I’m demisexual. That means I can only be physically attracted to someone after forming an emotional connection with them. That might sound nice, even romantic, to some, but for most of my life it has landed me a love life nothing short of disastrous. In high school, most of the boys in my grade bullied me or were just plain mean. The only male figure that actually showed me some level of respect was my Spanish teacher. So, I ended up with a three-year long crush on my teacher, and no romantic feelings whatsoever for anyone my age. Then, in college, I developed a close friendship with a boy in a club I joined. Although he was interested in me romantically at first, it took me a few months to feel a strong enough emotional connection to reciprocate his feelings. Of course, by that point, he had given up and lost interest.
So I decided to try online dating. I figured that actually going on dates, not just developing friendships, would help me think about people romantically from the get-go, instead of just waiting to see if feelings developed. One of my closest friends in college was in a serious relationship with someone she met on OkCupid, so I decided to give that site a try.
I went on A LOT of dates. During the school year, I went out almost every night that I didn’t have to study for a test or write a paper. During the summer, I averaged two dates a day—one during my lunch break at work and another at night. Saturdays would sometimes include three or four dates.
Most of the dates were just first dates that didn’t go any further. Sometimes I could tell that there wasn’t much potential for a strong emotional connection; other times my date felt no chemistry. I learned from every date, though. I know this might sound cliché, but the most important thing I learned from online dating is that everyone has a complicated, interesting story that has shaped who they are today. There was the one who wrote and starred in his own rock opera, the one who traveled to car shows on the weekends, the one who volunteered teaching kids how to program video games, the one who was a freelance photographer and fixed used bikes…the list goes on.
On February 23rd (yeah, I’m good with dates), I met someone that I fell hard for. His name was John. To this date, John is the only guy I have ever felt attracted to from the first date. I’m still not entirely sure why John was the special exception. Maybe because he was an actor, and, myself being a playwright, we had things to talk about right away. Or maybe because he was the first person I ever met who loved Philadelphia as much as I do. Maybe because he bore some resemblance to the Spanish teacher from high school. Who knows?
John was the first person I’d ever enjoyed kissing. He was also the first person I’d ever enjoyed blowing: by dating John, I discovered that blowjobs are sort of like papers: usually a lot of work, but pretty fun when you’re passionate about the topic. John also introduced me to a Philadelphia I’d previously only dreamt of. Our make-out session at Rittenhouse Park made it the most beautiful park in the world; his artist’s perspective made films at the Ritz Theater fine art. With John I discovered South Street, coffee shops just east of University City, and theaters I’d never heard about.
Needless to say, John broke my heart. He was 24 years old and had never been in a relationship—a classic commitment-phobe. On March 28th, he told me he was not interested in a relationship. I appreciate his honesty. We are still friends today.
In April, I started to more seriously date someone I’d met over Spring Break, Nathaniel. He worked at Planned Parenthood, spoke fluent Russian, loved Woody Allen films, and leaned just conservative enough politically that I enjoyed the challenge of debating with him. In one of our early OkCupid conversations, he messaged me that he was conducting a new study at work. I asked what it was on, and he replied that it was “embarrassing to talk about.” “I work at Planned Parenthood,” he said. “The medical topics we study aren’t always suitable for conversations.” I replied, “I study stigma reduction. The more we include stigmatized medical issues in conversation, the less discrimination people with those issues will face.” “Touché,” he replied, and then proceeded to tell me about his study on syphilis. Weeks later, we were on our fifth date, and he was asking me to be exclusive.
I said no. I was still getting over John, and I didn’t think it was fair to Nathaniel to see him exclusively with thoughts of someone else still lurking. I told him I’d continue dating him casually to see where things went. He agreed to that, but what followed were two of the worst months of my life. I saw Nathaniel, but he constantly made me feel guilty for having rejected him. “You don’t really like me, do you?” he would ask multiple times a day. “You’re just using me, right?” When I told him how guilty I felt, he replied, “Good. That’s how you should feel. You hurt me.”
