Dating Tips for Men* from a Sex Positive, Queer Woman.

Nice to see you here. Please make yourself comfortable. This is going to be a bit rambling, but also sharp; probably a little pointy and niggling in the parts of you that feel self-important or sure. It is probably going to be helpful, but also a bit cringe-worthy during the moments we both know are complete truth-bombs. I hope there is something in here for everyone, even though I am addressing it mostly to men*. I used the word “dating” in the title of this piece and throughout because that is what is universally understood as engaging with another person with a romantic and/or sexual slant or aspiration injected into the interaction. I typically don’t really like the word because I find it to be loaded full of expectations of some sort of escalation of seriousness after a certain amount of time. I am a huge advocate for casual love, and feel that not all romance or sexual relationship need exhibit continuity to be fulfilling, or meaningful, or downright soul-quaking. But, since I have now explained that, I will use the word “dating” to describe that engagement or interaction of a romantic and/or sexual nature.

I have an actual laundry list of things that have happened in my life that I have learned from when it comes to dating. I am going to offer up some of these understandings, as a gift, so the world can be full of happier, healthier, sexually and emotionally sated people. I have a lot of theories about emotional and sexual depravity and the impact it has on our capitalistic, very comfortable North American existence. Suffice it to say that I think if a lot more people were sexually and emotionally fulfilled and free, they might not be such assholes to one another.

I will start by telling you a little about myself as your “consultant”.

I am in my mid-thirties. I identify as queer, bisexual/pansexual, cis female/femme, sex positive and non-monogamous. I am coming at this as a person who is literally down to hang out with, and maybe consensually try to sex at, any human anywhere on the gender spectrum, just because it might be fun, provided they meet some (of what I consider to be) light requirements. I am in several relationships of varying length and seriousness, all over the romantic/sexual/neither spectrum. My friendships and my romantic partnerships have equal significance potential for me. I think and talk about this a lot, to the chagrin (I suspect) of some people; I identify as something of a love nerd. I think about my politics and how I inject them into my interpersonal relationships. I am not a dating/relationship expert; this is an opinion piece. Expert status is for people who have done their homework; I have done some homework, but not all of it.

Homework is lifelong.

I’m white; I have a lot of privilege because of this despite being female and queer. I try to think about that and be inclusive, and am actively attempting to learn how to be better every single day.

Now, a little bit of information about you (or what I assume about anyone reading this).

You are most likely here and reading because you saw the title of the essay and thought to yourself, “you know, I would totally like to date a sex positive queer woman. That seems like a pretty good idea”. Or maybe you were like, “actually, I think a sex positive queer woman would have a thing or two to tell me about what dating people is about, and how to do it without being a jerk”. Further, you might also be reading this out of spite: “what the fuck could a sex positive queer woman possibly have to say that speaks to my already extensive knowledge of people and how to date them. I am, after all, a totally hot commodity so like, I bet I could teach her a thing or two”.

If the latter is you, I’m so sorry to hear of your complete lack of self awareness, or alternatively your closed mind. There are a metric ton of great therapists in this city and probably also in yours.

Go see one.

Seriously, go to a therapist. Get your shit together.

To the rest of you: If you’d be so kind as to actually listen to me. I’m speaking from a place of ample experience attempting to date people just like you, or just not like you and like someone completely different, and everything in between. I have come to some conclusions about what might help you be more “successful”. That being said, I am going to define “successful” in this instance as “not having treated someone like shit, or been a shithead to someone”. This can also be defined as leaving people better off than when you found them.

I don’t support anyone being a shithead, or taking away from people for personal gain. To quote a dear friend in a particularly thorough outline of how to love more than one person at a time, “Don’t treat people like things”.

I am going to write this in reference to the phases a typical dating scenario goes, and what I think about it.

To start, we meet.

Oh hey; we’ve now met and you’ve established that you think I’m attractive. Thank you, I appreciate that, but not in the ways that you might think.

This first contact is not the be all, end all to your interaction with me. Stop with the “first impressions mean everything” trope. It’s old, and I am not an idiot. I know you’re a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up in the first 5 minutes. In fact, I suspect that whatever I am first impressed with about you is more about me and my interpretations of people than about you. So, let this go and do not worry. I hope you’ll be able to do the same. Any assumptions you’ve made about me based on what you have seen in the first five minutes are probably more about you than they are about me.

Once mutual attraction has been realized, usually through clearly confirming with your words (use your words; they’re magical tools when used clearly), we can talk about what sort of interaction is mutually desired, or what we want to do together.

This is actually where things can crossroad to positive or negative. This is the turning point.

Right here.

Telling me that you think I’m hot/cute/pretty/whatever way you want to compliment my physicality isn’t going to help you out of the gate. In fact, any kind of basic flattery is going to provoke me to think that that is what you think is important about me, which is not what I think at all. I am also a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up based on my physical presentation. Further, I have medium self-esteem issues, which I think is pretty common but not talked about enough as a systemic problem with the ways that femme-presenting women are viewed. Your compliments are going to fall a bit flat and I will, in some weird way, think you’re lying in the back of my mind.

