The general wisdom is that there are only so many adventures one is allotted in life, and they always seem to already be in the past. As I’ve aged and remained single, I depend more on the generosity of coupled friends to include me in new adventures, a beggar at the feast of their love and mobility. It was just such an adventure I planned for myself this summer. A trip to travel across the country and see the eclipse with a married couple, sitting in the backseat like a child, perhaps sleeping at the foot of their bed like a dog. But I was promised we’d be picking up friends along the way to turn our threesome into a stabler four or five wheeler.
Days before my plane took off I found out that we’d be a lonely trio for the majority of the car ride. Sitting in my hot apartment, and on my period, this suddenly seemed like an adventure I didn’t have the psychological bandwidth to enjoy. After much emotional negotiating via text, I canceled.
An awareness of why one is overreacting to something doesn’t actually stop you from overreacting. For the next day or so I was deep in the mopes. If traveling with a couple was unbearable, when would I travel? When would I set sail? How hard and lonely must the road be? I can’t even fucking drive!
Luckily, I do have lots of single friends as well, and during a night of drugs and drinking we made wild loose plans to see the world on a girl’s trip. We are single and ready to mingle with the totality of the universe. How about this weekend, with maybe a Monday return? Oh, wait that won’t work. How about October? Maybe 2018, in the late spring but before it gets too hot—unless someone has an audition. Fragmented hopes flitted around the room and settled in darkened corners, forgotten the next morning as we ground on through another day of the waning vacation season.
Hungover and clinging to the edge over a deep depressive hole, I got a message. A man I had matched with almost a month earlier while visiting my family on Long Island. Did I want to meet up? He’d asked before and not followed through. I considered saying I was too sad. I looked around my filthy apartment and contemplated the effort of straightening up just in case, then fell back down against the couch, defeated. Sure, I messaged, naming a place a stone’s throw from my door. Whatever. If nothing else, I have this fucking blog to finish. Yet another stupid rut I’ve dug myself into.
I waited in the bar with my legs up on a stool, refreshing Facebook, drinking sparkling wine. Even if the date is bad, you can have a nice potion. If I could describe my mood as I waited, it would be “Come At Me, Stranger.” I feel bad, I feel gross, and lord help me, I’m still on my period.
Then he walked in.
I don’t know why we sometimes get things when we really need them, or why sometimes it feels like we wait and wait and wait and nothing comes. I don’t know if I believe in setting intentions, or the pull of the moon, the power of cold celestial bodies over our flimsy, heated, fleshy ones. I don’t know if I had somehow conjured—through long nights of reflective writing and hesitant kisses and both terrible and gorgeous dates—this one encounter that reminded me sometimes adventures are heading your way whether you believe in them or not. They’re just on the other side of the door from where you’re waiting with a glass of pink champagne. For the next two and a half weeks, this man fucked my brains out, and if you don’t want to read anything more about that, stop here.
That night I got fucked in my filthy apartment. On the day of the eclipse, I got fucked in a public park and in my apartment (properly vacuumed) again. Then again later that week. This date was traveling back and forth to his job in the Hamptons and briefly to his home in California, then back again. I wondered at one point if he was fabricating his constant imminent departure to inject some urgency into our need to have sex again, perhaps immediately, right now? He commented that if we lived in the same city, the frequency of these sexual dates would be borderline rude. You don’t fuck someone all night that you just met three times in a week unless there’s no tomorrow.
For our fourth date, I traveled to Long Island to stay with him for the night. I told him I’d never had sex in a car, having been born and bred in New York City—hence my inability to take myself on a road trip. He rented one. That night we had sex in and on top of a car, in an alley, in a hot tub, under the stars, and in his boss’s summer home. The next day we fucked on the beach, the sea foam rushing up around us. I accidentally stared into the sun over his shoulder and started to laugh, thinking that instead of damaging my retinas looking at the eclipse, it’d be during an orgasm.
After our beach date, I decided to go on to visit my aunt and uncle further down the island, a solo vacay for a solo girl. He dropped me off at the bus stop, in a rush to return the car, and I waved a cavalier farewell. I ended up waiting for awhile, having misread the schedule. Suddenly, he appeared on foot across the street, Tylenol in hand, because I’d said I had a headache. A cup of coffee had already neutralized it, but I slipped the small, considerate packet into my pocket. He was bathed in that gorgeous light that only seems to shine in late August, just before twilight when everything and everyone is golden. It illuminated his green eyes and curling peppery hair. He walked off to work after kissing me and gently cupping my face goodbye, dancing through the traffic on the busy street like a show off. We planned to meet one last time on Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer and his time in New York.
