Tinderp Tale #10: It Didn’t Have To Be Me

  1. Intro.
  2. First Date.
  3. Second Date.
  4. Third Date.
  5. Fourth Date.
  6. Fifth Date.
  7. First Breakdown.
  8. Second Breakdown.
  9. Recovery.

2016 was not going very well for me.

It had started out strong. Sure, I puked in someone’s bathtub on New Year’s, but still, I remembered feeling generally okay. Happy with my friends, somewhat optimistic about my dating future, and determined about my writing. Then the trip to Cambodia happened and…I’m not sure. I came back, lost and confused and dejected about life, more so than usual. There was also the fact that I was turning 25 soon, which was giving me great anxiety about the future because 25, in my mind, signaled the start of official adulthood, and I was nowhere close to being an official adult. I didn’t have my shit together. I was stuck in what felt like a dead-end job, was deep in credit card and college loan debt, and feared that getting a short story published in 2014 would be my first and last writing accomplishment.

I fell behind on writing about my dates. I was experiencing chronic pain and stress in my jaw that had started during the final days of my Cambodia trip and refused to go away, which caused mild to extreme discomfort whenever I ate, yawned, or sang–things I unfortunately did rather frequently. I realized the last time I consistently went to bed happy was almost two years ago, when being in my twenties seemed exciting and new and worthwhile. But now I was afraid of my future. I was afraid that I was a failure in the grand scheme of life and would never amount to anything. I felt like everyone around me was moving on and doing big things, while I had slowly but steadily fallen behind, stuck in a rut of my own doing. I was crying in my room and in my car more often because life seemed increasingly meaningless and I didn’t want to consider the alternative but I didn’t want to consider life either so I was trapped in this weird emotional space of not wanting to exist but also not wanting to kill myself.

I didn’t really go into great detail about these things with my friends or family, because I was embarrassed and didn’t want to burden anyone with my self-loathing and existential fears. Everyone seemed busy and distant. A part of me also suspected that no one wanted to hear about any of it anyway. People say they want to know, and that they’re there for you, but aren’t they just saying that because it’s the polite thing to do? Who would really want to take in someone else’s darkest thoughts and emotions? Maybe if I was someone’s spouse or girlfriend, but the provision of emotional labor was scarce for a perpetually single woman with friends who were preoccupied with other relationships. Would it even make me feel any better if someone took the time to listen to me out of obligation? Because I had demanded their attention? Probably it would make me feel worse.

I spent most of summer silently struggling with my inner demons, with pressing issues like police brutality and rape culture stacked on top of them. Then I turned 25. Nothing really changed. I buried my feelings deeper. I compensated for my brokenness by smiling and telling everyone I didn’t give a fuck.

In early September, one of my roommates killed herself. She had only lived at the house for a few months and wasn’t someone I knew well, but her suicide devastated me. Part of me couldn’t help but wonder if I was deeply affected because the tragedy had hit a little too close to home, and not just literally. I wasn’t sure how to process her death, or how to find closure.

I started writing more poetry. I hung out with friends and went back on Tinder, as if socializing could drown out the ugliness festering inside of me. Pretending to be fine was more believable when you’re going out, right?

One day, while skimming through potential matches on Tinder, I paused on the profile of a guy I will call Nick. There was this one picture that I was fixated on. It was just him posing with people I assumed were his friends (and maybe a girlfriend, it was hard to tell), but I thought he looked really hot in it: he had a nice smile, a head full of dark and luxurious hair, plus he dressed well. I read his bio. He was working as an EMT, volunteered at a clinic, and planned to go to nursing school soon. His more imminent plans included traveling abroad and raving.

Healthcare, travel, and raves? Detailed and purposeful plans?? I had nothing in common with this dude. For a moment, I considered swiping left and moving on. But, he was hot! Or well, he seemed like he could be. (You never fucking know with online dating, unfortunately.) What would it hurt to swipe right? So I swiped right. I was surprised when we matched. I was even more surprised at how quickly he messaged me.


You matched with Nick on 9/25/16

Nick

Why are all the guys losing interest? You’re cute, so it can’t be that! 😉


Nick was referring to my Tinder bio at the time, which went something like this:

Play your cards right and you might be the next guy to send me flirtatious messages, lose interest, then awkwardly show up as a friend suggestion on my Facebook feed 😘

What?! I can’t stop the pessimism, okay.

Anyway. Flattered by his flirting, I decided to respond.


Me

That’s for me to overanalyze and for you to eventually figure out for yourself 😉


And off we went, with the back-and-forth banter.

tinderp 10.1

Soon enough, Nick asked me out and we exchanged numbers. The plan was to meet at a Thai restaurant in Oakland on Tuesday night at 9 (he worked late hours). He said he would pick me up. I was fine with that until my friend Susan sternly said, “Don’t get into cars with strangers. Tell him you’ll meet him there.”

“Okay, Mom,” I said, rolling my eyes.

Tuesday night arrived. Nick texted to let me know that he was stuck in traffic coming from San Francisco. The Thai restaurant was closing at 10, so I suggested meeting in Berkeley instead.

Nick: Let’s meet at Cafe Strada 

And we’ll pick a place to eat 

Me: Okay sounds good

Nick: I’m 20 minutes out from Strada in Berkeley

Just got here, I’ll be outside by the sidewalk! White button up.

I spotted him sitting on a ledge outside the cafe. “Hey,” I said.

He got up. He was tall, and looked like an adult man. This made me nervous. We did an awkward side hug thing then set off for food, with Nick leading the way. I felt so juvenile, walking beside him, even though we were around the same age. We talked about work and other boring things. I hung back and watched him as he ordered a pizza to go. He seemed so self-assured and mature. How was I on a date with this guy? Could anyone else tell we were on a date? We were such an odd pair to me.

Nick and I ended up eating pizza in some courtyard on the UC Berkeley campus, watching a group of students rehearse a dance. The spontaneity of it all unsettled me. It didn’t help that Nick was good-looking in person, which threw me off even more. We made more small talk. He asked me how to pronounce my name, and mentioned trying to Google it.

“It’s Leer-kaw-na,” I said.

I was uncomfortable, because I didn’t think the date was going well at all. Our conversation wasn’t particularly stimulating or interesting, and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling. His expression was very neutral.

When we were done eating, Nick asked if I wanted to get drinks at Cafe Van Kleef, a bar in downtown Oakland where I had coincidentally met up with other dates in the past. I was taken aback by the fact that he still wanted to hang out, but I said yes, out of adherence to my passive wait-and-see dating approach. The night was still young. Maybe alcohol would lessen the anxiety I was feeling.

We drove separately. He got there first.

9/27/16 10:49 PM
Nick: Booth in the back!

I made my way over to where I saw him sitting. I had left my coat in my car. He looked up and eyed my blue crocheted top. “That’s a cute top,” he said.

“Thanks.” I sat next to him, because there was no table and therefore no option to sit across from him.

“I’m just going to move your bag,” he said casually, picking up my purse and sliding it over so it was no longer between us.

“Oh…” before I could process what all of this meant, Nick started touching me. I immediately stiffened. He asked me if I wanted something to drink. I told him I wanted hard cider. He left and brought back a bottle. I insisted he take a sip of it, in case he roofied it or something.

“I would have to be stupid to do that,” he said, but obliged me anyway.

Our conversation got a little heavier. So did the touching. I briefly talked about my trip to Cambodia and the conflicted feelings that the experience brought up for me. I explained what the tattoo on my forearm meant–“Rootless, I existentially write myself the stable world,” a quote from Chinese American author, Maxine Hong Kingston. “For me, it means not really having a home because of my identity as a Cambodian American, and so I have to sort of create my own idea of home and identity through my writing,” I said, rather clumsily. I wasn’t sure how he was taking in anything I was saying. He went on to talk about how caring for his mother on her deathbed inspired him to pursue nursing. It seemed like a deeply personal thing to share on a first date. But maybe he was open about that with everyone he met. Meanwhile, I was hyperaware of his hands on my body: stroking my arms and my leg, caressing my back and shoulders, wandering down to my waist.

“You’re…really touchy,” I said in what I hoped was a conversational tone.

“I think you’re cute. Why wouldn’t I touch you?” he replied.

My head was spinning, and it wasn’t from the alcohol.

“I think…I think we came here with different intentions,” I said.

“What do you think my intentions are?” he asked.

“You want to have sex with me…”

He shrugged.

“…and leave it at that.”

“If I sleep with a girl, I see her again,” he said. “I actually need to feel emotionally connected with someone before I would want to sleep with them.”

“Okay.” I didn’t really believe him, but there wasn’t any point in arguing.

He started talking about a girl he had been sexually involved with, to give an example, I guess. “I was in love with her, but she just wanted sex. We hooked up for a few months, then she left me for her ex.”

He relayed this to me very matter-of-factly. I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this either. Maybe to show me that he had an emotional side. The only thing worth noting was that the girl wanted to continue a sexual relationship with him, which indicated to me that he was probably good in bed, in which case, maybe I should consider sleeping with him.

I mean, why not? I’ve been wanting to have sex. I thought he was hot and his hands were telling me where his mind was. But I didn’t feel like taking it that far. I didn’t trust him. His touch triggered the apprehension and irritability I experienced with shadowy creeps in nightclubs and other public spaces, grabbing at me out of a sense of entitlement to my body. Decent guys didn’t get handsy on the first date. Right?

I almost wanted to tell him to stop. But a part of me was excited by this, had longed for this. Desire had never felt so palpable. My body was tense, caught between two polarizing feelings: arousal, because he was attractive and showing me that he wanted me, and repulsion, caused by his violation of invisible boundaries that other guys before him had known not to cross.

tinderp 10.2b

Actual bar not depicted.

 “Are you okay?” he asked. “You seem uncomfortable. It’s starting to make me uncomfortable.”

“I’m okay,” I lied, avoiding his eyes.

“Are you nervous?” he asked, massaging my shoulders.

“No,” I lied again. “I’m just…I don’t know. My roommate killed herself and I’m still kind of processing.”

Fuck, why did I say that? Was I that desperate to derail from my own anxieties about physical intimacy that I would invoke my roommate’s suicide as a cover? I was such a shitbag. Yet, the more I talked about it, the more I felt the weight of what happened, rising up from where I had tried to bury it.

Nick tried to offer me reassuring words (and more massages). “Western culture doesn’t know how to deal with death. You shouldn’t feel responsible. All you can do is live your life.”

“Yeah.” I stared at the eccentrically adorned walls of the bar, wondering what I was doing here. I shouldn’t be here. I should leave. But my mind was hazy, and I was so tired I wasn’t sure if I could move.

Eventually though, we did leave the bar. Nick shamelessly suggested we make out in the backseat of his car.

“I don’t think I like kissing,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I just haven’t had very good experiences with it.”

He seemed somewhat frustrated by this response, but didn’t push any further. I guess the point was for us to kiss and figure out whether or not we would like it (and in turn, each other), but I was still somewhat traumatized from the debacle with Brian #2 and was afraid that the same thing would happen with Nick.

Once we were outside the bar, Nick offered me a piggyback ride.

I, of course, was thrilled, and immediately climbed up on his back. All previous weirdness and discomfort were momentarily compensated for by this gesture.

How did he know about my love of piggyback rides? I wondered as he carried me to my car. Well, it was probably a coincidence. Maybe he did this with all the girls he went on dates with.

We reached my car. I got off his back.

“So…” I said, putting on a smile. “I’m not taking you home with me…”

He leaned against the side of my car and watched me with that same unreadable expression.

I slowly moved to unlock the driver’s door and got in, eyeing him. “I’m going now…hopefully you don’t make a move…”

“You’re not giving me a hug?”

“What? Um. Okay.” I got out, hugged him, then climbed back into my seat.

He started walking away. “You don’t have to be so awkward,” he said over his shoulder.

“Shut up,” I mumbled, before slamming my door and driving off, completely embarrassed by everything that had unfolded that night.

What was wrong with me?! Wasn’t I a grown ass 25-year-old woman? Why was I acting like an insecure teenage girl?

Clearly, we aren’t a match, I thought. Right? He probably thinks I’m weird now. I don’t think he would want to see me again after that fiasco of a date. 

But do I want to see him again? Maybe I should hit him up. 

But he’s bad news! He gives off a douchey vibe. Better to walk away. Right?

But he gave you a piggyback ride! And he’s hot! And he was clearly interested…

What did I have to lose, except my virginity?