But while Nathaniel made me feel guilty at times, there were plenty of things I did like about him. He was a true gentleman, always holding the door for me and walking me home at night. He had excellent taste in TV shows and movies, introducing me to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, and Dallas Buyers Club. After about a month, I told him I had fallen for him, and I’d like to see him exclusively. He replied, “I don’t know about that anymore. I feel like your consolation prize.” I asked if there was anything I could do to change that, and he said it would help if we went further physically.
I’m not proud of this decision, but I chose to have sex with Nathaniel. It was Sunday, April 27th. We were both doing work. I interrupted him to say that I wanted to go all the way with him. He said he’d be willing to take a short break from his work to do so. What proceeded was: we walked silently to Nathaniel’s bedroom. We sat on the bed. Nathaniel kissed me, once, a peck on the lips. He took his pants off, and I followed his lead, pulling down my skirt. Leaving both of our shirts still on, Nathaniel laid me onto the bed, got on top of me, and put his penis in my vagina. The pain was unbearable—I was expecting it to hurt, but I was nowhere near prepared for that level of pain. I gasped. Nathaniel quickly pulled out, stood up, and put his pants back on.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “We can try again.”
Nathaniel shook his head. “I don’t have time to take your virginity right now,” he said. “When I said I’d take a break for sex I didn’t mean I had time for dealing with pain.” Before leaving the room, he said, “Can you be sure to clean up the blood? Thanks.”
I tried not to cry. I was somewhat successful. My eyes were teary but I didn’t break into sobs until I was on the cab ride home. That night one of my best friends slept over at my place. In the morning I decided to take a break from dating. I decided to focus instead on dieting. For the next two weeks, what started as a somewhat healthy goal turned into an obsession with eating only 800 calories a day. I’m not sure whether the obsession was an attempt to regain control over my body after a less-than-consensual (but not exactly non-consensual) sexual experience or whether it was just a convenient distraction. Regardless, the obsession led me to lose 20 pounds, until I was only one pound away from being underweight. The obsession became an eating disorder that I am still working with a nutritionist to treat.
I finished my finals and decided to start dating again. I had two weeks of complete vacation until my internship began, so I went on almost three dates a day. I also tried JDate, Tinder, and JSwipe (Tinder for Jews) because why not. Among the men I met were: a tattoo artist who used to play football, a middle school special education teacher, a creepy 30-year-old who called me the c-word after I rejected him, and a bartender who sometimes starred in musicals. Among the places we went were: South Philadelphia, Conshohocken, Manayunk, North Philadelphia, Collingswood, Cherry Hill, Wilmington, Newark, and Camden. One of my favorite dates was seeing a play at the South Camden Theater Company.
Then, the last week of June, I received this message on OkCupid: “A Wrinkle in Time was your favorite childhood book? Mine too! Who was your favorite character?” No one else had pulled out that specific detail from my profile, so I was immediately intrigued. I replied that my favorite character was Meg. We continued to talk about the book and then, after a while, set a date to have lunch.
I met my current boyfriend on June 27th. His name is Stan. To this date he is the most creative person I have ever met. On our first date he told me about his theories of the universe, his ideas for new inventions, previous tech start-ups he had been a part of, film projects he had worked on, and stand-up comedy routines he had written. I wasn’t instantly attracted to him, but I did immediately know that we would never run out of things to talk about.
On our second date, Stan took me for Chinese, my favorite type of food. We talked about his struggle with bipolar disorder and both of our experiences with mental illness. At the end of the date he presented me with a Reese’s cup, which I’d listed as my favorite dessert on my OkCupid profile. That was when I knew he was a keeper.
On our third date, Stan and I debated our versions of the ideal world and watched Catfish afterwards. On our fourth, fifth, and sixth dates, we talked about everything ranging from TV shows to Edward Snowden to technology. I was starting to like this guy. I wasn’t entirely sure I was attracted to him, but I was definitely developing an emotional connection.
