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I read Bridget Jones's Diary at the age of sixteen, I thought I had found my salvation. By my senior year in high school, I felt like I had already had my share of crappy dating experiences, from the kid I dated freshman year who insisted on always wearing his varsity jacket when he had lettered in marching band, to the junior spring dance where I thought a secret admirer had bought me a ticket, only to publicly find out that it was an administrative glitch and I still owed $10 to get in. These experiences could have sucked, except, as I learned from all my pop-culture single role models, from the hapless Bridget to the outwardly glamorous and inwardly neurotic Sex and the City ladies, dates should suck. It seemed to me, that the more intelligent and self-possessed a chick-lit heroine, the less she can navigate traditional boy-meets-girl setups. But that's all part of her imperious charm, until she finds the guy who falls in love with her winsome neuroses.
I ended up going to an all-female college, which further complicated my ideas about dating. There, as confused and lonely freshmen, my suitemates and I bonded through our mutual obsession with the frat guys from a college twenty minutes away. We often drove there just to bump into one of them coming out of class. After doing this for several months, I scored a date with one of them. I saw this as proof that that my ridiculously over-the-top persistence was effective, and I wanted to prolong the situation. When we ended the evening at his apartment, I explained to him that I was a virgin. "But I really want you to fuck me," I said, as I wiggled out of my jeans, already imagining how jealous my suitemates would be. "Okay," he said, visibly weirded out.
I never heard from him again, but I didn't care. In the chick-lit novel I was crafting in my mind, I was the fuck-'em-all girl who didn't follow the rules. If I didn't try to date, or deliberately sabotaged the process, I couldn't fail. None of my friends would know how terrified I was of interacting with guys. Because I didn't measure up to my friends in terms of attractiveness, I believed that fucking was the only way to keep myself on the same page.
When I graduated, I kept my circle of female friends from college, worked with all women and lived with two female roommates. It was hard not to objectify men when I only interacted with them as hookups. Going out on weekends, not knowing where I would wake up, made me feel adventurous. I loved everything associated with fucking — the danger, the uncertainty, a story to tell the girls. Occasionally, a guy would ask for my number. I'd let the message go to voicemail, then delete it after playing it aloud for my friends.
Sometimes, I would go on actual dates, usually with a friend of a friend, always with a sense of obligation. Actual dating — being picked up at my apartment, going to a restaurant that was never quite right, trading life stories — seemed so banal. With each date, I felt the stakes get higher. Fucking on the first date meant he wouldn't call again, so I wouldn't have to veer from my well-rehearsed script.
"I can't believe it just took one beer to make you come home with me!" one guy said the next morning with a mix of amazement and self-congratulation. I just smiled. We hooked up every Saturday or Sunday for a few months, but we were never dating. Instead, I would end up at his apartment after midnight, usually when one or both of us were drunk. We would sleep together, then have a rambling conversation about our lives, which didn't intersect anywhere except his bed. When one of these late-night discussions revealed that he was actively dating other girls, I was surprised by how upset I became.
My friend Melissa, who conducts her dates with unflinching rigidity (she won't even stay for a drink with a guy if she doesn't see a three-date-minimum potential), was appalled at my haphazard approach to men.
"You're not supposed to sleep with them right away!" she said, as if explaining something revelatory. "They 'll never be interested in you." That wasn't the point. I hadn't wanted them to be interested in me. I didn't want to worry about their opinions. Instead, I wanted to call the shots until a guy came along who would totally and effortlessly understand me. I hated how much my casual-hookup guy had become that ideal in my mind. For the first time in my life, I admitted to myself that I was actually seeking a relationship.