In theory, I think we should all face our fears head-on constantly. Every day, we should pick something that makes us nervous and tackle it with full-hearted fury. This would make us better and stronger, day by day by day.
The reality, though, is harder than that. Every fear I confront takes something out of me for a while. It saps me of bravery points. I have to take a beat and let them recharge before I can dive back into the juicy, meaty boldness I ache to embody.
Here are two big fears I conquered this year. There were others, but these were the biggest. They took the most out of me and also gave the most back to me – as conquering your fears is wont to do.
Polyamory. Okay, I’ve been non-monogamous off-and-on for a few years, but this was the first year when it was actually difficult for me. My mid-2016 boyfriend didn’t give me jealousy feelz because I just wasn’t that invested in him; by contrast, I had Primary Partner-level feelings about the dude I dated in mid-2017, and that was not reciprocated. That’s cool – not everybody does the hierarchical poly thing, and I’m not even sure it’s what I want anyway – but it made non-monogamy acutely uncomfortable for me. What had previously felt like a breezy cotton T-shirt now rankled me like an itchy sweater.
I thought, for a long time after the end of that relationship, that maybe its dissolution meant poly wasn’t for me. If I was “meant to be poly,” I reasoned, it wouldn’t have hurt me so badly when my partner pursued another person with the passion of NRE. But in thinking about it more, I’ve come to the conclusion that his way of doing poly wasn’t necessarily the only way or the best way. He started dating someone else two weeks after we met, without even running it by me first, which crushed me and destabilized me before I’d even found my footing in that relationship. I learned from this experience that there are some things I need from my poly relationships, and some things I cannot handle, and those are important things to know.
My current situation is something like what’s known as “solo poly“: maintaining my autonomy, dating several people but not viewing any of them as a “primary partner,” and valuing my own self-care highly. This mental shift has helped me nix most of the jealousy and instability I was feeling earlier this year, because I find that when I don’t view anyone as my main squeeze, I don’t start expecting things from them that they’re unable to give me. The result: a much happier and more balanced dating life, for me and hopefully for my partners as well. Hooray! Here’s to more poly adventures and explorations in 2018.
Polite rejection. Though I’ve been romantically or sexually rejected countless times in my life and it makes me into a teary-eyed mess, I’d rather be the rejectee than the rejector, any day of the week. When someone else did the rejecting, you can blame them, get angry, cry over them, journal about them, rationalize what happened, feel sorry for yourself… but when you’re the one rejecting someone, you only have yourself to blame. It’s not your fault you don’t want to be with them, of course, but it can feel like a deep personal failing sometimes. “Why can’t I just like them?!” you ask yourself in the hollow-hearted dead of night. “Everything would be so much easier if I did!”
The trickiest thing, for me, is turning someone down when they’re completely lovely but I just don’t feel that magical, ineffable chemistry. It feels like punishing a perfectly good person for being perfectly good. it feels like discouraging them from something they should never stop seeking. It feels like the inverse of cruelty I’ve had inflicted on me, and it can be devastating.
This year, however, there were a couple of times I had to put on my Rejector Hat and do the thing. I ultimately came to the conclusion that being upfront and clear is kinder than being wishy-washy and dragging things out. Devising a simple script can help you do what you gotta do; for example: “I’ve really enjoyed our time together, but I’m not really feeling a romantic connection here. I’d still be down to stay friends, though!” If anyone flips out at you for communicating your truth kindly and clearly, that’s on them, not you.
This is the third year I’ve done 12 Days of Girly Juice, and this instalment – the one about my top 3 favorite sexual encounters of the entire year – is always one of the most fun to write, and one of the most difficult to decide on.
This was true in 2015, when my sex life wasn’t terribly robust but each sexcapade nonetheless felt fresh and magical – and it was true in 2016, when my sex life was hoppin’ and each new partner brought something wonderfully different to the table. This year, I had more sex than either of those years, and, once again, it’s been tricky to choose just 3 encounters that stick out in my mind as top-o’-the-charts. But I think these 3 represent the kind of year I had sexually – which is to say, a very, very good year.
