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New Year, New Hope

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better (wo)man.”
Benjamin Franklin

First and foremost, a very happy New Year to all you STEM readers! It was a strange holiday season for me and, quite frankly, I’m a little relieved it’s over. Don’t get me wrong, returning home is nice, but sometimes that return brings on remembering that is less pleasant. Home cooked meals? Delicious. Parents bickering? Not so appetizing. Seeing your two closest friends? Wonderful! Meeting their boyfriends and hearing about how in love they are when you’re still single? Depressing.

Obviously, I’m really happy for both of them. One of my best friends, who lives down the street from me, has been dating someone since this summer and is convinced he’s the real deal. They’re considerate of one another, passionate about the same things and most importantly, she’s genuinely happy with him. It’s only when I put my single status in context to their relationship that I feel a little queasy.

See, my best friend is one of those girls who always seems to have a boyfriend. I’m one of those girls who are 22 and feel like they’ve never had a real boyfriend. She has an entire box of notes from boys, pictures of them together at dances, crappy drawings and Valentines from former admirers. I have a list of guys who I’ve had one-night stands with.

She and I met at the bus stop in sixth grade and I remember listening eagerly as she told me all about the boys she liked and who liked her. I was in the most awkward of awkward phases then and thought that surely it would only be a few more years of growing up before I caught up with her and no longer had to live vicariously through her stories. Well, joke’s on me because there I was this Christmas break, more than a decade later, sitting across from her and eagerly listening as she told me what it felt like to be in a comfortable and caring relationship.

It was a little hard to stomach. Eleven years later and am I still in my awkward phase? Will I ever grow out of it? Do some things just never change? My friend rolled her eyes when I expressed my self-concern and told me she was jealous I hadn’t put myself through the grief of so many break-ups and relationship hardships. “I used to be so upset all the time with these stupid guys who didn’t treat me well,” she lamented before adding, “Now I know, when it’s the right guy, everything is so easy. So easy.” I was happy for her triumph, but still wondering if I’d ever find my own right guy.

Still, the best part about the holidays is finishing all that Christmas-time reminiscing with a chance to start fresh again in the new year.

Today I came across a wish list I had made for 2011. It read:
1. A real relationship with someone who…
a. Is not gay (it’s happened before).
b. Is interested in spending quality time with me (i.e. not just on the weekends, or late night booty calls, or only wants to meet up at bars).
c. Doesn’t leave me wondering all the time.
d. Makes an effort.
e. I can laugh with, a lot.
f. Is good in bed.
2. A job I can handle and don’t totally hate.
3. An agreeable living situation.
4. A great birthday.
5. Hope for years to come.

Of that list, the middle three were certainly checked off, which only leaves the first and last one to carry over to this year. And, in the spirit of resolutions, maybe we can work on that last one right now: Maybe 2011 didn’t bring everything I wanted, but it brought me closer, and with hope, lots and lots of hope, 2012 will also.

On New Year’s Eve I went to a bar with my friends and found myself kissing a very handsome and laidback surfer from Argentina – not as the ball dropped, but a good 40 minutes after. Other guys had approached me earlier in the evening, but none that I was interested in. Midnight came and I hugged my friends, deciding that if how you spend the first minute of the new year is how you spend the rest of it, I’d be better off being happy alone than regretting wasting it making out with a guy who was no good. Then, lo and behold, twenty minutes later, I start talking to this really good-looking and nice guy who makes me laugh, a lot. He was just passing through and I doubt I’ll see him again, but still, I left the bar content with my first kiss of the New Year. Maybe my friend is right. Had I been in such a scramble to kiss someone at what I thought was the right time, I might have never ended up kissing the right guy that night.

Here’s to the new year. May it bring restored hope and many more worth-waiting-for kisses.

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Measuring The In-Between

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.”
H. Allen Smith

If I’m lucky enough to have anybody read this column regularly, you might be wondering, what ever happened with Mr. Times Square? Forget about all these guys from last year who fucked it up, what about the guy that’s supposed to be there right now? (And for those of you who need catching up or reminding, read about how we met here).

