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 18: Wolf’s version

My partner, Wolf, offers his recollections of our first meeting. My brief version of that story is here. I wish I remembered more about it, but I was ‘fresh meat’, meeting a whole house full of new people and my focus was on Gamer, since we were ‘courting’ at the time.

I know it was late, already well dark. I suspect it was a weekend, but that’s unclear. It was summer, or at the very least, the warmer part of the year. I know we were drunk. I don’t remember much really.

I remember her. She wore black jeans and a black and white striped top, stretch knit that clung to her. She had the athletic curves of a dancer, big round eyes, high cheekbones, a long aquiline nose with a silver ring in one nostril. Those are the principal physical characteristics, but she was also a collection of subtle contradictions. She was small, tiny almost, but not overtly feminine. She looked light enough to pick up, but her body language warned you that if you tried without having permission, she would feel like lead, she would fight, you would win only if you didn’t care about getting hurt, and you would get hurt. One could have called her cat-like, but only if you were the sort that really knew what that meant. She was not, by any meaning of the word, ‘kittenish’.

We may have been a gathering of intoxicated men (barely men, at that age) but she was no sheep amongst wolves. We were, at best, a pack of excited foxhounds and she was the wolf in fox-clothing.

We didn’t talk much that first time. She was ‘with’ Gamer, or at least that was his impression, which he made very clear to us before she appeared. We were at least respectful of that.

That night, on the way past each other in some cramped part of the house, she playfully nipped my stomach with her fingertips, a casual bit of contact to break the awkwardness of the moment. ‘Ooh!’ she said, it seemed in a brief moment, in response to how I felt to her. Did my abs please her? Or was that just some empty flirting?

No, that’s silly, I’m not her type. I’m not anyone’s type. None of us are her type, including the guy who had staked his claim. Does he know that? Probably not.

I guess I was half right – she wasn’t his type after all. I’ve never been a good judge of my own place in things. But I remember that shirt.

Dark Ages 17: Gamer’s warning

So why did Gamer warn me away from Wolf back in the day? The warning came while Gamer and I were hanging around together but before we had become an item, and I naively didn’t think to question it in the moment or at any time while I was with him. Even if I had, I don’t think I would have gotten any clarity.

The way Gamer had presented it, he had allowed me to believe that Wolf was some kind of player. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as Gamer was probably well aware.

I had told Wolf about the warning in our early days together and it was the source of many a good chuckle (for me, anyway) once it became apparent just how well matched Wolf and I really were. So I asked Wolf what he thought it was about.

One possibility is that Wolf may have been the only single guy there and thus represented a risk of poaching. And Gamer may have pegged Wolf as someone I might have taken an interest in. This would amount to Gamer proactively defending his “territory” against a specific threat. But I don’t think this is quite it, because even if Gamer had been that territorial, Wolf would have been an odd choice for singling out, and I don’t think Gamer was perceptive enough to notice that Wolf and I would be compatible. But it’s true that Gamer was pursuing me.

There’s another possibility, and it’s one that I find much more intriguing. A few weeks before that party, Wolf and Gamer and some of their friends had been at a festival. Gamer had had a drunken tumble with a girl; Wolf had had a tumble with her as well, and it seems that each of the guys knew about the other. Of all the people at the party, Wolf was likely the only one who had this information about Gamer and Gamer didn’t want it getting back to me for fear of what I might think. So, taking the offensive, Gamer apparently crafted a mini-story about Wolf that Gamer could use to protect himself.

In our early days together, Gamer told me a bit about his sexual past. I was left with the impression that he had been going to bars looking for love and finding only sex, and that after a while he began to feel that he was being used. But in retrospect, I wonder if this was the festival story dressed up with a goodly helping of spin. He had an outgoing and confident manner, and at the time I believed that he did well with women. But now I think that the confidence was to an extent an act. Further, he seemed to lack awareness of how others perceived him, overestimating his social standing. He had a friendliness with strangers but never came across as any kind of ladies’ man while I was with him. I’m left wondering whether he parlayed that one drunken tumble into a “history” and revealed it at a time and in a manner that he hoped would score points with me.

I’m reminded of the notion that when people tell you something, they may or may not tell you anything factual about the topic, but they always reveal something about themselves.

