I think I might be ready to date again. For the past few years, I’ve basically been single, but I’ve occasionally gone out on some fairly uninspired tinder dates.
They always ended the same way, with no chemistry. Eventually, after chatting with some friends, I realized I came across as cold and stand-offish at first.
“I thought you knew that about yourself,” one of my friends said.
“No,” I said. “Must be an English thing,”
That seemed reasonable enough, so I started to wonder, how can I be less cold? I started googling things like how can I flirt with people on a date but it was frustrating, because I already knew the mechanics of it. I just didn’t want to flirt. Deep down, we all know the mechanics of flirting I think — you just do the things your body wants to do. But, we learn to repress it.
I learned to repress it because I stopped feeling safe. Once I had a boyfriend who was so frustrated when we started being sexual but didn’t have sex, he told me not to initiate sexual encounters with him if I wasn’t going to go “finish” it. To my youthful mind, that seemed reasonable enough. I didn’t want to be a “cock tease” or whatever.
However, the fallout was that I stopped feeling desire. Humans are attuned to respond to arousal in each other, and if I got turned on, my boyfriend would pick up on that. It would probably turn him on, then I would have started a sexual encounter, and I would be obligated to fuck him. That rule was an absolutely terrible rule. It was never worth the risk to be sexual, because if I stopped being turned on after starting, I would be trapped between his anger and painful sex. It wasn’t worth the risk to even feel desire.
It has been a recurring theme in my dating life that when men can read desire in me, they will often pressure me for sex. Ultimately I internalized the belief that just getting turned on was enough invalidate my right to consent. I remember one encounter with this guy I had a huge crush on. He repeatedly pinched my breasts so hard they hurt, he tossed me around in bed in a way that made me want to cry, he orgasmed somehow (I forget how) then refused to touch me afterward.
“Sometimes I’m a gentle caring lover,” he told me, “but not always.” You don’t say? I found that encounter so confusing, because I was turned on for some of it, and I believed my arousal made me complicit in my treatment. I had such a crush on him, that even though what he was doing to me was painful, part of me was excited just to be doing it with him. At first, anyway. As the night went on, I became more and more unhappy but believed that because I had gone into the whole thing turned on, I no longer had a right to back out. When he was done with me, I left his house feeling sick.
I stopped being attracted to him after that.
Feeling desire was so dangerous, that I, like many women, repressed my arousal so far that I became unaware of what turned me on. Not only would this keep me more hidden from men who might try to take advantage of it, it also afforded me an internal level of deniability. If someone did something bad to me, I was mentally only able to protect myself from it if I believed I hadn’t been turned on.
Now, this is where shit gets super fucked. Completely cut off from my own desire, but afraid to be alone, I started mimicking desire to attract partners. And, the mimicking went deep. I had a submissive boyfriend who liked being tied up and “forcibly” dressed in women’s underwear. So, I started fantasizing about his fantasies. I started riffing on them, and coming up with similarly themed ones and writing them down in my diary. At some point, he was snooping on my computer, and found my diaries, and I was furious. A cold calculated fury.
“You knew better than to do that,” I said evenly, staring him right in the eye. He broke down crying. But, none of that was me. Even in the way I got angry at him, I was trying to live out the dominatrix of his fantasies.
Thing is, I do have a bit of a dominant drift. I chose this guy to be my boyfriend because I had repressed dominant fantasies that were trying to get out. But, my fantasies were slightly different from his, and when our fantasies conflicted, I tried to expunge my offending ones from my brain. For instance, I liked a very physical form of dominance where I’d physically “overpower” my partner. However, for a big guy like he was, it would require a certain amount of indulgence (like, maybe struggle a bit, but not too hard) which he wasn’t into.
And, had I been able to communicate that simply, we probably could have come to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement (I’ll put you in women’s underwear if you let me overpower you sometimes.) But, I didn’t say it simply. I was afraid to admit what I wanted, even to myself. I tried to overpower him a few times, and he refused to play along, but it wasn’t out of the realm of what we normally did. It didn’t seem strange for me to try that, and I didn’t have to admit what I wanted. I used his openness with his sexuality to give myself permission to try out things I wanted to do, but if he didn’t go with it, I would be filled with shame and try to internally eradicate my desire.
I tried to convince myself that living out his fantasies was making me happy, so much that I wrote his fantasies out in my diary, so much that I brainwashed myself. He never asked for any of this. I imposed it on myself, which made the restrictions deep in a way that only the self imposed can be. But, living only his fantasies wasn’t making me happy. I couldn’t keep up the facade indefinitely so our relationship ended.
It didn’t really hit me what I was doing until I having sex with a bisexual girl from OkCupid. Or, maybe we didn’t have sex, I don’t know. I was black out drunk for the last half of it. But, before I blacked out, I remember her ripping of my shirt and saying “Let me see those tits,” and I remember realizing “Oh my god, you’re faking.”
She wasn’t really turned on, but was pretending to be to get me off. And, I saw right through her because I did the same thing all the time. I was struck by the absurdity of the moment, two bisexual girls pretending to enjoy “lesbian” sex when there were no men around to impress. Never before had I appreciated the strength of the male gaze.
Yet, I had so much more sympathy for men after that night too. This type of fakeness is such a part of straight culture, many men have never been on the receiving end of authentic desire. They don’t know what it feels like to be wanted. There was a reason I had to get black out drunk to sleep with her, it is miserable to realize someone is only pretending to want to fuck you. And, this is why many men freak out when they come in contact with legitimate female desire. They’re so used to feeling unwanted, it feels wrong to them when a woman actually wants them.
I have wondered why my friend who pinched my breasts was so cruel to me that night, why he took such delight in my suffering. And, I think maybe it was because he didn’t know how to accept a woman who openly wanted him. It felt wrong, and to him, it felt like there was something wrong with me for wanting him so badly. So, he pushed the sex back to a place where I didn’t want it anymore, but still felt obliged to go along with it, because that’s what he knew. It was comfortable.
So, we continued the cycle of heterosexual fakeness. He left that night having reinforced his belief that he was undesirable, and I left that night believing that I must hide my desire to protect myself.
What I needed to do was say no. I needed to say you are so fucking hot, but what you’re doing is a turn off. I needed to say I am not willing to keep playing this game anymore. I needed to say you are hurting me. I needed to say stop.
I needed to say I am not going to pretend to feel things I am not feeling anymore.
It is notable that when my friends told me I came across as cold, my first reaction was to look up how can I pretend to be less cold on dates? I realized pretty quickly that I was done pretending, but I assumed that because I was cold, I wasn’t ready to date. I’ll wait until I feel warm and flirty again.
But, that’s not going to happen. Maybe one day I’ll be warm and flirty, but I won’t get there by isolating myself. I know I’m probably a difficult first date. I’m kind of cold, and maybe a little bit too sarcastic so people think I don’t like them. But, I can accept my flaws. I have been alone long enough that I’m not afraid of it anymore, and I’m not interested in dating people who are attracted to the girl I pretend to be so I can avoid loneliness. I may not be as pretty as the straight girls, or as trendy as the lesbians, or as well read as the ivy league grads, or as funny as the comedians, or as rich as the venture capitalists, or as successful as the famous.
But, I have something that’s unique, and it’s mine, and I’m willing to give it with all my heart. I hope that will be enough.