Monday, May 23, 2016

Angry Feminist

It seems to me that the problem some men have with feminism is that they think it’s about Us v. Them. They hear Feminism and they think War. Instead of “equal opportunities for women” and “a more just and balanced world that values both male and female qualities and perspectives,” they hear, “women who hate men and are trying to take our place in the world.” They assume that we would approach it as they might: as a competition, survival of the fittest, every man for himself. What these men fundamentally don’t understand is that women on the whole don’t operate like that. We want everybody to get along, we want the world to be a better place for everyone living in it. A world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until these guys realize that, feminism will continue to feel like a threat.

Often when I bring up the F word on, say, a first date, a glaze will pass over my date’s face. He is no longer looking at me the individual, but instead seeing me as one face in an amorphous swarm of angry bitches. Every time I meet a man and tell him I’m a feminist, I watch him closely. His reaction tells me a lot about whether it’s going to work out between us on a fundamental level. I have yet to meet the man who says, “Fuck yes, me too!” That guy I will marry.

I'm on a date with a guy I met on Tinder two years ago whom I just randomly came across on the Internet and decided to Facebook message. We had never met up in person, but texted for awhile, and the fact that he appeared in a random Google search made me feel serendipitously like we should meet. We agree on a bar in his neighborhood because he doesn't have a car, so I drive from Silverlake to Culver City on a Friday evening to meet him. I arrive, we hug, and he hands me the happy hour menu. We're both filmmakers and film buffs, so we nerd out about cinematography and directors and within minutes we're arguing about which movies were the best of last year. He mentions Tangerine, a film about two African American trans women prostitutes shot in LA on an iPhone 6.
“I hate gimmicky movies like that,” he says. “It was a piece of garbage that people only thought was good because it was about trans people and was shot on an iPhone.” I bristle.
“I feel like you can’t call telling a story that hasn’t been told before a gimmick,” I say.
“The filmmaker only made that movie to capitalize on all the trans stuff in the media,” he says.
My warning flags start going ballistic. As an avid support of trans rights and the president of Jill Soloway’s fan club, I'm not the person to sympathize with someone calling a story about trans women a “gimmick.” I decide not to write him off just yet, though I'm starting to get the sense I probably won't ever see this guy again, and I'm only on my first drink.

He starts telling me his entire life story, complete with the fact that he was medicated as a child for bipolar disorder, got kicked out of school for beating up other kids, and had a substance abuse problem as a teenager. I just stare at him as he monologues at me, wondering what I've said or done to inspire such an aggressive confessional. He tells me in detail about his father, his uncle, his family history, his family recipes. Finally, he takes a breath and says, “Sorry, I talk a lot, tell me your story.” I start to tell him about where I grew up, but he's reminded of an anecdote about his own life and interrupts me to talk about it. I decide to stop trying to insert things into the conversation. He tells me he usually dates lawyers and doctors and architects, women in different fields, because he's really interested in other people’s lives that are different from his own. He seems very proud of this fact about himself and I wonder if those women were able to get a word in edgewise. Who raised him to believe it was okay for him to talk for so long without stopping? I wonder something I often do on first dates with men, how it is he can be so un-self-aware.

We walk to another bar down the street and this is where he turns to me and says, “You’re hard to read.” I consider informing him that it's easier to read someone when you ask them a question about themselves rather than just constantly talking about yourself.
“You don’t seem to care what I think of you,” he says.
“Why should I?” I ask.
He says he's hoping to get a second date with me.
“Why do you think I’m buying you so many drinks?” He chortles.
He mentions several times throughout the night this girl he was dating in the Midwestern city where he lived before moving to LA.
“She showed me I could actually really like someone,” he says. He’s never been in love, but the amount he talks about this girl makes me think there's still something there.
“Maybe you should give it another shot with this girl,” I say. “You seem to still really like her.”
“Nah. It would never work. She wants too much from me.” Apparently, she wants kids and stability, while he isn't ready for any of that. “I’m not looking for a fuck buddy, but like not a big commitment either.”
He asks what I'm looking for and I say probably more than he is. I'm not interested in having casual sex anymore. Then he insinuates that he doesn't want me to get too attached to him if he can't give me what I want.
“You’re worrying about me getting too attached?” I laugh into my beer.
“I think women have certain expectations.”
“There is something biological that happens to us because we literally let men inside our bodies,” I say.
He tells me he wishes he hadn’t said anything about looking for something casual, because he's open to seeing where this goes. I say again that we're probably looking for different things.

Somehow we start talking about rape culture and the accusations brought against Bill Cosby
“It’s scary as hell for a guy to think about being accused of that,” he says.
“It’s scary for a guy!” I practically shout. He laughs, conceding that this came off wrong. The fact that straight white cisgendered men are somehow capable of twisting the narrative so that they become the victim in the rape scenario never ceases to amaze me.
Then he says, “I just don’t understand how someone could get off on rape. Like, how do you even get hard when someone isn’t wet?” Ick.

