I’m at a point in my life (24 years and a month, to be exact) where I’m finally slipping out from my romantic ideas of the world and starting to accept hard facts. Things like preparing to be alone forever, me not giving a shit about impressing people who don’t deserve my time, etc.
However, I’m in a funk right now that I can’t figure out, which is horrendous because I’m a logical thinker who wants to solve every problem anyone has right away. Six months ago, I was living with my boyfriend at the time in the small, shitty college town where we went to school. He originally grew up there, in fact, and after awhile I started to realize that he wanted to stay forever, and I just couldn’t do it. So I moved to a much bigger city which I am enjoying for the time being (who says I should put both feet on the ground yet?). The break up was hard for me, especially since I’ve recently learned he’s got a new girlfriend already six months after telling me he didn’t want to date anyone (pretty sure he meant to say “I don’t want to date YOU”). I’ve dated around a few times since then but no guy has really clicked with me, or I with him (really though, mostly me-to-him).
I have a lot of LGBT friends and, being an ally of the that community, I often go to gay bars with them. But after awhile I started to get restless and wanted to go somewhere I could meet a guy. So a couple weeks ago, we went bar hopping to some dive bars and such. I didn’t really think anything would happen, but I met a guy and it escalated pretty quickly (approx. 30 minutes, plus or minus a drunk-hour). We were gearing up to go back to my place when he told me he needed to let his girlfriend know he was leaving. Wait, what? Oh, he said, we’re in an open relationship. Now I have nothing against that cause you know, different folks, different strokes. I saw him chatting with her and she seemed upset and left, but still we ended up in my bed, having the best sex of my life. Like, kamasutra, 5 hours of cunnilingus, that type of shit. This guy keeps telling me I’m beautiful, yadda yadda yadda typical boy-wants-to-get-laid things.
Anyway, eventually we’re not having sex and I start prodding him about the open relationship thing. Mostly out of curiosity, but also because I think I felt a bit guilty and definitely confused. He seemed annoyed when I mentioned her, so I just stopped and, of course, we started fucking again.
The next morning we exchange numbers and he leaves. A few days later, he texts me some small talk and we chat for awhile. Then, out of nowhere, he gets really serious and tells me wants to make absolutely sure I understand that he’s got a significant other, although they both occasionally have sex with other people. Now, I don’t usually get mad at many things but boy, that really hit a nerve with me. I replied with a very stern “yeah, I’m aware,” hoping to end the conversation. But nope! For the next five minutes he continues to explain several times over his relationship status, as if the “yeah, I’m aware,” didn’t strike him the way it was intended, which is “YES, I KNOW.”
Now, I’m all about women’s lib. I believe a woman can fuck and walk just like a man can. But I am REALLY upset that he seems to think I can’t. Since that conversation I’ve been feeling like a compressed ball of energy is in my chest, waiting to explode. But I don’t know why! Maybe I’m hurt that, subconsciously, that sex felt like a huge compliment that he gave me, only to pull the rug out from under me and take it away. Maybe I’m just really uncomfortable with the idea of messing around with a man who has a girlfriend, even though they are (well, at least he is) OK with it. Maybe I’m pissed that I met a hot guy who is fantastic in bed and shares interest with me who also happens to be taken. I don’t know! But I’ve felt like shit since, and I need someone, i.e. you, to sober my feelings up a bit. With brutal honesty, of course.
Dear Ms. WTFIGO,
This is very natural, lab-rat-wants-the-pellet stuff on both sides. You turned him on and he wants to have sex again, but he also wants to bludgeon you over the head with his relationship status to assuage his own guilt, to mollify the girlfriend who’s standing a few feet away, or just to clarify and strengthen his Have Your Cake And Eat It Too worldview. He does one or all of these things for him, not for you. That’s why you feel like a fucking towel he just jerked off into.
You, on the other hand, have had your mind liquified by an oral performance so breathtaking it belongs on PBS’s “American Masters.” Your circuitry is in a high state of alert. You’re ready to push that pedal 50 million times just to get another pellet from your invisible cunnilingual overlord, thanks to the fact that your hypothalamus is in overdrive. (Do they still think it regulates the sex drive, or is that outdated science? They keep changing the names and shapes of the goddamn dinosaurs, so what do I know? It makes me want to go bury my head in the sands of Constantinople.) Bottom line: Your body wants more premium-grade sex, pronto.
