Polyamory: the beginning of a hundred new exciting ways to screw up

So one of the problems with blogging is that sometimes there’s not much going on, so there’s nothing to write about, but then other times all sorts of exciting things are happening, so you’re way too busy to sit down and write something. This is particularly a problem if you’re like me, and a bit of a perfectionist, agonisingly conscious of writing  something vaguely interesting, while at the same time attempting to keep confidential details confidential, and not reveal too much. The results? I’ve been trying to think of a way to write this post since round about October, and failing miserably. Somehow the balance of ‘interesting to read’ and ‘being selective with information’ has been particularly hard with this. It may take a few attempts to get it right, so consider this take one. There will no doubt be a sequel.

I’ve managed to find myself in a polyamorous relationship, which is giving me countless opportunities to put what I’ve always thought in theory into practice. ((Classicist side-note: I have a real issue with the word ‘polyamory’. It’s half Latin, half Greek, and I hate words like that. The word also has a lot of history with people trying to define what ‘true polyamory’ looks like, which always sets off my bullshit detectors, but that’s the best description, so it’s the word I’m going to stick with.)) It’s been going on for over four months now, which is actually kinda significant, if not serious, especially in a university environment where a relationship that lasts more than eight weeks is considered long-term. And as this blog is about learning and exploration and basically just me throwing my thoughts into a void, it’s time to do some talking. I should also note that the title of this post is meant to be flippant, not negative. I don’t think poly relationships are any more likely to be screwed up than exclusive ones, only that now I get the chance to screw up in new ways, and that’s exciting and interesting in itself.

I’ve been in open relationships before, the kind where I was kinda seeing someone and they were also sleeping with other people. Sometimes I was sleeping with other people too, sometimes I wasn’t. This is different, because this time, I’m not the primary partner. My boyfriend (I am still getting comfortable calling him that) has been with his primary partner for something mad like ten years. They live together. She is and always will be his top priority. They’ve been poly for a couple of years, and are way better at all this than I am, and since meeting them, I’ve been introduced to the reality of a world I’d only ever seen through the distorting lens of the internet.

My past experience of open relationships hasn’t been all that positive. In retrospect, it was always pretty much an excuse to treat me like shit, intentionally or not. Salmacis, the girlfriend I met on the internet when I was fifteen, would state repeatedly that we were together, but made it clear that she was going to continue to sleep with at least a different girl every week, even though she knew that I was inexperienced and not seeing anyone else. (The one time I kissed another girl, she got intensely upset.) Alexander and I tried to be open for a year, but it pretty much turned into a competition as to who could go on more dates, thus proving that they cared the least. In the last year and half, the men I’ve  dated have all pretty much assumed that open means no commitment. If we’re not exclusive, that means there’s no real responsibility, and we can pretty much treat each other with as little respect as we choose.

This isn’t to say that I think any of these are bad people. I just think that they were bad relationships. Or at least, not the kind of relationships that I necessarily wanted at the time. I’ve tried to explain that, when I say I’d be happy to have a non-exclusive relationship with someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean without emotion. (If and when I want something utterly without emotion, I don’t call it a relationship, and even then, I have to at least like the person.)

So here is what I expect. If I have a partner, I expect them to be there for me when I’m stressed about work or when I’ve had a bad day or when one of my exes calls me to screw with my head. I have days when I come home and just want to cry, for whatever reason, and I expect my partner to be on the other end of a phone to comfort me. If we’re in the same city and it’s not massively inconvenient, there are times when I expect them to come to see me. I like to think that I would always try to do the same for them. And if things don’t go well and we have arguments and upset each other, I expect us to be able to talk about things and try to work out a solution, without resorting to the ‘well we’re not really dating so it doesn’t matter’ stance.

Being exclusive or non-exclusive doesn’t change any of that. The fact that my partner might be seeing other people should not give them a free pass to just ignore the parts of being in a relationship they don’t like. In an ideal world, I’d have a partner who loved and valued me and considered me their primary, with a relationship strong enough that we could see other people on the side, without either of us confusing ‘non-exclusive’ for ‘non-committed’.

