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Hi.

Welcome to The Year of Living Promiscuously. Here you’ll find the story of my attempt to fit a lost decade’s worth of dating into just one year. Along the way, I learned a whole lot about life and men and mostly myself.

The year is now over, but the story continues.

Feel free to jump around, learn a little more about me, or begin with the first match.

I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories…water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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Footnotes, Part 2

brick-wall-1868217_1920You may remember back in September when I wrote about being assaulted in a nightclub. I kept the account pretty brief because I wanted to focus on The Knight, but now that I’ve wrapped up the forty, it’s probably time to unpack what happened.

I was bored one Wednesday night, and my kids were with My Ex, so I decided to check out a no-frills club in the city. I couldn’t think of anyone who’d be game for a late-night midweek excursion like this, so I went solo. I parked about a block away from the club and after realizing that they didn’t offer coat check on weeknights, I walked my coat back to my car. I did all of this alone, in the mostly-empty well-lit streets.

I’d arrived early, so I chatted with a guy, let’s call him Wing Man, at the bar in one of the club’s two dance areas. He said he was a regular and we swapped numbers so he could send me a link to his band’s music. Throughout the night, we checked in with one another when we crossed paths. I felt like even though I was alone, at least Wing Man was looking out for me. I danced with a half dozen men that night, the first of which I’m going to call Sam, which happens to be his real name. He doesn’t deserve anonymity, as you’ll soon see.

Sam was a terrible dancer, and by the end of one song, I had to tell him that I needed some space. I made a break for it and found a new dance partner on the other side of the floor. I was enjoying myself, and the crowd was growing. And then there was Sam, wanting to dance again. I reluctantly agreed and quickly regretted it, as he was way too close, despite my telling him to take a step back. I felt a tap on my shoulder: another dance partner trying to cut in. Yes, please! So I told Sam that I was moving along and didn’t look back.

Eventually, I found myself dancing and talking with The Knight when I suddenly felt someone press themselves hard against my back. I glanced over my shoulder to see Sam, and I shouted over the music, “Sam, I’m dancing here. Back off!” I looked up at The Knight and mouthed, “Help!” The Knight looked confused, later told me he thought I knew Sam, and he attempted to turn us so he could get between Sam and me.

And that’s when Sam reached around me, grabbed my breast, shook it, and called me a “N—— lover.” At that moment, I did not respond — I simply reacted. Still pinned between the two men, my options were limited, so I pulled my leg forward and kicked back as hard as I could, landing a solid blow to Sam’s knee. As he staggered backward, I turned and screamed at him to get the fuck away from me. I turned to The Knight and told him I needed to get off the dance floor for a minute.

Shaking with rage and adrenaline still flooding my system, I looked around to try and spot Sam, but I couldn’t find him. I looked for security but couldn’t find them either. It was nearly closing time on a relatively low-key night — they only staffed the bar and the door, I found out. Faced with the prospect of walking to my car alone without knowing where Sam went, I opted for the seemingly safer choice and asked The Knight to go with me. He was happy to do that, but then gave me his number and asked me out before I could get back in my car. He couldn’t see how shaken I was.

Once I sat down in the driver’s seat, I texted Wing Man to give him the short story and let him know I had left. He called me, wanting to know if I was ok. I told him I was. While we were still on the phone, I saw him walking down the same street where I was parked. I rolled down the window and waved him over, and we discussed what had just happened. Then he told me, “The problem is that some of those girls in there, they want that.” I was too stunned to speak. I told him I had to go, rolled up my window and texted The Confidante, my jaw clenched, tears beginning to spill.

There’s a lot that I could dive into here: the injustice that as a woman, I have to operate on high alert in situations like this, while men don’t have to give it a second thought; the entitlement, misogyny, and racism displayed by Sam; the insensitivity shown by The Knight, who witnessed everything and should have known not to hit on me in that vulnerable moment; Wing Man’s ludicrous rationalization for some men’s shitty behavior.

