Upfront and Personal
A guy who was nude in his profile picture messaged me online. “Hey if you like alternative rock, I suggest you check out 90.7. It seems like it’s right up your alley.”
In his picture, he was standing in the middle of a lake, holding a small plant over his privates. He had a knife in his mouth. The caption underneath said, “My erotic reinterpretation of Rambo. Come and get it ladies.”
His profile made me laugh. “I’m the only honkey living in Flushing… little old Jewish ladies say how nice it is to see people like me in these parts…” He sounded self-deprecating, and I love that in a man. I figured the picture was just indicative of a weird sense of humor.
He offered to buy me nachos and a piña colada at a little Mexican place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I hadn’t been on a date in over a year, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to put myself out there. I wasn’t expecting much.
The restaurant had gaudy red tables and a telenovela blaring in the background. I was intimidated, but not because of the atmosphere. He was very good looking, with classically handsome, dark Semitic looks. I tend to be drawn to unconventionally attractive people. This guy was too good-looking.
“Have you ever met someone off the internet before?” I asked nervously.
“Oh yeah, tons of people,” he said dismissively.
“Ha,” I said, “Same here. Well we won’t go into those stories.”
Too late. “Once I met this girl who I accidentally deflowered, but she practically raped me.”
“Huh,” I said, getting more uncomfortable. “That doesn’t sound physically possible. How does that happen?”
“Well… this was years ago, when I used to do a lot of drugs. We were both high. We were fooling around, and she said, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ I wasn’t hard, but she offered to give me head. Then after we had sex, I noticed there was blood all over. Well I went back and read her profile, and under the part that says ‘The most private thing you’re willing to admit’ she’d written, ‘I’m a virgin… and I’m ready to get it over with.’”
I could not believe this guy was talking about blowjobs and popping cherries five minutes into our date. I did not want to see this idiot ever again. “Well,” I said, nonplussed. “How old was she?”
“Oh.” In my experience, 19 was nothing. “Well that’s not too old.”
He shrugged. “Hey, my ex was a 25-year-old virgin.”
I smirked. “So am I.”
He stared at me for a few seconds, bewildered. I smacked my hand down on the table, and laughed. “Ha!”
“Are you religious?”
“Nope, not at all. I’m agnostic.”
“But you… have the urge? Everything is…” He made a weird motion, “functioning down there? Because some people don’t have the urge at all. They’re—”
“Asexual,” I said. “I know. My ex-boyfriend was one. I guess that’s why I was doomed to be a virgin well into my mid-twenties.” I shook my head, laughing. “I shouldn’t have told you that.”
“No,” he said, “It’s fine. If I had met you a few years ago though, I probably would have thought you were weird.”
We went to the park, where we shared a Margarita in a large Styrofoam cup, and proceeded to talk for the next three hours. That nude picture was representative of his personality: he told me about his checkered past, which included both using and selling hard drugs for a period of time. Once, he’d been investigated by the D.E.A. A drug dealer had waved a knife in his face. He was arrested in Tennessee for cocaine possession. He used to meet random girls off the internet, take drugs, and screw. He laid all of this at my feet, and I just listened and soaked it up, like a child listening to a teacher at story time.
“I was very well-read, very informed druggie. I was like a Dr. Timothy Leary. I would go around spouting the benefits of drug use. I got my mother to try acid, for god’s sake.”
“I stopped. I grew up. I feel like a very aged 27.”
He asked me a lot of questions too, but I felt like my life couldn’t compare. We talked about grade school. I said I was a painfully shy and quiet kid, who’d been picked on. He said he’d been pretty popular, but not a jock. “Everyone knew who I was. I was the crazy kid who would wear spandex and dance on the subway.”
Slowly, he moved closer to me on the bench. He put his arm around me. At some point, we stopped passing the Styrofoam cup back and forth. He would reach over, and take a sip, while I held it in my lap. It felt intimate, and strangely comfortable.
“There’s something I wanted to know,” he said, straightening up. “You said on your profile you’re a romantic. What does that mean? Do you expect me to serenade you from your window? Do you want me to hold up a boom box outside your apartment?”
“No,” I scoffed. “That’s chivalry. I hate that crap. What I mean is, I believe in a soul connection between two people. I want a… soul-mate.”
“But everyone wants that.”
“No, they don’t. I think some people just want to get laid. And some people don’t believe in it at all.”