This will put me on guard.

It gives me the impression that you want something from me, and don’t know how to ask for it, so you’re going to try to get me to like you by flattering me. Stop trying to manipulate the outcome of our interactions and just interact with me. Be yourself.

Oh my goodness, just please be yourself.

It’s 2017. Women are woke, and we see you. We see your attempts to cloud our perception. We see right through any sort of mask you are wearing. We hear our inner voices, and they’re telling us you’re putting it on. If I think you’re being at all disingenuous, we’re not going to get anywhere. Guardedness does not foster trust the way that vulnerability and authenticity does. We have learned through years of our own experiences, and those of our mothers, those of our grandmothers. Their experiences are imbedded in our genes, much like our own will be imbedded in those of our daughters. The voice in our gut telling us something isn’t safe is bang on every time.

Every. Fucking. Time.

We’re not talking ourselves out of our intuition anymore. That time has past.

I feel, sometimes, the impulse to apologize for that passing, but I will not. I am grateful for it. I’m glad that I get to be a part of a revolution in which women are using the tools we’ve been socialized to have for our own greater good, our own personal wellbeing. The benefit to us is hugely redeeming in light of what has been historically true: we needed these skills to mitigate the harm done to us. We needed to do this in covert, in shadows, subtly. We used to be emotional ninjas; now we are loud. We respond quickly to our own alarm systems.

We are battle-crying warriors.

I will not be sorry for my strength and learning how to wield it.

Now, since this is likely to happen, I’ll outline what is to be expected if I decide that this thing we’re doing together isn’t working for me.

The inevitability factor isn’t because I don’t think you’re a perfectly lovely person, or something, but more because the end of a relationship is certain unless we stay connected until one or both of us dies, and that just simply isn’t that likely. The other thing that is relatively unlikely is your coming to the conclusion that you’re not interested in seeing me anymore and doing something about it directly before I do.

I mean, if I had data to support this as more likely, I’d reflect that here.

But I don’t. You’ll probably ghost if anything, and I don’t judge you for that. It’s fine.

Because I might even ghost too, if I’m too tired to do anything else.

If you think the reason i am not continuing to be interested in seeing you is because of the thing I told you about, you’re right. I probably said something a while ago, maybe even twice, and didn’t get a response or attention paid to the thing that gave me reassurance that you care about my wellbeing within your treatment of me. So the thing that changed my mind and caused me to withdraw could have been tiny, but only because that was the straw. The rest of the things were subtle, ongoing, and didn’t seem worth mentioning until there were too many and i was done. Sometimes straws are a lack of gratitude, or not asking me a thing that shows interest in my lived experience, or some offhand comment like “i wish those women had come forward sooner” that shows me something about you, and your lack of thought process about people’s experiences besides your own lived one, and especially your perspective on those with less privilege than yours.

That is a sticking point for me.

The privilege one.

Because herein lies the final thing for this particular document.

You probably don’t see me.

You probably see someone who is nice (they say), conventionally attractive (I’m told), and have no actual idea who I am because you haven’t asked.

Ask. Be willing to learn about me. Look at me, witness, integrate what you see and understand, ask more questions, be willing to rewrite your narratives.

See me. I am dynamic. I change.

Keep up.

This, alongside some basic self-maintenance: having seen the inside of a counsellor’s office because you care about your mental health.

I need you to be thinking about what you say, why you’re about to say it, before you say it. Self-awareness is hot.

Being curious and open to learn, is all I actually need. I will probably never want to stop knowing you, or talking to you, if you can meet me with these few requirements.

The sexiest thing is a sense of responsibility for yourself in an encounter with me.

That is total panty-remover, as it were, if a sexual situation is mutually sought. Love potion, if the romantic is our reciprocal cup of tea.

Flowers are boring and probably unethically sourced, anyway.

*When I use the term “men” in this context, I am referring to people socialized as men, and are still wading through the weight and complications of what that means.

Love-Bombed.