I had a boyfriend from April to August who became, even in that short timeframe, one of my top-3 lifetime sexual partners by number of encounters – topped only by my previous long-term loves of 3.5 years and 1.5 years, respectively. That he managed to barrel into my top 3 in the few months we dated speaks to what total horndogs we were, both separately and (especially) together. Our kinks aligned perfectly, like lock and key – and when two sexually compatible pervs come together like that, lots and lots of good sex tends to ensue.
It’s difficult for me – even now, months after the breakup that devastated me – to look back on those experiences without sadness and remorse. But I’m getting there. The reason the relationship unraveled was that we didn’t actually have much in common outside of our sex life, a fact that seemed frustratingly inconsequential to me at the time but would’ve become more and more apparent if we’d kept dating. So I’m starting to view that relationship as what it was: a blisteringly hot sexual tryst, the romantic backdrop of which is ultimately forgettable and unimportant. (Does that sound mean? Well, it’s okay, because he broke my heart. As Anne Lamott says, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”)
Anyway, we had a lot of good sex, some of which still guiltily hangs out in my autoerotic archives. But one encounter that particularly sticks out to me is this: one night in May, we kissed and groped and moaned together in his cozy bed in a west-Toronto basement apartment. He spanked me over his lap, taking me into subspace sternly and easily. He made me suck his cock while he held my wrists down flat on the bed so I couldn’t use my hands, then fucked my face while holding me firmly by the throat, combining two acts I’d hated with everyone before him but somehow loved with him.
After that, he tied my wrists and thighs together with rope and fucked me, circling my clit with his fingers all the while, in the manner of someone who’s fucked me enough to know how to do it properly. He untied me and went down on me until I came in his mouth, spacey and incoherent, and then he held me down and fucked me until he came inside me, leaving a deep bite mark on my shoulder that I admired for days afterward.
What this relationship ultimately taught me is that I’m willing to put up with a lot of painful complications in exchange for good sex – and that maybe that shouldn’t be the case, going forward. But damn, was the sex ever fantastic.
Casual and Wonderful
In January, I spotted a boy from across a room and immediately thought, “Damn. Who is that?” It was the truest example of “infatuation at first sight” I can remember experiencing in a long, long time. He was geeky, cool, and unassuming. I felt my breath catching and was vaguely aware I had started to sweat. And then he turned, noticed me, and I saw him having what looked like the same reaction to me that I’d just had to him. He walked up to me, said breezily, “I don’t think we’ve met,” and introduced himself. A few minutes later, he was casually saying, “We should go to [local sex club] Oasis together.” It’s emblematic of my social anxiety and insecurity that even then, I didn’t fully realize or accept he was into me. Silly girl!
Over the months that followed, we gradually became fuckbuddies, and then, at some point, actual friends with benefits in the true sense. We’d meet at the sex club once a month or so, have drinks in the heated outdoor pool while catching up on each other’s lives, and then get down to the sexytimes. I found that every time we parted ways, I felt good – uplifted, confident, desirable, satisfied – in a way I’d never really felt when saying goodbye to other previous fuckpals. There was no sense of longing or rejection; I didn’t want any more from him than he was able to give me, and vice versa. It was a kind of casual bliss.
My favorite encounter with this handsome weirdo so far was much like most of the others. We hung out in the pool for a while, chatting and laughing. When I finished my drink and set it down by the side of the pool, my pal pushed me up against the wall and kissed me, fierce yet unhurried. I moaned, as I always do when he kisses me; he’s very, very good at it. He pushed his hardness against me through his swim briefs while we continued to make out and I felt myself get more and more turned on – another remarkable talent of his, given how difficult it is for me to relax into sexual situations in public.
