Today I turn 29. When I was 17, I flew to London to audition for acting schools. While there, I sent a letter to my best friend, Mariah. More than 10 years later she found this letter and felt compelled to read it to me. This is because she is a sadist. And I am sharing it with you because I am a masochist.
I am sitting in a cramped hotel room, 3-stars my ass, dragging on a clove Kent. I’m marveling at just how alike we are. There is so much to tell you. I have fallen in love with London—the smell, the taste, the way everyone walks so differently, like they dance to their own drumbeat. There are so many climates of thoughts and opinions converging all together—you can feel the city thriving. It is a living, breathing thing, feasting on creation and ideas. Today I had RADA, tomorrow I have Central School of Speech and Drama. RADA went really well, I hope to God Central does too.
I have also fallen in love with… Peter Friedman! But, I have made the greatest faux pas. I became embarrassingly drunk at his house. I don’t remember anything, and he won’t tell me anything. I do know 3 things: I threw up, he made me take a shower, and then he washed my clothes, put me to bed, and watched me as I spoke in a different language. I also made him take me to see Joan Baez. He spent $60 and he hated it and he hates me! Jesus, why do I screw everything up? WHY? So here I am terrified, anxious, excited and full of angst for having lost my love. Jesus! IS THAT WHAT I REALLY MEANT TO SAY?
With so little dignity left,
Peter was a red head from my biology class senior year in high school. It’s clear from how I sound in this letter that I had just finished reading Howard’s End and was living in some Merchant Ivory/Helena Boham Carter fantasy world. But, what really strikes me now, is just how
little NOTHING in my life has changed.
When I got so very drunk at Peter’s, over ten years ago, I was mortified. I drank all that whiskey to prove to him that I was a tough cookie who could handle her liquor. Instead, I turned out to be my own worst nightmare: an incoherent, wasted, puking teenager. That he wouldn’t tell me what had happened that night turned the whole event into a creepy mystery full of shame. My imagination went wild with all the ways I had embarrassed myself.
I felt I had let down my inner feminist. I was a teenager raised on many a Lifetime movie. I should have known better than to get black-out drunk! After all, I could spot emotional and physical abuse miles away thanks to Candace Cameron’s performance in No One Would Tell. I knew that I would never accidentally become a prostitute the way Tori Spelling did in Co-Ed Call Girl. I kept my body image issues in check because Jennifer Jason Leigh showed me how gross bulimia is in Best Little Girl in the World. Unfortunately, no TV channel taught me how to deal with the nuances of making stupid decisions in order to impress someone that I was romantically interested in. As I’ve gotten older and experienced more and more embarrassing escapades like the one with Peter, I realize even more how poorly my Lifetime-sponsored education prepared me for life. After all, no mini-series warned me that I would eventually stay with a boyfriend far too long just because I liked being liked. No women’s channel taught me that drunk texting a picture of my butt does not help me get a long-term partner. It may get me some terrible late night poontang, but never anything that will last past instant coffee the next morning. Compared to Tiffani Amber Thiessen in every movie she’s ever been in, my failings might be small, but they still add up to enough raw material for a kind of self-loathing movie-of-the-week.
The thing is, I didn’t always make these types of mistakes. As a teenager, I thought I was a strong, independent lady whose self-confidence was rock solid. Then I discovered sex. BAM. I suddenly realized I had no clue, and that confidence comes mainly from experience. Once, a boyfriend snapped, “What the fuck,” when I pulled away from giving him head. I could not believe he’d just yelled at me, but I never said anything about it because I didn’t want to admit it had happened. If I confronted him, then I would have had to deal with how I felt about it too and I just wasn’t ready for that.
I wish I could say that this is a piece about all the good advice I’d give my younger self, but it isn’t. Even if I had good advice to give, I have to admit that I haven’t figured out yet how to follow it now, as an adult. Instead, I’m shocked at how frequently I still resort to getting drunk with boys in the hopes that they’ll like me. I’ve gotten into a car with a drunk driver so I could go home with him. I haven’t used a condom because a guy said he was just tested. I’ve made so many bad decisions. But the worst part? I’ve spent far too many hours lying in my bed re-creating “the tender moments.” The ones where the guy touched my hair and laughed at my jokes a little too long and a little too hard. I forget the bad moments in pursuit of those that are good, if fleeting. What bothers me most about my letter is not even the memory of my first blackout. It’s that I was in London pursuing a major career path, and all I could think about was some boy. I’ve learned from Facebook that this boy (now a man, I guess) has a receding hair line and sports a skinny-man belly. And what about my auditions for RADA and Central School of Speech and Drama? Needless to say, I did not get into any schools in London.
I don’t want you to think I’m sitting in a dark room with a hair shirt on, flagellating myself to the mantra of “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” But I am sitting at my desk thinking about how I should just throw my hands up in the air and exclaim, “I’m fucked.” It’s like I have no idea how to act, because I actually have no idea how to act. I’m supposed to be a liberated woman with major sexual prowess, but what does that even mean? I don’t have what I want at all. And I don’t want anything that exotic. I want what everybody wants: career success, love, and to lose some weight. So why is this so hard to achieve?
Sometimes I think it’s hard to get what I want because I have a hard time identifying what I need. I’m pretty bad at understanding the subtle yet complex differences between sexual desire, sexual identity and sexual intimacy, and I think most other people have a hard time with that too. My mom grew up in Ireland and missed the sexual revolution that was happening in this country. She lived in a world where she never got to say “Yes” to any sexual experiences. On the other hand I feel duty bound never to say “No.” I guess it’s because I think that now that women have finally earned the right to their own orgasms, I need to take advantage of that, goddammit. But this seems to be the catch-22 of all modern ladies. It’s like I’ve been given society’s blessing to exploit my pleasure centers, and so I do, and yet, I’m still afraid I’ll use up all my sexual currency, and be left with nothing. Our model for a grounded, sexually open, confident woman, has a center that doesn’t hold. Maybe my first mistake is thinking feminism is all about sex. My mother came from The Feminine Mystique era. She was isolated by her domesticity, but now I feel isolated by my liberation. Where’s the intimacy in sleeping with someone I probably won’t see again? Or when I do see him again I pretend it never happened? I may not have to worry about the Feminine Mystique, but I do worry about all my feminine mistakes.
And yet, I hope now at age 29, realizing that I’ve had sex for all the wrong reasons will help me make better sexual decisions. It would be a lie to say I don’t regret anything, but for the first time I feel I have the confidence and strength not to pretend like I have all the answers. I am finally seeing the outline, hazy though it may be, of what I want.
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface