Sam gets a condom, and I’m suddenly self-conscious, aware that I’m naked and actually very cold, and that we are being quiet and courteous of each other, as if we’re embarking on some kind of very serious business, a deposition, a minor surgery, something very unlike what we’re actually doing. He kisses me, and lays me down gingerly on the bed, and gets on top of me. Something is terribly wrong. The room is silent. It feels too late at night, like we can already taste the tiredness we’ll feel in the morning. I am abruptly aware that he didn’t go down on me, that this is hurting, that it hurts because I wasn’t really physically ready to have sex, and that he didn’t try to get me there. I’m embarrassed, having this sex I wanted so much, not liking it very much at all. He’s moving on top of me and I’m miles away in my mind, wondering if he knows that this sucks for me and just doesn’t care. He finishes, and I lie still, realizing that this part of the evening wasn’t a sexual experience for me as much as it was a moment when I loaned my body out and waited for it to be returned. We lie there for a few minutes. And then, as I’m thinking of any way to go back to before, to repair this damage we somehow created together, he does something that is so familiar to me from movies and books and friends’ stories but so alien in my own life that I don’t even recognize it until it’s almost over—he gets up, puts on his clothes, and leaves. And then he doesn’t text me for a few days. It feels like a movie again, but in an awful way—a cliched story about a girl who gets used for sex and then dropped on the ground like a dirty sock, even though I know that there’s nothing dirty about sex and that I deserve to be treated like a person even when there is zero commitment involved.
I work up the courage to text him, he responds in just a few words. I give up on the dignity thing and ask for a reason, and he says that actually he’s very busy with work and not looking for anything serious right now. As if I was trying to put a ring on BBC Sherlock guy, smh. As if I have some epic dream of having a happily ever after with a person who doesn’t go down on me or inquire whether I came. I cry, wishing that he had just been a little bit nicer. I can’t work out how I liked him so much, and he liked me not at all.
My roommates come back. They don’t have COVID, and I don’t give them COVID, and we’re safe for now, whether or not we deserve to be. Dating is over for me, for the foreseeable future. On the weekend, while my roommates are busy making pancakes instead of monitoring my bad choices, I slip out for a walk and call my ex. Yes, yes, I know, and I don’t care. Our relationship was a long time ago. I broke up with him. It’s interesting to announce that you’re removing yourself from the life of someone you love and see that you’ve hurt them so badly that they almost start to hate you. Over the years, we’ve kept up a sort-of friendship. He asks about how my roommates are doing. I ask after his current girlfriend, and he’s very polite and careful, but I can tell that he’s in love with her. If you have ever been brutally dumped, some solace: there is a tiny possibility that the person who broke your heart is doomed to love you a little bit forever, while you are going to grow and move on. I knew that would happen when I broke up with him, and I was right. I want to ask him to tell me about every page of every book he’s read in the last five years, every piece of art that has moved him, every friendship that really meant something. Instead I say goodbye and go home, where my roommates are waiting, and the pancakes are still warm.
Weeks pass. James is back from his road trip. We text, and I convey that I would love to go for a bike ride and maybe more, but I cannot—my roommates are back, we’re locked down, I am available only as a mummy embalmed in surgical masks, separated by other people by the length of a balance beam. I love my roommates and I don’t regret the deal we made. James and sit on separate picnic blankets in a park near his house. We chat, but everything feels muffled by our masks, even the mood. If this wasn’t a raging pandemic, who knows what would happen. But it is. So we sit for a while, talking about our friends and families, and say goodbye, lingering for a moment by my car. I drive home, thinking that, in spite of all the what-ifs, a half-hearted sort-of date was better than nothing.
I’m okay to wait for real dates, for as long as it takes for me to get both of those damn vaccine doses. If any man is worth dying over, he hasn’t shown his face on my dating apps.