When I was 16 or so, I was hanging out with a group of friends at one of their houses. For some reason, a guy not in our usual circle was also there – this skinny four-eyed kid we knew from school. I’m just gonna call him Dork.
The house was really nice – there was a sauna and pool and we’d all changed into our bathing suits. Whoever’s house it was gave us a little tour, and when we were in the sauna, the lights got turned off (accidentally?) and for maybe fifteen seconds we ended up standing in the pitch dark. During which time Dork – who’d been standing beside me – tentatively placed his hand on my bare back between my bathing suit straps and moved it up and down in an exploratory fashion. The incident left me confused because Dork had never seemed to take any particular notice of me before, and when the lights came up his hand retreated and he acted as though nothing had happened.
But after we went swimming in the pool for a while, I was brushing my wet hair (which was long then and prone to tangling) and Dork came up and took the task over, putting on a silly “French hairdresser” persona as he did so (“Ah, I love zis hair…I will make you so beautiful, cherie…”). He was hovering around me and brushing my hair and stuff for the rest of the day.
I did not find Dork attractive at all, but I’d rarely – if ever – experienced attention like that from a boy before, and it filled my insecure teenaged heart with shameful gratitude. I wanted more ego validation. And so, a day or two later I asked one of the other people who’d been present that day to do some recon for me. I don’t remember the exact details; either I’d enlisted my friend to confirm that Dork liked me so I’d feel confident enough to ask him out, or the friend was meant to ask Dork out for me (most likely the former. I’ve always enjoyed initiating – I just like to know I’m welcome first). At any rate, the friend reported that – when confronted about the events of Pool and Sauna Day – Dork was like “Pffft. I don’t like Cowgirl! What are you even talking about?!”
Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that Dork was hitting on me in some capacity that day – if only because he sensed I might be “easy”* – and just lied about it later for whatever reason. Maybe if I’d been a different, more confident kind of person, I would’ve written Dork off at the time as an idiot and a liar. As it was, though, this incident made me completely lose faith in my instincts. To this day, I second-guess myself about whether people like me, even if all signs point to yes. Although in fairness I’ve had at least a handful of other incidents where a dude gave every sign of being really into me and then either vanished or told me “Pffft! I don’t like you! What are you even talking about?!”
Being told “I don’t like you that way” sucks, especially when the person says it in a gloating “ha ha, fooled you!” tone rather than apologetically. It feels like the person is probably relishing the hurt and surprise on my face. And so (I’ve realized) I have a tendency to brace myself for romance to go horribly wrong all the time. So I don’t give anyone that satisfaction ever again. So I can go “Whatever, dude – I totally saw that coming.”
Here is what I’d like to believe about The Pedant:
- He has romantic feelings for me, which is why he buys me things, volunteers to help me with all kinds of stuff, snuggles me to sleep, caresses my face while we’re watching a movie in the theatre, etc. But he’s afraid of telling me in case I don’t feel the same way. He did, after all, start out as the hot thing I was seeing on the side of my big important primary relationship with Minx; it would be fairly reasonable to assume that he’s still just a hot but peripheral piece of ass.
- He cut way back on talking about other women and previous sexual encounters because he had become so enamoured with me that he only had eyes for me. He slowly started up again so I wouldn’t think he was getting all hung up on me.
- He only comes over every couple of weeks – and doesn’t initiate much communication in-between – because he assumes this is only about sex for me and he doesn’t want to crowd me or make his feelings too obvious. But he’s thrilled when I text him and can’t help replying immediately.
- The day I offhandedly mentioned that I’m not looking for any kind of deep relationship right now, his hopes were dashed and this is why (for the first time ever) he slept next to me without making any effort to cuddle.
- When I had the bareback discussion with him, he was still feeling rejected (and was probably worried about the STD risks, like any responsible person would be) and so he initially thought he didn’t want to take that step with me.
- The next time I saw him he was unusually aloof because he was still nursing a fractured heart.
- At some point, he reread my texts re: barebacking and realized what a huge deal the offer was to me – how much affection and trust I had for him. Plus he finally digested the fact that I’m not sleeping with anyone but him (because – in my own words – I’m extremely discerning). Perhaps previously he’d assumed I was fucking around all over the place, since I do come off as a lusty wench.