It’s all bad, all challenging, and to be honest, all still a bit traumatic, even nine months after the fact. In writing it out, I experienced residual panic symptoms, stomach clenched, chest tight, hands slightly shaky. And the worst part is that it brings similar trauma racing to jump in the mental queue, the terrible slideshow of men who have crossed lines, of my frozen form, of the mental gymnastics of first blaming myself, then blaming them, without ever really letting myself off the hook. I’ve written about a few here (The Rebound and The Amateur). Others are old stories that make my skin crawl.

So why write about it if it makes me feel so awful? To make this point: for a man to go out alone at night doesn’t require empowerment. It merely requires the desire to do so. For me, I moved past negative experiences with men towards a place of empowerment that enabled me to go out alone. And then in an instant, I was back where I started. And it makes me furious because I can’t just will myself back to where I was. It’s going to take time. And the time that it takes is all because of some drunk asshole who felt entitled to grab me and behave in a threatening way. Because for Sam (and to a lesser degree The Knight and Wing Man), entitlement runs deep. It would take something drastic to pull the rug out from under him. I write this to point out the inherent inequality and delicate balance of power that exists between men and women. I don’t have a solution beyond raising my own children to understand the hidden systems in which we operate, but also to push against them whenever possible, so as not to simply become cogs in the sort of machine that produces an endless stream of stories like this.

My Past Isn’t a Script for My Future

car-1576894_1920As I look back over the past few weeks, it appears as though my head and heart decided to ring in the new year by declaring a vicious war against one another. This degree of unprecedented inner turmoil has left me out of sorts, at a loss to explain myself. And then I wondered, “Could this be self-sabotage?”

My first instinct is to dismiss that explanation as something only other people deal with, but let’s explore the facts:

In the past year I’ve made some major strides in personal growth…

The old me:

  • struggled to voice negative emotions, opting instead for avoidance or resentment
  • withheld intimacy because of (circumstantially justified) fear
  • avoided conflict in order to “protect” (subtext: manage) other people’s feelings
  • didn’t/couldn’t spot a red flag to save her life

The new me:

  • talks about negative emotions much more readily, even if they’re irrational
  • embraces vulnerability and honesty as an important foundation of any relationship
  • assesses the wisdom of confrontation based on priority of relationship and carefully works toward swift conflict resolution
  • is a red flag spotter extraordinaire

In light of these changes and the purported priorities I’ve written about in this blog, my falling in love with The Voyeur seems like some left-field shenanigans. The idea of self-sabotage, though? I’m a sane, reasonable person — what do I have to gain from this?

No, that’s not a rhetorical question. But since I didn’t have an answer, I asked the leading psychological minds on the internet, and what I found is this: while there are many reasons that we subconsciously (or sometimes consciously) engineer circumstances that put us at a disadvantage, they are mostly rooted in our fear of failure. When we anticipate that we may/will/deserve to fail, we do things — drastic, foolish, shortsighted things — in a wild grab at control over the situation. If things don’t work out, we can pinpoint a choice we made that caused the failure, as opposed to facing a more insidious inner narrative. Mine likes to tell me: “you’re not cut out for a healthy long term relationship…you don’t know how to do this.” 

In my case, I’ve reached a small plateau of personal growth, and I should be feeling good about my progress. It should have me feeling hopeful about my relationship prospects. The trajectory of my emotional health should be a good indicator of my future success. Yet as soon as I reached that place, I allowed myself to indulge feelings I have for someone who I know and value, albeit someone I had already deemed a friend, not a romantic partner. I don’t think that my feelings were inauthentic. They felt, and feel, as real as anything else. Hell, they thew us both into a super fun two-week period of emotional tension, confusion, stress, and frustration. That shit was real. But where did it come from?

I can only point to myself. To the inner voice prophesying failure, to my grasping for control. And, oh how I long for control. I still love The Voyeur, but the intensity of the head-heart battle is dying down as my head (you know, the one that managed all those bullet points under “the new me”) speaks calmly, reassuringly to my heart: “stand back up, quit the self-doubt, remember your past but recognize that it’s a part of your story, not a script for your future.”

What does this mean for my friendship with The Voyeur? I fear that I’ve done some damage, but I also care enough (and have learned enough, I hope) to navigate toward healing and restoration.

