I’ve been brewing this metaphor for years. Or perhaps the word ‘season’ might be more appropriate. Because its usually around this time of year when, in a fit of pre-winter dread and the realization that my summer short/sandal combo is going to make me look a bit simple within a matter of weeks, I panic buy an item of clothing that I am convinced is going to make me look like a French fashion editor for the entirety of winter. Only to discover shortly afterwards that 1. I hate it and 2. It doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t transform me in the way I imagined. The fashion police are not high fiving me on my way to work. It was a sartorial chimera, purchased in a moment of impulse and insecurity in the belief that it might change my life. In much the same way we sometimes believe a flashy new boy or girlfriend can change our life. Which occasionally they can. But mostly the world doesn’t work that way.
To put this into perspective, a few years ago, I was browsing a cheap high street shoe store when I happened upon a pair of white loafers. Lets just be clear that up until this point in my life, ‘white’ and ‘loafer’ were two words I would not have enjoyed putting together in one sentence. I come from the 1980’s. White loafers conjured up the wrong associations for my people and I but something about this particular shoe whispered ‘Take Me’.
Or at the very least…‘Try me on. You might be surprised.’
So I relented and what do you know? I was transformed into someone I had no idea I could be. The effect was astonishing. I looked polished….but casual at the same time. They looked cool with scruffy jeans. They looked marvelous with a dress. The whiteness – and they were WHITE – lifted and complemented virtually any outfit you care to mention. People commented on them wherever I went. Sometimes they spotted the shoes straight away. Other times they would just look and say ‘You look different somehow Kate. Better. Actually you look really well’.
And to think I could have sailed right by those shoes and never even given them a second glance.
And so it is with relationships, I feel, as I flit amongst the rows of autumn allure in the high street stores. I often get asked in the emails I receive from young men and women….’how do I find’ - in the manner of someone searching for a needle in a haystack, because that’s how it can feel – ‘the person who is right for me?’ Here is my answer. You need to look for the human equivalent of the white loafer. Which is to say, expect to be enthralled by the unexpected.
Keep your mind wide open because in my experience, the person who turns out to be ‘right’ is often to be found underneath one’s finely tuned-to-search-for-a specific-type-of-person radar. Which is a tough call in the age of digital romance. In an era when you can literally swipe someone off the screen of your smart phone and move quickly onto the next individual based purely on a 2 second appraisal of their ‘qualities’. It’s a challenge because what I’m suggesting to you is to think beyond the very thing that catches your eye in the first place and focus on what might give you a more long lasting sense of pleasure. Some of you might be thinking, well, DUH? How else is one going to sustain romance than by looking beyond the obvious? If so, congratulations. If you’re under 30 and you’ve got that sussed then you are ahead of the game because honestly? This was not a concept that was clear to me way back when. I get it NOW. Now I’m older (and only marginally wiser) but mostly I would have thought you were talking a different language if you’d suggested such a radical idea at the age that a lot of my correspondents are.
Now I can speak from experience because a few years back, I got it on with a man I might not have picked out of a line up (of potentials. Not criminals obvs although I’ve had my moments with the latter). Don’t get me wrong, I was physically attracted to Non Line-Up Man but on first blush, he didn’t fulfill my limited idea of whom I thought I should be with. I liked charming, scruffy, rock n roll boys who over imbibed. Non Line Up Man had charisma in bags but he didn’t drink. I spotted a pair of dad sandals in his hallway. He didn’t care about going ‘out’ on a Saturday night (a.k.a. coming home on Monday morning). But he did have, I discovered upon close inspection, bigger and much more interesting fish to fry. A life, in short and a purpose beyond the next party. Reader, several months in I realized I was happy with him and it was a shock to me.
I won't lie. Every so often I would – literally. He was a cycle courier – see my past, the most recent waste of space I’d wasted my time with ride by and I’d look wistfully at the dust trail kicked up by his back wheel. But it didn’t take long to realize that I was 100% happier not being spun into someone else’s web of self-destruction and, ultimately, tedium. Whereas this. This was interesting. This was inspiring (and sexy) on a level I’d not experienced before and all because I’d dared to dig beneath the surface and please what felt good inside instead of entertaining my slightly insecure and attention span deficit outside.
It is a curiously contradictory dance that I am proposing to you in order to find something similar. I’m not knocking tinder, Guardian Soulmates or online dating as a concept. I’ve served time at the coalface of online dating and known success in this field but take time to look beyond the obvious. To use the metaphor I began with, I wouldn’t recommend jumping at trophy pieces whether they be human or fabric. Short cuts rarely work, or last. Save your money for cashmere. Of course that may not be what you want, in which case, proceed with abandon!
