There was no indication that the sexual encounter I participated in last Saturday would quite possibly be the worst one of my life until the last five minutes of it.
The boy and I had exchanged flirtatious Snapchats for around six months before that fateful night, but I didn’t really think that our mutual e-seduction would amount to anything greater than strategically lit and angled 10-second-long images. Nevertheless, as I entered his parents’ absolutely ravishing Upper West Side apartment, a familiar scene was set: Some sort of rap/R&B hybrid softly wafted out of a speaker, there was white wine present, and I was viscerally aware of how my leg touched his throughout the entire time we chatted about nothing. We were sitting on the couch, participating in a lightly inebriated, highly structured pre-sex ritual in which we were going to keep drinking, keep talking about anything other than what we were about to do, and then do it. It was a ritual so deeply ingrained into our mutual understandings of how young people have sex, that I found my 2 a.m. participation in it almost comforting.
During our conversation, I couldn’t help but notice—and be subtly disappointed by—the fact that our conversation wasn’t as engaging as I hoped it would be. In most of my relationships I tend to value and initiate a sort of verbal rapport that toes the line between teasing and bullying, and I didn’t really get the sense that he appreciated it. Instead of matching and returning my playful jabs and retorts, his demeanor took on a sort of sheepishness that made me feel more oppressive than coquettish. No matter. Stifling any minor doubts or discomforts I have had during these encounters was part of the ritual, an iteration of my female reluctance to impede a man’s pleasure with any unwarranted subjectivity. The show had to go on. And so it did.
The first time two people engage in the pleasures of one another’s flesh, there is an element of vulnerability that the situation becomes invariably predicated upon. Perhaps that is why we insist on coyly avoiding the subject of sex only when it becomes an immediate possibility, and instead focus on accoutrements of its ritual—the proverbial Netflix, the omnipresent white wine—in order to mitigate the massive margin of error such hasty intimacy imposes onto ostensibly casual encounters. As a female doomed to engage with heterosexual men, I often feel that my vulnerability is compounded by the complex implications female participation in casual sex foments. Perhaps I’m naïve, perhaps I realize women have more at stake—regardless, in these types of encounters, I find myself bearing the burden of making sure the interaction pans out as seamlessly as possible. That burden is one I often prioritize above any potential feelings of discomfort or awkwardness, which I tend to compartmentalize as inevitable and unavoidable.
So, my dear reader, imagine my absolute shock and dismay when, after the deed was done, the boy excuses himself to the restroom for an absurdly long time, comes back to the room where I was close to asleep, and delivers a stammering, half-rehearsed speech to me, rife with incoherent apologies, about the fact that he felt disconnected to the experience, distracted by the fact that I had been the first girl he had been with since his long-term relationship fell through, and that the entire experience made him feel, to use his words, bizarre.
He offered to call me an Uber, and I, in my desperation to remove myself from a situation that had so abruptly swan-dived from utterly mediocre to almost laughably horrific, sprinted toward said Uber the second I saw it. Unfortunately, the platform sneakers I had worn were not suited for my moment of athleticism, and I sprained the absolute shit out of my ankle on the sidewalk in front of his apartment.
As I nursed my swollen ankle with a pack of frozen peaches, I mulled over what happened. So, it appeared that his mind had wandered a bit during our interaction. Perhaps he had even been thinking about other people in its entirety. So had I; in the free floating internal monologue that all too often accompanies moments of passion, I believe I pondered Immanuel Kant’s treatise likening sexual desire to something as banal as an appetite for another body, and marveled that the Core Curriculum had officially infiltrated even my sex life. Perhaps he couldn’t help but juxtapose the relative vacuity of casual sex with the unique meaning it takes on when done in a lasting relationship. Neither could I—the last person I had been with had been someone important to me. Perhaps it was a tad overwhelming to be in such breathtakingly close proximity to someone he had only seen in the small rectangle of his iPhone screen for the past six months. Um, same.
It appeared that we had entered our ritual of casual sex under similar pretenses: after not having seen one another in a long while, after having been in relationships that carried considerably more emotional weight. I get it. But what perturbed me about his admission of discomfort was how, despite the fact that I could wholly empathize, it never, not once in a million years, would have occurred to me to disrupt the patina of careful casualness with a verbalization of my discomfort. Being on my way toward a second Kantian release and interrupting it to rhapsodize about my emotions was simply not something that I, or any other woman, feel socially entitled to do. I do not fault him for expressing the way he felt. I just can’t help but think that its timing was rather convenient for him.
So, as I peeled myself off the icy New York pavement where I had just fallen, I pondered what was shittier and more painful: the ligamentous injury my ankle had sustained, or the ego injury my pride had endured. Hopping toward the distant Uber on one foot, pausing every so often to regain balance, I worried that the driver wouldn’t see my crippled form in the dark, and would drive away, leaving me, my ankle, and my dead phone stranded. When I finally made it to the car, I told the driver that I was sorry I had taken so long, and was sorry that he had to wait. He grunted, and we sped off.
Arielle Isack is a sophomore in the School of General Studies majoring in American studies. If you saw her limping around campus, men are why. Shoot her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a Relationship Girl runs alternate Fridays.
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