Dark Ages 19: insights

After I started this series, I soon realized that not everyone finds thinking about their dating history as “a depressing trudge down memory lane”. When I looked back, I saw lots of treading water in aimless and dissatisfying relationships, painful breakups, and few memories actually worth savoring. So I didn’t think about it. But sifting through these old layers in a methodical way has revealed patterns that I hadn’t previously been aware of.

First, some background. When I was little, I knew that you were supposed to get married and have kids. Yet by age 5, I already knew that I didn’t want kids, and I soon concluded that this wouldn’t actually be a problem because no one would want to marry me anyway. So self-esteem was clearly an issue from a young age. (I never dreamt about having a wedding either, but I’m grateful for that.) My parents weren’t physically demonstrative so I grew up essentially without touch.

Most of the childcare was done by my dad. My mom was present, but I’m inclined to blame her emotional distance on the sexual abuse she suffered at her father’s hands. My dad recently told me that after they split, he (my dad) wanted to take me camping (I would have been 11 or 12) and my mom was worried that he was going to abuse me; nothing of the sort ever happened. Interestingly, around that time it occurred to me to be afraid of being abused by him. Did I come to that thought independently, or did I somehow pick up on what was unsaid?

By the time I was about 12 or 13, I tended to feel more comfortable with boys than girls. It seemed like there must be some manual about how to be a girl and I was the only one who hadn’t gotten my copy. My mom never taught me to be “feminine”. There seemed to be all kinds of rules about being a girl that didn’t make sense and I didn’t know the rules so I didn’t play. I didn’t like shopping or makeup, I didn’t dress to be attractive, I didn’t like skirts and dresses, I didn’t travel to the school bathroom in packs with the other girls. I wore jeans and T-shirts, read a lot, rode my bike, kept to myself, and took martial arts classes.

I don’t know why I started dating precisely when I did, but it feels like a switch was flipped — suddenly it was possible and I needed to have a boyfriend. (I never worried about “being alone” in an existential way, and besides, the majority of my dating took place while I was still living with my parents.) I was seeking external validation: being able to attract male interest of a specific sort was a way to prove to myself that I had some worth. My relationship with my dad is generally OK, but the most hurtful thing I’ve ever heard was something he said to me. Prompted by some complaint from his girlfriend (now wife), he told me, “I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

Feeling the need for a boyfriend made me somewhat opportunistic by necessity. I didn’t give a lot of thought to my preferences about appearance and personality, which were generally vague and unarticulated. Still, personality was vastly more important than looks, and I think my sexual shame contributed heavily to downplaying the role of physical attraction. I preferred intelligence but compromised easily. The most important quality in a guy was that he was interested in me: I found that very attractive indeed, but very occasionally it wasn’t enough (Buddy, Dude). After Bad Boy, I bounced from one guy to the next for months without the slightest sense of direction. I figured that this demonstrated I must be attractive, at least, though I didn’t find that conclusion entirely reassuring.

I may have sucked at choosing boyfriends, but I was really good at commitment. That’s not a good combination, as it turns out. I’d start dating someone and then feel like I should stay with him for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

While my parents were together, their relationship was generally civil but not warm and there was the occasional fight (shouting). This would be my model for relationships: duty and commitment without warm feelings or physical affection. My dad confessed to me recently that he was frustrated with the lack of affection and emotional connection, but I have no doubt that my mom felt too vulnerable to let him in. My mom told me recently that while they were together, my dad cheated serially. I’d wager that he was looking for the emotional and physical intimacy he couldn’t get at home.

Is “commitment” even the right word for what I learned from them? I think commitment should involve mutual promises to be good to each other. What I saw in my parents’ marriage wasn’t commitment but perseverance. The notion that a relationship is something to be enjoyed and not merely endured completely escaped me for a long time.

