A couple of nights ago, I went out with this guy, Tom*. No, it wasn't a date. (I DON'T date anymore.) So for now, let's call the outing a “non-date.”
He took me to a bar, where we covered all the important topics of the world over glasses of rosé, and then I took him to a diner.
He got a burger and a beer; I got pancakes for dinner. We exchanged opinions about The Beatles and Coldplay and The Rolling Stones. As we talked, I could see lightning in the distance.
It was only a matter of time before it rolled over onto our street corner, and somewhere in between taking bites off each other's plates, Tom and I found ourselves interrupted by rain. Pouring rain. It hit the sidewalk with such a velocity that you knew it could only last for so long. We both looked at the rain, then at each other, then back at the rain.
“Should we run out into it?” I asked. “Like they do in the movies? That's romantic, right?”
“It is,” he said. “Let's do it."
We grabbed our things and made a run for it. On any given day, I can't stand getting caught in the rain, and I don't know if it was the strong wine or the good company, but the rain felt great. It soaked through my shoes and onto my socks. The water washed away the sweat on my face, my hair frizzed up and I laughed harder than I have in a while.
Tom turned to me.
"We should kiss," he said, as water dripped from his eyelashes and down onto his lips. "We should have a good, old-fashioned Hollywood kiss."
I thought about it for a second. But, I wasn't tipsy anymore. Pancakes and syrup had replaced the spaces in my stomach the rosé was once swirling around in. I had inhibitions. My mind was clearing.
And it was there, in that New York City rainstorm, that I realized I can't kiss a guy sober.
Have I ever kissed a guy sober? Sure. There have been about two men in my day I felt OK kissing sober. But, it had taken a while to muster up the strength — and I'm talking months and months — to feel comfortable enough to kiss them without any liquid courage to propel me. They were my boyfriends.
When it comes to just dating, though, I can't indulge men with a sober kiss. It could be the second date or the eighth date, and I'd still need a few drinks in me.
"I can't," I ending up telling Tom. I watched his spirit sink.
I remember this one time during the very early stages of dating my ex. He'd invited me to a Yankees game. It was only the second time I'd ever been invited to a baseball game, so I made sure to go all out. Half a beer and a hot dog in, I was having the time of my life rooting for a team I knew nothing about, with a guy I was still beginning to get to know.
When the game was over, my ex walked me to the subway station. Hand in hand, we walked down the crowded steps, pushing and shoving people until we finally made it down. And then, he cornered me. He grabbed my waist with one hand, tightened his grip on my hand with the other hand already interlaced with mine and leaned in to kiss me.
“Not here,” I said, fidgeting and looking around to see if anyone was watching. “You want our first kiss to be in the subway?”
“I want to kiss you because we're in the subway,” he said, moving in even closer.
Deep down, I appreciated his spontaneity. In fact, I more than appreciated it. I found it to be wildly romantic. I wouldn't have minded at all locking lips with him in the dirty, bustling underground of the Bronx. If we kissed, our bodies would have stuck together in the sticky, subway, summer heat. The whole scene would have been hot in more ways than one.
So, what the hell was I doing, looking down at my shoelaces instead of kissing him? I was just procrastinating, really. I was nervous and uncomfortable and even a little afraid to kiss him. Because in that moment, all I could think was, "What if we don't have rhythm? What if we accidentally bump heads like two clumsy idiots? What if he discovers that Sheena from far away is far better than Sheena up close?"
Hmm, maybe I've had too many drunk kisses to be able to value the merit of a sober one. No one kissed sober in college; well, I didn't, anyway. I'd go to frat parties wearing cheap spandex that barely covered my ass and had jungle juice-infused spit-swaps.
I actually was in a relationship for a brief time, but "relationship" in college means being dragged to pregames and parties with a guy who liked getting drunk with you. And I got used to using alcohol as a lubricant for tongue sword fights with my college boyfriend. Our kisses were always drunk or half-assed hungover kisses.
The funny thing is, I can have sex with a guy sober. I can go down on a guy sober. I can fondle a guy's balls while looking him in the eyes sober. But, I can't kiss a guy sober. A kiss is slow and intimate. A kiss is loaded with 1,000 words.
A kiss says, "Hey, this is me. I'm right here. And you can do with me what you please, but no matter what you choose to do with me, I can't change who I am."
I don't love who I am. I already knew that. But what I didn't know is that not loving who you are comes with an endless list of other problems, like being unable to enjoy a steamy kiss in a stuffy subway station because you're too paralyzed by your insecurities.
I hope Tom doesn't take it personally. It isn't about him. It's about me.
One day, when I'm strong enough in my own skin and find a man I love just as much as I love myself, I'll look him in the eye, take his face in my hands and kiss him. Not high, not drunk, not hungover, not afraid. Just sober.