DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #31: Lost in the Wilderness of Self


Dear Sugar,

I’m a 28-year-old film student in NYC. I’m pursuing my dream of being a filmmaker, and should be happy. But I’m not. I can’t make progress on my thesis film, and I can’t get enough sex. Even with women I don’t like. I wake up two or three times a week with that dreaded “not again” feeling as I look at the stranger in bed beside me. Don’t get me wrong. The sex is great, but it’s never enough, and I fear that it’s a sad, desperate replacement for a meaningful connection to my work and, possibly, to a deep relationship.

My dad basically abandoned me after my mom divorced him when I was 7. My mom has always technically been there for me, but I’m beginning to realize how selfish and emotionally distant she was and what a deprived childhood I actually had. Do you think my reckless, relentless behavior is connected to my dawning awareness that my mom was exceptionally cold and withholding?

Help me, Sugar. I’m tired of this.
Nonstop Naughty in NYC


Dear Nonstop Naughty,

Slap my ass and call me pappy, you’re speaking my mother tongue. If I’d met you back in the day I’d have been that warm—well okay hot—body lying next to you, serving as your desperate replacement for a meaningful connection. (And oh the naughty fun we would’ve HAD).

But, really: back to your question.

I feel it. I was it. I came out the other side and the very nature of your question tells me that you will too. The twenties are almost always a hard decade. It’s the era in which most of who you are is wrapped up in who you’re trying to be. You’re horny and lonely and scared and you’re slaying the inevitable dragons of your childhood while at the same time attempting to seem like the most incredibly cool, woman-bedding, movie-making cat in New York City. But you aren’t those things. You’re lost in the wilderness of self.

This is as it should be. This is the time in your life when it’s most efficient to confront the struggles you must in order to become the man you hope to be, and I encourage you to do it full-throttle. Therapy will likely help. Long walks alone thinking about the things you already know will too: That meaningless sex is fun, but ultimately soul-sapping. That both your sexual behavior and your anxiety about finishing your thesis film are likely connected in ways both overt and discreet to the traumas and sorrows of your childhood.

Walking and talking helped me tremendously when I was lost in my own wild thicket of shit in my twenties. But you know what helped me the most? Art. Music and paintings and books and poems and films and songs that told me who I was and who I wasn’t and who I wanted to be and who others were and how the most impossibly broken and beautiful people manage to live with both grief and joy.

Give the women and the anxiety a rest and instead hole up with some movies that will tell you everything there is to know about sex and love and loss and yearning and faith and resilience and honor and desire and forgiveness. Watch “Midnight Cowboy” and “Man on a Wire.” Watch “The Bicycle Thief” and “Belle du Jour.” Watch “Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains” and “The Last Picture Show.” Then stand for a long while staring out the window.

This will be your cure.



Dear Sugar,
I’ve had a few serious boyfriends but I’ve never had sex. I’m a virgin. I try not to get too serious with anybody because I fear if I have sex my feelings would become involved and if he hurt me I would be crushed. Because of this, I sabotage every possible relationship. What should I do? It sucks to be lonely.

Virgin Forever


Dear Virgin Forever,

You’re right, sweet pea. If you have sex with someone you care about there’s a good chance your heart will be crushed eventually. But why are you so afraid of having your heart crushed? It’s not anywhere close to the worst thing that can happen to you. It might feel like the worst thing for a while, but it’s not. Far worse is a sexless, loveless life ruled by fear, in other words, the life you’re choosing for yourself at this very moment, dear Virgin.

You asked what you should do and here is my unequivocal answer: Find a man you like a lot and fuck him until your legs are so weak and wobbly you can hardly stand up. Then do it again the next day. Tell him what turns you on. Ask him what turns him on. Teach him how to touch you so that you have really good orgasms. Stay up ridiculously late telling each other the long stories of your lives. Meet him for pie and walks at spontaneous hours of the afternoon. Purchase a book of poems for him and write something inside in a coded, erotically tender language that only the two of you know the meaning of. If he says, “You’re so beautiful” don’t say, “Thank you.” Say, “What makes you think that?” And then watch his face very carefully while he answers. This will be excruciatingly fun. It will be interesting and hot and sweet and bloody terrifying. You’ll be having sex! With someone capable of absolutely obliterating your heart!

This is what we’re here for, Virgin. It’s what we do in the great Sugar Shack we call real life. Welcome.