On Love That Doesn’t Last

I thought about relationship longevity when my college boyfriend asked me to stop wearing antiperspirant with aluminum in it.

“It can give you breast cancer,” he said, “and you already have a family history of breast cancer, so you’re especially at risk. You should switch to one without aluminum. Please.”

I ran a quick risk-reward calculation in my head. Possible eventual breast cancer, in a medical system that knows how to treat it and will do so at no cost to me, versus a few decades of visibly sweaty pits. It seemed to me it was a risk worth taking. Plus there was that other matter… “I probably wouldn’t even get the cancer until my forties or fifties,” I responded, reasonably.

“So?”

“So why do you care? We probably won’t even know each other by then.” My words hung in the air. We peered at each other curiously. A stand-off.

“I care about you and don’t want you to get cancer,” he said, finally, answering exactly zero of the questions I’d implied.

I thought about relationship longevity when a friend asked me if I’d be with my boyfriend forever, and I scoffed, “God, no.”

She was shocked. “But you two always seem so happy! Is something wrong? Are you going to break up?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “No! We’re very happy. I love him a ton. He’s my favorite person on earth.”

I watched the confusion stagnate on her face.

How do you explain to someone that love can be good even if it’s brief, in a culture that adamantly steers us away from that knowledge? How do you prove that what makes you happy now won’t make you happy forever, nor should it have to? How do you unlearn the trope that love’s only love if it lasts?

I thought about relationship longevity when one of the kids on the improv team I coached made a Facebook status: “I love my girlfriend sooooo much and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her!” He couldn’t have been more than 15 years old.

Was it cynicism that made me roll my eyes, or just realism?

I cast my mind back to when I was 15. I thought I was in love with the purple-haired girl who’d recently dumped me. She was my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and my first break-up – yet I believed with my whole heart that she was irreplaceable, unrepeatable. I could marry that girl, I wrote in my journal, and it felt true, and maybe it was true; who knows.

When friends asked me why I was so fixated on this girl, the point I returned to again and again was: I could never get bored of her. Our conversations were so sharp and quick, our brains so well-matched, that we could debate and joke and argue forever and every moment would feel fresh.

Now her purple hair is black, and her eyes are sadder, and I can see that our hearts were as bad a pair as our brains were a good one. She wanted adventure; I wanted domesticity. She wanted independence; I wanted reliance. Sure, she never would have bored me, but I’m not sure that’s an altogether good thing.

I thought about relationship longevity when I met Bex. No friendship had ever formed so easily, quickly and solidly in my entire life. One day in November 2015, we were casual acquaintances who vaguely knew each other from Twitter and a bloggers’ retreat. The next day, we had had a threesome together, talked about sex and dating and flirting for hours, and become best friends. “Friendship cemented!” we crowed at each other over mac and cheese, and it wasn’t a joke.

If Bex had been a romantic interest of mine, instead of just a pal, friends would have told me to slow down. They would have said, “Whoa, that person drove nine hours to be with you on New Year’s Eve? Isn’t that a little intense?” They would have said, “You’re staying in that person’s house for five days and they’re letting you borrow their dildos? Isn’t it a little soon for that?” They would have said, “Hang on, you’re starting a podcast together? How do you know you won’t get into a fight and break up?”

But none of it scared me. None of it felt uncomfortable or rushed or ill-advised. Because I just knew. I knew we were meant to find each other in this weird world, I knew we were best friends in the truest sense of that phrase, and I knew we would be friends for a long time.

Sometimes you just know.


Wearing his shirt.

I thought about relationship longevity when I first met my current friend-with-benefits – because I wanted us to never be apart, and I don’t think he knew what he wanted.

Our first meeting was dazzling and disorienting. He talked about himself a lot but every word charmed and fascinated me. We talked for three or four hours over beer (me) and wine (him) and it felt like no time at all. I could’ve listened to him talk all night. And I would’ve, too, if he hadn’t gotten tired and wanted to say goodnight.

As is my M.O. as a shy person, I hadn’t opened up enough for him to see the real me – so he didn’t know we were meant to be friends. He showed me both his outsides and his insides, but he only saw my outsides, so he didn’t know our insides matched. He didn’t hear the jokes that cropped up in my head seconds before he made them, the emotional reactions that crossed my heart before they crossed his face.

When I went home and journaled my first impressions of him that night, I wanted to call him “the twin of my soul,” but that felt melodramatic, embarrassing, even in the privacy of my diary. That phrase floated around in my skull every time I saw him thereafter, though. Did you know you’re the twin of my soul? I thought but never asked.

It took months for me to relax around him, so it took months for him to see who I really was. But when he did, he knew too, I think. “I get the sense that you and I are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time,” he said to me once, slowly, as we sipped coffee at a diner. Harsh afternoon light filtered in behind him, and I shielded my eyes, but couldn’t conceal the grin that split my face. Finally, he understood. The twin of my soul.