Because I know I don't want to see this guy again, I decide to try an experiment. 
“Just so you know, I’m a raging feminist," I declare, watching his reaction.
He looks at me sideways and asks warily, “What does that mean?”
“I consider myself a social activist for empowering women’s voices. I’m really passionate about it and believe that women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
“I mean, yeah, but is that even feminism? It should just be called humanism.” He says this as though it's a totally innovative new idea he's just come up with. Then he proceeds to explain feminism to me. I laugh out loud.
“You are mansplaining feminism to me right now!” I say.
“I hate that word,” he says with a disgusted look on his face. Of course you do, I think, it was invented precisely for guys like you.
“Everyday there’s another article written about this stuff,” he says, by way of arguing that we don't need feminism anymore.
“Yeah, because nothing’s changed yet. Once there’s real change there won’t be the need for so many articles.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says. I wonder how long we have to wait, how many more years of male justification of the insidiously sexist way things are will we have to live through before there is quantifiable change. How many levels of entitled white men defending the status quo are there left to battle?
I ask if, as a director, he hires female crews.
“Have you ever hired a female gaffer?” I ask.
“There aren’t really any,” he says.
“What about DPs?”
“They’re never recommended to me. How am I going to hire someone who isn’t recommended to me?” He raises his voice, getting frustrated. “I don’t think about gender when I’m hiring, I think about the best person for the job.”
“That’s really fortunate for you that you don’t have to think about gender, because as a privileged white male you’ve never had to.” Full disclosure, I may have said something about him having a penis between his legs.
“My makeup artists are women and gay men. I don’t care that they’re gay.”
“Wow. Good for you,” I say.

He then tries to convince me that women don’t make less money than men. He says he knows a lot of female directors who are successful. I ask if he’s ever honestly asked them how it is for them as women directors. He hesitates.
“Yeah, I mean, they said it was hard to get where they are but now that they’re there, it’s fine.”
“So you think we should just shut up and stop complaining.” 
“You’re putting words in my mouth.” 
Maybe this is true, maybe I am putting words in his mouth, but the point I'm trying to get at that he doesn't seem to understand is that he is fundamentally resistant to even acknowledging that things aren't equal. The fact that he insists on defending the way things are and refuses to recognize the problem seems to me the most insidious thing about the sexism in this town. The fact that if men continue to refuse to acknowledge the need for change, they will never change themselves. This is why we need feminism, and I tell him as much.
“The old guys are dying anyway,” he says by means of consolation.
“But here you are a 29 year old man and you don’t hire women. Where’s the progress there?”
He ramps up for another session of mansplaining and I decide to get real with him.
“You know what,” I say. “I know a lot about you and you know very little about me. You have been talking at me and interrupting me all night. And I know you talk a lot and that’s okay, I do too, but it might behoove you to listen to someone every now and again.” I may not have been this eloquent. I am a little tipsy and very angry.
He just stares at me. Then he says, “You started telling me about yourself and then just stopped.”
“Because you interrupted me,” I say. I start talking again and he interrupts me again.
“I am trying to tell you about how you interrupt me and you’re interrupting me,” I point out.
“So interrupt me back,” he says.
“I really don’t have any interest in doing that.”
“Well then don’t go to New York because that’s the way it is there,” he says, grinning. I had told him earlier in the night that I was thinking of moving to New York. I decide this is it. I'm tired of listening to this idiot. I stand up.
“Okay, it was nice to--“
“Yeah, you’re welcome for all the drinks,” he interrupts.

I march out of the bar and LOL all the way home, exhilarated to have walked out on a first date, to have spoken my mind rather than quietly stewing over the ubiquitous misogyny that women are constantly swallowing. The days of swallowing it are over for me at least. If that means I’ll be single for life, so be it. I know this guy probably didn’t hear a word I said, but it doesn't matter. I said my piece and he was right, I don't give a fuck about what he thinks of me.

I think about the me of just six months ago. She would have smiled and nodded through the mansplaining, had a couple more drinks, gone home with this guy for some mediocre one-sided sex. The new me simply can't stomach it anymore. I don't want to let another misogynist inside my body. I don't even want to let in another culturally-blind, privileged white male. That's a harder bar to clear, and I think it's understandably difficult for some of these men to see past their own privilege and sense of birthright entitlement. Regardless, I've decided to start having higher rather than lower expectations for the men I have sex with. I will hold men to a higher standard and believe that they can be better than so many before them. This I feel is the true essence of feminism—that men and women don't need to be in opposition, a world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until I find a guy who sees that, I will stop letting these lesser males inside my body. Perhaps that means I won't be having sex for awhile. If that's the case, so be it. Any guy who tells me to stop complaining, that I should be satisfied with the status quo, can literally go fuck himself, cuz he ain’t fucking me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dating Myself

I've decided to start dating myself. I came to this conclusion on Saturday mid-morning after dragging my tired ass out of bed to take a walk in my neighborhood. I ended up outside a house that used to belong to Anais Nin, the renowned French writer of erotica. I couldn't see much of the house, but it was comforting to know she had once lived in my hood. I kept walking, working up a sweat on the steep hills. I started to feel better.

