A few nights ago, an old friend called me, incoherent with anger. I was surprised because when I’d spoken to her last, she was on cloud nine. She’d recently started dating someone new and things were going exceptionally well. He was a lawyer, well travelled and like my financial analyst friend, pretty high up on the leaderboard. They’d been set up by a mutual friend and considering all the things they had in common, we all expected them to hit it off immediately. And they did. Until inevitably, That Conversation took place.
By That Conversation, I mean the minefield called each other’s past. We’ve all done things that range from mildly embarrassing to outright shameful. It could be a drunken kiss against better judgement or a full-blown affair with a forbidden man; we’ve all been there, done that and later pretended it never happened. But my friend is different. She doesn’t pretend and she doesn’t lie. Because her past isn’t an inconvenient truth, it’s just a portion of her life she’s lived, dissected, learnt something from and put to rest. Basically, she’s the idea most men think they want to date, but few are emotionally secure enough of being with in reality. Sounds familiar? It did to a lot of the women I recounted the story to.
But let me backtrack a little. The first few months sailed past blissfully. He kept her giggling through bottles of red as they sat holed up in his apartment, popping movie after movie into the DVD player through the night… movies neither remembers much of because they never quite paid attention. The sex was great, the conversations even better. And then one night the topic of past relationships and flings came up. Now, my friend has been a champion of casual sex. She’s chosen it over relationships on several occasions. Some- times for months at a time, when no one could hold her attention for more than a few hours, and sometimes simply because she didn’t want to derail her express climb up the ladder. She doesn’t think of sex as something that brands or shames her. It wasn’t like she’d shared shockingly new information about herself, but for some reason, the conversation left my friend with a lingering sense of unease. She couldn’t pinpoint it, but there seemed to be a subtle change in him after that night.
The day my friend called me, they’d had a huge fight. It started as a stupid argument over an issue she couldn’t even remember, but had escalated into a full-blown war of words. Both of them said things they didn’t mean, but he crossed a line from which their relationship could never recover. In a moment of fury, he called her a whore who was destined to play musical beds all her life because no decent guy was ever going to marry her. This, from a guy who invited my friend back home after their first date. So basically, he was judging her for having sex with him before their relationship had progressed enough for it to be acceptable. Talk about hypocrisy.
Although my friend tried to hide it, the lawyer’s words had wounded her. Since that first furious call, we’ve had several long conversations about the incident… about whether there was any truth to what he’d said. Was allowing physical intimacy in a relationship keeping her from being in a lasting one?
It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot. Does my number define me? How come a man’s dating and sexual history is just that—history—but a woman’s past becomes her definition? Is withholding sex until you’ve dated an X number of months some new-fangled method of gauging a girl’s virtue? And why don’t men have to play by the same rules? Is love that blossoms alongside sex of a lesser kind than the love that grows in the absence of it?
Many women I know think rushing into physical intimacy is a defence mechanism to avoid emotional intimacy. In some ways, I agree. Sleeping with The Dude was a lot easier than admitting I was in love. But the truth is, I did find love in a place I wasn’t looking for it. For a long time after we first hooked up, he was just a warm body I liked waking up to. At some point during our post-coital conversations, I discovered he’d become someone special. A relationship is doomed not if you ignore the ‘mission accomplished’ banner across some arbitrarily set time limit before it is okay to allow physical intimacy, it is doomed when the other half of it is a raging hypocrite. The real deal doesn’t come as a signed and stamped package. It could as easily be the guy you thought you’d say goodbye to in the morning as the one who goes back home after a goodnight kiss.