Review: Standard Glass S-Curve

Never buy someone a sex toy they haven’t specifically requested. You can’t know what someone’s tastes in toys are. You can’t know what will work for someone else’s body. It’s always better to buy them a gift card, or take them shopping, and let them pick out a toy for themselves.

Unless you’re my best friend Bex, in which case you can disregard everything I just said, apparently.

During my last visit to New York, Bex presented me with a handmade S-Curve dildo by Standard Glass. “It’s your favorite shade of turquoise,” they said, “and it’ll hit your A-spot!” I was stunned. It was a gorgeous, thoughtful gift – the kind of toy I would have picked out for myself. How did I get so lucky to have a friend as good as Bex?

We were hanging out with my FWB, with whom I had a sex-date planned for the following day. “You should fuck me with this,” I chirped at him. But he’s a Responsible Adult so he just nervously eyed the hard tile floor we were standing on and said, “Please don’t drop that.” I slipped the toy back into its gift bag to appease him: “Okay, dad.”

The next night, at the hotel we’d booked, I broke out the S-Curve. “So how does this work?” my fuckpal asked, and I shrugged and said, “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” He lubed the long, smooth end of it and slid it into me, curve facing up to access my A-spot. Moans spouted from my mouth immediately. Oh, yes.

As its name suggests, the S-Curve has a gentle sloping “S” shape. Many of my favorite toys do, in fact; I definitely have a “type” when it comes to dildos. The formidable metal Njoy Eleven, the heroically G-spotty NobEssence Seduction, and my beloved Fucking Sculptures Double Trouble all have this basic shape in common. What can I say? I know what I like.

The S-Curve’s similarities to the Double Trouble are all the qualities I love about it. It’s long enough, and has a subtle enough curve, that it can get all up in my A-spot without bothering my cervix. (It can also hit my G-spot if I thrust it more shallowly, though I usually don’t.) Like another S-shaped glass toy I love, the Fucking Sculptures G-Spoon, the S-Curve’s meager 1.25″ diameter is roughly equivalent to the size of two fingers – i.e. the exact number of fingers I request and enjoy most when partners are fingerbanging me – so it hits my spot brilliantly and I can fantasize about partners fingering me to my heart’s content when I use it.

My FWB calls the S-Curve “the Double Trouble on easy mode,” and for my intents and purposes, it is. It goes for my A-spot with the same precision and deftness, but because it’s slimmer, lighter, and has that bloopy end, it’s much easier to hold onto and thrust with. If I’m craving a side order of girth with my A-spot stim, I’ll still reach for the Dub Trubz – but if all I want is targeted stimulation of one particular internal spot, it gets the job done perfectly.

All S-Curves, while handmade, are basically the same dimensions – 8″ long and 1.25″ wide. It is a glass masterpiece, a beauteous work of art. I don’t need my sex toys to be beautiful, because I don’t spend a lot of time actually looking at them while I’m using them, but it’s nonetheless nice to have something so elegant-looking on my nightstand.

Bex is still the only person on earth I would trust to choose a sex toy for me. They knocked this one out of the fuckin’ park.

 

You can buy the S-Curve at Come As You Are for $120 CAD (that’s about $90 USD!).

Submissive ‘n’ Stoned: Reflections on Weed & Kink

Marijuana is magic. I have known this for quite some time, and then a summer romance drives the point home for me.

But I’m not fully committed to this boy, emotionally; my mind is elsewhere, and that’s reflected in the way I talk about him. Tweeting on my way to see him one afternoon in July, I call him my “pothead fuckpal.” He’s normally thrilled when I tweet about him, but this time, he’s irate. I think it’s “fuckpal” he objects to moreso than “pothead.” Because, while it’s irredeemably true he is a pothead, he wants to be more than just my fuckpal. I’m not sure I can give him that, and we’re not talking about it yet.

But I am a bad girl who writes bad things on Twitter, so I deserve a punishment.

We smoke up when I arrive at his house, like we always do – me from my little glass pipe and him from his enormous DIY bong. He’s smoked for years longer than I have, and has years’ more sexual experience under his belt, so I guess he knows what sweet havoc weed can wreak. I always get way too high at his place, nervously smoking more than I should because I’m uncomfortable and don’t know what else to do with my hands. I sit there glued to the couch, and he begins to touch my thighs.

Weed makes every touch significant, every movement a story. He traces circles and lines on my skin and they spin off into wild visions, all radiating sensation back to my clit. My arousal builds slowly but steadily, like a ski-lift gliding up a mountain. He works his way toward my clit in maddening circles, and I want his touch there but it’s an unhurried want: we will get to that when we get to it, and that’s fine.

Stoned sex is a magnificent blur. Journaling about it in days that follow, I always have to tell the story in point form, free of narrative or coherence. So one moment he’s touching my clit, and the next I’m draped over his knee getting pummelled by a wooden hairbrush, and the next I’m kneeling between his legs with his cock down my throat. Oh, hello.