There came a point where the things I wanted to do to him were no longer possible in the swimming pool, unless I intended to drown, so I told him we should go upstairs to the third floor – an area specifically designated for sex, where all men have to be accompanied by at least one woman to dissuade creeps. He pressed me harder against the pool wall, playfully kissing me and grinding against me until I reached a zenith of arousal so intense that I had to say, “No, seriously, let’s go. I want you to fuck me.” His signature goofy grin appeared as he said, “Yeah, that sounds good,” and followed me out of the pool.
Once upstairs, we kissed more, all chlorine-scented and towel-swaddled, and he pushed my towel aside so he could go down on me while I melted and writhed and called out meaningless syllables over the cacophony of other people fucking in the next room. Before too long, he was pushing two fingers inside me, deep, stroking me exactly the way I like it without needing to be told, and I was coming on his hand, feeling unrushed and unpressured. He’s very good, I thought, like I always do with him.
Then he fucked me relentlessly with his absolutely excellent dick, muttering all the while about how tight and hot and wet I was, until we collapsed in a damp heap on the red vinyl.
I treasure our post-sex ritual almost as much as our sex itself: we cuddle casually while watching and mocking the bad porn always playing on massive TV screens around the room. He makes me laugh and makes me feel safe. That night, I stayed until I was too tired to keep my eyes affixed on the porn anymore, and then he walked me downstairs, I got dressed, and we said good night.
The breakdown of romantic relationships always makes me especially grateful for my intimate relationships that are not romantic – their specialness and specificity, the affirmation they provide without demanding much in return, the needs they fulfill for me when more “serious” relationships feel too intense or difficult or unattainable. That hookup on the top floor of Oasis left me glowing, and not hurting. Except for the dull ache in my vag that means I’ve been well and truly fucked.
This list is about my favorite encounters of the year – which, to be clear, doesn’t always necessarily mean the best sex I had all year. Sometimes the most memorable and meaningful encounters are also clumsy, imperfect, unpracticed. Sometimes sex is good emotionally moreso than physically – and sometimes it’s both.
Last week I went to hang out with a long-time far-away Twitter crush for a planned date. We had negotiated a broad range of activities, mostly including him inflicting sensations to me and exerting control over me, because that, as you may know, is my jam. Usually.
But once I got there, things felt different. I am ordinarily the subbiest sub and the bottomiest bottom, but this sweet pervy man turned to mush any time I climbed on top of him or told him what to do, even with commands as innocuous as “Come here so I can fix the tag on your T-shirt.” My dormant inner domme stirred, as we pushed and pulled each other’s limits and buttons. “I think I want to sit on your face,” I proposed as we laid in bed many hours into a multi-chapter sex-a-thon, and his voice trembled with excitement as he breathed, “Okay.”
Facesitting doesn’t have to be a dominant act, and I’ve done it as a submissive many times. Someone can pull you onto their face and hold you there until they’ve had your fill of you, while they lie with their head on a comfy pillow like a gluttonous monarch. This was not that, though. This time I was the queen… and his face was my throne.
I tugged on his curls to get him exactly where I wanted him, and took from him all the pleasure I wanted for as long as I wanted. When I was done, I brushed my hand along his skin, his chest hair, his belly and hips and the significant swell in his boxers. “Tell me what you want,” I murmured in his ear.
“I… I don’t feel I have the… the right to ask for anything right now,” he stammered subbily. I smiled.
“It wasn’t a question,” I clarified. “Tell me what you want. Nobody said you’re gonna get it.”
He swallowed hard. His words weren’t working so well. “I want to come,” he managed, at length. “I want your mouth on me.”