But, since you just got dumped and replaced (OK, maybe I’m being extra brutal just to match the brutality inside your head), now you’re feeling a little fragile. You’re tough, yes, that’s clear. But now you feel a little sick about things. Feeling like a jerk towel. Because you got a text that essentially said, “Hey sexy lady, what’s the haps? Cool. Yeah but seriously LISTEN UP: I’M DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH MY GORGEOUS GIRLFRIEND WHO IS PERFECT FOR ME IN EVERY WAY. ROGER THAT? GORGEOUS. IN LOVE. FOREVER PROBABLY. SHE RULES MY WORLD. DO YOU COPY? I REPEAT, DO YOU COPY?!!”
Even for an American Master, this was beyond the pale. Clarifying things in one text? Maybe. Explaining the next time he sees you? Sure. But texting on and on and on? That was self-pleasuring at its worst.
And I’m telling you, this is the curse of the roving lady drinker/predator. You get the premium grade sex handed to you on a silver platter occasionally, and you think, “I AM sexy, really fucking sexy, and this is the high-quality sex that I fully deserve.” And then the world comes in your face fifteen times and wipes its ass on your nice hand towels. Stupid world.
High-caliber one night stands can be troubling, too, because they give you a deceptive chemical rush that indicates that YOU MUST BE IN LOVE because your brain is dripping out of your ears and he is the cause and he looks so so good. I still remember saying to this one extra-skilled guy, “Wow, that’s not even fair, to be that good.” Yes, I was so cavalier about the fact that my brain was forming a puddle on the floor. Because I assumed I would win in the end! Even though I immediately told him that HE brought the magic, HE brought the pellets, HE was the source of all divine wonder in the universe, I was still perplexed to discover that he was a player. He was a player, hmm, maybe because he looked great and had crazy skills and wanted to spread his deluxe goods to the impoverished lady masses? Of course. In truth, this was charity. He was doing me a favor.
And really, who can blame him for feeling omnipotent, with such skills at such a young age? That’s like being born with J. Lo’s body. What can you really do to resist the inexorable pull of Fly-Girl-dom and $15,000 skin creams?
So this ball of compressed energy in your chest, that’s your knotted-up ego, which you’ve just chewed up and swallowed whole, and it’s also your extra-alert, overstimulated sex drive. You were walking around feeling sexy, getting all geared up to press the pedal and get the pellets, and some small part of you assumed that you would win. What kind of shriveled-up toad doesn’t assume that? Ye shalt win thine magic man. This was the end of the rainbow, really. Not because you’re a sucker, but because YOU ARE AN ANIMAL. Animals want to survive. When an animal stumbles on a mate that releases all the right chemicals in its brain, that makes the animal think it’s going to be not only safe and secure and well-fed but also thoroughly licked and groomed and ushered into an extended state of extreme bliss. This is the genetic jackpot. Secure that mate and flash your incisors near its jugular, if necessary!
For him to then say, “OH HEY NOW, DON’T FORGET MY FOREVER LOVER, MY EVERYTHING! PLEASE VERIFY THAT YOU COPY!” That’s the Go Apeshit signal for the nervous system, is all. Throw in an exboyfriend with a brand new lady of his own, and you’ve some major ego torpedoes raining down on you from the skies above.
And let’s get one thing straight, right here, right now: Sex is not a huge compliment. Sex is not even a small compliment, even when sex is saying, “Hot damn, you’re fine.” Even when sex feels like being ushered into a shiny silver land of angels and moonbeams, it’s not a compliment. No. Someone wanting to fuck you? That’s commonplace. Because you’re an animal, it’s natural for you to believe that it means you’re going to survive and win, win, win. Nah. You’re just going to be sore in the morning.
Enjoy yourself, but don’t place a huge amount of stock in your hotness and your charms, formidable though they both may be. Don’t keep rolling out the door in search of men to reassure you that you really are beautiful, you really are great in bed, you really are meant to win, win, win. Most of all, don’t – DON’T! – resolve to be tougher, more cavalier, less invested. You’re already starting down that path. Don’t do it. You can accept the hard facts about the world without losing all of your romantic ideas. Don’t toughen up and act proud and flaunt your swagger. (See also: “A Tree Falls In The Forest” in my book, which describes exactly what happens when you try to be tougher and more cavalier than you really are.)
