At 2 a.m. on a Saturday night last summer, The Canadian walked into my life. He waited for the creepy guy hovering over me to head to the bar, and then he slipped right in as he said, “You’re the prettiest girl here, why are you talking to him?”
I watched him get dressed, slowly and confidently, lingering on the hardwood floor, one foot at a time. I found it odd and rather interesting that he put his socks on before his pants. He was careful about his movements, making sure to say sweet things to Lucy while peering around my room, this new place he hadn’t given much thought to in the twilight hours before. His blonde hair that was oily to the touch and thicker than I expected for a mid -30s man, moved loosely as he put himself together. Even as he got dressed, he watched my every slight movement: the way I draped the sheet gently across my hips, the way I curled my hair with my hand, tying up my long, tangled locks behind me in a messy bun. Our eyes met a few times and our lips couldn’t help but curl, thinking of the intensity we shared just a few moments before, and now we were awkwardly exchanging niceties with a stranger we just met, and yet, whose body we could still taste.
I hadn’t slept with him, even though I wanted to.
He was every bit sexy as I could imagine a man to be. He didn’t ask permission but he remembered to say those things that yes, are probably untrue, but still make me comfortable getting naked with a person I sincerely don’t know. He checked off all of the boxes I needed to check — tall, intelligent, well-paid, ambitious and inviting. From the time he boldly bought be a drink seconds after seeing me to the way he grabbed my waist in the cab, I was intrigued enough to let him do more than enough.
But as I laid there, wondering if I should have gone all the way and trying my best not to reach for his lips in my sunlight-drenched room at 10 am, I wondered where my heart was.
Lindsay just a few years ago would have never let someone come home with her. She would have doubted her wholesomeness, felt a void of goodness and secretly thought that welcoming sin into your life — and well, your bedroom– was prescription for continued relationship distress. She would have thought her wife material was ruined, her body tainted and that if she wasn’t madly in love with someone, he shouldn’t have the privilege of exploring her.
I’ll admit it, for a long time, I thought hook-ups, one-night-stands and drunken encounters of the sexual kind were tawdry. Wrong. Misleading. Dangerous.
But as I watched the tall Canadian with a nice chest and better arms, and a smile that seeps into your skin, I felt pride. Power. I had confidence that even if this person wasn’t someone I hear from or better yet, wanted to hear from, this night was what I wanted. It was what I craved and what I conquered. To be an independent woman, you need not hold yourself up on a pedestal if that pedestal keeps you from doing what you want. Maybe one less make out isn’t exactly deprivation, but if you always say no to your desires, how will you ever figure out what you want to say yes to? Most of the women I admire the most aren’t exactly Pollyannas – they are bold and vivacious, full of opinions and decisions that they don’t make excuses for. They come and they go, they waltz through life on their own timetable and schedule and they let themselves feel. And explore. Make mistakes and get dirty. Be who they are without wondering who cares or who will judge. Sex isn’t morally wrong, it’s biologically needed. They get that.
And more importantly, they own it.
There’s nothing wrong with having a sleepover with someone you’re attracted to and there shouldn’t be a pressure to sleep with – or not sleep with – them. There is no right or wrong answer, no choice that’ll outline the rest of your pending relationships or how your romantic love will be blessed by the heavens or damned by hell. I’ve seen relationships blossom from what was meant to be a one-time thing, and I’ve felt a certain, addicting rush from having a heavy makeout session with someone with a last name I don’t remember. I have friends who said “I love you” in the first week of knowing someone and others who took six weeks to have sex, and their relationships are equally as strong and well, equally as healthy, too.
But before they found those men, before they made a home with a guy they love to lay with – they liberated themselves first. They forgave themselves for having urges and they acted on them instead. They let go of the brainwashing and the shaming, the principles of what a “good girl” should be, and instead became the woman they wanted to become. A woman that yes, is a sexual creature. That’s full of everything a man’s full of (or mostly, anyway). That has passion and desires, that isn’t afraid of doing whatever it is that she feels comfortable with, whatever it is that makes her happy, satisfied and hungry.
I did hear from that mysterious man and he did propose a friends-with-benefits type of relationship. I had that with Mr. Possibility before it became more, and then with Mr. Smith for a period of time. I took home a guy last year who turned into a month-long sleepover, and I try to be a little freer when I’m on vacation and can let myself go in more ways than one. But with this particular guy, I wasn’t as interested in playing the booty-call card (because I kind of felt like I could like him for more), so I declined.
And that choice, that singular text message that wasn’t half as hot as the night we shared, made me feel powerful, yet again. It helped me get the spring in my step, the flirtatious attitude and hopeful spirit back in my heart and in my eyes. There’s something about not judging yourself – and indulging yourself – that makes you feel sexier than anything else.