I eventually mustered up the courage to send him a rambly, overly explanatory text:

9/28/16 4:43 PM
Me: Heyyyy sorry I was so weird last night. I was tired and clearly not in an emotional space to be good company. I’m also not a very physically affectionate person so I tend to get super awkward and uncomfortable when that happens…anyway thanks for bearing with me. And for the piggyback ride lol

To my relief, he responded.

Nick: No worries. 😛 I’ll be free next Monday afternoon, just let me know what time. 🙂

We ended up meeting at Caffe Strada again on the following Tuesday evening instead. He had a nursing school interview the next day and couldn’t stay for long.

We sat at a table outside, with a sea of hushed college students studying around us. Nick had gotten a haircut. I told him it looked good. I said it as casually as I could, although inside, I was kind of freaking out because he was more attractive than I remembered. Like, he was really hot. He also smelled really, really good, so good that I almost wanted to–

“How are you feeling about your roommate?” he asked, point-blank.

Ugh. Was he really going to start off the date by prompting me to talk about suicide?

“What, are you my therapist now?” I said flatly.

“I could be,” he answered, sipping his stupid chai tea.

I looked away. “I don’t know. I feel guilty.”

“Why?”

I thought about telling him what I was really feeling. That my roommate was a queer black woman who had lived in a country that told her she didn’t matter and shouldn’t exist, that maybe the anti-blackness and homophobia got to be too much and maybe that’s why she ended her life. That as a non-black, heterosexual person, I bore some of the communal responsibility for her death, for being a beneficiary and passive consumer of a culture and society that had devalued her as a human being.

I thought about it, but decided against it. He wouldn’t understand. He would probably say something that would make me like him less than I already did.

We sat quietly for a minute. Then: “I went to Chicago a little while ago to check out a school there,” he said, rather abruptly. “I was using Tinder, and met up with a girl. We had a great date. We made out in the back of her car.”

Uh…why was he telling me this? To make me jealous? I smiled to hide the awkwardness and confusion.

“She was planning to come visit me out here. She booked a flight and everything.”

I resisted the petty urge to laugh. This girl actually thought he was worth a cross-country flight?

“Then I got a text from her boyfriend, letting me know she had died from a bike crash.”

“Wait, WHAT?” This was taking a completely different turn from what I was expecting. “You’re joking, right?”

“I’m not. Look.” He showed me the text conversation, then an article with a headline verifying a bicyclist in Chicago had indeed been killed. The article included a picture of her. I noted that she was white.

“Did you know she had a boyfriend?” I asked. “Were they polyamorous?” These were trivial questions to bring up, but I didn’t how what else to say.

“I didn’t ask. I don’t know what their situation was.”

Oh god, this was awful. Why the hell would he share this with me? I felt slightly traumatized just hearing about it secondhand. (Or I guess thirdhand in this case.)

“I didn’t have control over what happened to her,” he said. “Just like you don’t have control over what happened to your roommate. All we can do is help the people who are living now. And you’re already doing that.”

I didn’t say anything. He was trying to make me feel better, but he was only making me feel worse. I shouldn’t have told him. I stared out into the street, trying not to cry. He shouldn’t have brought any of this up. Why was he doing this? It’s not like he actually cared. He just wanted to get in my pants. Maybe he thought pretending to care would get him laid.

tinderp 10.3a

Actual cafe not depicted. (You try Googling accurate AND contextually relevant images ok)

The conversation then switched to an equally distressing topic: my future. “What do you want to do?” he asked. “You don’t want to be an office manager forever, do you?”

“I’m not an office manager!” I said, a little more defensively than necessary.

“Well, you work in an office. Is that what you want to do?”

What a condescending piece of shit. Why did I think it was a good idea to meet up with this guy again? “I don’t know if I should tell you,” I muttered.

“Why not?”

“You’re gonna judge me.” God, this cafe was so fucking quiet. This was a terrible place for a date.

“Does it matter?” He started rattling off nonsensical arguments about why I should tell him my true calling anyway.

“I want to write,” I eventually confessed. “For a living.”

I was completely avoiding eye contact now, but I could feel him eyeballing the side of my head. “That’s a difficult industry to get into. So that means…you’re ambitious.”

Ugh, shut the fuck up, I thought.

I changed the subject, because this conversation was only serving to exacerbate my existential crisis. “Do you…like boba?” I asked. There. Something that wouldn’t cause emotional distress.

“Yes.”

Finally! A redeeming quality. “Is there a boba place nearby?!”

“There is, but I actually have to head out now,” he said.

“Oh, okay.” It was probably for the best.

He looked at me calmly. “I didn’t get to touch you this time, so next time I’ll make sure to do that.”

Oh god. I hastily got up with a little laugh and started walking away.

“You’re embarrassed,” he stated with a smirk, before getting up to join me on the sidewalk. We said good night and went our separate ways.

I was torn. I had never felt this way about a guy before: this strange, paradoxical mixture of attraction and aggravation. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make out with him, or punch him in the face. Kind of both. Wasn’t that a bad sign?

And yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was a good thing. At least he was making me feel something, even if that something was equal parts lust and anger. I was so used to feeling bored, apathetic, and disappointed on dates. But this was new. This was different. This was interesting and exciting. Shouldn’t I explore this further, especially considering how much I’ve been wanting to get laid? Isn’t that what really mattered here? I was tired of being overly cautious. Nothing would happen with the way I was going about dating now. I needed to take a risk, take a chance, make a change, and all other applicable lyrics from that one Kelly Clarkson song.

I ultimately decided that, at the very least, I should text him something that would indirectly let him know that I was still kind of, maybe interested.

10/4/16 10:29 PM
Me: I forgot to say good luck on your interview

He sent me a picture of his legs casually crossed beside a gas pump. What a weirdo.

Nick: Thanks 🙂

Me: Btw I’m firing you as my therapist lol

10/5/16 4:13 PM
Nick: Where can I send you my invoice? I charge $100 an hour.

Me: upyours@gmail.com ☺️ 

How did your interview go?

Nick: Crushed it.

On Thursday, he texted me a screenshot of his (unofficial) nursing program acceptance email.

Nick: That was quick…

Me: Congratulations 🎊🎉🎈

A few days passed. I didn’t hear from him, and figured maybe he had lost interest. But then:

10/10/16 5:08 PM
Thanks [sic] you!! And you wouldn’t happen to live by Arbor Cafe?!

I just saw a house with a Black Lives Matter sign in the window.

Me: lol nope I live out in east Oakland

Did you have a good weekend?

I had expected him to respond with some equivalent of “Yep.” Instead, he told me he had spent his free time at the hospital because his grandfather had injured himself.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It sounded like a shitty situation. But it also made me like him as a person. He clearly cared about his grandfather. That meant he couldn’t be a total douchebag. Right?

Me: Fuck, that sucks. I hope he’s okay

Want to get a drink this week and not talk about death or life goals?

Nick: It’ll have to be a Wednesday, the other days off I’ll be taking care of Gramps at home.

And down.

The original plan was to meet in Fremont for craft beer at 7, but I somehow ended up agreeing to drive all the way down to San Jose to meet him at a cafe at 8. Not that I was surprised. It seemed I should only expect the unexpected when it came to this guy.

After getting a little lost, I parked in a nearby garage and made my way to the cafe. There was an open mic going on. I scurried past the stage and up the stairs, where Nick was waiting at a table with a bottle of wine.

“You look nice,” he told me, once we were both sitting down.

“Oh. Thank…you,” I said cautiously.

He laughed. I found his laugh annoying, but it couldn’t be helped.

He poured each of us a glass of the wine. At first I was apprehensive. I didn’t really like the taste of wine, but I also didn’t want to be rude, which meant I would have to force myself to drink this stuff. But the more sips I took (out of both obligation and social anxiety), the more I liked it. It was a sweet red wine, and went down smooth. It was also hitting me much more quickly than my usual cider, so I was tipsy in about thirty minutes.

The open mic was terrible. I watched a white guy fumble through an unfunny set and inwardly cringed at every mediocre joke he made. From the corner of my eye I saw that Nick was watching me instead. I turned to face him. His gaze never wavered. It was curious, almost probing. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. All I knew was that it was making me feel really self-conscious.

“So…how’s Tinder going?” I asked.

“It’s going well,” he answered.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

He held my hands and looked me in the eye. “I met…a really pretty girl.”

I smiled, amused by the bullshit.

“…And that pretty girl is you.”

“Okay, I get it,” I said, then changed the subject. “Tell me a story about one of your patients.”

“Those stories are too sad.”

“Okay. Tell me a happy one.”

“I can’t. The sad ones are the ones you remember.”

The conversation drifted aimlessly. He talked about his plan to someday open a cafe for artists with a friend. I talked about the weirdness of my mother getting remarried earlier in the summer. As soon as my glass neared empty, it was filled again by Nick. My face felt flushed. I was in full-on self-deprecating rambling mode (which, fine, probably would have happened even if I had been sober). I told him I was bad at making small talk. I told him he had a staring problem. I told him my thoughts were stuck on institutional racism and the meaning of life and how I was going to die alone. I told him I had a blog in which I documented all the awkward dates I went on.

tinderp 10.4b

Actual cafe not de–ok is it really necessary for me to specify this anymore? Just assume unless noted otherwise.

He seemed completely unfazed by all of this. “Are you going to write about me?” he asked.

I gave him a small, hopeless smile. “If things don’t work out.”

“Will you come visit me in Sacramento?” He would be moving there in December for his nursing program.

I averted my eyes and didn’t answer.

Our hands were still entwined, which I was enjoying way too much for my own good. I was kind of obsessed with his hands. They were warm and sturdy and made me feel lightheaded. Or probably that was the wine. Okay, maybe both. Wow, this is a really great date, I thought. I should drink red wine more often!

The cafe was closing. The bottle of red wine was mostly finished, which meant we were both pretty inebriated. We headed out. Nick steered us in the direction of a nearby bar. I was shivering, even though I was trying not to. “Your jacket is so thin,” he said, laughing as he put his arm around me. “That’s what you get for choosing fashion over utility.”

“Whatever,” I said, miffed. “Also, I’d rather hold your hand.”

“But you’re cold,” he argued.

“I’d rather hold hands,” I repeated stubbornly.

He gave in and held my hand. It sent a different kind of shiver through my body.

I barely remember the bar. It had your typical bar aesthetic: dark, crowded, and noisy. I remember we were sitting at a booth. I didn’t want any more alcohol. Nick got us fries. He was getting touchy-feely again. I squirmed uncomfortably. “Give me a rundown of your sexual history,” I requested.

I listened as he started rattling off all the girls he had been physically intimate with. He sounded somewhat sexually experienced. It would have to suffice. At one point I asked Nick if he had read my blog. I had been wondering ever since he mentioned he had Googled me on our first date. Not to mention his oddly nonchalant response back at the cafe. It was possible that my blog had appeared in his search results before he even met me. But maybe it hadn’t.

“You mean, ‘lampshade on her head’?” he said casually.

Fuck.

I was mortified. So much for my hiding-in-plain-sight strategy. (It usually worked, though! Well, as far as I knew.) “How much did you read?” I demanded.

“What if I told you I read all of it?”

“Uh…”

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to feel self-conscious,” he explained.

Too late. Ugh.

“I read the one about your roommate. And your vagina monologue.”

Fuuuuuuck. That was literally the worst one he could have read! Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god–

“You’re thinking too much,” he remarked. “Sex is just…touching each other.”

I was at a loss of what to say. Maybe it was that simple. For him, anyway.

His hand suddenly went up my shirt. I flinched. “I hate PDA,” I confessed.

“Nobody’s watching,” he assured me.

I shook my head. “I hate it.”

He dropped his hands. “Hey…I’m really trying here, and I can’t tell if you’re even interested.”

I paused. I couldn’t look at him. “I’m…attracted to you–“

“–thank you–” he interjected.

“–but I’d like you to get tested before we do anything,” I finished.

“We could do other things that don’t require getting tested,” he offered.

“Like what?”

“Like make out in my car.”

Oh god. “Okay,” I said, wondering if I would regret this.

We left the bar. “Do you trust me?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. I was taken aback by how quickly and easily he said it.

“Well, I don’t trust you,” I said, smiling to soften the blow.

A stranger interrupted to ask for directions. The moment between us was lost, a potential fight avoided.