“OK,” he said. “OK. I can live with that.”
He brought up his ex a lot. They’d broken up 6 months prior, but stopped having sex only a month ago. “Oh, so what is this, a rebound?” I asked, joking. Only I wasn’t. That was a major red flag. But my hormones were raging, which I mistook for chemistry. I was used to brooding, elusive men, who were withholding to a fault. And here was someone who was willing to lay everything out and say, “This is where I’ve been, and this is what I’ve done. Take it or leave it, but I don’t give a crap.” In a weird way, it was kind of refreshing.
Not long before, I’d been chided by my mother that I needed to stop falling for a certain “type” of man. “You just like those bookish, artsy-fartsy guys who are socially awkward,” she said. “I don’t know why you go for them. Because you think you can relate to them or something. But it’s not working out.”
I hated to admit it, but my mother was right. It wasn’t about finding another version of myself; it was about finding someone who complemented me well. So maybe I needed an extrovert to my introvert, an open book to my shut and locked personality. I sensed that deep down, he too was insecure, but he covered his insecurities with a bold arrogance, while I hid mine beneath a cloak of quiet diffidence. In terms of surface interests, we really had nothing in common. But that was unimportant. Or as a character in 500 Days of Summer says, “Just because someone likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn’t mean they’re your soul mate.”
But hadn’t I suffered enough ignominy in adolescence to know that people didn’t understand quiet types? As an introvert, I was prone to observation, rumination, and empathy. People mistook my shyness for naiveté, my silence for a character flaw. To him, I probably appeared “pure” and “wholesome”, even though I would never use those adjectives to describe myself. I worried that he might see me as “innocent” or pigeonhole me into a label I couldn’t get out of… a single adjective that didn’t define me at all.
On our second date, as we drove toward Brooklyn, he’d settled on how to define me.
“See, it really complicates things that you’re a virgin. I just don’t know how attached you are to your virginity.”
I felt my stomach drop. “I didn’t want to be a virgin at this age. I was really shy. It just happened.”
“No but… you said you were a romantic. That concerns me.”
“What, do you think I’m going to be clingy?” I sputtered. I felt like I was in an episode of Girls. I couldn’t understand why my virginity was an issue, when his ex had been one as well.
I retorted that I didn’t think he was over her.
“Well it was a three year relationship!” he snapped. He pulled into a parking space and wearily rubbed his eyes. “I don’t take sex lightly anymore. One time I basically sent a girl to the nuthouse.” He cited an example of another girl who later became a prostitute.
“You were having sex with her while she was a prostitute?” I asked.
“No this was before. But I had sex with her a few times, after she became a prostitute.”
“Oh boy.” I felt a little sick. A lump was rising in my throat. “I shouldn’t have told you I was a virgin. It really is like having an STD.”
“No, no!” He grabbed my hand and held it. “Megan, I would gladly take your virginity.”
He didn’t mean that. He just meant I looked fuckable.
“Don’t worry,” he said, grinning. “I like awkward women.”
“Awkward? I’m awkward?” I asked, feigning innocence. I’d heard that before, but it’d been years. I wanted him to elaborate. I also wanted him to dig his own grave.
“Well like… geeky.” He did a motion with his hand, the kind people do when they say a man has borderline homosexual tendencies. “No, no, you’re not awkward,” he backpedaled. “I can actually carry on a conversation with you. You know, you’re very… straightforward.”
“Yeah, see, a lot of women, they develop this thing where it’s like a game with them. Everything is a game.”
“I have no game,” I said miserably. Suddenly, I wished I could redo my entire adolescence. A Pandora’s box of inferiorities opened that I hadn’t felt since high school.
I wanted him to drive me back home. But I didn’t have the courage to say it. I was afraid I might cry.
“So what do you think of this,” he asked, after we left an ice cream parlor and got back in his car.
I didn’t say anything.
“I said a lot before,” he said. “I said a lot of things.”
“Yes,” I said. “You did.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m really not over my ex. She had values… you know? It’s really hard to find people who have values these days.”
“Yes,” I said bitterly. “It is. It sure is.”
Image Credit: John Melville, Woman with Cherries (1946)
Megan Hein is an MFA graduate of Adelphi University, and a former Diana and Simon Raab Editorial Fellow at Poets & Writers. Her work has appeared in Foliate Oak, and The Morning Call. She currently resides in Philadelphia.