My favorite memory with her is also one of our first. We’re at the Marina, cross-legged on a plateau of dead grass above the water. Our shoes are off and we spend a long time pulling burs from each other’s socks. I’m busy seeming chill, outwardly nonchalant in her presence. Which is hard to do. She’s really hot. Like, really hot. And French. Like, genuinely from France. My trope-prone heart can’t take it — the cool way she surveys me from behind taller grasses. I love thinking about that day, as it contains all my favorite parts of loving. Attraction and anticipation, surprise and cautious signs of affection. I’ve always treasured the chase and, even more so, having a crush.
We met the day I moved into a large communal home where she had already lived for some time –– a fate that ensured that I would see her many times a day, whether I planned to or not. The most mundane parts of my routine were suddenly opportunities for seduction. Whatever stress this brought on was overshadowed by a kind of plotting indulgence. She was sexy and funny, older than me and always a little mean in just the right way. I found her easy to adore.
We made out for the first time across the street from Codornices Park late at night after having a lot to drink, but in a good way. The kiss was pretty fucking awesome. It’s probably my favorite first kiss to date, not for any formal reason but because the feeling lived up to the lore I had constructed of it. She tried to carry me home on her back, though I kept falling off. We walked and slid, drunkenly, down the hillside.
I am easily infatuated and easily had. It might be narcissism or insecurity, but it’s true. I quickly felt close to her, as I know she did to me. Sex, at least, seemed to prove it. We were always touching, and our fucking (though she never would have called it that, out of politeness) felt singular to me, and generous.
Sometime before the kiss, she told me about her girlfriend in Paris, whom she was in an open relationship with while studying in Berkeley. I gave no outward sign of discomfort at this information. On the contrary, I celebrated it. How wonderful! How European! I have my answer to this disclosure ready to go most days. Going out in the Bay, in queerish circles, I anticipate that 99% of the people I find myself attracted to will be in some kind of polyamorous arrangement. I say “queerish” to include those courageous heterosexuals who too have adopted the poly label to describe their sexual escapades. It’s long been a mystery to me why the straights so desperately want in on one of the more fraught aspects of gay dating: Everyone you know has already fucked everyone you know.
I should note here that I have no beef with my poly friends. You are all much braver and cleverer than I. What you have is, I assume, the end goal for us all: a vaster understanding of loving that engenders mutual respect and shared acquisition of pleasure across various sources. That I subscribe to an almost biblical understanding of relationships (besides, you know, the dyke stuff) confuses and embarrasses me. I would like to get past the idea that I need one person to love me, and that they should love only me. But so far, no such luck.
For someone who is so monogamous, I’ve been in my fair share of open relationships. But never have I been the “opener” of the relationship. Rather, I’m the person the “opener” fools around with while their primary partner is on another continent. I once wrote an exceedingly self-pitying email to an old ex about this very topic, my perpetual “other woman” status. Though I must admit, on my less-wallowing days, the role has its charm: I can convince myself I hold something uncatchable, though wanted.
My crush was not trying to fool me. She was forthright about her situation. I don’t know if it was my desire for her (which was, to be fair, pretty much all I could think about) or my inappropriately directed competitive energy, but the more I knew about her partner, the more I wanted her for myself alone. I enter open relationships not as a ready participant in the established guidelines but as an interloper. I am always sure that I might be the exception to the rule — that I can be, if I try hard enough.
I am not proud of my possessive tendencies, and they’ve fucked me over more than once. But in the case of my very beautiful French crush, I ended up winning. Or felt like I had: Her relationship was put on hold after a month or so of us seeing each other, for reasons that I suspect involved me but am told were ultimately tangential. And then we fell in love. Her room was one of the few in the house with screens over the windows, allowing us to leave them open at night. We watched the fatter moths gather on the sill all September without fear of their trying to join us beneath her pink bedspread.
I still think of this now, having just moved back into that same house after a long time away. Our relationship was always contingent on the temporariness of her time in Berkeley, as she would return to France upon graduating. And she did graduate, mere months after we met, the morning after some of the best sex I’ve ever had.
As suspected, she and her more serious partner got back together once she returned to Europe. The notion that she was mine was an invention of my egotism, and a kind of cosmic loneliness I cringe to mention. I’m pretty boring when it comes to love. Like all the other bottoms out there, I just want to be profoundly cared for and occasionally tied up. We don’t ask for much.
She knew most things about me that fall. She is still, a year later, all over my life. When we talked on the phone recently, she revealed that her girlfriend doesn’t know my name. She never told her. This sentiment (and my meltdown about it) worked to confirm what I had feared. No matter how much she cared for me, I couldn’t stick in her life the way she had in mine. I treated her as my partner, without competition: She knew my friends, and they knew her. We were grossly into PDA, always touching at someone else’s party. I didn’t have the option to censor her; I didn’t have an elsewhere, or a someone else, waiting for me. My name felt like the only thing that might make it to those parts of her life I would never get to see.
Now, returning to this house, I have no hard feelings toward her. I’m not cut out for openness. Maybe I’m too soft. Or too jealous. I’m definitely too needy. We used to draw in my notebook: loopy, somewhat freakish figures from a multicolored pen. The kind you click repeatedly to switch inks. I have a few of them hung in my room, near my bed. I think they make nice decor.
Scout Turkel writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]