The night before, I'd felt like I was coming down with this mysterious multi-week cold/flu that all my friends seem to be getting. I huddled in bed with my iPad binge-watching Jessica Jones on Netflix when the front doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone, and I couldn’t hear either of my roommates making noises about answering it. In my PJs and not in the mood for company at 9pm on a Friday night, I texted them. "Expecting someone?" One responded back right away that she wasn't home, the other didn't answer. The doorbell rang again and now someone was fumbling with the handle. My heart started beating fast. I put my iPad aside and crept out of bed with my cell phone gripped in my hand. I padded into the living room and could hear what sounded like a group of guys talking outside. I thought I saw one of them trying to peak into the window on the side of the house and then a dark shadow ran past the other window towards the backyard. I was shaking now, suddenly and viscerally scared out of my rational mind. I crept upstairs and shone my iPhone’s light towards my roommate's bedroom—the one I thought was home. The light was off, her door open. Not home. Now I was terrified. I crept towards the front door and instead of opening it, slid into the dark garage where I stood on a chair peering out the garage windows into the street. My roommate’s car was in the driveway and there was no sign of anyone outside. I couldn't hear voices anymore. I stood on that chair and shook for a good five minutes, my phone clutched to my chest. I imagined this group of guys casing the house, surrounding it, deciding the best way to break in.

I gingerly stepped off the chair and pressed my ear to the door in the pitch-black garage, listening hard for the sound of breaking glass or jimmying locks. My phone was now sweaty in my palm. Should I call someone? The police? And say what, “someone rang my doorbell”?? Why the fuck was I so scared? It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know any of my neighbors and that I didn't have anyone to call at a time like this. No nearby friend who would drop everything to come be with me until I calmed down. This made me feel sorry for myself and I almost texted the guy I’d gone on three dates with to see if he was back in town, to let him know I was a damsel in distress and needed his manliness to protect me from whatever perceived danger I was apparently in. Men love that shit! I imagined winning him back with the scenario of the helpless female. Then I imagined the opposite, him feeling put-upon and thinking doesn’t she have anyone else to call? I decided instead to wait it out. I stood in the dark as my breathing gradually returned to normal and I felt the fear slowly dissipate. I decided I was safe and had invented the sense of danger. I returned to my room and finished the episode of Jessica Jones I had been watching (probably the reason I was scared in the first place—the show is terrifying).

The next morning, I had trouble getting out of bed. I watched more Jessica Jones and finished a bag of potato chips before 11am. I started having a general sense of FOMO, so I decided I should probably leave the house. At least take a walk. Exercise usually helps the feeling of ennui that often settles over me these (unemployed) days. Maybe it was Anais Nin's house or maybe it was the fresh air and endorphins, but I began to feel better and I made a sudden, inspired decision to start dating myself. That's right, ladies and gentleman, I decided to stop waiting for that mysterious man to come along and take me on cool dates, and instead to take my own damn self out on some cool dates. If I were dating me, where would I take me? I decided first I would take myself to see City of Gold, the new documentary about LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold. I know my fondness for food and how much I love Jonathan Gold, so I knew this date was sure to please me. Who knew, afterwards if things were going well and I still seemed interested, perhaps I could take myself to one of the restaurants featured in the film? That would be the perfect date for me! I felt better already. Why hadn't I thought of this before? Fuck these men. Who needs em? I'm an only child, I know how to play by myself.

City of Gold was wonderful, a love letter to Los Angeles with its vast mosaic of various cultures and cuisines. I decided Jonathan Gold is my personal hero, for he found the one activity he enjoys above all else—eating all the foods—and made a career out of it. Jonathan Gold eats everything. He picks restaurants the way I like to pick restaurants—democratically. He loves equally the highest-end fine dining meal at Providence (LA Times #1 Best Restaurant in Los Angeles three years in a row) as he does the street tacos from the Guerilla Tacos truck. Jonathan Gold is living the dream. He gets paid to eat and write about it! Sitting in the back of the movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon, watching this film—that was a really lovely date with myself. Afterwards, I thought about going to Jonathan’s favorite Thai place, Jitlada, which was not too far from the theatre, but I was due to meet Best Guy Friend and his girlfriend for dinner and another movie, Zootopia. I’m not in the habit of crashing Best Guy Friend’s dates with his girlfriend, but seeing as I’m now dating myself, this was actually more like a double date. And Zootopia, while not a movie I would have gone to see without them, I found absolutely delightful. I was so enthralled that I leaned over to Best Guy Friend in the middle of it and exclaimed in his ear: “This is a feminist parable!” To which he laughed at me.

