addressing doubts one step at a time

I regularly go for walks on a favorite route that’s cheery and pleasant and fairly quiet. There’s a certain kind of thinking that happens at a walking pace, and I found myself thinking a lot on that route.

At a walking pace, I analyzed my “first date” with Gawan. There were good bits on that trip and bits that were less good. Overall it felt neutral. Our connection via email and Skype was good and strong, but in person something seemed to be missing. Our last hours together were during a long, tiring and stressful travel day, and as I climbed aboard the shuttle bus and saw him wave from the door of the hotel, I checked in with how I was feeling, looking for sadness and disappointment about our parting. There wasn’t any.

I’m sensitive and I absorb a lot of information so when new things happen it takes me time to process; I wasn’t likely to come up with answers during the trip itself.

I’ve never had a relationship start online before. When we finally met for the first time, maybe I was simply flooded with the whole collection of real-life little details and just needed some time to internalize what I would have picked up over the course of months in an ordinary courtship. Physical presence. Body language. The approach–crest–dissipation of a smile. How quickly he walks. Would he steal food off my plate, or object if I stole from his? Bandwidth limitations subtly interrupt the flow of conversation, and Skype’s simulation of eye contact is pure fakery.

We had both already said “I love you” many times, but even though we were, for once, close enough to touch, I sensed a different kind of distance. Why? He had been somewhat ill throughout the trip, so maybe he didn’t seem like himself because he didn’t feel like himself. Also, the location we chose ended up being a lot of work, and a great deal of energy that would have been better spent on each other instead went into the most basic of tasks.

There was definitely still something between us though. Maybe the first meet was always going to be challenging. Maybe when we chose our destination we bit off more than we could chew. I concluded that the first date likely wasn’t representative and that I should give it another try. I wanted to meet again, preferably someplace easier, ideally on his home turf. See who he is when he’s at home, literally.

During moments of play, I had noted that I was only doing things I’d done in high school (i.e. not much), and that this felt oddly comforting. But later I was shaken when I realized that my epiphany hadn’t actually transformed my thinking about sexuality as completely as I’d both believed and hoped. If the hang-ups were absent with Wolf but present with Gawan, then I hadn’t had an attitude overhaul — I’d simply created an exception for Wolf, and sex with anyone else was still fundamentally scary.

At a walking pace, I dissected my epiphany, shaved off slices and put them under the microscope. I recalled that trusting Wolf had come first and intuited that trust was the key here. Even though I already trusted Gawan more than anyone aside from Wolf, it somehow didn’t seem like enough. Why not? Sex makes me feel incredible vulnerable, like handing someone a razor-sharp knife and baring  my belly. I wanted to resolve this issue before our second date, which would give me months rather than the years it had taken the first time, and I fervently hoped I could figure it out in that time. I fed my trust of Gawan by meditating on what he had already shown me: interest, empathy, kindness, support, patience, being unequivocally on my side and never diminishing me in any way. And I eased down my excessively high threshold by asking myself what more I could reasonably expect him to do or say (conclusion: nothing), and questioning whether the feeling of not enough trust was because I didn’t trust myself.

At a walking pace, I examined monogamy. Cheating — unilaterally breaking an agreement you have with someone who trusts you — is wrong. But through respectful (re)negotiation, the parties should be able to agree to any terms they like. I don’t think that sexual non-exclusivity is inherently wrong, but it is entirely unfamiliar to me. I’d been monogamous forever. Wolf agreed that I could have sex with Gawan if that’s what I wanted. But how far could I get by rationally deliberating about something as emotional as sex? What would my gut say in the moment? Or after?

At a walking pace, I asked myself whether having sex with Gawan was what I authentically wanted or what I thought I should want, since I’ve had difficulty with “want” sex versus “want to want” sex before, but one incident gave me some insight. This is sort of a polyamorous arrangement, we hadn’t had sex with each other, and we hadn’t asked each other for sexual exclusivity outside of pre-existing relationships, which for him would have amounted to celibacy. Some time ago he let me know about a BDSM scene that he had arranged with someone new and which would include sex. Rational me understood perfectly. Emotional me punched the wall. (Unfortunately, I know how to throw a punch. It took months before my hand stopped aching.) I rationally examined my reasons not to feel jealous, and then felt jealous anyway. Perhaps it was because he would be having a hot experience with another woman and I wanted it to be me.

What would I regret more, sex or not-sex? Sex would force me to confront long-standing issues about vulnerability, trust, monogamy, and commitment that I may or may not have managed to resolve sufficiently. Not-sex would mean I’d miss out on potentially fun experiences (maybe even adventures), and a deeper connection with someone I love. I decided that not-sex would be the bigger regret.

So, at a walking pace, I picked apart every issue until they lay in shreds at my feet. When these issues ceased to pop up every time I hit my stride, what did come to mind was this: I guess I’m ready for our second date.

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