There are these rules, the sexual waiting period mandates. Of course, I determine the rules, which are morally relative and shift according to my own mental whims and physical needs. It's sort of like the waiting period to purchase a gun -- my rules are just as varied and arbitrary and can result in major injury to one or more parties.
For my first time, with the artist, the grace period was a month. A month is long enough to know that someone isn't an ax murderer and generally long enough to know that he's not teeming with syphilis. I also needed to be certain that I wasn't a slut. While I was in high school, the waiting period was different and required a commitment of at least a year or the purchase of some kind of expensive jewelry; in college I felt a month was perfectly sufficient to maintain my good-girl status.
So, after the first time, a month was the time frame fixed in my head. With the second boy, an ill-advised summer rebound, I waited a month. We were co-counselors at a summer camp for Westchester babies, and after work I would keep him at bay in his stifling Bronx apartment with sweaty protestations. The night I finally gave in, he ran shirtless to the nearest bodega and returned, panting, condoms in hand, with a huge grin on his face.
Although I waited a month the second time, it didn't feel quite right. I didn't really like this guy and wasn't overwhelmingly attracted to him. I mostly just slept with him so I wouldn't have to listen to him beg me anymore.
The third time was with the sweet stoner and I only waited three weeks. Three weeks is nearly a month, I rationalized, and anyway, we spent most of our waking hours together for those three weeks, so it clearly counted as at least a month, if not longer. He had broad shoulders and big green eyes and I knew it was serious and I wanted it so badly.
And now to the fourth and most recent. With this one, I waited approximately three hours after meeting him before luring him back to my dorm room and having my way with him on my creaky wooden bed, the frame crashing monotonously against the cinder-block wall like in a bad '80s movie.
We met at a Rhode Island School of Design grad student party. I saw his perfectly tousled head sticking up over the crowd, the requisite black-rimmed glasses perched on his upturned nose. He and his friend were about a foot taller than every other guy at the party and clutching Colt 45s and lollipops. Bolstered by the half-bottle of wine I'd ingested at my girlfriends' weekly ritual drunken dinner, I walked directly up to him and said, "I like your 40."
Apparently that was sufficient as a pickup line, delivered in confident and sultry wine-loosened speech. I quickly found out that hipster boy was visiting his best friend in Providence for the weekend and that he was a graphic designer and lived in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, N.Y., like all graphic designers. They grow on trees off Bedford Street, fully formed and wearing corduroy.
He wasn't what I deemed as my physical type: I usually go for light hair and light eyes and bulky bodies. I dream of having Aryan babies someday, little tow-headed blonds running around me in Lily Pulitzer dresses. The hipster was tall and lanky with dark curly hair and small dark eyes -- a legacy from his Italian father -- but he was definitely my style of guy. I often go for the artsy types. They're creative and interesting and I entertain fantasies of having songs written for me and paintings inspired by me.
The hipster was an impulse buy: He was pretty and shiny and stuck out from all the other boys in the checkout aisle. As I was leaving the party I thought I would pick him up.
As he and his friend were parting ways, the hipster said, "I've always wanted to see the Brown dorms."
Making out in the stairwell of my building, pushed up against the cold wall with his long fingers grazing my ass, I was more attracted to the hipster than I'd been to almost anyone. Sure, the attraction was muddled with booze and the horniness of three months of near celibacy, but I could tell it was something beyond that, something physically real.
Twenty minutes later, my legs were pinned behind my ears and the bedsprings were groaning. For once I didn't think too hard about it. I wanted. I needed. I had. I didn't think about the emotional repercussions, because by this time I thought I could deal with a one-night stand. I'd been gearing up for it since I was 13. Back then I had made out with a boy I had liked for months -- years, it might have been. Afterward, I just assumed he'd be my boyfriend. I let him touch my boobs, I thought, ergo, he must be mine. It was a rude awakening when I saw him kissing some other girl at a party two nights later and realized this was not the case.
There were numerous one-night hookups in the intervening years. Some I could explain away by pleading sexual frustration and not worry if they called me later. Others I would pout about for weeks and end up feeling used. But these encounters involved only minor pawing, never actual sex.
What allowed me to indulge my horniness so completely this time was the knowledge that I had a real boyfriend waiting for me three continents away. I didn't need the hipster to care about me. I already had a boy for that, even though he was an uncommunicative boy with whom I was on a break. I needed the hipster for sex, pure and simple. It was easy to keep my distance from him as long as I pigeonholed him into a little artsy corner. He's just like all the other boys with their Sauconys and their portfolios and their pretensions. I am a liberated woman! I can separate sex and love. Or at least that's what I convinced myself.
My personal sexual revolution ended mentally the next morning. For the first time I was getting into some morally ambiguous territory. When my boyfriend and I had decided to have an "open relationship," we set parameters. That's a lie. I set parameters.