The restaurant was so dark I could barely see him, backlit by some dim lanterns that kept the place moody, warmly toned, but technically visible. There were dark corners where booths held people, in pairs, speaking to each other intimately over the soft piano music. Cutlery clinked against glass or porcelain, subtle. I appreciated that the music wasn’t too loud, since this was the sort of place where people talk about intimate things over their meals; it surprises me to no end how many eating or drinking establishments miss that point. I was taking in everything: the small sounds, the slight taste of wine in my mouth from my last sip. The tablecloth was silky smooth under my fingers as i traced the edge of it for something to hold on to and tried to look him directly in the eye as he spoke, holding his gaze. I wanted to look anywhere else. The walls had beautiful art on them I wanted to study. It was a strange geometrical modernist sort of imagery within which you can see virtually whatever you want. The texture of the carpets was suddenly something I wanted to inspect and find the pattern in. I imagined looking at the ceiling. I wondered if it was interesting, speckled or peaked, if it had an inset to it. My lap, shrouded in black as usual and containing my other hand, the one not tugging on the edge of the tablecloth, but I did not look down. I am sure my nails are fine and do not need my attention, but I want to check. Ignoring these impulses became my secondary focus while my primary was to listen to him. It was considered attentive to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking from the heart, wasn’t it? He seemed to mean what he was saying. I wanted to believe his intentions were good. I think he did. I took note of my own skittish brain. Why can’t you just listen, why are you so easily distracted? What are you doing, mind?

I had been going into any romantic or sexual connection for the last few months with a pretty clear caveat that I was not well-equipped to be relied upon for emotional care or labour until further notice. I was recovering from some relationship implosion trauma and the well I had of emotional energy with which to deal with the feelings of others was very slowly refilling. There was about an inch in the bottom. That is nothing when the image in my head of this well sizes it comparable to a wheat silo.

He was explaining to me, on our second date, that he was in love with me.

He said that he felt empowered by the fact that I was so open and accepting, that he felt safe expressing the feelings he had because he knew I wouldn’t judge him. He also said that he didn’t expect me to respond in kind, that he was just happy to be in my life in a meaningful way.

He said this to me the second time we spent time together in person.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I inhaled, and knew, logically, that oxygen should get to my brain, but felt a bit like it would not survive the journey for some reason. Something was constricting in my chest. The air passing through my lungs just wasn’t enough.

I ignored that feeling.

I smiled and thanked him for his sentiment and his kind words. I might have reached out and taken his hand as some gesture of affection, or something to indicate that it was okay. My brain flooded with emotions. I was flattered, but I immediately felt guilty for not telling him I loved him back. I felt some shame. It was happening again. I did not know that the guilt would eat at me until I said it to him a short time later, maybe a couple of weeks. I don’t think I meant it in the way he thought I did, I also do not think I was influenced by him alone. That influence did not just come from the fact that he had said it first, or anything.

It came from everywhere.

Everything I understood about wanting to make people happy by giving them what they want, about the supposed fragility of the male ego not being able to cope with rejection and therefore to reject even a little was an act that could lead to my abuse, or about there being value in loving with an open heart and that the meaning of the word didn’t have to be what is traditionally assigned to it. About gratitude, bravery, honesty, and that love conquers all, or that it is enough. About this being a warning sign.

About ignoring warning signs.

The list went on.

There is a flavour to the “I love you” that follows the one that was too soon to be real. It doesn’t quite taste the same in your mouth as you form the words with lips round over the o’s and teeth coming together with lips over the vee. there’s a sense of the words being pulled from your lips without you quite being okay with it. The feelings accompanying it are trepidation, uncertainty, nerves. As opposed to having freely given them, or that the momentum of them leaving your throat was coming from something deeper inside of you. Something probably like your own agency. Empowerment. Safety.

Sometimes people do things, say things, to garner some sort of response. We don’t even know we’re doing it. I have done this. I have acted particularly in order to get through to an understanding by the other person, based on what I thought they would understand. I am not happy or proud that I have acted in this way. In fact, I’m committed now to speaking as clearly and as from the heart as I can so that people can have the sort of reactions they want to have, and making space for them to do that. But prior to my better understanding of myself and how I communicate, I would do and say things based on a set of information I had that suggested “people” (generally) act a way in response to the act. If i was being critical, I would call my own behaviour manipulative. If I am being kind, I call it influential.

The words are practically synonymous, but I bet a different feeling manifested when you read them each. I had a different feeling typing them. I searched through thesaurus to find words that more accurately portrayed what I meant. I glided over calculation, persuasion, conviction… none of them seemed to quite be so close and yet quite so juxtaposed.

A set of dominos begin to fall with love-bombing. The person who is professing their love might feel a set of emotions based on the fact that they have just revealed themselves in a vulnerable way. Maybe they feel a sense of relief, something akin to an exhale after holding one’s breath for a little while because they are going through a tunnel: a superstitious thing people do. Maybe there is an increasing sort of tension as they wait for the other person to respond to their disclosure. It may have taken every ounce of courage within them to admit it. Perhaps this was the first time they had ever thrown caution to the wind and just, you know, spoke their truth.

Maybe this was their equivalent of standing on the edge of the giant precipice of the unknown, uncharted waters, terrified.

Maybe this is just how they fall in love. Quick, hard, abrupt.

Maybe this is what they do to get the other person to act similarly. Maybe this has “worked” for them a million times.

Maybe they have actually never felt like this before.

Maybe they want me to react.

