When Grief Turns Into Sex

Why hooking up at funerals isn’t as awful as you think.

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A part of me feels guilty for even suggesting it.

There is something inherently performative and gross about
admitting that you had sex after a funeral. Unless you’re carrying around the
type of emotional baggage that generally only exists in Zach Braff films,
owning up to post-funeral coitus puts you somewhere on the scale of funeral
selfie takers (at best) and girls who pretend they’re heroines of Chuck
Palahniuk novels but really just listened to that one Barenaked Ladies song
about being the kind of person who laughs at a funeral way too often in elementary
school (you know, at worst). And yet, for a number of the blessedly few
funerals I’ve had to attend, for better or worse, I keep finding myself
entangled with other mourners time and again.

Given that correct funeral etiquette involves paying your respects
rather than taking a page out of the Wedding Crashers playbook and going ten toes to Jesus with a
pallbearer, it’s not a subject that comes up often. So it took me a decent
amount of time to realize that I wasn’t the only one who has indulged against
better advice.

“I have an irrational fear of funerals,” says my friend
Howie. “I’m not proud of it, but there’s no way in hell I’m attending a
funeral. It was when my aunt passed away in college that I realized I was
having much more sex with my girlfriend in the days before and after funerals
to take my mind off of death.”

Howie estimates that he’s missed about ten funerals — a fact
his parents are not pleased about — but that the sex has given him a healthier
outlet to deal with his grief. “I have sex to not think. And maybe a few people
think it’s callous, but isn’t it better than grieving with drugs or alcohol?”

While some psychologists warn against using sex and other
vices to mask grief, many see its benefits, citing the fact that mourners are generally
more open at funerals. As psychologist Diana Kirschner puts
it
: “There’s more potential for a true emotional connection … Funerals cut
down on small talk.”

Unfortunately, deep grief isn’t exactly the reason I end up
indulging in funeral hookups. Unlike Howie, who tends to seek solace in the
long-term relationship he’s in at the time, I usually reconnect with an old
friend at the funeral itself.

To be clear: I don’t skip the proceedings just to fuck
around. The grief boning comes after the funeral in question. But even though
I’m someone who actually doesn’t mind attending funerals, I’m also someone who
hates change. Funerals themselves don’t upset me; the writer in me likes
hearing the stories of someone I love as told by their family and friends. But
those stories also remind me that the book ends there, and that’s the part that
stresses me out — the idea that things change, that death is accompanied by
finality.

And that’s why I end up having ill-advised funeral sex with
someone who was at the funeral, rather than random solace sex born out of cheap
drinks at the closest dive bar in town. The funerals I’ve been to have all been
a veritable reunion of sorts; the type of memorials that involve more revelry
and storytelling and dozens of friends who may as well be family. And with
those reunions have come ex-boyfriends, flames, and forgotten friends, who have
served as a reminder that even though things change, sometimes you can go back,
even briefly.

While appeal may be too strong a word here, the logistics of
funeral sex are a large part of why grief hookups work for me at all; the act
generally serves as a punctuation mark on the end of an otherwise taxing day,
rather than a precursor to further hookups. A hookup is someone you meet at a
bar, flirt with, debate how clean your bedroom is if you take them home, and
secretly wonder if you’ll hear from again, while pretending that you don’t
really care. A funeral hookup on the other hand is a hasty scramble, done
anywhere you can find a shred of privacy that isn’t the actual house of
mourning: cars, guest bedrooms, parking lots of grocery stores when you’re
supposed to be picking up more ice for the wake. Nothing about funeral sex says
“this might be repeat behavior,” everything about it says “I have the emotional
range of a horny teenager,” which is precisely why it works at all.

Funeral sex is still a largely selfish act, and not one that
I’m thrilled about — after all, nothing screams “Making this about me!” more
than contemplating my own mortality at someone else’s cold buffet spread. But
every time I feel particularly low about the ways in which I choose to deal
with my grief, I remember what Howie said — that as far as outlets for grief
go, self-aware sex is about as benign as it gets.

While I’m not especially thrilled with my choices – and not
just because being the type of girl who’s “bad at funerals” has become the
Hollywood damage of choice – every time I have solace sex, I find myself a
little better at accepting change, and not just when it comes at me in the form
of funerals. 

Will I grow up from needing to cling to the familiar in bed
every time I come across another funeral? Probably. But as far as reminders go,
they could be worse.

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Beejoli Shah