This is going to be mighty heterocentric, because I can’t speak from any experience about anything else. Hopefully some of the larger concepts here will ring universal, anyway.
With that said… boys.
From about the sixth grade onward, I refused to call the males my age “boys”, despite that being exactly what they were at the time. I insisted on calling them “guys”. It made me feel less like a walking copy of Tiger Beat, for one thing, and for another it spoke to the kind of maturity I was after then. I wanted a grand departure from the unkindness I had seen from “boys” so far. To be lusting after boys, who threw food at lunchtimes, called me terrible names and couldn’t sit still long enough to be coherent, was simply embarrassing. My twelve-year-old self wouldn’t stand for it.
It’s easy to find this funny now, but I’m sure the view of twelve from eighteen will seem just as ridiculous as the one of eighteen from twenty-four. For all my selective word choices back then, I didn’t exactly have to worry about making an idiot of myself. Nobody really gave me the chance until my second year of high school.
By sixteen, I wasn’t quite so embittered and guarded anymore. The cafeteria food had stopped flying (mostly), the taunts and names hadn’t stuck, and I no longer considered “boys” to be a dirty word. I had also learned that while boys were the fodder of Tiger Beat, guys were the central focus of Cosmo, and after a bit of research I determined that was just as bad.
Saying “men” made me a bit nervous, and it was hard to fathom using such a word on the people around me, especially in relation to myself. Did I date men? Were these men? Surely not.
I had started hanging around with new friends, ones who hadn’t known me in my antisocial trainwreck formative years. They hadn’t been told the narrative of my all-consuming social incompetence or of my long-standing status as Class Ugly Girl. They didn’t know they were supposed to think I was terrible, and I somehow neglected to tell them. I figured out how to smile and ask questions, and I was getting responses at long last. Suddenly everything seemed possible.
And so, shields down, I met a boy.
He was what they call Black Irish, and tall as hell, and we’ll call him Heart & Crown. He had freckles, warm eyes and dorky glasses (and I don’t mean Buddy Holly hipster frames), and he knew how to tell a good story. I found myself hoping to run into him everywhere I went, looking forward to Friday nights when we would see each other among our mutual friends. We talked more and more. He was an even bigger nerd than I was, but he also played football, which meant nothing to me except that he was in shape. He’d already been attending anti-dating violence conferences for two years, and didn’t need feminism explained to him from the beginning. I was an atheist; he was an unwilling Catholic. We shared a penchant for inventing band names.
It was springtime. We went on a few afternoon dates, long sprawling walks all over town filled with conversation, and at the end of the third such walk, by the brick wall of the factory near the river, he kissed me.
After that we were together, and we stayed that way for nearly two years. I was bound and determined to do everything correctly. I set boundaries, and I asked for his. We communicated. We communicated the living shit out of each other, really–we talked on the phone every night, sometimes for upwards of three hours.
The story between me and Heart & Crown could be a whole post or two in itself, so suffice to say that he was my first everything. We loved each other and we said so. He made a bad TMJ patient out of me. I made a very bad catholic out of him.
Eventually the fire died and I couldn’t listen to one more three-hour phone call even if I’d been getting paid, so I knew I had to end it. That was seven months ago, and there’s been nobody since.
Well, there have been three very unwanted suitors who I’ve had to learn to deflect. Persistent facebook messaging is the bane of the polite/wimpy person’s existence. These guys refuse to take radio silence, disinterested language or one-word answers as discouragement, at least not until it’s been an unreasonably long time. So that’s a pain.
But I recently had a night out. I got to go clubbing (over the border) for the first time, and I was reminded that gosh, everything is different when you’re drunk.
It was the first real club I’d been to. There were carefully-engineered flashing lights, throbbing bass-lines, hot sweat and writhing, drunken skin everywhere. The place was packed, but mostly with my own graduating class, so I wasn’t intimidated. Also: drunk.
I had a bit to drink, and a former classmate and acquaintance of mine (not that I don’t like him; I only don’t know him very well) who had had considerably more to drink than I did started to dance with me. And by dance I mean, well, you know how the kids are dancing these days. This sort of thing is waaay out of my sober comfort zone, but alcohol is neat.