It took a long time before I learned to identify a bad relationship. I’m not sure I really did learn that lesson until I fell into a good one and had that as a point of reference. After Bad Boy, I was spooked for a long time but at least I eventually learned to check in with myself from time to time to see if things were still good or if they had taken a turn.

I wasn’t good at knowing when a relationship should end or actually ending it. I dislike confrontation and I dislike hurting people. I took too much responsibility for the pain of others because their pain hurt me too: that’s a boundary issue due to sensitivity and things I learned at home. I ended two relationships because I thought it was the right thing to do (Small Town, Badger). On two occasions, I broke up with a guy to date someone else (A/V, Gamer). I was dumped once and I found it embarrassingly excruciating (Guitarist). With the rest, things failed to get off the ground, weren’t going anywhere because of distance issues, fizzled out and/or ended mutually.

I wasn’t good at knowing when to start a relationship either. Regrettable things happened when I made snap decisions. I took it slow with Gamer and it went OK; we’re sort of in touch but have little in common these days (for one thing, he goes to sports bars now). Things went better when I actively put the brakes on. Although the split with A/V didn’t go well, we rebuilt our friendship and I still consider him a good friend. And then there’s Wolf, my partner for lo these many years.

I had/have a thing for creative types, which I suppose I knew at the time. A few of my boyfriends and most of my crushes have been musicians. There were artists, writers and actors too. I was into art and singing, so it’s not impossible that I was attracted to what these guys were doing (more than who they were) because they were doing the things I wanted to do, more or less. My preference for creative guys didn’t prevent me from trying sporty guys (Tall had the redeeming feature of also being creative, Small Town didn’t), but I’d call it an unsuccessful experiment.

So my challenges were: low self-esteem; the necessity of being in a relationship; commitment, in the form of perseverance; external validation; not knowing what I wanted other than wanting to be wanted; lack of physicality; and the thread of sexual shame throughout. Self-esteem still pops up as an issue sometimes, but I’ve experienced a lot of healing in all of these areas – from increased maturity, my relationship with Wolf, and now through self-awareness and personal growth.

As it happens, I also learned a lot about Bad Boy – not so much during this process specifically, but in recent years. He’s a special case, and he’ll get his own post soon.

Dark Ages 15: Gamer and Wolf

[“Dark Ages” is a series wherein I reconsider memories of boyfriends past through the lens of new knowledge and hope to make it worth my while (and not just a depressing trudge down memory lane) by learning something new about myself.]

 

I wasn’t happy. Stuck in a relationship and stuck in the big city with little money, few friends, and no fun.

At some point, Gamer and I came up with an idea for a business and, because we were broke, we decided to try to save money by moving home — back to our inexpensive hometown, and back to the parental abodes. I didn’t believe in the business idea particularly deeply, but I enjoyed coming up with ideas and plans. More importantly, having the specific goal to save money for a project seemed to legitimize the decision to move home: it gave me permission.

By the time we moved back, we had spent a little over a year in the big city and we were approaching our second anniversary. Overall, my stress was significantly reduced: I had effectively no expenses, I had my friends and family, and living in my hometown was easy and comfortable in so many ways. But there was a new stress. I hadn’t been able to move back home because there was no room for me in either house: my dad had moved into a smaller place, and my mom had given my former room to my half-sister. That’s how I ended up living with Gamer and his parents for eight months.

Things got better with Gamer for a while, but then the relationship cooled off again. The reduction in stress had improved things temporarily, but deep down I still didn’t want to be with him. So although I wasn’t reliant on him to help pay the bills or help me move across the country, I was now reliant on the goodwill of his parents to keep a roof over my head. And under those circumstances, I thought it would be in poor taste to break up with him. But I withdrew emotionally and physically. Not surprisingly, I ended up feeling trapped again, but this time in a slightly more comfortable cage.

We were still a couple, and we still shared a bed. One time he tried to initiate something during the night by touching my back and waking me up. It pissed me off to be woken up, and the fact that he wanted sex put me on my guard immediately and made me feel deeply uncomfortable.