The next day, Sunday, I went on a three-hour hike with my friend Paula in Topanga Canyon. As we often do on our hikes, we got to talking about the feminist injustices in the film industry and how we sought to remedy them, and soon we were huffing and puffing up the steep hills, red in the face with both exertion and conviction. After we had worked up an appetite with the exercising of both our calves and jaw muscles, we went to Milo and Olive for brunch.
“I’ve decided to date myself,” I declared happily, sweaty and red-faced.
“I think that’s great,” beamed Paula. Paula would also like to meet a man. She is a hot and sexy woman in her 40s who is incredibly talented, fun, smart, and amusing; she has a gorgeous house and an amazing ass. The fact that Paula can’t seem to find someone to date I find equally hard to believe as the fact that I can’t find someone to date. By all accounts, and I say this with the utmost humbleness and objectivity, we are both catches.

I think about the guy I went on three dates with several weeks ago. The last time I saw him he said, “I really like you and want to get to know you.” Then he cancelled our next two dates (because he was understandably very busy) and left town for two weeks without trying to see me before he went. I asked if he was doing the fade away to which he LOL-ed and replied, “No! But to be clear as day, I’m seeking a slow burn. I’m not rushing into anything. But I’m enjoying our time together.” To me it didn’t feel like what we had going was a slow burn. It felt like what so many of these flings feel like: hot and heavy in the beginning and then the flame gradually goes out. I had texted with him on and off since he’d been gone, but now I hadn’t heard from him for a whole week, and I feel like if you really like someone and want to keep the burn going, you don’t just forget about them for a week. Especially since in the beginning his attention had felt constant and intense, texting me the day after our first date that he was “still smiling” and when we had a date coming up on Saturday, rhetorically exclaiming, “Is it Saturday yet?!” I missed those days, I missed the attention and the sense of consistency, the lack of games. Now I was feeling the age-old pressure to not seem too eager, to not text first for fear of seeming more interested than him. How did this happen, I wondered. I wasn’t even sure I was attracted to him in the beginning. I felt like he had worked really hard to fish me out of the ocean and then, once I was caught and in his hands, decided to throw me back. Had I no say in the matter?

It didn’t help that I hadn’t been able to talk to him in person since that third and final date. My ex-boyfriend encouraged me to be honest with him and express what I want, what I need—but how was I supposed to do that on text when I didn’t even know if he was back in town or not? I had preemptively invited Best Guy Friend to come to Dan Savage’s amateur porn festival Hump! with me in case this guy bailed, but it was depressing to think I had to prepare for that. Preparing for disappointment. Why can’t I date someone who is true to his word, who doesn’t feel like a slippery fish who could slink away at any moment? And furthermore, what had I said to turn him off? Sure, I had tested out some feminist rants about abortion rights on him, but he seemed to be able to handle this aspect of my personality—he even seemed charmed by it. Was I really so deluded and unable to read the situation that when I thought he was watching me fondly, he was actually thinking, get me the fuck away from this woman?

I didn’t think so. But I honestly didn’t know what had happened. And the not knowing was making me nuts. I didn’t understand a guy’s impulse to work so hard to woo a girl only to lose interest in her after three dates. Why would he have treated me like this could develop into something if he knew he didn’t really want it go anywhere, or he wasn’t sure? Why not play it a little cooler and not say things like, “I really like you” and “let’s sail to Hawaii”? Or was this all in my head? Would I receive a text from him any day now stating, “I’m back in town and I want to see you!” Somehow I doubted it. It felt like it was over. And I felt once again disappointed, and tired of feeling disappointed by men. Was this what he meant when he said sex was a contract and women got hurt—was he warning me that I might get hurt? Is that what had happened?

“I just don’t want to start over with someone new,” I told Paula. “This guy already knows everything about me.” She laughed, but it was true. I was tired of small talk, of the whole getting to know you rigmarole. We had cut through so much of that, and that’s what I ultimately liked most about him. We got to the real shit. By the third date, I felt he knew all my secrets—such as they are. Was that too soon? Did I say too much? Did I show too much of myself? Was I just really bad at dating? I guess this was possible; I didn’t have a lot of experience. Or rather, I had a lot of experience with first dates and sex, but not so much with second and third dates. Was it possible I had actually become something I had been called once by a man: undateable? And what did that even mean?

I brought in girlfriend reinforcement to analyze our text chain. I showed my friend Cheryl how we’d had a flurry of flirtatious banter back and forth on Monday, and then I hadn’t heard from him for a week. On Sunday night, I was watching a great documentary called The Mask You Live In about the culture of masculinity boys are raised with in this country, and I thought it might interest him based on some of the conversations we’d had. I texted him the recommendation and didn’t hear back. Now it was Monday night and we still had plans to see the amateur porn fest on Saturday.