After a few blocks of walking and a couple of flights up a garage (plus another spontaneous piggyback ride, to my delight), we finally got to his car. I felt nervous as I watched him unlock the door and gesture to the backseat. “How many girls have you brought back here?” I asked half-jokingly as I climbed in. “30? 100?”

He got in next to me and shut the door. “Don’t think about the numbers,” he told me. “I did that in my last relationship and it made things worse.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. He took off his glasses.

“Can you see?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I’m blind.”

I laughed. He leaned in and kissed me. I reflexively closed my eyes and slipped my arm around his neck. His mouth…

My brow furrowed. I wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing with his mouth, but I didn’t like it. It kind of felt like he was trying to eat my face, and not doing a good job of it. (A mediocre zombie kiss, if you will.) I soon became distracted, however, by his hands slowly moving up my shirt…then under my bra…then down my back, until they were resting on my bare ass.

I was both shocked and turned on by his audacity. I had been naive enough to think that making out would only mean sloppy mouth-to-mouth kissing. Things escalated quickly from there. I won’t go into too much detail, but what happened that night was an interesting series of firsts.

I left the date feeling giddy.  I couldn’t believe that I just had my very first sexual experience. And in the backseat of a car in a public parking garage, no less. (God, I really was living my twenties.) In heteronormative terms, I was now only like, half a virgin! He was such a bad kisser, though. I wasn’t sure what to do about that. I figured maybe I should just move on to the next dude. Nick probably wouldn’t get tested anyway. It was a lot of hassle for a fuckboy.

A few days later, he proved me wrong:

10/17/16 3:45 PM
Nick: Gave 9 vials of blood to get tested for you. 😛

It hit me at that moment that he was serious about getting up in my vagina. But was it really that surprising? Clearly his horniness knew no bounds. I told myself it didn’t mean anything. I was still on Tinder, swiping, because I was pretty damn sure he was, too. I wasn’t so naive as to believe that he only had his eyes set on me. He was probably going on other dates, pulling the same shit on other girls.

The next day, he sent a completely different kind of text:

10/18/16 7:13 PM
Nick: Gramps is back in the hospital. 

This was concerning news, but in all honesty, I was confused about why he was telling me this. I wasn’t quite sure of the intention behind it. I had been under the impression that this was not the kind of dynamic we would have moving forward.

Regardless, I figured the decent thing to do was give him the space to talk about it.

Me: Oh no :/ what happened?

Nick: He got pneumonia, he was in the ER since last night. Waiting for him to be transferred.

Me: Damn, I’m sorry. I hope he recovers soon

How are you?

Nick: Doing okay, just emotional at times.

Me: *sending you a hug and an awkward pat on the back* 🙂

Nick: We’ll work on the awkwardness some more next time we hang out. 🙂

Me: …😑 ok lol

Nick: 😜

Me: I can’t be the most awkward person you’ve been on a date with, right???

Nick: Nope, you’re not. You just need to work on a few things… 😉 

Me: So do you 😘

Nick: 🙂

Woops

We hung out again about a week later. By this time, I had come to expect that I would hear from him at least once a week. Whatever misgivings I had about him, I couldn’t fault him for his consistency. It wasn’t something I was used to. It made me like him more than I cared to admit.

I let him pick me up from my house. He was hungry, so we ended up grabbing dinner at a Korean restaurant somewhere close to Piedmont.

“So…congratulations on making it to the fourth date with me,” I said.

“It hasn’t been four,” he responded.

“Yes, it has.”

“Oh.” He seemed completely apathetic about this groundbreaking announcement. It stung a little.

Our food arrived. I watched him eat his Korean barbecue and realized I didn’t know what to say to him. The magic of our last date was gone. I wasn’t sure how to bring it back. We should have gone to a bar, I thought. Whatever transpired between us last time seemed to have mainly been fueled by red wine.

I poked at my huge platter of fried rice with my spoon. It was pretty late for dinner, so I wasn’t really in the mood to eat. I started rambling on about how most guys didn’t make it past one or two dates with me, and how a few of them had said offensive things that caused us to argue then never speak to each other again–you know, my typical sober word vomit. He listened solemnly and said little in response. Maybe he was tired. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling. I usually couldn’t, but it felt like we were back at square one again.

I asked him about his test results. A few days ago he had sent me two of them via text: a screenshot of straightforward test details that declared he was negative for both.

Nick pulled up his other results on his phone. “They give you a call if you tested positive,” he said. “I didn’t get a phone call, so I’m in the clear.”

I quickly scanned through the remaining results. I couldn’t make sense of them. They were a lot less straightforward, and contained numerical information and medical jargon I wasn’t sure how to parse. “You don’t get a written email stating that you’re negative?” I asked.

“I told you,” he said curtly. “They just call you if there’s something wrong. I didn’t get a call.”

I wordlessly gave him his phone back. I didn’t push the issue further in fear of sounding stupid, but relying on him telling me he was negative wasn’t very reassuring. Maybe it was cynical and fucked up of me, but I still couldn’t bring myself to fully trust him. Just because he was interested in fucking me didn’t mean he was interested in my sexual health. I decided I would have to verify the protocol for myself.

Somehow the conversation turned to the topic of marriage as an institution. “I’m personally against it,” I told him. “It’s historically been a way to privilege certain relationships over others.”

He pushed back on that. “Marriage is an economic arrangement.” He went on to explain the origins of marriage and the purpose it served to ensure financial security and population growth, as if I didn’t know this already. I just stared at him and didn’t say anything. I could have argued that he was missing my point and that the intents and purposes of marriage didn’t erase or justify the structural racism, heterosexism, classism, and misogyny deeply embedded in it as a state sanctioned and socially coercive system of control and power, but I didn’t want to go back and forth on a complicated issue we wouldn’t change our minds about. I knew from experience where that would lead. “Okay,” was all I said at the end of his lecture, dropping my gaze because I couldn’t quite stand to look at him.

tinderp 10.5b

Unfortunately, he started going off on an equally problematic tangent. “I think globalism needs to be our top priority to make change happen. People are too focused on social problems…”

God, this was bad. He was making me not want to fuck him. This was exactly why I didn’t bring up topics like this anymore on dates. “I think you’re trivializing social issues,” I said stiffly.

“Yes,” he agreed, to my surprise. “I am. I did it on purpose, because you’re not talking.”

“Oh. My. God,” was all I could utter. I didn’t know which was worse: thinking that he really believed in the bullshit coming out of his mouth, or realizing he had said it to get a rise out of me.

“Are you mad?” He looked amused.

“Yeah, I’m a little annoyed,” I responded, inwardly fuming and passive-aggressively smiling back at him.

Our next destination was Indian Rock in Berkeley. I had never been there before. It was hard for me to make out any sort of path in the darkness. Nick offered me his hand; I happily took it. He led the climb up to the top of the rocks and found a sturdy spot for us to sit. I looked out at the Bay, a glittering dark cityscape below us. “This is nice,” I said quietly.

He inched closer to me.

“Are you wearing cologne?” I asked.

“No. Why?”

“You smell good.”

“What do I smell like?”

“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully. I couldn’t pinpoint it in concrete terms. He smelled desirable, like maybe I should throw myself at him and start tearing off his clothes. But I couldn’t tell him that.

He started touching me again. When he was getting a little too handsy, I balked. “There are people behind us,” I hissed.

“So? They’re probably doing the same thing.”

I was staring fixedly at the twinkling lights on the horizon. I could feel Nick looking at me. I couldn’t bring myself to look back at him. I was kind of freaking out about being here, in this moment. It was an undoubtedly romantic setting to bring someone to. But what was his expectation? That we would fuck on these rocks? I almost felt like I shouldn’t be here. I didn’t know how to play this part. I was usually the outsider looking in on a scene like this.

tinderp 10.6b

He kissed my cheek. That felt nice. Then he pulled my face closer to his and kissed me on the lips. That felt less nice. Was he trying to swallow my mouth or something? He abruptly pulled away. I made a face. I could taste the Korean barbecue he had eaten.

“We should go,” I said, kind of grossed out and trying to hide it. “It’s late.” I felt guilty because we hadn’t been there for very long, but the mood had been pretty much ruined for me.

As he made a move to get up, a question I had been ruminating on for a while now broke the surface. “Do you just like me because you think I’m cute?” I blurted out.

“Is there something wrong with that?” he asked in return.

“No!” I said, a little too quickly. “It’s just–is that all you see?”

He paused, then stood up. “No. I like having intellectual conversations,” he said casually. It appeared as an afterthought, tacked on to make me feel better.

I was extremely annoyed with him for reasons I couldn’t quite understand, but made myself get up to walk back down with him.

Nick drove me home, singing along to mournful Coldplay cover songs. His singing was kind of terrible, but it was nice to think that maybe he felt comfortable enough around me to not care how bad he sounded. I stared out the window and wondered where this was going.

He got to my house. It occurred to me that he might have offered to pick me up because it increased the chances of him being invited over to my place. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I bade him good night and went inside, feeling conflicted about everything for the umpteenth time.

I was trying to figure out what exactly it was about Nick’s response that was bothering me so much. I guess it was because Nick had pretty much told me in an indirect way that whatever we had was purely physical. It irked me that he could be so unapologetic about it. That I was nothing more than a cute face and walking vagina to this dude.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Susan asked the next day when I was griping to her about it. “You feel the same way about him, don’t you?”

“Well yeah, but he’s not supposed to feel that way about me!” I spluttered.

Susan shook her head. “You are just like my best friend. She just likes being chased by men.”

“Yeah…that might be it,” I admitted.

“So are you going to see him again?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I really didn’t know. It didn’t seem worth it to me anymore. He was arrogant, hard to read, a terrible kisser. He didn’t value me as a person, and he was going to leave for nursing school anyway.

But. (There was always a ‘but’ when it came to him.) There was this strange, inexplicable chemistry I felt with him–something I hadn’t felt since my brief time with Anthony, and that was over a year ago. I couldn’t just let it go to waste. When would I get this chance again?

At the same time…I hated kissing him! That was actually the worst part for me. It was frustrating and confusing to be so sexually attracted to someone, only to have it not translate properly when it mattered. Would anything change if I had a conversation with him about it? He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be receptive to a conversation like that, but it couldn’t hurt to try, right? And after so many dates and vials of blood drawn, surely he was worth one dialogue about what turned us on and what didn’t?

Nick was leaving for his vacation trip to Korea soon. It was now or never.

10/28/16 4:27 PM
Me: Hey, do you have time before you leave to meet for a drink? I’d like to talk about something awkward lol

Nick: Sure, it’ll have to be a Monday or Wednesday. And what did you want to talk about?!

I was being vague on purpose. I didn’t want to have the discussion over text. But the more I thought about it, the more I dreaded the idea of trying to have a conversation with him about something that his ego possibly couldn’t handle. Can someone even really change the way they kiss? I wondered. Was this a futile mission?

“I would say so,” said Elsa from Frozen. “Kissing is a habit. You can’t really break that habit if you’re used to kissing a certain way.”

“Yeah, don’t even bother,” agreed a talking IUD. “If he’s bad at kissing, he’s definitely going to be bad in bed.”

I was at a friend’s Halloween party, dressed up as Karen from Mean Girls (more specifically, I was dressed up as Karen dressed up as a mouse for a Halloween party in Mean Girls–see how meta/clever I am??). I had recently finished puking my guts out at the kitchen sink, and was soliciting advice from strangers wearing costumes I adored because I was drunk and desperate.

tinderp 10.7

Even after the party was over and I was sober again, I still thought Elsa and Talking IUD were right, even if I didn’t actually know them and they didn’t actually know Nick. Trying to provide constructive criticism on Nick’s kissing was a pointless and bad idea. I texted him, telling him I couldn’t meet that week after all, but wished him a safe trip.

10/30/16 2:31PM
Nick: No worries, I’ll be back after the 21st. What were you going to tell me?

Me: Don’t worry about it. Lol

Nick: Alrighty.

At this point, I had decided that continuing to see Nick at all was also a pointless and bad idea. The thing was, I had never been this entangled with a guy before. Ghosting on a guy was usually okay in my book because I would typically only meet up with the guy in question once, in which case there wasn’t enough of a connection established for me to feel too remorseful or guilty about it. But I had met up with Nick four times, and he was the only guy I had ever allowed past first base. Even if I didn’t like him all that much, he was still more significant than any other guy I had been on dates with. Ghosting seemed like it would be a very assholish response in this particular situation.