The person on the receiving end has to wrangle through their own feelings about “love” as a concept: what it means, what the word represents for them, but also how this has happened. Maybe they start to replay through the short exchange of interactions with the other person to scan them for some sense of how this came to pass, and are juggling that along with trying to figure out how they feel, if they feel similarly, whether that’s reasonable, whether it is safe to say out loud in response, but mostly how to react.

Maybe they’ve never had anyone say that to them before.

Maybe they don’t know how they feel about the person, but they don’t want to outright reject them.

Maybe they are used to people falling in love with them as it happens every day, so this is normal.

Maybe they’re terrified of their own feelings, have now been asked to deal with those of someone else, and it’s too much.

My cued reaction, now, is to respond with “what do you mean?”

An Open Letter to My Next New Sex Partner.

Dearest Future Lover,

I do not know if we have met yet. You could be a total stranger. Maybe I walked by you in the street a couple of times before eventually smiling and stopping to chat briefly. Maybe I met you on the internet, using some sort of dating website, and have read your whole profile and combed through all the questions you answered to glean some sense of you who you are. Maybe you paid for my coffee because you were in line before me and wanted to do something little to get my attention. Maybe you were listening to something I recognized because your headphones were cranked up so loud I could hear it while sitting next to you on public transit, so I asked you what else you like to listen to. Maybe we both got stuck at an intersection with our bikes as traffic got redirected, and started talking. Maybe you are completely unknown to me currently.

You could be a friend. We perhaps have known each other for some time and there’s always been a bit of flirting or sexual tension between us, but we think our friendship is more important than attempting to be sexual, so we waited a while, joking around sometimes about how funny it would be if we hooked up, all the while each of us wondering what the other look like naked. Or maybe it is more deliberate than that, and when we became friends it was because we made out once and it was okay but we decided not to pursue it for some reason, until we did. You could be someone I have already been spending some time with in that sort of way that suggests that one day, we might kiss or something. You could be a person who is in my social network, and that I know will simply enjoys casual sex, as I do, so after a while of circling each other a bit socially, we decide to give it a shot. You could be a close friend to me, historically platonic, but then something shifts.

You could be working right now, in which case you should probably read this later, because it may distract you. You could be at the park with your dog. You could be playing video games, curled up on your couch in pyjamas. You could be at the airport eating a sandwich while waiting on your flight that has been delayed. You could be just getting to the good part in a book that has been dragging for a little while, but you must finish it because books are supposed to be read completely. You could be sitting at a coffee shop listening to a podcast over an espresso. You could be driving.

Please don’t read this while driving.

Your gender is not certain. Your physical appearance is a mystery. Your intent is not yet known. That being said, I would like to tell you a few things, and ask for some as well. I hope you are okay with hearing this, and that it is welcome information. The ease with which you read this may be indicative of whether we are well suited for each other. Or maybe it will be extremely hard to read, but that doesn’t bother you because you like challenges and doing the hard things, like I do. If it doesn’t make me a bit uncomfortable, or teach me a little lesson about myself or the world or you, or spark some reflection or some introspection, it won’t have my attention for long, if history is to tell us anything.

If you are reading this, we have decided to do some sort of sex thing with each other.

Sex is so subjective. I see it as any act that the individual considers sexual. Yes, I know: it’s a really broad definition. That is intentional. Sex can be a solo act, or an act with another person, or multiple other people, if it’s been consented to.

Consent is a big deal.

Trying to sex at another person without their consent is, categorically, rape.

Every single time.

Which brings me to my first request of you, new lover. I know this is probably implied, but I can’t help but put it to words anyway, for clarity and so later, if there is a misunderstanding, we can start with this as a basic Hard Rule.

Do not rape me.

If we can manage to get through this and the rest of our sexual interactions without a rape occurrence, I’m sure we will be able to sort out any other misunderstandings or miscommunications. I know it seems a bit excessively overt to put in such stark terms. Forgive me for starting at the very bottom and placing solid, blatant foundations of this metaphorical house I would like to build with you. This piece of the structure has been overlooked too many times for me to skip it, assuming we both know. If we are not so explicit, the chances of violations occurring grow.

It is not personal.

Which brings me to my next request.

Please, if you can try not to take this personally. Sexual interaction is very personal; that is not being overlooked here. By personally, I mean that if I’m being a way, remember that it’s not about you necessarily.

The curve is getting steeper, I know.

I have been having sex with people for years. There have been a lot of good moments and a lot of bad ones. Many moments of fear, and some joyful ones as well. I have felt embarrassed, appreciated, bored, inspired, depressed, ecstatic, disappointed, satisfied, anxious, relieved, grief, elation, underwhelmed, overwhelmed, empty, full, restrained, autonomous, and every other high or low. I have laughed until my abs hurt and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. I have cried a lot. I have laid there, dissociated, wishing it was over, and also wanted it to go on forever. All these things occurred before I met you, and before I started to think about sex with you. I assure you, the things that have happened to me and how I am now because of those experiences combined with who I am as a person and my character are why I am behaving the way that I do. The ways I respond to you and your desires or the thing you’re into have nothing to do with you as a person, or your character. I showed up with like, thirty-four years of baggage to this sexual exploration party, and I am asking you to rummage through the suitcases with me. I’ll show you mine; I hope you will show me yours?