Cheryl expressed feeling lucky that she never had to date in the age of texting. She’s been with her boyfriend since back when people used cell phones to call each other, when people used to communicate, and if you stopped liking someone you couldn't just ignore their texts. I could tell by her text suggestions that she had never done this before, never played these games, and that she’d been in a LTR for a very long time. She encouraged me to ask him if he was still coming with me on Saturday night, seeing as we were now within a week of the date. I texted him and he responded: “Fuck I’ll be in New York! For work.” Although I knew in my gut that this was coming, it still blew my mind. I invited him to this event, he said unequivocally yes, I asked him when he wanted to go, he picked the date, then he not only made other plans, but also neglected to tell me about them? Would he have ever told me? I flashed back on something I had said on our second date.
“We shouldn’t make too many plans.” I said this out loud, as though channeling, as though warning myself from the future. I didn’t know at the time where this piece of advice was coming from, but clearly I’m more intuitive than I’ve been paying attention to.

Inexplicably, I found myself relieved by the confirmation that he wasn’t coming. At least I wasn’t waiting anymore. I had my answer. That was it. The end of the road. I thought about what to write back, I consulted my girlfriends. A sampling of my favorite suggestions:
“Third time. Not so charming.”
“Put a fork in you. You’re done.”
“You owe me $25.”

I decided to give it a beat. I didn’t want to respond in the moment from a reactive place. I wanted to be honest. But I also didn’t feel like writing him a novel via text with all my thoughts and feelings, about how I felt disrespected by his lack of consideration for my time, for my schedule. I also didn’t feel like calling. Somehow his lack of remorse made me feel like he really didn’t care to hear from me, and this made the thought of calling him absolutely sickening. Part of me wanted to never write back and to never talk to him again, but as we all know, I’m bad at letting things lie. I got into bed and tossed around. I couldn’t get comfortable. I wanted to express myself, but I didn’t know how. I opened my phone and deleted our text chain. Then I considered blocking his number, so I wouldn’t know if he ever wrote me again and therefore wouldn’t feel compelled to respond. Instead, I deleted his number. I lay back down. Still couldn’t sleep. I sat up in bed. Searched his name, he came right up—of course, the iCloud makes deleting numbers absolutely impossible. I wanted to keep it simple and sweet. Express myself eloquently and succinctly. Really get the point across but in a relaxed way that read: I will be over you in five minutes. “Wow. That’s disappointing,” was what I came up with. I felt okay about it. I haven’t heard from him since.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I’ve been seeing someone. Just three dates, but it’s felt more real than any “relationship” I’ve had in quite awhile. On the first date, we met at a nice wine bar and had charcuterie, and he didn’t even try to kiss me. On the second date, dinner of oysters and a whole fish followed by dancing, all of it planned and paid for by him. We went back to his place and it was late so we both decided I would sleep over. I think neither of us wanted to necessarily have sex yet—we wanted to take our time—but seeing as I was in his bed, how was that not going to happen? We had sex and it was nice, and then the next morning (Valentine's Day!), we had sex again, and we both came. (You guys, I had an orgasm on fucking Valentine's Day!!) On the third date, he took me to a self-realization center and then we went to my favorite restaurant for dinner. Again, he paid. This time, he picked me up and brought me a tiny vase of handpicked flowers. All of this I found incredibly romantic and unexpected.

Something happened after we had sex. Something that frequently happens. I found myself thinking about him more than I had before. Missing him, wanting to see him again. My female brain had turned on. Whereas before I had felt casual about our dates, now I felt anxious about the next one and like I was counting down the days. What was happening to me? It was all the scarier because I felt I really connected with this guy and didn’t want to fuck it up by getting obsessed.

Let me back it up. A month ago, I went on an ayahuasca journey. I drank the tea and lay down for a six hour, closed-eye meditation, and let's just say I saw some stuff. I saw John the bartender and all the various guys I'd had sex with over the past three years and, in a sudden moment of clarity, realized that what I had been searching for outside of myself had actually been within me all along. I was filled with an intense feeling of being in love that had nothing whatsoever to do with any of these men—in fact, it was a feeling I had never quite achieved with any of them. I felt in love with myself. I know this sounds very new age-y and some of you might be getting ready to barf, but it was a big revelation for me and afterwards I felt truly invigorated. I realized I was happy being on my own, knowing that I didn’t need anyone else to make me feel good or fulfilled.

Then this guy came along. And he really took me by surprise. We had met at a place where he works and I was freelancing, and then ran into one another around the reservoir by my house—him jogging, me walking. He said we should get a drink sometime. I said yes, enjoying the possibility but also thinking it might never actually happen, and continued on my walk. Within the hour I had a text from him saying he had gotten my number from a coworker, he hoped that was okay, and how about tonight?