Maybe I should meet up with him in person and end things that way, I thought. I started rehearsing goodbye speeches in my car while I was driving. “Hey Nick…” I would begin, already starting to blush even though it was just my eccentric ass talking out loud to myself when I really should have been paying more attention to the road. “So…um…you know, I just wanted to be honest and tell you that…um…I don’t think we’re compatible. But it’s totally not personal! But yeah….good luck with nursing school and everything okay byeeee–“

Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. The more I practiced, the more ridiculous I felt. Ending things in person seemed a bit too melodramatic anyway. It’s not like we were in a relationship or anything. I didn’t owe him an in person “breakup,” did I? I was confused and indecisive. It didn’t help that Nick kept texting me and acting like we were going to see each other again. He vaguely mentioned being free on Monday, then asked if I was on birth control. God, he was so unapologetically horny.

I told him I had an IUD and texted him a screenshot of an email from my OB/GYN stating that I was negative for all STDS I had tested for, mainly to demonstrate to him the more effective way to verify one’s sexual health to someone else, and in turn, gain their trust.

Nick: Why isn’t mine like that?!

Me: Well, did you ask? Smh

Nick: My PCP is on vacation

Me: Yeah yeah

He went on to text me that he wanted to make out. I felt incredibly awkward about this, considering I felt the complete opposite. I gave him a snarky reply, but didn’t mention anything about meeting up again. I didn’t know what to do.

I decided I needed some male perspective on this and asked my friend Thear for advice on my situationship with Nick. I gave him a brief rundown of what had been going on, carefully omitting that I was a virgin and that Nick seemed hellbent on deflowering me, because I didn’t think we were quite at that level of closeness yet and also heteronormative social conditioning still made the act of talking about sex with dudes rather awkward for me. “What do you think? Should I stop seeing him, or give him a chance?” I asked.

“It sounds like he’s interested in you,” remarked Thear. “I think you should have that conversation with him. Even if he’s not open to your feedback, at least you gave it a try and would know for sure, right?”

“That’s true…” I guess Thear was right. I should give Nick the benefit of the doubt. I was probably being too critical and cynical. It couldn’t be overlooked that Nick had been the most persistent guy I had met through online dating. Other guys with potential were flakey, passive, inconsistent; would disappear from my fingertips as soon as I matched up with them. But Nick stood out as a relatively good example of what to do if you were interested in someone, even if I did think he was kind of sleazy. Yeah, his makeout game needed some work, but was it really fair of me to completely dismiss him for that? I finally made up my mind. I would have this talk with him, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it might be.

11/4/16 11:08 PM
Me: Hey, so are you free on Monday night or nah?

He responded within minutes.

Nick: Should be later on in the night, around 9-10 pm. 

That work?

I texted yes, then asked him where he wanted to meet.

Nick: Bottle of wine at your place? 😊

Oh, jeez. He definitely wanted to have sex.

Me: Haha don’t think so. My room atm isn’t conducive to a hook up

This was actually true, but I also didn’t think we should go any further when we hadn’t even discussed our sexual preferences yet.

Nick: Why is that?!

Me: It’s a total mess. I’m living like a hermit spinster because I am one lol

Nick: I’m okay with that. 😛

Me: Of course you are. Smh. Let’s just meet at a bar.

Nick: Awwww 😥 Okay.

Me: Yeah I know you were hoping to get it in before you left 😁

Nick: You know me too well

Me: Nah you’re just not subtle 😂

We ended up meeting at Woods Bar & Brewery in downtown Oakland around 8 (coincidentally yet another bar where I had met up with previous dates). It was the Monday before Election Day. I asked Nick if he thought Trump would win. He said no. He pulled up a few projected electoral maps predicting a Hillary win on his phone, in an attempt to reassure me. I wasn’t all that reassured, but wanted to avoid getting into a heated political debate, so I just stared at his drink until he poured some out for me. “Ask for what you want,” he said.

I drank the beer, even though I hadn’t actually wanted it and was only staring at it to avoid having to make eye contact with him because he still made me nervous. But I couldn’t tell him that, obviously.

“So what was that awkward thing you wanted to talk about?” he asked, getting straight to the point.

I hastily took a few more gulps of my beer. “So…um. We’ve hung out a few times, and you’ve made it pretty obvious that you’d like to go further…but, I don’t know what this is.”

“What do you mean?”

“This.” I gestured between us.

“You mean us?”

“Yes!” I said, exasperated.

“We’re dating,” he said simply.

I stared at him. “We are?”

“Yes.”

I was completely thrown off. Nick and I were dating? That didn’t sound right to me. Dating, in my eyes, was different than just going on dates. The levels of romantic interest and commitment were upped slightly. I wondered what Nick thought he meant when he invoked the use of that term, but I was too cowardly to continue that line of inquiry.

“Have you had sex with anyone else?” I asked instead.

“No.”

“Oral? Digital?”

“Digital?”

“Like fingering.”

“What, like you can get AIDS on your finger?” he quipped.

I didn’t answer. I was confused. What was I really asking? My mind was scrambling to construct the right questions, to frame the conversation in a way that ensured that I got what I wanted out of it. But what did I want?

“I was thinking,” Nick was saying, “that we could be exclusive. And if you sleep with someone else, you would let the other person know.”

“Don’t you think this has an expiration date?” I wondered aloud.

“Will you come visit me in Sacramento?” he asked.

“Will you come visit me in Oakland?” I shot back.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “It depends on my schedule.”

Ugh. That was probably a no. I had been tiptoeing around this question because I honestly didn’t think that whatever I had with Nick was worth driving out of the Bay for. Clearly he felt the same way, right? So he just expected me to come to him? Did I look like Becky from Chicago to him??

I decided we should table this conversation for now and get to the most pressing matter between us. “How do you feel about kissing me?” I asked.

“I feel fine about kissing you,” he replied. “How do you feel?”

Here it was. The moment of truth. I put on a smile. “Well…I think there’s room for improvement.”

He looked at me impassively.

“I’d like to feel your lips and tongue more,”  I pressed on, smiling wider to hide my mortification and guilt.

He kept looking at me, not saying a word, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.

“So…what turns you on?” I ventured to ask. “What do you like?”

“Oral.” He shifted slightly in his seat, as if bored or impatient.

“Giving or receiving?”

“Both.”

This wasn’t how I had hoped the conversation would go. He didn’t seem interested in dialoguing about this at all.

tinderp 10.8

“I’m just uncomfortable with the power dynamic,” I confessed, “because I’m sexually inexperienced, and I’ve been socially conditioned as a woman to just be a passive receptacle for your dick.”

“Well, I ate you out,” he replied breezily. “We could do different positions. You could ride me…it’s more work, though.”

God, this was awkward as fuck. I avoided his eyes and cringe-smiled hard.

“I think…I would prefer things nice and slow,” I told him.

“But can you meet me halfway?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said slowly, although I was unsure of what he was asking. Was he saying he liked things rough? Or was he asking me to also think about his needs? In theory, I agreed–his pleasure mattered too. But he knew I was a virgin…right?

 “So can we hang out a little longer?” Nick was ending the conversation. Apparently there was no more to discuss.

“Okay,” I said, afraid of shattering this very fragile thing we had set up between us.

We found ourselves sitting in the backseat of his car, which he had parked around the corner from the bar. I remember worrying about my next move. What was I supposed to do in this moment? Try to say something witty and flirtatious? Look at him seductively? Grab his crotch?

I laid my head on his shoulder instead.

He brought his face closer to mine. “What’s wrong?” he asked gently.

“I’m tired,” I answered.

“Why?”

Because dating is tiring, I wanted to say. Because being the gatekeeper of my sexuality is tiring. Because putting up walls is tiring. Because worrying about everything is really really tiring and I want it all to stop.

“I just don’t get enough sleep,” I said instead.

He slipped a hand under my shirt. He said something to me in a reassuring tone. Either I didn’t hear what he said, or it wasn’t worth remembering. All I know is that I was suddenly in the passenger seat and he was in the driver’s seat, whisking us off into the night, his hand now up my skirt and caressing my inner thigh, his other hand calmly resting on the steering wheel while I mumbled directions from my phone on how to get to the nearest scenic view, trying but failing to ignore the electrifying sensation of his fingers rubbing against the thin fabric of my tights.

I asked him if he had any condoms. He said he had three in his pocket. “Of course you do,” I muttered.

We got to Grizzly Peak. He parked on the side of the road. “I’m not having sex with you,” I told him, laughingly, ironically, as we both clambered into the backseat again and proceeded to have sex.

Things happened very quickly. One minute we were taking off our clothes, and the next he was inside me. “Stop stop stop!” I cried. “My vagina is chafing.”

We tried again. The throbbing pain subsided into a muted ache. He guided me into different positions, but none of them felt good. I could barely make out his face in the darkness, but I thought I saw him looking back at me as he slammed into me, again and again. I wondered if he was mistaking my sharp intakes of breath for pleasure instead of pain.  Or maybe he knew I was in pain, but didn’t care. I couldn’t tell. I seemed to have lost my voice. I found myself waiting for the next moment to get better, then the next moment, then the next, then the one after that, gritting my teeth and bracing myself, waiting, waiting, waiting, enduring the discomfort mostly in silence because I had been told this was inevitable, this was to be expected, this was my fate, and that couldn’t be changed no matter how many awkward conversations I tried to have: your first time will hurt. 

tinderp 10.9

I clung to the little things I could indulge in. Running my fingers down his back and through his hair. The warmth of his body on mine. His soft, damp mouth on my skin. There was a moment when we kissed and I thought, Wow. So this is what it’s supposed to feel like. For one fleeting instant, I tasted bliss. I briefly wondered if he had too. It seemed impossible that I was the only one.

At one point, I was on top of him. I put my hand on his chest to feel his heart beat. It was pounding fast. I did that, I couldn’t help but think with a ridiculous kind of triumph.

“I don’t have any more condoms,” he said.

I froze. “You don’t?”

“I used them all. I don’t have any more.”

I was confused. When did that happen?

“It’s up to you if you want to keep going.” He was looking up at me, a smirk on his face.

I laughed nervously. I should probably call it quits. But I was still waiting, hoping for more. For better. “If you give me an STD, I will fucking kill you,” I told him.

“Go ahead, you can take me to court,” he replied.

“Okay, fine.” That was all he needed to slip inside me again, sans protection.

“This feels so good,” he whispered.

Well, at least one of us is enjoying this, I thought grimly.

It was midnight by the time he drove us back to the bar, where my car was still parked. We sat in his car for a split second, fully clothed again and not quite looking at each other. “I’ll let you know when I get back from my trip,” he said.

Part of me wasn’t sure if those words were true. When I got home, I went straight to the bathroom to pee. I wiped and found myself staring at blood.

It shouldn’t have been alarming. I have a vagina that bleeds on occasion. But I didn’t think this was menstrual blood. It was too bright, and having an IUD had basically ensured that I didn’t get this quantity of blood anymore. The splotch of blood was almost pretty in a way, with how it blossomed on the sheet of toilet paper, all slick and shiny.

I stared at it, feeling hollow. There was still a dull ache between my legs that was somehow made more palpable by the sight of blood. A strange mixture of emotions welled up inside me, impossible to name at the time. My body felt strangely foreign to me.

I texted Nick about it. Not the emotions, the blood. He sent me a nonchalant response. I hated him in that moment. Then I buried that feeling. He wasn’t my boyfriend. It didn’t matter.

I showered, put on my bathrobe, and got into bed. I wasn’t a virgin anymore. I didn’t want to think or feel anything about it. I couldn’t, because doing so would force me to consider the possibility that what happened that night might have been a mistake, and I couldn’t handle that truth right now. Things will get better, I consoled myself. It just takes time to learn each other’s bodies, that’s all.

The next morning, I was up early for Election Day. I was applying lip balm when I felt it. A tiny stab of pain. I winced. Pressed a few more times with my finger, just to be sure. Somewhere under my lip was a painful, swollen spot.

I started freaking out. Did I catch something from Nick last night? Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no. How could I be so reckless? I should have demanded a fucking email from his doctor verifying all of his test results. I shouldn’t have given him head. I shouldn’t have trusted him.

I shouldn’t have had sex.

For a moment I felt dirty, unclean. I immediately shook it off. There was no time for this. I had to go vote and make sure the ugly-haired orange supremacist didn’t destroy the country with his tiny, pussy grabbing hands.

