Before I returned home in January to avoid the emotional and social aftermath my ex concocted, I updated my OK Cupid status to Chicago. Although I had some old friends I was excited to see, I didn’t have a community of people to chill with like I did while in grad school, and I wasn’t living in the city so it would be more difficult to make one or find people to go out with. More so, I was looking for some validation that I was attractive dating material… plus, I wanted to bone. The free dating site didn’t do much for me in Texas. There weren’t many rad feminist nerds, and if there were, I was limited because I didn’t have a car and I was swamped with grad school work. To my surprise, I had hundreds of visitors to my profile within the first couple days. By the time I arrived at O’Hare airport, I had several dates lined up and a potential six or seven more. My self-esteem was at the highest since the Spring.
So I spent my first week hanging out with some friends (a philosopher transplant in a Northwestern English grad program, a Texas socialist, an old friend kinky hipster) and some dates. My first date–a microbiology teacher and grad student–in Chicago was promising. We went out twice, but she was too busy to pursue a relationship with someone outside the city. My second date was a different story. We both thought one another was cool, and we both had survived bad breakups and really wanted sexual satisfaction. We met up a couple times, and both enjoyed the sex, but I didn’t feel comfortable afterwards. I wasn’t attracted to her beyond a political level and felt like I was just using her for sex. I went on another 8 or so phone and dinner dates, but most didn’t amount to anything due to a disinterest on either one of our ends. Eventually I became exhausted from my commutes to the city, and I even began to question the point of all the dating. Yes, I was hanging out with cool people, exploring the city, eating great food, and upping my dating experience points. But what was motivating me? Sex? Companionship? Boredom? Procrastination?
A couple months and a couple hundred dollars later, I didn’t feel any better than where I started. I had not much to show for my time at home. I intended to volunteer at a humane education organization and attend couch surfing events to make friends and get referrals, but with little results. Okay, I had watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. This 72-hour accomplishment is quite the feat for someone who hasn’t watched any TV (save a couple series on DVD like Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm). But the show only reminded me of my ex. I couldn’t separate it from her because she would talk about it all the time in the month before the breakup. I couldn’t stop guessing which character she identified as and what she must have thought about the character’s relationship tensions as we wen though our own. It was a bizarre exercise of the imagination. Besides Battlestar, I did quite a bit of reading. It felt great to read novels again after grad school, but I soon became impatient with even this.
In the last six weeks of my stay, I focused less on entertainment and more on planning. I found two incredible WWOOFing opportunities. One northern in Utah at a Hare Krishna Temple and another in southern Oregon at a care farm. My spontaneous adventure had gotten locked in as I worked my schedule around these opportunities. I soon had an itinerary after talking with a facebook friend who I studied with in Australia who had since been giving tours of the country every summer. Now that I had more concrete plans, I felt more confident telling relatives and acquaintances about my road trip.
It was either my new found confidence and optimism from dating and planning, just plain luck, karma, or a flirtatious combination of all the above that set me up in contact with several lovely women. The first was a beautiful blonde who contacted me first. I’m bashful to admit that her references to Pokemon (and interest in vegan donuts) caught my attention. I’m not normally attracted to blondes, but she was cute as a button. We romanced each other over a game of Mario Kart and participated in a victory dance in her bedroom. Afterwards, we cuddled, giddily smiling. Unlike previous dates, I felt something. I did not feel alienated, but connected. There was mutual affection. It was really great. It was what I think I was looking for: emotional and sexual intimacy.
On the next date, however, there was no sexual fruition. I wanted to assume she felt sick from the food and wasn’t interested, but she said she felt fine. After she kissed me goodnight, I felt empty. I thought I had found another person to share intimacy with, but I hadn’t. I felt rejected, but not like the previous times which I accepted relatively easily. I felt like a failure and the fear grew within me that it would be another year or longer until I found another person like my last two exes. I went back onto OK Cupid and looked for other people to meet, one of which was the girl I “fell in love” with. That same week, I was contacted by a woman from the Southeast and got an invitation from someone I had messaged in Arcata, California to spend the day together. I spoke with both over the phone, and each I had a great conversation with. The magnitude of positive attention I had in this one week made me feel accomplished and helped me rebound from my sadness over what I saw as rejection from the blonde gamer.
