• "A common theme has been the employment of sex to fill a void, to forget, to feel valued or wanted or barely alive." (Moment RF / Getty Images)
"My dating life has been a comedy of errors. But a common theme has been the employment of sex to fill a void, to forget, to feel valued or wanted or barely alive."
By
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

12 Dec 2017 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 12 Dec 2017 - 11:24 AM

A few months ago, a message landed in my inbox on OkCupid: something about Scrabble, based on an interest listed on my profile. It was from a guy I slept with once two and a half years ago, but he made it sound like we’d never met before.

“Lol, didn’t think I’d hear from you again,” I replied. A moment later, a message back: “Giselle, I’m sorry I never told you what was going on. Not long after that night, I got into a long-term relationship, but I didn’t know how to tell you. I know how hard I pursued you, too. We had a great night, didn’t we?”

“Great night” scores 15 points in Scrabble, but I’m not sure if I’d play those words.

I was bewitched by the thought of someone wanting me so much when I felt like I was barely anything at all

I had agreed to a date after months of him hassling me, and telling me once that he saw me at the local shopping centre and had gone home to jerk off to the thought (never mind that I was almost definitely fresh-faced in my pyjamas). Having recently entered the dating world after the stale safety of a long-term relationship, I was bewitched by the thought of someone wanting me so much when I felt like I was barely anything at all.

The date was fine, the way that the meme dog says it’s fine while everything around it is literally on fire, but I was lonely and the more wines I had, the more I wanted to be wanted. He said “you’re so beautiful” and I felt desire, too, but it was just the desire of someone else – something to take me out of myself, to help me ignore the ugliness, the emptiness, the resentment of the simple fact of my own existence.

We stumbled back to my apartment and as I smashed my hand against the elevator button, I said, “you can come upstairs but I’m not having sex with you,” and he came upstairs and we fell into my bed, and he covered my mouth in sloppy, beer-flavoured kisses, and I thought, “he wants you so much”, and that made me want him so much, and so when he asked, I said yes, and I tried not to laugh when he whispered dirty things in his Scottish accent. He fell asleep spooning me, and I tried to pretend I was somewhere else, or that he was someone I actively wanted. When I woke up to this stranger, I felt a wave of repulsion, but then nothing at all as I let him desire me again – let it pick me up, skim over a lake of self-loathing like a perfectly smooth stone.

“Can I have a kiss?” he asked as he stood on the curbside outside my apartment afterwards, and I felt a rush of nausea 

“Can I have a kiss?” he asked as he stood on the curbside outside my apartment afterwards, and I felt a rush of nausea – was it the wine or something else? – as I leaned in and pecked him quickly. We politely texted for a few days, and I was relieved when he stopped responding.

In the last few years, my dating life has been a comedy of errors – a whirlwind romance here, a forgettable one night stand there. But a common theme has been the employment of sex to fill a void, to forget, to feel valued or wanted or barely alive. Catching a brief snatch of clarity and wondering whose face it is closing in on mine; murmuring something meaningless while my mind is somewhere else; washing my sheets the morning after to get the feeling out; being with someone, but feeling like the only person in the world.

Perhaps this is dating in the age of the swipe, or perhaps it’s a continuation of feeling both undesired and undesirable as a younger girl who the boys would ask out as a joke, pretend to like as a joke, always a joke. “You should take what you can get,” my brain said to me every time I unclipped, disrobed, performed, disposed. “What if it’s the last time anyone will want you?”

A few weeks ago, my Scottish blast from the past walked by me at the pub. Our eyes met for a moment, and then he kept walking.

 

This essay was inspired by the short story Cat Person by , published in The New Yorker.

Love the story? Follow Giselle on Twitter @gisellenguyen

Modern romance
We expect too much from our romantic partners
A new book explores how marriage has changed in recent years, and why that’s made staying married harder.
Dating burnout: The fallout from serial online dating disappointment
You may not know the term but if you date online, then chances are you know the feeling of 'dating burnout' all too well, and it could be blocking your road to love.