Boys on the Side: The Ones I Have Led on

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There’s got to be a moment when it switches on. But in that moment, I assume it’s great conversation, or I don’t assume anything, basking in the electricity of my own voice, the mirrored image of my lashes batting.

On this night, I felt it, a current prickled beneath my skin. It was after dinner at a friend’s house. Adam and I were sitting across from each other, knees bumping, talking too loud. He complimented me and I shared overly intimate of details of my life. The figure of my husband, Ned and other guests on the couch washed away.

Adam snapped a finger. “I know who you remind me of… Julie Greene!” He stood, smiling for a second, then wincing taken a-back. “Oh man. That girl.”

That girl. Leading him on. Sleeping in his bed, leaving the pillow-case smelling like cigarettes and hairspray and flowers. A reminder that she was untouchable. That he worshiped her.

I was a Julie Greene. This was the magnet. I realized in that moment Adam was someone I could easily dip into lukewarm, familiar waters with, there to admire my own reflection as I pulled him in deeper. And I didn’t want that to happen.

Male attention lulls me. I’m not sure when it started. As a child, I fell in love often but I was barely able to look boys in the eye, playing footsie under the desk. I didn’t get my first kiss or boyfriend until age 14. But I wonder if I am addicted to it, to being wanted. “You made me fall in love with you” was how the ex put it.

We were in high-school. I was a senior, he was a sophomore. My real boyfriend was older, a college drop out working as a convenience store clerk. He had an apartment where I’d go to eat bowls of cereal and lay around. When I went home at night,  it was the sophomore I called, pulling the covers over my face. “Tell me more about what you think of me.”

Eventually, we’d start having sex. Our relationship was a pull of intimacy and icy detachment, not allowing him the title of “girlfriend”. We’d get into violent fights then he’d go out and drink, taking mouthfuls of blue and white pills. He totaled four cars while we were together.

I had a lot of answers for how he was wrong. I was victim to his rage and abuse. I never said I wanted a relationship with him.

Recently, an old friend-or-flame floated into my life. Rolf. I once took him on a long train ride to visit my parents. We drank mini-bottles of red wine, patches of gold and turquoise blurring past. We slurred about poetry, the books we would write together. There had been many times he confessed his love, in letters or poems, or loudly, a little too drunk and unable to hold it back. Seeing him standing in my childhood kitchen, smelling like bonfire and pot-smoke, I felt safe.

That night, we slept side by side.  At 7 a.m. my mom stomped down the stairs and asked “did you two have sex?”  “No!” we flipped over.

I kept him around and thought “maybe someday”. When asked, I acted repulsed by the idea. I thought of how we slept, sexless, our bodies hot and packed into his twin-bed. When I would feel his hand, heavy and warm on my back, I’d wriggle. “I hate those giant hands! I wish they would just fall right off his wrist. They will never have me.”

When Ned met him, he was confused: “I mean he is a lot like me. He is smart, a critical thinker. He’s creative and interesting. He is bi and attractive. Why weren’t you into him?”

I had a few pale answers. I was into him, but not. But why I wasn’t with him didn’t  matter. What mattered was whether I could trip down the same path. The difference was now, I knew it was a part of me that felt dizzy and ready to fall. I could separate this part from myself, see it.

It’s hard to face your own narcissism, your darkness and faults. When I see Rolf now, a part of me understands the safety of having someone to fall on, to bring validation, to soften the fear of being alone. In our exquisite-anti-relationship, we each held responsibility. But, I inflicted pain upon him, and I got something out of his emotional bruising.

In mine and Ned’s dining room,  I touch his arm tenderly. I think, “I don’t want to hurt you”. I realize that old patterns, even when faced, are hard to see clearly. But in trying, I am more free, able to appreciate and care for myself, Rolf and all of the boys.

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