Last weekend, I had a 4 hour long coffee turned ice cream turned long walk in the sunshine date with a nice Italian man. Let’s call him M. He was a few years older than me, creative and interesting and seemingly normal. He had an impressive job he was passionate about (hard to find!), he showed up to coffee in cute yellow sunglasses and a camera slung over his shoulder, and he treated me to a chocolate croissant.
When he offered to come over and cook me a pasta dinner on Wednesday night, I felt like a movie heroine—was this real life? I said yes. Actually, I believe my exact words were, “f*ck yes.”
Between our coffee date on Sunday and our date at my place last night, we exchanged quite a few texts. Monday morning, while I was struggling to keep my balance on a crowded 8am F train, my phone buzzed with messages of the sexual nature. If you’re dating in this day and age, you know the ones. We all get them.
I’m not opposed to sexting. Really, I’m not. So long as both parties are informed and empowered and there’s true consent and equality in the exchange. But I’m generally not as inclined to sext with a near stranger. I said as much, and in doing so, seemingly pissed him off a bit. Or at the very least, threw him off his game. He apologized, briefly, but went on to tell me he just wanted things to be “fun.” Implying, of course, that my turning down a Monday morning sext sesh meant I wasn’t fun.
Recently, over giant bowls of cacio e pepe, I talked to my friend Martha about the state of my dating life. Some of you may recall I wrote about being blown off by a guy I’d been seeing right before I went to Copenhagen. In telling Marth about the experience, she recommended that if I were to see him again, I try and be more upfront about my needs, or at the very least, tell him how that experience made me feel. I balked at the idea—why did I need to tell this dude I was kinda dating and sometimes sleeping with about my FEELINGS?! And then she made a good point: even if he wasn’t my person (and I don’t think he is), having that kind of “tough” conversation with him would be good practice. That is to say, telling him, “hey, you blowing me off at the last minute made me feel shitty” would prep me for telling my future person, “hey, that thing you did really upset me.”
Cut back to Monday morning, on the F train. For the sake of setting up the story, I present to you our actual text conversation with M. My text below is in response to him asking me to just open up a bit more, tell him what I was thinking, etc. I’m sparing you from the sexual stuff that had come before it, but trust me when I say “what I was thinking” was not without innuendo.
Me: What I feel is that I had a great time yesterday, I felt chemistry, and I’d love to see you again this week.
Me: Apologies if I’m not as well-versed in the whole talking about my feelings thing. It takes me a while to feel comfortable with people. No hard feelings if you’re not interested in that. I’m not sure what you’re asking me to say.
Him: I want you to be a bit more relaxed. More playful. Just enjoy chatting a bit more, please. It isn’t an exam. It’s a fun moment.
In my head, I heard Martha. Be honest. Listen to your gut. Tell him what you need (and what you don’t).
So I tried to be clear. I’d already told him (in person!) that I was a bit shy, that it took me some time to warm up to people. I’d made it clear who I was, and given him the out if he wanted it. I said, again, that sexting wasn’t really my thing. And he seemed, for the most part, to get it. To lighten the mood, I jokingly said I’d open up a bit with a few glasses of wine in me.
Cut to last night. He shows up on my doorstep with a bag of groceries from Whole Foods and a bottle of red, and proceeds to show me how to make carbonara from scratch. Every so often, he stops stirring to kiss me, hungrily, like he hasn’t been kissed in years, like he’s dying to tear my clothes off. Again, I wonder: am I in a movie? Are the cameras going to pop out from behind the window?
I think back to our conversation on Monday. His energy is strong, what he wants is clear. In the back of my head, I hear my intuition—the part of me that fears that when the time comes, he’s going to want weird sexual stuff that I’m not comfortable with. I quiet it, and sip my wine.
The carbonara is complete, and we sit, at the table—like a normal, civilized couple—and eat. The wine has kicked in, my intuition has gone silent, and I feel calm, relaxed—like the fun Sarah he wants me to be. The fun Sarah I know I can be in the right situation, with the right person, when I feel comfortable. This is going to be fine, I tell myself. Beyond fine; it’s going to be fun.
And for the first few hours, it is. Our chemistry is, for the most part, as good as I predicted, and I try not to think about sucking in my stomach or whether he’s looking at my stretch marks or whether I’m as good at certain things as I think I am. I try to just close my eyes and live in the moment, and enjoy the fact that a good looking Italian man cooked me carbonara and then took me to bed.
