Ophira Eisenberg on the Merits of Not Getting to Know His Family (Or His Last Name)

In Year 9 (she’s Canadian), Ophira Eisenberg made a Lotus 123 spreadsheet ranking potential candidates to take her virginity. But a few months and one bloody cunnilingus mishap later, she wound up going off-book and lost it to a wild card entrant in a hotel bathroom in Banff. She’s since been with a bassist, a jazz guitarist and an alumnus of a barbershop quartet—although not all at once. There was an improviser, a film critic and a drama student—they had sex dressed as pixies during a production of Midsummer. There was a coke addict, a meth addict, and a guy from Queens with an addiction to stuffed Garfields. She slept with a blind albino who prefaced things with, “I’m warning you, you’re about to see the smallest penis ever.” There was a pastry chef (“His hands were like nothing I had ever experienced before”), a guy who preferred to come whilst having anal beads pulled out of his butthole, and yes, there was at one point a woman.

That said, her memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy, is less a book about raunchy exploits than an account of the comedic romance you don’t see in romantic comedies. We get our hearts broken (jazz guitarist, pixie), move to new cities, work shitty jobs (she was a clerk at a waste management plant in Vancouver), and along the way are the stupid rules and games we set up to try and balance our personal ambitions with our desire to feel wanted.

The story ends with a thirty-second marriage ceremony at the city courthouse (you guessed it—she went with the barbershop quartet guy), but she told me recently that along with the love and romance, getting married is like picking the roommate you’ll have for the rest of your life. We should all have the right to get married, but what we do in the meantime shouldn’t be disparaged. There’s a lot to learn in sleeping around.

It never occurred to me that [sex] was for anything other than pleasure—like there was no shame, it was never pathologized, there was nothing dirty about it. But I know it’s not the same as other people. Because other people were raised like it was terrible. That it was a terrible, shameful, horrible act that you better save for one unlucky person.

Is it a generational thing, do you think?
I was a young teenager in the ’80s, and I came of age in the ’80s. And that’s when people were partying, [dancing to] disco, and love was in the air. And historically, the AIDS epidemic really influenced how that generation thought about sex. But I will tell you, by college, a couple of boyfriends who’d mention having sex without a condom—it was like, fine, we’re both going to go get tested. For everything. And that’s what we did, and there was no problem! No one had a problem with it! I guess I just thought that was normal.But in New York, I feel like that’d be a lot to ask of someone—to be like, hey, so we’ve seen each other a few times, clearly you’ve been complaining about the condom, if you want to sleep together again let’s both go get tested and share the results. I mean, I think that’d be the moment where the guy would be like, “Are you kidding me?!”

Was New York discouraging sexually, coming from Toronto?
I was like, “Oh my God, I’m never going to have good sex again.”

What was the main problem?
Detachment. And everyone’s like, “You kind of approached it like a guy.” No. I’m a girl, I was unable to approach it like a guy. Even if it was a physical act, there had to be something happening in that act that connected us. If someone ever turned my head around or whatever—totally unacceptable. I just wasn’t into it. I was like, fuck you, you don’t get that. You want that? Go find some other chick. There had to be something to make it seem fun, even if that was an artificial thing that was only happening in that moment.

With one guy in New York, I did this little artistic act in undoing his pants on the couch, like I was being so spontaneous and cool and on top of it and in-control, and then right afterwards he left. And I thought, “All right, it’s my turn.” And he was like, “See you later sweetheart.” And that emptiness—like, I’m not great with that stuff. I don’t know who is? But I didn’t even know that was possible until it happened, and I was like, okay, that’s not going to happen anymore. But I like the nerdy guys—they had to be smarter than me. So that already takes a huge part of the population out of the running.

There was a headline today in the Observer that said, “Study Finds Xbox Players are Actually Pretty Okay at Sex Stuff.”
I remember being, like, thirteen years old with my niece, who’s older than me, and her boyfriend, at a Stevie Wonder concert, and he said something sexist like, “Ugly girls are really good in bed because they compensate.” What a horrible thing to say. But what he was saying is that the most confident, good-looking person walking down the street might not be. Because they are so involved in themselves. And they never had to develop the skill.

Were there people who surprised you in bed one way or another?
Yeah, that guy who pushed my head down—getting him into bed was a trophy. I couldn’t believe it. He was this good-looking, kind of jock-of-a-guy, very charming. And I’m such a sucker for charm—it’s my weakness. Someone [else might think] that person’s really cheesy, and I go, “They’re magical!” But when he pushed my head down, I almost hit him. And that was it. Then he was one of the ugliest people I’d ever met in my entire life. But there’s that thing where some people are good in bed, some people are bad in bed, and some people don’t work for me. And I don’t work for some people. Like that dynamic, almost chemically or molecularly, just never meshes.