Which brings me to my subsequent ask.

This is a big one.

It is big for me personally, and it is huge for most people who are socialized as women. We are sometimes, a lot of times, fed lines about how whatever we need emotionally and communicatively is too much, unreasonable, overbearing, or high maintenance practically as soon as we can understand language. We hesitate to “burden” people with our processes because oftentimes, we are met with an eye roll, a glazed look or a dismissive gesture. I have experienced this so many times, named it, and now recognize it starting so sharply that I recoil. If I am going to engage the person once I’ve seen it, there takes a very special combination of rest, a good mood, maybe a full stomach, hydration, and perhaps also the right time of the month for me to feel compelled to confront in the moment of occurrence. That is to say, the stars have to align and I have to be up for the task, because if every there was a thing I am activated by, it is this.

I usually don’t.

I retreat. I withdraw into myself and quietly ghost away from the person’s rejection, sometimes so smoothly that no one notices my exit. I retreat from conversations, from parties, from emotional space, from the lives of some, even, if it is extreme.

So, this big ask really has to do with my emotional wellbeing alongside my sanity; my continued presence is hinging upon your accordance.

Do not gaslight me.

We are probably going to miscommunicate. That is totally okay, and I encourage you to ask me questions about what I meant. That way, we can talk about it and figure out what we both want, and how those wants overlap and can be met. Ask me about what I’m thinking and feeling, please. I will try my best to also ask lots of questions to make sure that the things I perceive line up as close as possible with the things you intend. That being said, sometimes we’re going to read a thing completely differently. We may even not be able to agree on what happened.

That’s okay.

No, really.

I’m begging you, please, allow me to have my experience that is different from yours. Both of our experiences can coexist. No one has to be wrong. We can accept that one person saw the thing a way, and the other one saw the thing another way, and we can talk our way past that, and learn more about each other in the process.

It will build rapport and trust.

It will be amazing.

We will both open to each other and be able to see each other’s imperfect perfectness; the cracks in the pavement we have been padding along, barefoot, and stepping carefully around. The curled edges of our story book pages that are fingerprinted and torn a little from thumbing too quickly to get to the next chapter. The pieces of ourselves that we have haphazardly glued back together after smashing; a beautiful, uniquely shaped and coloured glass that slipped out of our hands as we were making an attempt at washing it; so slippery, but really we just didn’t have a good grip on it.

I have smashed so much of myself to pieces and glued me back together.

I want to be gentle with the parts of me that are still drying after some ongoing repairs. I hope to be kind if you have some pieces that are still waiting to set, too.

I hope we can reciprocate that.

Thank you for your consideration.

Fail? On Changing Relationships.

Relationships changing, or ending, is often perceived as a failure. Typically, an intrinsically higher value is placed on the romantic or sexual relationships we have with other people, and when those things change to be not sexual or romantic, it is usually considered a downgrade in significance. That “demotion” is often perceived as bad, or as something broken. I am skeptical of this because whenever I have felt inclined to extract myself from a connection, or change it, things have gotten better. Sometimes this happens immediately, and sometimes it takes a little while for the improvement to set in, but there is always something that makes the whole process a net-positive. So, what failed?

When the end of the agreed-upon terms of a relationship comes, I am quick to apply a light switch metaphor: we are on, right up until we are off. Or, we are off until we’re on. The more I have experienced this switch, the weaker that comparison is for me. It feels more like hitting empty on a gas tank: an emotional vat that fuels the ability to keep going in the reality around you as it is. My brain has traditionally recorded the moments things change, I suppose, I can call to mind these transitional points very clearly. They are seared in my mind’s eye, easily accessed. The impact of them is probably something to do with their clarity in my remembrance. Strong feelings, good or bad, seem to be what we hold on to. Moments of change also seem to stick. So, when a relationship is at a point of major shift, there are ripples in the mind and the memory.

It starts in my fingertips, kind of tingling. It works its way up my arms and forms a tightness around my chest, in my lungs, around my heart. In an attempt to relieve the constriction, I will probably take a deep intake of breath. As I exhale, there’s a sort of release that occurs. It feels like the blood coursing through me is cold, suddenly, and draining away. It is as if I have suddenly realized that the well from which I draw resilience is empty save for a drop of energy reserved for whatever exit strategy is deployed. If I close my eyes for a moment, the blackness is comfortable and familiar because there’s nothing inside me anyway. I can see the edges of my shell, bare, exposed and a bit scarred from the strain of trying to keep the connection from breaking. I feel hollow and devoid of care. This is usually past the point at which it would have been a comfortable thing to leave, because if I had done this sooner I would have the energy to deal with the fallout of the separation. I am usually kicking myself later as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other, or complete simple tasks such as making myself something to eat, or being punctual.

