I’m a lifelong single person with brief periods of coupledom, and for most of my life, that’s the way I’ve preferred it. When I was in my teens, I despaired of ever having a boyfriend*, and when I was asked out by a boy at the not-so-tender age of 16, I was ecstatic. Not only was he cute and smart (oh, boy, was he smart), but finally, I felt like a normal teenage girl. I met him in summer school (T-CITY, Twin Cities Institute for Talented Youth. He was in physics, I believe, and I was in theater or writing or Latin). He went to a different school, which means we only saw each other on the weekends. It’s funny because most of my relationships have been long-distance, and this probably started the whole thing. I’m more comfortable with people if they’re not too close to me, if you get what I’m saying, and I think you do.
We dated for two-and-a-half years, and despite him being a great guy, I started not feeling it near the end of the relationship. I was working at a Claire’s in a shopping mall, and there was this really cute boy who worked at the shoe store down a level. He was a tall drink of hello, cutie, and I would flirt with him whenever I had a break. I was anorexic at that time and actually wore makeup at that point, so I was cute as hell in the stereotypical way. He was definitely into it, and while I didn’t do anything because I was in a relationship, there was definitely a zing there.
My boyfriend was going to Stanford for college (did I mention that he was super-smart?), and he insisted I had to go to school near him or we’d have to break up. I had applied to schools around his, and I got accepted to the one in CA (one of the UCs, Santa Clara, I think), but the closer it got to the time to leave, the more I started panicking. I wasn’t ready to be out of state. I wasn’t in love with him any longer. I didn’t want to go. We had several emotional discussions about it, and we ended up breaking up. I asked out the shoe shop guy after that and ended up going to his place. We made out, and he made it clear he wanted sex. I wasn’t into that, and we ended the date, amicably, I thought. Well, he rebuffed me after that, so it was pretty clear what he wanted.
During my twenties, I thought I should be in a relationship. It’s what you’re supposed to do, right? At that time, it was still the norm that a woman’s first obligation is to get married (in my Taiwanese culture as well), and the joke, “I’m going to college to get my MRS degree” wasn’t so much of a joke, frankly. I had several bad relationships in my twenties as have a lot of people, I suspect. In my thirties, I thought I *should* be in a relationship, but I wasn’t really sure I wanted it. In my early twenties, I realized I didn’t want kids. In my mid-twenties, I realized I didn’t want to live with someone. In my late twenties/early thirties, I realized I didn’t want to get married for political and personal reasons. I still felt I should be in a relationship, however, because only losers were single for their whole lives. I would loudly declare that I didn’t want to be in a relationship while secretly wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t be in a relationship while simultaneously dating exactly the wrong people. Yeah, I was a mess, yo, and I didn’t know how to get out of it.
Then, when I hit forty, I fell hard and fast. I met the man I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. That fell apart spectacularly in a way that made me embarrassed and ashamed. I withdrew into myself to lick my wounds, and then a few months later, I fell hard for someone else. That didn’t work out, but it showed me that what I thought was love earlier–wasn’t. I dated someone else for a bit a few months later (also didn’t work out), which showed me that even intense feelings don’t necessarily last or mean anything.
I don’t mean to sound overly-cynical. There are plenty of people whose love lasts a good long time, if not forever. I’m in awe, frankly, at people who are able to love so steadily. Me, however, I’m not good at it. I’ve made really shitty decisions, and I’ve chosen people who are the absolute last thing I need in my life at that time. In fact, I would say that’s been the one constant of my love life after my first boyfriend. After a lot of therapy and personal introspection, I’ve realized it’s because I’ve had divided feelings about being committed to one person for my entire life. It’s only since I’ve started reading Captain Awkward that I realized I don’t *have* to be in a monogamous long-term romantic relationship. I mean, I knew it theoretically before I read the site, but it’s only when people started offering concrete examples did I realize, hey, it’s not completely out of the ordinary. In addition, it’s where I first ran into the term aromantic (not interested in romantic relationships, grossly simplified), which struck a nerve.
It’s not that I’m not interested in romantic relationships at all. I am interested in them in theory. I like the idea of love and being all snuggly-wuggly and shit, but the practice of it leaves me cold. The first problem is that I don’t do well with small talk and in traditional dating situations. The idea of talking to someone I don’t know for a few hours leaves me cold. The fact that I would have to leave my house in order to do it makes it even worse. I’ve joked before, but if there was a place that would deliver someone for sessytimes right on my doorstop, I would be so down with that. And, yes, I know about escort services, but it’s not exactly the same. I don’t want someone just to fuck–but someone I could watch a game with, fuck, then send them home.
The problem is, I’ve been having the urge to couple more and more lately. Part of the reason is because I’m sick, and this is very selfish of me, but it’s the one time I want someone else around. I don’t like being fussed over, but i wouldn’t mind someone making me chicken noodle (gluten-free, of course) soup and ginger lemon honey tea, and tucking me under a comfy duvet on the sofa. They’ll turn on the TV if I want to watch something because I dropped the remote in milk and haven’t bothered to buy another one.** They’ll help me to the bathroom if I can’t make it on my own, and they’ll be solicitous of my pain. I’m a baby when I’m sick, and they’ll understand that. They’ll run to the store when I run out of supplies, and they’ll bring me back the dairy-free chocolate I can eat just because they love me. Yes, I know it’s a fantasy, but seriously, when I’m sick is the one time I really wish I had another person in the house.