I love stoned blowjobs and submissive blowjobs for many of the same reasons: they absorb me, anxieties and all, in a way that sober vanilla sex rarely can; they free me from inhibitions and scripts so I can enjoy what my mouth is feeling instead of suffer what my mind is whispering; and they allow me to focus wholly on the task at hand (or… at mouth). I am a good girl, an orally talented girl, a very very high girl, and I love it.

I shouldn’t have called him my pothead fuckpal. I shouldn’t have agreed to date him when I knew I could never love him. But all those shouldn’ts don’t matter now because there is weed smog in my head and a cock in my mouth.

The first time I discovered weed makes pain feel near-orgasmic to me, I was doing yoga at a party, but I’m a perv so of course it didn’t take me long to figure out how to apply that to kink.

In September of last year, I had a near-weekly tradition. I would go to a boy friend’s house (a boy-space-friend, not a boyfriend, you understand), we would smoke weed, he would catch me up on his various Adventure Zone headcanons, and then he would spank me.

The weed served two purposes. First of all, it helped us two awkward anxious bunnies relax around each other. And secondly, it made his spankings feel like molten-hot fireworks exploding in my skin.

“Do you wanna go to my room?” he’d ask when we’d been chilling on the living-room couch for an hour or two, and that was code for: “Do you want me to beat your ass raw with a paperback novel?” Every time, I’d quirk a grin at him and say, “Yeah.” And we would go.

Though I’ve loved being spanked for years, it wasn’t until I met this boy that I thought I might be able to come from it. It always seemed nearly-mine, like an apple on a swaying branch beyond my grasp – but I could never quite get at it. The trying was fun, though.

What I loved most about our arrangement was that sex was never assumed, never a foregone conclusion. The spanking was the main course. The weed was the garnish. The good conversation was the appetizer. And when the meal was done, I could shimmy back into my skirt, say goodnight, and go home, wetness dripping down the inside of my thigh in a guilty ribbon. “Text me when you get home safe,” he’d tell me sternly at the door. He wasn’t my dom but he was a good snack to tide me over in between feasts. A good friend to have. A good warm hand on my ass.

Marijuana extends time in my brain. I can get lost in a moment of sensation and have no idea afterwards if it lasted eight seconds or forty minutes. This is all well and good if my partner is also high, or if they’re someone I know I can take my time with. Less so if I’m nervous.

“How long have you been doing that?” I ask you while you’re two knuckles deep inside me. “I have no sense of time right now. I need you to tell me if you want to stop.” Because I never want you to stop. I want your fingers pressing stripes into my most sensitive spots ad infinitum. I want to live in this hotel room with you and your devilish fingers forevermore. I want to come and come until I’m a husk of a human.

You sigh, with the careful, caring discontent of someone who sympathizes with my sexual anxieties but thinks they’re silly nonetheless. “You just lie back and relax. This is not strenuous for me. I’ll stop if I want to. Right now I just want you to feel good.”

Though our dynamic isn’t kinky, I hear this as a command. I lie back. I relax. And you must’ve said the magic words, because within minutes, I am coming, loud and unrestrained.

You slip your fingers out of me and let me catch my breath before suggesting a mid-sesh intermission to top up our intoxication levels. This entails sneakily smoking in the bathroom of this no-smoking hotel room, because we don’t have a balcony and fuck if we’re gonna throw clothes on and brave the current January windstorm in this state.

I stand in front of you in the yellowish fluorescent bathroom light, and we’re both poetically, unselfconsciously naked. I watch, rapt, as you grind some weed and load your one-hitter. You hand it to me along with your lighter, but I can’t get it lit, so you have to help me. I am a quivering little girl making doe eyes at you as you flick the sparkwheel and make a flame for me. I inhale deeply and feel so sexy, so safe.

The trick, you explain, is to exhale through a damp washcloth toward the exhaust vent in the ceiling; that way we’re least likely to set off the smoke alarm. You’ve pre-moistened a cloth for this purpose, and after watching me inhale, you grab it and lay it flat over my mouth, pressing the edges down tight. I breathe out and make a rusty stain on the white rag. “That was maybe the kinkiest thing you’ve ever done to me,” I joke.

I take another hit, and you wink at me – the big, broad, unexpected wink of someone who knows about my thing for winks – and I can’t laugh because my lungs are full of precious smoke. I grab the washcloth and push my breath through it, along with a rush of pent-up giggles. “Oh, you were trying not to laugh out the weed,” you realize. “I thought it seemed strange that you didn’t react to my winking. That never happens.” My whole body, my whole brain, wants to hug you and kiss you and suck your dick. C’mere, loverboy.

