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Even The Best Writers Fail at Attraction

Thursday September 24, 2015

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You’d think that people with a shared interest in literature, no matter how shy, would have a base level of eloquence that would avoid awkward silences. And yet, even the greatest literary minds of our generation find it hard to describe that most intimate of pastimes. You know. The one that begins with ’s’ and ends with ‘ex’.

I recently uncovered some passages from the last few winners of the The Literary Review Magazine’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. This award, although ostensibly tongue in cheek, is a scathingly brilliant look at how even the best writers occasionally fail, like all us mortals, in that thing mammals do on the discovery channel.

Take for example last years winner, Ben Okri. In his novel The Age of Magic he describes one such copulatory coupling as follows:

“She felt certain now that there was a heaven and that it was here, in her body. The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her.

Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.”

Inadvertent comic genius.

Looking through previous winners there seems to be a somewhat galactic theme used to substitute for a writers inability to confront the physical acknowledgement of attraction.

2013 winner Manil Suri describes how “… We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

And a year previously Nancy Hutson claimed that it made her character “… see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate …”

Statistically satisfying undulations aside, why do I mention this? Being an optimist I think it gives us hope. If our greatest writers struggle to describe certain natural acts without resorting to embarrassing cliché or surreal metaphor, perhaps we should all give ourselves a break regarding our own inability to confront attraction and desire.

We all want to meet someone we like, who likes us and with whom we have a mutual attraction. We don’t always know immediately whether such feelings are shared and it’s this inability to recognise our own attractiveness that prevents us from expressing our feelings in an honest way.

Instead of telling someone we find them attractive or would like to get to know them more, we either distract from the possibility or simply clam up in order to avoid the possibility of rejection.

While this makes emotional sense, at a speed dating event it’s statistically likely that you’ll meet someone you’ll want to see again, and that will want to get to know you better too.

I’m not suggesting we should be so crude as to suggest a coupling to everyone who piques our interest. Unlike behavioral reductionists I don’t believe all our actions in the dating game are directed toward a single empirical end. We’re complex creatures and the act of enjoying good company brings it’s own emotional rewards.

I think that we should take heart from the failings of our literary leaders. It’s natural to find difficulty in expressing attraction.
However, a speed dating event, particularly one with a shared theme, has the advantage of putting you in a room with a group of people in exactly the same situation. We’re all open to the possibility of attraction. We should use such commonality to be a little more honest.

You will know within the four minutes of each date whether the person you’re talking to is of interest. Try and be a little bolder in your approaches. Suggest catching up after. Use your shared interest in books to explore a little further. Laugh at the writers who, despite their deserved fame, find it as difficult as the rest of us to express themselves fully. In short, relax, open up a little, acknowledge the peculiar fears we all share and express yourself anyway.

After all, what have you got to loose? You’ll never fail if you don’t at least try.

Above all, have fun. Speed dating is by definition a strange way to meet people. The best you can do is enjoy it. If you do, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Find out more about our Literary Speed Dating events here.

WORDS BY JOHN DAVIS