writing about not writing

Why haven’t I been writing much? That’s a question that I’ll likely keep revisiting until I figure it out and/or successfully move past the issue.

The proximate cause is that I just… didn’t feel like it. Yeah, but what’s causing that ennui? I have a few ideas:

  1. I suspect that the anti-depressant I was on was negatively affecting my motivation. I’ve taken lots of photos that I didn’t share, and written up lots of ideas that languish in draft form. The rough draft material was there but polishing it up into something publishable seemed like too much bother.
  2. Related to #1, some of the topics I was thinking about were bigger issues that I just haven’t had the brainpower to complete.
  3. I have back and neck problems so sitting at a desk in front of a computer is often uncomfortable or worse, and all my work is done at a computer. By the time I’m done work the last thing I want to do is continue to sit. Add to this the fact that I work from home, so work computing and fun computing are both done at the same desk, and blogging starts to resemble work a little too closely.
  4. I got into the habit of not turning on my computer and just reading sexy content on my phone. I find the phone great for consuming content but just awful for creating, so if all I’m using is my phone, I’m not posting.
  5. I’ve had no libido to speak of for months, and possibly over a year. I think (hope) that this is another side effect of the anti-depressants, but it feels disturbingly like my pre-epiphany lack of libido and I wonder whether I’ll ever want sex again. (The “just do it anyway, you may enjoy it once you get going” approach categorically does not work for me. That was my entire sex life (such as it was) pre-epiphany, and I caused myself harm by ignoring my needs and wants.)
  6. Occasionally I have relationship thoughts, but those come up when I’m (we are) having problems. Both of my partners read the blog so I don’t want to share a problem until I have a solution, and sometimes not even then.

But I also have some reasons to believe that I may be recovering from that ennui. Having tapered off very slowly, I’ve now been completely off the anti-depressants for over 7 weeks, so the side effects should continue to abate. Also, I was more productive at work in May than I had been any time over the last year and a half and probably longer, which bodes well for energy and motivation in all areas. (I’m now wondering how much the anti-depressants affected my ability to work. Hmm.)

I think writing Every Damn Day in June will help me not to get bogged down in projects that are too big for me to manage just now. I’m making a commitment to turn on the computer and write for just 10 or 15 minutes a day; I’ll continue to write until I’m finished or until I stop, whichever comes first. I’m also drafting my posts right in WP rather than in a Word doc on my computer as is my wont, which I think will help me get past drafting to actually posting. Wish me luck!

Also, if there’s anything you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comments.

a year on anti-depressants

I was diagnosed with depression just before 2017 began, at which point it had been brewing for about three months but I’d found it difficult to identify.

Aside from a consistently down mood (which felt “normal”), the biggest problems I had were poor cognition, indecisiveness, complete lack of confidence, and a feeling that everything was too difficult to manage. Indecisiveness and lack of confidence were difficult to spot because I always have them to a degree and I didn’t notice how much worse they had gotten. In addition to the depression itself eroding confidence, my awareness of my difficulties with cognition and concentration also damaged my confidence.

I’ve heard it said that depression lies. That’s very true. It affected my ability to think, which in effect made me partly blind to the very symptoms it created — like walking into a fog that makes you hallucinate the absence of fog.

(Having been through a depressive episode a couple of years earlier, I found it disconcerting that this could happen again without me really seeing it. As I started to come out of the fog, I noticed I was finding laundry easier to do again, and I then realised that I’d found it almost impossible for a while but remembered that before that it had been easy and kind of enjoyable. My new rule of thumb is that if laundry ever feels like total drudgery to me again, I’ll take it as a red flag and consider whether I need some help.)

When everything feels insurmountably difficult, seeking treatment can be incredibly challenging too. I found it difficult to ask for help, but I’d already accepted that (1) I’d probably been depressed before and (2) therapy wasn’t useful this time, so when I made the doctor’s appointment I’d also already accepted the idea of being diagnosed. Even so, in that moment when he proclaimed the diagnosis I felt vulnerable and damaged. But in the next moment I knew there was the possibility of some treatment that would help, and that felt like a little ray of light.