Minutes later, in our big hotel bed, I’m on my back with my legs spread wide and you’re sitting cross-legged between them, like my vulva is a movie you’ve been dying to see. You slide the S-Curve into me while I snuggle my Tango up against my clit. Despite having come twice already today and being, traditionally, a one-and-done kind of girl (a one-hitter, you might say!), I feel an orgasm building almost immediately. Be it the comfortable environment, the familiar partner, the excellent toys, or the weed, I don’t know. And I don’t really care to analyze it.

You push the toy’s rounded glass tip against my A-spot hard and I fall apart completely, an orgasm bursting through me and extinguishing all thoughts. The combo of climactic incoherence and marijuana incoherence is a funny one. I want you to keep fucking me, harder and faster, all the way through my orgasm, but instead I’m just shouting, “Aaaahhh, I want, I want,” and “M-m-please-m-m-moooore.”

You indeed keep fucking me, but also, you bark, “English!” The frustration in your tone seems to extend my orgasm, to stretch it out like taffy. But this command also jolts me just enough that I can collect my wits. “Harder, please,” I clarify, in perfect English, and you give me what I want.

Sometimes, when I’m in my head and struggling to come, you tell me to fantasize about whatever I want.

It’s a remarkably generous offer. Most people want you to focus on them, and them alone, while they’re fucking you. They want your eyes open and affixed on theirs. They want to do you so right, they blow your other thoughts away.

But this ignores, for many of us, how our sex-brains work. I can think you’re gorgeous and still need to picture someone else to get me over the edge. I can love what we’re doing, but get even more turned on when I think of us doing something else. I can adore you the way you are, but still envision a different version of you when I’m on the brink and I need something extra to get me there.

Tonight, in my bed, we are high, and you are fucking me, and I am close, and you say it. “You just relax and think about whatever you need to think about.” Your voice, as always, is steady and calm. And generous. So generous.

My mind moves in hazy kaleidoscopic shapes, searching for that one image or phrase that will get the job done. I see spirals of light, blinding sunsets, scenes from another dimension. But beyond all that, what I come back to is you. A different type of you, an alternate-reality version of you, but you, nonetheless.

“Be a good girl and come for me, princess,” the you of my fantasies mutters as you never will. And I come so hard, it clears the smoke from the rafters of my brain.

5 Bruises I Loved and Lost

Heads up, babes: this post deals with bruising and other visible signs of (consensual) injury, as well as self-harm. If that’s tough subject matter for you, please feel free to skip this post!

 

“I’ve never spanked anyone before,” Dane mentions offhandedly as we’re hanging out before our porn shoot.

“Oh,” I say, and my stomach drops. “Um, that’s fine, it’s not too hard to learn. I trust you.” I take my Tantus Pelt paddle out of my bag and show her how it works: the momentum, the swing, the snap. It’s been a few weeks since a partner’s used this mean little thing on me and I’m excited to bend over for my hot new friend in front of a rolling video camera.

What I don’t say, and later wish I had: Start slow, and work your way up. Warm up the area with gentle smacks til it’s red and glowing, before you progress to harder wallops. Spread out the impacts, instead of focusing on one spot. Rhythm and consistency are good, but give me time to breathe. I think these things but don’t communicate them. I said I trust her, and I do.

The scene goes better than I ever hoped or expected, given how nervous I was when we began. She teases and spanks and fucks me over a wooden coffee table in the airy afternoon light. But that paddle. Oh, that paddle.

There is a point, somewhere during most spankings, when I cross the threshold between safe, tolerable pain and pain so intense it scares me a little. This threshold is the reason I can’t spank myself effectively: I’ll never leap across that line myself. I need someone to push me.

Dane is bossy and authoritative and mean, and gets me crying within minutes. The silicone paddle rains down relentlessly on my reddening ass. And then she picks a spot on my right cheek and just wails on it. One hit after another, til the pain is a white-hot emergency alert in my brain. I think, I can’t take much more of this. Then I think, No, really, this has to stop. And then a deeper, stronger voice in my head says: No. You can take it. You can take just a little more.

I do. And eventually it ends. I’m left with the best bruise I’ve ever had, a crimson emblem of what I faithfully endured. A blotchy splotch that proudly announces what a very, very good girl I am.

Dane cuddles me on the couch. Caitlin brings me a cupcake. I’m grinning, glowing, good.


Depression comes in waves, arcing over the shoreline of my mind so ominously that I usually see it coming from yards away. I can arrange my schedule so the worst of it will hit when I’m alone, sobbing in bed, shoulders shaking, self-worth crumbling in polite privacy. I mask these desperate spells from my friends whenever I can. But sometimes I can’t.

One night in July, I’m at a party with Bex, Georgia, and a few other friends. But it’s the saddest party I’ve ever been to – even sadder than the surprisingly jovial secular shiva we held when my grandmother died – because I can’t stop crying.

Depression tells you lots of lies, the most pervasive one being that you are unendingly sad, have always been, and will always be. It tells you the tears you cry are justified, because everything is terrible and life is pain. It tells you the glimmers of happiness you once knew have been extinguished and were illusory anyway. It wrings the light from your spirit. It takes everything from you, most crucially, your hope.