After making a stop at my polling place, I drove to work. One of the first things I did when I got into the office was make an appointment with my OB/GYN. The soonest I could see her was Friday. I submitted my request online and received a confirmation email. I briefly considered telling Nick about the blister. I decided against it. He was on vacation, and I didn’t want to bother him. I would wait until I heard from my doctor. She would probably (hopefully) tell me everything was fine. I told myself to stop worrying, because there was nothing more I could do at this point.

Of course, my personal crisis was soon overshadowed by the election results. The Orange Devil had won. White supremacy had won. Misogyny had won. The unapologetic allegiance to and declaration of discrimination and oppression had won.

11/8/16 10:51 PM
Me: Fuck you lied to me trump is going to win

Nick: Time to start impeachment proceedings. 😫

I completely broke down that night. I stayed holed up in my room the next day, unable to function.

The outcome wasn’t really a surprise to me, though. Just bitter confirmation of what I had suspected all along: this country would rather suffer in denial than reckon with its sins. A majority of white people had voted for bigotry. It made me grateful that I had been devirginized by a brown dude.

I thought about Nick and how he would be perceived in the wake of the election. Would he be okay out there in Sacramento? Was Sacramento even progressive? I worried for his safety until I remembered that wasn’t the kind of dynamic we had. He had other people in his life to feel concerned for him. He carried himself with the confidence of a mediocre white dude anyway. He’d probably be fine.

I reunited with old friends during this period of national mourning. I told them I was dating someone. Saying it felt strange in my mouth. It still didn’t feel right. Nonetheless my friends were excited for me, especially knowing the struggles I’ve had with dating. “What do you like about him?” they wanted to know.

What did I like about Nick? It seemed superficial to just say I thought he was hot. “He cares about his family,” I said. “He’s progressive. He’s going to school soon to become a nurse. He has a Bernie bumper sticker on the back of his car. He understands me.” Was that last part true, or did I just want it to be true? I almost felt like I was putting on a show by rattling off things that I thought would sound good. “Honestly, I think it’s just physical,” I added. The truth was, I didn’t really know what was going on with me and Nick. Our last conversation hadn’t actually clarified anything for me. He had mentioned something about being exclusive, but it seemed like an offhand suggestion at the time, and I was unclear of what exactly he had meant by exclusive. Still, I was hopeful that December would give us time to explore what we were.

I went to my appointment that Friday, expecting reassurance and relief about the blister on my lip that had disappeared after a couple of days. To my dismay, my OB/GYN couldn’t give me a straight answer on whether or not I had possibly contracted herpes or some other STI. “I would recommend getting tested right away, to establish a baseline and determine whether or not you already have herpes,” she advised. “Then get retested for all STIs three months from now.”

“But didn’t I get tested for herpes already?” I asked.

“No, it’s separate from the full STI panel,” she replied. “You have to request it.”

She said she would order the tests for me and left me sitting in the office alone, wondering whether all of this was worth a dick slamming into me.

A week later, Nick texted me out of the blue.

11/18/16 5:31 AM
Nick: Good morning 🙂

He had sent me two pictures of a dimly lit, quaint-looking bar. One featured a beer bottle and several empty glasses.

Nick: Druuuuunk

11/18/16 8:14 AM
Me: You’re a boring drunk texter lol. How’s your vacation been?

Nick: Do you really wanna know my drunken thoughts?!

Me: Yes tell me

No response.

11/18/16 11:06 AM
Me: Ok fine be like that

11/18/16 1:19 PM
Nick: Phone died!!!

Haven’t slept yet

Still kinda drunk

Me: Sounds like you’re having fun

Nick: Maybeeeeeee

Resentment bubbled up to the surface. Here I was, stressing out about my sexual health and still sorting through my conflicted feelings about losing my virginity, while this bitch was on vacation and happily drunk off his ass, seemingly without a care in the world.

I decided the correct thing to do was be a buzzkill cloud and rain on his parade.

Me: I’mma need you to get tested again when you come back lol. WITH verbal confirmation from your PCP k

Nick: Waaaaah

Whyyyy

So much blood 😭😭😭 

Me: Bc you’re a horny motherfucker and I don’t trust you 😊

Nick: Awwwww

Me: Did we ever actually establish whether or not we are sexually exclusive

Nick: We are

I haven’t slept with anyone else

Me: That’s sweet. I look forward to your test results with written confirmation.

Also get tested for herpes. Did you get tested for herpes? I started freaking out cus I think  you might have given me herpes 😖

Nick: Okay, I’ll get tested for herpes

But you’re freaking out for no reason

Cause, I’d be thinking about suicide if I had herpes lol

Never slept with anyone without a condom besides you

I knew this was wrong. It reinforced my misgivings about him. I decided I couldn’t trust anything he said.

Me: Uhh I recall you saying you had unprotected sex with someone who had an IUD as well

Also I had this weird blister in my mouth the morning after we had sex

That’s when he started freaking out. A few minutes later, he sent me a screenshot of a conversation he apparently just had with his ex, explaining the situation to her. I cringed at his careless phrasing: She claims she had a blister in her mouth after we had oral. Sorry to get in touch about this. 

The ex responded that she had been tested twice since then, and was negative for herpes.

I felt embarrassed and aggravated and gross all around. Was this normal? The explicit sharing of sexual details amongst people who had nothing in common except who they happened to have fucked? I hated this. I hated this a lot. For the next few days, I veered wildly between resenting Nick and hoping things with him would turn out okay. The latter mattered to me more in terms of my wellbeing, so I mostly kept things light as we texted.

He returned on the 21st of November. I got it into my head that I should make e-cards, one of which I would send to him depending on what his results said.

If he tested negative:

image1 (9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If he tested positive:

 

image2 (3)

This was my coping mechanism, okay.

It was the night before we would both get tested.  Nick was optimistic about what his results would be. I was being a pessimistic downer, as per usual. There was also something that had been nagging at me ever since Nick sent me that screenshot.

Me: Is [name redacted] the ex who went back to her ex after using you for sex?

Nick: Yep

That’s her

So she wasn’t just an ex. She was The Ex He Was In Love With. This somehow made things even more shitty. I thought back to the exchange they had, and felt embarrassed all over again. Did he really have to go into that much detail? Was he just trying to rub it in her face? I felt like a pawn in some weird way I couldn’t explain, not even to myself.

Me: God this shit is more awkward and stressful than I thought it would be

Nick: I’m sorry

You’re looking out for yourself, nothing wrong with that

So, nonoutbreak is 10 percent chance of HSV-1 of transmission

I’ve never had blisters in my mouth or genitals…

And on and on he went, rattling off information on herpes he probably just Googled ten minutes ago. He was trying to make me feel better, but he was only making me feel worse. I wished he would shut up and stop texting me.

Nick: Did you get any other symptoms?

Flu like, swollen lymph nodes

Or was it just the blister? 

Me: No other symptoms, but I won’t be fully assured until I see your test results. And mine

It’s not just my sexual health that I’m worried about. Like navigating sex in general just feels stressful

Nick: How so?

I thought about explaining to him what I had been feeling for the past couple of weeks. But he immediately resumed his lecture on herpes again, without waiting for my response. He then reassured me he would get tested and that he shared the same concern as I did.

Nick: Well, gonna go to sleep. Goodnight Learkana, you’ve got a pretty busy head so meditate please. 🙂

Me: I don’t meditate but ok night

The next day, I stopped by the Kaiser lab to get my blood drawn. It was quick. I was in and out within minutes. All I could do now was wait to hear from my doctor. I went back to work, which was stressing me out enough. Then:

11/23/16 12:17 PM
Nick: Haha, my doctor had the same mindset as me. Came down to piece [sic] of mind.

Not based off science and procedure. But he understood.

Something inside me snapped.

Me: Haha, well maybe you should fuck your doctor instead

I know, I know. Looking back, I probably should have restrained myself. But did he really have to send those text messages? Were they absolutely necessary? I asked him to do one thing, and here he was, passive-aggressively complaining about it.

Nick: I’m just letting you know what he was thinking. Also, I never like over using medical services when it can go towards sick people.

Me: I’m so sorry for making you compromise your integrity. I’ll just stfu the next time I have concerns about my sexual health

Nick: I understand. But again, no signs or symptoms of hsv-1. By taking a test, you’re risking yourself for a test with a high false positive rate.

I understand of it was a life changing STD, but hsv-1 is not.

if*

Your response is not proportional to the problem, that’s why I’m upset.

And have you asked all the people you have made out with?

I’m not the only one.

Me: Your argument hinges on the assumption that people tell the truth.

Things got ugly really fast. I thought he was being a condescending asshole. He thought I was being irrational and overemotional. I blinked back tears. I could sense an ending coming. This was inevitable, I thought. Isn’t this what happens? You’re interested in a guy, then you fight with him and never see or talk to him again. It was like clockwork. No, a bomb. It was only a matter of time that this would self-destruct. Didn’t I know that?

tinderp 10.10

At one point, Nick relented on the heated back-and-forth and offered a truce: if I was patient with him, he’d be patient with me. Let’s just find out our test results, then work from there, he said. But I was too far gone to respond agreeably, caught up in a spiral of bitterness and rage. It seemed as if everything I had been feeling and trying to repress for the past two weeks was exploding out of me in full force.

In other words: My post-devirginization turmoil was likely giving me a bad case of verbal diarrhea.

Me: All I wanted was for you to get tested with actual confirmation that you are in the clear. I don’t know how often you get tested and you haven’t actually done or said anything to earn my trust. We’ve met up a handful of times. We barely know each other. You’ve said one thing then another thing about who you’ve had unprotected sex with. I can’t rely on your word. If that’s a problem, you’re not obligated to be involved with me. You can hook up with someone else who is pro-herpes and doesn’t give a fuck about STD testing.

Nick: I was negative for all STDs, you can’t get a reliable result from herpes unless you swab the actual blister.

If you ever had chickenpox, the antibodies you have in your body can interfere with the hsv-1 and hsv-2 test. A serological test is not an accurate way of testing for herpes.

What you should have done is got [sic] the blister swabbed, and that would have told you. I never had an outbreak, so I don’t have any reliable way to test for herpes.

I need you to understand that.

Do you understand my frustration?

You’re having me tested for something that is not 100 percent definitive, and now you have me chasing nothing because I don’t have any signs or symptoms. You could get herpes from sharing a drink or being kissed by a relative.

So, why am I getting the blunt of the anger over herpes? Are you going to act this way to everyone you had contact with kissing or sharing a drink? I don’t understand.

And again, you didn’t even have swollen lymph or a fever.

If you use emotions to make decisions, then I don’t know what to tell you. I have given you all the information to be informed. A doctor shared the same mindset. I don’t know what else to tell you.

11/23/16 4:08 PM
Me: No need to tell me anything else. There’s no point in arguing further. 

I left town for Thanksgiving break to spend time with family. I tried to push thoughts of Nick out of my head. Fuck that guy, I thought. He was shitty in bed anyway. Well, figuratively speaking, considering we didn’t even fuck in a bed but anyway, what a fucking asshole. All he had to do was say nothing to begin with. Whatever, I don’t care. On to the next one.

My anger soon waned into sadness, however. I thought I would be able to shake this off, like I had so many times before with other guys. But this was different. I had invested my time and energy and vagina in this motherfucker. Was I really going to let it end like this? Even if he pissed me off and had the emotional range of a used condom?

By Sunday night I was back in the Bay, and I still hadn’t heard from him. I was worried. Technically, I had been the one to shut down the conversation for the sake of my sanity, but I didn’t necessarily mean we should stop talking permanently. I said those words because I was angry in the moment, but also didn’t want it to escalate any further. He knew that, right?

I mean, weren’t we both just being petty and immature? The most important thing was that he got tested, right? I thought about reaching out to him and asking to meet up in person to talk. We’d probably feel less inclined to be contentious when we were staring at each other in the face. Right?

But then I went on Tinder to look at his profile. Maybe it was poorly timed curiosity, or some nagging instinct. My heart sank when I saw it. He had updated his bio to include specific details around his move.

I mean, you don’t tell someone you’re sexually exclusive with them, then turn around and change your Tinder bio. Right? I don’t know. All I know was that it hurt. It hit me right then that whatever we had between us was over. It was over before it could even begin.

I unmatched with him. I started crying, and hated myself for it. You didn’t even like him, remember, reminded a voice inside my head. But I never wanted him to just fuck me and leave. That wasn’t part of the plan. He said he didn’t do that. How could he do that? Yes, I was a bitch. I was a bitch because I was scared and sad and alone. Why didn’t he get that?