I purred with pleasure. This was the answer I wanted and he knew it. I crawled down his body and began to tease him with my tongue. A leisurely almost-blowjob, purely for my own tactile pleasure, my own amusement. “Tell me how beautiful I am,” I ordered, and he did. “Now tell me three things you like about my mouth,” I continued, and he did – still stammering, still barely coherent. “Do I need to stop?” I warned, his cock stilled in one hand, when he couldn’t quite get through an answer. “No, no, please,” he protested, and tried to get the words out. Good boy, I thought, but did not say, because my mouth was full of him. A very good boy indeed.
Dominance has always scared me because I anxiously and self-doubtingly believe no one will ever really want to do the things I tell them to do, because I’m not worthy of being wanted that much. But what I’ve learned is that some people do want me that much, and that sometimes the strength of their desire can lend me a confidence I don’t otherwise possess. And that can heal me, a little bit. As I take my pleasure from an obedient cutie, I can also pull some strength from them, some focus, some courage. Kink, as I’ve noted here many times before, is so much more than just a “sex thing.”
Once again this year, journaling was a core part of my mood management toolbox. It helped me through countless emotional snafus and cognitive difficulties. In conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy and good social supports, it’s probably saved my life multiple times this year. I combed through my Moleskine journals from 2017 and picked out 6 of my favorite excerpts…
Feeling casually miserable today. I’m sad about C___ in the sense that mild C___-sadness has been a baseline of my mood for the past year and a half. Wanting him feels like a permanent feature of my heart at this point. And it’s not like I want him passionately, irrationally, like I used to – and it’s not like I can’t be around him with wanting to cry or say “I love you” – but it’s still there. It’s melodramatic to say I’ll always be a little bit in love with him; I don’t think that’s strictly true. But it’ll probably be a while before I stop mentally comparing all romantic and sexual interests to him and finding that he invariably wins in all the ways that matter most deeply to me.
Went on a dinner/drinks date with that guy T___ last night. He is a mega-dork, very polite and gentlemanly and respectful. We had a good long conversation, but I wasn’t entirely sold on him; however, then we made out in a dark alcove and I felt… swayed by biology. He just feels good in my senses. He smells and tastes and feels good to me, just his skin and his essence. Ungh.
He’s also a gooooood kisser, which I’ve become increasingly aware is an important thing to me over the past few years. I remember how K___’s makeout skillz kept me hooked even though he was demonstrably a bad-for-me weirdo, and how V___’s overzealous tongue was the nail in the coffin of any attraction that might have been. T___’s lips felt thick and soft, and he alternately cupped my face and groped my ass, and he’s tall enough that I feel towered over but not so tall that we can’t get all tangled up and breathlessly close. (I keep having to take breaks while writing this to sigh dramatically and smile like a goon.)
Occasionally people would walk by and he would stop kissing me because he knew I was uncomfortable with the PDA (such a gentleman) but he would still stand so close to me. “They’ll just think we’re having a heart-to-heart,” he said, and I laughed into his suit jacket.
-There are bite marks on my neck, hip, breast, shoulder, and thighs.
-Last night G___ took me to have drinks with some of his friends because it’d be “a good way for us to do a thing together that involves other humans and isn’t sex for a minute. Before we go back to mine and have sex.” I like his friends and we had fun.
-This morning he had me lie over his lap while he gave me a long, thorough spanking. He is really sadistic in ways that I love. It’s so nice to not have to feel like a partner is administering a spanking because I want it, but rather because we both want it. Ahhh.
-We went to the café around the corner, where he made me a soy latte with his impressive and hot barista skillz and then we played Scrabble while occasionally smiling like idiots at each other.
-I was about to get on the streetcar when we started discussing the possibility of making out in a park or an alley somewhere, because neither of us had anything important to do today. We walked by an alley and I said, “This could work,” but he kept walking and said, casually, confidently, “I was thinking we would just go back to my house and I would fuck you.” Uh, he is very very good.