I like the line in the book about how shower sex doesn’t work. I think for it to work there needs to be a weird height dynamic or something.
Right, you need benches and shelves and foot things—if you had a climbing wall on one side of the shower with those little bricks you could put your feet on.

Have you ever been with a guy who’s substantially shorter than you?
I have, yes. I mean, I’m not that tall. But the one I’m thinking of was substantially shorter than me, and it was that thing where it’s like, “Can we do everything lying down?”

Something else you mention in the book is your tendency to meet someone and immediately think, “What would this be like fifteen years down the road?"
Yeah, yeah, I’m not very proud of that—I think it’s a weird, hardwired, evolutionary thing.

But who doesn’t? And most people seem either ashamed to admit it, or they wear it on their sleeve, in which case it’s obnoxious.
I feel like sometimes you just know. There were times where I’d appreciate that, where I’d talk to someone and I would like them, but I would know that the ten years in the future thing—I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t make any sense.

And that would keep you from even going with it for a couple weeks?
No, I could certainly do a night. And maybe more than that depending on what was going on. But sometimes that was relieving. When I moved to New York, I thought no one moves here to settle down. Everyone moves here for themselves, so all of us are in the same game. But we still need to be with people—it’s human nature—so there’s going to be this random coupling. But it’s going to be really hard. And that’s when I was like, “I need to take myself out of this thinking because it’s going to drive me insane. I’m going to be depressed all the time and crying.” So, no more of that. But then I liked the thing where I met someone and we would joke and laugh and have a good time, while I’d know that it would never work out in a billion years.

There’s another great part where you’re working at Kinko’s and a co-worker says he likes you, and you ask why and he says, “Because you’re awesome.”
Isn’t everyone primarily driven by some desire to be liked? That’s why people want to be funny, because it’s a gateway to being liked by someone.

Is doing stand-up a good way to get laid?
Oh yeah. Laughter is incredibly seductive, plus you’re up there commanding a stage. [Guys] always have girls coming up to them afterwards—“Hiiiii. You’re really funnnnnny.” Whereas that didn’t really happen to me. It’d always be really weird, like guys would come up and say, “You’re just like me! You’re the female version of me!” What does that mean? That’s so weird. How did whoever I am immediately become all about you?

I think it’s so impressive, by the way, that you wrote a drunk letter to someone.
Before texting! Could you imagine if I had a phone in my hands that could text, what damage I would’ve done? I’m so happy I was born in the time that I was born.

When texting came along, did you ever get into trouble with it?
Not really, because even once people started texting, they weren’t doing it like they do now where it’s basically the number-one way to communicate. It was still the tertiary thing. I think I remember the first time someone texted me “Happy Birthday,” and I thought, “Wow, this is what’s happening.”There’s a story that’s not in the book, but it was a hookup. We met at a bar, and we were both there for birthday parties that weren’t any fun. And we wound up going back to my place, exchanged numbers, but never called each other. But I remember like two weeks later wondering what would happen if I texted that guy. I texted, “Hey, what are you doing?” And in five seconds he was like, “WHERE ARE YOU?” So that’s how that happens. And I’ve gotten those texts that say, “What’s up?” And you think, “Interesting. Yes, it is midnight on a Friday.” At least when you get a letter in the mail, it doesn’t have a time signature on it. It doesn’t say, “This was written at 100 AM.”

There’s an episode of Full House where notable Canadian Dave Coulier—
He’s not Canadian!

He’s not Canadian? Just because he dated Alanis Morissette, people lump him in there?
Yeah, everyone just wants him to be Canadian. Canadians also.

Well, there’s an episode of Full House where Uncle Joey starts doing stand-up, and everyone in the family gets pissed because he talked about them onstage. I know you picked up and moved to New York, but is it still a concern that you’re talking about real people on stage, and now in writing?
It’s a concern. Totally a concern! I don’t know how people will react. Part of me thinks that if they had a big problem with it, I would go, “Hey, listen people—you broke my heart. Or do you want to do a panel? Let’s organize a panel, and you tell your side of the story.” As far as I’m concerned, we ended. I don’t think I gave anyone that unflattering of a portrayal. Maybe the Garfield guy, I said we had terrible sex, but I also mention that he had a huge penis. And I think that would make it fine. He’s like, whatever!

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