Of course, what’s interesting about my current relationship is that I’m not the primary. My boyfriend has a long-term partner, and from what I’ve seen, that’s pretty much the dynamic they have. They love each other, and no amount of sex with other people is going to change that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just an additional extra. But the strange thing is, I feel more secure in this relationship than I have in any other. The main restriction is time, followed by geography. He can’t drop everything to come to another city to see me when I have a difficult day, and the amount of time he can spend with me depends partly on her schedule. That said, he’ll make time to speak to me on the phone, to look after me if I’m upset, and to make sure I feel valued and special within the context of our relationship. When we have issues, we talk them through and work out compromises. And as for my side of it, while I know he has other people to look after him, I try to make sure he knows that I care too, from a hundred miles away. I don’t expect him to put me before her, but I know that, if there were a crisis, he’d make sure I was okay, and if my emotions aren’t the top priority, well, at least they are a priority.

In a strange way, I am being treated far better than when I was the primary in an ‘open relationship’ which was really just an excuse not to have a relationship at all. In some ways, I am being treated with more respect and understanding than in the one ‘real’ monogamous relationship I’ve had. And though it’s not going to last all that long and is very emphatically not ‘going anywhere’, I am very grateful to be experiencing something like this. It is still new and strange and I am learning a lot, and no doubt all my usual neuroses and insecurities are going to start crawling out of the woodwork before long. (They kinda already have, but I think I will save that for Polyamory Part II.) But as someone who has been told that I’m not secure and well-balanced enough to handle something like this, that I get too jealous and irrational, it’s beautifully refreshing to discover otherwise. I’m happy, I think, if temporarily, and that’s the strangest feeling of all.

((I am still trying to think of appropriate names for this couple. So far the best suggestion as been Cadmus and Harmonia, but I wonder if that’s a little dark….))

It’s the place where who you are meets who you haven’t been yet

The title of this post comes from a song by the wonderful Seanan McGuire, and I quote:

It’s a little slice of chaos, it’s a starlight carnival.
It’s the place where heroes fear to tread, but angels come to fall.
Ask the barmaid where she’s from, she’ll say she doesn’t recall.
You may think this is heaven but it’s not that at all,
So why not look around you and see?
Won’t you take advantage of me?

This, to me, has to be a song about fetish clubs. I’ve held off writing about fetish clubs so far because the more I think about it, the more I realise how little I know. I’ve been to a few, but they vary so much and who you go with makes such a difference that it’s really hard to say anything that is both general and useful. Plus I feel totally out of my depth in places like that. In a perverse kinda way, they make me feel less kinky.

That might sound like it makes no sense, but if you think about it, it’s obvious. I lead a standard geeky student-y life, surrounded by standard geeky students. Pretty much all my friends know that I’m into kink, and that I’m the one to go to with any kind of ‘alternative sexuality’ question. When I talk about the bondage I’ve done, or try to explain the sort of submission I’m into, or reveal the rope burns and scratch marks I’ve incurred, they look at me with wide-eyed amazement. These are my close friends, and they are accepting and non-judgemental, and they know me. But as far as they’re concerned, my kinks pretty damn extreme.

And then I go somewhere like Club Antichrist (which is probably mild, by scene standards). I dress up in a corset and collar, clothes that would shock even at a costume night, and tell myself that these are my chances to really let my hair down (in the hope that someone might pull it) and embrace my kinkier side. Yet as soon as I step through the doors, I revert to my nervous, self-conscious  teenaged self. I watch people taking spankings and whippings that I know I couldn’t handle. Nowhere even close. I see collared slaves kneeling at their Master or Mistress’s feet, and know that I don’t want that kind of public submission. Strangers approach me and casually ask if I’d like play, and I back away, confused and conflicted but certain that I don’t trust a stranger to hurt me.

