On my second date with Brian, he skimmed my body and face with a look of appreciation.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said, with sincerity in his gaze.
We laughed and talked for hours over pork carnitas and rice.
We discussed spirituality, porn, politics and all the “forbidden” subjects.
“I guess we’re not into small talk,” he said, while walking me 30 blocks back to my apartment.
He held my hand confidently, without questioning or analyzing if it was too soon, like I would have done.
He kissed me on my stoop, sweetly.
After that, we saw each other three or four times a week.
Unlike me, Brian was the kind of person who loved unabashedly, with a vulnerable and open heart from the beginning.
I guard my heart carefully, as if it’s a delicate piece of artwork that must remain behind glass.
I never allow anyone to get close enough to hurt me.
Ironically, it’s this kind of mentality that usually ends things and hurts me anyway.
So, while Brian ran and cannonballed into the pool, I sat on the side, dipping my toe in slowly.
After the first month, he asked me to be his girlfriend.
We were eating a bag of M&M's when he said, “Let’s play a game. If the next M&M is green, you have to buy the coffee. If it’s blue, you’re my girlfriend.”
It was red.
“Guess it’s too soon!” I said awkwardly. Commitment in relationships wasn't really my forte.
He tried again two weeks later, this time while cuddling on my couch.
He twirled a strand of my hair around his finger and kissed my neck.
"Are you my girlfriend?"
I wanted to say yes, but my delicate heart had been bruised too recently.
I couldn't let that happen again. I avoided answering his question by kissing him passionately instead.
Despite my evasiveness, he texted me the next morning at work.
“Waking up next to you has been the most unexpected and amazing thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”
I couldn’t stop grinning.
He made me feel desired and beautiful, in a way I hadn’t felt in a while.
When the topic of sex came up, I told him I wanted to take things slow and steady.
I was relatively inexperienced, and hadn't had sex in over a year.
He responded with compassion, gently saying, “We’re on no one’s clock, baby,” while stroking my hair.
We fooled around extensively, often orgasming three times a night.
But still no sex.
I couldn’t take the plunge, and he wasn’t the kind of person who would have pressured me.
“I feel like the luckiest guy ever to be dating you,” he said on a Friday night in the middle of Christmas season, while we were walking around Bryant Park, sipping hot cider to keep warm.
It’s easy to be romantic with so much magic in the air.
Brian was amazing like that.
He was like the handsome character in a movie who doesn't exist in real life.
Except he did exist. He was dating me.
I spent the night at his apartment, but we didn’t have sex.
On Saturday night, he went out to dinner with six of my friends.
It was their first time meeting him.
He charmed them all. We were acting like a couple, and everyone commented on how cute we were together.
I spent the night again. But still no sex.
On Monday, I was expecting the usual, “How’s your day going, beautiful?” text, but it never came.
In fact, he didn’t text me at all.
I knew he was having a busy week at work, so I wasn’t that concerned.
By Tuesday evening, I still hadn’t heard from him.
I called and we had a nice conversation, but made no plans to see each other.
On Wednesday, I could feel our relationship was changing, but I convinced myself I was being insecure.
On Thursday, my roommates and I overanalyzed every text message, trying to figure out if he was ending things.
By Friday, I was getting extremely nervous.
There was a clear change in his communication pattern. The frequency had decreased dramatically, and his language was less affectionate.
We made dinner plans for the following Wednesday. It was the longest we had gone without seeing each other.
Something was off.
He called me the next morning, his voice sounded unnaturally tense.
“I think we’re looking for different things,” he said.
Given the previous week’s lack of communication, I wasn’t surprised.
But I was confused how he could go from 100 to zero in a little over a week.
Two weeks ago, he was calling out of work to see me.
Now, seeing me had become his last priority. I hung up the phone, feeling bewildered by how rapidly things had gone downhill.
“It’s so bizarre. He was super interested in me,” I told a friend over drinks later that night.
“Yeah, that is odd. How was the sex?” he asked.
“We hadn't had have sex yet,” I responded.
He stared at me for a second, and then, with the true tenacity of a real friend, he said, “That’s why.”
I was shocked.
It hadn’t even occurred to me that was the reason.
It made perfect sense, because everything else was going swimmingly well.
I called another friend and told her the hypothesis.
“Of course that’s why,” she responded without hesitation.
“You’ve been dating for six weeks, and you didn’t clearly communicate why you weren’t having sex yet. He was probably wondering what was going on. That would mess with anyone’s brain and self-esteem.”
It was obvious to everyone but me.
I contacted Brian via text, and he confirmed my suspicion.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t having sex. I could have waited. But you were sending mixed signals. I didn't know what was going on in your head. I thought you were playing games with me.”
In that moment, I had an unsettling revelation: I had become a sex withholder.
I wanted to have sex with Brian eventually, but eventually never came.
I cared about him.
He was kind, thoughtful and affectionate.
So I needed to be painfully honest with myself about why we weren’t doing the deed.
I was upset by my answer.
I was afraid.
I was afraid I’d been off the bike for too long, and I was going to forget how it worked.
I was afraid that without practice, I would be bad. I was afraid he would love me and leave me, and I would feel used.
I had a million hang-ups, created in my own mind.
They were insecurities that caused me to ruin a wonderful relationship.
I work really hard to be fearless.
I’ve given speeches in the subway, organized flashmobs and stood on countless soapboxes, preaching the detriments of fear.
Yet, here I was, letting fear rule and ruin my love life.
I let sex become a thing. Instead of giving in to my body, I let the noise in my mind overpower my heart.
I can’t change what happened with Brian, but I can learn from it.
I can change the way I approach my next relationship.
First, I’m going to be honest and open with my communication.
I’ve found it’s always the things left unsaid that ruin relationships.
But most importantly, like Brian, I’m going to enter my next relationship with more unabashed vulnerability.
I'm going to listen to my heart and my body because I'm not made of delicate glass after all.
So next time, I’m going to run and jump in the pool.
Even if that means I get hurt.