I wanted casual sex. I’d gotten bored of the instant, artificial validation Tinder brings and was ready for the real thing. I wanted a distraction from my insecurities, because when you’re naked, fucking someone you don’t even know, you’re not thinking about your love handles or the size of your pores.
I didn’t even pick him; my friend did — I told her what I was looking for, and she scrolled through my matches until she found one she deemed suitable. “Him, I guess,” she said. And so it was him. His bio was boring, but said he was tall. He only had a few pictures, but none were blurry or had other people in them. I ignored any sort of pleasantry and just messaged, “Do you have your own place?” God, I doubt I even capitalized it.
When I first went over — it was a Thursday — I thought he was going to murder me. The GPS led me to a house in the headlands; the 20-minute drive took me through the tunnel, into the forest, toward the ocean. I almost turned around, but I’d driven all the way out there and was already a little depressed, so I didn’t really mind if he killed me. As long as we had sex first.
He was tall, which I liked, and had a beard, which I liked even more. The sex was good, but not great. We kept the light off, which I appreciated, and I didn’t stay the night. I was back the following Thursday.
After a few more late-night visits, I’d pieced together all the trivial information I could about Sam from Tinder. He lived out there because he worked as a repairman for the park. His passion was fixing whatever was broken, which I came to realize included people. The huge scar on his chest was from a motorcycle … or ATV accident? I started outlining it with my finger as he talked and don’t really remember the specifics.
We had nothing in common. It was perfect. I was an academic; he was a self-proclaimed redneck. I was strongly anti-gun; he went shooting twice a week. The only thing we shared was the desire for “just sex,” a line we drew from the beginning.
I told him a story once about how I broke my wrist when I was riding downhill on my bike while trying to throw away an ice pop stick. I thought it was funny, but he just sort of smiled to himself. He paused and said, “It’s weird. You only exist for me within these four walls. You appear and then you leave.”
In that moment, I wanted to tell him I could exist outside, too. That he existed outside for me because I thought about him whenever I saw a tall, skinny white boy with a similar haircut or a redwood tree that vaguely resembled the one tattooed on his side. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t satisfied with him lending himself to me every Thursday night — that I wanted to have him.
But I’ve always felt shame in having feelings for men. I never felt shame in sex, not even a little, but I felt masses in love. I felt everything I’d been taught to feel when I lost my virginity, or when I went over to some random guy’s house.
When I fell for him, I felt exposed, like he had slipped his arm down my throat and gripped my heart with his hand. He wasn’t helping it beat; he was just silently letting me know that if he ever wanted to, he could stop it.
Maybe it was my parents’ divorce or watching a breakup almost starve my best friend, but falling in love was never a positive in my life — it was an emotional death sentence.
But still, when he asked if he could visit me after I moved, I let him. The sex became great — fantastic, even — and we started going out to dinner. Each time we ate in his car, it felt like my last meal.
It’s hard to fall in love. I think it was named correctly. It’s like when I crashed trying to throw away my ice pop stick: so well intentioned, so painful. And you’re on the pavement, bleeding, staring at your own bone, thinking, “I should’ve just littered.” Falling in love is the sweet, lingering orange flavor of the ice pop on your lips while you wait for the paramedics. It’s the next time you taste an orange ice pop and almost puke.
I haven’t told Sam from Tinder that I’m in love with him. Sometimes I think, what would be the point? And other times it feels like I’m swallowing the words after I’ve just thrown them up in my mouth.
I’ve never been a very fearful person. I wasn’t afraid when I drove to the middle of nowhere to meet some guy, but I’m afraid now. I’m afraid that what was once a ploy to distract myself from my life will end up ruining it. I’m afraid that he won’t just squeeze my heart too tight, but that he’ll rip it out of me. That he’ll yank it up through my throat, out my mouth and into the open air where everyone can see it.
People like to think that falling in love is beautiful, but it’s not beautiful; it’s just rare. Very, very rare.
Helen D’Orazio writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]