Maybe the reason I haven’t been keeping a detailed chronicle of what’s current is because I’m always better at understanding the things that have already passed, and hoping for what’s to come. The present is the icky in-between that I can’t quite put my finger on, at any given moment I’m trying to prepare myself for which category to place it in: Doomed past or hopeful future? Is this going to be the one that saves or destroys me?

This is all the more difficult of a fixation to relinquish when your present feels especially in-between things itself. Mr. Times Square and I are still going out on dates, but I don’t think we’re dating. We’re sleeping together, maybe even exclusively, but we’re not a couple by any means. We’re…well, I have no idea what we are, or if I should care, or if we should stop being whatever it is we’re not being.

Is it clear enough at least why I’ve been putting off writing about him for so long?

I’ve been telling my friends clued in to the situation that dating or not dating, the title doesn’t necessarily matter to me. Though I do feel like I’m at an emotional readiness in my life to settle down and commit, I’m still new to a big city and it’s no time to settle in that sense. Mr. Times Square and I hang out semi-consistently (once a week to once every two weeks) and that’s good enough for me right now. There’s someone to spend time with now and then, and to keep me from feeling completely deprived of male attention but not so time consuming a relationship that I’m failing to engage in other areas of my life.

Then again, I can’t help but feel there isn’t something not quite right about it. Am I settling for less than I deserve? Or letting myself be used as a convenient and glorified rebound fuck buddy? Am I letting him have his cake and eat it too, while I’m barely scraping the pan? In a very neurotic Bridget-Jones/Carrie-Bradshaw-at-her-worst attempt to figure out what exactly the problem is, I put our relationship on paper. I listed every date: when and where it took place, what I wore (irrelevant, but fun) and if we had sex after or not. Here were my “scientific” findings:

Mr. Times Square and I have been seeing each other for three months now. In this time we have gone out on eleven dates, including: three outings with his friends, two with mine, at least ten different bars (some nights included bar-hopping), two movies in theaters, four morning-after bagel runs and two actual sit-down breakfasts. We have never actually had a meal alone together aside from breakfast. More alarming, we’ve only actually had sex a total of six times.

It’s this last one that really struck me. In its defense, six times is probably a lot for both of us given the circumstances. I’m used to one-night stands, he’s still fairly fresh out of a long, serious relationship, and there’s something kind of sweet about us compromising in the middle. But considering we started sleeping together almost immediately, it’s a shockingly low number, one that I suspect gets banged out (pun-intended) by other couples in a period of a week or two, not three months.

Of course, there’s a lot of good stuff that can’t be listed objectively on paper. We have good conversations, similar tastes and interests and the sex itself is good. But let’s face it – a fuck every fortnight does not a relationship make.

So what to make of this uncomfortable in-between? Or is the real struggle to not make something of it at all? To just go with it for as long as I’m happy? Or is it to see that I’m not as happy as I’d like to think I am?

Quite frankly, my attempt to be objective and see things clearly has left me more lost than ever. For now, let me say, I know we are definitely not a couple. The comfortable “what are we doing tonight” feeling just isn’t there. Still, it’s far from the worst situation I’ve ever been in. In fact, compared to the worst, it’s actually quite good. Not the best, but a solid good. And while I do deserve the best eventually (as I hope everyone knows they do), let’s not jump to any conclusions or categorize the present as past or future quite yet. Who knows what that solid good will turn into? For now, let’s just keep our fingers crossed, look forward for the best to come, try to relax until then and for god’s sake, not make any more stupid lists to freak us out.

