I made a list this morning of all the people I've slept with, and I only came up with 34 names, including "bouncer guy." I know there are around eight more significant encounters that I've forgotten. I first counted names in about '95 or '96, and got as far as 40. I was including people with whom I'd fooled around heavily but never crossed the finish line with, so to speak. I decided at that time that I should probably quit counting. Since then, there have been ten more, ending with G.
It's probably good that I can't remember all of them. I know they can't possibly all remember me. With my new conservative estimate, that's 44 total, a good number of whom were one-night stands. When I think back on some of them my stomach churns with shame. I can't believe how sad and defeated and worthless I felt back then, and what an ineffective drug sex was.
G and I have been engaged for nine months, and I have doubts about our relationship. I don’t know if I’ll be happy with him forever. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over New York, if I’ll resent G and blame him for my never being able to live there again. (G hates the city.) I’m not entirely convinced that the Jewish issue won’t be a problem in the future. There are other concerns that would affect any couple – like child-rearing, and money – but it’s the G-specific things that I’m angsting. I thought we had worked through all this. I have this awful feeling that G hasn’t been completely honest with me about something. I feel… distrustful.
That angst is bringing back an all-too-familiar feeling of panic. I’m a powder keg.
I was at my most depressed when I was in college - during the “slut years.” It's not an excuse - it was a factor. Sex became a powerful anaesthetic for me. For a few hours, the world went away. I liked it wild and rough, because it was more work that way, and required all my concentration, and my partner's. Sometimes a quickie was enough to help me sleep. Sometimes I'd thrash around with someone for six or seven hours, trying to get rid of the self-loathing voices in my head. It worked most of the time. The next day, I'd try and forget about what I’d just done. That was the hard part.
I never kept track of my lovers until many years had gone by, and I'd moved to New York. I counted them because a friend was curious. I was pretty shocked at the total. She was impressed more than shocked. So was the guy I was dating at the time, who at 21 had only been with four girls. The fact that they didn't judge me helped me to not rush to judge myself.
I like to let people think I was a happy slut, but I wasn't. These were my college years. I was plagued with horrific nightmares about falling through the floor of a church, about an old evil witch who used to make me kill people, as though I were a marionette with no power of my own. I remember waking up at 2 am, 4 am, 5 am, my heart pounding in my chest, terrified that there was - no kidding - a demon under my bed, wondering when it would drag me off to hell, kill me horribly, whatever demons do. Some manifestation of a nebulous terror whose origins I never could pinpoint.
During the days, when I didn't have to go to class, I would sit in my dorm room all day writing poetry and short stories, watching TV, and seeing how long I could go without eating. I was never able to go longer than two days without eating, and I felt frustrated by that. I was angry with myself for that.
I also remember forcing myself to walk out of my dorm room, scuttling as fast as I could to the Student Counseling Center with my head tucked into my chest, hoping nobody saw me, not wanting to see the rest of the world. I told the student counselor about never wanting to eat, knowing it was dangerous, and about being afraid to leave my dorm room. I told her how I felt that people were pointing and laughing at me everywhere I went, and that I knew this probably wasn't true, and that these were crazy thoughts. I told her about being in love with a guy who wasn't good for me, and how I wasn't able to disengage from him no matter how many times I slept around.
That counselor talked about STD's and AIDs. I pulled a package of condoms out of my purse. I proceeded to rattle off all kinds of AIDs statistics, highest-risk groups, means of transmission. I told her when I’d last been tested and when I was planning to test again. The counselor said "as long as you're protecting yourself, and not using IV drugs, then I think it's good to explore your sexuality." She completely missed the point.
She tried to talk to me about homesickness. I informed her that I was an hour-and-a-half drive from home, and that I saw my family several times a month, and went home often. Next?
She asked about the not eating thing. I told her about being in the ballet company, and how evil the girls were to me, and how for a couple of years in high school I would only eat when my parents were watching, and how I'd throw up my breakfast every morning. I told her I'd seen a lot of girls with anorexia and bulemia. The counselor asked if I was hiding food, making myself throw up, taking laxatives. I wasn't. She asked how I felt about my body, and I replied I was one sexy-ass mama. I don’t remember what she said about all that, but the subject was dismissed.
I talked about the demons and the bad dreams. She asked if I was homesick. No, I said. I'm scared of the demons under my bed, and I'm scared that I'm going crazy. The counselor suggested I come back some other time.
I went a few times. We never talked about the dreams. We never talked about sex, just about how to keep from getting STD's. We never talked about the nature of infidelity. We never addressed the real reasons I was there.
In 2001, I dated an MSW. I talked to him frankly about sexual addiction. He seemed to feel that I wasn't truly a sex addict. He said if I was, I wouldn't be able to LIVE without getting it all the time, from all sorts of random people. That wasn't my behavior pattern. I was more apt to maintain several long-term relationships at once, with an occasional one-night stand if I was having a particularly bad day, and I was particularly drunk and/or stoned. A year or so later, after that relationship had ended, I considered seeking a group for sexual addiction, but I never followed through.
In 2003, after my marriage ended, I thought I had made a real breakthrough, when I dated someone without cheating, then broke up with him before starting to date someone else. That someone else was G.
A few nights ago, I dreamed some really awful dreams, about one of my ex's, about being paralyzed, about being used like a puppet to steal things from people.
I talked to G. I told him I still, at times, don't trust myself. We are engaged and planning a wedding. I told him that I was terrified that I might slip and screw this up.
"Is this why you've been wanting to spend more and more time with me lately?" he asked. I nodded, and cried.
We talked for some time. He did not get impatient or angry or suspicious. I was expecting a simple "If you love me and you're committed to our marriage, you won't screw this up." Nope. He didn't say that, and thank God, because that kind of guilt-trip usually pushes me over the edge. Instead, he just held my hand, and listened. I told him sex for me was like a bottle of bad whiskey – I think I’m going to find what I want, but it’s never there. I told him I’d had an opportunity recently, and was badly tempted, and that it scared the hell out of me. I told him I didn’t know what was missing from my life that would make me go to that dark place again, after all this time. He held me and kissed my forehead and let me cry until I fell asleep again.
The next morning, we talked about infidelity in general, and how I've always had a laissez-faire attitude towards it. I’ve always believed that a mindless transgression from time to time was not a statement on the primary relationship. I actually told G that if he had a fling on a business trip with someone faceless and nameless, that I'd chalk it up to being human, because I don't feel I have a right to judge anyone for that. I also said that it’s easy for me to say these things, but who knows how I'd really feel if it happened? He ruffled my hair and laughed. He has no interest whatsoever in cheating. He talked about condoms breaking and accidental pregnancies, and how it's just not worth taking those chances, never mind the whole concept of hurting me. I said that my attitude toward infidelity could easily be an effort to make myself feel better about my own sordid past, but I’m not sure that’s the case. What I do know is that this so-called need of mine, this compulsion, is not completely under control.
I have to grab hold of myself and remember that I’M in control here. That a wild, secret tumble in the dark doesn’t fix anything. Anesthesia wears off. I don’t want to lie or cheat or steal or hurt anyone – not even myself. I don’t have to punish myself for my past anymore. I’m better than my nightmares. The person holding my puppet strings is me.
I can trust G. I need to discuss my fears about our relationship directly with him. I need to face these things head on, rather than lashing out against my fears through a rebellious act. I’m worth it. I deserve it. I’m strong enough to do it. I’m not alone. I’m loved. I don’t need that drug anymore. I never did need it. I don’t even want it.
I can. I will. We will.