Short story contains themes of neurosis, self-esteem and self-acceptance in dating which is one of the most vulnerable spaces of all.
I have a tendency to pine over “creative” guys and I view their interest (or lack thereof) as a reflection of my own self-worth. They serve as a distraction from my internal frustrations and ennui. As a skittish and neurotic 25-year-old, I’m using online dating to combat concerns of senescing womanhood and to find someone sweet to share new experiences with. After a while, I saw my fair share of Los Angeles dating tropes and uncomfortable pick-up lines like “My daughter says you look like a princess mommy” or “Do you want to be a pillow princess?”
We match on Tinder and after a week of texting, we decide to meet in the morning at Dinosaur Coffee. He is a white male columnist at a left-leaning news publication catering to “woke millennials". Like most people working in Los Angeles’ creative field, he migrated from the East Coast and did a stint in Manhattan before moving to Southern California.
I ask him how he likes living here compared to the East Coast.
“I’d kill Pennsylvania, fuck New York and marry Los Angeles.”
During our stroll on Sunset Boulevard, he lends me his bomber jacket for warmth and the lapel has a bright fuchsia pink lipstick stain.
"It's from a New Year's thing I went to," he explains.
Figuring him to be a hit-it-and-quit-it-archetype, I’m leary of where this coupling could go. I’m a late bloomer who got out of her first and only real relationship a year prior and hadn’t been with a dude since. One thing is for sure: I prefer to date very, very slowly.
I’m taken by his notions on kindness, respect for others and knowing to move on from a relationship when it’s over - something I struggled greatly with my ex. He makes me feel comfortable and I open up more to him than with any other guy in a very long time. I’m amused by his extensive knowledge of films and how he never watches or listens to anything twice. His quick references to internet humor go over my head and I like that he pokes fun of how his income is directly correlated with something as silly as his newly verified Twitter account.
His role in curating Eurocentric cultural capital for Conde Nast and freelancer lifestyle spent in coffee shops with a laptop seem much more exciting than my 8-to-5 gig of being married to a desk. By the end of our first date, I ask that we remain friends and play things by ear. It is my naive attempt to continue to get to know him without the pressure of a romantic expiration date.
“I have a low bandwidth for friends,” he says. “Sorry to be weird but yeah, let’s hang out.”
He texts me compliments for the handmade zines I had given him, doting on my raw declaration of anguish. I feel special that someone in the arts would approve of my personal craft. He, in turn, sends me his writing and each article allows me entrance into a creative world that I don’t belong to. Self-esteem is rising at an exponential rate, not to mention attraction.
Our discussion on personal philosophies and exploration of shared cultural tastes carry into the rest of the week. I start to see myself as the straightlaced woman in those movies where the main character gets her groove back. And he is the bon vivant of a man helping me get said “groove” back by sending clever texts to my otherwise dormant phone on a mundane workday.
He picks me up for our second date at Koreatown’s Lock and Key.
Three drinks in, I reveal to him that I do not own a vibrator and have never even masturbated before.
“I think it's really cute that you felt the need to whisper the word 'masturbate.' You are so wholesome. Like, the most wholesome girl I’ve met on this app. But you should go to a sex positive shop and buy a vibrator. Consider this a feminist rallying cry.”
I reveal to him that I’m inexperienced for my age and that I’ve only had one partner before.
“We’ll take things slowly for you.”
Great first kiss.
We exit the bar and end the night with some heavy making out before he proceeds to go down on me… in his white Honda Civic with Japanese 90’s pop playing in the background on a brightly lit street next to a Jollibee.
I’m through the clouds for the guy at this point.
Soon after, the text exchanges become pornographic. He asks me what I'm into and I play along. In a surreal display of performance art, I hoped to be read as a coquettish, all-knowing woman instead of easy and self-conscious.
I tease him with a picture of a purple vibrator purchased from the Stockroom in Silver Lake, presumably to incorporate in our lovemaking.
“I tried to go for race-neutral.”
It’s different. It’s new. Sort of aggressive. But I like it.
“This is all really new for me.”
“I just want to make you feel good.”
I laid in bed thinking of him that night.
By the third outing, he comes over for daytime sex right before he has to leave to cover the Golden Globes. It's slightly painful since I had been out of the game for almost a year. He definitely knew what to do and coached me on positioning my body. It seemed that this progressive male would liberate me from my sexual repression and inexperience.
Even though it feels good, I’m a little tense and I ask him to come. This energetic person finally does.
“Okay, let's give you a break.”
After a one-hour Youtube.com intermission for “Oh, Hello” on Broadway, we go at it again.
“Do you have a second condom?”
“Naw, I don’t.”
“I’m not on birth control.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t come inside you.”
Alright... now my neurosis and anxiety is unhinged and I’m speculating where this modern-day lothario has been. Because our entire dating timeline had been communicated through flirtatious texts, I don’t feel comfortable asserting my sexual boundaries by telling him to slap a condom on that sucker.
But this is the start of 2017 and maybe I can be that cool girl with a blase attitude for unprotected sex. After all, I am in the midst of a male feminist and surely he is as concerned about a woman’s body as I am.