After a year on citalopram, my mood is very stable. About two or three times per month I’ll have an inexplicable down mood, which I find fairly easy to identify because they contrast with my regular mood and aren’t situational (i.e. they aren’t caused by negative thoughts or bad news). I find these fairly easy to accept and roll with, especially because they’re always gone by the next day.

Work continued to be a struggle this past year: it’s hard to find work satisfying or even know whether I’m in a suitable career when I’m not experiencing any enjoyment from any projects. Things have recently improved to the point where I sometimes feel a mild to moderate sense of competence and satisfaction, but it hasn’t been consistent enough to know whether it will continue. I hope it does.

And then there’s the fatigue thing. I’ve never been much of a planner and it’s been especially frustrating when I don’t know whether I’ll have the energy to do anything tomorrow, let alone next week or next month. As a result I’ve become miserly with my time. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into the habit of not deciding what I’m going to do until I assess my capabilities and limits on the day in question; after innumerable abandoned plans, the disappointment had gotten to be too much.

Lately, however, I’ve been making plans a little further out. My cognition has improved somewhat and I’ve been chipping away at a couple of projects and getting some positive reinforcement from that. Like the work situation, it hasn’t been going on long enough that I can confidently predict how I’ll be doing in a month or two, but it has been enough of a contrast with before that I’m cautiously optimistic.

Sex is not happening. I have no libido to speak of and this is causing me some distress, in part because I don’t know what the cause is. There’s a good chance that I’ll come off the medication this spring or summer, at which point I’ll discover whether it’s a side-effect or something else. I’m hoping for the former: it’s disappointing to miss out on arousal and sex, but if it’s a side-effect it should be easily reversible.

Another possibility is that, even post-epiphany, I haven’t made much progress on rewriting my maladaptive sexuality script, and this echoing absence is the sound of the other shoe dropping. It’s hard to remind myself that there may be a simple chemical explanation because this utter lack of sexual interest feels gut-wrenchingly familiar, and the part of me that still feels sexually broken is saying, “See? Told you so.”

If that’s the devil on my shoulder, the angel is my tolerance for ambiguity. I don’t know when I’ll be off the meds but it won’t be too long now. (My doctor’s policy is not to take a person off anti-depressants during the winter in case seasonal affective disorder is playing a role.) I don’t know whether the meds are responsible for this but I’ll find out in the not-too-distant future.

a day in the city

I’m picking up the thread of the Gawan story again, which I dropped after the last post here. I think the main reason why I left it for so long is because it took time for me to process everything that happened. But now that I’ve booked the flights for my next visit with him, I need to get this story told.


When I woke up again in the mid-afternoon, we went out into the city to locate some food. We ran across a little Mexican fast food place where we ate some amazing nachos (I may have been biased: hunger is the best sauce), and boozy margaritas dispensed from a slush machine. Whether it was objectively good or not, it was deeply satisfying and I was likely grinning the whole time.

We wandered around the city centre, mostly just to see it, but I also did a spot of shopping. We were out for some time, the overcast skies darkened from sunset and thickening clouds, and although the timing was a little awkward (not long after our last meal, but a last and necessary opportunity for food for the evening) we decided to eat again.

First choice, despite the fact that it was now raining rather heavily, was an outdoor restaurant at the water’s edge. They had an indoor space so it seemed feasible. A stylish and almost certainly gay waiter, protected incongruously by a clear plastic rain poncho that looked like a garbage bag with a hood, turned us away apologetically: the restaurant simply couldn’t operate in this weather.