So as I cry in front of my friends and they attempt to comfort me, none of it really works. “We love you,” they say, and my depression-brain says, Yeah, but the people you WISH loved you still don’t love you. “You’re a good person,” they say, and depression whispers, Bullshit, you’re garbage, they’re just humoring you. “You’ll feel better in the morning,” they predict, and depression insists, You will never feel good again.

What I need, when I’m like this, is to cry very hard for a while and then to be jolted out of my sad, salty rut. I need a distraction, a shake-up, a gear-change. So when Georgia says, “Do you want me to hit you?” some part of me perks up because I know that has worked in the past and it might work again.

I bend over the end of the sofa like a good girl, and Georgia – armed with my KinkMachineWorks Lexan paddle – begins to knock the sadness out of me via my ass.

When I’m sad and I don’t want to be sad anymore, sometimes I think of the saddest thoughts I can possibly imagine, in an effort to push the sadness through my veins faster so I’ll be rid of it sooner. If I’m crying over a boy, for example, I might force myself to think, “He doesn’t love me, he’ll never love me, he doesn’t want me the way I want him and he never will, I’m not good enough for him, I’ll be alone forever, and it’s only going to get worse from here.” Crying harder speeds up the process so I can get on with my life sooner – and spanking can serve a similar function for me. The pain gives me a tangible reason to cry, so I cry harder, feel my feelings deeper, and move through them quicker.

“I love you, babe,” Bex says to me while Georgia spanks me. “You’re being such a good girl,” Georgia says between hits. One friend holds my hand; another strokes my hair. I keep my face planted in the sofa’s upholstery and I cry and cry and cry.

And when it’s all done, I feel a bit better. And I have some epic bruises to remind me that I helped myself by letting my friends help me.


One night by myself in my room, depression sneaks up on me. I didn’t see you come in, I tell it, and it hisses back, That’s because you’re a stupid, silly girl who doesn’t know anything. I can’t argue with that.

Sometimes my depression comes alongside a restlessness: I know I need to do something to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings in my body and brain, but it’s not immediately clear what. When I’m coping well, I get out my journal, cry in a hot bath, go see a friend, or curl up with snacks and an episode of Sherlock. When I’m coping less well, I think about hurting myself.

The jury is out – by which I mean, my therapist is unsure – whether my self-spanking counts as self-harm. I don’t really do it to punish myself, to feel more alive, or to enact suicidal ideations, all common reasons people self-harm. I think I do it because it distracts me from the “bad” thoughts and feelings in my head, and because I know spanking has historically alleviated my mental health symptoms. It’s a last-ditch effort to snap myself back to stability.

On this particular night, crying numbly in my desk chair, I just start smacking my thigh with the back of my hand because it feels like the right thing to do. I do it so hard, and for so long, that I worry I might break my hand. I switch hands, and do it some more. I keep going until I’m sufficiently bruised, and the dark whispers in my head have calmed.

The bruise I’m left with is a chaotic mass of speckles, and I instantly hate it. It’s ugly, but I know I wouldn’t think that if a partner had given it to me. Each time I catch sight of it, I’m reminded of how I failed myself, how I let myself down by coping poorly with the feelings that rain down on me. I try to forgive myself, but in the meantime, I wear boxers around the house instead of my usual bikini briefs, so I never have to see the evidence of what depression wrought on my body.


When I was younger, I thought I’d hate one-night stands because sex felt too intimate to share with a near-stranger. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned so much: sex doesn’t have to be intimate, and there are other valid reasons to hate one-night stands (which I kinda do). But it turns out that for me, kink feels too intimate to share with a near-stranger. It feels like an infringement, a mild violation, an incongruent aberration.

One cold night in December, I go out for drinks with a passably smart-‘n’-sweet Tinder boy. Our hours-long conversation brings out the details of my life that usually emerge on dates like these: I’m a sex writer, I review sex toys, I write about my kinks, and those kinks include spanking.

When I invite him over to my place after drinks, he makes a logical leap that any reasonable person could make: I like spanking, therefore, I want him to spank me. During our lukewarm hookup, he lands a few hard smacks on my ass, and I make noises of delight – because, physically, this feels like something I’ve enjoyed before. Emotionally, less so. He is nobody to me. I don’t care if he wants to punish me, or thinks I’ve been bad, or wants to make me feel good, or wants to give me what I want. I give zero shits what he thinks of me, and therefore, with him, kink feels irrelevant.

In the morning, we chat a bit via text, and he asks, “Is your butt even in the least bit sore?” It’s a vanilla-dude question, designed to determine whether his untrained hand even made a dent in my seasoned-kinkster ass. I look in the mirror and there is, faintly, the outline of a handprint. Red finger shapes against my creamy white skin. I text him a picture, though I doubt he even cares.