Actually, I eventually went out with her again several times and we developed greater intimacy. I thought she was being aloof the entire time, but as I reflected on my past relationships, I realized that perhaps it a response to my own aloofness. Was I guarded as much as they were? I was being more private because of my concerns with web privacy and the violation of my social space by my ex in the Fall, but there was something more. I became more conscious that I did not give many compliments. I did not give much at all. And I was just as reserved at times towards receiving. I was suspicious of both ends. Each exposing my vulnerability in different ways. In each I exposed myself as interested and opened myself to either rejection and/or dependency. So I gave her compliments, telling her how I felt about her the whole time. Unfortunately, I was to anxious to do just that, and prefaced them with “I don’t usually give compliments” and end noted “, but that’s not so much a compliment but a fact.” I’m quite the neurotic! Even still, the night ended happily.
So what lessons did I learn from all this?
First, to capitalize off my positive traits. I could tone down my innate cuteness, eccentricity, and nerdiness, but I ended up dating people who I did not connect with and care much for.If I were to achieve sexual and emotional intimacy, I had to feel comfortable with myself, and I could only do this by having confidence in myself and my innate attractiveness.
Second, to admit I want intimacy. I often find myself between the polyamorous queerisity of some of my friends and vanilla hetero-monogamy of others. It’s ridiculous that i should feel pressure to be at either end of those spectrum. I don’t like putting limits on my sexuality and on the number of people I can love, but I also am not turned on by strapping a stranger down to a table and beating them. I want intimacy without a quota. And I don’t have to be radically queer to be radical or have great sex.
Third, to be direct and honest. I’ve missed out on so many sexual invitations and opportunities because of a sense of futility or a fear of losing a friend. In the long term, I would discover that picking up on an opportunity was far from futile and that my potential friendship with that person was far from secure. By speculating about a future and calculating an approach out of anxiety from acting in the present, I denied beauty from my life. Recently, I’ve discovered how powerful it can for both parties to be to be direct about how you feel about one another, why you are attracted to them, and what you’d like from them. I’ve “fallen” for people who have done that to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it works the other way around too.
Fourth, to assert my sexuality. When I was younger, I’d come off creepy because I would be sexually assertive without confidence and sensuality. I became embarrassed of my strong sexuality and afraid of acting on it because of how others may be affected and how I would judge myself. I assumed it was a default intrusion rather than a gift. Now I was discovering, beginning with a cute chicana that I dated after the breakup, how spellbinding my flirtation could be. A writer-sorcerer, I had a away with words. They crawled off my tongue, skipped from my lips, tickled the back of her ear, crept under the skin of her neck, and slid between her thighs. When I paused, I could hear her silent response.
Fifth, to be the top. This may contradict the first lesson I learned, but it is an extension of the last two. I’d describe myself more as a switch. I get turned on more when someone is very expressive and I feel more when I’m able to slip out of consciousness through transcending thought. I am also a heteroflexible feminist and value gender equality. What (generalization) I’ve discovered is that most (or at least many) rad feminists like their partner to be the top, probably for the very same reasons I do! Women are often very self-conscious about their positive body image, pleasing their partner, and getting-off that they aren’t able to do all these things simultaneously. But there is possibly also a gendered component of wanting to be wanted (which I’m subjected to also, by the way). By minimizing my gender privilege (self)confidence during sex, the act becomes more intimate and fluid for all parties, as it allows me to fully unleash the sexual animal inside without guilt and not overanalyze desire.
Sixth, to date vegetarians. This lesson may seem superficial, but I have never had great sex with a non-vegetarian. I don’t know why. It could be because I feel more intimacy with someone who doesn’t support interspecies injustices. Or perhaps vegetarians are more intimate with me for the same reason. Bias or just a coincidence from a smaller sample size, I’ll probably not be making a rule out of this anytime soon, but it’s fun to think about.