Dear Blind Date from the Other Night,
I am extremely sorry that I peed on myself when you brought me home. And not in a kinky-European-porn way. I mean in an I-couldn’t-make-it-from-the-couch-to-the-bathroom-so-I-peed-on-my-Diane-von-Furstenburg-wrap-dress-and-you-helped-me-into-your-bathtub-as-you-turned-on-the-shower way. Then, because I still thought we were on a date and still wanted to sleep with you, I tried to act sexy, touching myself for you to watch even though I couldn’t really stand up straight, until you told me to stop, dressed me in your Lollapalooza ’98 t-shirt and a gigantic pair of Santa-print flannel pajama pants, gave me cab fare and told me to go home.
It wasn’t the first time that happened, either. The first time was a few years ago, when I was in college and heading over to a guy’s apartment and ended up peeing on myself in his entranceway, right after he buzzed me up. Reminding myself of that makes me feel better, makes me feel like I’m not alone, even if I’m only comparing myself to myself.
Until recently, I used to drink a bottle of wine before a first date. It’s the only time I’ll drink alone. It’s a behavior I’ve tried to spin into some sort of Sex and the City style anecdote even though I know it’s not normal. But I justify it because I don’t usually get drunk — not really with friends, not by myself, only with — or before — meeting a man.
Guys don’t know that. When they meet me, I seem confident, bubbly, a career girl with blown-out hair, knee-high leather boots, a Marc Jacobs bag and four-inch heels, who’s maybe just a tiny bit buzzed. Just in case, I always issue a standard disclaimer along with my introduction: “Sorry, I just came from a glass of wine with a friend.” I hold onto eye contact, concentrating on the space between his eyebrows. I know myself too well and know that if I didn’t have a focal point, I’ll look away — probably toward the bar.
Invariably, he smiles and relaxes into himself. I like that. After all, he knows what he’s getting: a party girl, one with friends, an active social calendar, someone who’s looking for a good time.
I know, I sound like an alcoholic. And maybe, at age twenty-six and countless sexual decisions driven by one — or five — too many cocktails, I am. It’s a phrase I’ve often experimented with: I’m an alcoholic. When I say it, it sounds like an icebreaker game. It doesn’t sound real.
“What do you like more, drinking or sex?” One guy asked me that three years ago, the winter I was twenty-three. It was probably the tenth time we’d slept together. At one point, we seemed to be on a sort of relationship track, with actual dates, phone calls on nights we didn’t see each other and daytime back-and-forth e-mail banter while we were at our respective jobs. That was before our fifth date, before I began drunk-dialing him as many as twelve times in a night. Quickly, our fledgling romance downgraded to friends with benefits. We never really discussed it, but it was something I tacitly understood. I was okay with that.
“I don’t know?” I tried to sound coy. He’d just rolled off me and I felt sweat-sticky all over.
“I know the answer,” he half-sighed. He kissed me. Because I was drunk, I kissed him back. “You love your booze.”
It’s true. I’d always loved sex and never had a problem with casual relationships, but I didn’t start drinking, really drinking, until after college. Before then, I could take it or leave it. I didn’t like the calories, the awkwardness of navigating the bar scene with a fake ID, the expense. When I was twenty-two, I briefly thought I had found something with coke, but I didn’t like the way it made me hyper-aware, made sex so pointed and almost clinically concentrated. I hated the long, slow coming down, especially after sex, when all I wanted to do was be alone.
When I graduated college, it became normal to go two or three weeks without having a night off, to call my cubemate to cover for me when I woke up in a mysterious apartment, hung over with yesterday’s clothes askew on the floor. It was exciting, hazy, and made me feel like I had been catapulted into a bohemian-girl lifestyle I’d always wanted. But while my friends eventually stopped drunken exploits in favor of boyfriends and career moves, or on the advice of their therapists, I was still getting drunk and hooking up.
I know it’s stupid. After more than a few close calls, I know that I’m more than flirting with danger, which I’ve tried to mitigate by only getting that drunk with people I sort of know — friends of friends or people I meet at parties or people who are already my Facebook friends.