But I was still loyal. When he decided to shave his head, I braided it and cut it off neatly so he could keep it. And after he’d finished with the clippers and his conservative parents saw and reamed him out for making himself unemployable, I came out swinging. (His parents were, I think, entirely in the wrong on that issue. His inability to get a job had nothing to do with his grooming: it was mostly his lack of effort in looking for a job, and the crummy economy didn’t help anything.) I dislike confrontation but I sure gave them an earful, which, considering I was in their house only because of their generosity, was probably not a great idea. But still, the hair was gone (until it grew back) and he was more or less a grown-up, so what good would a lecture do?

I don’t remember when Gamer and I discussed the possibility of an open relationship, but I do remember mentioning it to my friend Metal. He was short and slim, with long blond hair, and not bad looking. I liked him as a friend and wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but he was male, and being a musician earned him some bonus points. At the time, that seemed like enough. So I dropped my hint, and he either didn’t understand or just tactfully ignored it. Just as well, really.

Then I started fantasizing about Wolf, the guy Gamer had warned me away from a couple of years earlier. We had been running in the same circles for some months at this point, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that most of what was going through my head was complete fiction — I hardly knew the guy. I decided that getting wound up about him was silly, especially while I was still technically with Gamer, and I turned off that line of thought. But what I knew about Wolf I liked, so I started spending time with him and just getting to know him as a friend. Wolf, Gamer and I hung out together sometimes. Wolf was intelligent, self-contained, and had an air of competence.

Then, a breakthrough! My part-time job became full-time and suddenly I could see a way out. I decided to save up for a month; I stayed at Gamer’s on the weekend and during the week I crashed at my mom’s, on the bottom bunk in my half-sister’s room, which had once been mine. Gamer’s place was across town from my work and mom’s was really close and I hated the drive, but the deeper reason for the arrangement was simply escape. It was sort of a break-up in slow motion.

During this month, I allowed myself to think about Wolf again, and this time I wasn’t making it all up. I had gotten to know him fairly well and now had actual facts on which I could conclude that I was indeed attracted to him. One evening, we met up for drinks and nibbles. It was early spring and the air, though still quite cool, seemed heavy with potential. As we prepared to part in the parking lot, I hugged him, too long, and then we went our separate ways. On another occasion I was hanging out at his place, staying late while willing something to happen, but he never made a move.

At the end of that month, there was an event going on in another city; Wolf was driving, so I and one other person caught a lift with him. Mutual friends gave us crash space on their living room floor. And at one point, when we had something resembling privacy, we started playing around and kissing. Finally.

The following Monday was moving day. I was free! And it seemed that Wolf and I had started something together.

I have no recollection of what I said to Gamer to officially end it. But I’m sure I told him.

Dark Ages 9: Three strikes at the club

[Or, “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”]

Back home, I started hanging out at a new, low-rent (and low-ceilinged) live music venue. It was a shoestring affair in a basement under a restaurant, with scrounged furniture, no staff, no till and no liquor licence. I even helped out a bit behind what passed for a bar, selling soft drinks in cans. It was an alternative kind of place, which is probably why I earned such side-eye for wearing dress pants and a fitted blazer. But hey, I successfully stood out.

Strike 1

One weekend at the club, I met Tiny Tim. He was short (though still 3 or 4 inches taller than me), not much to look at, but entertaining and had the gift of the gab. We left together to grab some food at the only place that was open at that time of night: a much too brightly lit, late-night sandwich shop. After chatting for a bit, we went back to his place. Slept with a guy the day we met — another first.

I came over the next day and tried to help him with his French homework. This whole thing already seemed like a bad idea but as far as I was concerned we now had “a relationship”, and it seems I’m nothing if not loyal. It was awkward. We saw each other again later and slept together again. As much as it pains me to admit, the event stands out as actually feeling kinda good — I think because I was very tight and he was very small. (I don’t imagine he would have taken that as a compliment.)