As the final night approached, I began to really worry. How could I be having so much fun sex with a friendly, thoughtful man who actually knew what he was doing? There must be some terrible price to pay for an experience like this. Every sore muscle and mosquito bite was a sign of a disintegrating, diseased body. The pain in my side was probably an egg being accidentally inseminated and then immediately exploding my insides with a fallopian tube pregnancy. The place where I burned my tongue on a taquito was probably throat cancer from HPV. The only possible reaction to sex is falling completely apart. Obviously, most of my physical anxieties were really about diagnosing the potential damage to my heart.
When I was in my twenties I dated a man 16 years my senior whose libido was very similar to mine and to that of my new sex friend: HIGH. I’ve been with people whose libido didn’t match mine, and felt the shame of being a very horny woman. Somehow, it’s still embarrassing to be a lady and also love sex. As a 26-year-old, after a series of lovers who made me feel kind of crazy for being so desirous, a guy who could keep up with me felt like a revelation. When that guy wanted to separate because he was looking for a serious relationship and I didn’t want to get serious, I said I loved him and became a “girlfriend,” then promptly miserable, despite the sex. I stayed his girlfriend for about 9 months, which was probably 8 months too long.
For the last three years, I have been more or less celibate, a state which seems as intolerable now as it felt inevitable during those years. Now here I was, glutting myself on fornication, and I was genuinely afraid I might say or do something absolutely insane when I had to utter a final goodbye to this date before he flew back to California to resume his normal life.
In a panic, I texted a friend about my fears.
“You’re beautiful and smart and sexy,” she replied. “And this nice man wanted to bone you repeatedly. You will have that again.”
My date said much the same thing to me that Monday, our last night together that extended into Tuesday morning, the time of his flight home. He had admitted on our second date that he’d read my essay on being alone forever, and as we chatted over dinner, we talked about dating generally. He’d told me about other women he was seeing, and his disinterest in committing to anyone. Ever. A lot of what he said reminded me of what I say to people who ask if I’m looking for a permanent partner, except it sounded far more sincere. Perhaps I am more conflicted because I don’t completely trust myself to stick with those convictions if I met someone I could keep. I wondered, if we lived in the same city, would I try to woo and win this man? Would I let it tear me apart if he kissed another woman the night before? Or would I be able to appreciate him as he is, allowing him to come and go as easily as I did at the Jitney bus stop?
During that conversation I brought up how few people I’d had sex with in recent years, and my date insisted that I shouldn’t be insecure, I was attractive and was even fun to just hang out with! My inner reaction to that is what assured me that I wouldn’t make a complete ass of myself over him that evening. It was too ridiculous. OF COURSE I am great and fun and attractive and OF COURSE I know that. Just three months ago, I could barely stand to go out with anyone, and now here I was, fucking him all over town. You can’t do the things you really want if you don’t believe you deserve to. Another date like this may not come around every day, but whenever they arrive, I’m finally certain I’m ready to meet them.
The next morning we, as usual, fucked. This sounds strange, but in all our sexual exploits, he had never said my name. It’s difficult to pronounce for lots of people, and I can tell some folks are hesitant to even try. This is especially noticeable with people I meet on dating apps, who’ve mostly only read it and never had much reason to say it. In the throes of passionate intercourse I asked him to, thinking it would add another dash of erotic frisson to the moment.
He said my name several times, a bit awkwardly, but more-or-less right. I hid my face, shocked by a sudden lump in my throat, a sense of oncoming tears. It wasn’t a realization of love. I think it was realizing that I want to be seen and known as myself, by someone who understands the value of that self. Though he appears to be a genuinely smart, kind, sensitive person, this date didn’t know much about me that wasn’t expressed solely through physical intimacy. The bravery it takes to tread into that poignant world of bittersweet longing, to be vulnerable about the desires of your heart as well as your body, is not something I have acquired in 12 weeks. I may never have it, or think the risk is worth taking. But naming your want is the first step.
As he got ready to go, it was difficult to strike the right parting tone. He started to mention something we could do in future, before drifting off, silently acknowledging there was no future.
“Had we but world enough and time,” he started again, quoting the Andrew Marvell poem “To His Coy Mistress.” A bit inappropriate, as I had certainly not guarded my virtue.
“The grave is a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace,” I answered, then wondered aloud if it was the same poem at the confused look he gave me. No, he didn’t think so.
[Narrator: It was.]
We said goodbye, for real this time. Hours later, my period came. I had lost track of the days, and for a moment wondered if sex had really broken me. It was only the cycle of my body, or the tugging of the moon if you believe in all that.