Second choice was a restaurant at a nearby landmark, looking out over the water from indoors, but by this point it was dark and pissing down rain so the ordinarily charming view was barely visible, and we were seated at a prep station well away from the windows. I watched a woman delicately assemble some kind of salad with artisanal slowness. Her kit included a small multi-chambered plastic box — the sort of thing I would expect to contain beads or other jewelry findings. In it were tiny nasturtium leaves and little white flowers (possibly nasturtium too, but I didn’t recognize them), which were plucked out and carefully placed with kitchen tweezers. Kitchen. Tweezers. I would have paid even more attention to the whole process if I’d realized that this was my salad. I wasn’t expecting a sort of performance art as part of the dining experience.

It was bucketing down when we were done, so we made our way as far as we could under awnings in search of a cab.

Back at the hotel, it was getting late and I was getting tired so we dealt with the practicalities of sleep. I prefer to sleep alone and, as I discovered during our first date, Gawan much prefers to share a bed. I’d been anticipating that this issue would come up again, especially since I had the sense that on our first date (where the room was equipped with two single beds and we slept separately) we’d arrived at a standoff rather than a truce. He advocated for sharing the double bed but eventually agreed that — for tonight — we could each have our own.

The next morning when I woke, I invited him into my bed to cuddle. We weren’t early waking up, or getting up, or getting packed. The phone rang just as we were making our exit about 20 minutes after what I presume was checkout time. I figured it was the front desk calling to pester us out.

It was raining again. We dashed down the street to a little restaurant where we had a very late breakfast masquerading as lunch. Our table was outdoors behind the restaurant in a little courtyard of pale painted brick walls, and we struggled to get ourselves and our bags under the umbrella that sheltered the light metal table and chairs. As we were finishing up, so did the rain, and we thought it a good time to make a break for the train station down the block. A few minutes later as we approached our platform in the darkened station, the rain started up again, eventually pelting down impressively, like hail, on the train’s metal roof.

I took the window seat, he the aisle, with our luggage perched on the seats facing us. I watched the foreign landscape and flora move past the train’s windows, sometimes wet with rain, as we trundled companionably toward his home during our first full day together.

the fantasy and reality of my arrival

In the lead-up to the trip, I spent some time fantasizing about Gawan. That didn’t come easily though: it made me feel disloyal to Wolf.

After my first date with Gawan, I happened to mention to Wolf that I hadn’t really done any fantasizing about that trip in advance, which surprised him. How would I know whether I actually wanted to do anything sexual with Gawan if I didn’t even try it out in the safety of my mind first? Good question. Wolf not only didn’t mind, he expected it — and it was a valid exercise to help me figure out what I wanted.

But I was also aware that a fantasy is fiction, designed by me, for me. What Gawan did in the fantasy would be exactly what I wanted, limited only by my own self-knowledge. I didn’t want to set real-Gawan up for failure compared to fantasy-Gawan, and I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment when I eventually had to face the fact that real-Gawan wasn’t psychic.

So I let my mind roam, but cautiously: I imagined my arrival. I’d go through passport control, heave my bag off the carousel, exit through double doors that hid the public arrivals area from view. Once I passed through the doors, there would be a crowd of people standing beyond the barrier and looking expectantly in my direction. Somewhere in that crowd, one man was looking for me. I’d scan the faces. Ah, there, to my left. We’d smile at each other, while I pushed my cart toward him and closed the distance.

The way I’d constructed the scene turned out to be gratifyingly accurate. I got a few details wrong: passport control was done by a camera not a person; the airport was a little older than I’d envisioned, and the ceilings lower. But that irrelevant detail of him being to my left — that was actually correct. I hadn’t predicted that he’d pull out a bottle of Coke with a flourish, out of (very valid) concern that my blood sugar was about to crash.

Next step: the hug. When Gawan had arrived in my city many months earlier, we had our very first hug. I’m naturally reserved, and I was finally meeting in the flesh a man whose presence in my life had so far been limited to a flow of data through the internet. That first hug was kind of awkward, which, knowing me, was probably inevitable. He was exhausted from a grueling trip, but I know I was holding back.