I felt empty and used. Regardless of what he intended, that’s what it felt like.

I decided I needed to process everything by writing about it. I posted it on this blog and immediately felt a pang of regret. It was one of the most intimate things I had ever shared online. Would other people judge me? What if Nick read it? But why would he? He had moved on.

The poem I wrote about my experience strangely became my most well received blog post. Female friends and acquaintances reached out to me, confiding that they deeply resonated with it. It made me sad to think about why that was. I had been dwelling on it a lot lately, the inequitable distribution of pain and pleasure. How it often fell along gendered lines. How no one had prepared me to fight for my own satisfaction. How unfair it all was.

12/2/16 10:57 PM
Nick: I liked your post. You’re a good writer.

I was lying in bed when I got the notification. I felt a mixture of surprise and embarrassment, and almost a grudging respect for him. My feelings quickly changed as I watched my phone flash with message after message, the anger inside me steadily mounting with each new text.

Nick: And I can’t change anything that happened. But I went through the same feelings you did with [name redacted]. It took me 2 years to get over it.

And you can’t avoid emptiness.

There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred?

Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep? There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

-Rigveda

Emptiness is beautiful.

I was seething by the final text. He had completely absolved himself of responsibility. On top of that, he had the fucking nerve to compare my situation to his, implying that I was in love with him the way he had been with his ex, which, um, excuse me, I definitely was not, even if I did happen to be crying over his stupid selfish ass. And on top of even that, he had to throw in a corny, unnecessarily wordy philosophical quote, as if that would make anything remotely better. UGH.

Me: So a girl with a stupid name made you feel like shit so you did the same to me? [to be fair, her name really was ridiculous]

I don’t avoid emptiness.

Nick: No

You’re over thinking

Me: Or you don’t think about the implications of things you say or do.

Nick: I’m sorry

Me: What exactly are you sorry for?

Nick: For nothing and everything

I can’t be the only person who thinks this is a bullshit copout response that doesn’t make any sense, right? ‘For nothing and everything?’ What the hell does that even mean? Doesn’t the nothing cancel out the everything? Gah, I don’t fucking know (even to this day).

Me: Seriously? That’s your answer?

I waited. Half an hour passed. No response.

Me: Ok, so it seems like you just hit me up again to feel better about yourself. I really don’t need your shitty non-apologies. I really really don’t.

One more thing. You said you were in love with your ex and she broke your heart or whatever. I hope you’re not so arrogant as to think that is what this is. You did not break my heart. You disrespected me, my body, and my needs, that’s why I’m angry and upset. I didn’t trust you but I was dumb enough to trust you to not be a total asshole, that was my bad. But FYI It’s definitely not going to take 2 fucking years to “get over you.”

He didn’t respond. I inwardly fumed. A couple of days later, I wrote another poem, this time out of sheer spite, and posted it to make myself feel better. It did not, in fact, make me feel better.

Later that night:

12/4/16 11:20 PM
Nick: https://youtu.be/Wd2B8OAotU8

Hella catchy

I was irritated by both the delay and irrelevance of his “response.” The next day, I sent him a screenshot of an email from my OB/GYN verifying I was negative for herpes, in an attempt to get us back on track.

Me: I know you don’t give a fuck about herpes or serological testing or whatever but here. Confirmation from my end.

Nick: https://youtu.be/ute-gIa6xlI

Me: …

Your solution to our disagreements is to only communicate with me through Indian music videos from now on?

Nick: Hahaha, yes 😆 

Me: …not surprising but ok whatever

I was extremely annoyed. I couldn’t believe I had ever thought of him as mature. He was immature as hell. Who the fuck sends random music video links in response to conflict? Emotionally immature jerkfaces, that’s who. Fuck this guy! I thought once again. Whatever, I don’t care. On to the next one. Time to move on.

A great plan in theory, except I couldn’t stop crying. I was pretty confused by the incessant flow of tears, and also kind of pissed at myself. He was an asshole who didn’t care about you, stop crying about him, I commanded. You didn’t even like him that much anyway. 

But I still cared. 

So what. He’s an asshole. You knew that.

I didn’t know it would end up like this. I was supposed to have the upper hand. But I made myself vulnerable. I shouldn’t have slept with him. My friends were right. My first time matters. How could I let him get this far? How could I open myself up to this kind of hurt? I lost my virginity to someone who didn’t think to make sure I was okay. Wasn’t that what I had been trying to avoid in the first place? I made a painful mistake.

Stop. It’s too late to regret this. It’s just sex, and he’s just a fuckboy. What kind of feminist are you?  You got it over with, like you wanted. There are plenty of other dudes to fuck. 

I don’t feel like fucking anyone. I just feel more sad and broken than I did before I met him. 

Then forget him and move on. He doesn’t give a shit about you. He never did. He fucked you like he didn’t give a shit, that’s why it was so bad. He knew you were a virgin and took advantage of that. He fucked you, then left you. He took care of himself. You need to do the same.

No, it wasn’t like that. He did care, in some ways. He meant well. He just didn’t know and then…a lot of miscommunication happened, that’s all. He was inconsiderate, but I shouldn’t have exploded on him like that. 

You’re so naive. You’re so stupid. This is embarrassing and shameful. I’m telling you, he didn’t give a shit. 

tinderp 10.11

I was once again caught between two polarizing feelings. I didn’t know what to feel or think. And however ridiculous it sounded, I almost felt like feminism had failed me, or probably I was failing feminism. I was supposed to walk away from this experience feeling sexually empowered, or at the very least, emotionally detached. But that wasn’t what was happening. A week had passed, and I was still a wreck. I needed closure. I decided the only way I could get that was through Nick.

12/13/16 11:44 PM
Me: Hey. Can we talk?

Please don’t send another music video. Or a quote

Nick: I’m working till 1 am, are you going to be up after that?

Me: …well, no. Are you free another time? And by “talk,” I don’t mean texting. I mean meeting in person or talking on the phone (preferably in person bc I hate talking on the phone but if that is the only option I will take it)

I was actually secretly hoping that I wouldn’t have to take the second option, because I really fucking dreaded talking on the phone. (Is there a scientific name for that phobia??)

Nick sent me a picture of what looked like the back of an ambulance, accompanied by a screenshot of a December calendar with some kind of numerical scheduling system that made no sense to me whatsoever.

Nick: That’s my life for the next few weeks

Me: Okay I’m not gonna pretend to understand your calendar. Does this mean phone only? Texting only?

Nick: Lemme get back to you, heading back to quarters for prep. Gotta drive.

Me: Ok 

I went to bed, my heart tangled with things I couldn’t tease out yet. The next morning, I woke up to several text messages from him.

12/14/16 1:26 AM
Nick: All settled

We’ll probably have to text or call

It hurt, reading those words. Just a month ago he was willing to make time to see me in person. I wasn’t afforded that privilege anymore.

Nick: I already know how you feel, I don’t know what else you want to say or want to hear from me

This stung even more. Did he really know? We never even had a real conversation about our feelings.

Nick: But yeah, lemme know what you wanna discuss and what the topic is about.

I wanted closure. I wanted a sincere apology. I wanted things to be okay again. And I wanted to know: Did he even care about me?

But I knew I couldn’t say any of those things, especially that last part. It would imply the wrong things, and he would give me an answer that would add more salt to my wounds. Millennials who hooked up a couple of times didn’t ask each other that question. Even I knew that.

12/14/16 7:27 AM
Me: I want to talk about what happened without relying on a passive-aggressive millennial means of communication where things can get misconstrued or lost in translation. Maybe you do know how I feel/felt based on things I wrote. I felt the same way about all the messages you sent. But now I realize I don’t actually know what your perspective is. I just think I know based on what you texted but it’s been pretty evident that our minds don’t make sense of things the same way. So I guess I kinda wanted clarity

12/14/16 1:25 PM
Nick: My perspective on our relationship?

Me: Um yes. I guess I can only speak for myself, but my feelings weren’t static. Things I said or did were expressed in that moment and don’t represent how I felt or feel on the whole. I think texting and written communication in general can be kind of limiting in that way.

Nick: The way I felt is that I’m always in the defensive position. You’ve written things to have me defend myself. I can’t do that, it’s draining.

I have so many other things that I’m juggling right now, and I know you do to [sic]. But I need my energy to emotionally regulate myself, I can’t do it for two people.

That’ll burn me out. I spent almost half a day trying to understand why you felt that way, I understood it. I know I come off callous, and I don’t defend myself for that.

But I can’t keep this antagonism going, I have to work over 100 hours a week, I still have my online class, I have to move, I have to work on administrative things, I have to take of my grandfather and our home.

I’m not perfect, but I’m taking care of a lot of moving parts, and a lot of people lean on me to help. You’re not the only person that needs me, that’s why I came off callous. I’m impatient for things that take my time away for things that are important.

I’m not saying what we had wasn’t important, or worth time. It’s just not the only thing my mind is thinking about.

You’re thinking about it more than I am, that’s why there is this difference in perspective.

I was at work, watching my phone be inundated with messages that made me numb. A part of me was vaguely aware that we had fallen into the trap of texting again. Neither of us had picked up the phone to call. And now I knew I would never make that call.

Me: Okay

What was left to say to him after that? I read the string of messages over and over. It seemed like such a carefully written, long-winded way to tell someone you didn’t give much of a shit about them. I was impressed by his meticulously worded indifference. His subtle portrayal of me as clingy and out of control. His natural ability to be so casually and unapologetically cruel. A talent, really. The words sank into my chest and formed a deep, unrelenting ache.

tinderp 10.12

All I had wanted was for him to not be an asshole.

I wish I could say that I found closure from these messages and never looked back. A well-adjusted person probably would have done that.

Instead, I cried throughout the entire month of December, and for a good chunk of January. I cried at work when I thought my coworkers weren’t around to witness it. I cried while I was driving in my car, until I finally went through the box of Kleenex I had originally stashed in the backseat for potential passengers, then I cried some more. Most of all, I cried alone in my room, in the bed he would never fuck me in.

It was a dark, bleak, and all-around shitty winter. I wrote a bunch of angsty poems to process my emotions, but the ache in my chest wouldn’t go away. (Or maybe that was just heartburn from all the Taco Bell I was eating.) I resented myself for everything I was feeling. You’re weakPathetic. Stupid. A disgrace to feminism. STOP THIS. And stop stuffing your face with gross bastardized Mexican food. Seriously though, you should stop. But I couldn’t. Willpower was not enough.

I started to wonder if I was in love with him after all. What else could have triggered such an emotionally overwhelming response? But it didn’t make any sense to me. I had never imagined a future with him. I never seriously thought this would be a long-term thing, and had questioned it every step of the way. When had I bonded with him in any sort of meaningful way? When I told him about my roommate? When he told me about his grandfather? When I opened my legs and he put his dick inside of me? Ugh. Oxytocin was such a bitch.

To add to the self-flagellation, I looked up The Ex’s name on Facebook and found her profile. (At least I was pretty damn sure it was her profile, considering the ridiculous name.)

She was white.

Of course she was.

We had one mutual friend. How funny.

I went through her pictures. Stared at the face of the person who had unknowingly loomed over my entanglement with Nick, from start to finish. It was strange, how she had become a mythical entity of sorts to me, when I had only registered as a blip on her radar, nameless and forgettable as the random girl who cried herpes to her ex.

I stared at her and wondered what had made her lovable. Was it her pale, smooth skin? Her pink nipples? The lack of racialized intergenerational trauma and dysfunction running in her veins? How she could easily fit the archetype of the coveted Manic Pixie Dream Girl in dude-centered rom-drams? The perfectly quirky and wholesome ways in which she personified Western beauty standards, femininity, and desirability? I was getting carried away and I knew it. But still. Nothing exists in a vacuum, the personal is political, white supremacy is one helluva drug, blah blah blah. I just wanted her power. She had the power of walking away without looking back. Why couldn’t I have that?

A lump soon formed in my throat. For whatever reason, she was worth unrequited love, and I wasn’t even worth basic respect. I clicked away from her profile. This was too toxic, even for me.

I went on a dating spree in between bouts of self-loathing and uncontrollable crying. Nick was definitely replaceable, and the best way to get over a guy was to get under another one, right? I went on date after date after date. I hooked up with a couple of guys. Nothing worked. I couldn’t stop thinking about Nick, and quite frankly, being a ho was very tiring.