At the wine bar, I found myself telling him everything, even about my blog—a subject I’ve made it a rule never to discuss on a first date. I can’t explain it except to say that from the questions he asked, I couldn’t not talk about the real stuff that was going on with me. I told him about my ayahuasca journey, about my revelation that I am enough. There was no small talk. I told him about my three years of sluttery and how I felt them coming to an end, that I’d recently had an epiphany that I wanted more than just random sex with strangers. He enjoyed my candor and shared that he too had been slutting around since his fiancĂ© basically left him at the altar, and that he was also coming to the end of this period in his life. I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to him. I had been nervous about the date, in part because I wasn’t sure if we’d have sexual chemistry, and also because I was pretty out of practice at the whole dating game. On our third date, I explained to him, “I don’t date much. I have sex and long relationships.” He told me I should go on more dates. 

What I liked most about this guy was the lack of games. After our first date, he texted that he was “still smiling” and wanted to see me again. Even when I went on my angry feminist rants, he seemed to gaze at me fondly. As we lay on the grass at the self-realization center, he watched me watching a couple young kids playing and said, “children laughing is the best sound in the world.” He seemed to be waiting for a response. What was I supposed to say to that? When a man says something like this, the woman swoons; but if a woman pays too much attention to babies on an early date, the man is likely to run for the hills. It reminded me of that Sex and the City episode when Carrie, trying to get back together with Aidan, goes to his apartment in the middle of the night and throws rocks at his bedroom window. In voice over she says, “When men attempt bold moves, generally it’s considered romantic. When women do it, it’s often considered desperate or psychotic.”

This guy told me that he had talked about me with his best girl friends, and that he'd just bought a sail boat and that “we should sail to Hawaii!” Maybe it’s just me, but when someone says something like this out loud, I take them seriously. I don’t assume this is just something they might say to anyone who happened to be sitting nearby. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe this guy does act like this with every girl he meets—stares fondly into her eyes, makes her feel like he’s falling for her—when really he’s just equally interested in all humans. He told me on our second date that he felt that sex was a contract and that he was more careful with it now because he knew that women could get hurt. He said he had tried to have casual sexual relationships with women and it never worked out for this reason.

When he dropped me off that third night, a Saturday, we made out furiously outside my front door. He was ending the night prematurely because he had to get up very early the next morning to help his friend build a deck before a baby shower and, as he explained, he liked me and wanted to get to know me better. Meaning, I guess, he didn’t just want this to be a sex thing. That honestly didn’t occur to me, as I found myself much more drawn to his personality and our emotional chemistry than the physical aspect of our connection. To me, the physical was just an extension of how we were connecting on so many other levels. He told me, "what I'm looking for is a best friend who also makes me really horny." Aren't we all, I thought.

He asked if I wanted to see a movie the following Wednesday and I said yes. I had already invited him to a concert on Friday, so now we had two dates for the coming week. My roommates were out of town and I had said he should come over and I’d make him dinner—he suggested we do this on Friday before the concert. I warned him that we shouldn’t make too many plans, but I found myself wanting to make more plans with him, even thinking about distant future plans that I really shouldn’t have been thinking about. Excited, I started to design the menu for Friday night.

On Tuesday night, he called to say he probably couldn’t do a movie on Wednesday after all because his work week had gotten insane. I put a smile in my voice and said, “Sure! No problem! What about Friday?”
He hesitated, “Well, the thing is we’ll probably be shooting all day Friday into the evening… but I might be able to make it.”
“I don’t want to stress you out!” I yelled happily into the phone.
“You’re not! It’s stressing me out that I can’t see you.”
“No problem!”
“Why are you so cool?” He asked, a delighted tone in his voice. My face reddened, thinking of the Amy Schumer sketch about the “Cool Girl.” I’m not, I thought. I just didn’t know I was allowed to not be cool in this instance. After all, we’re just casually dating.
“Well, if you can’t make it Friday, please just give me some notice so I can find someone else to go with me,” I said. He promised he’d let me know tomorrow. We hung up, and I was irrationally flooded with disappointment. I almost burst into tears. What was wrong with me? What did I expect? Why had I built this into some big thing? Here we had made two dates this week, and he had essentially cancelled both of them. But why did I care so much? How could he have known that I already had a full menu planned for Friday night? I felt emotionally raw and out of control. I didn’t like this feeling. I was having PTSD from the time when Mr. Intimidated told me at the last minute that he couldn’t come to the Sleater Kinney concert with me, and I couldn’t find anyone else to use the ticket, so I ended up going alone. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I decided to preempt the situation. I invited another friend whom I hadn’t seen in awhile to come with me to the concert. He said yes. I felt better, gaining back some sense of control.

When I told the guy that he was off the hook for Friday, I expected him to say something like, “Bummer! I wanted to see you.” Instead, he said, “Haha! Okay!” I suddenly realized that, despite the intimate behavior and loving way he looked into my eyes, he actually did feel pretty casual about this. Maybe all men felt casual about everything all the time. I was apparently incapable of feeling casual about any guy I fucked. And here he was, apparently not really caring that he would now not see me for over a week. I suddenly realized I wanted even more than this. Even more than a man who would bring me flowers and plan interesting dates, I wanted someone who showed up when he said he'd show up and who understood that I’m a planner and when I plan something and someone throws a wrench in my plan, it stresses me out. Maybe he doesn’t know this about me yet, maybe he won’t like me anymore when he realizes I’m not as cool as he thought, but that’s a risk I’ll have to take. I can be the Cool Girl a lot of the time, but not all the time. And I need to be with someone who doesn’t require that of me.