When I imagined this second meeting, I crafted a new hug. It was the culmination of long hours of airports and airplanes, months of pensive waiting. I felt more sure of him, of the relationship, of myself. So I’d fling my arms around him unreservedly and press myself against him, my head against his chest, and smile contentedly (not that he could see), just savoring being there, with him. Did I imagine all those details, or am I remembering how it actually happened? I’m not sure. Does it matter?

Once we got to the quiet train station, he strode away from the few other people and claimed a seat on a bench at the far end of the platform. I cuddled up next to him. As with the hug, this was a way of overwriting the ambiguities of the first date — and my overly conservative estimate of the proper personal space allowance when sitting on a bench beside my internet boyfriend.

The plan was to stay at a hotel near the station for the first night, then trek back to his place the next day, which gave me two likely settings in which to imagine our first fuck. Despite its inherent sexiness, I did not see it happening at the hotel. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suppose it felt a bit rushed and impersonal.

That’s not to say that the hotel room was a scene of chasteness and decorum. It was small, and the two beds (one double, one single) filled it, such the most inviting place to sit was at the foot of the double bed. We came in, we sat, we kissed, we touched. My pants were off within about 5 minutes after the door closed, and I was naked not long after that.

I had gotten much more rest on the plane than I’d thought possible, so I didn’t immediately need a nap. What I got instead was a spanking, followed by a touch of the flogger, and then the leather paddle (in other words, “the travel kit”), while wearing a pair of black, fun-fur-lined leather cuffs.

half-assed
The original image had a certain, very NSFW, symmetry about it.

I was more than satisfied, and happy to leave things there. Fatigue eventually caught up with me and I crashed.

sex, surgery, celibacy

During the 30 days after my partner’s diagnosis and before his surgery, the frequency of our fucking declined, of necessity. He was told not to exercise or do any heavy lifting, and just to take it easy. Sex wasn’t mentioned explicitly, but we figured it would be included in the injunction – at least, the way we were likely to do it. Also, he had found that it felt unpleasant when his heart rate was up, and on top of that it was now also worrying. Our play still tended to end up with one of us getting off, one way or another, but through less vigorous means. Even so, we probably should have taken it easier than we did.

But both of us were concerned about the surgery in our different ways, and that was a buzzkill. He wanted it over and done with so he didn’t have to think about it anymore and he could just get on with his life. I couldn’t think about anything after the surgery until he made it through successfully; planning the future would have felt like wilful blindness to the fact that there might not be an “after” with him in it, even though the chances of things going wrong were very slim indeed. But we found we couldn’t lose ourselves in each other because we had to be so careful physically.

He went into surgery as a fit and healthy man with one issue: a defective valve in his heart that had recently begun to make him feel winded and worn out after only moderate exertions. So they opened him up, cooled him off, and stopped the flow of blood to his brain for over 10 minutes, and when they were done, they put him in ICU in critical condition. That’s the way it goes. Pretty much routine, and yet still scary as fuck. When I spoke to the surgeon afterwards, he told me that there was more damage than he had expected, and I was left with the impression that we’d had a nearer miss than we realized.

They let him out of hospital after a week. Since then his body has been working hard to heal the incision from the top of his ribcage right to the bottom, the punctures from the angiogram and IV and surgical drains, the plethora of needle pokes. And he is getting better. But he is tired and has lost weight and now looks ill in a way that he didn’t before.

Sex? No way. During the first two weeks, I got myself off a few times. I found it easier during that week when he was in hospital because I was home on my own and could listen to the quiet voice of my own desires. I managed to make myself cry once. That was a first. I tend to get good orgasms when using the right toys, but they’re not usually as intense or satisfying as the ones I get when playing with my partner. When I cried, it didn’t relate to any specific thoughts – there weren’t any thoughts, just a bubble of emotion that burst. Perhaps it was a formless, wordless sadness generated by what was going on. Or maybe it had no significance and I just did an excellent job of getting myself off that time. Who knows?