I’m always early except when I am surviving on fumes, if anything. The level of strain is indicative in how late I am.

I could have ended it when there was something left in me, and this would all be easier. Since I kept on until I was completely done, there’s nothing to help me cope with self-preservation after. I’ve probably lost weight, and I’ve probably been sleeping a lot more, or a lot less, for a while. My skin probably has less colour than usual, which is laughable. I am pretty pale already.

I know this feeling well enough that I can recognize the onset, now. I used to be surprised by it as words escape my lips and I hear my own voice echo out of me, foreign. I would hear myself speak and think, did I just say that?

Oh.

The words are in language that represents termination, and usually served very deadpan, or cold. When I reach this point, I haven’t got any time for warming them up anymore.

“I can’t keep doing this.”

“I need you to get your things out of my house.”

“I haven’t been happy in ages. I have to go.”

“Wow. You should probably go.”

“Um, I’m leaving.”

“Get off me.”

“I’m not happy and this relationship needs to end.”

“Get out.”

“I don’t want to be with you anymore in this capacity.”

“I am not going to marry you.”

“I need you to stop.”

“I need to stop.”

“This isn’t working.”

“Really? Okay. I don’t want to keep doing this.”

“We’re done.”

Sometimes I say nothing. I just turn on my heel and walk away, or I hang up the phone. In particularly avoidant moments, I’m walking down the street on a (preferably) overcast day with a coffee in my hand, and I just stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk, and think. Hm. I then will pull out my phone and delete some contact information from it, check social media, and continue on my way.

Sometimes I just cry. There aren’t any words, just sobbing and tears streaming and mascara running lines downward over my face to the corners of my mouth, until I try to wipe away the stains and leave streaks across my cheeks. I’ll find them later when I next meet a mirror. The sudden crying is typically alarming if I’m in the presence of the other party, which is indicative that they have not noticed as the relationship they have with me has become untenable for me to continue as it is. They don’t see me. I’m invisible. Salty tears and smeared makeup under my red eyes, and suddenly I appear to them and we sometimes don’t know how we got here, and where all this salt water is coming from.

I thought we were happy together. Did they think we were happy together? Do we remember?

I thought this eyeliner was waterproof. It says it is on the packaging.

Sometimes that feeling isn’t represented outward by anything at all. Things are just different between me and the other person now. That is strange, when there’s nothing to say or do but just keep on in this alternate way, unexplained differences in speech, contact, familiarity. A slow, silent withdrawal that is barely noticeable until i’m just not around anymore and the other person is wondering when that began. I have been on the other end of that, too. The text message sits unanswered, and they’re just not there anymore.

Maybe they don’t even notice we’re gone; I for them, or them for me.

There is sometimes something left. Pieces of why we were connected don’t get sloughed off with the tears and I have to figure out what can be salvaged. I usually want to remember why I love someone and hold onto that, somehow nurse it back to something positive and functional, even if the connection doesn’t look the same. Usually. I don’t believe that people are inherently good or bad, it is just that sometimes the things they want and do and the things I want or am doing myself no longer align. That’s okay. I want them to be happy.

But, sometimes the withdrawal and need to remove the self is so absolute that everything goes.

He was yelling through the phone at me.

I pace my living room, the carpet soft under my bare feet. I hadn’t put on the stockings he liked yet, and I was supposed to be leaving to catch the train in about 5 minutes if I was going to be punctual. I can feel the garter clips brush against my legs as I move, hanging unattached. My hair is up off my neck temporarily in pins so when I take it down, the curls will be softer. He prefers it down. My makeup is half done: I had been lining my eyes with charcoal in the mirror of my bathroom when my phone lit up. I had seen it out of the corner of my eye on the kitchen counter, only because the rest of the lights in the house were out. I keep my phone on silent, most of the time, and he hates that. He doesn’t understand why I don’t want to be able to answer whenever he calls.

I am late.

I was nervous about this as I answered the phone because he will know I have not left for the train yet. He always wants me to be where we meet first, because I should wait for him for a little while, to show I am committed, and because he should never have to wait for me. Unacceptable. It was really warm out, even in the evening, which he liked because there wasn’t any reason for me to cover up. He would probably prefer I walk around naked, actually, with nothing between me and the world, or him. Exposed and vulnerable.

He had called to give me shit about the date I had been on the night before. He wants to know why I hadn’t answered when he had called before, because didn’t I want to make sure he was doing alright, and why wasn’t I checking in during the date more? Did I have fun with this new guy (what was his fucking name again? right. fuck, what a dumb name)? Was I going to see him again? He didn’t say that was okay. He should make me ask permission to go on dates, and then maybe I would behave better. I was lucky he even let me go. Why did I even want to go on dates with other men when all I needed was available to me from him? Wasn’t I happy with him, wasn’t I grateful? He thought I was going to get over this whole non-monogamy idea once I had a taste of submitting to him, he said. I listened to him go on for a few minutes, and then listened to him talk himself into the reasons why what he wants from me, and for me, was more important than what I want for myself, and how he knew better what I needed.

