I had sex for the first time in a dingy motel off the highway. I kept my eyes clamped shut and my face screwed up as he told me to “just relax, fucking relax already”. When he was done, I sat on the bathroom floor and cried. I sat on a dirty linoleum floor in my underwear with my forehead on my knees and all I wanted to do was disappear.
I bled for four days after that.
I got very good at disappearing after the motel. The next year was filled with transactional sex, solitary crying spells, and a bewildering mix of excitement and dread. It became a talent, tucking myself away like that. I didn’t address my issues because it wasn’t convenient for him, and when he wanted something, he got it, regardless of what I said. I retreated into my head and waited out the storm.
A few years later, I met a different boy. He wanted sex constantly, so in my head, he wanted me constantly. I felt whole, I felt necessary. He would come visit and rip into me, biting, kissing, pulling, licking… and I didn’t care what my roommates could hear. He got the flu one weekend and said he’d text me later. Like a dutiful girlfriend, I offered to bring him soup and crackers and Gatorade and please love me I’m trying so hard. I didn’t hear from him again for two years. I retreated again and choked back my anger and hurt until it disappeared from view.
My next relationship was pleasant, and nothing but. But our kinks didn’t align in the slightest, our sex was lackluster, and our communication was uninspired, although he was a very decent person and I cared about him deeply. I just didn’t know what I could reveal and what I couldn’t, and my sexuality was the cornerstone in that confusion. I’ve either been not sexual enough, or sexual in the wrong ways for my partners. I’ve never been able to pin it down; trying to understand what I’m supposed to do, what my sex drive is “supposed” to look like, is like trying to tie a string around a shadow.
It’s hard to admit that such a pleasant relationship didn’t actually involve me. Sure, I was physically there. Tangential parts of my personality were there, but I had swallowed facets of my personality for so long that I didn’t even know what I was made of anymore. I was in the midst of a depression fog and when we finally broke up, I just tried to keep my head above water.
I had disappeared for a long time. For a while, I assumed that it was other people’s disappearance that hurt me; boyfriends leaving, biological mothers vanishing, friends cutting ties. I assumed I couldn’t handle the sudden silence, but then I realized that it wasn’t the silence I couldn’t handle; it was the fact that I had tried a different tact, attempted to highlight a different part of my personality, and people still left. I was trying to figure out what the perfect formula was for lovability. I was searching for this perfect equation, the sum of my cleverness, my humor, my sexuality, but I was never very good at math. I was disappearing to my own detriment.
Strangely enough, the act of reviewing sex toys has been revolutionary for me. It’s a dedicated time when I can relax and have the space to figure out what I like and what I don’t, and how that affects what I want. It’s helped me make better decisions at my day job. It’s helped me navigate dating with less trepidation. Who knew that one of the biggest points of tension in all my romantic tragedies would be the thing that finally pulls me into clarity?
It’s only just starting to feel like I’m reappearing. Some part of me will be abruptly thrown into focus and I’m forced to shift my understanding of who I am. But I’m okay with not being entirely clear to myself. I know my desires and preferences will change over time, and I’m fine with a dynamic perception of myself and adjusting my fundamental values as I grow. But no more disappearing. Promise.