We Believed We Could Remake Ourselves Any Way We Liked

By Eve Fairbanks, The Guardian Long Reads, July 5, 2018

I have been at that door so many times. The one you walk through into his apartment, or let him through into yours, and something shifts. It’s as quick as the click when the optometrist slides a new lens into the eye-test machine: a clear, almost weightless little sliver of a thing, but with the power to make the world resolve into clarity – or blur out, leaving you nauseous and unbalanced.

Once, it was the door to the celebrated journalist’s apartment that I stumbled through, aged 21. I’d taken a train to New York to meet him for career advice and, unexpectedly, he had suggested we meet at a bar, then bought me several martinis. But then again, I drank them. Whose fault was the sex that ensued? And then there was the door to an AirBnB I rented in Uruguay in 2014, with a pushy local journalist I had just met trailing behind me. As I fumbled with my keys, I remember thinking: how did I get here? Read more …

The Flirting Trap

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By Eve Fairbanks, The New Republic, February 8, 2018

In 2007, when I was 24, two years after I moved to Washington, D.C., to cover politics for The New Republic, I joined an email listserv for journalists and policy wonks. One day, a stranger replied to a note I had posted on private equity tax reform. In my response to him, I quoted a line from the Beach Boys’ song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

“To understand ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice,’ you have to read Jameson’s Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture,” he emailed, with a tongue-in-cheek nerdiness that was common on the listserv. “It will change your life.”

Rebecca Solnit has written that the men she met in the 1980s “seemed to feel that they had to be more successful than whoever they were attracted to,” and that “a lot of girls learn to hide their intelligence.” By the time I grew up in the 1990s, though, my ambitions and intelligence went unhidden. At school, I was encouraged to study physics, math, and politics; I was cast as Abraham Lincoln and King Lear in school plays, and nobody blinked an eye.

Over the course of the next day, I exchanged nearly a dozen messages with the—married, I would learn—man on the listserv. Let’s call him “T.” Read more ...

To Make Love Last, What If We Should Stop Working So Hard?

The Washington Post, October 5, 2015

I used to treat every wound. Pimples got one cream, eczema another. On trips, I carried a freezer bag full of medications: for flu, for cramps, for sleeplessness. Any bodily event somewhat out of the ordinary warranted a doctor’s appointment. Infections made me anxious. What if the antibiotic didn’t work? I sensed my body a fragile thing entrusted to the pharmacy aisle.

And then, one long journey deep into the wilderness, I forgot the freezer bag — and promptly got a cut on my cheek that festered. I had absolutely nothing to treat it besides time. It’s a testament to how alienated we are from the body’s own healing capacities that I was astonished when the infection, in a few days, resolved itself. Read more ...

Love in the Age of Big Data

The Huffington Post Highline, August 17, 2015

Once upon a time, in the Pony Expresso cafe in Seattle, a man and a woman began to experience the long-mysterious but increasingly scientifically investigated thing we call love. The first stage is called "limerence." This is the spine-tingling, heart-twisting, can't-stop-staring feeling, when it seems as though the world stops whirling and time itself bows down and pauses before the force of your longing. The man, a then-44-year-old University of Washington research psychologist named John Gottman, was drawn to the woman's wild mane of black curly hair and her creativity: She was an amateur musician and painter as well as a psychologist like himself. The woman, a then-35-year-old named Julie Schwartz, who'd placed a personal ad in the Seattle Weekly that John had answered, was turned on by John's humble little car—voted the ugliest vehicle in the University of Washington faculty parking lot—and his expansive curiosity. He read physics and math and history and kept a little spiral-bound notebook in his pocket that he used to jot down things his companions said that captivated him.

They talked avidly; it felt as if they'd known each other forever. Read more ...

How Your Last Boyfriend Helps Your Next One

The Washington Post, April 20, 2015

A long time ago, a man and I, in love with each other, argued about his lack of curiosity about the world. It seemed to me that more interest in others could make us happier, and more important, make him happier. He said no: he was happy as the homebody he was; this trait was elemental; it could never change. We each dug into our positions. The conflict swelled. We parted.

Eight months later, though, he returned to me. “I’ve become the person you thought I could be,” he said, with surprise and pleasure in his voice. Read more ...

What If We Can't Know What Makes Us Happy?

By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, April 1, 2015

Like many people, I have a period in my life I recall as unusually happy. The further I recede from it, the more definitive a glow it acquires, just as a ragged swirl of cosmic plasma transforms, from a great distance, into the single, bright point of the northern star. I wonder sometimes what made it so happy. Often it seems obvious to me: I’d just moved overseas; I was literally being paid to learn and explore rather than to produce work; I was falling in love.

But occasionally I suspect it could have been something totally different than those conspicuous answers. I close my eyes, in bed at night, and re-inhabit my body during that time. The new city where I’d moved was set amongst hills, and every day I walked inclines: these long, difficult rambles dissolved my daily cares. Perhaps it was the air itself, damp and laced with salt, drifting in from the nearby sea. Read more ...

How My Bougainvillea Taught Me to Live With Less

By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, August 13, 2014

We didn’t know much about gardening per se, but we thought we knew the most important principle: Pay close attention! So when my boyfriend and I brought home a beautiful pink bougainvillea for our balcony, we pampered it: We fertilized. We watered every day. We tied its delicate branches around an arbor with string, to give it a frame on which to grow.

But instead of growing, it began to die. The marvelous flowers that drew our attention in the nursery faded and dropped, and then some leaves dropped, too, yellowing and curling in on themselves like wounded snails. 

Apparently we’d been too eager to court new life: We had over-watered it. According to the instructional Web sites we consulted after the damage was done, to save our plant now we had to prune it — aggressively. Pruning allows plants to recoup their energy, fruit trees to devote attention to fewer, but bigger fruits. Some plants have what’s called “epicormic buds,” buds dormant beneath the bark that are suppressed until living leaves are cut away. There’s even a process called “coppicing,” whereby continually cutting a tree back to its stump to regrow can, in theory, enable it to live forever. To revive our limp bougainvillea, we would need cut the whole thing down to a stump: to kill most of it so it could be reborn.

I read that a month ago, but I still haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Every time I advance on the plant with my shears, I feel so sad about stripping it of the only, struggling green leaves it’s got left that I pause, then turn away.  Read more ...

What Lentils and Onions Taught Me About Relationships

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By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post: PostEverything, June 2, 2014

I started cooking Indian lentil soups because I was poor. Like many things you do by force of necessity, though, it made me understand far more than I’d anticipated. It turns out there’s nothing like cooking an Indian lentil soup to teach you about patience, and what David Brooks calls “the blooming virtues.”

When I started cooking them, dals of all forms, I was always startled by how small a quantity of spices the recipes called for: a quarter teaspoon cinnamon, two single cloves. I didn’t trust my recipes. I’d sniff the little heap of spices as I mixed them: not too potent, for such a lot of beans. I’d double the quantities. Read more ...

Modern Love: Romance, the Ultimate Souvenir

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By Eve Fairbanks, The New York Times

THIS summer, during a conference in Berlin, a fellow attendee told me about the kind of summer love that arises in his profession. He was a military officer who had been posted in Europe, and not infrequently a soldier would come back from a furlough in Croatia confessing he had fallen in love with a stripper. Not in lust, in love, the soldier would insist, and he wanted to marry her.

A fellow officer had developed a question to test the depth of a young man’s passion, though the officers still rolled their eyes at the idea that enduring love could be born in a pole-dancing joint in Dubrovnik. “Do you know her parents’ names?” he would ask his love-struck charge. “If not, you can’t marry her.” Read more ...