In the meantime, here is a *story that has very little to do with today’s sermon. It is painful, but it is funny. When I say painful, I mean painful in the ‘I lost my virginity when I tied my dog to my bike, the dog saw another dog, legged it and I fell onto the cross bar’ painful (this actually happened to someone I interviewed for my book btw). But the finish makes me L O L.
*This story was first published on nerve.com but its owner emailed me and bought it to my attention recently. I’m so glad she did.
Female, 14, New York
The story of when I first had sex with a man and the story of how I lost my virginity are actually different stories. The sex with the man is typical and boring so instead I am going to tell the story of how I popped my cherry.
I was fourteen and had recently struck gold when I found out how to give myself an orgasm. My ventures into masturbation had been non-penetrating up until that night, but like anyone exposed to any addictive pleasure, I looked for a dragon to chase.
I had inherited my room from my older sister who had moved away to college. There were many phallic objects to choose from, but my sister’s collection of Classic Coke bottles drew my attention. The neck of one such bottle seemed small enough not to do any damage but large enough to qualify as a dragon.
The Coke bottle stood at attention on the floor while I straddled it. After a few up-and-downs, I had an orgasm and finished the exercise unscathed. I concluded that having something to wrap my kegels around while enjoying spasms is much more ideal then just tickling the kitty. I hopped into bed excited that I discovered a new technique within the creative hobby of masturbation. I should have just stayed in bed and fallen asleep, but then I wouldn’t have this story to tell.
I decided to do it again. So once more the bottle stood at attention. This time I felt a little more adventurous so I increased speed and doubled up on the rhythm. But like all zealous and inexperienced teenagers, I had abandoned caution. At one point the bottle slipped out, and as I came back down it hit my pubic bone and bounced its way inside at an aggressive speed and angle, ripping through my hymen.
I had remembered hearing about bleeding once your hymen is broken and how sometimes there can be a lot of blood. Sometimes women panic, but it is actually normal and there is nothing to worry about. But I hadn’t accounted for my hymen breaking under such reckless circumstances, so I immediately didn’t think it was normal.
It was dark in my room, so I didn’t see but felt warm blood gush down my legs. I thought I was going to die. I threw on a robe and stuffed a towel between my legs. I knew I needed help. I went out into the hall and called downstairs for my twin sister but there was no answer. Alas, the only person home was my poor father.
The unsuspecting man was in the shower when I knocked on the door and opened it a crack, asking if I could talk to him right now, because it’s really important. Like a good father, he told me to hold on for one second. He got out of the shower and put on a white towel that he had to hold together with his hand.
He was sitting on the toilet when I came in. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but he definitely understood that I broke my own hymen while masturbating. My father sighed deeply and rubbed his temples. He told me that I was going to be fine. I didn’t think he understood the damage I had done to myself so I showed him the blood-soaked towel so he would realize the emergency. He looked at it and still assured me I was going to be fine.
All I had to do was wear a pad and not put anything else up there in the meantime. I realized that this emergency was not an emergency and that I had traumatized both of us for no good reason. We both sat there in the bathroom silently for a moment. But then the awkwardness became unbearable so my father tried to remedy the discomfort.
I cringed as he told me stories about sex and blood from his experience. Like when he was a teenager he had dry-humped a girl until his penis bled, some of which got on the girl’s jeans. He also told me that his one girlfriend, who had lived with us, was a virgin when they first had sex and it had looked like a massacre scene. My fingernails dug into the palms of my hands. I was mortified and I felt sorry for both of us.
I don’t remember exactly how our exchange ended, but eventually I was sitting downstairs in the kitchen by myself, eating pasta. I had put on underwear and a pad. I felt like crawling into a hole somewhere. My brother came home and sat down at the table with me. I remember thinking he has no idea about the horrific event that just happened to me. And then I burst out laughing. It startled my brother and he asked me what was so funny. I continued to listen to him while smiling.
This has happened to me a couple of times. When I am so mortified that I can’t imagine life beyond that moment, because of the embarrassment that I have to carry with me, but then the whole thing turns into a comedy, which makes life easier, as though it were some kind of evolutionary mechanism. Without this mechanism, embarrassment would drive human beings off cliffs in herds, like lemmings.
That following weekend I was staying with my mother. I pulled her aside and told her my humiliating secret. My mother did something she does only once in a great while that always entertains me. Her face turned red and she covered her mouth. Her whole body shook and very little noise came out of her except once she took a deep enough breath, she squealed with laughter.
My mother got on the phone with my eldest sister and told her the story. My Coke bottle incident spread through the family like wild fire. I remember lying on my grandmother’s bed the following Christmas Eve with a large group of my female cousins, recounting the story while they all laughed. My sister Elizabeth (the previous owner of the Coke bottle) told the entire floor of her dorm room. I was visiting her once and a guy I had never met handed me a can of Cherry Coke.
I like the idea that I lost my virginity to myself and not to some dickhead.