He thought he knew best what it was that I needed.

That was the moment.

I heard the alarms in my brain. I heard them, finally. They had been going off for months, and I finally heard the frequency that had before been untraceable. It was like tuning a radio. I had been mentally turning dials and then the sirens were sounding and they were just at a wavelength I could not hear before, until suddenly there they were. I wondered how long I had been ignoring them. I stopped pacing and went out onto my balcony, shutting the door. There was a pack of cigarettes out there, and I took one out of its cardboard enclosure, lighting it with a book of matches that was sitting with it. I had left them out here earlier, and would have forgotten them when I left the house. I wasn’t going out, now, so that was fine. I could sit out here and smoke all night, now, if I wanted. I took a drag and allowed the smoke to fall out of my mouth as I spoke, my eyes trailing the horizon and the outline of trees. I heard trains in the distance.

“I’m not coming.”

“What?!”

“I said I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you tonight.”

“Yes you are. We’re meeting in an hour. Why haven’t you left yet?”

“I said, I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“Wait, what? Hold on, honey, this has gotten out of hand.”

“That is correct. It has. I have to go.”

“But, wait a minute, I didn’t say..”

After I hung up the phone, he called me twenty-six times and left six voicemails. He also texted incessantly almost all night. He begged and pleaded with me to respond, giving reasons related to the dynamic we were in as well as how I owed him that response. He deserved my engagement and attention. It was ridiculously unfair that I was not calling him. What the fuck did I think this was, anyway? I am lucky he cares so much because this is not how these things work.

I responded to nothing.

We talked a few days later after he texted asking if I had gotten my period, and I informed him I was terminating the pregnancy. I found out the day after I hung up the phone on him.

I saw him one other time after that. I ran into him at a bar and he told me he had orchestrated our entire relationship with the intent to push me into telling him no. I felt like a toy that had been batted around by a very malicious animal.

It took me several years to figure out that a lot of what he had told me simply wasn’t true.

I had a friend over for dinner a little while ago, well after this all had occurred. They said they had run into him and asked about me, and he had said I was doing very well and taking good care of myself. They told me this, and I stared at them blankly for a minute before smiling and replying, “yeah, that’s true, but he doesn’t know that. We haven’t spoken in years.” My friend was quite puzzled.

I was not.

The further away from him I am, the better I am doing, and I think that is what constitutes progress and growth.

Success, even.

Somebody That I’ll Never Know.

The venue, with house lights barely that could be considered dim, was buzzing with energy as the performance got underway. The floor was lined with row upon row of assigned seating, with space near the stage for standing room. We were all standing anyway, despite having seats assigned to us. The seating was for jackets or purses. This sort of event comes with the expectation that once the act comes out, everyone is standing and remains on foot through the concert. I love these shows; the ones where nothing can keep you from swaying or moving your hips a little, because who sits idly through Gotye?

The first time I heard “Somebody That I Used to Know” I loved it. I romanticized it, listening to it on repeat. I’ve since listened a lot harder to the lyrics and taken a different perspective. This song is about entitlement, and not respecting a person making their own choices about their participation in the life of another person. This is precisely what I was grappling with as I stood in that concert hall, listening to a live rendition of that song. I had left my autonomy in the hands of someone else, and as a result I had a small collection of cells growing inside my uterus, and within a few days they would be removed.

The subject of abortion is a controversial one. Is it killing a human being, or is it simply removing some cells that are the precursor to that person’s existence? Is it murder, or is it allowing a woman to choose whether her body becomes an incubator for 9 months? That last question isn’t even taking into consideration the impact that having a child has on her life, let alone her body. If she chooses to raise it herself, that is a life-changing trajectory that will mutate everything that happens to her onward. If she gives it up for adoption, she is still subject to the person she gave to other parents showing up in her life at one point or another, wanting to know who she is and why she made the decision she did. That could happen at any time, forever. The option that erases it having ever having happened is terminating the pregnancy, if the woman happens to live in a country where it is legal to have one. If they have access to medical care and resources to pay for such a procedure, should it not be covered. If they are able to access said medical care in clean and safe conditions and the procedure can be done without lasting harm to her. If it can occur without any blowback from family, social network, or society. If.

I am very lucky.