The last time we got together, he got warmed up but I wasn’t interested in follow through. He was the first (and last) guy to complain to me about blue balls (a term had never even heard before), in what appeared to be a bid for a blowjob. I figured that was his problem and not mine. In all, this was a one-night stand that took an agonizing three days to die.

A couple of days later, I slept with Bad Boy one last time. Why? I have no fucking clue.

Strike 2

Surfer, a part owner of the club, was good looking, tall, fit and had long dirty blond hair. On the weekend following Tiny Tim, I found myself back at Surfer’s place at the end of the night. I must have seen some potential for a relationship (I never did get the point of actually deciding to have a one-night stand), and sleeping with him seemed like a reasonable idea. And then we got naked and I found he was… whiffy. Sleeping with him now seemed like a not very good idea, and yet I still went through with it. It seemed too late to call a halt, and on top of that I didn’t know what I wanted anyway. If there’s no real line, you can’t tell when you’ve crossed it.

In the space of one week, I had slept with three different guys. It would have been one thing if that’s what I was trying to do, but I was trying to have a relationship and failing miserably.

Strike 3

I tried to take a break from the menfolk, with little success. I met Drummer at the club, and he offered me a cup of tea (at his apartment down the block) and a shoulder to cry on. He was really sweet. Until I slept with him a week or so in, and then things weren’t so good.

One fine day I did acid, and at some point during the trip I dropped by Drummer’s place. He had this hat that he didn’t want anymore and asked if I wanted it. It was an ethnic, woollen thing. Too big, but kinda cool, so I accepted it. In the evening when I was coming down, I went by the club and ran into Tiny. My inhibitions were fairly low so I proceeded to give him shit and told him that if I’d known all he wanted was a one-night stand, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with him. I have no idea what impression it might have made on him (or anyone else nearby), but I felt somewhat empowered for a change.

The thing with Drummer lasted about three weeks before he dumped me. Turns out he wasn’t actually nice, he was just skilled at appearing nice until he got what he wanted. Although this wasn’t the first time I had been manipulated, I didn’t see it coming because Drummer played it so much more elegantly and deliberately than Bad Boy had.

The fallout: small world moments

Tiny Tim was working with my friend (and ex) Lucas, decided to dish about me, and named names. I don’t think Tiny knew that I knew Lucas, and I don’t think Lucas believed it at first. I was mortified to be outed.

And that hat from Drummer? Stolen, possibly the very day that he gave it to me, from a store a block away from my house and that I went to regularly. Which I discovered when I went into the store wearing the hat and caught grief about it from the staff person.

Fuck!

Dark Ages 8: I start to lose control

Towards the end of January and after a little over a year together, Bad Boy and I “took a break”, but I didn’t yet know that this break would be permanent. In fact, I was convinced that we would be getting back together within a couple of months. He had even proposed to me at one point and I had accepted, sort of. I don’t know why we took a break rather than just breaking up.

When I started dating, I brought low self-esteem, sexual shame, overdeveloped and misplaced loyalty, and a fairly foggy sense of self to what turned out to be a search for validation from guys. I’m sure I learned something from every guy I went out with — some lessons were easy and some were painful.

But the corrosive damage that Bad Boy brought to my life and my self-esteem is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, either before or after. In the months following our split, I lost myself, and I’ve recently realized that I still haven’t completely healed.

A few weeks earlier, when Bad Boy and I were looking for someone to sell us some acid, I had met Badger. Within a day or two of splitting with Bad Boy, Badger and I got together. I remember very little about him beyond the fact that he was cute. We were together for three weeks, during which time we made out but never slept together.

I had some painful foot-in-mouth moments with him, including saying something like “When Bad Boy and I get back together…” As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew I’d said something stupid (I still thought it was true, but I appreciated that it was probably hurtful). I broke up with him right before his birthday which was right around Valentine’s Day.