The bruise is mild, and only lasts a few days. So I spend those days thinking about how gross it feels to be bruised by someone I barely know. One-night stands are okay if I can hop in the shower afterward and wash away their sweat, their spit, their cum. But a bruise stays, and remains both mine and theirs until it fades. I love bruises when they make me feel “owned” by someone I want to own me – but a random-ass stranger from Tinder does not own me and should not bruise me. I glower furiously at the handprint for days, wishing it had come from someone else’s hand.


My fave fuckbuddy is extremely vanilla, but he’s also what Dan Savage calls “GGG“: good, giving, and game. He doesn’t “get” the whole spanking thing, but he’ll still do it if I ask – often quite enthusiastically – and I love that about him.

One night in a New York hotel room, we can’t figure out how to open the bottles of apple-ginger cider we brought with us – and we’re high, which makes this quandary even harder. “Let’s go to the front desk and ask if they have a bottle opener,” I suggest, reasonably, to which my FWB replies: “Okay, but you have to do the talking, because I am way too high to talk to a stranger right now.”

We make a giggly pilgrimage to the front desk; the attendant there doesn’t have a bottle opener either. So it’s back to the drawing board (after a meandering journey through the hotel lobby, mezzanine, and basement, laughing maniacally like the stoned delinquents we are). Once we find our hotel room again, we scour it for any and all objects that might function as a bottle opener: a pair of tweezers, the edge of a countertop, a thick bedsheet crumpled in a palm.

Eventually, grasping at straws, my gentleman-friend opens the wardrobe in the corner and pops out the silver metal bar holding up the clothes-hangers. “Oh no, you broke it!” I chirp, my high-brain momentarily unable to process that he did this on purpose. He grins at me in that roguish way he has, and jokes, “Those were load-bearing hangers.” I collapse into ganja giggles on the bed.

The metal bar works. He’s able to push the gaping end of it against the ridged edge of a bottlecap until the cap pops clean off. He hands me the bottle and gets to work on opening one for himself. I sit cheerfully, sipping my cider, one leg dangling off the bed and one draped over his thigh. We clink our drinks together and sip in the comfortable silence of two people who like each other – two people who just simply, uncomplicatedly, happily like each other.

And then I pick up the hanger bar and start whacking myself on the thigh with it, because of course I do.

He laughs darkly in his throat, because he knows me and he knows what’s coming. “Oh, you kinksters and your pervertables,” he says out loud, or maybe just in my memory because that’s the sentiment I sensed from him in my periphery. I take another swig of my cider and put the silver bar in his hand. “You should hit me with this,” I say.

He does. The cool metal lands stripes of pain along my thigh, still hitched over his. His thwacks are more earnest than I’ve ever felt from him; I think he’s finally figured out that when I ask to be hit, I want to be hit. Stoned, tipsy, gettin’ beat, and sitting beside one of my favorite people, I can’t recall many moments as purely, perfectly happy as this one, right here.

a thigh bruise“I want you to give me a bruise,” I tell him, but he’s vanilla and probably needs a little more instruction, so I continue. “Pick a spot. Hit that one spot again and again, starting soft and building up til you’re wailing on it.” I wrap both my arms around the one of his that’s not holding our impromptu impact implement, and press my face into his shoulder. “I might scream, but it’s okay.”

He does exactly what I’ve asked him to do, just like he always does; it’s one of the reasons he’s my favorite FWB I’ve ever had. As the bar slices through the air and onto my thigh again and again, my man-friend mutters in my ear about the way jazz drummers hold their drumsticks. He’s playing me like an instrument. His tone of voice reminds me of a doctor who tells you a cheerful story about elephants or fairies to distract you while he sets your broken bone. I don’t want to be distracted from the pain being rhythmically administered to me, but I like the sound of his voice, the closeness of it, how completely and totally safe I feel with this man who is hurting me at my request.

There you go,” he says, and stops. “Look at that. Wow!”

I glance down at my thigh and see a thin streak of red, set in beautiful relief against the paleness of my skin. I’ve never seen my thigh look so gorgeous. In the days that follow, I keep hitching up my skirt to take a look, running my hand along the slightly raised mark, pressing the painful spot through my leggings on the subway to remind me that it’s there.

It makes me feel owned, and small, and safe, and happy. It fades, and I want it back. I want it to last forever, like a tattoo. But the nature of bruises is that they don’t last. Like the tumbling petals of a dying flower, they are perfect in their life and in their death. I am always sad to say goodbye to a bruise, and always happy to have had it at all.

Scents (and Men) I Have Loved

a bottle of pink Kate Moss perfumeIn the summer of 2008, I felt beautiful. It was the first time since childhood when I’d felt confident in a brash, unselfconscious sort of way. I was the queen of my high school, strutting down the hallways like runways each day, dressed in femme finery. Teachers adored me, I was making new friends left and right, and I was acing all my classes. Strolling through life in my signature beat-up black cowboy boots, I felt effortlessly powerful. Unstoppable.