By the end of his first week home, my desire wasn’t exactly gone. More like it was being outcompeted by other needs. There were a couple of times when, having woken in the morning but still being too tired to get up, I laid in bed resting and trying to distract myself with sexy thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts were just fun, sometimes they were coated in a layer of guilt. By the time I was ready to get up, there might be a vague throbbing warmth between my thighs. Sure, I could sort myself out. The Hitachi was handy, though the Pure Wand wasn’t; I could just use the one that’s close enough to reach without getting out of bed. But it wouldn’t feel as good without the other and I didn’t want to get up. And then there’s the fact that he was there and I feel self-conscious about masturbating in front of him; maybe we’ll work on that someday but today is not that day. Ah, fuck it. Easier not to bother. The feeling of arousal was faint and if I tried to act on it, the orgasm would likely be disappointing. I had no way of getting myself any more wound up so that I could extract a satisfying orgasm. The arousal was faint enough that it would go away soon if I ignored it. So I ignored it. I was tired, needing to feel desired, needing to feel nurtured. I hit a wall.

A couple of days later, he was finding it easier to let me get close. He has virtually no upper body strength right now because they cut through his sternum. His whole ribcage is destabilized until it heals, which takes a good six weeks. Right now, he’s held together with stainless steel wire. I can cuddle up under his arm and lie on his shoulder. Before, I had taken to straddling his legs, with my breasts putting a pleasant amount of pressure on his cock. This doesn’t work anymore. I can get lower and put my head on his hip, but he has lost weight and it’s now a bit bony and I think it makes him self-conscious. His body no longer feels like his own; he says he feels like he’s inhabiting a reanimated corpse. Neither of us is into zombies. But despite all this, and despite the red seam down his center and the not very small dividing sign below it, he let me see him and touch him and suck him. After, he told me that he’d gotten himself off a few days before, mostly to make sure it still worked.

A couple of days after that, we gave it another try. I stroked him and he got hard fairly quickly. We had an interesting consent negotiation. I’m still not entirely at ease with blowjobs and he knows that and respects that. So he asked if he could tell me what to do. Maybe, I said. Could he tell me to suck his cock? Yes, I whispered. He managed to warm me up nicely by playing with the notion that he was ordering me to suck his cock, when really it was an elaborate request. Although we still had to be careful physically, we were both getting used to being careful with him all the time, so this wasn’t too intrusive. And he was glad to be a little distracted from his health worries for even a brief time.

Last weekend, we had our first post-surgery fuck. From behind, so there was no issue about supporting his weight with his arms, or my weight on his chest. I couldn’t see any of the healing scars, or his thinness. Though the IV jabs on the backs of his hands are still healing, all I was aware of was his hand grabbing my hair and controlling my head, neither gently nor roughly. He was tentative and slow.

He came hard, taking brief pleasure in the one physical signal that still says “Yes! Good!” Then, as the endorphins were already subsiding, he savored those few moments when he still held the fading feeling of pleasure (so quickly turning to memory), while the feeling of ill health rushed back in to replace it.

surgery

Bloody hell, what a challenging few days.

I don’t think either of us slept much the night before the surgery. I woke up around 4:00 am or so and couldn’t get back to sleep, but we had to get up shortly after 5:00 anyway. He had to get to the hospital at about 6:00 to be prepped, and I hung out with him while that was going on. The procedure was scheduled for 8:00, so I left at 7:30 to go back to an empty house with a brain full of thoughts.

No surprise that I couldn’t focus on much. Occasionally I’d have waves of intrusive negative thoughts, or a burst of sadness and anxiety to be released mostly in liquid form. I don’t suppress or bury emotions as a coping strategy, but I didn’t want to get lost in despair either, so I distracted myself while the emotions were churning below the surface.

surgery 1

I was waiting by the phone, so of course I would get a bunch of junk calls – two autodialed telemarketing calls that had only dead air at the other end, one survey, and one follow-up call about a survey I’d agreed to do on paper in a moment of benevolence days before.