Round two of rigorous sex. It’s not as tender or affectionate as my unrealistic daydreams promised me.
Afterwards, the conversation is stilted and our iPhone chemistry is not translating to real life. I embarrassingly ask him if "it", my sexual performance, was good for him. Out in the open is my deep fear of being inadequate in bed. He lets out an incredulous chuckle before realizing the earnestness in my need for approval.
"Please never ask me that again. And yeah, yeah, yeah. It was fine. Don't worry so much."
I wonder what he’s thinking now that he’s seen me naked. Maybe now my sexual inexperience is more of a liability than an allure.
I walk him to his car and he signs off with “I’ll text you” and a soft kiss on the lips.
At work, I experience really bad bacterial vaginosis and a very sore vagina. I am freaking out. My therapist’s meditative breathing exercises are not helping. I leave work early and schedule an emergency STD testing with my general physician.
How many people has my lover slept with?
Am I fertile right now? When was my last period?
My butthole hurts. Did he try anal on me?
Why is my urine so pink and cloudy? Do I have a UTI again?
Would he still want to talk to me if I made him get a condom?
After much trepidation, the door opens and my doctor greets me in the cold waiting room. I explain to her that I had unprotected sex with someone who is not my boyfriend and I’m not on the pill.
This doctor is very matter-of-fact and speed-reads a list of medical history questions with the detachment of a business transaction.
“Uh, no, no… yes to that. The last day of my period was on the 24th according to my calendar. Uh, no. Yes. We met on Tinder. I’ve known him for about eight days… okay, 14 if you count us messaging on the app.”
“Why aren’t you on birth control?”
“I was on it for about two years but I stopped. Didn’t need that daily reminder of how I wasn’t having sex with anyone.”
She doesn’t laugh.
“Well, this predicament came as a surprise.”
Then she lays the facts down hard: I am not aware of this person’s sexual history, I can ovulate at any time, the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception, and I should take Plan B soon to avoid a possible abortion.
“But he said that he wiped his pre-cum and he swears he didn’t come inside. He’s really experienced so I think he knows not to come inside….” I trail off at the sound of my own delusion.
She finishes writing up notes for my visit on the computer and I fixate at the glare on her prescription glasses. I am exhausted, it stings like hell to urinate and my heart is heavy.
I turn to my doctor, “Have you ever taken Plan B before?”
This’ll be my second time with the morning-after pill. I desperately want some reassurance that I am not alone in this lapse in judgment.
“Oh, no! No. But we learn from from our mistakes.”
After a frantic day of driving around the West Side with Plan B’s nausea side effects and irrational fears of contracting an STD and an unplanned biracial baby gestating inside me, he texts:
“How was work?”
I don’t know how to respond as part of me wants him to forget about me and the other side is afraid he'll lose interest if I don’t improve my sexual learning curve. My mind flashes back to my burning vagina, crying in my doctor’s office, waiting an hour for Plan B at the pharmacy before shelling out $70 and how he didn’t think to ask for my last name before we fucked. In fact, he didn’t ask a single question about me yesterday!
Out of impulse (and indignation for reproductive health’s gender inequality), I decide that our “dating” styles are irreconcilable. I nervously yet diplomatically break things off with him via text. I let him know that I was not comfortable with having unprotected sex so quickly but assume responsibility for not voicing my concerns during the act.
“Wow, uhm wow. For what it’s worth, I’m completely clean as of three weeks ago. I understand and I’m really sorry that this was an unhappy situation for you :/”
I suggest a platonic friendship but he prefers a clean break.
The next morning, I already miss my Manic-Pixie-Dream-Guy and apologize for ending things prematurely. He just seemed so… cool. Sexy, smart and funny.
“I’m new to this whole Tinder thing and was just surprised by how fast things went. I’ve enjoyed our time together and would like to continue to get to know you romantically.”
His text likens dating me to an “emotional rollercoaster,” and expresses that he doesn’t have the “emotional bandwidth” to “emotionally hand hold [me].”
I can’t tell if I sabotaged this burgeoning romance or if I dodged a bullet. Was this casual sex all along or an example of accelerated modern dating? Just a fling? He mentioned that he didn't know what he was looking for but "we should get to know each other" and that he had "feelings." Am I overthinking (caused by Plan B's hormonal imbalance) it or should fuckboy enter my romantic lexicon?
A week later, my test comes back negative for all sexually transmitted diseases.
After him, I went on a few other first dates that lacked the same animal magnetism. There was that ambient tech house producer from the Midwest and that television comedy actor’s son in Los Feliz. That digital marketing analyst who did parkour for two entire dates.
I am still single and and he has probably moved onto multiple girls since our time together. I realize now that I need that security and “emotional hand holding” found in a committed relationship. Maybe the next time I meet a guy who likes the same record labels as me, I’ll be a bit wiser to communicate what I need out of dating instead being so much in my head. Hopefully, he and I will share the same libido.
Today, I have a 40-count box of Lifestyles Ultra Sensitive in my nightstand as a cautionary measure and underneath is the race-neutral purple vibrator.