The Virtues of Pleasure-Delaying

This Saturday, I’m going to do something momentous. It’s my birthday, one of those big birthdays with a zero at the end of it. In the spirit of such a major transition—a new decade, another era of adulthood—I’m giving myself permission to read the fifth and final book in the Adrien English mystery series by Josh Lanyon. I read the others over the course of three months about… oh, four years ago. But I’ve saved the last one for a special occasion, and this one’s it.

I didn’t know when I relegated it to my eReader’s backlist that I wouldn’t pick it up for another four years. At the time, I just didn’t want the story to end. The fourth book in the series, The Death of the Pirate King, brought Adrien and Jake to a really good place as a couple, in my opinion, and I wasn’t ready to deal with another round of misunderstandings and rupture, of Jake distancing himself from Adrien and Adrien playing detective to compensate. I love these characters to the very marrow of my bones, and even though I was fairly certain of a happy ending, a happy for now was good enough for me.

Why, you might ask? Well, because I’m an avowed pleasure-delayer.

When I saw the flaming turd of cinematic excrement that is Cameron Crowe’s adaptation of Vanilla Sky, I had a mini-epiphany when Tom Cruise’s character explains the concept of pleasure-delaying as applied to relationships: keeping things casual until the absolute breaking point. That’s certainly one way of slowing things down where sex is concerned, but I’ve applied that principle to all aspects of my life. I’ll hurry and buy a book on the release date, only to read it four months later. I love watching television shows when they air and thinking about it for the rest of the week, until the next episode. I always feel an acute sense of withdrawal after a much-anticipated event takes place, so much so that I sometimes feel it’s more fun to savor the idea that the U2 concert, say, is one year/three months/two weeks away than the fleeting bliss of being at the concert. Because once it’s over, it’s over, no matter how much fun you had while it was happening.

In our binge-happy culture, I think there’s something to be said for taking your time and appreciating what you have while you have it. Imagining what it might be, the future plotlines or occasions ripe with potential. As a writer, I relish the impact a good cliff-hanger can have on the reader (sacrilege, I know). As a reader, the idea that there’s still another adventure with these beloved characters awaiting me is reassuring. As a viewer, I enjoy unpacking an episode with other fans or reading reviews the following day. To my mind, a book/show/event is only great if it’s worth waiting for.

But there is a flipside: the over-long delay. There is an art to pacing things out, hitting that moment of peak anticipation without lurching over into lethargy. We all have those episodes of once-loved shows we’ve abandoned on our DVRs. I daresay the makers of Sherlock had that in mind when they conceived of this year’s Christmas special. Or, worse, angering your most fervent fans. I certainly don’t advocate that writers wait four years to publish a sequel to a beloved series of books (*cough*, Captive Prince, *cough*). There are cliff-hangers, and then there’s trying your readership to the breaking point.

In our insta-culture of more, now, next, I believe there’s something to be said for taking things slow. Think of your relationship with your favorite piece of pop culture like a love scene. We all like a little bit of wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, every once in a while, but doesn’t a slow-burn approach resonate more? Aren’t the best love scenes those ten-pagers, where the author has complete control of her characters’ bodies and emotions, at the end of which you feel as if you’ve been rode hard and put away wet?

Even though I’m starting the fifth Adrien on Saturday, I’m still going to try to string it out. If I’m really good, it’ll last a week. But I’m under no illusions as to what’s going to come after: withdrawal. Sadness. A sense of completion.

Until I find my next obsession…

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