None of these are bad things, I should add. In fact, I kinda envy the people in the community who are into that level, because in some ways it turns me on and makes me wish I was less anxious. Less vanilla. Someone jokingly called me a ‘tourist’ last time I was there, and that stung, because the last thing I want is to be is a little girl playing dress-up. Which is kinda how I feel, especially when I see the elaborate outfits other people wear. I also know that my limits are my limits, and I shouldn’t feel pressured into anything I don’t want, just because I want to be accepted. Playing with a stranger is very different to playing with a partner. I’ve taken public spankings from people I don’t know, and it does very little for me, except to make me feel vaguely unsettled afterwards. I’ve also taken much, much worse from a close partner, and come so hard it took me days to recover. Some people get off on the act itself, not on the situation. Some people get off more with a stranger. I’m not one of them. And that’s okay.

But I still feel confused and out of my depth and a little like an impostor when I stand in the dungeon and watch women (and it is always women) being handcuffed to a cross and lashed with a cane. The corset and collar feel like a disguise, and not even a good one at that, compared to the fishnet body-stockings and latex dresses. I don’t even have any tattoos or body piercings, for goodness sake!

Something else that unsettles me is the gender dynamic. The fetish scene is meant to be embracing of all genders and sexualities, and for the most part it is. But I can count on one hand the number of men I saw submitting to women, in a sea of leather-clad male doms punishing corseted female submissives. (It’s difficult to tell about the ratios for people of other genders, as I’m mainly going on markedly male or female clothing.) One guy I spoke to about this said he’s a switch, but it’s almost impossible for men to find female dommes who will play with them at places like that, whereas female submissives are easy to find. Maybe that’s true, and I could also understand how it might be harder for male submissives to be open about their preferences than male dominants or female submissives. Cultural expectations and social conditioning and all that. But personally, even though I am a sub, I get slightly freaked out by men I don’t know coming up to me and asking if I want to be whipped by them, before even asking my name, just assuming that’s the sort of thing I’m into. I mean, yes I’m 5’4 with long hair and stockings, but does that has to mean I’m submissive? Do you not get dommes who don’t wear stiletto heels and leather?

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’m doing a lot of thinking about kink and the scene and where I fit into it all. I still feel kinky. I still identify as kinky. My sweet vanilla friends still think I’m the kinkiest person they know. But I’m not quite sure how the rest of the scene would see me – cautious new blood or vanilla tourist? I get overwhelmed at fetish clubs – the lights and the music and the smoke and the costumes (oh god the costumes) and the sound of whips and the smell of sex. It’s intoxicating. It’s very difficult for me to think clearly in that kind of environment, so the thinking has to come after. How kinky am I? What do I want? And who do I trust to help me explore my limits safely, to push me just slightly beyond what I’m comfortable with without going too far?

It’s a kind of happy ending; it’s the midway of the moon,
It’s where broken stories gather in our shadow-play saloon.
And it’s burning where she kissed you, but the scars will heal soon,
You can’t reach ‘ever after’ if you don’t know the tune.
Now, can you pay the ferryman’s fee?
Won’t you take advantage of me?

In Seanan McGuire’s song, it’s all very glamorous and dangerous with the tantalising promise of your deepest darkest fantasies coming true. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I don’t think I’m ready to be taken advantage of just yet.

A tip for mind-reading: ask

When I don’t post for a while, it means one of two things: either nothing is going on in my life so I don’t have anything interesting to write about, or so much is happening that I don’t have time to post. In this case, it’s the latter. Post-grad degrees are hard – who knew? A lot of time has been spent in the library, with me desperately trying to work out what I want to spend the rest of this year writing about, and stressing over the fact that I still don’t know. In addition, I’ve been heavily involved in theatre, and any spare time I’ve had off my degree has been channelled straight into a show I was working on. Time for drama and gossip and exciting new experiences? Definitely. Time to write about them? Not so much.

This post isn’t actually about my life. While I do have some news, I want to wait and see how it works out before writing about it. (The whole thinking-about-what-you-publish-on-the-internet thing again, sorry to disappoint.) This is about a friend of mine. I’m going to call him Icarus, because while he’s lovely and well-meaning, he can be a little clueless when it comes to some things, especially regarding women. But he knows I’m very open and honest, and that I write a sex blog, so he came to me for advice about a girl he was dating. Or rather, trying to date.