Or maybe it’s the orgasm? Maybe it’s both. And maybe I like it.
This is probably the last time I’ll wake up with him, I thought watching the sunrise over the brick buildings on Amsterdam. It was a slow, gradual morning for the sun, just as it was for him. He didn’t move in the past two hours I was awake, other than to squeeze my hand and sigh silently into my neck, grazing his lips so slightly I could barely feel the tenderness on my skin.
I couldn’t sleep; my mind wasn’t interested in being anywhere but in this moment. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I responded to his text message after ignoring them all for over a week. Maybe it was because it was March and still a little cold outside. Or maybe I felt the sting of being lonely a little too deeply, and the thought of a warm body – especially one I knew as well as my own – was comforting. Nevertheless, I found myself waiting in bed, smooth and fragrant in a skimpy I swore he’d never see.
I asked him to call me when he arrived on the Upper West Side instead of ringing my apartment – I didn’t want my roommates to wake. I didn’t really want them to know, just like I was ashamed to tell my friends. And my readers. How could I preach one thing, promise another and then invite the shadow that was haunting me back into my life? Even if it was just for a night, the aftertaste always lingers much longer. And once you try it once, it’s easier to go back for seconds.
When I opened the door, he smiled that same sad grin I’d known for so long and tried so desperately to forget. But there was no wine, no girl’s night out, no one night stand, no anything that could really make me move on. I knew that challenge was up to me, and that I had been delaying the process by believing many wonderful, lofty things that really, I knew would never be. Especially with his hand massaging my back on the 10-step walk to my bedroom. Maybe it’d be like those dreams you wake up thinking about, but then disappear from memory ten hours later. If no one saw him here, then maybe I could pretend it never happened.
But it did. And I didn’t hate it, I sighed as I slowly turned over to face him, trying my best to keep him asleep. He never drifted away easily and I didn’t want him to leave before the alarm made him. I studied his face as I thought about all the space between us. No matter how far we got or how much time we spent together, there was always a gap I couldn’t bridge. Now, we’re lying as close as two can get, and yet, I know I’m still nowhere near his heart. He used to tell me that organ didn’t work for him, and then he said he’d try to make it alive again, and now we’ve just stopped talking about it. Have I settled to being his sex buddy? I wondered, terrified of the truth. I placed my hand on his chest and curled into the nook I used to sleep in nightly and reassured myself: No, you’re just now the backburner. Not the frontrunner. Without making a sound, I let a tear get away, and realized that honestly, being on hold was worse than being used for sex.
He felt my weight against him as I sank into his side and he murmured something inaudible as he kissed my forehead and pulled me closer. I heaved a sigh of total confusion – knowing he would always want to be beside me like this, but never beside me in the ways that mattered. The ones that counted in any book I’d ever read. You’re awake, Tigar? he asked, nibbling at my ear. I nodded to where he could feel it but didn’t slip a word, knowing if I did, I’d say things I’ve said a hundred times. Things that have lost their meaning because nothing has changed. Because nothing will.
We cuddled silently until it was time to start the getting-ready routine – something we mastered in small spaces months before. I snuck him into the bathroom, wishing I lived alone just this once so I wouldn’t have to worry about the shocked faces or the disapproving glances I knew I would get, I knew I’d deserve. As I rinsed his touch off of me, wondering if he’d ever stay with me again, he started rambling about work and the week ahead. He asked me questions so casual you’d think we talked all the time, that we had never broken up, that I hadn’t been attempting to get over him for six months. He asked me about my plans and upcoming events, and I gave him simple answers to match his simplistic attitude that I felt weren’t nothing compared to my conflicting thoughts.
And then I dared to go there: Mr. Possibility- what did I teach you? Did I teach you anything from dating me? I asked with the shower curtain spread open, the water falling across my back. I didn’t care that my face was bare, that my body was exposed and my heart was vulnerable, standing before this man I couldn’t understand.
He didn’t miss a beat and answered: How to love. You taught me how to love, Lindsay. And he left the steamy room just as it was getting hot.
Months after this incident, where I’m dating and rediscovering the city through my lens instead of his, I find myself coming back to that moment. Back to those three words: how to love. For a while, I was convinced if that was the case, I must be a horrible teacher if that was his idea of true love or loving someone. Then I cursed my heart (for the first time ever) for being so unconditional, so understanding, so patient and forgiving. I let myself feel so many extraordinary things that weren’t felt in return, and in the end, I never got the apology, the answers, the anything I really needed.
But I did get a lesson. One very important, overly-dramatic lesson.
I learned there’s no course to study or class to take. There are many tests but never any measure of success. There are many words to write, but no rubric to follow. There are no answers to any of the questions or a correct bubble to fill in. The choices are endless, but the options seem limited. No matter the experience you endure or the hours you put into studying — there will never be a tried-and-true way to know how to love.