There’s a (not so) small part of me that would like to go back to the moment before I published That One Post and slap the computer out of my shaking hands. But without that experience, I don’t know that I’d have found this place so quickly. This place — where I understand myself more deeply, in all my unflattering, embarrasing, dysfunctional glory. Clearly it’s going to take more than forty matches to find myself, but these glimpses of understanding are gifts well worth the struggle.

Haunted by the Ghosts of Words

“Speech Delay”

The words we don’t say
Haunt the words we do say
With their ghosts.

The words we don’t say, can’t say,
Mouths poised to speak,
But all that comes are silent screams.

It appears this has become one of those blogs in which my poetry may now make an occasional appearance. But I’m not sorry.

On the subject of feeling sorry, I would be hard pressed to come up with a list of my regrets. But what I could scrounge up would likely have a common theme: NOT doing something. My choice to stay when I should go or to remain silent when the words boil just beneath the surface (or worse, to say something that is an anemic version of what I really mean)…these are the regrets that haunt me.

Throughout my adulthood, I have struggled with the size of my emotions. They’re big. They’re untamed. The problem is that I like being able to rein myself in, to feel a sense of control, to maintain composure. I’ve taken pride in my ability to have a calm, rational conversation about the most heart-wrenching subjects, even when they’re closely linked to my concepts of self-worth and identity. The higher the stakes, the harder I would work to keep my cool because I feared that my emotions would eclipse my message. Last year, when My Ex and I had one of our many post-mortem talks, I was bemused to learn that the very thing I’d been so proud of had worked against me in a way. He told me that because I always seemed to have a subdued emotional response to his infidelity, he didn’t recognize that it was impacting me as much as it did.

His assertion was absurd — I mean, I still had my words. I had told him how I felt. But to the emotionally and verbally unintelligent (read: My Ex), words are best paired with an impassioned shouting match, perhaps some wailing and gnashing of teeth, a shove or punch for good measure. Without those components to my communication, my message hadn’t been received.

While I certainly won’t be adding physical violence to my repertoire of communication skills, I do think there’s some merit in considering how my approach to difficult conversations could send the wrong message. Staid and composed may work well in an office setting or a business letter, but in order to convey the depth of my emotions, I think words and passion must come together. Voices might be raised. Tears might be shed. The words may come out wrong. But at least they’ll be said. And I’d rather know that I said what I meant, what I felt, rather than live with the ghosts of the words I didn’t say.

Entering Unknown Territory

I’m not great at follow through, never have been. So when I started this blog, I thought it best to assign clear boundaries from the get-go. One year or forty matches, whichever came first.

I didn’t really expect to finish it. Didn’t expect to love writing as much as I have. Didn’t expect to feel the urge to write. So now that I’ve launched myself into the unknown territory that exists beyond the limits of the old framework, I find myself needing to write, then dismissing the thought because it wouldn’t fit the blog.

I wrote last week that my story is still being written, and that’s true because I’m the one doing the writing. If that means breaking free of old structures that limit my expression, so be it.

I think Maya Angelou summed it up nicely when she said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

So rather than agonize…I will write.

Footnotes, Part 1

There were a few things I mentioned briefly during The Year, things that I promised to revisit at a later time. Well, that time has come. Without further ado, I want to tell the story of how The Predator got his name.

The short story is that I didn’t give him this alias. On the last day that I saw him, we had some fairly rowdy reunion sex before lying down to catch our breath and catch up with one another, as it had been a few weeks since we’d last met. He seemed a bit moodier than I’d ever seen him, so I asked what was bothering him. He explained that he’d been doing some intense work in therapy. He tried to tell me without getting specific at all, and I didn’t want to pry, so I just listened. The less I said, the more he spoke to fill the silence.

He admitted that he had made some bad choices in his past, that he’d hurt people. That there was a community of women with pitchforks meant for him.

“Wait…pitchforks?”

“Yeah, there was a letter circulated. They’re calling me a predator.”

Now I was desperate to pry, but I felt that he’d revealed more than he intended. I also had an uneasy feeling about the whole thing. I wondered whether the timing had been intentional — sleep with me, then drop this little bomb. I also wondered how comfortable I felt with someone who in the (who knows how distant) past had hurt multiple people enough that they carried it with them to this day, shared their stories, found the sort of sisterhood they never wanted, went so far as to write and circulate a letter, then contacted him to bring their pain to light.