It helped that a tall, gangly girl with rainbow hair was in love with me. It was the first time anyone had ever been in love with me. In a way I deeply regret in retrospect but that felt acceptable at the time, I let her fawn over me – encouraged it, even. She was a close friend and I always made it clear to her that friends were all we’d ever be, but I also liked the way she looked at me. I liked the love letters she wrote me in Facebook messages and Honesty Box missives. I liked the casual cuddling on couches, the dates-that-were-not-dates at coffee shops and art galleries, the endless compliments and harmless flirtation. I liked it all.

The smell of that summer, in my memory, is Kate by Kate Moss perfume. Designer fragrances were out of the realm of acquirability for me, with a meager allowance from my parents being my only income – but I fell in love with the Kate Moss scent one day in a drugstore and resolved to buy it. After saving for months, I finally scraped up enough cash to buy the smallest bottle. I spritzed some on my neck as I left the perfume shop, and carried the precious pink fluid home as carefully as I could, my life already feeling revolutionized and beautified by this scent.

Simultaneously spicy and floral, “Kate” embodied the ballsy femininity I prided myself on at age sixteen (and still do now, when I’m at my best). I wore it that summer, in parks, on rooftops, in alleys, on grassy hilltops beneath big starry skies. I wore it on pseudo-dates with my ladylove-who-I-did-not-love. I was probably wearing it the night I lost my virginity to her, whispering giggly secrets in my tiny twin bed.

When I ponder the notion of “signature scents,” Kate by Kate Moss is the first one I think of for myself – and not just because of the name. It captures a moment in my personal history that I wish I could cling onto forever: a liberated sassiness, a pink dress hitched up to reveal white cotton panties, a gingery kick of joy right in your gut. The perfume’s been discontinued, so I can’t bring myself to use up the remaining dregs in that pink bottle that still sits on my dresser. I just lift it to my nose from time to time, inhale deeply, and think of that girl I used to be.


“Pleasant scents” and “pleasant men” have always been linked in my mind – dating back, I suppose, all the way to breathing in my dad’s Irish Spring and aftershave when I sat on his lap as a youngin’. But the first time I remember there being desire mixed into that feeling, it was focused on my high school philosophy teacher.

Dorky, charismatic, and paternalistic, he was utterly my type. I’d watch him enthuse about Kierkegaard or Sartre, wildly waving his arms and pointing passionately at a Powerpoint, and I’d melt into my hard wooden Toronto District School Board chair. How could any person be so perfect?

If you found yourself in the enviable position of walking behind him in one of our school’s tight stairwells, you’d get a definite whiff of something. A clean-hot-man type of scent. I don’t know what it was – cologne, aftershave, shampoo, maybe just soap. It was intoxicating, like everything else about him.

I once overheard some other girls discussing this experience – the walking behind him in the hall, the deep lungfuls of Attractive Man – and I felt strangely infringed upon, like they had stolen some moments that were supposed to be mine and mine alone. At the time, my own fragrance of choice was Lust by Lush, a jasmine-heavy and aggressively sexy scent that I soon had to stop wearing because it made my best friend sneeze incessantly every time I got near her. This, coupled with my hopeless crush on a married and unattainable grown-up, was utterly emblematic of how awkward and unsexy I felt at the time. Teenage Kate would pile on the jasmine in an effort to be half as bewitching as her philosophy teacher, but she never quite got there.


My first serious boyfriend just smelled right. He wore no cologne; it was the smell of his skin itself that I picked up on when I pressed my nose to his chest during long, lazy lie-ins. I was content to silently inhale him for minutes at a time, in that way you get when you’re obnoxiously in love.

The scent reminded me of vanilla or fresh-baked bread. It didn’t actually resemble those aromas, but it felt like them; it held the same deep sense of comfort and rightness that bread and vanilla do. My contentment, when my nose was squished against his warm body in bed, was akin to when you’re six years old and your mom is baking sugar cookies. That uncomplicated, expectant joy. All you have to do right now – your only responsibility in the whole world – is to play, and have fun, and wait for the cookies to be done.

Old Spice Swagger deodorant perched on a windowsill

My mental illnesses can sometimes make me do, well, “crazy” things. Like stand in the deodorant aisle of the drugstore and sniff every variety of Old Spice until I find the right one, and then buy it, never really intending to wear it.

I did this one October afternoon because a boy had not texted me back. I could not believe he hadn’t texted me back. It felt like the most important thing in the world. We’d cuddled, and talked for hours, and had sex. There had been intimacy. It had felt real. Why wasn’t he texting me back?

The answer, I see now, is: our arrangement was casual from the get-go, never intended to be more than that. But at the time I was inexperienced with such things, and the magical closeness of orgasms and pillow-talk had cast a spell on me. I wanted him in a deeper-than-just-sex kind of way and I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want me that way, too.