- With his hopes of a deeper connection to me restored, The Pedant came over and was super enthusiastic about being with me. And jumped the gun a little bit on the bareback thing because he was so eager to feel that close to me. And opened up to me a little more (eye contact during sex, etc.) because he was beginning to think I might have feelings for him. And mentioned in passing that he’s looking for one or more relationships involving actual love, not just sex, to give me a hint that he’s into me.
- When I eventually ask him what we’re doing/what his feelings are, there will be an epic, cinema-quality confession of feelings, our relationship will move to the next level, and our communication issues will improve because with all our cards on the table, neither of us will be skirting around issues in order not to look vulnerable.
Here is what I tell myself is actually happening with The Pedant:
- He likes me because I’m a good pal and we have good sexual chemistry. He snuggles with me because snuggling is nice. He helps me out with stuff because he’s generally a helpful person (he is a helpful person – I see him make posts on Facebook all the time to help out his friends, both male and female).
- He cut way back on talking about other women and previous sexual encounters because, after that one incident, he was afraid of upsetting me again. He slowly started up again because old habits die hard.
- He only comes over every couple of weeks because we have a casual sort of relationship and he likes his space. He doesn’t initiate much communication in-between for the same reason, and also because once his sexual needs have been sated, he just doesn’t think of me that often. But it’s not like he hates me or anything, so if I text him and he’s not busy, he’ll respond quickly enough.
- He didn’t cuddle me that one night because his interest in physical contact randomly waxes and wanes.
- He seemed aloof with me the next time I saw him because his interest in physical contact randomly waxes and wanes.
- At some point, he reread my texts re: barebacking and it sank in that I’m pretty low-risk because I’m not in fact fucking anyone else. So he started genuinely entertaining the idea because, hey, condoms kind of suck and it would be nice not to have to use them. And because we really do have good sexual chemistry so if he’s gonna do that with anyone it might as well be me. And because he likes the idea of being the first partner to take that step with me (or at least the first to do it properly: to make a mutual, deliberate decision to proceed, to take proper health precautions first, and to have the unprotected sex with me on an ongoing basis).
- …And by the time he saw me next he’d become so eager to experience barebacking with someone again that he kinda jumped the gun. And also, knowing I liked and trusted him that much made him maybe like and trust me a little more, too, and he made himself more vulnerable to me (eye contact during sex, etc.). And he mentioned in passing that he’s looking for one or more relationships that involve love, not just sex, because I’m the kind of friend he can have those discussions with. Hell, when we first started seeing each other he continually asked me advice about the ex he was still in love with and trying to win back.
- When I eventually ask him what we’re doing/what his feelings are, he’ll tell me he likes me and he’s having fun and that’s about it. Hopefully he won’t get weirded out by my question, assume I’m in love with him/about to make huge emotional demands of him, and back away from me. But I’m not ruling out the possibility.
If I tell him I’m into him and he doesn’t return the sentiment, nobody can accuse me of being blindsided by this news. I should feel triumphant and prepared right now but I don’t. I’m mostly just sad that I can never enjoy anything because I’m always looking for the horrible downside.
And I feel I must reiterate: these fantasies I have about The Pedant confessing his undying love (or even deciding that he must have me all to himself – yeah, I’ve pictured that, and I’m vaguely ashamed that my heteronormative monogamous roots run so deep) are barely even about him per se – they’re mostly me missing the feeling of being loved by someone. I do care about him; I do feel like there’s something there. Often I even feel as though I love him – but if we didn’t have such good sex, I think that would go away. Which is a pretty big sign that my hormones are jerking me around right now. So, while I wish The Pedant would tell me he’s madly in love with me, I hope that he doesn’t.
I do want him to have some kind of feelings for me beyond friendship and lust, though.
*I totally would have been easy, had anyone in fact tried to fuck me. I wanted the validation of male desire so badly, and was also terrible at defending or even identifying my boundaries. Plus I was horny and curious. If I hadn’t been so socially awkward I probably would’ve lost my virginity years before I actually did (at seventeen).