He tells me they’ve been out together twice, and it seemed to be going great, except she doesn’t want to sleep with him or go any further than making out. And he says that’s fine, except he’d quite like to know why. So I ask him to elaborate – what happened? He tells me they got back after dinner and were lying in bed cuddling, and then kissing, and then he tries to take off her tights and she pushes his hand away. And so they go back to just kissing, and then he goes home. He tells me he’s completely okay with this, but he’d just like to understand why, because surely she would have had more fun if he’d at least gone down with her, even if they hadn’t had sex. And then he looks at me hopefully, as if his omniscient sex-positive female friend can magically present him with the perfect answer.

I say, in a slightly puzzled tone, Did you ask her?

There are dozens of reasons why she might have pushed his hand away. Maybe she was a Christian virgin who didn’t want to have sex before marriage. Maybe she’d had sex the night before and was still sore. Maybe she was fairly inexperienced and felt anxious. Maybe she liked to get to know guys much better before letting them touch her. Maybe she was pissed off that he’d tried to take off her clothes without asking her first. Maybe she actually did want to go further, but felt self-conscious and nervous. Maybe she was on her period. Maybe she felt it was too sudden, but later on in the evening would have said yes. Maybe she wanted to discuss where (if anywhere) the relationship was going. Maybe she was wearing really unsexy underwear that night. Maybe she’d recently got out of  a relationship and was still upset over it. Maybe she’d noticed that his hands were really blistered and didn’t want him to touch her.

…And those are only the ones I could think of off the top of my head!

I made this point to Icarus, and he seemed disappointed not to have an answer as to ‘why a girl would do that’. And then I gave him the best advice I think I could give for anyone in any kind of similar situation: Why don’t you ask her? Or rather, why didn’t he ask her at the  time? He mumbled something about not wanting to pressure her and respecting her decisions. And hell, I am one hundred per cent for not pressuring someone and for respecting them! Enthusiastic consent all the way! But there’s no reason to act like respect and communication are mutually exclusive concepts.

So let’s say they’re back in bed, he reaches down to take off her tights, and she stops him.  And then his response is an aggressive ‘Why did you do that? I thought we were going to have sex. What are you stopping for?’. That is pressuring, bordering on coercion, which is inevitably going to have negative results. But what if instead, he says, ‘Hey, I’m sorry if you feel I’m taking things too fast. I won’t touch you again if you don’t want me to, but why don’t you tell me what you want and how you’re feeling?’. Even better would be to have that conversation beforehand. Not necessarily an in-depth discussions about everything they like and don’t like (though that’s how I mostly do it, and it’s great fun), but just a quick chat about things like how open they both are to sex early on in a relationship, and any boundary issues or triggers. That’s not pressure, not if you do it in a polite, respectful way. And yes, I get that sometimes it’s awkward to talk about these kinda things, especially if you’re in bed at the time. But is the alternative really any better? Trying something, getting a negative response, and running to another friend for answers because it’s too weird to ask directly?

It’s at times like this when I am very thankful to my crazy relationship history, or liberal upbringing, or whatever it was that has enabled me to just go ahead and ask the awkward questions when necessary. I’ve even learnt how to ask them in a sexy, flirtatious way, but that took practice. To the best of my knowledge, Icarus has yet to ask, so we may never know why the girl pushed his hand away when she did. Next time, I hope he asks her. For everyone’s sake.

Nothing rational about frust-‘ration’

This blog has been quiet for a while (the original aim was to post once a week, definitely every two, and I am feeling guilty). Term has started again, and I moved house, both of which were obviously very stressful and time-consuming, plus now I have this really shiny graduate course to get all excited about. I am exhausted, and given that stuff that goes up on the internet lasts forever (or at least until they think of something even more fun), I don’t want to post about things I haven’t properly thought through. So while I have many many thoughts and opinions about, say, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s comment that the time restriction on abortions should be cut back from 24 weeks to 12, writing something about that takes more time and mental energy than I have right now. If you’re going to put your opinions out there on the internet, you at least owe it to the world to try to make them sound interesting.