If you try to put this situation behind you and in so doing, pretend that it doesn’t bother you, you run the risk of becoming the kind of swaggery fun-time girl who blocks out her own feelings for the sake of appearances. She makes a pretty resilient brand, but not a very healthy person. And while we’re examining our reductive perspectives on sexuality, let’s go ahead and cast a shadow of doubt on the belief that men need a new jerk towel every few seconds, and that justifies whatever the fuck they need to do, because biology is destiny. That’s a skewed notion that’s been endorsed and perpetuated by our culture in order to sell shit, so now we walk around thinking that we’re less than human, controlled by some almond-sized nugget in our brains. Like we shouldn’t be expected to make rational choices, or honor our hearts or our loyalty.
Does it make sense that we should take our cue from a culture packed with brands that tell us we’re one-dimensional beasts? And brands that bring out the very worst in us, brands that don’t challenge us, brands that make us feel really comfortable being even less than we are now? These things transform our world into a version of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, where we sit in our La-Z-Boys among mountains of trash, sucking sports drinks out of tubes in the chair, and yanking it to close-ups of big round butts. (OK, I really didn’t mean to make that sound so appealing.)
If you’re going to be a brand at all, at least don’t be a brand that takes it easy on the lazy and the small-minded. Don’t be a brand that would never dare to make people work a little harder. Don’t be a brand that celebrates the lowest common denominator. Remember, you aren’t depending on this sale. You can say, “I don’t fuck guys with girlfriends, and I don’t care what complex and rigorous philosophical scaffolding they might have to justify getting their rocks off with strangers.” You can say, “Don’t text me your Bill of Rights, dipshit. I’m not interested.”
That’s tough, too, I guess. But it’s toughness that’s true to your feelings, toughness that keeps your heart safe.
In the comfort of your own home in the big city (put both feet on the ground, why don’t you?), you can let your guard down and feel sad about this mirage of a man, with his pretty face and his impressive skills. (Note to other young men: Apply yourself! Be a master of your trade, for fuck’s sake, not a pudding-lapping hound.) In the comfort of your nice little apartment, you can cry and let that ball of compressed energy slowly loosen and disperse.
It’s hard to be alone at times like these. I get it. It feels crazy to exit some magical fairyland of good sex, and then get your face rubbed into your own shit afterwards. It’s nothing personal, really. Forgive that guy. It was tough for Dirk Diggler, too, once he realized that the party was over and he wasn’t a great, big, shining star anymore. Let that guy go forth and fine-tune his elaborate rationalizations with someone else. This will be a funny story, in a few years.
It’s not a funny story yet. Don’t rush to get there. You can feel bad about it, even if it seems like a small thing. We’ve all been there. This doesn’t mean that the next truly magical guy who comes along is a false god, or a male siren, or an asshole. You won’t be able to tell the difference between any of these things, though, if you drink too much and leap before you look. You won’t be willing to tell the difference if you overvalue your looks, or if, when someone says you’re beautiful, a little piece of you believes that you’re going to win, win, win and keep on winning.
Fuck winning. Don’t get all shiny and hard and special. Let yourself be odd and awkward, and hurt. You’ll be stronger and happier if you let yourself feel genuinely upset by this right now. Crumple on down into the carpet, and sob for a while. You need to remember this, and acknowledge that it upsets you, that you don’t want to do this to yourself again. If you deny that this hurts, though, you will do it again and again and again. Think about how you want to live, and who you want to be. Even when you’re very young, it’s not impossible to drink a little less, and say no to bad propositions. It doesn’t make you boring to do that, either. It means you give a shit about your own feelings.
So give in to those feelings a little. Then get up, walk to a plant store, and pick out a plant you really like. Take it home and set it by the window, and water it every single morning while you’re waiting for your coffee to be done. You are a regular pretty lady living a regular life, and this is the very beginning of your story. Stay open to the world around you. Pay attention to people who aren’t bullet-proof brands. Give some time to those who make you work a little harder to see them clearly, to let them in. You are raw potential, but you’ll only stay golden if you give up on glory and show the world your true goofy, unwashed, brutal, brilliant, opinionated, vulnerable self. Make them work harder for it. And if they’re not offering you the deal you want, be prepared to walk.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Still from Idiocracy by Gwydion M. Williams.