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Tough Love

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“When love is not madness, it is not love.”
Pedro Calderon de la Barca

If the family is a basic unit from which we learn all other relationships from – I’m screwed. There’s not a lot my family does right. We like to make fun of each other; in our home, mockery and sarcasm have comfortably supplanted genuine communication and affection. Where most people learn cooperation, I’ve acquired a deep respect for autonomy; and instead of support, self-sufficiency. We don’t eat meals together, we don’t share interests and the only thing we’ve managed to do consistently is forget someone’s birthday every year.

When faced with traditionally monumental familial occasions, we flail. Every Christmas we go see a movie. After opening presents, left with a full day meant to inspire bonding and warm feelings, we gratefully opt out for the manufactured gore and explosions of an action film instead.

And yet, there’s never been an absence of love. It is often obscured and more often realized as a last resort, but it is always there. When my parents dropped me off for my first year of college, my mom complained about everything. The four-star hotel my dad booked to impress her overlooking the downtown San Diego bay was a needless overpriced luxury. The cloudless skies and sun were making her pristine skin break out in a rash. I wasn’t even setting up my room correctly, every inch should be scoured with cleaning product before I could even consider unpacking.

It wasn’t until I erupted at lunch and asked her why she was being “such a bitch” that her guard finally collapsed. To me, the image of love is my mother’s exhausted, puffy, crying face in the booth of a mediocre Mexican restaurant, admitting she is afraid to be alone without me.

It’s no wonder I’ve had so much trouble finding love outside of my family. Broken love, buried love, belittled love is the best love I know. It’s the kind of love I thought I had found this spring.

One of my good friends, a notorious womanizer and cynic, shockingly revealed his feelings for me one night. He pulled me aside and, holding my hand to his heart, told me he had always had a soft spot for me. It didn’t matter that I had hooked up with his friends, it wasn’t about sex, he just wanted to be able to kiss me whenever he wanted. It was a moment so perfect it paralyzed me with fear. I would have been surprised to hear it from anyone, but especially from him, a guy who used to brag about making his girlfriend sleep in a separate bed after they’d had sex because “he didn’t like to cuddle.”

But I couldn’t give in right then and there. For me, it was too romantic to be love. Too easy. It wasn’t until he reverted to acting casually and making crude jokes with me that I felt comfortable seeing the hidden feelings that lingered between us. Only then did I let myself imagine a relationship born out of our mutual insecurities and hard exteriors. A real love, I thought.

There was a time when I encouraged my parents to overcome their own insecurities and indifference to romance. Though legally married for twenty-two years, they’ve spent the last ten as near strangers. It’s not just that they sleep in separate rooms; they have completely different friends, cultures and values. As their sole shared passion, I thought I might inspire a restored feeling of friendship between the two by suggesting my dad ask my mom out on a date. It didn’t go well.

My father called me after, quite upset, and blamed me for expecting too much of them. They had grown too far apart. They did nothing but fight. I was naïve and stupid for thinking things could be repaired. This was my fault.

Things didn’t work out much better for my own relationship. As soon as I made myself available, I found I wasn’t wanted anymore. The boy was seeing other girls again. All declarations of soft spots and admiration were forgotten.

When I brought it up, he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. He was drunk the night of his confession and didn’t remember saying any of those things. When I cried in the middle of a crowded room talking about it with him again, days later, he was equally curt and cold. I was making a big deal out of nothing. I shouldn’t be upset. We were too young to be in relationships. I was naïve and stupid for thinking otherwise. This was my fault.

I should have hated him after that. I should have shoved, spit or screamed at him – but to dismiss cruelty is too easy. The real torture lies in understanding it. I could no more easily hate this boy who rejected me, than my own dejected father. If my family has taught me anything, it’s that real love isn’t always pretty. We might say and do hurtful things to the people we care for most when it’s too hard to face our own vulnerability, but I never doubt that my dad loves me, even when he’s too broken to show it. And I still maintain that the boy I cared about is better than he allows himself to be. Drunk or not, the way he kissed my forehead that first night was too tender, too genuine and too unwarranted to have been born out of anything other than love. And his unfortunate retraction was too harsh, too cowardly and too uncalled for to have been anything other than fear for the feelings he professed.