Hence: standing in an aggressively fluorescent Shoppers Drugmart, huffing Old Spice. I knew that was what he wore; he’d mentioned it offhandedly on our date when I told him he smelled good. There were many different Old Spice products on offer, and I sniffed each one: Krakengard, Steel Courage, Desperado. While the latter had a name that fit my mood, it wasn’t the right scent. It didn’t ping my nostrils with familiarity, or dampen my panties with Pavlovian associations.

When I found the right one, I looked at the label: it was called Swagger. How apt, for a boy who had swaggered nonchalantly into my life and then, just as nonchalantly, swaggered right back out of it again. I bought the deodorant, for reasons I still can’t quite articulate, and it’s still in my closet, never worn but often sniffed.


a sample of Armani Acqua di Gio cologneIn the summer of 2015 I had just started a new job which required me to wake up at 4:40AM and take a 5AM bus to get to a 6AM shift. Most of the time, I hated it. But on one particular morning in August, I didn’t hate it quite as much, because there was a handsome man with me.

A long-time internet crush of mine, he’d taken me out for Thai food the night before, after which we’d meandered back to my place for Scrabble and (eventually) sex. Though I should’ve slept when we were through, I was so elated by the good sex and good conversations that I wanted to stay up all night. We went to a 24-hour diner, and then to a 24-hour coffee shop, and then it was time for me to get on the bus that would take me to work.

He waited at the bus stop with me, making idle chatter laced with dorky jokes. I half-feigned exhaustion, as an excuse to lay my head on his shoulder, in a gesture of intimacy that exceeded what he wanted from me but that I couldn’t help craving. “You smell good,” I commented, and he replied sheepishly, “It’s on purpose,” as if that somehow discounted what I had said.

I don’t think either of us knew, then, that we’d end up steady fuckbuddies for over a year and counting. That cologne he wore – Acqua di Gio, I later learned – became entrenched in my memory with good goofy sex and aimless late nights, like we’d shared that first time. Acqua di Gio has its fair share of haters; its mainstream popularity lends it a reputation as an Eau de Fuckboy of sorts. But that clean, oceanic scent just makes me think of this man I adore(d) and how much he didn’t adore me in quite the same way.

Over a year after that first night together, he came to a party at my house after we’d been apart for a while. Minutes before his arrival, I’d been wondering, Will we have sex tonight? but the moment I opened my front door to him, I knew the answer. He was wearing that cologne. He was trying – “on purpose,” he’d said – to smell good for me. I was gettin’ laaaid that night. And indeed, I did, the smell of oceans and unrequited love filling my nose.


an aromatherapy blend in a bottle labeled "Kick in the Pants for Kate"“So what’s going on with you?” my aromatherapist friend Tynan asked me attentively, notebook and pen in hand. I promptly burst into tears.

Tynan had made me an aromatherapy blend before, so I knew the process. You outline your top three current complaints, whether mental or physical, and she ideally finds three essential oils which each address all three issues. Then she blends them together in a little vial, and when you wear a drop on the collar of your shirt, the scents infiltrate your brain through your nose and – through some kind of psychological aromatherapeutic alchemy – create change in your life.

The trouble was, the thing I most wanted to change in my life felt impossible to change – and I was hesitant to let it go. “I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me back,” I admitted through a veil of tears. “I feel stuck. No one else is good enough. I swipe through dudes on Tinder and think, ‘Well, they’re not as smart/funny/perfect as he is, so what’s the point?’ I want to move on. I want to like someone who actually likes me back.” With that tirade off my chest, I progressed to the other issues bugging me: a sense of demotivation about my search for a new dayjob, and constantly chilly hands and feet from bad circulation.

“It sounds like all three of these issues relate to feeling ‘stuck’ and paralyzed,” Tynan said. “We need to get your energy moving again.” She flipped through an aromatherapy reference book, read me some passages, and had me sniff some oils. The mix we settled on was a particular ratio of key lime, palmarosa, and ginger – a blend designed to be uplifting and motivational. Tynan mixed the oils together in a small bottle and carefully inked the name of the blend onto the label: “Kick in the Pants for Kate.”

The finished blend is punchy and bold. I put it on first thing in the morning and feel enlivened, energized, ready to face the day. And I do think, in a weird sort of way, it helped me fall out of love with that man who was crushing my heart. My unrequited infatuations often stem from a feeling of powerlessness – the belief that I’m not good enough on my own, and have to rely on this idealized other person for all the humor, joy, and brightness in my life. Tynan’s powerful “Kick in the Pants” blend smells like strength to me. The more I wear it, the stronger I feel.

It drowns out the Acqua di Gio still haunting my heart. My own strength, it turns out, is bigger than that ocean of tears I once cried. Recently someone told me I smelled good, and I smiled at them and said: “It’s on purpose.”