I'm 21 years old. I'm studying for a bachelor's degree at a very selective institution. I have a high-paying job lined up after I graduate in the spring. I'm physically active and in good health. I see my friends and family regularly. I'm able to do most of my hobbies often, and I enjoy them. I've been in therapy for a long time for no specific reason and making little specific progress.
I apologize if this is in the wrong section. I've been unable to stop writing for the past several hours and I must stop. This is where I feel it belongs the most.
When I was 18, I noticed that I was going out of my way to make female friends, but not male friends. It may have been because I thought women were more attractive or likable, but my college dorm was mostly full of women, so maybe it was just statistics. In either case, my best friends were all men. We liked to do manly things, like drinking hard liquor, lifting heavy weights, and beating each other in wrestling matches. Over the next few years, I developed a very masculine, muscular body, which I took pride in both aesthetically and sexually. Women validated my physicality and spirit in speech and action. Acquaintances referred to me as a paragon of non-toxic masculinity.
But I felt increasingly uncomfortable in male-dominated spaces, and I remember wishing that I could introduce myself as (she/her) rather than (he/him), even though that didn't really match who I was or how I felt. I enjoyed participating in activities that were full of women. I read Judith Butler and attended feminist lectures. I even took some classes at a women's college by way of a consortium. I did not cross-dress. I did not take hormones. I did not reject my identity as a man. I couldn't; I was and am decidedly male. I was reluctant to associate with men not because I felt disparate from the male psyche, but because I did not like men.
The incongruity of my supposedly virtuous masculinity and my disdain for men is striking.
When I was 19, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl at school. We discovered by chance that we very much enjoyed each other's company. We spent a great deal of time together. One evening she invited me to her bedroom to study. I had a lot of work. I painstakingly notated Hume for three hours. At midnight, as I stood in the doorway to leave, she asked me if I wanted to stay for the evening. Par for the course. I did, but I couldn't say it. I became extremely conscious of the over-neutrality of my facial expression. It turned into something approaching a pained grimace. My core contracted intensely and I spoke slowly: "I'd really like to, but I can't." I left.
We saw each other the next day. I stayed over this time. We did not have sex, but I did kiss her.
Another day passed. I invited her over this time. We tried to have sex. It didn't work.
Some number of weeks passed. We saw each other occasionally. She'd lost interest in me. I was absolutely head over heels.
Some number of months passed as we went home for the winter. I thought about her every single day. I struggled to sleep. I was listless and anxious.
We reunited in February. She was taken with me. I'd stopped thinking about her constantly, just often. We spent more time together. She would brush up against me as we walked. She would speak to me with interest and excitement. We would dance at parties. We would look into each other's eyes and smile. My affection toward her grew beyond the realm of friendship again. Then a virus struck the Eastern Seaboard with a ferocity I'd never have expected within my lifetime. Our school announced its closure. We met the night before departing to say goodbye. I wanted desperately for her to stay with me forever. As she stood up to leave, I pulled her into an embrace and, my eyes tearing up and my voice nearly breaking, whispered, "I don't want you to go." She left.
We texted over the next few months. We grew very close; closer than we'd been in person. My life was comprised of misery, separation, and apathy. I couldn't stand to be in my home any longer. I couldn't stand to be in my city any longer; I found it endlessly oppressive. I did not like being observed. I was always, always being observed. I wanted to be alone. I was never truly alone. I wanted to be with one person. I was never with her. I could not work. I could not sleep. I could not socialize. I could not breathe.
The virus found its way to her. I was very concerned. She was fine. She could not smell. She was in good spirits. I escaped. I traveled to her. We met in a hotel. We spent several days together. I returned to my prison. I stepped foot inside and fell back into the crater I'd carved for myself.