But the other reason I haven’t been posting is that for the first time in a good four years, I don’t have a regular sex partner. This blog isn’t just about sex, but given that a lot of my views are based on personal experience, less experience means less new shiny exciting stuff to write about. I mean, I’ve already talked lots about consent and masturbation and BDSM, and while there is certainly lots more to say, I feel most comfortable talking about issues when something recent has occurred in my life that has made me think about them. Opinions on this kinda thing are highly subjective, and if I’m going to go into mine, it’s much easier to have something personal to me to ground my argument in.

So here is me writing about not having anything to write about. I’m not having a lot of sex at the moment, and this is driving me mad. Everyone has a different sex drive, and the last couple of months have been an eye-opening lesson in quite how high mine is. The people I have slept with in that time have all been casual acquaintances and one-night-stands, and lovely though they all are, that leads to a very different type of sex to the kind where you’re with someone who really knows you. This frustrates me, and I really don’t like it. It’s exhausting to have to start from scratch every time, trying to explain my views and preferences in a nutshell, especially if I’m dealing with someone who isn’t used to the whole communication thing. I am not a patient person. This is becoming very obvious.

What I would love to do is be able to go up to someone cute at one of these gatherings for new students and say hey, you seem awesome, would you like to go for a drink sometime and then maybe have lots of kinky sex if that’s your thing? (like a more sexually explicit but less catchy version of a certain viral pop song). As I’ve already established here, I am a forward person, and I don’t hide the way I think, but even I know that it just isn’t socially acceptable to say that to someone you hardly know, and I do understand why. Of course that comes across as vaguely terrifying! I just wish it didn’t. Or rather, I wish there was a way to detect people who would respond well to that kind of opening, people who also want to skip all the smalltalk and pointless chitchat and get straight into talking about what turns them on.

As it is, I am trying to be mild and polite, and still having people tell me I’m too forward, or am coming across as intimidating or downright crazy. And I know that these things take time and you can’t suddenly expect to find your perfect sex partner in a room full of new people just by snapping your fingers, but damn it, wouldn’t it be so great if you could?

So nothing new learnt so far (one-night-stands really aren’t interesting enough to write about), and a lot of frustration, both sexual and general. There is something ironic about desperately wanting sex, and knowing both that you could have it if you really tried (by picking someone up at a club, for example), and that it wouldn’t be very satisfying. I miss having someone I trust and feel comfortable with to just call up and ask over, someone I can cuddle with afterwards and actually have a conversation with. Screw relationships, but friends-with-benefits is awesome!

I am going to have to learn to be more patient, and so are you, my readers (assuming I still have any), if you want more insights into sex positivity and kinky new experiences. But maybe all this, the frustration and the impatience and the realising how high my sex drive really is, is just something else I have to learn at some point. All knowledge is worth having, as they say in Kushiel’s Dart.

Still, doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it!

Ask a direct question, get a second-guessed answer

I’m about to go all relationshippy. Are you ready for relationships? No? Well neither am I, but I’m going to try anyway. For the last few months, I’ve been seeing a guy called Polites. We started off both saying that we weren’t at all interested in having a relationship, just wanted a casual fling, but we got on really well and ended up spending basically all our time together, so that by the end of term we were seeing each other almost every day, and talking on the phone and online and by text all of the time. In short, not just a relationship, but a pretty close and intense relationship. We were both still sleeping with other people, but one of the nice things I discovered was that I could come home from spending the night with someone else (the charming womaniser, for instance), and tell Polites all about it while he cuddled me. Some of my poly friends would probably call this a ‘primary’ poly relationship, which I guess makes sense. We certainly weren’t exclusive, or even hugely committed, which is how mainstream society tends to define relationships, but we were close and it was nice.