Perhaps more important than how my disjointed family has taught me to recognize the strains of real love, is how I have learned to persist through them. When these two men berated me with their own self-loathing, I had the sense not to fight with senselessness. On both occasions I nodded my head through silent tears, accepting their hurtful words, because my love was real enough to know it was what they needed.

My dad has since apologized, but my friend has not. I suppose that’s what’s special about a father’s love; even in imperfect families it’s infinitely more reliable than any boyfriend’s. And yet, I refuse to dismiss the idea of that boy entirely. We no longer live in the same city and haven’t even been in contact recently, but I can’t help but wonder if he still thinks of me now and then, as I do of him.

The truth is, because of my family I’m able to look past the faults of a broken whole and salvage the beauty concealed in the pieces and details. We might forget birthdays, but they make the ones we do remember extra special. We might see inappropriate movies on religious holidays, but we do it together. And we might not always express ourselves openly, but we do care.

So, as far as relationships are concerned, I’m sure I’m bound to tolerate too much and hold on too long. Given the circumstances I’ve come from, it’s only natural that I trust in the frailty of imperfections. To me, love isn’t omni-benevolent. It’s a thing of consequence, it’s the thing that can only hold you by haunting you a little, and the thing that has the power to make you a better person, but more often makes you a worse one. My family has taught me these realities about love, and in doing so, have made me a person who loves fearlessly.

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Cheating Myself

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.”
Scott Alexander

Infidelity has a lot of different meanings. It shouldn’t, but it does. One needs only to check a thesaurus to get a feeling for the range of different connotations the loaded word deviates between. They’re all there. The good (hanky-panky, liaison, amour); the bad (affair, cuckoldry, two-timing); and the ugly (disloyalty, falseness, deceit).

I have never cheated on a boyfriend, but quite possibly only because I haven’t been in very many established relationships. Part of me has to wonder if this too is only a symptom of the monstrous romantic disaster I’ve become. Because even if I don’t have a significant other of my own to deceive, I’ve at some point been involved in the deception of other’s who are more (and at the same time less) fortunate. What does that say about how much I value and deserve any level of intimacy?

There was a boy last year with whom I briefly entertained the idea of a fling with. He had a serious long-time girlfriend that I knew very well of, but somehow a flirtation began regardless. We were drunk one night, started dancing together and had lots of fun. When his friends left the bar without him, he asked if he could sleep in my bed, but nothing happened. Not even a cuddle. Then the next weekend rolled around and we found ourselves texting to see what each other’s plans were. We danced together closely the whole night again and I wound up in his bed with his arms around me. We didn’t kiss but the next morning he did roll over on top of me, as if toying with the idea of what could be done. Things ended when I blacked out one night and pursued his good friend instead (an Olivia Ford classic, it seems) and then the idea was toyed with no longer.

Yet another time, I slept with a guy who, although technically single, was secretly still hooking up with his ex-girlfriend. She had cheated on him with his best friend a year ago but wanted nothing more since then than to make amends and be with him again. Naturally, the offense was difficult to forgive. He refused to re-establish the relationship she had broken but was not above casual physical interactions now and then. When I found myself out with him and friends who had witnessed the whole debacle between the two, they drunkenly advised me, “Ugh. So what if you hook up with him? They need to get over each other. Seriously.” His ex-girlfriend, unfortunately, did not share this same sentiment. We were never very close at all ourselves but she and I shared a lot of good friends, and this was enough to make her hate me. At a bar she shoved me, threw a drink in my face and then sent me a text to inform me that I was a “skank ho” and should be embarrassed because he went back to her after sleeping with me.

They are now happily dating, and I am happy for them. It’s a more difficult situation to assess because while I was accused of home wrecking, it ultimately led to home making. His sleeping with me had enraged her to the equal degree of anger he felt when she had betrayed him, and so, wasn’t I instrumental in putting them on even terms? In that sense, perhaps the whole ordeal is a lesson in why not to cheat from her perspective. It was only after she groveled for a year and was subjected to a similar hurtful revenge that she was able to make it back into his good graces.

