I'm 22 years old and have recently graduated from college. I'm a little disoriented right now. I'd appreciate some help. I'm having trouble explaining my issue precisely, but it relates to these...
I'm 22 years old and have recently graduated from college. I'm a little disoriented right now. I'd appreciate some help. I'm having trouble explaining my issue precisely, but it relates to these themes: SEX, LONGING, AMBIVALENCE, PURPOSE. I feel I must provide some anecdotes for my question(s) to make sense.
In the wintertime, I made a new friend. She had pitch-black hair. We had exchanged any number of glances from across the room. She caught me one morning as I left the hall and asked if I liked [REDACTED_MEDIA]. I humored her: "Sure, as much as anyone. … No, I've not seen it. … Yes, I'll check it out." The following week I reported back with my opinions, and we spoke a great deal, warming to one another as the days remained icy.
One day I offered to take her to [REDACTED_EVENT]. She didn't come, but regretted it, and gave me a phone number as reparation. She was a little embarrassed, but I found it endearing; I was quite happy to see more of her. From here the courtship was a breeze. On a Saturday we took a drive into the country and strolled along a quiet, wooded trail, a respite from our world of books and burdens. As we rested by a stream, talking about trivialities, she laid out a moment of trauma before me. She was not looking for answers to an unanswerable tragedy so much as a good listener. I obliged, and held her closely as we walked home. She appreciated the comfort.
From here the romance was a breeze. One invitation to study at hers and we were having unbelievable sex. She was very beautiful. We would spend an entire day together, ignoring our responsibilities and enjoying each other's bodies. Never in my life had I indulged in such things as she asked for. I think it actually changed some of my brain chemistry. It was exciting, it was fun, and it was very satisfying—for both of us. I also thought our conversation was authentic and emotionally fulfilling. Apparently she did not share that feeling, because she broke up with me (suddenly) a couple weeks in. Her exact reasons were a little strange, but I was not going to push it. We said our goodbyes, and I walked home in the bitter cold, alone.
I hadn't known her long enough to be debilitatingly heartbroken, but it did hurt. And maybe I'm just being naïve, but I question whether it's possible for a future relationship to beat that sex. This prompts a greater existential question: "So why bother?"
Some time ago, a dear friend invited me to her home in a city I no longer called mine. We dined and spoke of our passing lives: exciting and intimidating in their opportunity; tiring and burdensome in their demands. There were so many choices ahead; work gave enough but took too much. It was a relief to be free from the school; it was lonely. But it warmed my heart to be in her company again.
She drew me to her bed and closed the door. I sat, and we chatted. Her expectation was obvious and the reason for my passivity was not—the dance of intimacy was familiar to both of us. After a pause, she faced me and said, "We can sleep together, but I don't want you to stay the night."
Her request was reasonable, but I found it deeply jarring. Sex had not really motivated my visit, though I had entertained the possibility, and it had certainly not motivated my behavior at dinner. (I had planned already where I would be sleeping that night, and it was far away.) I had missed her a lot. More than anything I had missed her presence. Her statement revealed a terrible disparity in how we viewed our relationship. It was my fault for not stepping out after dinner, and it was particularly my fault across many months prior for setting a series of expectations that effectively downplayed my emotional feelings.
I acknowledged her and quickly changed the top of conversation, and for a moment it was as though nothing had been said. Then, with another pause, she leaned over for a kiss. My heart was not in it. All I could hear was "I don't want you..." Still, I could not refuse. I had been sliced open, but she was very pretty, and more importantly I was reluctant to disappoint the people I cared for. The sex that followed felt passionless and transactional—different from before. She seemed impatient. I was distressed. It was consensual, but it was really weird and I did not enjoy it.
I walked out of that house wishing I could cry. It was not the time. I could betray no weakness here or the city would devour me. I did cry, later. And maybe I'm just being naïve, but this incident made me question whether it's possible for a future relationship to beat the sentimental connection we had at the peak of our fling… including another go at it (that time has evidently passed). We were emotional matches/peers/equals in a way I don't know if I will ever find again. This prompts a greater existential question: "So why bother?"
We're meant to see each other again quite soon, but this time the bed will be my own, and this time she'll stay the night. I couldn't say no when she asked. It's going to be awkward. I'm unsure what I wish to do.
Not long ago, a friend asked near midnight if there was something happening between us. I froze up and sputtered something out about not expecting that question. I was genuinely unable to say anything for a few minutes. The answer that came to mind was kind of "Yes," but it was also, "I'm confused at this time and I don't know," and also, "This is going to hurt the group dynamic." I said yes but mumbled something about not getting her hopes up because I was pretty weird and also pretty uncertain about how I wanted to shape my life in the near and far future. I did not talk about the group dynamic.
I'm proud of myself for making it clear that my wants are currently shifting and that my boundaries are unclear. I would've liked to be more specific. However, I'm not proud of saying yes before I had resolved all my emotional problems, nor about glossing over all my reservations. I feel it is irresponsible; I'm setting myself (and her) up to fail. I'm uncertain how to feel about the group dynamic. In the past year I've been the recipient of a lot of romantic attention with them and I've consistently said no. It is fine right now but it might not be fine if I change course like this.
Last year I made a post on this website about three experiences I'd had and received a few comments. One of them in particular stuck with me:
I will give you one piece of advice. There's absolutely nothing wrong with anything that you told us, but since you are young and reminds a bit of myself when I was your age, I'll say this: be careful not to inadvertently hurt anyone. Be explicit instead of implicit. People often have all kinds of expectations that differ from our own, so it's a good idea to let them know where they stand.
I really did take that to heart. I don't want to hurt anyone. I am trying so hard not to ruin everything. I broke this advice soon after it was given to me and it severely damaged a friendship. It was not on purpose, but it was incredibly foolish. Since then, I've been extra careful not to lead people on and to be really clear about my needs (or at least I hope I have). But this is hard because I live a very social lifestyle and people seem to misinterpret friendliness as flirting. Or they just have opinions. I can't say this without sounding arrogant, so please forgive me, but people often comment admiringly on my appearance. It is obvious that they treat me differently because of it. It's not that weird (or that bad honestly) for an acquaintance my age to be a little bashful in front of me—but it feels different when it becomes an increasingly significant part of my reputation. I try not to touch people or to otherwise give them the wrong idea, but it seems like I am breeding longing/jealousy just by existing.
Anyway, I feel I am struggling to move this relationship forward in part because I wasn't explicitly looking for one, and have been hit hard lately by general listlessness and uncertainty, so I wasn't prepared for it. And I'm also struggling to reconcile the physical needs of a new romance with my current incredible level of apathy toward sex. "Why bother?" I've never been this indifferent toward it before, it has always been important to me. The more I think about previous relationships, the less it seems like it's worth it to pursue anything at all. I would call it freeing to not care, except that it's fundamentally concerning. It stems from bad memories and also I think some trauma I haven't really resolved, which is not the same as "letting loose and living my life." It's been physically difficult for me to even think about sex and to be honest the thought is occasionally a little revolting to me, which I have never felt before, at least not for an extended period. And I feel like I'm too irrevocably closed-off to ever sufficiently open up emotionally in a relationship to make it last long-term. But… I also know what it feels like to fall into despair, not knowing what great things lie around the corner. This makes me reluctant to cut it off or make an ultimatum or actually do anything decisive at all.
It's all just so much.
None of that is really in question form, but it sort of explains my headspace. I'm sorry that I can't explain it better, but it's very late and I have work tomorrow. I would really appreciate some insight. Thanks.