When I finally got the call I was waiting for, the surgeon told me that the surgery had gone well, but that brought my anxiety down only one notch. Of course I was pleased that things had gone more or less to plan and relieved that the call didn’t start with the dreaded “I’m afraid that…”, but I had vaguely expected a more distinct sensation of relief. Perhaps that means that only a small part of my mind had been occupied with the worst case scenario after all. Or perhaps some of the potential relief had been eaten up by the counterbalancing fact that the surgery had been more extensive than anticipated due to unexpectedly bad damage (the valve was “extremely calcified” and a lengthy portion of aorta had to be replaced). It was sobering to find out that it was a nearer miss than we’d thought.

Or perhaps it was because the 24 hours after a successful surgery are critical, and I was still on high alert. I spoke to his nurse at the 4-hour mark, and I got the sense that his recovery milestones were coming a little faster than normal or expected or average or whatever the metric is. My anxiety clicked down one more notch. At the 8-hour mark, he was still improving nicely and the nurse anticipated that he’d be out of ICU at the earliest opportunity.

So I  had a nice long soak in a hot bath (while reading about BDSM), and then I slept. That was my Friday.

His mother and I went to see him in the ICU on Saturday morning. He was sitting up in a chair, eyes closed. I took in the green hospital gown, his arm resting on the pillow over his chest and the call button clipped to the pillow, an assortment of tubes and wires. And immediately tuned out the tangle.

He was clearly tired, but he looked well, considering. First order of business – a kiss on the forehead. He leaned over for it, demanding it, and the intimate normality of that demand was deeply reassuring. His hair, which had been fastidiously looped in a doubled ponytail when I’d last seen him, was now a bit of a straggling mess. I untangled the elastic from his hair and combed it out with my fingers, giving him scritches on the back of his head in the process.

We are not demonstrative folk; we’re both sensitive and prefer subtlety, and neither of us go in for public displays of affection. And yet I could not have given a flying fuck who was in the room and who might see me kiss him, kiss his forehead, or stroke his hair, or who might hear the ‘I love you’s.

I had a little more trouble with the day’s second visit. I think the tubes and wires were starting to intrude into my consciousness, which is not good when you have needle phobia. (It’s not just sharps — any kind of breach or damage to flesh is a problem, though blood doesn’t particularly bother me.) And then there was all the stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.

On Sunday morning he was still in ICU but looking better still. By late afternoon, some of the tubes were removed and he’d been transferred out to a different, calmer unit. When I asked for an update on his condition, the (male) nurse said “He’s a rock star.” It seems that the way to a nurse’s heart is to thrive in their care. At one point, we rearranged his pillows, which brought the nurse in to check because his heart rate had suddenly gone up. [For the gamers out there, I noticed that his scrubs said Aperture Laboratories; turns out his brother works at Valve.]

He got another tube out today. He’s already able to sit up, stand and walk a bit on his own. His mother was with me again for both visits, but she left early during the second visit and left the two of us alone. When she had gone, I joked that now we could have sex, except for the fact that the nurse would see that his heart rate jumped and we’d be caught in flagrante.

I’m finally starting to relax. Now to try to catch up on my rest.

surgery 2

Dark Ages 16: 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.]

 

The month before I moved out felt like a sort of separation from Gamer, and the move itself was the split. Somehow this seemed to take him by surprise. I knew he was an optimist, but was his optimism completely blind? I couldn’t understand why he never seemed to have noticed that our relationship had been falling apart. A couple of weeks after the move, he called me at work and said he loved me. I certainly cared about him and he was a decent guy, but I had fallen out of love with him a long time ago. I gritted my teeth and said he probably shouldn’t say that word anymore. And when I hung up, I cried because I’d hurt him. But I had already moved on.