Most recently, my married 42-year-old boss has been hitting on me. I’m closer in age to his daughter than I am to him (yes, he has a daughter). Putting it like that makes things pretty clear about how I should and shouldn’t respond, but when he first came on to me, I wasn’t so sure. He’s stylish, foreign and I’ll be damned if there isn’t something alluring about a man with an accent who dresses in well-tailored suits. But those reasons for ruining a family are just as stupid and frivolous as the things he sees in me: someone young, pretty and un-tethered.

“Would it be crazy for me to ask you out?” he asked as he was leaving the office one night.
“I don’t know…” I said smiling. “That’d be very dangerous.”
“You’re right. But is that a yes or a no?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one with more responsibility and more at stake, so if anything it should be a maybe for you.” I tried to explain.
“Okay, goodnight then.” He said, nodding, seeming almost defeated as he quickly turned and went out the door.

It was one of those rare moments where I surprised myself by being so honest and saying something completely appropriate. It surprised me so much, in fact, that I suddenly wondered if it was the right thing. Should I have given him more? Was I too dismissive? Was I closing an opportunity I should be taking?

Of course any sane person would answer no to these questions, but I am not always so sane.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, I just know I shouldn’t,” I texted him a few minutes later, reasoning that this would leave us on even terms.

As the week has gone on, however, I feel myself feeling sick over it. There is a drawing his daughter made for him taped up above his desk. He left his blackberry on my desk accidentally and I noticed a photo of his wife set as his background. Seeing these and recognizing his lies to those people, made me see the lies I’d been telling myself. Not only do I know I shouldn’t, there is nothing in that proposition that I want and nothing that will or should put us on even terms.

Infidelity isn’t wrong because it’s cheating on the other person. It’s wrong because, in most cases, what the person cheating wants is sex, and that’s too easy; too stupid. You can get sex from anyone, but to share a life together, that’s what’s hard, maybe harder than anything else. So if you’ve already found someone to do that with (and isn’t that great? Someone to brush your teeth with and read in bed next to, the things you can’t do with just anyone), why would you want to blow it all on a thing as stupid and easy as sex?

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Speaking Of Speaking Up…

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“Honesty does not always bring a response of love, but it is absolutely essential to it.”
Ray Blanton

Well, it’s happened again. New city, new guy, same old story.

Let’s call this one Mr. Times Square because that’s where we ended up on our first date. Pretty romantic, right? Even more romantic was that we kissed there, right in the middle of those infamous city lights. Less romantic, is that I haven’t heard from him since we slept together 12 days ago.

What really kills me is that I knew better. My friend who set us up warned me that he had just gotten out of a relationship and that I should just focus on being friends with him. He even mentioned it himself the night we did it, a three-year-long relationship that only ended a month or two ago. Apparently, nothing puts me in the mood more than emotional unavailability.

This is disheartening, not because I expected things to go very far (although, it is possible part of me hoped it would against the odds) but because the whole ordeal lacks a common decency that I have seen far too often this year. To be frank, and perhaps even crude, when did it become the standard to cut off communication with a girl after you’ve been inside of her? I expect this of the guys I go home with only hours after meeting them at a bar, but not from the ones who take me out on dates and introduce me to their friends and, worst of all, speak in the future tense (“My friend Louis, who I’m sure you’ll meet eventually…”). With them, the effect is so traumatic I start to feel as though my vagina is some kind of Bermuda Triangle. Men go in, but never come back.

And yet I realize I am just as much at fault for this. Friends tell me all the time not to give it up so easily. If men mysteriously disappear after I sleep with them, then why do I keep doing it? Why not hold out until I’m sure it’s the right guy? Well, a large part of me is unsure if I’ll ever know when it’s right. This time I only waited four dates and thought that was enough. If you scoff at my naivety, know that once I waited four years to sleep with a guy I liked and even then he blew me off.

