After the last two Bukowski reads, I needed a break. And so I pulled one of my favorite memoirs off the shelf and decided, “What the hell. Everyone needs to know about this book.” And I’m not being hyperbolic. Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy is one hell of a memoir.
“The names of the men in this book have been changed because most of them are named Dave. And there are a lot of names in this book. Then again, it is called Screw Everyone, so I’m delivering on that promise.”
It’s not a difficult premise to explain: Ophira Eisenberg takes us on a little “jaunt” through the most memorable hook-ups of her life. She explains that she is rather methodical about her love life, and decides that an experiment of sorts is in order. She simply wants to see what it would be like to sleep with any worthy candidate she can. And in a world where virginity is a little less important than in the 1500s but still pretty problematic, that’s an interesting concept. Ophira’s experience with the dichotomy of losing virginity and remaining respected by her peers is a perfect example of how treacherous and yet ridiculous the debate can become.
As her first experiment in high school, Ophira and her friend Cheryl agree to lose their virginities on the same night. After a botched attempt that ends in a furnace room with only a poor soul gaining a bloody nose and losing his dignity, she redoubles her efforts and decides with Cheryl that the ski town Banff (it’s in Canada, by the way she’s suuuuper Canadian) will be the perfect place to rid themselves of their pesky flowers (which pains me to write to no end). They get suited up in miniskirts, makeup galore, and high heels in order to pass for legal-aged college students. They run into a pair of dudes who claim they’re air force pilots. The pilots invite them back to their strangely convenient hotel across the street from their own terribly uncharming “Green Mountain Lodge.”
While Cheryl latches at the mouth with Maverick, Goose drags Ophira into the bathroom. And the entire underwhelming experience is outright honest as hell.
“To say it was disappointing is an understatement. Losing my virginity was about as exciting as going around. Even though I was losing it to an older guy in an unconventional setting, the act itself fit my older sister’s predictions: two minutes long and kind of annoying. The only thing she missed was the part where I got a free shower cap at the end of it. I hoped she was right about sex getting better the more you did it. If not, the porn stars in Swank should be given acting awards.”
The next morning, Cheryl reveals that she didn’t go through with it with Maverick, and the tension between them is palpable. Their relationship changes as Cheryl inherently judges Ophira for going through with a pact they had made together, especially with a strange dude in a strange hotel bathroom. While part of the problem seems to be jealousy, the other portion is still that strange social more that virginity should be “saved for someone special”. And while that may work for people like Cheryl, Ophira acknowledges that the dirty deed is done and feels liberated by the fact.
Despite the rather shifty way her friend reacts, Ophira goes through several, several, SEVERAL more experiments during and after high school. After breaking it off with her high school boyfriend, and getting attached to a musician, she goes on a solo trip to Australia and hilariously runs into her ex from high school. While on a layover in Fiji (in what I saw as the most unbelievably unrealistic yet totally plausible somehow scene in the entire goddamn book), she attempts to appear like she’s having the time of her newly super adult life…she gets stung by a baby jellyfish, gets the worst sunburn imaginable, buys men’s sandals on accident, and gets the haircut a twelve-year-old boy couldn’t pull off. And of course, runs into the ex in the process.
Sounds terrible, right? It only gets worse.
While in Australia, Ophira pines after the musician she left back in Canada. Toward the end of her stay, she decides to go to Fraser Island as her hostel advertises. Adventure! Land Rovers! Five plastic water bottles of gin and Orange crush with strangers on a beach! Surprise drunken hook-up with a drunken Brit!
The musician, it turns out also hilariously, has cheated on Ophira while she was away and tries to pin her for giving him Chlamydia.
Later, while she’s at college at McGill, she tries to hex him with voodoo.
She has a fling with an unattractive pastry chef with dexterous hands.
She hooks up with a dude whose mother tells her they can’t be together because their zodiac signs clash horribly.
She breaks into the comedy scene, moves to New York, and starts making some serious strides on Premium Blend on Comedy Central.
She hooks up with another comic with a terrible secret: a vastly creepy collection of Garfield memorabilia.
She tries to be a dominatrix but realizes she’s supes vanilla af and it’s actually kinda embarrassing.
Though the hookups and blunders are unbelievable and entirely entertaining, toward the end of the book you start to get the feeling that all the excitement of switching dancing partners so often is starting to get monotonous to a woman now into her 30s. “How can that be?! Hooking up and experiments are her thing! That seems so awesome, how could it ever get boring?”
Here’s the most captivating part of this entire book. It does get boring. It gets stale. It starts to lose its spice. I’m not saying everyone is cut out for monogamy. Not one person fits a single cookie cutter image of anything. And that’s what draws you into the memoir towards the end, the strange but refreshing shift from the woman who once called herself The Whore of Fraser Island to the awkwardly charmed monogamist.
“I wasn’t sure about this guy. He seemed to be the most regular person I’d come across in two years, minus the beaded shirt. But we seemed to be having a pretty good time. I mean, it wasn’t fireworks, but it was oddly comfortable. It was also clear that he hadn’t endured as many relationships and hook-ups as I had, which was actually refreshing.”
While intrigued by weird reprieve Jonathan presents, she asks him what he wants out of life and he gives her the standard: marriage, some kids, an apartment…
She, on the other hand, goes off on a tangent about how marriage is old-fashioned and idiotic, fit for inheriting money or land and not much else, especially since most marriages end in divorce.
And strangely, this dude still wants to catch a movie with her.
The over-reaching fear of monogamy in the long run for Ophira and for me is the feeling of complacency. Of falling into a routine, a rut. Becoming so used to the person you’re with you start doing the same things over and over, talking less, bumming around, having less and less sex until finally y’all get almost bored to death and call the whole thing off. Relationships start to feel like little blips of revelation: “I wish I’d known I didn’t like that before this happened, I wish I’d known to stand up for myself in this way, I wish I’d known what I was doing in the first place.”
What makes this memoir for me is the fact that Ophira gets over every fear she’s ever had about dull, monogamous life and she just hauls anchor and goes for it. Jonathan proposes with a thousand fucking paper cranes. They get married almost immediately and keep it a secret. They have a couple parties for their friends and family. Shit works out.
“Only one friend commented that she thought I’d never tie the knot. But all my hard work had to amount to something. I had screwed my way through five cities and compiled an eclectic list of partners, the total number of which sounded impressive even to me…I’d made an honest commitment. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a weed, but a weed in choice conditions is a happy weed.”
I think that’s pretty indicative of personal growth and understanding that shit happens sometimes that changes your outlook drastically. And it doesn’t have to be with someone who checks all the boxes you think need checked-off on your imaginary list of perfectly dateable people.
Perfectly dateable people don’t exist in this life. In film and television, in theater, in literature…sure. There is always a Mr. Darcy to pine after, a Jake Ryan, a Han Solo, or maybe some weirdly hot cartoon hunk with a heart of gold that’s vaguely Disney-eqsue in charm factor. While these characters aren’t perfect and certainly have some issues, there’s this grandiose romanticism about them that tricks the mind into thinking a relationship has to have fireworks and constant passion and will-they-won’t-they tension all the goddamn time. And that’s just not the case.
Honest companionship can come in strange forms. It can be a weird dude in a beaded shirt who seems kinda normal and makes a fuckton of cranes for you. The point Ophira makes is that chances have to be taken. For someone who has taken crazy chances all her life, the craziest chance of all is to commit in the face of fear and risking the future on someone who fits you and seems as comfortable as an oversized sweater. The sweater could shrink, sure. Get a little stained? Maybe. It could even leave you for a leather jacket if it’s feeling wild.
It’s a gamble. But what’s life without the risk?