A drunk friend once told me that she loved me because she knew I was a helper, a giver. I made people feel safe. This was a very nice thing to say. And then she added, “Because any time I do something terrible, I know you’ve done something worse.”
Yes. I am that friend. I’ve been labeled, with varying degrees of respect, a whore, a sex addict, a feminist, a gay man in a woman’s body. I’ve been diagnosed with all sorts of issues of the daddy and self-esteem variety, and prescribed some awesome and downright irresponsible medications as a result. Maybe I am all of these things, but ultimately, I like myself, and I like other people, and I really like having sex with other people. I give no fucks, which is to say, I give all the fucks. I’ve been proposed to, let Serbian royalty touch my butt, and endured a meth-fueled threesome at the Crown Heights Best Western. I have banged my waiter after he served me two steak dinners at once. If I had to choose one title, I’d say Optimist.
I was a really weird kid and a really angsty teenager, by which I mean, I was pale and academically inclined and I lived in Los Angeles. A product of the sort of high-cultured parents so intent on molding their children into cool children, despite the fact that there is nothing cool about children and I just wanted the Kraft and the Barbie and the conformity, thank you, no amount of even the finest boutique marijuana could make the type of girl who didn’t go to a middle-school movie night and bring Blue Velvet. I was Hermione before she found conditioner.
I moved to Vermont for the liberal arts education my bookishness afforded me, and fell in love. I lived with someone who was perfect, who took the stairs and believed in God. We baked organic pies to give to strangers because isn’t it just that kind of day. It was insufferable. And when everything inevitably imploded I ran away, to Williamsburg. And something changed. People wanted have sex with me.
This was disorienting and vaguely terrifying, but also very exciting. I developed flirting skills, like smiles and an arsenal of get-laid conversation points. (Example: Over coffee with a film snob, introduce a discourse on the effects of colonialism in contemporary Guinean cinema; for a midnight movie with a stoner, some Steve Brule references, and also, by the way, I love food flavored like other food. Cheeseburger Chef Boyardee for liiife). A lot of my experiences are based on corporeal pleasure quests, but there’s also some academic-ish research, I think; every encounter is in part driven by the relentless study of love. Where is it? Who is it? Is it that dude on the train? Sometimes it is, I imagine, but also sometimes he’s a comedian and a bad kisser and the next time I see him is three months later when he’s hawking Samsungs on Taxi TV. Maybe the middle-aged artist is the cultured and powerful lover I’ve been waiting for. Maybe he confesses four dates in that he is technically homeless. The only way to learn is the hard way.
One recent night out in Bushwick, a stallion-maned man with cheekbones that could cut a porterhouse asked me about my drink of choice, which, luckily for me, is an easy topic of get-laid conversation. He owned the bar, it turned out, and offered gin-and-tonics to my entire party. Charming, insightful, with a soft spot for British goth pop—he could be The One. Who lets The One get away? I’ve seen Love, Actually. No one, is who. So I left with him.
My phone was dead, so I wouldn’t know this for several hours, but The One did not actually own the bar. He had never been seen before at the bar. Suspicion took root inside his apartment, but I quashed it by attempting to be impressed by his frugality. He probably put all his money back into the bar, instead of throwing it away on things like alcohol sold in glass bottles, or sheets. It didn’t matter anyway because I’d just had a bunch of gin, which is above a certain threshold like Polyjuice Potion made from fluxweed, Boomslang skin and a single hair of Venus. I was Aphrodite. I was a creature whose divine purpose is to bone. And here was my thin-hipped man-nymph. Everything was great. Maybe he was The One. He released the clasp on my bra and looked deep into my eyes: “Are you my girlfriend?”
Oh. Oh God. He was not The One.
“Wow, what? Do you… are you confusing me with your girlfriend? Cause that’s okay, I’ll just—“
“Tell me you’re my girlfriend.”
“Yeah, you seem really nice, and thanks so much for the booze—“
“I love you. Let me tie you up.”
I had taken self-defense in high school, but the skills I’d learned were for fighting off attackers who lurked in alleyways or rapist-sized bushes. I thought about how badly this man wanted me to tell him that I loved him. I thought about how I wanted to be loved, in some capacity, whenever I told an anecdote I’d rehearsed a dozen times, with a dozen men, knowing, when this one laughed, that I was in. I thought about my torso floating in the East River.
“I love you.” I said. “I’m going to have a cigarette.”
“You’re not leaving?” He had a length of cord in his hands, when did he have time to get that? “We have a connection and I need to tie you up. I love you, baby.”
As collateral, I told him I loved him again, and I left my copy of Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems.
And I got the fuck out.
This is maybe an extreme example of a lesson learned (“he probably does not own the bar, and also if he’s lying to you about that, he might be a psychopath”), but it happened, and I am thankfully not trussed up in my not-optional-boyfriend’s bedroom. Which in a sideways-elevator kind of way brings us back to optimism. The optimism is key. I don’t mean that in a Panglossian way, in which things are already happening, and thus they must be okay; otherwise you wouldn’t need a sex column, you would need Ativan to deal with the fact that this is the best of all possible worlds. This isn’t. I believe in love and I believe in it for you and for me. I also believe in sex without love. Hell, I believe in love without sex, maybe, if you prove it to me, for sure like in a best friend or dog way. I do not believe in dog love sex, unless maybe you’re a furry, whatever, haters. I am an Argonaut of the bloodstream, that vast corridor between brain and baby-maker, and with this adventure comes risk. And I will go there, and I will take that risk, that glory, that disaster. Onward, ho!