Maybe it’s the years of labouring under the impression that no one would ever find me attractive, let alone people I found attractive myself, but even after years of dating I still can’t make a move. It doesn’t matter how strongly I’m desiring something, or how much I want to express my feelings, I find it extremely difficult to be the first to act. In some ways, I benefit from the patriarchal stereotype of men doing the work, doing the asking, making the moves (and that only occurs when I’m in a male/female pairing), but in the long run I feel disempowered, and as if I don’t own my sexuality or romantic desires.
Half of it is surely fear of rejection. Fear of finding out you were misguided and had misread all the signals. The other half is not even having the vocabulary to express what you want.
There are two areas where I’m particularly cautious and inarticulate: feelings and fucking.
Feelings : I’m working on this. I’m not used to actually liking someone I have a date with. Usually, I want to have sex with them, then get the hell out of there and never see them again. Or I think they’re an insufferable bore and I smile politely through a couple of pints and answer their annoying questions about my nonmonogamy. But on the odd occasion I find them beautiful and interesting and charming and funny, I don’t know what to do. I hope, desperately, that they understand that I like them. I hope they will do the work, and push things forward. But what if they don’t? What if we both feel something but neither of us act? I hate the thought of that. I actually hate it enough to be doing something about it. Recently I’ve had a couple of dates with someone I like a lot. I get good vibes. I want to know about her. I like looking at her. She’s the first person I’ve met in nearly a year I’ve wanted to have a second date with. And I know how easy it would be to awkwardly shuffle around the point, to shyly avoid addressing the situation. I know that I would regret it. Because we’re both women there isn’t even the ingrained patriarchal expectation that one of us is socialised to take the lead. So I did it, and for the first time in my life I actually managed to say ‘I think you’re cool and I want to keep seeing you’. See? I’m working on it. Baby steps.
I’m trying to get better at owning situations. The feeling of being led, of being the subject of someone else’s whims and choices because I can’t act myself, doesn’t sit well with me.
And then there’s sex.
The skill I would love to possess more than most others is the ability to say ‘I want to have sex with you’. I just can’t. I hate it, I hate not being in control of my own sexuality and desires and impulses. The closest I’ve ever come is saying ‘You could get the bus with me if you want’, hoping that they would understand that me putting them in my home was the first step to having sex. I can’t explicitly state a desire to sleep with someone, or even to make out with them. The greatest gift has been examples set by partners who are good at being assertive. I can’t tell you how relieved I was for someone to say, after a couple of drinks, ‘Do you want to come back to mine and have sex?’ literally in those words. It meant I could make an informed decision about whether or not I wanted to go to this person’s home, and their honesty and directness meant I actually felt I had a choice as to whether or not I said yes.
Sensing I was completely oblivious to all his subtle advances (I’m probably the only person in the world who could think someone doing the arm-stretch thing to put their arm around you just means they want to stretch their arm), my now-boyfriend had to say ‘I want to make out with you’ on our first date. Otherwise I wouldn’t have got it and I’d have skipped off home, convinced I’d just had a date with someone who didn’t fancy me. Signals are hard to read. Humans are easy to misunderstand. You can never really know what kind of insecurities or assumptions people are carrying with them. Sex and feelings are important things to navigate in terms that are mutually understood.
So, I’m trying to get better at being active, rather than trying to interpret codes and signs. I want to be involved in what happens to me, I want to make choices, I want to express myself earnestly and with enthusiasm. It’s just going to take some practice.