Trouble was, he kept leaning in like he wanted to kiss me. And I kept leaning away like I’d just seen somebody behind him. Eventually it got to the point where he actually yelled in my ear, “Let’s kiss!”. My inebriated response to that was “I don’t wanna.” Sensing, through the haze of two beers, two glasses of wine, a Black Russian, an Amaretto Sour and some kind of godawful vodka-orange soda thing I’d gotten for cheap in the club itself, that this might come off as harsh, I hurried to explain myself: “It’s just,” I began, “You’re still my best friend’s ex, and I’m here to have a good time, but I don’t want to start shit, you know?” He seemed content with my explanations, and we danced a little more, until the song changed to one that I knew and I had an excuse to go dance with my female friends, as one does.
He really was my friend’s ex, and truth be told they broke up because she had wronged him multiple times–once, by drunkenly making out with another guy at a club. There was more to it, but suffice to say they had different ideas about what a commitment was. Afterward I wondered if he hadn’t been trying to replicate that context with me, her best friend, on purpose, as some kind of parallel vengeance. But the real reason I didn’t want to kiss him was just what I’d said in the first place–I didn’t want to. That’s really it.
I was uncomfortable with the idea of this guy I was sort-of friends with being a guy I’d made out with, especially since I didn’t, y’know, like him or anything. He was nice enough to talk to, and he does remind everyone of Elijah Wood, but there was just nothing there. I’ve been single seven months, but I’m hardly drowning in tides of desperation.
There was another guy. There was a guy I can’t venture to call a boy, because he may well have been twenty-five. I wasn’t done with dancing, even though I was done with Elijah Wood, and it was while I was dancing to Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” (naturally) with my friends, up on a platform, that I caught his eye.
I did this miraculous thing that I’ve never before been able to do. I made eye contact and smiled, and he came closer. (Thanks, alcohol.) And then we were dancing. At some point we exchanged names–he told me his was Jeff. That was the extent of our verbal communication.
It was not the extent of our communication.
I was having a very good time dancing, and Jeff also seemed pretty enthusiastic. It occurred to me that this would be where I would normally be throwing my hands up and going “Whoa, buddy, I don’t even know you,” gathering my dignity and walking out. Except I really, really didn’t feel like it.
Interestingly enough I didn’t kiss Jeff either. We were operating on a whole other plane with a whole other motive. There was hard muscle behind me, hot breath at my neck and shoulders, hands at my waist, hips, thighs–to the point when his hand landed someplace very indicative of where the whole thing was going, and I realized I’d better make a decision.
Option 1: Stay in club, continue “dancing” with “Jeff”, allow dancing to escalate, invite Jeff back to nearby hotel, hope roommates are not there, possibly wake up with stranger.
Option 2: Leave club, go see what else is happening.
I ended up picking option 2, leaving with a cheerful wave to Jeff and to the cluster of friends by the door. I went back toward the hotel, where I had other, non-physical adventures until three in the morning.
In the end I couldn’t quite wrap my head around a sexuality that wasn’t attached to anything else, in either case. That may change with time and different circumstances, and it might be just a side effect of my relative lack of experience.
It might also be that I have this huge, terrible crush on a guy I haven’t met in person yet, but every word we’ve exchanged so far gives me this excitement I didn’t feel with Jeff, or Elijah Wood or even Heart & Crown, not even at the beginning. He is brilliant and funny and interested in all the right things, and he has that certain way about him that makes me smile involuntarily. It’s the same smile from my misguided childhood crushes, but without the backdrop of crippling self-loathing and shyness, without the feeling that I don’t deserve to feel so good.
Maybe I wouldn’t have walked out of the club* if I hadn’t had that feeling hanging over me. I may well have settled for anyone (within a spectrum; Jeff was pretty good-looking) if I hadn’t had someone in mind.
But as long as I have to do the Mature Adult Thing now, I can’t be chasing boys. The silly fresh innocence of that word is gone now, short-lived as it was, and if I expect to be treated as a woman (not a lady, per se; just a woman will do) I suppose I’d better be prepared to interact with men.
I have to say, though, I’m happy to report that all the men I have so far interacted with have been respectful and decent human beings, so anyone who wants to claim men are biologically incapable of respecting a woman’s space (especially a somewhat intoxicated one dancing provocatively) is full of shit and can go home.
*like whatup, I got a big cock!