A week or two later, I went on a trip to a big city with my family, but ended up mostly doing my own thing. Apparently, my thing was looking for live music and acid. I’d asked an acquaintance at home if he knew where to score; he told me the name of a place, but no one there had heard of it and I wondered if he made up the name to fuck with me.

I went to a gig and met a German guy who was visiting. I joined him at his table and we hung out. He had found another club that was interesting and I agreed to go with him, and the thought occurred to me that going somewhere I’d never heard of with someone I’d just met was maybe not the best idea ever. But we got to the club and everything was fine — except that I felt out place because I wasn’t wearing head-to-toe black and was insufficiently bad-ass.

Later, I found a disreputable looking guy there (I assume I chose him because he was the scuzziest looking) and asked him if he knew where I could get some acid, and he said he’d hook me up and we made plans to meet. I turned up but he didn’t, which really was the best possible outcome.

German turned out to be completely OK, and we actually kept in touch for a couple of years though we never met up again.

Dark Ages 7: Bad Boy (still) and Dude

As payback for the oral he’d done for me before, Bad Boy manipulated me into giving my first blowjob. He pushed and pushed, and I eventually gave in. It was in his car, on a muddy dirt road outside of town. Afterwards, we had to turn the car around and we ended up getting stuck in the mud, so I got home quite late, and my dad was pissed off and waiting to have an argument with me when I got back. Fun times.

Things got weird(er) with Bad Boy and I started to not recognize myself. During the summer, we had a major fight and ended up half-dressed and shouting at each other in the street. I had always been bookish and reserved (still am). What the fuck? He made me crazy.

Sometimes when I was with him I got upset and frustrated. I don’t remember what would set me off, but I’d feel like I wanted to say something or do something but I was frozen, like all the words piled into each other at the back of my throat and none could get out, or maybe there just were no words. I was thrumming with trapped energy and frustration, feeling overwhelmed. To bring myself back to my body and sensations that I could manage, I’d usually punch a wall. One time when I was already worked up, he said my behavior embarrassed him. That only increased my frustration and explosive emotions. (We were out and there was no wall. Things might have taken a different trajectory if I’d punched him.) I’ve never had this kind of interaction with any other boyfriend before or since.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to be with someone, but at some point I started feeling like it had to be him. That was new. And weird, because I wasn’t actually that happy being with him. It was almost like an addiction.

Around Christmas, I ran into Dude (remember him from that New Year’s Eve party?) and we hung out a bit. He came over and we sat on the couch and talked. He started to put the moves on rather aggressively, so I backed away and told him I had a boyfriend, but he wasn’t deterred. (He should have listened to and respected my words, but now I wonder if my doubts about my relationship with Bad Boy made me sound unconvincing.) Dude insisted on kissing me, at which point I pushed him away. It wasn’t pleasant but at least he got the message, backed off and left.

I’d had a birthday recently and was now legal drinking age. My interest in drinking immediately waned; I suppose most of the appeal was the rule-breaking. Then I found out that an acquaintance was doing acid and suddenly that seemed like a great idea. Bad Boy helped me source it and was there when I dropped for the first time. Once (the first time?), he wanted to have sex but I didn’t and told him no. He said I wouldn’t remember it, and I gave in. Well, I remembered everything, including the fact that I didn’t want to and I didn’t enjoy it.

(Years later, I learned that it was sexual assault because intoxicated consent isn’t valid consent. I felt shitty about it all over again: I’m now a victim, a statistic. I agonized about whether to report it but never bothered, and now I know it would never have gone to trial anyway. I’ve come to terms with it all, at least.)

I dropped acid 4 times in the space of 5 weeks because suddenly I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do on a weekend, which freaked me out a little. I felt trapped — not really by the relationship (although that must have been a big part of it), but by life generally.

