''Cooking for Two'', photo by Todd Oldham

 

 

My Imaginary Boyfriend
Most people only dream of a love this real

By Laine Bergeson
Photograph by Todd Oldham

Amy Sedaris is best known as part of the creative force behind Strangers with Candy, the afterschool-special-with-a-twist that ran on Comedy Central from 1999 to 2000 and starred Sedaris as Jerri Blank, an ex-drug-addict runaway who returns to high school in her 40s. The show quickly became a cult classic, and a Strangers with Candy movie is scheduled for release in 2005. An alumnus of Chicago's famed improv troupe Second City, Sedaris is a playwright, author, performer, and entertainer. True to keeping her fat-suited, fake-toothed characters in the spotlight—and separate from herself—she rarely talks about her intimate life. But Sedaris, who has been in a relationship with her imaginary boyfriend, Ricky, for 12 years, graciously agreed to help us parse the etiology of long-term intimacy. Editorial assistant Laine Bergeson recently spoke to Sedaris about Ricky, their relationship, and the love that they share.

How did you and Ricky meet?
Ricky came into my life when I was at an antique store and saw this Christmas stocking with the name Ricky. I decided then that he'd be my imaginary boyfriend. That was 12 years ago. And then a few years later when they were shooting Evita—you remember Madonna's movie in Argentina?—someone got ahold of my American Express and made all these charges in Argentina. I've never been to Argentina in my life. So I was talking to the credit card company and in the middle of explaining the problem, I go, "Oh, I know who it was, it was my imaginary boyfriend, Ricky." I was like, okay, he's over there on Evita because he's a grip and that's what he did: He ran up my credit card. So, he comes around. I see him on holidays. He shows up a day before Thanksgiving empty-handed and he leaves after Christmas.

You let him back into your life after the credit card incident?
Yes. We have an abusive relationship. It's very unhealthy, I know. It's codependent. But it works because it's long distance. Everyone needs space. It's like dating an airplane pilot or a stewardess. It's perfect. You don't want to be around somebody all the time.

When he's in town, what do you do together?
We don't do too much together. He likes American television. We've tried going for walks, but he doesn't like the cold weather.

So he's originally from Argentina?
Yeah, he was born and raised in Argentina.

And when he's in New York he lives with you?
He stays with me. He doesn't pay rent or anything, and he never buys or brings anything to contribute to the home. Ever. And he has a temper and he tends to yell a lot, but, you know.

Every intimate relationship takes compromise. What compromises have you two made for each other?
Well, we don't have to compromise too much because it is a long-distance relationship. As for stuff I like on the walls, my sense of style and everything, he lets me decorate the apartment the way I want to decorate it. He brings saffron and stuff like that from Argentina. He's not a big fan of rabbits and I have a rabbit, and he's pretty open to that.

He brings spices? Is he a cook?
No, he just brings saffron because it's cheaper there.

That's thoughtful. So, would you say that over the course of 12 years you two have grown closer?
I don't think we've grown too much together, no. I don't even know if he sees anybody over there. But he had a brain aneurysm and I helped him through that. He lost his language. He spoke English pretty well, but that went away, too. It was really difficult after the stroke, but that kind of brought us together. But then again, he goes back over there for work and 1 stay here.

So would you say you have a connection that goes beyond language?
Yes, I'm really good at communicating without words. I'm not good with words at all, I'm really not. I work better with animals.

So you don't know if he's seeing anyone else in Argentina?
We don't talk about that. He always says, "It's my life." That's what he always says. "I have a private life." And when he's in Argentina, that's his life. When he's here, this is his life.

Do you see Ricky as Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now?
I like arrangements. I'm not a boyfriend-girlfriend person. I don't know what it is. I like being around people and having a good time, but I usually like not being in relationships. So this is more of an arrangement and that's what I like. I don't want to marry him. I don't ever want to get married.

What are the benefits of your relationship?
Someone to have around for the holidays. Someone to complain to. And it's nice to have a boyfriend to bitch about.