I just wanted to find one hot guy who was down to have consistently good, safe sex with me. Why was that so hard?

1/29/17 1:09 AM
I miss you.

I was sitting in my car, having just gotten back from a night of karaoke with friends, when this message flashed on my screen. I stared at my phone. The text was from a number with a San Jose area code. Was this Nick? I had deleted him from my contacts back in December. But why would he send this to me?

I experienced a brief moment of joy, then immediately squashed it with my deep-seated cynicism. Why would this make me happy? How pathetic was I, to think this meant anything? It had been two months since we last communicated, and three months since we last saw each other. This was insufficient. This was unfair. This was infuriating. He didn’t miss me, he missed my body. I purposely waited until much later in the day before responding.

1/29/17 12:11 PM
You really hurt me.

No response.

Fucking coward. Fucking heartless piece of shit. I ranted to Thear about it, who was nice enough to listen. “Ugh! What an asshole! He texts me out of nowhere and when I tell him he hurt me he doesn’t have anything to say because he can’t fucking deal with talking about feelings.

“Why not tell him what you’ve been feeling anyway?” Thear suggested. “Maybe just putting it out there will give you closure, even if he doesn’t respond.”

“Okay,” I agreed. Why not? What did I have to lose now?

2/1/17 10:42 PM
Me: Look, I don’t know what your intentions were with texting me. Maybe you were drunk and regret it. And I don’t want to get into another text fight. But I do want to be upfront and honest because I don’t want to be responsible for any further misunderstandings. You may disagree with a lot of this but this is just my perspective and how things impacted me.

I went on to describe what I had been feeling and thinking throughout my entire ordeal of seeing him. (I’ll spare you the redundant details.) I concluded with the following:

So I was left with the understanding that you liked me enough to have sex with me, but anything beyond that wasn’t worth your time or attention. I think I already knew that on some level but I made the mistake of thinking I would be okay with it. I wasn’t okay. So again you may disagree with a lot of this, in which case I would say miscommunication seems to be a huge problem for us. Either that or we’re just completely incompatible.

To my surprise, he responded almost immediately.

Nick: Nope, you have it down to a T. That’s an accurate reflection on reality, but I didn’t mean for our sexual health to be an issue.

I felt like you didn’t trust me when I said I had did enough for you to feel safe and secure.

That’s where I felt we drifted apart, because I felt you didn’t trust me.

And you’re right, I was only interested in sex with you – but I think I had made that clear. And again, I’m still open to that.

But if you’re emotionally attached, then it’s not worth being hurt. Your emotions would go from a high to a crash. It’s like a drug.

Oh my fucking God. This stupid ass, shamelessly horny motherfucker. This entire situation was so ridiculous to me I started laughing.

Me: No, you didn’t make that very clear. When I asked you what we were doing the last time I saw you, you should have said you were only interested in sex. I’m guessing you didn’t because you thought it would take sex off the table.

Nick: I said I was interested in being sexually exclusive.

But with the freedom to date, and if we had slept with someone else, it would break that contract.

And you would have to notify the other person that it was broken. Then you would have to figure out how to go from there.

Me: I vaguely remember that but I don’t recall you saying it so precisely. Regardless, I was pissed because you got what you wanted and I didn’t. And even if I had been fully aware that you only wanted sex, I still expected you to not be a condescending asshole after you devirginized me. So I think the fallout from that messed me up. I don’t think I’m emotionally attached.

Nick: As in, you can continue a sexually exclusive relationship based off no emotional attachment?

This was veering into dangerous territory, and I knew it. But I couldn’t resist entertaining this very bad idea.

Me: I could but we run into the same issues again. I still never got those test results from you. As a matter of fact I’m getting tested again this Monday to make sure you didn’t give me anything 🙄 (MY doctor’s recommendation was to get retested after 12 weeks.) Also I’m not gonna drive to Sac all the time just for emotionally unavailable dick.

Nick: I did my labs, but they never got processed… I’ll make an appointment this weekend with a new doctor, and get all the labs again.

And it’s up to you how you want us to go forward. If this isn’t going to work, then that’s fine. But I’m still interested in you physically, and I’m still hoping we can both enjoy what comes through having sex together.

The only thing I can offer you is lust of your body.

Me: Lol this is fucking hilarious.

Nick: I’m being truthful, lol.

Okay, this was where I probably should have come to my senses and said #boybye. But I was sad and lonely and horny. Sure, he was an asshole, but…did I mention that I was horny? The shitty thing about not being a virgin anymore was how sex-crazed I had become. I craved physical intimacy so often it was almost torturous. Masturbation helped mitigate the yearning some, but a vibrator couldn’t compare to another warm body.

I was also fed up with cutthroat millennial dating culture. I hated meeting new people. I hated mustering the energy to banter with a guy, then coyly exchanging numbers at the opportune moment, then dealing with the stress of planning that usually led to making awkward small talk over drinks, then the almost inevitable lapse into feelings of apathy and disinterest, then never seeing him again after the lukewarm goodbye, then eventually deleting his number from my contacts, then writing about him for the emotional fulfillment he would never provide, then rinse and repeat. I had already gone through that bullshit ritual with Nick, and somehow he was still here, a viable offer of dick for the taking.

Me: Okay. Get tested for everything INCLUDING both hsv type 1 and type 2, send me written confirmation, and I’ll do the same. Then we can figure it out from there, on the condition that you check yourself when I tell you you’re being a condescending asshole. Like, we can be in a sexually exclusive relationship with no emotional attachment while still treating each other with respect, okay

Nick: Got my appointment on Tuesday, so I’ll hear back hopefully by the coming week and half. And yes, I agree. Call me out, we should both build each other up even if it’s just sex. I agree that I was being an asshole.

Buuuuut, I am excited to run my hands up and down your legs. 🙂

Me: Yeah for future reference I *highly* recommend you don’t devirginize anyone else

But my legs look forward to being reacquainted with your hands 🙂 (pending your test results ahem)

I was thrilled we were restarting this thing between us. We were back on track. I had convinced myself that I was in control again, that it was the ambiguity of what we were that had fucked me up. Well, I had mostly convinced myself of this. A part of me remained skeptical of the ongoing fuckboy proceedings. Were Nick and I really on the same page? Did I really believe that what happened last time wouldn’t happen again? I decided I needed to interrogate Nick a little more. I told him I had a few follow-up questions to ask; he said sure.

Me: 1) what is your incentive for being sexually exclusive with me?

Nick: Safety for both parties involved

You’re also sexually attractive

I blushed. Good thing we were just texting.

Me: 2) what are your views on giving and receiving pleasure in bed?

Nick: It should be reciprocal

Well, what the fuck happened last time?? I was tempted to text this, but refrained.

Me: 3) I know we discussed this before, but how would you define being sexually exclusive? 

Nick: Penetration, oral. Making out is fine. Fingering/handjobs is fine.

But the latter tends to escalate things, so yeah lol.

But if the first two happens, it’s not exclusive anymore.

Me: Okay. 4) what lesson(s) have you learned from our last experience together?

Nick: Open/honest communication is important, and will prevent or pinpoint issues we have to deal with.

I deemed that an adequate response. Next, I moved on to the question that had been bothering me for the past few months:

Me: 5) did you lie to me when you told me the first time we met up that you needed to be emotionally connected with someone in order to have sex with them?

I wanted to know if he had manipulated me. His answer ended up being more weirdly nuanced than I expected.

Nick: I don’t have sex with anyone if I didn’t feel an emotional connection. There was one incident where I wasn’t emotionally connected, and that was a bad experience.

Again, I can’t offer you full on commitment. That’s why I’m letting you know that it might just be a sexual relationship.

And I don’t want either of us with the wrong expectation. If you’re happy with a sexual relationship, then we can move forward.

I’m not saying it’s going to be with a lack of emotion, but it might not be what you want from me.

But right now, I just really want to strip your clothes off and feel your body.

The last part got me blushing again, but I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at with the rest of it. Was he trying to say that I wasn’t just a walking vagina to him? Or was this just a roundabout way of pretending like he cared, in a misguided effort to appease me so that I would still be willing to have sex with him? Was he saying he couldn’t offer me “full on commitment” because his life was too hectic for something more serious, or because he didn’t see me as someone he could actually be with? I told myself the answers didn’t matter, because whatever his reasoning was had nothing to do with me or what we were to each other.

Me: Okay last question 6) Are you down to use coconut oil as lube?

Nick: Hahaha, sure. I’ve only used water based lubricant.

We made plans to see each other on Friday. I grudgingly agreed to drive over to his place in Sacramento, on the condition that he provide snacks and a bottle of wine. Our test results hadn’t come in just yet, so we were plotting things we could do that involved low-risk sexual contact. The messages we exchanged became more and more raunchy. I was excited to see him. I was hopeful and happy and really, really horny.

tinderp 10.13

But.

A few times that week, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, for no reason it seemed. I had trouble going back to sleep. My thoughts would drift to my last fallout with Nick, and I would immediately begin crying. The third time this happened, I knew I had to bring it up. I couldn’t repress this ugliness anymore. It had to be dealt with.

2/7/17 9:49 PM
Me: Hey. I need to tell you something you’re not going to like

Nick: What is it?

2/7/17 10:58 PM
Me: So I know you are aware that you were an asshole to me, but I don’t think that’s enough for me to fully recover from the way you treated me. For a little while I’ll be like okay, I’ve forgiven you, but then I’ll lapse into these moments where I start thinking about all the hurtful things you said and end up in a downward emotional spiral.

I spent the end of 2016 feeling like a used sex object you abandoned when I inconveniently reminded you that I’m still a person with feelings. And whether you intended to or not, you used implicitly sexist language that made me feel like I was some crazy, irrational, and needy bitch.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. But I’ve been struggling to make peace with everything that’s happened since November and I haven’t been able to. I want to start over and make this thing work with you, but a part of me can’t let go of what you did. 

Nick: You do you. It’s all good. 

I should have known better, but I was both hurt and taken aback by the indifference of his response.

Me: Is that all you have to say?

He sent me a picture of his laptop, to indicate that he was busy studying.

Me: Okay. I get it. But I don’t want another dead end conversation with zero breakthrough. Can we talk about this when you get a chance? If you have time to discuss sex logistics with me, then you can make time to resolve an issue that’s been hanging around far longer than I’ve wanted it to.

Nick: I’ve been honest with you since the start, I can’t make it better. We’ll be going in circles.

Me: Meaning, you stand by every single thing you said to me?

Nick: Each thing I said was within the context in which I said it.

And there was things between us that changed the conditions of what was going on.

I know, you were trying to find love. And I was callous with something special, your first time. But again, I told you. It didn’t have to be me.

There’s plenty of nerdy Berkeley boys who would have been awkward but kind.

Somehow, in the excitement of getting laid, I had forgotten who I was dealing with. I tried to sound calm and only mildly annoyed in my response.

Me: Oh jeez, back to square one. I wasn’t trying to find love. And when did you ever say “it didn’t have to be me”?

Nick: Since the start

“You mourn the sparks that will never ignite into flames”

I hated him in that moment. He was spitting my own words back in my face. (To add insult to injury, he had also slightly misquoted me.)

Me: That’s a poem that I wrote before you hit me up saying you missed me, and you’re misinterpreting that line. [warning: poem is very sexually explicit]

I need you to specify when you said it didn’t have to be you. Because all I can recall is your hands on my body telling me I should let you fuck me.

Nick: It was when we were at that craft beer place with the tiles

And you asked what we were

And that’s what [sic] I mentioned being sexually exclusive, and also said it didn’t have to be me

You were the one who told me to put it in

I can’t fix what you’re feeling

And I’m not going to tell you that it’s not a tangible thing to be feeling

But what you’re feeling is out of my control now

It takes time to get over it, and some people get over it in different ways.

Do whatever you feel is the correct thing to do to address what you’re feeling, but even if I bend down and pray at your feet 

That’s not going to change anything

Have you ever been in a text fight? Like a huge text fight? It gets pretty fucking ugly. I’d argue it’s worse than an in-person fight. The words haunt you more. You remember the exact phrasing of all the fucked up shit you sent to each other. You even have a fucking record of it to read over and over again whenever you’re so inclined to feeling masochistic, until a few choice words have been burned into your passive-aggressive memory forever.

Or maybe that’s just me.

