The person I took this picture for called it a tease. I prefer to think of it as a sneak preview.
9:12 AM: “Would you like to play sometime?”
Not really, no.
9:26 AM: “Sorry, but–”
Why did I type that? I’m not sorry.
9:31 AM: “I’m not looking for that right now.”
What the hell? Yes I am. I’m in full predator mode. I want to tear someone apart with my teeth. I want them sobbing with desperation. I want to fuck until I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to move. I am 100% looking for that. I’m not looking for it with him.
9:34 AM: “I don’t think it’s a good idea, because–”
Why the fuck am I implying I want this? If I give a reason it can be rebutted. It looks like it could mean “I’m interested, but–” when in fact I am not interested. It looks like maybe I’m hoping to be convinced. I really, really don’t want to deal with that.
I’m just not going to look at my phone for a while.
12:47 PM: ” ”
Well, shit, now I just look like an asshole.
Okay, I don’t just look like an asshole, I am an asshole.
1:13 PM “I’m sorry–”
I’m still not fucking sorry.
1:17 PM: “Augh why did you have to ask me that I’m supposed to be fucking working”
Yeah, that’s not fair.
I’m pretty sure I lost the chance to even make a diplomacy check after twenty minutes of silence. May as well get it over with.
1:19 PM: “No, thank you.”
I mean, it’s not cold, not really, not any more than any other “no.” It’s honest. Makes no excuses. But I feel the ire of every man who’s ever said “fine, you don’t have to be such a bitch about it,” and I hesitate. How do I say no without making it awkward? Without a late night phone call months from now angrily demanding that I Just Give Him A Chance (which is what the last man I went on exactly one date with did).
Maybe if I don’t answer he’ll miraculously un-ask.
Maybe I should stop being a fucking coward and just say no.
Maybe managing his reaction isn’t my job, and anyway maybe I’m being unfair, assuming he’ll react badly. Maybe I should just get it the hell over with.
Maybe if he knew how goddamn much I cuss he’d want to rescind the invitation on his own.
2:36 PM: “No, thank you.”
This is ridiculous. I’ve rejected plenty of people. Hit send already. Do it.
He’s going to ask why, you know that, right?
Fuck me, brain, why you gotta say that? None of his business is why.
Okay but he’s going to ask.
I’m just not feeling it.
So how are you going to deal with it?
Apparently by not responding to his text for all day, that’s how.
I know! *deep breath* Okay.
2:40 PM: “Sorry for leaving you hanging. I was looking for a less disappointing way to phrase “no, thank you” but I suppose they all come out about the same.”
“I can just see you counting the days until you have one of your own.”
I’ve just carried a giggle-shrieking goblin child back to its mother. I groan inwardly, but the man who spoke is clearly waiting for an answer. I smile as politely as I can. “No, I’m not having kids.”
“Oh, wait til you get married. You’ll have one within a year.”
“I’m divorced, actually. Anyway I’ve never wanted them.”
“Oh… well, you’re young. When you’re older–”
“I’m thirty.” The man speaking to me can’t be over thirty-five.
He shakes his head. “You say that now. But tick tock! That biological clock will get ya.”
Tick tock. Apparently one day I will wake up in the morning and slap my forehead in sudden realization of the obvious: of course I must want children! What other possible purpose in life could a woman have?
I don’t want children. I have never, ever, ever wanted children. I have never–not even when holding the sweetest, not-screamingest baby or playing make-believe with the most imaginative young person–thought “someday I might want this.” When I watch friends’ kids, I’m grateful as hell when they come home and I can get back to my regularly scheduled ice cream and nudity and cussing as much as I want. I do not want kids.
People want to argue. I’ll regret not having children when I’m old, they say. No one ever wants to talk about what it would mean to have a child and regret it. To raise a whole person that I do not want and be responsible for the survival and love and support and some degree of not fucking them up while also not fucking myself up even worse…yeah. There is no way this could end badly.
Except that’s the wrong thing to say. I can’t start explaining the myriad reasons that it would be a bad idea for me to have a child–the sometimes-debilitating mental illness that runs in my family, the poor vision and bad teeth they’d certainly inherit, my general lack of patience and uncompromising nature. I could go on. But any of that, all of it, I could find a way to overcome if I wanted kids. The real issue is that I do not want them.
I don’t hate children. They’re cute and the young ones’ unfiltered honestly delights me. I don’t think it ruins lunch if a friend brings her son along. If I’m honest, I kind of like them.
In small doses.
As long as they aren’t coming home with me.
I get that kids bring something magical and shiny to some people’s lives. That they can’t imagine enjoying life without that experience any more than I can imagine enjoying life with it. But the fact that I smile at kids and have fun taking them to play sometimes doesn’t mean I want one of my own. I like going to the zoo and no one thinks that’s incontrovertible proof that I want a giraffe. Same with small DIY humans.
People aren’t so adamant about telling me I’m wrong about what I want with most things. “I don’t like mushrooms” is rarely met with more than momentary incredulity. “I want to see x happen at work” is met with questions and brainstorming and support. “I want a tattoo” is accepted by most people who are not my mother (she knows it’s true but she Does Not Like It). But anything that has to do with sex–and children do have to do with sex–if I don’t conform to most people’s expectations of how a woman should relate to sex, I clearly don’t know my own mind. I need to be corrected, for my own good. Of course I couldn’t be bi, and I don’t like sex as much as or more than most men, and I definitely, DEFINITELY will want to have kids.
At this point I’m going to have to have “yes, I’m sure I don’t want kids” inscribed on my tombstone before it’s taken seriously. I know what I want. I don’t want kids.