Maybe someone can teach you – the best anyone can teach something they’ll never fully comprehend or have the ability to describe. Maybe there are people who are shining examples of how to care for another person, and others who are quite the drastic opposite. Maybe the love is different depending on who wears it and who wears on you – but the thing about love is that it’s just a word until it’s put into action.
I may have taught him how to love but he never could translate it into something that meant something more. Into something that mattered in the ways that are significant. Those three words, where they be I love you or how to love – are meaningless until there are gestures and evidence there to support them.
So if every relationship teaches us something – as I have always believed they do – then that’s Mr. P’s contribution. He’s made me see that love is so much more than words, no matter how often they’re spoken or sincere they can seem. And if he could never show me what they really mean, I know there must be someone out there who can.
My friend R recently started a no-strings attached, friends-with-benefits type of relationship with an old pal from high school. Having been through a hell of year and in dire need of a few (or many) orgasms, she agreed to release some tension with a person she’s always sorta had a thing for, but more importantly, someone she’s comfortable with.
Though R is in North Carolina and I’m in New York, we’ve maintained a close friendship – often sharing every intimate detail of our personal lives with one another, no barrier too gruesome or risqué to cross. And since both of us are rather open, our conversations tend to be a tad dramatic and almost always wildly entertaining. Since she’s been with the Sex Buddy, I’ve received phone calls and text messages, asking for advice and describing her romps.
But this morning, the chat I received was less about hanky-panky, and more about something far more intense than any hard-on or sexual dilemma: feelings. She claimed she almost hyperventilated before they spent the night together because she realized she was starting to like him, as opposed to just liking his down under action.
Maybe When Harry Met Sally’s assumption that men and women can never truly be friends is accurate or maybe it’s another indication that sex messes up even the most nonchalant courtships, or maybe it’s a truth that dates way past either of the aforementioned: it is scary to care.
There’s always that turning point in a could-be relationship where ends stop being loosely tied and emotions connect on a level that neither can prepare for. There is a period where you can place your heart on hold and enjoy the moment, until those moments increase, along with tension and the need to let your heart off the hook, and onto your sleeve. And that’s when brevity turns into the hope of longevity; and defining what you have or what you’re working toward starts to take over those crazy-girl parts of your brain, and thus, you find yourself hyperventilating while texting your friend.
Because when feelings develop, fears and questions come along with them: what if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if I get my heart broken? What if this is all too-good-to-be-true? How does he view me? What if he cares more and I end up breaking his heart? Is he seeing other people? Do I care if he’s seeing other people? Does he care if I am? What are we????
I don’t want to count how many times I’ve entertained these thoughts with different men at different points in our pseudo-relationships. I’ve laid in the arms of guys as they play on their Blackberrys, wondering if they were texting the girl they’d share the same bed with the following night. I’ve put off “The Talk” in hopes eventually the dude would beg me to be his forever and ever, and I’d never have to have a proper conversation defining what we were doing and what we were. I’ve held everything I felt, especially what I didn’t want to feel, inside for so long that without a notice, in the middle of a sunny, beautiful July afternoon, I inappropriately exploded a fury of frustration over Cobb salads and sangria.
And that’s the worse part about being scared to care – if you don’t let yourself do it, you’ll end up scaring the person you care about away. Or worse yet, scaring yourself so badly that you never end up caring in the capacity you’re capable of or that you deserve.
There is no denying that falling in love and willingly giving parts of yourself to another person is terrifying. I have a theory that to truly be in love with someone, you have to be not only brave, but be a tad crazy, too. No rational, independent person would place their trust, their heart, and perhaps their life and future in the hands of someone who has no tangible obligation to stick through the thick-and-the-thin with you. Being vulnerable isn’t a pleasant feeling, but if you can get through the initial pang that your heart could be ripped out of your chest – you’ll find something equally scary but comforting too. Or at least it tends to be comforting for me, anyway.
When you do put yourself out there, when you do allow feelings to grow, become stronger and more connected; when you give away pieces of your soul and place work into a relationship when it faces conflict, and when you take a chance on love – you don’t know if it will work out. You can’t predict and you can’t place your bests in a space where safety is guaranteed – but you can place a wager on yourself.
And if history does repeat itself, the fact of the matter is that even if you’re scared to care – you’ve been scared to care before. Even if you deeply in love and you notice how perfectly you match with someone else – you’ve felt that way before. And even if whatever you hoped for doesn’t come to be – you’ve been let down before, too.
So you overcome the fear. You fall in love. You revel in the magic. And if you have to, you overcome the heartbreak. Because no matter how scary it is to care, it is even scarier to never care again because you’re afraid of doing something…you’ve already done.