Q. What have I gained since my relationship ended?
A. An even clearer idea of how much my friends love me. A print byline in Glamour magazine. My first apartment. A greater sense of independence, and also a greater knowledge of on whom I can actually depend. A new kinda-beau. A new set of nipple clamps. Thousands of dollars, and additional shameless confidence about how much money I make. A huge full-length mirror in which to contemplate my own beauty. More blog readers, Twitter followers, admirers. A ton of smart, funny, insightful writing about what I have just been through. The knowledge, ultimately, that even someone I love breaking my heart cannot really break me; that the things I most fear are never actually that bad. An increased ease of breathing, now that the constant fear of being dumped doesn’t loom over me anymore. Much more time to myself, to write, read, rest, listen to jazz, enjoy my own company, go to shows, go on dates, imagine the kind of life I want. The freedom to ponder, unfettered and unbiased, what degree of non-monogamy I want my future relationships to involve. An increased frequency and enjoyment of masturbation, fantasies and all. Money I would have spent on him, available to be saved, or spent on things that make me happy.
It’s been 2 months since my break-up, and over 9 weeks since the last time we had sex. I am plagued by nostalgic sexual fantasies about him. My horndog brain replays all the orgasms and hot encounters ad nauseum and tells me I’ll never find sex that good again, I don’t deserve to. I know that’s bullshit but also it gets all tangled up with nonsexual break-up sadness (of which there is much less than the sexual kind, at this point) and that makes what happened feel insurmountable, still stupidly absorbing, even this long after.
I still – frequently – fantasize/daydream/hope/dread that I will run into him in a public place, that he will be filled with regret and lust and grief and desire, and that we will have sex again and everything will be solved. I know realistically that even if sex with him were to become an option again (which it will not), that I could not go deep into kink and immersively good sex with someone I know I cannot trust anymore with my delicate heart. I desperately miss fucking someone who knew all my buttons and exactly how to push them, but that person can never be him again, and there will be others. I know. I know.
Was talking to C___ today about our respective romantic obsessions du jour – his, a cute girl who he fingerbanged after their first date last night; mine, these thus-far fruitless and pathetic crushy pangs toward N___ – and we both kind of cynically half-acknowledged how prone we are to brief, fiery fixations that burn our lives down and then dissolve in a puff of smoke.
This is, I think, one of the core kernels of our enduring friendship: this shared tendency to over-rely on romantic and sexual stimulation for validation and happiness, and a problem staying interested in people once we discover they don’t solve every problem we’ve ever had. It’s hilarious how similar we are in this way. And it’s nice to have a friend in my life who directly understands this quality of mine, unlike people like Bex and Cadence, who (although I love them very much) are too level-headed to really ever take my mega-crushes seriously. (Not that anyone should necessarily take them seriously. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m sitting here at the sex shop imagining what it would be like to be used as a footstool by a man I can’t even find the courage to talk to. I am a joke and it’s hysterical.)
It’s hard to pick selfies that sum up your whole year, but these are some strong contenders! (Content note: there are boobs in this post!)
Femme friends were so important to me this year, and every year. One such pal is Rosaline, a pink-haired pixie who’s always around to cheer me on and pump me up over a bottle of white wine.
We had lots of goofy adventures together this year, mostly involving pre-drinking for various parties, doing our makeup together, and then marching into said parties all flirty and long-lashed like queens. I love how my femme friends remind me of immutable truths: being a femme person in this world is hard but it is also wonderful, and femmes are even more brave and powerful than the misogynist cultural forces that aim to keep us down. I hope to continue to foster my femme friendships in 2018 and beyond.
Speaking of good friends… I didn’t get to spend as much time with Brent this year as I have in previous years, because he wasn’t in Toronto as much. But when we did hang out, we made it count: we laughed a lot over beers, played a ton of Use Your Words, and on one memorable occasion, he saved me from a bunch of pill bugs I accidentally sat on. Our friendship is strange and lovely.