Polites, bless him, is nineteen and has never really been in a relationship before. He is, by his own admission, ‘allergic’ to them. He told me right at the beginning that he is scared of commitment and hates feeling pressured or obligated. This is not a problem in itself, it just means I have to be careful with him, and try not make assumptions. (See my earlier post about dating a younger person.) We’ve had a couple of moments where I’ve felt exploited or he’s felt trapped, which have led to some Deep Meaningful Conversations, but overall we’ve managed to work things out. Talking about stuff tends to help, and Polites is slowly learning that these difficult DMCs, though not much fun at the time, can really improve things in the long term. As for me, I’ve been learning how to coax someone else to communicate better and take the lead, rather than passively making the other person explain my emotions for me. It’s all good.

I mention all this now not because I’m getting all bouncy and excited about my shiny new relationship (it’s not particularly shiny or exciting, and even if it were, that’s not really what this space is for), but because an interesting issue came up last night that reminded me yet again that people are different, and assumptions are bad. I like long phone conversations. I’m not sure why, but I always have. I can spend hours on the phone (thank you unlimited minutes, and skype) without it feeling like a waste of time. I have realised that a lot of people are not like that. Salmacis and Alexander both found long phone conversations boring and unproductive, and much preferred talking online. I therefore got used to asking before I called them, to check that it was a convenient time and that they wanted to talk. Often, it wasn’t, and they would tell me that. This was occasionally frustrating, but was overall much better than me just calling whenever I wanted to and trying to pressure them into talking to me. Communication win.

Or so I thought. Term ended a week ago, and Polites and I are not going to see each other again until September. We’d been texting and talking a lot online, and every so often I’d ask if I could call him. He would say yes. This was fun and exciting for me – finally, someone who likes to talk on the phone as much as I do! So I would call up, and he would be sulky and irritated on the phone, and I would ignore it because re-adjusting to living at home after being at uni is stressful, and sometimes you just need to let it go.

Except that last night, during one particularly difficult and frustrating conversation, Polites finally admits to me that he doesn’t like phone conversations. They feel like a waste of time to him. He didn’t refuse when I asked to call him because he was worried it would upset me, but he expected me to get the hint after a while. Of course, I didn’t, because as far as I was concerned I was asking direct questions, and getting direct answers. I assumed that, like Salmacis and Alexander, he would tell me clearly when he didn’t want to talk. Conversely, he assumed that I would pick up the signs he was sending me and stop asking.

This to me seems like a great example of why ‘communicate better!’ isn’t a quick-fix solution to everything. We both thought we were communicating. In fact, we were both making an effort to communicate, but previous assumptions still got in the way, to the result that we ended up arguing over a problem that could have been solved a week ago. And really, I’m not sure what the moral of this is, except that it’s never okay to get complacent. You can practise good communication and honesty and all the other rules for a healthy relationship, but it is still going to get all screwed up and explode in your face sometimes. And there is nothing you can really do about that, except try to remember in the heat of the moment that it really isn’t anyone’s fault. People are different, and everyone comes to the table with a different set of experiences that they assume are the norm.

Relationships, even super-casual non-exclusive short-term relationships, are hard work. Who knew?

A lesson in ‘value’

Exams are over, and I am between hangovers. Let’s talk about sex.

Specifically, let’s talk about one particular night of sex, just before one particular hangover. Not even the sex, actually, but the night that preceded it. Or rather, one particularly conversation that night.

Confused? Okay, me too. Let’s start again. There have been parties, and drinking, and flirtation, and basically lots of fun all round. And so I find myself at one such gathering, getting slightly tipsy, and being seduced by someone I know to be a shameless womaniser. He is buying me drinks, and I am alternating between flirting coyly and being outrageously forward. It feels good to be able to relax like this again, and not have to worry about getting up early the next day to go to the library. The fact that this guy  has a bit of a ‘reputation’ just makes it more fun. I know what he’s like, and I know I can get what I want without too much trouble afterwards. He seems to have come to the same conclusion. Plus he is effortlessly charming. It’s all good.