That first month with Wolf was a little awkward. We had known each other as friends for some time but we getting to know each other romantically was a different game. His parents must have wondered where the hell I came from because I was suddenly at their place constantly. I already had years of dating under my belt (um, so to speak), but I was his first proper girlfriend; he was a bit younger than me, but I had started dating rather early and he was starting a little late.

At the end of that first month there was another road trip, and we crashed with another acquaintance. Our hostess asked me, privately, what was up because she had noted a bit of tension between us and figured that the relationship must be just starting or just ending. But things improved after that.

My apartment, which had in a way more or less changed my life, was an inexpensive bachelor suite downtown, in brick apartment building that had been lovely once but was now a bit gone to seed. The suite featured high ceilings, tall windows, badly worn wood floors, and some slightly odd details that I assumed had made a bit more sense in an era without electricity, such as the little window from the bathroom into the closet. When I got home from work, Wolf was always outside the building waiting for me: worried about being late, he made a point of arriving early, which I found charming. I didn’t have a car of my own (I had been driving Gamer’s), so Wolf came over, and then we might hang out for a bit at my place before he’d take me back to his parents’ place in the suburbs and cook for me. Once supper was ready, we’d retreat to the cool basement with our plates, eating and watching TV in the dim, wood-paneled space. We’d spend the rest of the evening there, in semi-privacy, and I’d head home at bedtime.

It was about a month and a half before we finally slept together, and the first few times were awkward. I was theoretically the worldly one, while he was… not, but eventually he began to loosen up.

We had all the privacy we wanted at my place as long as we weren’t too loud, not that there was much risk of that. On the weekend, he’d come over fairly early in the morning to find me awake but still in bed. Why bother getting up and dressed? He’d be joining me in the sheets in about five minutes anyway.

Once he relaxed with me, our libidos matched reasonably well. And we continued to get along really well and spend all our time together. But after 10 months or so, I began to notice that I felt the need to be a little tipsy in order to have sex. This was not a good sign.

I continued checking in with my gut: did I still like Wolf? Yep, no problems there. My previous experiences didn’t provide any helpful insights: things cooled off with Tall, I concluded I’d fallen out of love and we agreed to end it; I definitely fell out of love with Gamer and at some point things had cooled off. This seemed different: I was very happy to be with Wolf and had no complaints about him, so my negative feelings about sex were apparently somehow independent of the relationship. Those feelings were definitely difficult to accept, and I never really did accept them: sex is something that you’re supposed to enjoy, I didn’t enjoy sex, I felt shitty for not enjoying it, and I felt shitty for withholding it from Wolf. What was wrong with me?

Eventually, I started feeling uncomfortable even with hugs. There was no such thing as innocent touch — all touch was suspect. I asked him to back off further, and felt shitty to ask, but he agreed without complaint because it was important to him that I got what I needed, even if that might not be what he wanted. He never pushed me, and he reassured me that sex or the lack thereof didn’t really figure into his feeling that he wanted to be with me.

So we eventually developed an understanding: sex would not be a significant part of our relationship. But we were wonderfully compatible in all other ways, which is why we’re still together so many years later.

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 14: Gamer

[“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.]

 

End of summer, not long after my ill-fated visit with Ed. Looking back, I can see that I’d had some fun times over the summer, but it didn’t seem that fun at the time. I wasn’t happy.

One shitty evening, I called up my friend Gamer and told him my sad story. We spoke for a good while and he commiserated, but eventually and regretfully announced that he had someplace to be at a specific time. He didn’t want to blow me off, and he was going to a meeting for a group that I might like, and did I want to come with? I dusted myself off, got overdressed and waited for him to come pick me up. It was a welcome distraction.

A week or two later, a friend of his was having a party and many of the group members (only a few of whom I’d met) would be there. When I arrived at the house on a farm just outside of town, a bunch of guys swarmed out the door to meet me in the parking area. It was rather disconcerting, but I found out later that Gamer had gone on at some length about how hot I was, and so all the randy young bucks had to come out and see. One of them was Wolf (fairly tall, slim, quiet), but Gamer specifically warned me away from him with no explanation. By the end of the night I was still puzzled as to why — Wolf had barely spoken to me.