I live in Canada, where medical care is partially, if not fully, covered. I was able to sit in a clean, safe doctor’s office and wait for a nurse to come back from testing my urine sample and say to me “your test has come back positive”, neutrally, waiting for my reaction. I was able, as a result of my own upbringing, politics, and privilege, to stare her right in the eye, deadpan, and respond, “I am going to need the phone number of an abortion clinic, please” because those are available here. I think she then asked if I had not planned this, and I said that no, I had not. In fact, two contraception methods had failed in the process of this conception. Two. Contraception methods of which I had easy access to. Also, my self reliance had failed, but that was tertiary. When you are in an abusive power dynamic with another person, and he says, “we don’t have to use protection until you get your period, because you took the morning after pill”, you just say, “oh, okay” instead of checking into it yourself.

I check into it after.

My brain does a backflip. My heart sinks when I realize how far gone I was to just believe him when he said it was fine. You should have protected yourself from him, from all of it, I scold myself after; I still do. I didn’t protect myself. I did that thing I do where you let someone take the reins from me so I can just relax for a minute and someone else can drive.

I always do that with the wrong people.

My singular moment of reservation and self-doubt about my decision to terminate my pregnancy happened at that concert.

I was standing with my girlfriend and her other partner, listening to a wonderful performance by a set of talented musicians, and I caught some light from behind me out of the corner of my eye. I turned in time to see two smaller children run down the aisle, and a man following them, asking them in a loud whisper to please slow to a walk. Neither of them looked older than six or seven, and they were both adorable. They rushed up to the front of the hall, excited for the music and the show, practically tripping over their own tiny, padding feet in an attempt to get closer, faster. I thought to myself, isn’t it great that father decided to bring his kids to such an amazing show. Not a lot of parents would think Gotye to be a good or appropriate experience for small children, but the talent and the experience might inspire their own creativity around music. I think any sort of exposure to art is great for kids at any age, so i silently, mentally high-fived that dad as he breezed by after the two little ones. All I saw was a flurry of flapping jackets, excited voices, maybe some blonde hair.

Maybe I am imagining the blonde hair since mine is strawberry blonde, and his had been an ashy lighter shade. Our child would probably have blonde hair and blue eyes, based on his and my appearance. I wonder what gender they would be. Would they exist in the world around them or inside of their head, most of the time? I wonder if they would want to paint, or learn piano, or play soccer. Would they be more interested in boys or girls, or boys, girls and anything in between, like me? I wonder what sort of heart they would have. I wonder if they would be happy with the name I gave them, or if, like me, they would alter the spelling when they hit a certain teenage place that promotes arbitrary rejection of things assigned. I wonder if they would be a good friend to their peers, or a good partner. I wonder if they would grow to resent me, as I do my own mother, for something I did that I could never have foreseen affecting them in the way it did, and if they would be able to find a way to forgive me. I am only human, after all.

This thought stream lasted for about fifteen seconds, I figure.

I blinked and the children were lost in the crowd near the stage, the father gone as well. I rubbed the tears standing in my eyes out of them with the heels of my hands, wishing them away and to not give me away. I was not going to cry over some cells that had infiltrated my body, unsolicited. I was going to take another sip of my gin and tonic, enjoy the music, and get through the next few days. I was tougher than this, than tears over an invasion in my body, and I knew I was doing the right thing. To have a child right now was preposterous. To have HIS child, abhorrent.

No.

I was 6 weeks along. My lower back started to hurt a bit the day before the procedure, reminding me with its dull ache that my body was starting to adjust to its inhabitant.

I had found out there was a set of cells clinging on for dear life to the inside of me, trying to grow, four days prior.

That set of cells was going to be removed from me in three days time.

The last four days, and the following three, would be an alcohol and marijuana induced haze. I drank myself into a stupor each night, and spent most of the days stoned if I wasn’t working.

I did this to make sure I went through with it.

I knew that if I intoxicated myself to the point of memory loss, I would not back out because of the damage I was doing to those cells, as well as myself. I would be able to continue to put one foot in front of the other until I found myself at that appointment in three days. I would tell the on-site counsellor that yes, I have thought this through, and yes, I am sound of mind. No, this was not planned. Yes, I am sure.

Yes, I am sure.

A friend drove me to the clinic. I sat across a desk from a counsellor that had to ask me if I had thought through my decision, and how I was feeling about it. I gave her short answers. Yes, I am sure. No, this was not intentional. Yes, I would like to take this pamphlet about support services. No, I don’t need anything. Yes, I’ll happily put on that gown and put my feet in these stirrups while this nurse hooks me up to some pain medication. Yes, I can feel that. No, I don’t want… oh. Okay, I guess i’ll take another hit of the pain meds. The more, the merrier. Yes, I can hear you. No, I can’t feel that.

It was over in an hour or so.

I was high as a kite when I was guided back out of the clinic and to the car. We went to my house and watched “The Last Unicorn” and ate french toast.

I have not for a moment regretted my decision. I didn’t even think about it when the month I would have given birth passed. It wasn’t until more than a year after that I thought to myself, wow, I could have had a baby right now. Every so often I have reflected on how old they would be, briefly.

The reflections last no more than 15 seconds.