Every once in a while, you get a swift kick to the head to let you know you’re not the same person you were at an earlier time in your life.
On a recent Friday night, I was up late working on an AnnArbor.com article about an event that happened earlier that evening, and an IM chat began with a guy I knew in college. This in itself didn’t phase me, because he seemed to be a night owl, and we’d exchanged occasional late-night small talk (How was your Christmas? Have you been to this restaurant? Did you see the Michigan game? blah blah blah) via IM a few times previously.
But on this one night, after some typical chit-chat, he wrote, “Can I ask you something personal?”
“Are you bi?”
This is the moment where I should have sniffed out precisely where this was going. And a younger version of myself probably would have. But no matter how educated or semi-worldly we are, marriage and parenthood inevitably jettisons us into a completely different mind-space than that of our sex-obsessed, twentysomething selves.
So here was my first thought when I saw this man’s question about being bi (and I’m not kidding): “Oh, my God. He’s developed an attraction for men, and he’s confused by it. He’s politically conservative, so the only person he can talk to about this or trust is someone he hasn’t seen in 18 years.” So I take the question at face value, thinking I’m empathizing with him, and write, “No, but I once had a crush on a close female friend in grad school.”
“Did you have sex with her?”
Oh, no, I thought. Something already happened between him and another man, and he doesn’t know how to process it, or what to do, what it means. So I wrote,
“No. I imagined it occasionally, but if I was ever actually faced with the situation, I’m honestly not sure how I would have reacted.”
He wrote, “You miss the point.” (He didn’t know the half of it.) But this baffled me. Here I was, trying to be honest and help him. What else could I do?
Then he wrote, “Do you remember my wife?”
I wrote that I did, and then I thought, Oh, I’ve misunderstood and read this all wrong. Maybe this guy’s wife was having an affair with a woman, and he’s just learned of it? (By my own calculations, I’ve since determined that I had just fallen off a turnip truck the previous day.)
He wrote, “Would you ever be involved in a threesome?”
My next stupid thought: Maybe they’ve just been involved in one and he’s confused and feels like he needs to talk about it. So I told him that while I think most people have fantasized about it, I personally think that the reality of it would be way too difficult to live with, and that while it may sound boring, Joe (who this guy knows, too, unbelievably) and I were happy with each other.
Yes, folks, I really, REALLY wasn’t getting what was happening here. But I comfort myself now by thinking that I was probably the least satisfying online sex experience this guy ever had.
But wait – I get worse!
He kept urging me to promise discretion, which added to my suspicion that he was struggling to unburden himself about something troubling him, and he asked, “Are you alone?”
I wrote, “Yes. No one else is awake at this hour.”
“You know what I would do to you alone?”
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. The lightbulb FINALLY went on in my head. He then posted his phone number, just as I was in full-on “ick” mode, and I chided myself for not catching on sooner.
“Do you have permission to play?” he asked. (What a ridiculous euphemism.)
I suddenly felt so violated and harassed and stupid, and yet I couldn’t turn off my reflexive, Midwest politeness. It was like I was holding the door for my mugger. No, please, after you, I insist!
“I’ve got a deadline to meet and I really, REALLY need to get to work,” I wrote.
“This is what married people do.”
Not this married person. And what a condescending and skeevy thing to say. This wasn’t about being a prude. It was about genuinely having no desire for someone or something else. I’m thankful for every bit of happiness I have in my life, and as the saying goes, I don’t want what I haven’t got.
“I want to tell you something,” he wrote.
“If you want to say it, make it quick,” I wrote, my curiosity getting the best of me while I was still in shock.
“I wanted to f#ck you.”
“Um … back in 1990?”
I was thinking, dude, you were a 21 year old college student. You wanted to f#ck me and everything else with a vagina, and you haven’t seen me in nearly two decades. How flattered could I possibly be by this admission?
“Who’s to say I’ve aged well?” I wrote.
Whatever. Still being painfully polite, I pressed my deadlines and insisted that I had to get down to business, leaving it at that and signing off. Ugh.
Later that night, I was lying in bed, feeling gross, and really, really uncomfortable, and confused as to whether or not to tell Joe. There wasn’t necessarily anything to be gained by it, and I really didn’t know how he’d react, so at first, I thought I wouldn’t.
But as the next day wore on, and I chewed on it more, I decided I needed to tell him. I didn’t want to have this weird, stupid secret from him, and if we ran into this guy again one day, I wanted Joe to know why I would feel uncomfortable.
So that evening, I shakily told Joe that I needed to tell him something. But as awkward as it was for me to get out the words, Joe pretty much shrugged his shoulders and treated it as a non-event.
I said, “I guess I thought you’d be angry. I’m not saying I’m disappointed that you aren’t, it’s just – I’m surprised.”
“I’m a little pissed off at him,” Joe said, “but clearly he’s kind of an unhappy guy, and my life is better than his.”
Have I mentioned that I adore Joe?
Anyway, in some odd way, my telling Joe about the whole thing made me feel closer to him. And while I initially kept the experience a secret, remembering my promises of discretion (to a guy who abused my trust and goodwill), I’ve come to realize that my harassment and extreme discomfort trump any pledge I made while thinking that I was helping out an old friend.
One girlfriend of mine mentioned how she kind of missed the occasional ego boost that comes with being hit on, and while I agree with that, this doesn’t qualify. If someone who saw and interacted with me now tried it, then at least I could feel flattered. But someone who’s getting off on who and what I used to be? Meaningless.
If nothing else, this stupid experience has made me think about how my younger, more free-wheeling dating days were often fun, but I don’t at all miss them. At that time in my life, I made some really dumb choices out of vanity; was plagued by self-doubt; and I hurt people I shouldn’t have hurt – both through a lack of personal courage and a regrettable tendency toward self-absorption.
That’s typical, of course. You’re freaking out in your twenties and early thirties, constantly scrambling to figure out and get a career that you can live with while also determining if you’re built for solitude or a long-term partnership (and if it’s the latter, who that partner might be). But now that I’ve arrived here, I don’t look back.
I tell myself that that’s why my thoughts and reactions were so far removed from the basic, obvious thing that was staring me in the face on my laptop that Friday night. I hadn’t even intellectually visited my former self since I’d married Joe, and later, had Lily. And why on earth would I?
I like where I am now. I don’t want to go back. I’m good, thanks.