I realize this doesn’t have to be a lover, but it’s a bit much to ask of a friend. Maybe it’s not fair that we ask more from lovers than we do from friends, but it’s pretty normal. There’s a hierarchy of relationships that many people espouse, and a committed partner would be pretty high on that list. It’s interesting when you run into different cultural beliefs, such as, in my ancestral cultural, family is more important than love. What I mean is your nuclear family should be placed before your marital relationship, and though it’s been changing (because everything changes), filial piety is still pretty important. My BFF once said she didn’t like the ‘would you choose x or y’ when it came to relationships. Like, if your house was burning, would you save your mother or your wife? She said if someone made her choose between me and her husband, she wouldn’t be able to choose.
I feel the same way. I don’t like ranking the importance of people in my life, but I can’t deny that some people are closer to me than others. The thing is, at this point in my life, I’m pretty set in my life. It’s not to say I can’t change or grow because that’s a lie, obviously, but the changes are going to be incremental and not leaps and bounds. Anyone new is going to have to fit in the existing fabric of my life, which isn’t probably what anyone wants to do–exist in the interstices.
I have another issue which is online dating. Back in the days before OKCupid was the go-to site, I posted a few personals on Craigslist, and it was…not good. One of the things I emphasized was that I didn’t want someone with yellow fever. I can’t tell you the number of guys who wrote to me and the very first thing they’d say is how much they looooooooved Asian girls–or even worse, Oriental girls. They went into the immediate trash file because if you can’t respect my request in your very first sentence, then fuck off. Two, the amount of married women looking for a single woman to play with them and their husbands was discouraging. I have nothing against threesomes, but it always felt a little skeevy to have some woman write at length how much her husband likes to watch and would like to join in if things go well. Even worse is when the husband would write an ad or contact me and take great pains to assure me his wife was really into it.
The last thing I hated which I know most women have had to deal with (even non het women because guys can be such jackasses sometimes) was unsolicited dick pics. I had a line in my ad that said a dick pic won’t make the date, but it just might break it. That didn’t stop the assholes from sending them, anyway. Yes, it was in casual encounters, but I still didn’t want to see their unclothed members. There was one guy who was proud of being in the eight inch club. He sent me a picture of him using said member on a woman with her eyes barred off. I was repulsed on so many levels, I still remember it now even though that was twenty years ago. One, I’m the opposite of a size queen and bigger is most emphatically not better (especially length-wise. I mean, who really cares about a couple of inches?). Two, I didn’t need to see it, especially in action. Three, that poor woman. I’m pretty sure she didn’t consent to having her sex pictures sent to another woman, and it doesn’t make it better that there was a bar across her eyes.
Another problem is that I’m very comfortable with the emailing stage, but not when moving it past that point. In Captain Awkward’s commentariat, they were discussing how many emails you should exchange with someone on, say, OKCupid, before meeting up in person. Some were in the camp of two or three brief emails, then setting up a meeting so you won’t waste your time if you don’t physically connect. Others preferred to get to know the person through email first before deciding whether or not they want to meet in person. I’m in the latter camp in part because physical attraction to me often happens after I get to know someone. I guess the term for that is demisexual, and while I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way, the term is not really for me. I’m also attracted to intelligence (sapiosexual, another word I appreciate knowing, but don’t really like), so it makes more sense to me to get to know someone first before trying to date them. I’ve usually been friends with someone before easing into a romantic/sexual relationship, and that’s a deterrent for me using a dating site.
It gets more complicated in that I have strong physical attractions to people even if I don’t know them. There are people I just want to fuck, and with them, it’s better if we don’t actually have conversations. I’ve told this anecdote many times, but it’s the perfect example. Two decades ago, I ran into an old lover, and he was with his new boyfriend. The new boyfriend was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen in my life, and at some point, it become clear that we were all going to fuck. We stopped at a gas station on the way home to get cigarettes, and the new boyfriend started saying in a baby voice, “Daddy, get me my cigarettes,” and his sexiness started plunging the second he started talking. I wanted to say to him, “Look, you’re about to get laid. If you don’t shut up, you’re not.” Fortunately, he stopped, but it was so damn gross.
If I’m just going to have a one-night stand, then I don’t really care about a person’s personality or beliefs.*** I can be physically attracted to them, fuck them like crazy for one night, then send them on their merry way. If I wanted a long-term monogamous relationship, then I would be more apt to do the more traditional dating thing or perhaps joining some kind of activity and letting something happen organically. However, what I want is something in the middle. I want a friend with benefits emphasis on both friend and benefits. This means that I need to know enough about the person to consider them a friend, but not so much that it gets in the way of sex. I want them to hang out from time to time (and make me soup when I’m sick), but not want to spend more than a few nights a week together. I don’t want any sleepovers (at least not at first), and I’m afraid that this will all go out the window if I fall for someone.
I feel like I’m more ready to dip my toe into the dating/sexing pool now than I ever have been, but I’m not sure I want to put that to the test.
*Thought I was was straight at the time, mostly by default.
**I rarely watch TV.
***As long as they don’t say anything egregious as we’re about to get it on.