At some stage in the evening, he is off getting drinks or talking to someone else or something, and one of his friends comes up to me. This is another guy I know quite well, someone I’d definitely consider a friend, but wouldn’t invite out for coffee. He sits down next to me, takes my hand, and says ‘Whatever your problems are, he’s not going to solve them’.

I laugh, nervously. I’m tispy, and not necessarily at my best for judging tone. I tell him I don’t have any problems, and lightly ask if it’s that obvious. He says ‘blindingly’. He goes on to tell me how this guy really isn’t all he makes out. I mutter something about being able to look after myself, really, and wander off to talk to someone else. There is dancing (I like dancing). I am bought tequila (I don’t like tequila, but I drink it anyway, for the head-rush). More flirtation with the charming womaniser. It is decided at this point that we will be going home together. I approve of this. It is, after all, what I came for.

At some point I wander outside to get some air. His friend is there again. Preemptively, I tell him that I appreciate his concern, but I’m not that innocent, really. He sighs, and takes  me by the shoulders, looks at me sadly, and tells me ‘you ought to value yourself more than this’.

Let me say that again. You ought to value yourself more than this. Because going home with someone who clearly isn’t relationship material isn’t valuing myself. In fact, it’s devaluing me. Sleeping with someone I want and who wants me would make me less valuable a person. Think about that for a moment. Think about all the bullshit and double-standards and sex negativity that goes into a statement like that, presumably intended as friendly advice. Think about the world in which we live, where something so downright insulting is considered not only acceptable, but a sign that someone apparently cares about you and wants to help.

Every time I think I’ve worked through my insecurities and shame about sex, something like this happens to remind me that to some people, people I know and trust and like, the fact that I want to sleep with someone who has no intention of dating me is a matter for concern. It’s something I need to be protected from, warned against, because I can’t possibly be making my own decisions. No girl would actually choose to go home with a guy like that.

I note, a little bitterly, that no one felt the need to warn him about me. I’m hardly relationship material either, and I have a reputation of my own, but sleeping with me is unlikely to devalue any man. At any rate, I went home with him all the same, and we had a lovely night together. Easy, casual, surprisingly fun sex, which ended on friendly terms. Exactly (and I mean exactly) what I was after.

So I’m happy. Disillusioned with the world, perhaps, or maybe just disappointed, but happy. Exams are over, and I am going to have fun. And much as I hate to admit it, I know that he really did mean well, and that if he knew how furious that comment would make me, he’d be shocked and upset. But damn it, can’t a girl get laid around here without the world judging her for devaluing herself?!

…No one answer that.

Trusting my love life to the interwebs – oh dear

There has been a lot of drama surrounding my university recently about a certain event that possibly shouldn’t have been allowed to take place. It is, without a doubt, a Feminist Issue. I am not going to write about it. This is partly because there’s no good way to talk about it without revealing what it is, which would reveal where it is, and I am ridiculously paranoid about being traceable in real life, and not willing to risk it. But that’s only the practical reason. The main reason is that I don’t have the energy right now to do big important High Profile Feminism. I’m exhausted. On Friday, the day when it all kicked off, I had the second most important interview of my life so far, for a masters placement I desperately want. So my mind was decidedly elsewhere, and while I care (is it ever possible to stop caring?), I don’t have it in me to fight on this one.

Thankfully, because it’s such a big issue, there have been many other feminists out there fighting for me. That’s not an excuse – there are never going to be enough of us – but it means I feel slightly less guilty sitting back and letting myself breathe for a moment. I’m no use to anyone if I’m too stressed and exhausted to form coherent sentences.

So what I offer you instead is a light-hearted break from my last rather more serious post. Here’s an admission to go up there with the fact that I masturbate and like kinky sex: I’ve been trying online dating. Well, sort of. I haven’t actually met anyone yet, but that’s more of a time issue than anything else. I joined for a number of reasons, but it mostly had something to do with the fact that online dating gets talked about a lot both as a misogynistic minefield, and as a haven from strict social convention where honesty and ‘alternative interests’ are allowed to thrive. I was always slightly confused by how contradictory this seemed, so I decided to try it for myself.