I also got sick: I developed a bunch of canker sores all over my tongue and the inside of mouth. I could barely eat because everything was either too sharp or too acidic, and I could barely talk because the feeling of my tongue against the inside of my mouth was too painful. The doctor never did figure out what it was. I wonder if it was from stress.

Eventually, Bad Boy and I decided to take another “break” though we continued to hang out sometimes. For a while, I fully expected that we would get back together, but we never did. That was a bullet dodged, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Dark Ages 6: HFH (again) and Bad Boy (again)

With impeccable timing, Home for the Holidays turned up again, 2½ years after we’d first met, while I was conveniently single.

Summer night, his parents’ place. We sneak in the back door, quietly down into the basement — his domain. He puts on a movie, we start watching. After 20 minutes, wide awake, movie thoroughly forgotten, he’s leading me to his bedroom. He asks, fervently, may he lick me between my thighs? Mmm, yes please.

I liked receiving oral; Bad Boy did it only occasionally and with bad grace. What a revelation that a guy might enjoy it enough to ask me if I would allow it.

A few days later HFH asked if he could make love to me and I said yes, but logistics was an issue and his parents’ place was out. (It could be that they were still up and they’d hear us, which would be awkward. It could be that they’d wonder who he was having sex with, given the fact — I later discovered — that he had a girlfriend in another city.)

We (he) decided to go to a central but rather seedy hotel and he gallantly offered to pay. He didn’t actually have the cash on him but would pay me back.

We slept together that night; I didn’t feel pressured and it was nice. And though I don’t really remember anything else about it, it must have been at least OK for me because we had sex again in the morning.

Later, he dropped by my place (I wasn’t the only one home) and handed me the cash. It was … awkward. I had already been thinking that this maybe wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.

Not long afterwards, Bad Boy and I got together again. I must have confessed that my groin had been itchy and he offered to take a look. Oh god! I had crabs! I sat on the counter in the basement bathroom while he painstakingly removed the crabs with tweezers. There was an uncomfortable discussion about where they’d come from, and he got pissed off at me about HFH, even though I’d been single at the time. He blamed HFH for it, and I ended up writing a snarky letter to HFH, which I delivered to his parents’ house in a sealed envelope the day before he left town. It didn’t occur to me until much later that the source might actually have been the bedding in the dodgy motel. Oops.

Dark Ages 5: Bad Boy and Racquet

I went back to Bad Boy’s place after the New Year’s Eve party and we enjoyed spending what was left of the night together.

Empty house. Wake up in his parents’ bed to glorious sunshine through white curtains. I’m still a little giddy from the night before. No one knows where I am or how to find me, and the feeling of dropping off the face of the earth is a freedom so foreign as to be thrilling.

I had to share it with someone so I called my friend, Buddy. Buddy was… unimpressed. It seems that Buddy had been patiently waiting for me to go out with him and, when I’d told him that Small Town and I had split, he figured it was his turn. I don’t know whether he was more pissed off at Bad Boy for jumping the queue or at me for letting him.

Bad Boy was about a year younger than me and still in high school. He was an artist (with some talent I think) and interested in music though not musical. We liked a lot of the same bands, but always different songs.

I think it was about a month and a half before we slept together. I don’t remember when he started pressuring me for sex, or what he said; I didn’t like it but it became ‘normal’. I went on the pill for him.

He didn’t give compliments. Feeling insecure and seeking reassurance, I once asked him if he thought I was pretty. He responded by asking if I thought he was good looking, and I said yes, not knowing where this was leading. He said that good looking people tend to be attracted to each other, and therefore if I thought he was good looking, I must be too. This convoluted logic didn’t make me feel any better about myself.

He had an aversion to body hair and I didn’t shave my legs so he nagged me about it. I finally told him that I’d shave my legs if he shaved his first. And then he did. I felt honor-bound to follow through on my end of the bargain.