Certainly, circumstance plays largely into this. While four dates might have been enough for a guy who seemed genuinely interested in me and didn’t just get out of a long relationship, the fact remains that Mr. Times Square and I are at very different places in our lives. In fact, we need exactly what the other is looking to get away from. After three years of commitment, he should absolutely be out messing around and having fun and not worrying about checking in with a girl everyday. But after four years of doing just that, I’d like to slow down for a while and get comfortable with someone.

I knew this all very well 12 days ago when I slept with him. In fact, I knew I should have said no. So why couldn’t I?

This question haunted me all the more when I heard something truly terrible. When I called my friend who set me up with Mr. Times Square to update her on his apparent change of heart, she trumped my petty drama by confessing she had been at the hospital all night with a friend who was raped. The girl invited a guy home with her but didn’t want to have sex with him, but he took advantage anyway. I know there are people who will say she is partly to blame. If they were drinking and she brought him home, what’s the big deal? Wasn’t she asking for it? The big deal is, she showed up in hysterics at my friend’s door in the middle of the night because at some point, she said “no” and he didn’t listen. The big deal is she spent hours at a hospital because someone felt it more important to have his way than to respect her body. The big deal is, there’s a big difference between casual sex and sex without consent.

Perhaps the hardest part for me to swallow was how similar I know this girl to be to myself. When my best friend met her, she called to tell me how we look and speak alike – how happy she was to have found the substitute version of me while I was away at school. But beyond any physical resemblance we may share, I’ve shared the same predicament. I can think of at least two times when I made out with a guy, decided I wasn’t that into it, didn’t want to go further, but slept with him anyway to avoid the confrontation and awkwardness of speaking up and stopping things. I know that our situations are not the same, but they also are not so different. After all, wasn’t there something in my unenthusiastic and hesitant demeanor that should have said “no” to the men in my situations? And is it because of girls like me, who don’t say “no,” that some guys stop listening for the word at all?

I’ve been telling myself for years that sex is no big deal. I hate the idea that our physical actions can’t be separated from their emotional weight. The number of people we’ve slept with isn’t usually the number of people we’ve loved – but maybe it should be. It wasn’t until I received that rude awakening of what betrayed intimacy looks like at it’s worst, that I was able to recognize its appearances in my own life. I like to think I’m ready for a relationship and that I deserve better than I’ve been given, but how can I expect more when I can’t even ask?

I’m not surprised Mr. Times Square hasn’t called me, because he disclosed his history with me. And it’s no surprise I’m upset, because I did not disclose my history with him. Because it’s not easy to say to someone that while they were deeply in love, I was sleeping around. Because it’s even harder to say “no.” Because that’d be confrontation and because apparently I’d rather let something unpleasant happen to me than make a big deal.

I do feel used and misunderstood, but mostly by myself. I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for myself and I couldn’t feel guiltier that someone who was was treated so cruelly. In a lot of ways, I feel like it should have happened to me, and I sincerely hope I learn to say no for myself before it does.

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this column, Ms. Ford has received word from Mr. Times Square and plans to be more upfront and honest with herself, and any participating parties that may come, about her readiness for intimacy.

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How Great Sex Had Its Way With Me

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.”

Woody Allen

It’s a fine line between sex and romance. I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend, senior year of high school – romantic notion in theory perhaps, but the reality of the sex itself…was not. As expected, neither of us knew what we were doing and the few times we tried, it ended in buzz-killing guilt. He felt immoral about having sex. I felt bad about letting him have it with me, knowing it would leave him remorseful. With this kind of complicated experience, it wasn’t exactly love-at-first-practice between sex and I.

