…yes, this is a TLC reference.
My years in Philadelphia were defined by a comforting, reliable celibacy. Occasionally a Portlander would pass through town in an attempt to challenge my commitment to sexual solitude. Sex became an afterthought, after years of seemingly being the motivation behind all of my most foolish, reckless actions. I was no longer drunkenly climbing into the second floor bedroom windows of unwitting conquests. There were no delirious late night bicycle rides to rendezvous with top secret lovers. I was barely remembering to shave my legs and I was officially on the pill for “medical reasons.” Most importantly–and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m still nostalgic for this state–every aspect of my life was so much simpler, and always, ALWAYS about me and my feelings. I did not miss waking up in bed with a bad case of cottonmouth and some dude I barely liked. Ahhhh, the delight of waking up well-hydrated in one’s own bed. I definitely didn’t miss waiting waiting WAITING for someone to call or text, wondering what or who was possibly more important than seeing me.
Around this time my mom cautioned me “Beware…being single is addictive.” I assumed that she was referring to the revolving door of casual sex and drunken dates that generally dominate the life of the average bohemian single woman. I could see how variety and excitement were addictive. Meanwhile I was spending my weeknights in yoga class and my weekends with my family; of course the soothing embrace of repetition and solitude is more subtly habit-forming, like cough syrup as an insomnia cure.
And then I abruptly moved across the country.
My first boyfriend in years called me before my plane even landed in Portland.
“I’m out of town but I’m coming back early tomorrow so save some time for ME.”
I had no intention of dating this silly scrawny man with nerdy clothes and no real hobbies and interests. But there it was. Sometimes falling in love is dictated by mere biology, and not fashion choices or musical taste. I once read that two people can fall in love merely by sustaining a specific quantity of eye contact. Maybe it was 8 seconds or 8 hours. And maybe this time was spread out over a period of weeks or perhaps it was merely the byproduct of an intense staring contest. I suppose I could research this, but I’m hoping that you have also read this article and/or you believe everything I type. My lifelong (so far) problem has been more insidious: I can’t help but fall in love with someone who has spent hmmm…let’s say, about 90 minutes (cumulatively) inside my body. In other words, if I sleep with someone about ten times, all bets are off. Of course I have fallen in love with people long before I’ve gotten to know them in ye olde biblical sense. Those are the few and amazing (counted on less than a handful of fingers) individuals that I’m always going to love. But those who have won my heart merely by penetrating my body will not have to rely on the ability to make me laugh until I cry or the ownership of an impressive bookshelf. And those are the individuals that I will always hate myself for loving. I will hate myself even more for missing them when they are gone.
So this guy won me via sex. I don’t want to downplay his positive attributes: he was funny and his mental database of trivia was both impressive and infuriating. But after years of intermittent sexual contact with others, the throwdown, dress-ripping evenings we shared were intoxicating. Over time the situation began to feel uncomfortable and (unfortunately) somewhat familiar. He was sleeping over at my place every night. We were spending most of our weekends together. Yet he never introduced me to his friends and never EVER would he allow anyone to photograph the two of us together. We certainly never had a “relationship talk.” The ambiguousness of our relationship, while initially comforting, began to turn into a source of agony. I suspected that he was secretly ashamed of me. Maybe it was my dumb hipster job or my ridiculous clothes. Even after he said “I love you” to me, everything still felt temporary.
And ultimately, it WAS temporary. In the fall, he left the country for six months. While we spoke every day of OMG HOW MUCH WE MISSED EACH OTHER, he was still gone and there was no plan for “us” upon his return. When he returned in the spring, the real drama began. My friends hated him for his months and months of dickish behavior both before and after he left the country. Meanwhile my body was practically aching to hook up with him as much as possible. I would arrange to meet him in secret spots where none of my friends would ever spot us (a.k.a. OPERATION: ANONYMOUS–If you ever want to know the best Portland bars for these sorts of missions, drop me a line). Whenever we did happen to encounter someone we knew (usually one of his friends), he would pretend that he didn’t even know me. The sex got weird and wilder as the summer progressed. My weekend mornings quickly became a regretful series of Epic Walks of Shame: first I would stumble out of his bed to search for my clothes. With my head aching, I would begin the long search for my bicycle (usually at least one bus ride away from his place). I would finally walk into my apartment in the mid-afternoon, hating myself and my stupid, stupid vagina.
Suddenly I was swimming in a sea of guilt.
I felt guilty for lying to my friends about where I was every night.
I felt guilty for wanting so badly to sleep with this guy who was secretly ashamed of me.
I felt guilty for thinking about him when I should have been focusing on work.
I felt guilty for feeling guilty, because hey, wasn’t I more evolved than that?
Guilt was filling up my mouth and throat, dripping out of my ears and nose, and when I looked in the mirror, I could see it slowly creeping across the whites of my eyes. Whiskey and powders could keep it at bay for a while, but I knew at any moment that the guilt was going to suffocate me once and for all.
PART TWO: GUILT IS A COMMUNICABLE DISEASE…coming later this week.