How It Feels To Not Want To Have Sex with Someone But To Do It Anyway.

I met a really nice man earlier this year. We had a great first date, he was cute, interesting, mature, respectful, a feminist. We didn’t have sex on our first date because we both had plans that evening. I saw him again a few weeks later. We had a lovely second date. We walked and talked and he was still nice. We went for dinner, which he paid for. Not because of any gender bullshit, but because he knew I was a student, and because he knew he could afford it, and that one day I’d be in a position to help someone out by buying them dinner, and that I would. See, thoughtful. I remember I still liked him while we were eating dinner.

After dinner I went back to his house, and as I sat on the sofa, I started to go cold. Literally and metaphorically. I could feel myself withdraw. The hairs on my arms started to stand up. I didn’t want to be there anymore. We made out on the sofa and it was like an out-of-body experience. We’d made out before, so why was this any different? I was going through the motions.  I was letting him kiss me. My mouth was moving but the rest of my body was still. I didn’t turn towards him, I didn’t wrap my arms around him, I wasn’t overcome with the desire to be on him, to be touching him, to be close to him.

We kissed for a while then went to his bedroom. I was shivering. A weird kind of adrenaline, like ‘fight or flight’. And I still didn’t say anything. I just went along with it. I lay back and sort of thought of England. I tried not to cry. I tried to focus really hard so I would come, and he would stop. The situation was not ideal.

As soon as the whole thing was over, I grabbed my phone and WhatsApped my (now) boyfriend. I asked to see him the next day because I knew he was one person who wouldn’t make me feel like shit even though I’d only known him a couple of months. I needed some kind of reassurance, from a cisman I could trust, who wouldn’t judge me. I lay awake with tears in my eyes, wondering why I’d just gone through with the whole stupid thing.

I knew for sure I was somehow massively fucked up when, at the tube station in the morning, before he took the tube to work and I went to the library, he said ‘Do you want to see me again?’ and I said ‘Yeah sure, but I have exams coming up so it’ll have to wait ’til after May’. Why did I say that? Why, even then, was I still unable to say ‘No, I don’t want to’?

This wasn’t ‘sex I later regretted’, this was ‘sex I wished I wasn’t having as I was having it’. I don’t blame him personally. I blame the patriarchy. I blame patriarchy for the fact I blamed myself. For thinking that being bought dinner and being in someone’s home meant I had no right to say no to sex, even when I was with someone who would absolutely have understood.

There’s a line in a Smiths song that goes, ‘But you could have said no if you’d wanted to… you could have walked away, couldn’t you?’. I thought about this as I lay there. I shouldn’t have gone for dinner. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have gone home with him. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have kissed him. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have gone to bed with him. I should have walked away. Yes, I could have walked away, but why was I in that position in the first place?

I’d talked openly about my nonmonogamy, because he was nonmonogamous too, and I even thought ‘well he knows I sleep with lots of people so it’ll look really bad if I don’t sleep with him’. How fucked up is that? Like because I was having lots of consensual sex it was as if that consent was no longer being individually applied, but was somehow derived from my general attitude to fucking.

I felt like a bad feminist. I felt like I’d let the side down. I still feel like that now, a bit. Like I have no right to complain about this, because I did nothing in the moment to reposition the dynamics. I ‘missed an opportunity to teach someone an important lesson about consent’.

What I learned is that patriarchy is so all-encompassing and pervasive that it is simply not a question of ‘just saying no’. It’s not about ‘just walking away’. I’m known as being an angry person, a troublemaking person, a brave person, and I still couldn’t tell a nice man I didn’t want to fuck him. The rhetoric of ‘just say no’ is not enough.This is about power relations, and that’s bigger than me just saying no. When you’ve got a girl over a decade younger than you, in your home, who you’ve just bought dinner, and she’s usually chatty and charming and now she’s silent and sad and immobile, it’s probably not active desire that’s operative; it’s a lot of power, and if that power isn’t matched with enthusiastic consent, then… how much fun can you have?

(he messaged me a couple of times afterwards, which I rudely ignored. I have not seen him since)

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons License

Why Even a Bad Date is Not a Wasted Date.

I first started dating when I moved to Montréal and I was ‘a bit of a mess’ after a breakup. I joined OkCupid because I was in a new city where I didn’t find any of my new friends dateable, and I essentially wanted to check that I wasn’t completely broken and was still capable of attraction and affection. I went on a lot of dates in Montréal. And I went on a lot of dates when I moved back to England. But the funny thing, and the thing that people find hard to believe (knowing me as they do), is that between joining in November 2010 and February 2012, I didn’t so much as kiss anyone I met on there. And I’m not exaggerating when I say by that point I must have been on around 40 first dates.

Roughly speaking, in 90% of them, I didn’t find the other person attractive. In 5% of them, I liked them but they didn’t find me attractive. In 5% of them we just accidentally never saw each other again despite the fact we were both interested.

But that doesn’t change the fact that those 40-ish first dates were completely essential to me becoming the person that, in 2012, was able to choose the right partners with which to have romantic and sexual relationships. In those 13 months, while I didn’t make out with anyone I met, I totally repositioned how I felt about an awful lot of stuff. I had a brilliant date with a sex worker who loved her job (something I knew nothing about beforehand). A year before I started to explore nonmonogamy, I had a date with a polyamorous guy (something I knew nothing about beforehand). I made a couple of friends that now, I can’t imagine doing without. I learned how I acted on a date. I learned what behaviour triggered me feeling uncomfortable in the company of (almost always) a man I’d just met. I learned from the sheer volume of dates what behaviour I personally displayed when I was unhappy or bored or attracted to someone. The 40-something dates I had that led up to my luck changing were as useful to me with no romantic or sexual payoff as they would have been with it.

Even saying my ‘luck changed’ doesn’t really take into account the transformative power of repeated bad dates. Maybe my luck didn’t change; maybe I repositioned what I wanted. I started out my OkCupid life believing what I wanted was a monogamous relationship with a male my own age. Because that was what I was used to. By the time I was in a position to meet people I did find attractive, and act on it, I had realised that the idea of having a monogamous relationship of anyone of any gender was not right for me anymore, and that I especially struggled to be attracted to males in their early twenties who were seeking a monogamous relationship (incidentally, exactly the group of people I would be most likely to meet in real life).

There were periods that were extremely bleak. Bad date after bad date after bad date. I think December 2011 / January 2012 were particularly low. I would agree to dates with people who proved to be dull, unattractive, hard work, that I had to sit through with a fixed smile and a falsely cheery tone of voice. I wondered if there was anyone out there that matched me just right. Weirdly, I didn’t give up. You’d probably like to believe that 40 dates leading nowhere would make a girl desperate, but instead it just made it all the easier to know a good date when I saw one. By the time people worth dating/sleeping with turned up, I knew what it felt like to be sitting across a table for someone who provokes absolutely zero feelings in my swimsuit area, and that this time was different. Honestly, if I’d met my now-boyfriend at the beginning, I would not have known what to do with him. For me, practice made perfect and I was able to see pretty clearly what I wanted, what I felt I deserved, how I showed that I was interested and how to proceed. By the time decent folk turned up, I knew it wasn’t just a case of ‘settling’- I could have done that a long time ago.

So even when it wasn’t really ‘working’, it secretly was. I learned so much from good, bad and mediocre dates that ‘led nowhere’.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license