When I left for college, it was easier to find guys without a guilty sexual conscious – too easy. It seemed as soon as I slept with a guy, I never heard from him again. And to be honest, that was okay with me. The short-lived flame of a one-night stand was all I wanted after the fiasco of a sexless long-term relationship. I’m sure many people would disagree, but I came to find that there is something romantic in even the shortest of affairs. Forget the shots before, the hangover after and all the wrong things in between, there’s just something so irresistibly right about your eyes lingering on him from across the bar, his sneaking a gentle hand-squeeze after some heavy flirtation and the smile on both your faces as you lean in for that first and fatal kiss.

I know lots of people who make the mistake of thinking their one-night stands are more than just that, but not me. I’ve always been a firm believer in not emotionally investing in someone just because they’re there for a moment. I’ve seen it too many times. One of my friends will hook up with a guy, tell me it was fun but that he was nothing special, and then be unreasonably devastated when he doesn’t call. They go out expecting sex, and as soon as they get it, they want something more. Me? I just wanted the physical satisfaction without the messy game-playing tactics of dating. Then again, maybe this philosophy was only so easy for me to advocate because the guys I slept with weren’t there. We’d sleep together, they’d never call again and I’d be content knowing another one would come along.

Then, someone was there. To begin with, he was there in my text message inbox the next day, asking me out for drinks. We had met the night before at a bar. I’d gone home with him and we leisurely laid around in bed the next day having the “getting to know you all over again now that we’ve already slept together while I was totally blacked out” conversation. He dropped me back at my place and gave me one last teasing kiss goodbye. Or so I thought it would be. When I saw his name on my phone screen later that day I was initially excited, then nervous, and eventually pissed as I faced the serious issue of figuring out what to wear and how late to show up so I wouldn’t be rude, but also so I wouldn’t be the first one there, sitting at the bar by myself, sipping on a beer and gingerly looking around wondering if I would be able to recognize my now-to-be two-night stand.

But to my surprise, it went well. We talked, laughed, flirted, touched and eventually wound up at my place, having sex the way only people who don’t give a fuck can fuck: sweaty, aggressive and for what seemed like hours. I had bruises on my arm from biting myself because it was so good. And it didn’t stop there; the amazing sex went on for almost three months. In between our time in bed he took me out on dates and we hung out with his friends. Mostly though, we did it – a lot. And just like that, someone was there and I was happy being with him.

Unfortunately, just as easily, I found myself being unhappy not being with him. I started doing all the things I hate seeing my friends do. I checked my phone maniacally, was upset when he didn’t call or text, agonized over whether we were just hanging out, or dating, or dating exclusively. I made jokes to him about flirting with other guys to test his reaction and sent crazy raving apologies when he brushed them off dismissively. I don’t know if he caught on to my growing neuroses, or was just bored, or didn’t really think anything of it, but after two months of being fairly inseparable, we separated – without discussion or argument. I heard from him less and less, and in an attempt to salvage my dignity, I stopped making an effort to reach him. After a few weeks he texted me asking where I had disappeared to and casually threw out a suggestion to hang out. While I thought I had responded positively, we never did have great sex again.

This all happened months ago, early in the fall, but I just recently saw him for the first time since. I was invited to a going away party for a mutual friend. We all met at a bar and when I saw him from across the room, I cried somewhat hysterically and ran to the bathroom with my best friend like it was middle school. Only in middle school, the bathroom doesn’t have a fabulous transvestite attendant selling candy apple flavored shots while dishing out positive female affirmations. Thanks to this gender impersonator, I eventually composed myself enough to encounter him, where he was just like all my other one-night-stands. We avoided acknowledging each other’s presence until it became painfully awkward to continue doing so, and then we finally exchanged the briefest of hellos. Then it was over – for good.

The thing is, I never expected “us” to last forever. While we did have a similar sense of humor and were clearly sexually compatible, most of our downtime was spent smoking weed and watching television. This arrangement was comfortable enough but not exactly the makings of a great romance. I should have been prepared for the excruciating casualty of our parting. But there was something about that amazing connection in bed that stuck with me. I was never able to return to my former sexually liberated and carefree self. After that taste of great sex, I always wanted something more, like so many girls I have seen crash and burn before me.