My fingers were flying over my iPhone keyboard. I was texting so furiously that my thumb hurt. (Insert unfunny joke about privileged problems here.) I tried to address everything he brought up, but this was the most important point:

Like literally all I want is a sincere apology from you. Not love. Is it that impossible/hard to say “I’m sorry I hurt you. I’d still like to try to be in a sexually exclusive relationship with no emotional commitment with you. I will do my best to be more mindful of the things I say”????

To which he responded with:

I understand stand [sic] that, and ive told you I’m sorry!

I was acting like an asshole

Me: You said in a context that suggested you didn’t mean it

Nick: Learkana, give me some time to think

Then I’ll get back to you

Me: Also you should really stop reading my blog…you don’t seem to get what I mean.

Okay

Nick: Lol, I do it out of sheer curiosity

Me: Clearly you need a sparknotes version 😒

Nick: Are the other guys getting the same types of back and forth conversation that I’m getting? 

Me: No because I didn’t have chemistry with them so it wasn’t worth it. And you’ve consistently reached out to me so I figured you would be okay with having a dialogue

Nick: And how about those guys feelings if they liked you?

Or you were their first?

Or it’s okay to block them and move on

Me: They didn’t give a shit. And they definitely weren’t virgins although one of them fucked like one. Smh stop trying to compare the situations

Nick: Well, I’m the one who cared more and actually put more energy into what we had.

Me: really? Because I feel the opposite

Nick: Then we can’t reconsile [sic] this cause we feel differently

We’re on two different ends

I was frustrated. Why was he being so petty and evasive? I wanted to work this out, but he was already trying to shut the conversation down. We ended up going down the rabbit hole of STI testing again. He insisted he didn’t have herpes. I told him I needed the actual test results to establish a baseline of trust.

Nick: Well, I don’t know what to tell you

I’m a terrible lay anyhow as you said, plus the commute is far for both of us. Maybe you’ll find someone nicer.

He was pushing me away. I started to panic. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to have a restorative justice circle with my vagina, goddamnit! I was supposed to fuck him and finally get the closure I wanted. But things were falling apart so quickly I didn’t know what to do, except haphazardly backpedal by spewing my usual word vomit.

Me: You confuse me. You say you only want my body then you say stuff like I miss you and I cared more. And I’ve been making the same damn request for your test results since November and for some reason it’s a dealbreaker to you. Yeah I had a shitty first time but I’m optimistic we can learn each other’s bodies. I’ve met lots of nice guys but I fucked you because I feel like we have chemistry and you’re the only guy who ever made really obvious moves on me and idk maybe/probably I’m too dysfunctional to make good dating decisions. I still want to have sex with you but if you don’t want to anymore, then tell me. 

Nick: Learkana, I’m exhausted. This conversation is exhausting. Sex isn’t always worth it, it should be fun and not stress inducing like this. You saw how we talked to each other yesterday? Fun, energetic, and without being an emotional weight.

Wow, I couldn’t help but think bitterly. Masculinity so fragile.

Nick: If you came on Friday, we would have had fun together. But, this has happened twice already. 

Sex to me isn’t the end all be all, I just want to have fun and have a rewarding experience.

If I can’t find that between us, I don’t see the point of going forward.

You bring me down to where you are, I want someone who brings me up. 

Me: No you were the one who brought me down. And you aren’t willing to help me back up.

Cue another trip down the fucks-forsaken rabbit hole of STI testing, which was not where I had intended to go with my response. But we weren’t talking to listen or understand each other, and that was why we were going in circles. The idea of reaching any sort of compromise or consensus had become impossible at this point.

tinderp 10.14

Nick was the first one to give up.

Nick: Yeah, I’m done. Goodnight.

Me: Okay. And stop reading my blog.

Nick: It’s public, yo.

There was no point in dignifying that with a response. I put down my phone and immediately began bawling my eyes out. Not only did I not know how to get myself into a relationship, I also couldn’t even do casual sex right.

What the fuck was wrong with me?! How could I allow this to happen again?

For a moment, I indulged the idea that if we had simply taken the time to meet each other in person to talk things out, there wouldn’t have been any misunderstandings. But who was I kidding? He would have been just as cold in person. It was probably a good thing these arguments had taken place solely through text. He would never have to see me cry, and I would never have to see him turn away in disgust.

Was that it then? The end? The anticlimax I had been waiting for? After everything that happened, he decided to call it off with the indifference of an Internet troll?

I was so miserable I didn’t go to work the next day. I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame, humiliation, confusion, and hurt. I hated that some part of me still wanted him in spite of all the mean things he said and did. I hated that I had been willing to drive 80 miles to see someone who didn’t give a shit about me. I hated that after so many opportunities to end things on my terms, I let him spit in my face and walk away.

I thought back to the very first message Nick had sent to me: Why are all the guys losing interest?

I laughed at the irony. Well, I guess he knew now. Guys liked me until they knew me. I was desirable until I wasn’t. My anger and ugliness and dysfunction chased them away. And I was probably going to spend the rest of my life watching this dynamic unfold.

I wrote another poem, then I deleted it from my blog, because the poem felt emotionally dishonest. I was just projecting a kinder, gentler self onto Nick; a version of him that didn’t exist in relation to me. I didn’t know how I felt anymore. I wasn’t even sure if the thing I thought I had felt between us could even be called chemistry.  Chemistry was supposed to be mutual, but this was all in my head, wasn’t it? Nick had made it pretty clear that whatever I was feeling was completely one-sided. I still didn’t think I was in love with him, no matter what he thought. I was only guilty of expecting compassion and human decency from someone who only saw me as a walking vagina.

Despite my anger and resentment, I considered reaching out to Nick one last time to apologize for not trusting him. Wasn’t that the root of our problems, the lack of trust? If I had to be the bigger person in order to get closure, then so be it. But a friend of mine intervened and brought me to my senses. “Fuck that guy,” she said vehemently. “It makes me angry just hearing the things he’s said to you. He sounds like a narcissist.”

That was when I decided that the only healthy thing for me to do was block his number. I was naive to think that I could get some kind of healing from talking to him. For whatever reason, we were a toxic combination, and nothing I said or did would change that.

I wrote another poem. Then another. Then another and another and another, until I ran out of new things to feel. I went on a couple of dates. Deleted Tinder. Hooked up with someone who eventually became my FWB, which was what I had wanted all along. Got my test results. I was negative. I supposed it would have been an I-told-you-so moment for Nick, but for me it had always been about more than just a herpes scare. It was about demonstrating trust. It was about respect, care, and consideration. I was still hurting from what happened, but there was little else I could do other than wait for time to pass. It didn’t mean anything, he didn’t give a shit about me, and we had no future. I repeated this mantra to myself whenever I was stuck in reliving what happened.

The mantra was soon pared down to It doesn’t matter. Short, bitter, and to the point.

About a month later, Nick liked my most recent Instagram post, a poem I had written about the power of being missed. We had never followed each other on social media. What did this mean? I quickly stopped myself from speculating on imaginary scenarios that made him more empathetic than he was. It didn’t mean anything. He was just trying to fuck with me.

I looked at his Instagram, and immediately regretted it. Pictures of him and his friends being happy. Pictures of his travels. Pictures that suggested he was living a well-rounded life of quality and purpose. Going through his photos pissed me the fuck off. Did any of the people he was posing with know that he was a fucking asshole? 

I realized I never wanted to see another update about his life ever again. I blocked him.

You will forget him, I told myself. His face will become foggy in your mind’s eye. The yearning will fizzle out. The ache will leave. Your body won’t remember his touch. He’ll just be a faded memory to you. And on the rare occasion you think about him, you will feel nothing but a vague disregard, the kind he has always held for you.

I couldn’t wait for that day.

In the meantime, I was struggling. Not just with what happened with Nick, but with everything else in my life. It was the same stuff I was going through before I had met him, made worse with time and more shitty experiences that happened to have included him. Work was stressful, friends felt remote, dating crushed my self-esteem, life was too much. Everything was tangled up in an unbearable, incomprehensible mess. I felt unsure of who I was, who I was trying to be, what I stood for and aspired to. I didn’t know what I was living for anymore. There didn’t seem to be much of a point to anything. I decided I needed to go to therapy before I did something I would really regret.

Therapy is weird. You pay a stranger to listen to your emotional baggage for fifty minutes. It took two sessions for me to recount my disastrous entanglement with Nick.

“And how does talking about this make you feel?” My therapist asked.

“I just feel sad,” I said, blinking fast. Too late. It was the first time I had cried about it in front of someone else. It didn’t feel good.

A few sessions later, she posed the same question to me.

“I just feel tired,” I said this time. “I feel like I’ve wasted too much time and energy on this, when I know he’s not thinking about it at all.”

She told me it was okay to be in mourning. She told me I shouldn’t blame myself. She told me I was resilient. I recounted other relationships with friends and family to her and realized I still had some unresolved childhood trauma to work through.

tinderp 10.15

In another session, I confessed to her that I was having suicidal thoughts. She told me to call her the next time I thought about killing myself. “Okay,” I said, even though I knew I wouldn’t.

I later told her about a recent incident I had with my FWB. We had made plans to see each other. When he started being ambivalent about meeting up at the last minute, I got angry.

“Anger is a layered feeling,” she said. “There’s usually other things underneath it. What do you think caused you to feel angry?”

I paused. “I guess…I was hurt, because he was treating me like I wasn’t worth anything. And even if we aren’t in a long term, monogamous romantic relationship, I still expect to be treated with respect and common courtesy. But it seems like most people don’t see it that way. So I think that’s the process for me: I get hurt, then I get angry, because someone made me feel hurt. So I lash out and try to make them feel as hurt as they made me feel.”

“Does this remind you of anything?” she asked, as an obvious cue to Nick.

“Yeah. The guy I was seeing towards the end of last year,” I answered. “Sometimes, I regret the things I said to him. Like, I should have worded things more carefully and been more open about what I was feeling, instead of lashing out. But he never said or did anything that made me think it was okay to be that vulnerable with him.”

Nick had said I was looking for love. I insisted I wasn’t. And maybe that was the problem. Maybe I should have been looking for love, unapologetically and without compromise, instead of skirting around it with ambivalence and cynicism. Somewhere along the way, I had closed myself off from the possibility of finding that (in a romantic and sexual sense) with a guy. I lowered my expectations. I lowered my standards. I forgot what I was worth and what I deserved. I had unwittingly created space for someone as unfeeling and dismissive as Nick to swoop in and seem promising instead of dangerous, to sink his teeth in and draw blood. Now here I was, nursing my wounds and looking up from the bottom of the hole I had fallen into, wondering how I could have been so careless.

What would it look like? To open myself up to all the possibilities of love? To stand unabashedly in my power and embody my worth? To expect and demand more, from family, friends, and lovers, and to walk away without looking back when they couldn’t give me what I deserved? I didn’t know anymore. The thought of embarking on that journey made me want to curl up inside of myself. I was afraid I would just end up more alone than I already felt. I knew I would have to come to terms with that eventually, but I wasn’t ready to venture there yet.

Getting home from therapy is tedious. I walk a few blocks to the downtown Berkeley BART station, get on the train, get off in downtown Oakland, then walk 10-15 minutes to get to my car, because parking’s usually a bitch. The walk to my car is sometimes loaded with dark, swirling emotions that weigh me down. On this particular night I am overcome with them. I breathe, in and out. Allow myself to cry. Remember the Instagram post I saw the other day that said it was okay to live for the little things. Start listing them in my head.

I will go to the doctor to get my jaw fixed.

I will write this blog post and move on for good.

I will find someone to have consistently good and safe sex with, who won’t make me feel disposable.

I will visit my best friend Shana in New York and have the time of my life.

I make it home. It’s a victory for me.

tl;dr Learkana makes her sexual debut! Learkana gets emotionally fucked by an asshole and goes to therapy! Learkana is still alive!

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Caffe Strada
Rating: *
Review: Way too quiet it’s awkward AF

Venue: Cafe Frascati
Rating: ****
Review: Great aesthetics, and even a shitty open mic can be entertaining, right? Apparently they also have live music there, hopefully that’s less shitty

Venue: Indian Rock
Rating: *****
Review: Great view, very romantic, make sure you go there with someone who doesn’t just see you as a walking vagina

Venue: Fuckboy Car
Rating: *
Review: Yeahhhhh don’t be devirginized in a car it’s a really bad idea and you will regret it (among other things), you should really just get around to cleaning your room even if you’re depressed or whatever in case you end up getting laid and need somewhere clean *and* spacious to fuck (well, more spacious than a car at least)

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