We've all woken up with a holiday lustover. You know, after "indulging" your sex drive when all rational and logical thinking tells you otherwise. Navigating the terrain of holiday hook-ups is tricky business. For about a month, all emotional relationships are heightened; I mean, it's the most wonderful time of the year, right? The days between Thanksgiving and New Year's are often seen as the best of times or the worst of times. Unfortunately, this type of black and white thinking, also known as splitting, is anathema to maintaining the healthy mindset that self-improvement articles tell us we need in order to get through the holidays in one piece.
Lest you think a sex binge is reserved for 1980s actors and the porn stars who love them, I'm here to tell you that many of us binge on sex during the holidays and don't even know it. You don't have to be single to have a sex binge, either. You can be in a couple or somewhere in-between. And just like over-eating, over-spending or over-feting, over-sexing will leave you with an illusory feeling of satisfaction and debilitating feeling of emptiness.
So how do you know if you're on a sex binge? I'm no doctor, but I surmise that anyone who has been on any kind of a binge knows the difference between a binge and just overdoing it. I will point out that doctors in the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders agree that binge eating is classified as its own eating disorder diagnosis. Controversy surrounds how to classify sexual disorders, especially those involving sex and addiction, but it's my opinion that just because we don't pathologize behavior, doesn't mean it's not worth examining. I also have a feeling that anyone who has ever experienced a lustover will know how traumatic it can be to recover, especially during this time of year.
Our culture frowns upon binging, associating the behavior with unsavory characteristics such as gluttony, lack of self-control and over-indulgence. This explains the embarrassment I feel after a binge and why I will go to great lengths to hide this transgression from others. The fact that I'm even calling a binge a "transgression" reveals the value of being in control of my savage desires. What's troublesome is that anyone with the slightest amount of cultural awareness recognizes the American holiday machine as an apparatus for synthesizing joy. But how exactly do you measure joie de vivre, anyway?
"I just couldn't help myself," is a phrase often uttered this time of year. Keep that phrase (among other things) out of your mouth with the following tips for a lustover-free holiday. You will probably recognize these tips from the canon of self-improvement lit. But because you have to exist in the social world for the next month ...
Remember your agency. Nobody has Svengali powers over you, not even the person you totally lust after. You are the only person who can monitor what you do with your time, mind and body. Resist the urge to blame your behavior on the alcohol, mistletoe, social media, loneliness or whatever excuse you have in your deck of cards. And while abstinence may not have the same instant gratification rewards as giving in, you will wake up with your pride and a sigh of relief. Saying no takes work. But if you want to live a healthy, mindful life (and ultimately, that is what will get you through the holidays, not a booty call), you are the only person who can put the work in. There's no gimmick or extra markdown; it just is what it is. So do it.
Be authentic. At least with yourself. Only you know the true degree of your feelings. So act accordingly. But before we all get naked, remember that sex should never be a Band-Aid. You can't "sex" your problems away, no matter how skilled you or your partner may be. Part of the holidays is being able to tolerate frustration and annoyance with a jolly smile on your face. There will be things you have to fake. The least you can do is keep it real in the bedroom.
Acknowledge you might not be as good at predicting your own happiness as you think. You know how you vow never to see someone again after a particularly rotten encounter, only to find yourself dialing that person's number in the middle of the night? You are not a complete idiot, or "insane," doing the same thing over and over and expecting something different. You are just remembering the good times, the great orgasm, the adrenaline rush you get when that person screams your name. And those things are real. So of course you want to feel them again. The only thing is, they're not really making you as happy as you think. Harvard psychologist and Stumbling Upon Happiness guru, Daniel Gilbert reminds us that humans are pretty lousy at future forecasting. What fuels temptation is how amazing we think we're going to feel afterwards. But, if you stop and think about what the experience will realistically be like, you will make decisions from trusting your mind, rather than your gut.
When in doubt, self-soothe. When feelings of anxiety, sadness, aggression, envy and helplessness come on -- it is after all, the holidays -- try your hardest to sit with them. I often impress myself with my ability to deal with feelings of discomfort. When I work myself up over something, it's usually because I don't think I can handle it. But the truth is, I've spent a good deal of my life doing just that. I have my go-to list of self-soothing activities, and so does everybody from Lady Gaga (rubbing her feet together) to Hillary Clinton (watching HGTV). I guarantee a lustover-free morning when you take pleasure into your own hands.
Yes means yes. If you have a "slip-up," it's not an endgame. All-or-nothing thinking is what makes a binge a binge, so stop it before it goes any further. You always reserve the right to say no. At any time and under any circumstance. With that in mind, rethink the old "no means no" adage when it comes to resisting temptation. Instead of ruminating on what you lack (the emptiness that can trigger a binge) re-imagine the value in doing without.
Jill Di Donato is a writer is New York City.