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 13: Eventually Ed (again)

[“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 was spending part of the summer studying in another city. I met a second cousin and his family for the first time, and stayed at their place (and did my laundry) on weekends. There were two daughters, their ages flanking mine by a year on each side. I got on better with the younger one, and I hung out with her and her friends. One of them (Arcturus) and I argued rather a lot, which the group decided was a sign that the two of us were meant for each other.

Late one Saturday night, after we’d been out dancing and drinking, the others decided to make it happen, and in my groggy state I found myself agreeing to stay over with him. We swung past my cousin’s house to pick up my overnight stuff and then they dropped us off at Arcturus’ place. But I wasn’t and never had been interested in him; I’d agreed to the arrangement because I was too tired to think straight and speak my mind, which would have amounted to turning him down publicly. So I got into Arcturus’ bed, turned my back, and tried to get some sleep. Not the most restful night I’ve ever had, although it was spent absolutely chastely, without so much as a kiss. If he was surprised or disappointed, I never knew.

Ed and I had kept in touch through the summer and had a courtship of sorts, involving letters, phone calls, photo-booth photos and a mix-tape. We arranged that I would go visit him for a few days at the end of August, staying with him and his mom. I would fly there and, to save money, catch a ride home with some friends of mine. I was excited.

But when I arrived, I got a chilly reception, and it wasn’t just that the weather was unseasonably cold. When we spent time together he was withdrawn, and instead of conducting a torrid affair or (more likely, given our ages) dating somewhat awkwardly, I felt like I was there to visit his roommate who had forgotten about the arrangements and had gone on holidays without letting me know, and so he was stuck entertaining me. Eventually he confessed that, before I had come out (but, I suspect, after the plane ticket had been bought), he had already decided that he didn’t want a long-distance relationship.

So, rejection. And I was stuck in inhospitable territory for a few days until my friends could rescue me. Awkward, and painful.

Dark Ages 12: Achilles

Most of the rest of that summer was spent in a large city that I’d never visited before, across the country from my hometown. During the week, I lived in a dorm and took a full-time language class. My friends were mostly girls, for a change. Evenings were spent on campus or sometimes downtown. On the weekend, I stayed with relatives in the suburbs.

One Friday morning after class, my friends and I returned to the dorm while two guys (one with long blond hair, one with shorter dark hair) were at the front desk looking into renting rooms for the night. We started chatting: they were hitchhiking and living on a shoestring budget, so even though the rooms were inexpensive, they were very hesitant to part with their cash and were considering sleeping in a park. By this time I’d decided that the blond one was cute and there was some potential here. I sensed the subtext behind their plea for assistance, as well as the way my friends were responding, so said with some confidence that I was sure we could find them some crash space for one night.

It promised to be an excellent day. On Fridays, we only had class in the morning; the optional activity that afternoon was horseback riding and I’d signed up; and my favorite indie band was playing at a bar downtown that night. And then these two guys turned up. At some point, it became apparent that the dark-haired guy, Achilles, was more interested in me than his blond friend was. Fine by me: I found Achilles slightly less cute but he seemed smarter, and I wasn’t feeling overly fussy.

I was the only one of my group who had signed up for the afternoon outing, so I arranged to meet them all downtown, outside the bar. Shortly after I arrived, Achilles and I walked a couple blocks to a fast-food joint to get a large 7-Up to be doctored with vodka, and possibly also some food. On the way there, a prostitute in a short skirt and impossibly high heels called out to Achilles, but she apologized when she realized that he was with me. The sun hadn’t set yet.

The gig was a blast, but it had been a very long day: after a couple hours of horseback riding followed by a couple hours of dancing, I was done, and Achilles and I were the first to head back. Back at the dorm, things progressed as you might expect, and eventually I was confronted with the issue of whether I was going to sleep with him or not. I hadn’t expected to, but in the heat of the moment it seemed like a reasonably good idea. The problem was that neither of us had any condoms and getting some would have been pretty much impossible at that hour. So when he suggested that he’d put it in “just a little”, I agreed. As always, I was very tight (or rather, tense) and was going to need at least a couple minutes to relax. And while I tried to relax, my brain re-engaged and I remembered that putting it in, even “a little”, in the absence of a condom or any other birth control was A Very Stupid Idea, and I called a halt. (He was probably really regretting not having any condoms at that point.) He bedded down on the floor for the night. We spent a bit of the next day together and he saw me off when I got on the bus to go to my relatives’.

