I've always been pretty good at identifying the exact moment a new relationship dies. Even if the nails aren't all yet in the coffin, even if nothing specific has been said and we are still going along, acting our roles and playing our parts, I can still hear that death knell ringing from miles away.
He is no longer playful and sweet. Our "relationship" has suddenly aged by years overnight. We've gone from mix cds and non-sequiturs to perfunctory phone calls, dry-lipped kisses, and absolutely no sex. Now when we go to bed he gives me a peck on the lips and a "'night babe." Oh, we've talked about it, sure, and come to no useful conclusion. Sex complicates things, he says. It speeds things up, heightens emotions. He just wants to get to know me better, first. He wants to be sure. He wants to do it, don't get him wrong; he really wants to. But he doesn't just jump into these things lightly, and he doesn't want to be pressured into it, either.
When he first said it a couple weeks ago, I was ok with it. Just another week or two, he said. And so I waited. But it's been two weeks, and he's still saying it. And now he barely touches me at all. Now he just goes to sleep. We should be passionate, mad, crazy about each other, but instead we are both on the defensive, both waiting to see how this thing will turn out, steeling ourselves for the end.
Oh, it's all in working order, if that's what you're thinking. Some early reconnaissance showed everything to be of the correct size and proportion. Fully functioning, too, as I found out in another, apparently acceptable, non-intercourse sex act. Because that's ok, but apparently penetration would be too intimate.
"I feel like..." I said, my face turned away in the dark, "I feel like you're not even interested in me, like you're not attracted to me at all." I tried to keep my voice steady, but every other word hinted at tears.
"How can you say that?" he asked. "I tell you all the time that I think you're beautiful; I send you texts telling you how sexy I think you are." That's true. Hey gorgeous, he'll say. Hey beautiful, hey sexy, hey angel face, doll face, peaches, precious, peanut. He has a hundred names for me, and not one of them is Rachel.
"I just want to wait until I'm sure the time is right," he said.
"But how will you know?" I said.
"I'll know when I know," he said. "I'll just know."
"Well I wish I knew what test it is that I'm supposed to be trying to pass."
"We've only been together a few weeks," he said. "Would you typically be trying to have sex at this point in a relationship?"
Way to turn it around there, I thought. He might as well have said, Are you always this much of a slut?
"That's not a fair question," I said. "There's no such thing as 'typically.' And besides, usually it would just happen, naturally."
"Yeah," he sighed. "Yeah."
So is that it? I wondered all day yesterday. Is it over? Hours and hours went by and I didn't hear from him, and I was sure it was. But then he texted, said he was having a crazy busy day. And so we've been carrying on in the usual way, only it's not fun, anymore.
He called me tonight, asked me when I am going home. Tomorrow, I told him. For a week. Are you going home tomorrow, too? I asked.
"I'm on my way home right now, actually," he said. "I was going to leave tomorrow, and then I would have spent the night with you, but I have to get home tonight. I just have so much stuff to do."
"Oh," I said. "Oh."
Then he brought up our conversation from the other night; he felt weird about the way we had left it. And so we tried talking about it, but talking only made it worse. To me, it feels like a power play. He has the upper hand and there's nothing I can do to change that. Either he will continue to withhold, or he will eventually decide that the time is right and in a grand gesture of benevolence finally grant me the "gift" of his sex. But I don't want it like that. There is no good outcome here. We're both backed into a corner, and the only way out is away.
"So, I guess we'll see how it goes when you get back," he said, hesitantly. Because suddenly we are awkward, ill at ease with each other.
"I guess so," I said.
I said goodbye and fell back onto my bed, and instead of picturing his smile, his lips, his broad shoulders, the only thing I could think was, It shouldn't be like this, it shouldn't be this hard, it shouldn't be like this.