Some number of months passed. I had to see her again. I scrambled out of my crater and broke free of the cell. We met in another hotel. We spent several days together. We went on an adventure. I became lost within myself. I needed to be near her. I could barely speak to her. She wanted me to leave. She would not say it. I could see it. I could read it. I did read it. In the middle of the night, I felt an overpowering, overwhelming, push to GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT. It put the fear of God into my soul. I could not disobey, or I would die. I tried not to wake her. She heard me putting on my boots. She asked where I was going. I said that I needed to take a walk. I left as fast as my body allowed. I went out and forward. I had no destination; I just needed to depart immediately. I found a lake. It had a path nearby. The path continued into the woods, away from the water, windy and very dark. I walked along it for hours, hours, hours, hours, hours. The air was freezing. I was walking so vigorously that I had to take off my jacket. I could see the outlines of houses at some places along the path. The windows were dark. There were cars in the driveways. I intended to walk until I reached a town. I would look for a church, or a bar. Anywhere that would take me. It was cold again. I continued walking. There was no town. I continued walking. There was still no town. I continued walking. I saw lights in the distance. I continued walking. There was a lake. I approached. It was the lake I had found before. I halted and stood in place for ten minutes. I did not understand how this had happened or could happen. I sat down on a bench. I looked at the water. Across the lake, I saw a man walking alone. He took that path I had taken and disappeared into the darkness. I sat still for a very long time. Thoughts raced through my mind. I decided what I had to say to her. I went inside. A woman or man stood in the lobby. They took the elevator upstairs with me. I asked what floor. They gave some sort of answer. I pressed the button. We reached the floor I'd selected. They did not get out. I asked if this was their floor. They said no. I waited for the doors to close. We stood there in silence. The elevator brought us to our floor. I walked out. They followed me. They asked for a cigarette. I did not have any. I explained that I had to go to sleep. I walked quickly to my room. I entered. I closed the door behind me. I walked past the bed. She was awake. She asked how my walk was. I did not say anything. I could not look at her. I undressed and got into the bed. She made further conversation. I did not know what to say. She asked if I was feeling alright. I said that I was not. She asked why. My face tightened. My core tightened. I could not speak. I said, "My mind often takes me places." I paused for a long moment. "It gets anxious about people. Because I've been with you all this time, it's getting anxious about you." She said that that sounded like "normal social anxiety." I said, "No, it's..." I did not finish. I did not know how.
We have not spoken in months. I think about her every day. At many moments I feel as though I have never wanted to see someone again more. At other moments I forget her completely, if only briefly. Then the loneliness comes back.
Some weeks ago, I found myself in a distant place full of strangers. I made the acquaintance of a woman there. I liked her. She was older than me. She was very beautiful. She looked much younger than she really was. We drank wine and danced romantically at a party. Tango, waltz; whatever we could manage. She was the most attractive person there, and everyone knew it. She moved with a special mastery of her own body that I rarely saw in anyone. She was funny, and she could make really good drinks. Her friends commented on her beauty with pangs of jealousy. My heart fluttered when she entered the room, and I was drawn toward her. We spent more time together. People observed, but did not pry. She was confused or insecure about why I liked her. I offered kisses and flattery. The feeling was genuine; she had beauty beyond measure, and I felt remarkably comfortable in her presence. We had sex five times. We parted ways with a very heartfelt kiss. My mind returns now, uncontrollably, to two women.
The incongruity of the deep affection I feel and my inability to express it is striking.
TW. When I was 20, I lived far away from my friends. I spoke to my acquaintances cordially. Many of them looked up to me. I drank far too much alcohol. I saw a counselor. She spoke to me very candidly. I felt less alone.
A girl down the hall, fresh out of high school, begged me to take her virginity. She was very intoxicated. I refused. She sat on my lap and kissed me. I froze. I thought of my woman from before. She put her hand on my crotch. I gently moved her off. She asked me again. I said no. I couldn't bear to have anyone witness this. I took her outside. We walked along the road, into the darkness. She asked if we could do it tomorrow instead, and I said no again. I explained that I could not sleep with her. She did not understand. We sat down on a bench. I was exasperated. She sat on my lap and kissed me again. She asked me to squeeze her ass. I resisted. She begged. I gave up for a moment and complied, and she tried to pull me in closer. I moved her off me and stood up. We walked back home. I made sure she went to her room. I turned to go to bed. I could hear her crying through her door.
I felt that I had to leave that space. I could not. I lived there for six more months. I told no one. I avoided the girl down the hall. She and her friends always ate in the room near mine. It was hard for me to leave without being seen. I could say nothing. I pretended as though all was well with my other acquaintances. When I saw my friends, I did not tell them either. I distracted myself and moved on.
The incongruity of my unbelievable narcissism and my pitifully diffident response to unconsensual sexual acts is striking.
I'm 21 years old. Good or bad, all of that is behind me now. But it really isn't. I'm left with impressions in my mind that cannot be removed. I will never, ever forget these people; not by choice, but by imposition. I must accept this reality. In doing so I will allow myself to forget the worst parts, and so diminish the accursed reminders I presently face.
If you read all of this, thank you.