Ironically, I never missed the guy I lost my virginity to. In fact, I don’t even remember the first time we did it. Not because I was too drunk or drugged up, but because, as I suspect at least, it was completely unremarkable. Which leaves me to wonder. How much of our heart’s feelings are determined by our body’s? How is it that the breakup with my high school sweetheart left me unscathed, eyes dry and ready to meet other guys, while the disappearance of a boy I never even expected to stick around in the first place broke my heart? Why did I miss the physical connection more than the emotional one?

Perhaps a physical closeness is harder to replace than its emotional counterpart. A full year of my high-school relationship was spent communicating long distance. Even if we weren’t having much sex to begin with, without the innocent comforts of hand holding or watching movies snuggled up on the couch together, the interactions we were reduced to were nothing I couldn’t get from a good friend. And the one-nighters that followed him, while physically satisfying enough, kept me safe in their autonomy. It could be that before Mr. Amazing-In-Bed, I never depended on anyone to satisfy me.

So it turns out consistency is the real heartbreaker.

Sometimes I think it was the Universe’s way of keeping me in check. Since I was the girl who only wanted sex and was happy using random people to fulfill that need, Fate brought me really good sex that I couldn’t help but come back to the source for, again and again. And in doing so, I was tricked into creating room for just one boy in my life. Without him, I found myself with a vacant room, and could no longer bring myself to fill it with just any stranger.

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Enter The Romantic

By Olivia Ford
@STEM_OliviaFord

“The only abnormality is the incapacity to love.”
Anais Nin

At different times in my life I have been the virgin, the prude, the tease, the home-wrecker, the whore – and just about everything in between. But. what I’d really like now? To be redeemed.

It’s hard to say when and how, exactly, I got so off track. The only real relationship I’ve ever had was way back when, once upon a time in high school. We met at church. He was my first kiss and first boyfriend, and I thought someday he’d be my first husband (and only, for that matter). When he left for college a year before me, I was happy to “be with him” via e-mail and phone calls. But when I left a year later and realized we wouldn’t be in the same zip code, or even the same time zone, for the next four years, I knew it wouldn’t be right to keep staying in the same relationship.

Was I after love then? Certainly more than I was in what followed our relationship, but while I still talk to him now and then and keep him in high regards, there was always a physical urgency our relationship lacked, and never once did I feel sad about breaking up with him. This has led me to see any love I ever felt for him was one of friendship.

Maybe that was what led me to neglect love for so long after we were together; the idea that even in a good and well-intentioned relationship with someone you deeply respect, passion is not necessarily a given.

Call me crazy, naïve or stupid, but I want to believe that romance does still exist. And truthfully, I don’t think I realized how badly I wanted to believe it until I was faced with a series of incredibly unromantic situations this year. Situations I know I am guilty of having put myself in and ones I only made worse by obsessing over.

The one that made me want to start this column? Being kissed by a truly decent guy who really seems to understand me, and crying when it happened. I wish I could say they were tears of joy and relief when, in fact, they were borne out of an almost paralyzing sense of fear and self-doubt.

You see, in between that first kiss and this last one that left me in tears, a lot happened. I’m afraid the reckless choices I’ve made in pursuit of the passion I could not find within the confines of that first conventional relationship I had, have left me damaged. And while it was once easy to blame these damages on guys who I felt treated me poorly, I’m now realizing that the only one I can really blame, is myself.

I want to set the record straight and tell all the horrible mistakes I’ve made because I’m afraid if I don’t, I may never get over them, and that would be the most horrible mistake of all. I can’t guarantee that many of my stories will be inherently romantic, but I’m hoping that by telling them I’ll be able to release those burdens and make a little more room in my heart for relationships to come, and hopefully, that belief is romantic enough.

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