In early July, we went out of town to go to a bush party he’d heard about. I ran into Racquet, whom I had known (and had a crush on) in high school. Bad Boy had, somehow, pissed off some people he didn’t even know. (He had a knack for this. On another occasion, he managed to piss off some strangers at a donut shop.) Ordinarily I would have kept my yap shut but I had a bit of a buzz going, so I came to his (verbal) defence and got a beer poured over my head for my trouble. We high-tailed it back to the vehicle with a bunch of people following us; he got his door closed but someone was holding mine open and I got booted in the head. Somehow we got my door closed and fucked off out of there.

Soon after this party gone wrong, Bad Boy had the clever idea that I should get in touch with Racquet to see if I could find out who it was that had hassled him and kicked me. Bad Boy and I ‘took a break’, in part because he wanted me to do this silly detective work with some distance between us: he thought that Racquet might be friends with the people we were trying to identify and would be more forthcoming if Bad Boy and I weren’t dating.

So, I started hanging out with Racquet. There was probably some flirting. The thrill of the chase was tempered with some residual loyalty to Bad Boy.

A sunny summer day and a pleasantly cool basement room, surprisingly well-lit. I’m wearing a little summer dress. He wants to give me a massage, I lay face-down on his bed. I used to want him, but I don’t need him now. I’m in a powerful place. We kiss.

And that was about it, really. It never went anywhere.

(Racquet tracked me down many years later, which involved a long-distance call to my grandmother, and eventually confessed that he thought of me as “the one that got away”.)

Dark Ages 4: Small Town and a busy New Year’s Eve

I must have met Small Town in the fall of my first year of university; I don’t remember, nor do I remember much else about him either. I was interested in him because I was alone and he was interested in me. Even then, that seemed like a poor reason.

Small Town was about three years older than me, with a young and very unplanned child in his ex’s custody. He liked to go to the bar. (My first underage drink had been with Tall a few months earlier at a restaurant, and a little while later we got into a bar. Tall facilitated my meagre underage drinking but never had a drink himself; I got a mild buzz and felt like an idiot.) With Small Town, I got into the bar despite still being underage, drank and even enjoyed it a bit.

I slept with him a few times during our two months together. I wasn’t a virgin, and in a relationship you have sex, right? ‘Sex’ and ‘should’ again.

By the end of December, I was over it. Truthfully, I had never been into it in the first place. I stopped by his place early in the evening on New Year’s Eve, we had our talk, and I was a free agent in time for the parties that evening.

Party number 1 was at Buddy’s place. I had met Buddy a year or two earlier and we been friends for a few months. Eventually I figured out that he was interested in me, but for once I didn’t reciprocate at all. Still, he kept hanging around expectantly. At Buddy’s party, I met Dude. I enjoyed chatting with him, but it didn’t go anywhere.

At party number 2, I met Bad Boy. He was good looking, confident and flirty. I was hooked.

In the space of less than six hours, I had broken up with Small Town, missed or ignored two opportunities in the form of Buddy and Dude, and thought I’d made out well when I ran into Bad Boy. Little did I know the direction things would take from there…

Dark Ages 3a: digging up buried emotion?

For the last few days I’ve noticed tension in my neck and jaw, and sometimes even in the root of my tongue. This is a familiar pattern of tension: in recent months I’ve realized that it’s the way I tend to physically experience stress and difficult emotions. And yet I’ve otherwise been feeling fairly relaxed lately: the holidays were a net win with less than the usual amount of work stress, and minimal holiday/family stress. So where is the tension coming from?

I went looking for other possible stressors and the only thing I can find is my “Dark Ages” posts (posted, drafted or merely outlined). I originally dismissed this as an unlikely stressor, but now I’m not so sure.

Sometimes when I’m reading (something on personal growth, for instance), I read a passage and — before any specific thought coalesces — I experience an emotional reaction in the form of sudden feeling of tension (usually the jaw), or being choked up (throat), or even full-blown tears. It’s like a tiny emotional landmine. Then I have to stop and think about it if I want to figure out what I’m feeling and what provoked it. It usually only takes a few moments: I usually have good idea of what it might be, so I just think on that for a moment to see if the thought stings or not. If it stings, that’s the issue. Sometimes the feeling might be uncomfortable but a bit hazy, as though this is part of it but not the biggest part, in which case I work through the other possibilities until I locate the sting.

