly I thought she’d broken a tooth. “Everyone does.”

My friends nodded in agreement.

ADHD sounded plausible. It’s common enough. I’d recently read a Northwestern University study that found in 2010, 10.4 million American children– roughly the population of Portugal– were diagnosed with it. Why not me?

Once Ava mentioned it, I noticed that I did get bored often. I would change my mind about wanting microwave popcorn halfway through its two-minute cooking time. I always cancelled my cell phone contract early. I couldn’t finish Infinite Jest.

I really wanted to fit in with my pill-popping friends, so I made an appointment with a local psychiatrist to discuss my problems.

When I bounded into the office, bright-eyed and eager to fix my problem, my psychiatrist, an attractive woman in her late 20s, surely a recent grad, listened attentively and jotted down notes as I talked about myself enthusiastically, doing my best to lead her to diagnose me with ADHD. To be extra thorough, I’d decided to review symptoms on WebMD the night before.

She was really pretty. Like, detrimentally so. I was concerned for her because I imagined that no matter how bright she was, her peers would always be convinced that her looks would be what got her ahead.

“Well,” she said, interrupting me when I started telling her about a bad date I’d had several years ago, “it sounds like you have a textbook case of ADHD.”

“Her powers of observation are what got her ahead,” I would tell her naysayers.

I was pleased and expected her to hand me a prescription for Adderall, but was disappointed when she instead handed me a stack of papers about an inch thick.

“Fill these out at home, come back next week and we’ll review them to see if you do, in fact, suffer from ADHD,” she said.

…maybe I’d agree that her looks really did get her ahead, after all.

I begrudgingly took the forms, scheduled my followup appointment and went home.

After six days of procrastination, on the night before my follow up appointment, I began looking through the forms as I sat awake in bed.

“I have difficulty paying attention in class or at work.”
Agree, I checked the appropriate box.

“I am easily annoyed.”
What a stupid question. Agree.

“I make decisions quickly, without taking into account their long-term repercussions.”
See: my entire sexual history. Agree.

The more I read the list, the more I was convinced I actually had ADHD.

There were dozens of pages, all asking variations of the same thing and as I began to get annoyed, I had a moment of divine inspiration.

“TOO LONG,” I scribbled across the top of the paperwork, before turning out my reading light.

The next morning, when I returned to her office, I handed Blondie my paperwork. She read my comment on the front page and rolled her eyes. She flipped through what I did fill out and grabbed her prescription pad.

“Here,” she began scribbling, “let’s start you off on a low dose and see how you do.”

As she tore off my prescription and handed it to me, I felt like I’d been admitted to the cool kids club.

I thanked her (red flag!) and made my way to the pharmacy to pick up a shiny, new bottle of Adderall that I couldn’t wait to show my friends.

I’d been taking the pills for a few days when I met up with my dad for dinner.

“What’s that?” he asked as I swallowed a pill at the table.

My dad’s an affable guy, but thinks I hang out with a bad crowd and he doesn’t mince words.

“Adderall,” I said as I tried to stylishly slug a glass of water that was too cold and sent searing pain through my teeth.

My dad shook his head. “You’re nuts.”

“Not yet,” I said “I just have ADHD.”

“You’re lazy sometimes, but you don’t have ADHD.”

We agreed to disagree. Or at least I thought that’s what was happening until after dinner as we walked back to our cars.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Jackson. You just have too much time on your hands. Your friends are all so enraptured by pills– your whole generation. You’re overmedicated.”

I looked down at my feet and shuffled them.

“I have a problem and you’re being insensitive to it,” I said as my dad climbed into his car.

He shook his head. “I love you, kid, but you’re full of shit sometimes.”

He closed his door and revved his engine. Before he left, I had a thought I wanted to share with him, so I banged on his window. He rolled it down.

“I know why you have a hard time relating to me sometimes,” I told him.

“Why, because I’m old?” he asked.

“No, because of your Asperger’s,” I said. “You should get help.”

My dad shook his head again, rolled up his window and pulled out of the parking lot.

As I walked to my car, I rubbed my throbbing jaw, wondering if I had a cavity or sensitive teeth or something more serious.

“Ugh, maybe he’s right,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I’m self-diagnosing too much…maybe I’m a hypochondriac.”

“How absurd,” I thought as I laughed at myself for a moment before changing my mind.

“You know, I better make an appointment with my psychiatrist just to be sure.”pills