I’ve been thinking today about the time I had sex with a stranger on the beach.
This was quite a long time ago, now; it was right before I met my husband. I went on a vacation to visit my college roommate. I’ll call her Denise. She was living in Hawai’i at the time, married for several years to John, a writer who had inherited a home there.
It was my first trip there, and Denise dedicated a lot of time to showing me around and making sure I enjoyed myself. This was really kind of her. But you have to understand Denise is also a complicated and troubled person. She’s exceptionally beautiful, and men trip all over themselves trying to get her attention. And she needed that; she kind of tended to lost track of herself, as if she were invisible if she wasn’t being fawned over. The fact that John adores her was irrelevant. She needed every guy to notice her.
Denise’s needs aren’t really central to this story, though. They just meant that in addition to sightseeing, we had to go out and do things that would get her beauty noticed. One night that meant we went out dancing at a club at some tourist hotel. I like dancing and hadn’t gone in years; I kind of looked forward to it. But when I got there, I discovered that in the years I hadn’t gone out like that, dancing had changed into something else, something consisting of guys you didn’t know rubbing their hard-ons against your backside.
It was kind of horrible. Honestly, I felt a little shocked when I saw it. And because this was back when I still assumed that my reactions were always wrong, I told myself I must just be naive and inexperienced. It must be all right; look, there was a whole big dance floor of people doing it. This was what sophisticated people seemed to do.
I sat at a table with Denise, and we ordered drinks. I don’t think it took five minutes for there to be a couple of guys at our table. I could see what was happening right away. The more extrovert of the two went straight for Denise. I was the side-kick, intended for his side-kick friend, whose name might have been Michael. I am not sure I remember.
So I had another drink, or a couple, I don’t know. And I danced with Michael, which meant rubbing intimate parts of our bodies up against one another before knowing anything about each other. It didn’t feel like as much fun to me as everyone else seemed to be having. But I was also used to going along, not just with Denise’s preferences (though I was) but also with whatever men wanted from me.
Anyway, you can imagine how this goes. Michael and I walk on the beach. We talk a little, once free of the booming music in the hotel. I remember thinking he didn’t seem especially interesting to me, that I would never really choose him. And almost the next thing I remember, I’m lying on my back, sand scraping my backside, and we’re having sex. Honestly, it’s hard to remember what came in between. Did we go swimming? Maybe.
All these years later, it’s a little hard for me to 1) understand how it was I did this; 2) tell you all this story without cringing in shame.
It’s not really that I think there’s something unethical about having sex for fun with someone you don’t really know. I know lots of people do that, and if they both freely choose it, okay then. But I wasn’t interested in Michael. I didn’t like the situation or feel comfortable. I was acting out something or going along with something that wasn’t me at all. That’s what I have a problem with, that inability to recognize what was me and what was not me, or, if I did recognize it, the inability (or unwillingness?) to act on it, to be true to myself. I see myself the way I behaved as a weakness.
Yes, I can understand that a past history of no boundaries and sexual violation may have put me in the position of having no experience and no guidelines. But I was supposed to be smart; all my life, people told me I was sharp. I think it was only school smart, though. I don’t think I have been a quick learner in life. Otherwise, how did I get that far into adulthood that I could go from “I don’t like this music and I don’t like this style of dancing,” to “I don’t like this guy but he seems to want to fuck me on the beach, so whatever” just a few hours later?
Long, slow breath. I can feel myself getting a little agitated as I think about. Another long, slow breath.
Anyway, this is what I am thinking about. I might carry it into therapy tomorrow. I do know that I’d like for my current sex life to be… well, first I’d like to have a current sex life. I have been avoiding it for months and months because I don’t know how to engage sexually with my husband and be myself, emotionally present. So I don’t now if talking about some guy possibly named Michael from many years ago is what I need to talk to E about. I don’t have any idea what to do to make things easier. All I know is that when I was thinking about it, what came to me was my highly unromantic, pointless, regrettable experience on the beach.