Which, of course, brings up its own set of problems — like the time I slept with the photographer of my brother’s wedding the night of the rehearsal dinner and then couldn’t look at him — or the camera — during the actual wedding. But unlike most people, I love drunken hookups — the predictable move from hazy to blackout, followed by the lightning-quick recollection of moments from the night before, capped off with a sticky-brained hangover that makes me feel like I’ve done something gross and illicit and dangerous and, however perversely, enlivening.
In my daytime life, I’m typical — ambitious, even. I have a job and a to-do list of volunteering obligations and yoga classes and to go out means that I’m actually taking a night off from all of it. And that’s partially why when I go out, I feel I should go all out. I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I work hard all the time and am always trying to impress people and maybe I want you to see me in my worst state as soon as possible so we can just get it over with and move on. I think maybe, deep down, I want to find a man who’ll love me even if he’s seen me pee on myself.
It hasn’t happened yet.
Which is why I’ve been trying to drink less and date more. In fact, the last drunk hookup I had before you was last summer, with a guy I met at a friend of a friend’s birthday party. I remember waking up to his alarm, taking in the unfamiliar room, the weak sunlight through the window, and just feeling exhausted. I’d been beginning to get the sense that these were my last moments to have wild, drunken nights out before it became truly sad, before I’d reach the no-man’s land between the just-legal girls with hipbones rising above the waistband of their jeans ordering lemon-drop shots in groups at the bar, and the sad, scattered women who sit and drink vodka gimlets with far too much determination, the ones who don’t even try to pretend they’re waiting for a friend. After all, there are only so many times I can play out the same scenario without it seeming a cliché, an endless loop of bad judgment. Still, I tried to make the morning seem more of a romantic comedy than existential crisis.
“I bet you don’t even know my name,” I said, trying to be cool and flirtatious as I struggled awake. In truth, I was just hoping he’d give me his name.
“Annabelle!” he exclaimed.
“Yup,” I smiled. It’s not. It’s a name that only comes out after a few cocktails — or, in this case, four mojitos, two beers and three shots. But Annabelle nights are usually fun. I tend to act imperious, self-possessed, fearless about what I want. Now that I had the context, bits and pieces of the night come back to me: I remembered a cab and making out and his hand crawling up my thigh.
His face cracked into a crooked smile, his top lip much thinner than his bottom one. I can’t remember kissing him. I’m sure I must have, we obviously slept together. “What’s mine?”
“Brian?” I guessed. We were still lying naked next to each other, but our bodies weren’t touching. Brian was the name of the last guy I slept with.
“Ethan,” he said, stressing the second syllable like a petulant toddler. “You didn’t seem that drunk,” he added defensively.
Now I smiled a real smile. With a few fantastic exceptions, I was a champion at never seeming that drunk, always seeming surprised if I sloshed my champagne to make it seem like a sexy slip-up, instead of something I’d do again and again and again during the course of the evening.
With as much dignity as possible, I scooped up my clothes and brought them with me to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror, idly wondering if I’d sleep with him again. I splashed cold water on my face and pulled a towel around me. I decided that I would sleep with him again, if he wanted to.
After that, I tried to reform. I made a point not to hook up at parties, not to drink at all on first dates, and then to consciously pace my drinking on subsequent dates so I’d never drink more than the man I was with. It was productive. I dated a medievalist and a lawyer and an unemployed guy who did triathlons. I’ve done dates over coffee, at the movies, once even kayaking on the Hudson. And they’re fine.
Still, despite the myriad bad points, there’s something irresistible about a drunken hookup, something that I can’t quite give up, no matter how hard I’ve tried. It’s a mini-relationship in one night, both simple and Shakespearean as we move from strangers to partners-in-crime to lovers to strangers again. I love the meandering conversations about favorite childhood books, the spontaneous decision to go to another bar down the street, the moment at which the first-date nerves are nonexistent and all that exists is in-the-moment fun, the way no permission needs to be asked before we kiss, the way the bartender sends over a complimentary round of drinks. For those few hours, the world just seems a little more magical.
And that’s where you came in, Mr. I Can’t Believe that Drunk Girl. Because, while I’m sure I’ll never see you again, I want you to know that getting drunk with you wasn’t really an accident. It was something I did on purpose. The point — and what I was trying to say with that third vodka shot — is I’m restless and scared and terrified of growing up, and I figure, if you liked me drunk, then you’ll love me sober. And I’d be happy to talk about it more. Over a drink.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays in 2009.