I don’t know what the future of it is. We’ll probably see each other again—after all, we do have tickets to attend Dan Savage’s amateur porn festival Hump! when it comes to LA in March so, unless something comes up and he has to bail, we’ll probably still go to that.

I find myself very vulnerable lately, and also full of expectation. There is so much I want and I really can’t let the whims of a man control my emotional state—it happens too easily of late. I know I’ve said before that I should stop having casual sex but I think I need to take it a step further and instigate a three dates before sex rule of thumb. The culture tells us that sex is casual and no big deal, and even I have spouted this same logic on this very blog. But I think I was underestimating the power of sex, the power it has over me. I have taken it too lightly, and it's not fun anymore. It's been a learning curve for me to even realize that by saying this, I'm not slut shaming myself, but actually protecting my heart. No matter how casual and cool I try to act, I can’t deny the effect that sex has on my emotions and my general sense of well-being, not to mention my ability to focus. I think men don’t really understand just how hurt we can get. Because we’re literally letting them inside our bodies. They don’t know what it’s like to be that vulnerable.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Growing Pains

“I used to consider myself like this agent of change for men in unhappy relationships. But I don’t know why I assigned myself that role. I don’t know why I made that my responsibility.”
“Well, that’s a very mature question you’re asking,” says the therapist. When she says this, I feel like a child.
“I haven’t been acting very mature lately,” I respond.
“You’re 29 years old!” She exclaims. I just turned 29. It’s a week after my birthday and I’m in a therapist’s office. It’s been a rough week.

The night after my birthday, I go to my local bar at last call and John the bartender is working. This time, from the moment I enter the bar, the game we have been playing no longer feels like a game. In fact, when I park myself in my usual spot in front of John’s register, he goes outside and I can see him talking to security. Moments later, a bouncer awkwardly comes to tell us it’s time to leave, which is unusual because we are always allowed to stick around after hours. I march outside to confront John and he explains, “You make me a bad person, I can’t be around you.”
He says that because of me he now has to, “lie to someone I love for the rest of my life.” He is referring of course to the fact that the last time I saw him, on Halloween, I sucked his dick in the women’s restroom. Since then, over Thanksgiving when I was up in the Bay Area visiting my parents, I met up with John’s Brother for dinner and sex. I had been excited to see the look on John’s face since my encounter with his brother—to see if he knew. I still thought the whole situation was hilarious. Apparently John didn’t know or care that I had seen his brother again—now he seemed only concerned about saving his own relationship by getting me the hell away from him. I tell him I want to be friends and we hug, pressing our pelvises together. He’s smirking under his resolve, and between telling me to leave him alone, he rubs his finger on my nipple, hard underneath my dress. Due to the mixed signals and because I can’t take no for an answer, I continue to push myself on him until he warily relents and lets me and my friends back inside the bar.

Later, I follow him into the storage room and suck his dick again while he’s distributing his coworkers paychecks in their cubbies. He says, “you really are crazy,” and drops a check on my head. Then he tells me he wants to “see something” so I pull up my dress, pull down my stockings and underwear and take my boobs out of my bra. I rub my butt on his crotch, and then he watches me as he jerks off to completion on the plastic mat covering the floor. These are the cliff notes. A long night of back and forth precedes this, a lot of John saying “please stop” and then, “I want to fuck you so bad.” It all culminates in this moment in the storage room, and then it’s all downhill from there. After he comes, John is visibly flooded with remorse. I feel bad for making him feel bad, and attempt to drunkenly convince him it isn’t a big deal and now that he’s come we can all move on with our lives. He looks at me like, yeah right. I follow him to the bathroom where he desperately tries to wipe the cum off his jeans. I tell him I don’t want to leave him alone, he seems so upset. He tells me that it’s not my responsibility. That’s true, so I walk away. John emerges from the bathroom and basically tells us the party is over and to get out. As we stalk outside, I see him yell at his fellow bartenders: “I’m so tired of no one listening to me. When I say everyone out, I mean everyone out!” He looks distressed and angry and sad and I’ve never seen him like this before.

It’s not until this moment that it dawns on me that this isn’t fun for John anymore. Maybe it never was. It’s a struggle for both of us, to be sure, but I thought that’s what was exciting about it—I thought it was a game. To him, I suddenly realize, the stakes are too high and my sexual whims are really fucking with his life. The moment I realize this is when I start to feel really awful about the whole thing.

