Winter in Limerick is proving difficult for me. My mental health is deteriorating. Some of this is normal. Seasonal depression is common enough that little boxes of sunlight are marketed to people trying to survive the dark half of the year. I love Ireland, but the winters are cold and bleak and boring. I understand now why my boyfriend was eager to get away before the end of summer.
Summer. I miss it. We had a rare heat wave and I wore backless maxi dresses almost daily. I met my boyfriend on Tinder. That’s quickly becoming a recognisable phrase. I was attempting to mend my broken heart from the now third relationship that had ended with me being cheated on. I wanted something selfish and quick but with someone of substance that I wouldn’t have to be ashamed of later. Because, you see, I was a virgin. I grew up very religious, but even before then I grew up afraid of pre-marital sex as I was a product of such an encounter to the detriment of my parents. They loved me as best as they could, but I was a burden and the memory of my painful existence in their lives has never quite worn away on me.
So I told myself over and over again through the years that I would never settle for a hookup. But in Summer 2018, that’s exactly what I attempted to do. Heartbroken, insecure, hopeless, I created a Tinder account. I wanted to be as careless as the rest of the world seemed to be. I wanted to lock away my emotions and hurl myself into modernity. I let the heat inspire me. I drank more, smoked more. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I had flirtations with guys that amounted to nothing. One horrendous date at the start of June. Then one very good one.
I was practically numb when I met him. Happy and sad at once. I didn’t expect anything. He arrived slightly late and in his work clothes and was even more handsome than his profile. We spent the majority of the evening looking over the water from a bridge. I asked him to drive me home. I still don’t know why I did that. I don’t trust easily, and yet I didn’t fear him at all. I don’t know how to explain it.
I slept with him on our third date. That wasn’t by design, regardless of what he now says. There was another guy I had been talking to and I liked him. A lot. But I trusted the one who took me home safely. So I did what I had told myself I would never do for over 20 years. I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Then I was happy, relieved, calm. I kicked him out that first time and he hasn’t let me forget it since, but I needed to process. I felt good, but also terrified–convinced I had done something wrong. I cried later that night. Much later. I didn’t know his last name. Since deciding I was ready for sex I had told myself at the very least I would know his full name. I had failed again. My mind spun with the possibilities of my other encounters with men. Would they have stuck around and been faithful if I had had sex with them? What was I now? Not a virgin, so something closer to a whore?
When we had finished he casually noted that he didn’t want anything serious. With me, I thought? Is it me men don’t take seriously? I agreed. This is what people did now, right? Don’t take things seriously. Yourself, anyone else. Numb out. It’s what’s expected. Kick him out. That’s what he expects, right? Casual. Later I found out he had slept with another girl the next night. Sure. Fine. I wanted someone else, too. That’s how this works, right? An endless carousel until you find someone that sticks around? I didn’t know anything about this world. I still don’t. I never thought I’d hear from him again.
He texted me a few days later. I figured he just wanted sex. That’s what hookup culture is, right? And the other guy had just ghosted. I asked him over for 9pm and told him he could stay the night. He did. The first time I had ever slept beside a man in my bed. I was self conscious. I didn’t know where to place my limbs. He didn’t spoon me. Was he done with me? Is this what people did? I felt like I was in a hostel.
I don’t remember which night it was, but I can’t forget it. Even now, months later, my mind returns to this one moment I can’t escape. We were lying in bed. I was desperate to be spooned by him but I didn’t know how to ask. We weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. We were barely friends. But we had had sex moments ago. Everything new and terrifying and confusingly beautiful. I just wanted him to touch me. He was on Tinder. Half turned away from me but not hiding. Looking through his matches. Endless profiles. He clicked on one and told me how he knew her. He showed me her profile. Even to this day he has those photos saved in his phone. And they remind me over and over again of how disgusted I was that night. Not only with him. With me. I have never felt so worthless. Just another girl on his screen. Just a hole. Just something to do.
Part of me is still disgusted. Should I have kicked him out? I love him now. I’ve told him. But should I? What does it say about me that the photos are still in his phone. Not just of that one girl, but others. I’m not special. My photos linger there beside theirs, a digital trophy case–or that’s how it feels. Things are different now. I know that. Still, I don’t think he can ever truly know how much he hurt me in that one careless moment or how disappointed I was with myself. I don’t know if he’ll ever understand what those pictures are doing to me, pixel by pixel. Swiping right.
Winter. It’s so cold there’s no where to go to escape. I am becoming more needy. I hate that about myself but I’m used to it. My boyfriend isn’t. Perhaps he’s confused or annoyed with me. I wouldn’t know. His face is often blank, his feelings locked away. I watch the crows fight and read and watch my various screens. I try not to remember that night, but instead who we are now. He was supposed to be gone by the end of summer, but he’s still here and I’m grateful. I know he’ll be gone soon and I admit I’m afraid. We live in a hookup culture. People determined to make monogamy work are falling behind the times. He never wanted a new relationship. He never wanted me. Perhaps I’ve doomed my heart to break again. It’s only a matter of time. And then that night returns to me with all the clarity of a nightmare. It would be so easy for him. They’d all be there again. Waiting to take their turn. A carousel of empty, emotionless sex. It wouldn’t be easy for me. It’s cold, but I’m not numb anymore. And right now I don’t know which is worse.