The night this photo was taken, I attended Use Your Words’ Toronto launch party because I was a staff writer on the game (fancy!). Between talking, schmoozing, and playing the game, Brent and I decided to order a couple of corndogs from the bar kitchen. “Can I take a selfie of us eating these?” I asked him, to which he replied, “Only if we both put ’em in our mouths like we’re fellating them.” Stuff like this is why we’re friends.
I had coincidentally been invited to a party later that week whose theme was “femme witch power.” We were encouraged to wear whatever made us feel feminine and powerful. I slung on a navy skater dress, rimmed my eyes in dark eyeshadow, and painted on a deep maroon liquid lipstick. At the last minute before leaving the house, I added my glass eyeball necklace, pulled my tits out of my dress, and took some fierce-faced selfies on my laptop webcam.
I didn’t feel like smiling that day. I wanted to wield my femininity and sexuality like a weapon. So I resisted the urge to pull a smile or make a “pretty” face, and just stared down the camera, fierce and unforgiving. I felt beautiful, but in a way that was just for me – not for the consumption of the abusive fuckfaces who think they can just take and take and take.
I took this while out getting ice cream with Suz and Bex before a jaunt to Tell Me Something Good, our local sexy storytelling night. It was a lovely evening out with friends, and equally wonderful was that sometime either before or after this photo was taken, someone came up to us on the street to tell us they read and loved all three of our blogs. Getting recognized in public is a special kind of thrill, and the more it happens, the more my impostor syndrome melts away and I feel like a Real Writer doing Real, Important Things!
This was taken on one of the first days I actually felt slightly cute, competent, and coherent after a breakup that totally devastated me. I like how you can see in my facial expression that I’m still kind of a mess: I’ve heard fellow depressed people describe feeling “like an alien” who can’t even tell whether their face is forming appropriate and normal facial expressions, because they’re so numb and blunted, and that’s how I felt on this day. Unsure how all my different components hung together, but attempting to make a good show of myself nonetheless. Like Tony Kushner wrote on heartbreak in his magnum opus Angels in America: “Just mangled guts, pretending.”
It’s telling that I’m wearing short shorts and have tied my shirt into a crop top. Depression makes me want to hide, but as I surface from that cave, I begin to want to show off again. Maybe just a little. Maybe still from the safety of monochromes and familiar fabrics. Bit by bit, I always come crawling back to my joy, even if it takes all the strength I can summon.
(Content note for suicidal ideations in this one, folks.) One of the most exciting events of my year was going to a My Brother, My Brother and Me live podcast recording at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. I first started listening to MBMBaM almost three years ago, and in that time, these boys have literally saved my life on countless occasions. When I’m too mind-numbingly depressed to be trusted with my sad thoughts in solitude, let alone to get out of bed and rejoin society, I put on a McElroy podcast. They keep me occupied until I can get back to living without wanting to die.
I went to this show by myself, because I didn’t know anyone else who was both as McElroy-obsessed as me and financially and temporally able to get to the venue. I snapped this photo quickly, self-consciously, as I stood in line amongst throngs of other fans. Moments later, when the line moved ahead and I walked into the theatre, tears burned down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe I was so physically close to these boys who had saved my life, walked me through dark days, made me laugh when nothing else could. Thankfully, no one seemed to think my weeping was weird. I bought a poster, waited in line for a radioactively green cocktail, settled into my seat surrounded by jovial strangers, and laughed the night away.
I’ll close here with a moment of genuine joy; it’s a good note to go out on.
One night earlier this month, I was on the phone with someone who makes my heart feel all fuzzy and stupid. We exchanged goofy selfies while we talked, trying to disarm each other, to feel physically close though we were not.
He had asked me about the way my hair was cut, so I shook it out to its full glory so I could capture it in a selfie. Just as I went to hit the shutter, he made some dumb joke that set off sparks in my heart, and I burst into giggles and snapped this shot. “Aw, you made me laugh mid-selfie,” I commented, looking at the result on my phone screen and trying to decide if it was too silly to send.
No, I thought. This is how I wish I looked all the time. Lost in giggly reverie.