Even though I had never seen predatory behavior from him, I knew that it would be challenging to move past that word. So the next time he reached out, I explained that my inner alarm bells were ringing, that I needed to honor that by calling things off. He was predictably gracious, acknowledging the importance of listening to oneself. I thanked him for understanding and wished him the best.

Not five minutes later, he sends me a text: “want to meet for a drink?” Uhhhh, well, no. Instead, I wrote something I’m proud of : “That right there, pushing on a boundary I just set? That’s not ok. It’s a no.”

He pushed back, and I felt vindicated. Heeding the alarm bells had worked! I’d weeded out someone who was showing me that his true self was closer to how the angry mob saw him than the emotionally intelligent guy he had presented to me since we’d met. A small victory, but a victory for personal growth nonetheless.

Limbo

Or “Making Peace With Absolute Uncertainty”

It’s been a few days since my blog took an uncharacteristically dramatic turn in real-time. I’ve never shied away from the ugly truth here, and I won’t start now, so let me just admit that I’ve been a bit of a wreck. This stems in part from the mental and emotional stress I know that I triggered in The Voyeur, and also in part to the bizarre realization itself. I mean, really, heart, what gives?

Of all the people I met, why him? While he was not the worst by a long shot, he’d be the first to admit that he’s pretty fucked up. There are red flags. There are concerning patterns of behavior. We fall on opposite sides of many political and social issues. Between the two of us, we very literally have a Brady Bunch situation happening in the kids department. And yet…

This feeling is peculiar. It’s not like blinders — I still clearly see all the obstacles and potential pitfalls. It’s not as though I’m brushing aside deal breakers out of desperation either. I acknowledge that we both have a sizeable collection of shit that follows us around, even as we actively work to break free of its emotional choke hold. It’s that this strange foreign wave of love is seeping in from the edges, imbuing my perspective with a confidence that doesn’t assuage my doubts so much as it bursts onto the scene, shouting to be recognized. And heeded.

Seeing as how I recently wrote that I felt sure I was supposed to be bolder, confident when faced with risk, how am I to interpret this but as a real-world challenge to my resolution? If I shy away now, then am I really living boldly? If I linger in the guilt over any distress I may have caused through my honesty, I fear I miss the point.

With that in mind, I wrote this today:

I’m not sorry.

I love you unapologetically.

Regardless of whether it’s sudden. Regardless of whether you understand it. Regardless of whether it’s wise.

Worst case scenario: I’ll work through my feelings alone. I can do this if I have to. I’m good at it.

Worst case scenario: I’ll still care about you. I’ll still want to know what’s going on with you. I’ll still want to see you. I’m not afraid of doing hard things.

This doesn’t scare me.

Life is short.

I’m not sorry I love you.

Aftermath

What did I think would happen?

I used romantic comedy references to explain how I was feeling, but I certainly didn’t expect a romantic comedy resolution (which, by the way, would have looked something like The Voyeur showing up at my doorstep, offering a short, dramatic monologue before telling me he loved me too, a single tear of happiness, a long kiss, the perfect song plays, end scene). That I hoped for a tidy resolution at all points to my short-sightedness, my selfishness.

Broaching deep or emotionally-fraught topics with The Voyeur has always been how I imagine it would be to try to move closer to a wild bird: no sudden movements, no loud noises, wait patiently and he’ll eventually feel safe enough to tolerate my approach. And while this strategy has allowed for the gradual development of intimacy, it also should have clued me in to how my last post would affect him. It was like setting off a fireworks display, hoping the bird will stay put.

So here I am, 40 (oh, how appropriate) hours later, kicking myself for my clumsy, myopic delivery. Shit shit shit.

I tried to tell myself that I had zero expectations, and perhaps that was true when I decided to torpedo my personal life via my commitment to honesty in blogging. But right now…well, here are my revised expectations:

I will ache.
I will second guess my aforementioned “commitment to honesty in blogging.”
I will dive into my feelings and find that they run much deeper than I anticipated.