So, on our seventh date, I figured I should try to get a feel for how Stan felt about me and whether or not he was looking for a relationship. After my experience with John, I was a bit scared of getting hurt, and I wanted to be extra cautious about commitment-phobes. What began as a discussion about Robin from How I Met Your Mother’s fear of commitment ended with an honest talk about how Stan and I each felt about commitment. I said I was looking for a relationship. Stan said he had some fears of commitment. I said, “I think, if you like someone a lot, you won’t be so afraid of committing to them.” Stan replied, “I know I like you, so I’m down if you’re down.”
I froze. I hadn’t intended for the conversation to go in this direction. I only wanted to find out if Stan was a commitment-phobe—early detection, if you will. I had absolutely no idea whether I actually felt attracted to him or liked him as a boyfriend.
“Umm,” I said. I didn’t know what to do. My previous experience told me that saying no now could hurt me later. I liked Stan as a person. I found him physically attractive, even if not sexually attractive. I wanted him to stay in my life. “Okay,” I said. We kissed. I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
For the next couple weeks I nervously played the part of girlfriend. I texted Stan almost every day. I went to his friend’s concert and met some of his social circle. I learned as much as possible about him. Half the time, I wondered if I was a phony. But the other half of the time, I was growing to like Stan a lot. I was starting to feel more and more comfortable around him.
My summer was almost over, and I was getting ready to start the school year. The weekend before school started, my friends from an activist student organization I belong to were having a back-to-school party. I brought Stan, and we got smashed.
Now, before this story goes any further, I have to tell you one important thing about me: once, during freshman year, I pooped in my pants. I had diarrhea during work and didn’t make it to the bathroom. If you haven’t already caught onto this fact by reading my blog post so far, I’m not a private person. At all. After pooping in my pants, I texted at least ten of my friends, “OMG!!! I just pooped in my pants!! HAHAHA.” I mean, come on! That’s just too funny of a story to deprive my friends of!
Anyways, despite my no-shame mentality, I never, ever, in a million years expected to tell that story to a significant other.
So, Stan and I were leaving the back-to-school party. We walked a few blocks in the direction of my apartment when Stan informed me that he had to use the bathroom. He then began rambling about the feeling of having to use the bathroom, which led him to say, “One time I didn’t even make it to the bathroom, and I shit my pants.”
I couldn’t contain my excitement. I jumped up and down. “Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh I pooped in my pants too!” It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
Now that Stan and I were comfortable talking about poop together, we relished in that comfort. That night, we made poop jokes, discussed the science of poop, and even wrote songs about poop. That night, for the first time, I felt attracted to my boyfriend. Who would’ve guessed that poop can bring people together so well?
I could go on and on about Stan. About how I’ve never been able to be myself more around anyone else, about how I’ve never met anyone more like me, about how much he’s taught me about the meaning of good relationships. But this isn’t an essay about Stan.
I’ll never know whether I just got lucky—the man I said yes to ended up being the perfect boyfriend—or whether my experiences with John and Nathaniel taught me how to strategically increase my chances of ending up with someone who is right for me. It is probably a combination of both.
So I hesitate to end this story with a moral, with some sort of blanket statement about online dating or being demisexual or dating in general. There’s obviously not some sort of magic formula or succinct take-away. (Other than to talk about poop freely and frequently. Apparently, that gets you far in life.)
There’s a lot of research on online dating. There’s statistical evidence that couples who met online stay together longer, but there are also theories that online dating leads to “shopper mentality.” I’m not qualified to make a judgment call on that one. What I do know is this: online dating made me happier. It also caused me a lot of pain. Dating, in general, causes pain. But the pain was worth it for the good that has come from online dating.
I mean, how else would I have ever met anyone who I can talk about poop so freely with?