Tegan and Sara’s album The Con came out ten years ago, in the summer of 2007. That was a year full of significant events for me: I turned 15, came out as bisexual, and dated someone for the first time, that someone being, notably, a girl. And all of it is linked inextricably in my mind with The Con, because it was the soundtrack of my year. The soundtrack of my first real romance.
This was the era when someone’s taste in music seemed to say something about them, when MSN Messenger away messages and Facebook statuses were peppered with oblique song lyrics, when I’d creep someone’s Last.FM page alongside their LiveJournal if I wanted to know their heart.
That fall, I had the burn-your-life-down kind of crush on a purple-haired girl I’d met the previous semester in English class. I hadn’t really noticed her until, early in my sophomore year of high school, she confessed to me via Honesty Box that she loved my writing, and then revealed her identity to me, sheepishly, but wanting me to know. She was only the second girl I’d ever had tingly romantic feelings about, but I still recognized them immediately. Oh shit, I am in trouble, I thought one day when our eyes crossed from across the hall and I saw her blush as I felt blood rush into my own cheeks.
“I think I have a crush on her,” I confessed to my best friend, the first person I’d come out to earlier that year, in the girls’ bathroom.
“You should ask her out!” my wildly brave and confident bestie suggested. “I’ve seen the way she looks at you. She likes you too.” I feel a certain kinship with 15-year-old me, because a decade has passed and I’m still that girl who refuses to accept anyone could be interested in me until they tell me in their own goddamn words. I just don’t see myself as worthy of that kind of revere.
As I pined over her, summer hardened into autumn and I listened to The Con on loop. It jibed appealingly with my fledgling queer identity, giving me an image of gay women who were neither fully butch nor fully femme, and who didn’t quite fit the stereotypes of effusively romantic women nor stonily reserved men. They existed in an in-between space that felt familiar to me then. And though their love songs were ambiguous enough that they could’ve been about anyone of any gender, I felt the specialness of these being love songs written by women about women. If there is a particular aesthetic or mood unique to sapphic infatuation, I felt that in the songs of The Con.
One day we had plans to meet up at lunch, but my crush had earned herself a lunch detention, probably for being late to class – she was always late. She told me she’d be stuck sitting on a bench in the office at the time we were supposed to meet. I vowed to come visit her. At the appointed time, she snuck out under the guise of using the bathroom, and we chatted awkwardly and grinningly outside the bathroom door. “Kate! Your face is so red! Are you feeling okay?!” a friend of mine asked when she walked past and spotted us. I blushed even harder. No one was supposed to acknowledge my obvious massive crush on this girl; we weren’t at that stage yet, I felt. I just wanted to luxuriate in the pretense of mystery for a while.
Weeks of coy flirtation elapsed. She called me a “pretty girl” in a Facebook message and I squealed with delight as I read the text to my best friend over lunch. I saw the way her friends eyed her knowingly when she talked to me between classes, like they knew the significance of this because she had told them. We rode the subway together after school and a sudden movement of the train threw me against her as we were hugging goodbye, igniting a million fiery sparks in my nerve endings.
I don’t remember how exactly I decided, but one night I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask her out and I was going to do it by writing her a letter. Tegan and Sara are as likely an explanation as any; there’s a verse in “Soil, Soil” that goes, “I feel like a fool, so I’m going to stop troubling you; buried in my yard, a letter to send to you. And if I forget, or God forbid, die too soon, I hope that you’ll hear me and know that I wrote to you.” I wrote several drafts of the letter and eventually gave it to her at the end of a party. To my surprise, later that evening she called me and said, “So… We should date.”
We had talked many times before that night about how “Call It Off” may have been our favorite track on The Con, an especially perfect jewel on an incredibly perfect album. I even quoted it at the top of the letter I wrote her: “I won’t regret saying this, this thing that I’m saying. Is it better than keeping my mouth shut? That goes without saying.” But it’s a song about a break-up, and I didn’t see the dark prophecy of that at the time. It wasn’t until later that I recognized the foreshadowing as foreshadowing.
