Book Diary: The Art of Sleeping Alone (Sophie Fontanel)

Listlessness.  The moment you realise you are not at the top of someone else’s list (perhaps you don’t even appear anywhere on it), that’s when you can’t avoid asking yourself: and where do I appear on my own list?

A few months ago, whilst recovering from a dispiriting experience with a man (one of those things that was neither something, nor nothing), I told myself: I’m going to stop sleeping with people just like that, as if it were nothing.  Because there was getting to be something about it that was less than pleasurable, and if it is no longer pleasurable, then what was the point exactly?

My mind knew exactly where it was headed (as the minds of writers often do), even though my body dallied, lagged behind, and took detours.  Then I happened upon an interview with Sophie Fontenal, after Googling: “benefits of celibacy”, that bought all the strands together.  This book is for anyone who lives somewhat outside of the norm, and if that outside involves taking a break from sex – or at least the (at times) obsessional search for it – for a while, then the book has an even greater resonance.

Before I even started reading it, I was almost fully convinced that I needed just such a break.  However, there was one loose end I had to tie up in order that I could enter into the thing wholeheartedly.  It had to do with that man.  I had been able to extricate myself relatively cleanly, consciously, and kindly, but that didn’t mean that it was painless.  For whatever reason, he was kind of cold.  A few days after finally putting the last nail in the coffin, I went to a party and I met someone who was warm.  His warmth taught me in a few hours what would have taken months of introspection.  I thought that something very special had occurred, all the more special for the timing, the contrast he was providing, the mirror he was holding up.  I needed to know if this was going anywhere, before I could shut myself away indefinitely.  He was (is) still warm, still sweet, still lovely, but I realised after he listed all the reasons why it had been hard for us to get together again after that night (work, family, friends, a Masters degree – the stuff of life, really), that I wasn’t on that list of his.  Furthermore, why did my position on his list concern me more that my position on my own list?  That told me all I needed to know about where I should now be focusing my attention.

I read half the book in one sitting and the first noticeable, and liberating, effect it had on me was to change my gaze.  Even though I would have protested that I was in any way concerned by the male gaze (on me, that is – it concerns me in many other, more political ways), it turns out I was more subconsciously aware of it than I realised.  After reading half the book, I had to leave to go to work.  I felt like I was launched out of my front door on mass of buzzing energy.  I felt really tuned in, and more alive. Every man that passed me, I felt more and more elated, as I noticed that I didn’t care what they made of me!

After having been single for about 3 years following the ending of very special relationship (and preceding that, one boyfriend after another, going all the way back to age 14), I was enjoying, and needing, the time to get to know myself again.  However, I’ve always been aware that there is a certain amount of pressure not to stay single too long.  There was some part of me that, although I wasn’t looking for love, felt bad that love wasn’t looking for me.  I know what that was now, it is all back to this gaze.  The gaze that I now threw back off of me like I was wearing a reflective shield!

I very suddenly no longer cared what anyone thought of me, or whether or not I was with anyone.  And there was another side effect too – I saw myself as radiant.  Other people noticed too and I got more compliments that first week than I can remember collecting in a long time.  Fontenal reported the same thing.  I think it has to do with this, that she describes in the book: “Those who set themselves free have the whole universe before them.”  There is something very enticing about that, people want a piece of it.

The original French title of the book is, L’envie – I looked up what that meant, and as my laptop is Spanish, it gave me the translation in Spanish: ganas.  This is one of my favourite words in Spanish, and it doesn’t really have an equivalent in English, but it could mean an urge.  I’m so happy to have found this beautifully expressed and written book.  As well as my gaze, it has turned my urge inward.  My urge is now to treat myself better than ever, to get to know myself further, to care for myself, to fill my life with good and nourishing things, and to be alone, which is to say: all-one.

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