You've said in past interviews about your career that if you want something too desperately, you won't get it. Do you think the same applies to intimacy?
I think so. I think with anything if you try too hard, people sense the eagerness. That puts me off. Or it becomes about something else, more like power or control or something. I think it's there or it's not there. I've never been the kind of person who's going to stroke someone on the neck and say, "That's okay, it's happened to a lot of men." I mean, I'm 'not intimate in that kind of way and I don't want them being that way.

Do you feel like you can be yourself with Ricky?
I'm totally myself with Ricky. I'm not someone who would walk around naked, but I have no problem if he sees me naked. I'm not a nudist or anything, but, you know, I'm not embarrassed.

I noticed, too, from some past interviews that you don't talk about Ricky much in the press. Do you think the press has an adverse effect on intimate relationships?
My God, I was just thinking about that. It must be awful for celebrities. My brother David is a writer. He was with me when I bought the Ricky Christmas stocking and he'll ask about Ricky from time to time. But then when he wrote about it, still, no one really ever asked me about it until I was on the Letterman show. I didn't know he was going to ask about Ricky and he always does and that's nice. But no one else asks me about him.

And that's okay? You prefer it that way?
Yeah, I don't mind. I'm sure no one asks Ricky about me.

Is Ricky intimidated by your professional success?
No. He's used to working around celebrities because he's a grip.

Oh, that's right.
So he's used to being in the industry, and he's really cool about it. That's what he says, anyway. He's not seeing me because I had a show on Comedy Central. That doesn't mean anything to him. He doesn't think that way.

That's refreshing.
Yeah. And he eats meat, which is refreshing, you know what I mean? I couldn't date a vegetarian. I don't eat that much meat, but I like people to be open to it.

Does not eating meat tell you something more about a person than just what they like for dinner?
No, I just don't like the limitations. Like, fuck, I've got to make something vegetarian. It just seems like it doesn't count if there's not meat on the table, and fish does not count at all. But lots of times I don't use meat. I just like the idea. If someone is over, a date or whatever, the first thing I'm going to do is throw a big porterhouse steak on the table, you know what I'm saying? And then you get the bone to take home to the dog.

Do you measure anything by how much of the steak the date eats or doesn't eat?
I like eaters. And forget the redheads. My little brother says, if they're sensitive to the sun, they're going to be sensitive in every other area, you know what I'm saying?

Okay, well, I only have one more question—
One ball, one ball. Ricky has one ball, is that what you were going to ask? Or that may be too personal. What were you going to ask?

Does Ricky have one ball?
Work it, work it, work it!

No, really, I was going to ask how your relationship with Ricky is different from relationships you've had with other men.
I think it's easier, again, because of the distance. I mean, we just like each other. I know that he likes me a lot and I like him a lot. He's low maintenance. He's only here for the holidays, so that's nice. I don't have to hear him complain. One thing I like about him is that he doesn't have a lot of video equipment, so I don't have to deal with wires. He doesn't listen to David Gray or whatever his name is. He doesn't listen to the typical white-boy date-rape music. That's nice, too. And because he's from Argentina, he likes wine and more cultural things than the typical American boys that I've gone out with. He's not just going to throw on a T-shirt and cutoffs with sandals. He's going to brush his hair and stuff, and that's really important.

It sounds like you get the good without the bad since you're not together that much. Would you say your relationship is more about being good in the moment than about being durable over the long haul?
Right. He just asks that I wear lipstick and underpants. That's all he ever asks of me.

Do you feel compromised by those requests?
No, I think it's great. I think that's perfect. He likes me to wear high heels. He wants me to be a lady. That's good. That's nice. You don't want to be one of the guys. He has expectations. He wants dinner at a certain hour; he's very old-school like that. But I don't mind at all.

And what are your expectations of him?
Just that he's on time for things, that he'll chip in financially if I need him to, like if I buy a turkey or whatever. That he doesn't have the TV on during the day. I couldn't deal with that. That he communicates and lets me know what's going on. That's all, really. He's pretty good-natured.

Laine Bergeson is editorial assistant of Utne.


© December 2004 — Utne