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

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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

In Defence of Internet Dating.

Maybe I’m not very romantic. But maybe that’s because a lot of ‘romance’ seems to involve a relinquishing of power and control. That’s why I love internet dating. Although it’s definitely, definitely losing its stigma, a lot of people are still weirded out by it.  It feels like it’s ok for me to do it, but the idea that they might do it is tragic, hilarious and kind of gross.

The truth is, I just don’t meet people in real life. I mean, yes, I meet people, but we’re almost in November now, and I have not met one single person in 2012 in everyday real life that I could realistically have had a romantic or sexual relationship with. I have not met anyone this year who was available, with whom there was a spark. Not one person. (If you know me and you know this to be untrue, please remind me because I really honestly cannot think of anyone)

So I look at dating and relationships and sex a bit like I look at employment: I don’t sit around waiting for someone to offer me a kickass job. I think about the kind of job I want, then I go look for it and I apply for it and I see if it works out. That’s especially how I view and value internet dating. It allows people to represent themselves as they wish, and then I can assess what they want me to know about them and see if I think it would be worth meeting. Now, I have the added bonus of being on OkCupid, which I consider to be the greatest of all dating sites because a) it’s completely free b) there are loads of hotties of all genders c) it has uses pretty sweet and reliable algorithms to determine the compatibility of each member with every other member.

I sort of ‘mated for life’ with OkCupid, and don’t feel the need to try any other sites because I’ve had such great results, but that means when I talk about ‘internet dating’ I’m really just talking about OkCupid.

It’s not always good, and I don’t always fancy them, but honestly, if you want to make yourself feel better about not doing it by telling yourself the internet is exclusively populated by weirdos and rapists then be my guest. But it just ain’t true (the first time I went home with one man, he told me he had an enhanced CRB check so he probably wasn’t going to murder me. He didn’t murder me.). Pretty much every time I go somewhere interesting, like a gig by an artist I like, or Unskinny Bop, or the anarchist bookfair, I see people I recognise off OkCupid. It’s a hive for people who are into cool stuff, and because of the matching algorithms, it’s highly likely that if you’re into one cool thing, you’ll end up matched highly with someone who also likes that cool thing. How much I like someone is often dependent on how good they are on Twitter, and most people who are really good on Twitter are also on OkCupid.

The best thing about internet dating is the ability to be extremely uncompromising with what information you give people straight away. For a nonmonogamous person it’s especially useful because you can be upfront about your nonmonogamous status. Unfortunately it’s a dealbreaker for some, so it’s nice to be able to filter out those people that, realistically, you just don’t want to be meeting romantically. Personally, I don’t want to meet anyone who isn’t a feminist, so I make my feminist-ness prominent on my profile. I don’t want people to contact me if they’re solely monogamous, so I say that you should only contact me if you’re into nonmonogamy. I have a full-length photo of me so if they hate fat people, then they don’t message me. I make it clear that I Am An Internet Person so if they’re going to be all icky about meeting someone from the internet, then they should probably talk to someone else. I’m upfront about the fact that, among other things, I’m interested in casual sex. In some cases, things that it’s extremely difficult to scope out in someone you’ve first met in real life before it’s too late, and things that I’m really grateful I can screen people for.

If you want to tell me it takes the ‘magic’ out of meeting someone, I’ll tell you that a one-night-stand with a cute Norwegian who’s only in town for the weekend is kind of magic. But more to the point: of all the people I’ve had great dates with, of all the people I’ve had sustained romantic relationships or sexual encounters with, I wouldn’t have met any of them in real life. Our social circles are just so different. They’re generally a lot older than me, and/or socialise in different ways to me, and/or are from different parts of town to me. But the internet was able to bring us together for mutual enjoyment/fucking/whatever.

It would be kind of cool if I didn’t just meet all my romantic/sexual partners on OkCupid so, er, if I know you IRL and you want to ask me out then please do that. But I’m kind of at peace with the fact that the internet is my medium. Although it’s a bit dry at the moment and I feel like I’ve exhausted the men of OkCupid (literally and metaphorically) and the women never like me very much anyway, I still have hope that the pool will refill itself.

Not gonna lie, I think it’s kind of cool that my boyfriend and I were brought together by a robot.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license.