I knew better but then she smiled and moved closer, her lips on my neck and her body fitting obscenely well against mine. I knew better I knew better I knew better but she’s already on top of me, the weight of her on my chest filling an exquisite need that’s been burning in my rib cage since I was last under her. Her hands are so strong and gentle, and her hair is all around me, and it’s just us, our breath ragged, our mouths hungry, our eyes sparking and not quite seeing but consuming all the same.
I want to breathe up the oxygen in her lungs like fire, I want to be the pulse in her veins as her heart pumps harder and faster, I want to be incapable of feeling where my skin ends and hers begins in the summer heat with the windows open and curtains swaying; I want all of this now and I want this when the leaves fall and I want this when the snow flies and the curtains are drawn against the early dark.
The wrinkle here is that I can only have this for a moment at a time, the way the coals of a campfire burn perfectly for an evening but not forever. She’s not in this for anything more than friends. I knew this. I know this.
“I feel bad about all of this,” she says, and I know what she means but ask her to explain anyway.
“Doesn’t it make you feel sad?”
I didn’t start out like this; actually, when this started, I was pretty sure I’d be able to avoid catching feelings if I just stayed vigilant. The first time we kissed, I was still married to a person who wanted to “try out” an open relationship. When we kissed — the first time I’d kissed anyone except my wife for the previous 11 years — I felt a hunger I forgot could exist in a sexual partner. Her desire, manifested in her hands roaming all over my body and pulling me closer and then closer still somehow, made my body tingle and my confidence pay attention.
When my world crashed in a divorce, she was there to comfort me, listening to me, holding me, telling me it was OK to cry. We were friends, we looked out for each other, we texted each other every day. The sex was just a bonus, but it felt like so much more than that to me once I got to know her more.
Sex with her was intimate. She didn’t sleep with many people, because she likes to take the time to get to know them. A lot of people tended to get frustrated waiting, but I am patient as a glacier.
Since it was the first time I’d tried hooking up or making out with someone new in about a decade, I had decided before anything got started that there would be a ton of communication. I was going to say everything I was thinking about sex, having it with her, what that means to her, what her boundaries are, and about how I love boundaries. I like knowing where I’m not allowed, because of a penchant to wander.
One of the first aspects about our new relationship that she made clear was that she didn’t see a future for us. From the start, she declared she didn’t see us working out as anything real or long term, so it freed up some of her inhibition with me, sexually. Maybe there’s an intimacy limit, I’m not sure. But I do know that the next few months were very cozy, a winter spent cuddled up and giggling, making improvised dinners from whatever was in the kitchen while dancing to music, walking dogs.
It was domestic and it was comfortable, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t real because she’d told me so despite her actions, but the rest of my brain figured the potential for happiness outweighed the potential for harm. My vigilance started slipping, and I let myself relax into something that made me feel good and cared for and desirable. And at that point, I didn’t care if this was going to hurt me; the intimacy, the feeling that someone cared about me, the sex — I didn’t want any of it to stop, even though I could see pain on the horizon.
There were reality checks. We’d have discussions every few weeks about the definition of our relationship, because one or the both of us had started moving toward something more than friends who casually hook up. Feelings happened for both of us — I started seeing her as someone I would stop dating anyone else to be with, and she started relying on me and how good I made her feel — and while my response was to step right up and jump off the feelings cliff, hers was to back away from the edge quickly and bluntly.
And there it was, some of the pain I’d been anticipating. It hurt, and I pretended like it didn’t so I could keep seeing her. Stings and barbs may break my heart, but words cannot deter me.
Despite it all, I still let her top me, let her roll me onto my belly and lie on my back and whisper to me while she licked the sweat from my back. I was happy to let this cycle perpetuate itself, until the delusion started falling apart. Little things, really — her not wanting to be touched in public, her interest in my dating life beyond her, her statements about how no, Molly, we’re not ever going to be girlfriends.
She’s got issues with intimacy, she said. Control is a big deal, she said. I said that was OK, all of her is OK because it’s how she’s built right now. I love boundaries, and wouldn’t want to push anyone beyond one they’ve set, and over a few months, she started trusting me more because I respected her. She confided in me, got more comfortable with me in bed, and spoke to me every day. I supported her, she made me feel like someone special cared for me.
“It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real,” that little voice in the back of my mind kept telling me.
I knew better the whole time, but thought somehow it would be different with me. She told me it wouldn’t, my gut told me it wouldn’t, my brain sometimes remembered, but my heart refused to believe it.
I knew this delusion I’d built was bad for me, yet I kept it alive and disappeared deeper into it instead of backing away responsibly. And at the crux of it, I knew that part of my daydream was the understanding that it would never actually happen but I subjected myself to this pain anyway. Self-destructive behaviors come in a lot of shapes, and for me, they often emerge as ways to hurt myself in small ways to protect myself from hypothetical, bigger pain.
It’s not that I like the way I blow up my life with self-destruction, but it protects me from the vulnerability of hope. The fear isn’t that I’m worthless, it’s that I might be someone worth hoping for, and where there’s hope, there’s the real possibility of disappointment.
I’m afraid I’ll fail at being happy. I’m afraid someone will see me try really hard and still fail, and that I’ll be embarrassed and hopeless and sad. Self-sabotage saves me from this potential, all without regard for the possibility that I could succeed.
She’s my latest avenue for self-destruction; she told me where she was, and of what she was capable, and I chose not to listen. I kept going back to her even when I knew it would end poorly for me, and I didn’t give up when it started hurting.
I know I should stop, that I won’t get back what I am giving to this, that she’ll absorb my affection and my body heat and we’ll get sweaty and satiated and we’ll crash together and then I’ll go home. I’ll spend a few nights alone in my sheets and think about how she won’t claim me as her own, about how I’m providing all the emotional labor a girlfriend would perform, and any time it’s mentioned, we stop talking for a week, until one of us breaks.
When she asks me if being with her this way hurts, I lie to her because I knew the risk when this all started. I just didn’t care enough, about my own feelings or the future, to stop.
“You know, it doesn’t really make me sad,” I tell her, sitting up in the bed and further from her. “I knew what I was getting into when we started this. You were very honest about it.”
“Well, it makes me sad,” she says, and she’s not sad about the situation, she’s empathizing, trying to imagine what it would be like to be treated this way.
“Then don’t think about it,” I tell her.
And then I’m on top of her before she can say anything else, because sometimes I need to believe the lie I built to shield myself, the one that knows this is probably going to leave a mark, but I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care I feel nothing and everything when I’m with her and I want that more than I want to protect myself.
I know this will hurt me, but I do it anyway.
edited by yvonne.