My theory is that my recent neck and jaw tension may be a similar physical experience of emotion, but more vague and spread over a longer period of time — perhaps because the emotion is complex and/or deeply buried. I’ve had a few ideas about the possible underlying issues, but none of them give that sting when I’ve thought on them.

The fact that this exercise in revisiting the past seems to be unearthing some kind of emotion suggests that there is still some emotional work to be done here, as opposed to just pointless bitching about exes. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to figure it out eventually and that I’ll feel better when I do.

Dark Ages 3: Tall and Drift

Tall was 6’2” (a full foot taller than me), athletic, good looking, with a shock of thick black hair — he looked like a model. And he was smart.

An early winter evening, we’re alone at my place. I very deliberately complain about my sore shoulders. Taking the bait, he tells me he had taken a course on massage — a lie. But he thought he needed some justification beyond my hinted invitation. Perhaps he honestly believed that the massage was his idea…

He had a curfew (the only person I knew who did) but snuck out of the house routinely to be with me. His place was about a 15-minute walk away (at my pace), but because of his long legs and the fact that he always jogged when he came over, it only took him about 5 minutes. He literally ran to me! He was a good guy, I thought I was in love, and maybe I was.

[Around this time, my mom informed me that she was pregnant, which didn’t seem to have been planned. She took this opportunity to tell me that she would “take me to the doctor” if I wanted. I got her drift, more or less. She didn’t seem to be overjoyed about the pregnancy, and she sure as hell didn’t want to be there talking to me about sex. Mortified, I declared that I was still a virgin; it was the best possible answer to an awful and unstated question. This conversation probably could have been somewhat more awkward, but I’m not sure how…]

In late spring, a group of us drove to a nearby city for the weekend to attend a high school drama festival. Who knows what the accommodation arrangements had been, but Tall and I conspired to be by ourselves in a room together one afternoon. A first for both of us: we tried to have sex. Although this was something we had both chosen, I was much too uncomfortable and tense and dry. ‘Sex’ came to the party with ‘should’ again, and they both ended up acting like assholes.

We successfully lost our virginity to each other on Mothers’ Day. (In subsequent years, I’ve repeatedly had the devilish thought of sending him a card.) Of the act itself, I don’t remember anything beyond thinking “this is not great at all”, and probably “why do people like this?” We were in the basement at his place, and his older brother came home around the time we finished. Tall shouted “Don’t come downstairs!” a couple of times, and he didn’t, but we couldn’t have been much more obvious. I’m fairly sure he smirked at us later.

Tall kept coming to my place after curfew and we’d just hang out. Things were cooling off — physically or emotionally or both, I’m not sure — but at the time I assumed that not wanting to be physical meant I had fallen out of love. (I now recognize it for a sexual shame pattern.) We were together for about 7 months, then agreed to split when he went to his dad’s for a month during the summer. I was choked when he met a girl on the plane and started seeing her immediately. I imagined, in vain, that we might get back together when he came back to town. I don’t know whether I was hurt because I was in love or because of the sting of rejection.

That summer, I got a bit part in a community theatre musical and met Drift. We flirted, drifted together, had some pleasant times, drifted apart again. This relationship was uniquely low-key. I have only one clear memory of him:

At my place, on my bed, in the dark. He’s sitting cross-legged and I’m sitting on him. We’re making out, I grind gently on his erection. No pressure, no ‘should’, just… nice.

I never knew him well, but I don’t think we had much in common. It probably happened because I wanted to be with someone and he was there.

Ah, high school. The events are generally bland, the emotions intense, and many of the memories cringe-worthy. For better or worse, things got more interesting in university.