Around midnight, we finish, and he puts his clothes back on. It’s late, he tells me. I should let you get to bed. We head back into the living room, and start cleaning up from dinner. I’m wearing a black slip that I’ve thrown on, slightly sexy but not overly so. I’m rinsing wine glasses in the sink when he comes up behind me, and starts kissing me again.
I thought you had to get home, I say to him teasingly.
I did, he says, but then I saw you in here, in that.
Before I know it, we’ve migrated to the couch, and his clothes are off again. This is where things go south. Emboldened, perhaps, by the last few hours, he asks me if I’ll do something for him, and he can watch. At the risk of crossing the TMI line I’ve most certainly already crossed here, I’ll leave you to use your imagination at this point.
I’m suddenly acutely aware of this strange man, naked on my couch in the darkness, asking me to do something that feels more out of a porno film than the romantic scene I’ve been setting in my head all night. I shake my head, and tell him no, I’m not comfortable doing that.
Why not? He presses the issue.
That sort of thing is for me, I say, not for him. I say it defensively. My guard is up. In my head, I’m tracking backwards to Monday morning, to his sexual texts. I should have listened to my gut, I think. I knew we’d get here eventually.
He’s staring at me as though I’m some sort of sexual doll he can bend into position, and I wish I could snap my fingers and go back in time, to when he was just a cute man making carbonara and offering me pieces of parm to taste.
He asks, again, and again, I say no, more forcefully this time. And then his tone shifts. Angrily, he tells me he’d like to offer me a bit of advice for future dates. I should watch my tone, I shouldn’t be so quick to say no, it might make dating more difficult for me in the future. Reacting this way to men, he says, isn’t great. They will not like it.
I don’t know whether to smack him across the face or to cry, so I do neither. Instead, I tell him, as bravely as I can muster, that I don’t need his advice on dating, and I didn’t ask for his opinion on the topic.
And now, he gets truly angry. He begins to put on his clothes—first his socks, then his underwear, then his pants and his shirt. I’m reacting, he tells me, like a child.
No one over 14 would act like this, he says. I am entitled to my opinion, he says. It is the beauty of free speech, he says, for him to say what he wants, without being asked.
He says all of this in a thick Italian accent, the accent that just two hours ago, I thought was sexy. Now, I go silent. I just want him to leave. I want to slam the door in his face and then fling myself on my bed and sob, because OF COURSE THIS IS HOW THE MOVIE ENDS. Of course I’m not a human being he respects, but rather, a vehicle for whatever weird fantasy has struck his fancy that day.
Oddly, instead of storming out, he helps me finish putting the dishes into the dishwasher. We don’t talk, but move carefully around one another, chess pawns that don’t dare touch. I hate that I’m in a flimsy black slip, and want desperately to be fully clothed.
More than anything, though, I hate that he asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And a tiny part of me, really and truly, hates that I didn’t want to do it. Perhaps someone more fun than myself would have given in. No, not given in, but enjoyed it. I wonder, briefly, if it means there’s something wrong with me. If it’s true that I’m no fun. Am I doomed to be no fun forever?
European to a fault, he kisses me on both cheeks before he goes.
Thank you for dinner, he says.
You made the dinner, I reply. So thank YOU.
And with that, he’s out the door, and before I can even process what’s happened I’ve locked it, tight. I stand in place for a minute, arms crossed at my chest, feeling sad and stupid and angry all at once. I wish, not for the first time, that I could skip over all the bullshit of dating and just be happily partnered up with someone who will treat me with the respect I deserve.
I want to cry, but the tears don’t come. So I load the dishwasher, and close the windows. I blow out the candles, and I tell Alexa to turn off. I brush my teeth and wash my face, patting at the beard burn on my chin. I stare at myself in the mirror, and I try to tell the girl looking back at me that she’s worth more than some weird pornographic fantasy dreamt up by a random Italian she met on a “dating” app.
My bedroom smells like bodies, like sex. I want to throw my sheets out the window. I want to burn them. I do neither of these things. It is, after all, 1am. So I spray them aggressively with linen spray, as though I can evaporate the scent of the Italian with some overpriced essential oils and distilled water. I take a deep breath, and climb into bed. Shutting off the lights, I tell myself that this too shall pass, and I shut my eyes tight. I sleep like the dead, waking only when my alarm goes off at 7:30.
And then I get up, and I go about my day. Because there’s nothing else to do, is there? We wake, we live, we sleep, and we repeat. All day today, I’ve watched my phone for a text from M. An apology, maybe, for asking me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. A simple “I’m sorry for reacting the way I did.”
It’s 4pm, and it hasn’t come. I don’t think it ever will.