A few days later, I found out that one of guys in my class was from the same small city as Achilles and knew him, or knew of him. Achilles was apparently very popular at home (funny how it’s hard to gauge popularity without an entourage to give context), which gave my self-image a boost, but I was also a little concerned he might treat the encounter as a conquest. Not that it mattered much — we never saw each other again.

Dark Ages 11: Brief encounters, guys with accents

About a week after I met Ed, my grandma took me on a trip to England and Wales. We arrived at Heathrow on a Tuesday, took the airport bus into town and checked in at the B&B near some university dorms, then spent a few days seeing some of the sights.

There was a tiny park near our B&B that the students used for tennis and sunbathing. Introverted and awkward at initiating small talk, I somehow managed to approach a group of four and start chatting with them. Maybe I picked this particular bunch because they were smoking a joint at the time, or perhaps the joint came later and was a happy coincidence. Either way, I had drugs on the brain and I had decided that I wanted to try to get my hands on some ecstasy (no, not that kind, the other kind), and I hoped someone here might be able to help me out. That was Saturday.

On Monday, we started our tour of Wales, and stopped for the night in Wrexham. I struck out on my own for a little walk in the early evening because I was fidgety and looking for a little adventure, possibly because I’d spent the better part of the day on a coach with a bunch of retirees. I shunned the quaint, quiet churchyards and headed for signs of life and traffic. And there was traffic. Foreign as the place was to me, somehow it still struck me that there was an awful lot of traffic for such a small place, and it seemed that most of these people were cruising rather than driving to a specific destination. In the process, I met a bloke who asked me if I was “courting”. I denied it, because I believed it to be the correct answer, or at least it was the correct answer for me to give him. In my notes from the trip, I recorded that I had gotten some kind of pleasant male attention in Wrexham (and this encounter wasn’t it), but alas, I have no memory of it. (Maybe some guys looked at me while they drove past, who knows.)

Thursday evening was Cardiff. I found a club and went in, but it was very dead until the pubs let out some time later, so I ended up sat at the bar, drinking strong cider (they didn’t have sweet) and chatting for a good while with a bloke who turned out to be a co-owner, and was about 14 years my senior, with an ex and an 8-year-old child. He taught me the word “squiffy”, which I remember because that’s more or less the state I was in at that point in the evening: slightly buzzed and happy. When I finally dragged myself away, I intended to walk back (it was maybe two blocks away) but he offered me a ride and I accepted. I had a vague feeling that wasn’t a great idea; was I being fretful or was I getting a message from my gut? But he drove me straight back, no funny business. He did give me a goodbye kiss, which, in retrospect, was almost certainly the reason for the ride in the first place. (I imagine he was thinking I was more or less jail-bait.) By the time I finally returned to the room that I shared with my grandma, it was late and dark; she had turned out the light and gone to bed but hadn’t fallen asleep yet (probably kept awake with worry). And I was somewhat drunk. Smooth.

We returned to London on Saturday, and back to the same neighborhood. It was probably that day or the next when I ran into Kent, one of the lads I had met at the little park. Kent was medium height, slim, with shaggy blond hair and a pleasantly laid back demeanor. We started hanging out.

My grandma was a little put out with this arrangement, probably because I was spending time with him instead of her and she was a little anxious that I was out in London on my own. But Kent was sweet (even my grandma thought so) and showed me some parts of London that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, such as Primrose Hill near the London Zoo.

My grandma and I had another jaunt, this time to the Midlands for a few days. I didn’t manage to meet anyone on this side trip, probably because we were hanging around with her equally elderly friends in a little village. After that, it was back to London one last time.

Late May, afternoon light. His dorm room, in a characterless block almost across the street from my hotel. Summery heat, bright sunshine. Sitting on his bed in a state of undress, and him down to his boxers. “You wanna?” he asks, refreshingly directly. “Not really,” I cheerfully reply.

And then there was that time in London when, late one night, I very quietly masturbated while my grandma was in the other twin bed, just on the other side of the night stand. Um, yeah.

In my sparse notes, I managed to record a little non-trip related angst. Four months after Bad Boy and I had broken up, I was still entertaining the idea that we’d be getting back together even though I had realized by this point that I felt like shit when I was with him. Drummer had given me some earplugs and I’d used them on a particularly noisy flight. I mused about Ed but had already cooled towards him, though things would warm again later, at least a little.

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.