And you know what? They’re both entirely true.

I put a bit of work into it because I don’t believe in doing anything by halves. I filled out the profile page honestly but not extensively, using the same mildly flirtatious style I use here. I uploaded a photo – not a posed model shot, but I nice photo all the same. And I answered quite a lot of their personality questions entirely honestly, to give me the best chance of coming into contact with like-minded people. For one thing, I don’t want to have any kind of interaction with anyone who isn’t firmly pro-choice. Does that make me picky and prejudiced? If so, I don’t care. It’s a total deal-breaker for me and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Also not ashamed to admit that I’m fairly kinky, at least not if it will help me meet other fairly kinky people.

So having answered all these delightful questions, I sat back and waited. And, as I’d been told to expect, the men came to me. (Mostly men, that is. I’ve so far had only one message from a woman, despite the fact that my profile clearly says I’m bi, so I’m assuming a gender bias here.) I get about five messages every two or three days at the moment, which is quite a lot when you think about it, and factor in that I’m not sending out any messages of my own. I decided before I joined that I would reply to any message where I felt the guy had actually made an effort. So, ‘ur cute, meet up 4 sex?’ is not going to get a reply. A short paragraph inspired by something I’d written on my profile, however, usually does. I’m especially likely to respond if they’ve written something to me about either classics or theatre, since those are two huge aspects of my identity, and I mention them both at least twice. It’s not a bad outlook for real life dating, as it happens. I mean, if someone’s not going to take the effort to read two paragraphs about me and actually engage with what I’ve written when attempting to talk to me, they’re probably not worth my time. Sounds harsh, but there it is.

And what have I found? I’ve actually had quite a few good online conversations about art, politics, literature and life in general. Often it starts of being about classics, and veers off in unexpected directions. I’ve discovered one guy who actually goes to my university, and another who went to the same production of a play we both saw in London. Probably my favourite opening to an exchange was a guy who messaged me with: ‘So we’ve just robbed a bank together, are you shooting out the window at the cops, or driving the car? I reckon you’d be shooting. You seem like you might have a violent side’. It certainly got my attention, and was decidedly more interesting than most of the stuff I was getting. It’s also a chance for me to openly talk about kinky stuff from the word go, rather than waiting for a suitable moment in the conversation to chime in with ‘by the way I like to be tied up in bed’. This is delightfully liberating, and something I wish was acceptable in real life. It’s one area where the anonymity and the distance really works out for the better.

And then the misogyny creeps in. Guys who send me one-line, badly spelt messages about how I’m fit and they’d totally do me, then get annoyed and send more aggressive ones when I don’t reply. It’s a safe but still distressing example of something you unfortunately see all the time, men who think you owe them something (a response, a smile, a date, sex) because they’ve taken the effort to compliment you. Compliments are nice, they really are, but they don’t entitle you to anything. And the second you stop complimenting and start getting angry that your compliment hasn’t been received in the way you wanted, you start treading a dangerous line of entitlement and disrespect for consent an autonomy.

Is it a breach of consent when someone I haven’t replied to starts sending me angry messages online? Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word, but I have to wonder, how would the same guy react if I failed to respond if he whistled at me as I walked down the street? Paranoid? Possibly a little, but it’s not hard to see why it’s an instant turn-off for me on dating websites.

Also a turn-off? This guy, whose message I am going to post in full for a bit of light relief to end on. Suggestions for possible responses welcome.

I came across your profile and was quite enamored by such an articulate and heavenly blessed beauty. I would be kicking myself if I didn’t ask, so I was wondering if you would accept an engagement of witty banter between two intellectuals? 
Of course this “engagement” may start off as purely platonic but my sensual desires will most likely guide our cohesive unity down more erotic, lascivious, and sexual paths that will include but are not limited to passionate make out sessions under the star lit sky, dry humping, fondling each others naughty parts inducing orgasms, and an abundance of new uncharted sexual positions where I assert my pure dominance in establishing a realm of absolute sovereignty in your nether regions. 
Now is this something you might be interested in? 😛

Oh dear.