Our relationship only lasted five weeks, ending in a tearful phone call where she broke up with me for somewhat vague reasons: “I’m not in a good place to be in a relationship,” “I feel trapped,” “I don’t know what I want but it’s not this.” She cried more than I did. It was a small trauma that has informed every other relationship I’ve had since then: whenever I’m dating someone, I live with a constant anxious fear that they will suddenly decide they don’t want to be with me, and will break up with me for reasons I can neither predict nor understand. That was precisely what happened at the end of my last relationship, almost ten years after that initial blow, and it felt almost exactly the same: a shattering and a crumbling and a sense that I would never adore someone like that again. Like O, like H in your gut.
The break-up was compounded by the fact that we remained friends afterward. Immediately afterward. This is the sort of mistake I doubt I would make now; I’m an emotional masochist in many ways but I also know how to set boundaries and I know what will make me miserable. Remaining friends with my first sort-of-love after she dumped me made me miserable. She told me over and over again, in many different ways, that she regretted the breakup, wished it could’ve gone differently, thought we were a good match, wanted to get back together with me eventually, and didn’t want me to see other people. She was 15, so I forgive these ridiculous manipulations now – but at the time, they felt like knives going in.
“I may have done the upbreaking, but to quote ‘Call It Off’ in its entirety, well, I won’t do that because that would be weird and you probably know the lyrics by heart, but you get where I’m going,” she told me in a loquacious Facebook message a month after the break-up. “So really I’m the heartbreaker for breaking my own heart, except not quite to that crazy heartbreaking angst-ridden extent. And then I had a good thirty-six hours of physically restraining myself from attempting to grab the phone and call you and shout, ‘JUST KIDDING!’ or something to that degree but less comical.”
I listened to “Call It Off” in bed every night, sometimes crying, sometimes just numbly staring into space. “Maybe I would’ve been something you’d be good at,” Tegan warbled. “Maybe you would’ve been something I’d be good at.” It was my first introduction to the idea that sometimes what you mourn after a break-up is not the relationship that was, but the relationship that could have been. The idea of the romance you wanted, moreso than the romance you actually had.
It wasn’t until many months later that the spell finally broke. In July – more than seven months after our break-up – I told my ex-girlfriend about the new girl I was seeing, who absolutely, fully adored me and treated me well, both emotionally and sexually. I was excited and wanted to share the news with my ex, who was also one of my closest friends at the time: I’d just had sex for the first time, and it was great! But I worried she was anti-my-new-relationship, and told her as much in the message.
Her reply came back sooner than expected. “I am not, repeat, not anti-you-having-sex. This is because I am very much pro-you-being-happy-and-doing-whatever-you-want-and-not-giving-a-rat’s-ass-what-anybody-else-thinks,” she wrote. “The only reason I tend to shudder and vocalize rude things at points such as these is because I also happen to sometimes be pro-my-own-sanity. But really, who needs sanity? And anyways, do I really have to go into why I don’t like picturing you having sex with people, when honestly you can probably guess?”
It occurred to me then, as an uncharacteristic blinding rage swept over me, that she was holding me prisoner in a relationship that was never going to be a relationship. Seven months after breaking up with me, she was still moping like it had been anyone’s decision but hers. Still acting like she had any right to withhold love from me, even love from other people. It disgusted me. I couldn’t believe I had been stuck on her for so long.
I stopped clinging to the fiction that maybe we could get back together someday. I stopped hoping against all logic that she might someday be the girlfriend I needed. I stopped obsessively checking her Last.FM page to see if she’d been listening to Tegan and Sara, with the assumption that her musical nostalgia would signal romantic nostalgia about me. We remained friends, but I refused to continue “walking with a ghost.” I had better things to do.