I wrote a version of this story that was all chase scene and sex details. I gave it to my best friend to read and she wanted to know, not for the first time, what kept me going, what was I getting out of this? Why did I persist when John told me over and over in no uncertain terms that he did not want to cheat on his girlfriend? I justified my actions by telling her of all the mixed messages I had been receiving from him all along. The fact that when I touched him he told me to “keep it under the bar.” That between telling me to stop and enlisting my roommate’s help in keeping me away from him, he would lean into my neck and whisper that he wished we had a time machine bubble and could just have sex one time without any consequences. I told her about how I’d asked him how his sex life is with his girlfriend and he convincingly said it was good. To which I wondered, “so you just want variety then?” And he said, “I’m a very sexual person and I love women.” I told him it sounded like he wasn’t naturally monogamous. He asked if I was into girls, and said he wanted to see his girlfriend eat me out. I told him I am very sexually open and would try most things. He asked if I’d hooked up with my roommate, said he’d like to watch. I tried to express to my best friend that it was hard for me to listen to all of this stuff and then to walk away, that it’s my nature to pursue something to the bitter end even if I see the end looks dicey.

The next day I feel more depressed than I have in a long time. I spend the day sleeping and crying and feeling like garbage. I can’t stop playing last night’s events through my head and the look on John’s face at the end of the night is imprinted on my memory. I hate that my actions have turned this happy, good-natured guy into someone who looks like he hates himself. It was never my intention to make him feel bad, and that’s what I ultimately did. In a weird attempt to find some closure for myself, I go to John’s brother’s Facebook page (John is not on Facebook) and look through the photos of every single one of his female friends, searching for John’s girlfriend. He doesn’t have that many friends, so it doesn’t take that long, but it’s still insane that I do this.

What I discover only makes me feel worse: his girlfriend is really cool. Smart, funny, pretty, someone I might be friends with—a performer with plenty of online content I can absorb endlessly to feed the masochistic chasm that has suddenly opened up inside of me. I watch video after video and cry and feel even more sorry for myself, and also stupid, because for some reason I had assumed that his girlfriend was this mousy, boring person and now in the depths of self-loathing, I feel that I have discovered evidence that she is actually better than me.

I suddenly feel the unquenchable need to talk about this with anyone who will listen, but I also know that I am close to exhausting my friends on this topic, and I feel like I need to talk to someone who doesn’t know me. It is fascinating to hear the difference in perspective from the women in my life versus the men. My male friends, in particular Best Guy Friend and ex-boyfriend, are like, “boo hoo John, you got a blow job.” They laugh when I imply that I feel like a sex offender—both say he is a big boy and could have shut it down if he wanted to. The women in my life, by contrast, tell me that John sent very clear signals that he didn’t want to cheat on his girlfriend, and they all wonder why I persisted anyway. My social worker roommate rounds out the two perspectives by musing that because men have their sex organs on the outside of their bodies, it’s harder for them to control their urges, and that while his head was probably telling him to stop, his body was full steam ahead. This explains the mixed messages, and temporarily makes me feel better.

I decide I need to talk to a therapist. My best friend agrees.
“I’m very pro-therapy,” she says. She suggests I Google search “sex positive therapists in Los Angeles.” I don’t really know what to look for in a therapist, but this gives me a place to start, and finding someone who advertises themselves as sex-positive makes a lot of sense to me. My friend Paula recommends this woman who is into Jung and dream work and archetypes. She sounds cool and is nice on the phone so a week later I go in for a consultation. I am late getting to her office because I go to the wrong address and park and then walk around in the gusting wind desperately trying to find her and feeling sorry for myself and already like I might cry. I eventually find her and, within minutes of sitting down on her couch, I burst into tears.
“I know this is supposed to just be a consultation,” I gasp through the waterworks, “but I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
I tell her about Saturday night, and how bad I feel about what happened, that I don’t understand why I always have to push it so far. I don’t tell her about internet stalking John’s perfect girlfriend, or about the fact that I wrote him a remorseful letter and left it in the mailbox of the bar—a move that I now regret and actually went back to retrieve the letter only to find it was already gone.
“It sounds like you’re outgrowing this older version of yourself. This old idea you’ve had about who you are.”

I think about this, about the possibility of saying goodbye to this person who throws herself at men in relationships whom she’s decided are not happy. I wonder who will take her place. I haven’t seen the therapist again. I plan to, I just haven’t had time and the acute pain has subsided. Now I just feel lonely and tired. I wonder if I’ll ever meet someone and find a connection with a man that isn’t just about sex—the longer I go without it, the more distant it feels. I’ve stopped drinking for a month because I’m going to do ayahuasca at the end of January and you’re supposed to not drink, do drugs, have sex in preparation.
“You want to pack light for the journey,” the woman tells me on the phone. “You don’t want to be carrying any extra baggage.”

I’m hoping this journey will give me some clarity about where I’m going and what I’m doing. This final episode with John definitely felt like a wake up call. Even as I was sobbing on the bathroom floor on Sunday night, I had the sudden clarity that this must be progress, that something good must come out of all this pain, that I must be growing or it wouldn’t hurt so much.