“Though I take full responsibility for my life, the men I’ve shared parts of it with have had a huge impact on the way I think, the way I love, and especially the way I write.” –Dana Sukontarak
It is difficult, if not impossible, to find fresh and nuanced writing about dating, relationships, and love. There are writers like La of Liquor, Loans, and Love who inhabit quiet corners of the Internet and do the genre justice. However, for the most part, the dating and relationships writing niche is dull at best and dead at worst, relegated to half-baked listicles and essays that reek of more righteousness than reality.
But, then, there’s Dana Sukontarak.
In her debut collection of essays entitled Men, Dana chronicles her coming-of-age love stories, filled with jagged edges, uncut footage, and the kind of candor that’s too quickly becoming extinct. Her voice is equal parts enchanting and irreverent as she writes her way through both the splendor and stupor of true human connection. In a new age that sums up love through filtered Instagram photos and #relationshipgoals hashtags, Dana challenges the notion that such an emotion is so clear-cut and candy-coated. Instead, her narrative reflects that of most twenty-something women I know, self included. In short, sometimes we dig for love in all of the wrong places, but end up with answers about ourselves to questions we never even thought to ask.
Meet Dana and get a glimpse into her world of Men.
TU: What is one thing you believed about human connection in your early twenties that has since changed?
Dana: I used to think that the end of a connection was the end of the world. In a way, it is the end of a certain world you’ve built with somebody, but it’s never really gone. Life happens in cycles, and a lot of it is repetitive. The people you have actual meaningful connections with will never go anywhere.
TU: In the intro of the book, you write something I’m sure many other writers can identify with: “I often feel as though I have no choice as a writer other than to selflessly divulge every detail of my personal life.” Despite how forthright you are in the collection, is there anything you left on the cutting room floor? If so, why?
Dana: Sure, there are details I left out for different reasons. I wanted to tell my story without coming too close to trying to hijack someone else’s story. It’s hard, because the stories do intersect, but to a certain extent I tried to be mindful of other people’s privacy. I am a really open book, but I understand everyone else isn’t that way. I didn’t want anyone I wrote about to feel embarrassed when they read their chapter, unless they should feel embarrassed. Then it doesn’t really matter.
I also published this book at a time when I’d been dating someone new for only a few months. I wanted to write so much about him and our connection, but I also wanted to preserve the sanctity of our blossoming relationship, and not interfere too much with my probing, writerly ways. So, I wrote about him, but certainly not to the extent that I really wanted to or could have. That story is still developing, so it would have felt wrong to try to capture it prematurely. Or maybe he’ll be the one person I never really write too much about. I’m not sure.
TU: One of my favorite pieces in the book is the first essay, “February Seventeenth,” in which you depict the push and pull of falling both in and out of love, simultaneously. How do you believe this piece potentially challenges a reader’s assumptions about infidelity?
Dana: I’ve read that piece over and over, trying to imagine how someone might perceive me after that story, if they didn’t know me very well, or at all. There are a lot of different answers. I think it’s apparent that I am a smart person who doesn’t always do smart things. People tend to look at infidelity in such a black and white way. It’s usually either “fuck it, cheat” or “fuck all cheaters.” There is a story behind each seemingly heinous love crime, and this was mine. I feel bad about how things happened, but I’m happy for even the slight chance of someone reading this and realizing either that they’re unhappy where they are and need to make moves, or that they should quit fucking around before they fuck up a good thing.
My intention wasn’t to fuel the inane debate over whether men or women are bigger cheaters. Everyone is imperfect in their own ways. Some of the most loyal lovers are as boring as boulders. Some promiscuous people really are kindhearted and well-intentioned. Most people will cheat or be cheated on at least once. Even Beyoncé.
TU: In “February Seventeenth” you also address love as an artist, referencing the “idea of a whirlwind creative passionate romance that would propel me leaps and bounds as a human and a lover and a writer.” Why do you believe artists are drawn to this kind of romance, and is it ever sustainable for us?
Dana: It’s tricky, for sure. We’re drawn to that kind of love because we see ourselves in it, and people really are narcissistic creatures like that. I’ve been in relationships where the guy just wasn’t interested in what I do. It’s not a deal breaker to me. Everything isn’t for everybody. You find other things to share and bond over. But it’s so much more beautiful when you can share your passion completely, and have someone genuinely excited and interested in your art.
Artists are crazy, though, so the question of sustainability really just depends. I think it’s possible to find a likeminded creative individual that is willing to love and adore and commit to you. But most likely, they’ll be weird and panic when they start to feel like you’re stifling their art. You’re never really stifling their art, though. Artists are just weird like that. You’ll always be sort of secondary to their craft.
TU: In your essay “Too Much Magic” you write, “I must partake of you in moderation because you fuck with my head, my heart, and my soul.” Why do you believe it’s in our nature to gravitate toward dysfunction and chaos?
Dana: I’ve found that a lot of people would rather feel something than nothing at all. So, that means that many people may accept sadness and drama and turmoil because it is exciting. That includes me, too. We welcome problematic situations when we don’t know, or don’t try to know any better. Not many people are protective of their peace. It’s a hard road of acceptance. Even when I look back at that chapter, I wonder how I let somebody dictate my emotions and actions in that way. I was a willing participant, the aggressor even. It’s weird to think about.
TU: What are three things you would you tell 22-year-old Dana Sukontarak about men?
Dana: The first thing is that not all men are worth all of you, so ration yourself accordingly. The second thing is that men are usually threatened by outspoken or otherwise bold women. They might not say so, but they’ll show you so. The third thing is that men cannot be forced to change. Whatever change you think you’re enforcing is only temporary, a load-bearing band-aid over a deep, deep crack.
TU: The book alternates between personal narrative and pieces that are more poetic and conceptual. How did balancing writing styles help you better tell your story?
Dana: I think the different writing styles not only kept it interesting, but were also indicative of a real-time shift in my identity as a writer. I’m big on variety. So, if I experimented with poetry, or maybe writing in a more nebulous than specific way, it was just based on how I felt at the time. I think it’s all worth sharing, and the diversity of styles shows the reader that I’m unfinished. I’m still growing as a writer. There are lots of different ways to tell a story, and for a book like ‘Men’ that’s really like an early mixtape in my rap career, I think it’d be unfair to just showcase one.
TU: Define love.
Dana: Love is farting really loud, unflinchingly, in front of each other. We do it every morning. No, really, love is acceptance. Love is a willingness to please someone through and through, because their mere existence pleases you.
Dana Sukontarak is a 27-year-old Washington, D.C.-based writer, editor and author. She likes snail mail, Moleskine notebooks, Murakami novels and fresh produce. ‘Men’ is her first book available for purchase here. Follow her on Twitter @peachesjordan and connect with her further at www.danasukontarak.com.