After hanging out together as friends quite a lot for about a month, Gamer and I started going out. I wasn’t keen to leap into a new relationship since my recent track record seemed pretty poor and I was still gun-shy, so I took it slow.

Gamer was skinny, a little taller than average, with long, thick, curly black hair. (If he brushed it out and let it frizz, it stuck out at an angle just like Roseanne Roseannadanna’s.) With his thick black hair and his full but nicely shaped eyebrows, he had sort of a Mediterranean look, though that wasn’t his background. It amused him to wear 70s polyester; I thought it made him look a little oily. He had been in his high school band (percussion) and had been a lifeguard over the last few summers.

Things were good. We knew each other pretty well to begin with, had interests in common, and were compatible. Being with Gamer was easy and comfortable. We declared our love multiple times a day but, because I was well and truly spooked from my experience with Bad Boy, I developed a habit of checking in with myself regularly to look for signs of dysfunction.

I hadn’t yet cut all ties with Bad Boy, and Gamer and I met up with him once for drinks. It was… odd. Being around the two of them at the same time was impossible because it seemed that I was a different person with each of them. And I didn’t like the person I seemed to be around Bad Boy.

One time, Gamer was over late and didn’t want to go home. The complication: I was still living at home (as was he) and I needed permission. I got it. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other and so we had sex, quietly. It was well past bedtime and I figured everyone was asleep. Still, in the morning my mom forbade him from staying over again. I pushed back, feeling pretty confident that I knew what the issue was but, for some reason, willing her to say it out loud. She didn’t. Conversation over.

A subsequent sexual encounter went much better. I was on top and had enough clitoral stimulation that I was able to orgasm during sex (as opposed to oral sex or masturbation) for the first time. Bonus points for perversity: in my mom’s bed.

Then there was the time that I took the ecstasy that Kent had managed to source for me. What I remember most was the overpowering, squirmy desire just to be touched, for hours.

Gamer and I had started with condoms but I eventually decided to go on the pill, so we both went to get checked out, as you do. I was clear. He had HPV and got treated. We ditched the condoms. I got infected. I didn’t know anything about HPV and Gamer hadn’t provided me with any info from his doctor. Did the doctor tell him that he was still contagious? Did he think to tell the doctor that he had a partner and we were looking at dispensing with condoms? Gamer should have had information for me, but there was a communication breakdown at some point and I wasn’t told. I knew it wasn’t deliberate, but I was angry as fuck. I’m still not best pleased. But shit happens, it’s a common infection, and I haven’t had any symptoms in yonks. It’s probably gone from my system, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

About three months into the relationship, which was midway through my last year of university, Gamer had the idea of moving to the big city when I was done my program. And so we did. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but everything about it was challenging: we had a total of four flat tires on our overloaded trailer on the drive out; our crash space arrangement was with a friend who was living with her mother (and I’m not sure the mother had advance notice); it was hard to find a place to live mid-month, the place we found wasn’t great and the neighbors fought loudly; we both had a hard time finding even crappy jobs; our work schedules kept us busy on weekends when our preferred leisure activities were scheduled; we were broke; and we had no family or friends to help us.

Not too long after the move, my feelings towards him cooled, although I still cared about him. The relationship might have fizzled around then anyway, or the stress might have done it. I felt stuck. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, and I couldn’t move home on my own.

By this time sex was infrequent. He pressured me to an extent, enough to put me on my guard, but I also felt guilty and wrong for not wanting it. At one point I confessed to him that I’d fantasized about being with another woman and was concerned about what that meant about my sexual identity. (I now think it wasn’t that I preferred women, it was that I feared male sexuality.)

It was the beginning of a very long ending.

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.