And if I were wrong? If I am woefully incapable of making the “right” decision on the spawning front without correction from others? Why on earth would anyone who doesn’t trust that I know what I want trust me to be responsible for a whole helpless human being?
I once told a man he should cheat.
We hadn’t seen each other for some time. He looked exhausted. Miserable. He was talking about his partner of more than three decades, about hospital visits and stress and fear. About making every decision, wondering whether it was the right one. His partner’s dementia had progressed to the point he couldn’t make decisions about medical consent anymore. He didn’t remember things he should, he slipped sometimes into other times or experiences.
They had no romantic relationship anymore. How could they, when one of them could remember the other’s name only intermittently? They had no sexual relationship anymore. Not safe, when one’s mental state and physical health were tenuous at best.
“I’m celibate.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to be, but there it is.”
I told him he should cheat. What else was I going to say? Wait for your partner to die, maybe for years, look forward to the freedom to have sex or intimacy again?
A relationship–any relationship–is an agreement. There are terms and conditions. I’ll cook, you do dishes. If you have sex with someone else, I’ll leave. The terms can be somewhat fluid and not always discussed, but they’re no less real for that. Your relationship is how you interact with another person: when you change, or they do, what you are together changes. The terms and conditions change. They have to, if the relationship respects the needs of the people in it at all.
Sometimes renegotiating an agreement isn’t possible. Maybe there’s abuse: a person who can’t safely leave an abusive relationship still has every right to exercise autonomy, and shouldn’t be bound by terms and conditions they have not consented to. Maybe there’s dementia, a coma, an injury or illness that leaves a person unable to consent. Should their partner be bound to an agreement they would not be able to make or affirm anymore?
I won’t try to sugarcoat it. It is cheating, to break a relationship agreement instead of renegotiating it or ending the relationship. And I want to phrase this carefully because I know how many cheaters will say they had to cheat, because they would not be able to do what they want if they talked to their partners. That’s bullshit. Cheating because a partner wouldn’t understand or might end the relationship is cowardice. It’s the refusal to respect the conditions the cheating person has agreed to, it places their pleasure above their partners’ right to informed consent, and it is utterly despicable.
Cheating because one partner cannot consent…it’s cheating. It’s cheating, and the situation is awful and the world is awful for letting these situations exist. I don’t think it can happen without admitting that the relationship is already irrevocably damaged. At the same time, I won’t say that the man I advised to cheat should have had to leave his partner– to stop caring for him, living with him, being his companion–if he wanted to receive any kind of affection at all. I don’t think a person who is unable to leave an abusive situation should have to be isolated from intimacy until and unless they can gather the resources to escape abuse.
It’s been a few years. I don’t know whether he did cheat, before his partner died. We don’t see each other often and it’s not my place to ask. But I think I’d give the same advice again. I’m not sure it’s the right thing. It probably isn’t. But when the ability to even discuss the terms of a relationship is absent, I think it’s only compassionate to expect those terms to be less binding than they once were.
There was a brief period in college when I thought I might be a lesbian.
I was having sex with men for the first time, a flurry of one-night-stands that left me confused and disappointed, but never quite enough to stop me trying again another night, with another man. I knew I desired them–the way they looked at me woke something wolfish in me–but after we went to bed I would leave bored and a little frustrated. (Sex with men has, thank goodness, much improved.)
I was having sex with women, not for the first time, and it was electric. I was a growling, shuddering mess, they were all skin and sweat and moans. I didn’t want to leave at all.
I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to those young men that my desire or pleasure might be part of the equation. I often complain that desire and pleasure aren’t discussed as part of sex ed, but the reality is more insidious than that: desire and pleasure are not discussed. They are assumed. Integral to men’s sexuality, irrelevant to women’s. The narrative is that men have the drive for sex, and women’s role is to choose when to give in.
Expectation doesn’t always match experience when it comes to women’s desire. It can be confusing, complicated. When anything past kissing boys slammed the brakes on my pleasure–was that my fault? Theirs? No one’s–did it just mean I was queer? Or was it supposed to be that way? How many times had I heard that sex would hurt at first (it didn’t) and was a thing women do for men, not something we like? How do we learn to understand our sexuality if we aren’t exposed to the idea that we’re even supposed to enjoy sex? How many young lesbian women date and sleep with men because they’re taught relationships and sex are a duty, not a desire? It is one thing to be confused, another to go looking for answers and find, almost overwhelmingly, that your question hasn’t been addressed.
Erotic writing was the exception. Erotica shows women’s desire and pleasure. In the absence of school or home education, against an environment that erases women’s sexuality, erotica takes shape as a rare mirror of feelings rarely discussed and never normalized. It was the conversations around sex, women participating in and driving the action. Erotica offers alternate scripts, templates, vocabulary to start to know what was lacking and how I wanted to change it. (And the written word didn’t hurt, during the time my sex life consisted mostly of instant messages to a partner seven thousand miles away.)
It’s still one of the only places I see women’s desire treated as normal and expected, let alone prioritized. And grateful as I am that erotic books and blogs exist, I can’t help but wonder why women’s sexuality is still so hidden, or why it’s most accessible in such a limited medium, and one that’s still more than a little ridiculed and shamed.
I am watching (through radar, and pictures from friends and family) as storms hit my hometown almost daily. It’s the kind of weather I miss, and missed over my last visit (a rare summer week without much rain). It’s making me miss home, being on or in the water even when there is no storm. Even though the sun is dire threat to someone whiter than sand, I spend every moment of a visit I can spare soaking up the beach.