The night after I said goodbye to the boyfriend, I called him at his childhood home at 3 in the morning, hysterical. I kept picturing him in the arms of some toned and tanned Australian. She would probably be able to surf and drink me under the table. She probably didn't have any New York neurosis and wouldn't care if he smoked pot all day long and humped kangaroos.
"If we're going to do this," I said, clutching my sweater tightly about my shoulders and shivering despite the pumping furnace, "I can't deal with you sleeping with someone else. You can do everything but."
"All right, Jess, OK," he said, humoring me, "and you're not allowed to lick anyone's asshole."
Well, I hadn't gone near the hipster's bum, but I was playing with fire. There was more rationalization on my part. Technically I never said I wouldn't have sex with anyone, I thought. And I don't care about the hipster. I don't even know him! That makes it OK, right? Right? The mental debate raged on the next morning at brunch. I was actually enjoying the hipster's company a great deal, beyond the sex. I discovered there was more to him than good hair and a pert nose. We both were reading Donna Tartt books and liked Wes Anderson movies. He had this wonderful childlike quality. He got extra-excited about small things. He videotaped a bear humping a log at the Bronx Zoo, the highlight of his zoo experience. "That bear was just going at it!" he told me, his teeth flashing.
The hipster and I spent the next night together and didn't have sex. As I walked him out on Sunday morning, I was even more conflicted. I was starting to have pangs of affection, those little ones in your deepest stomach. When we said goodbye in the parking lot of a deli across the street, amid the morning bagel traffic, he kissed me. Then, walking back to my room, I thought, I hope he calls me. Shit, I really hope he calls.
Two days later, I sprawled across my friend Renee's bed and talked to her about my weekend. Renee is famous among our group for having four dildos and maintaining her emotions when faced with a one-night stand. "Whatever," I told her defensively. "It doesn't matter if he calls or not. The sex wasn't even that great."
"Yeah. Fuck him in his hairy indie ass!" she exclaimed, and before the words could finish coming out of her mouth I could feel my phone vibrating against my leg. It was actually the hipster.
I'd just assumed I would have to be punished for giving it up so easily, especially when it was breaking a thousand of my sexual and emotional policies. He'd turn out to be an asshole or a weirdo or just never call again. I'd be the sultry brunette in '50s movies who always gets cast aside for the pristine blonde. I'd be Veronica, never Betty. But the hipster turned out to be a good egg and my bizarre fundamentalist leanings were unfounded.
I would talk to the hipster every few nights on the phone. We'd flirt excessively and talk about all the preapproved hip-kid subjects, like watching "Donnie Darko" and liking cheesy rap, ironically of course. I kept waiting for a sign, something that would make my decision easy, something that would morally absolve me. Australia boy was being as uncommunicative as ever. I e-mailed him a few times, even logged in a phone call. But nothing. It was a complete communication blackout. I was angry, and the hipster was good revenge.
For the next few weeks I flopped around wondering what I would do about the situation. I've never been good at being casual. I just can't do it. Even though I was allowed to date the hipster (though not sleep with him), I felt incredibly guilty about the whole thing. I crave intensity and finality, and having one pseudo-boyfriend halfway around the world and another pseudo-boyfriend three hours away made my internal deliberations even more unbearable. What I decided was to play fast and loose, not promise anyone anything, and see what happened.
That didn't work at all.
Two weeks after our initial encounter I went to visit the hipster on his turf, and over Thai noodles near Union Square he gave me an ultimatum. "Look," he said, his small, animal mouth turning down at the edges, "I hate getting involved in shit like this. I've been thinking about it and either it matters when that dude gets back from Australia, or it doesn't. And if it matters, then I don't think we should see each other anymore."
At the sound of his voice I felt my eyes tear up. I wasn't willing to give up the hipster quite yet. I truly liked him a lot. He was sensitive and kind and intriguing. If I didn't pursue the hipster, I would be resentful when Australia boy came back. I wouldn't be able to live contentedly in stoner heaven without wondering what could have been out in Brooklyn.
But I didn't want to let go of the stoner yet either. I wasn't positive that the whole hipster thing wasn't some subconscious manipulative plot of mine to make the stoner care. We had been happy together in a fashion, and a lot of me still loved him. We'd logged so much time and effort, and lamely enough we'd even gone so far as to name our first child. I wasn't convinced that I should give up the prospect of nascent Emma Rose for something so ephemeral.
I was stripped from the mooring of my simple laws, my simple plan. As much as part of me wants to, I can't be my parents -- married at 24 and popping out rug rats mere months later. I can't prescribe myself an anal-retentive emotional path. Aryan babies and monogamous faux marriages may be in my future, but right now I need to accept my residence in the land of indecision and broken rules.
"Well, I've been thinking about it a lot too," I told the hipster, "and that relationship isn't really going anywhere. So yeah. Let's try it, for real," I said, not certain it was the truth.