First meeting went so well I almost had Paul, a forty-something like me, pigeon-holed in the friendzone. We’d been chatting humorously on OK Cupid for a week or two; conversation hummed along smoothly and he seemed erudite and amusing.
We arranged to meet nearby his flat, in a noisy cafe with clattering wooden floors and small tables crammed together. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted from Paul or anyone, so I was candid for the first time about the attraction polyamory held for me. He gently teased me, sensing that I was sounding him out but also thinking aloud, as I’m prone to do when I’m considering a complex topic. He also caught me out by exposing my time-old tactic when I’m slightly nervous; keep the other person talking about themselves so the attention isn’t focused on me.
“Enough about me,” Paul finally said, one introvert to another. “How about you tell me something about yourself now?”
I bumbled around the truth, that I didn’t know what I was looking for but that I wanted it all, every bit of passion and fun and variety I could get.
I think I said something like, “I’m just seeing where the wind blows me, looking for connection and to meet interesting people.” I can’t remember much of my waffle but I do remember that it was easy to talk to him, but I preferred to listen to him discussing his PhD in music than to expose much of myself.
I’m always quick to hide behind the intellectual front. I think there’s also a lot of the quicksilver Gemini in me too, so it’s a balancing act of thought, emotion, sensitivity (and concealing that), and humour. I like to flirt and to laugh, and sometimes that overtakes me as I strive to find a comfort zone with a person I don’t know.
When you’ve been chatting via text with someone for a while, there is always the struggle to reconnect with that sense of familiarity and to re-establish common ground. It’s a weird dynamic, and one that I’m sure everyone struggles with – knowing a little, but not knowing how they actually look when they’re sitting opposite you in a cafe, or how they hold their body, their facial expressions, their voice, or the way they move their hands.
Second meeting mid-morning at his 1960s treetops flat went even better. As I drove home after a platonic hug goodbye I realised that this lovely man, who’d kept conversation flowing with a twinkle in his eye and a sweet solicitousness, was also very attractive and sensitive. I’d somehow overlooked it until then. I think I was blinded by Paul’s silvery hair and too hung up on all the young guys I’d been chatting to online. It’s far too easy to be swayed by the allure of youth and beauty, something I was on my way to learning. Maybe I was going to be a part-time cougar?
We messaged later that evening and I put it to Paul bluntly, in my effort not to beat around the bush and waste time. It was rare and precious, sand through the hourglass and all that.
“I find you very attractive,” I said, speaking of my revelation, “and I think that next time I’d like to kiss you.”
He agreed with that proposal and returned the compliment, which was something of a surprise. I hadn’t been able to read him at all, and in our conversations there had never been any emotional content, or even the usual reference to ‘what are you looking for?’ that most guys ask immediately.
Paul also messaged that he’d bought some massage oil, nervously describing his unfamiliarity with such a purchase. I was feeling quietly confident that we might be on the way to developing a special something between us, although to be honest, I was nervous as hell about sex for the first time since my marriage ended. Especially in broad daylight, stone-cold sober. I couldn’t even imagine being seen naked by a man, yet. I fudged the details in my head and trusted that, if the time came, I’d cope.
He opened his glass front door to me with a shy smile and offered me a drink. I settled for a cup of tea because the only other option was tepid tap water out of a Vegemite glass jar (a gift set of six from a friend at his recent flat-warming party). We talked standing near his tiny kitchenette that blended with an equally snug lounge area with only one worn-out couch. We could have been saying anything, because our attention was surely on more important matters.
I think I must be particularly good at this sort of gibberish conversation where your mind is elsewhere, disguising the tension that’s soaking the room in pheromones.
Before long though, I grasped the bull by the horns. I stood in front of him, my hands on his shoulders, and met his eyes before he leaned in to kiss me.
It was soft and sensual; he had a lovely mouth and he knew how to linger and arouse me deeply with his tongue and lips. I didn’t want it to end but when it eventually did, Paul could barely look at me. His nervousness and the unfamiliarity of our union seemed to be baffling him.
I saw in him something of an enigma; a mature man with hidden depths and glimpses of emotional insecurities. He kissed me with such passion and intensity that I believed him when he said that he hadn’t had intimate contact for more than a year. But he barely spoke to me, only once saying that I was ‘a very beautiful woman’.
It was as if Paul had forgotten how to do this, and who would blame him? The same could certainly apply to me, and yet passion and intimacy had come as naturally to me as breathing.
I lapped him up for the entire morning and it was a small act of torture to end, to drag myself away from his warmth and his sexiness – and his vulnerability. Despite sore lips and a rumbling stomach, I could have maintained that level of intensity. Granted, it would have been increasingly difficult to resist the lure of the bedroom, but since neither of us was prepared, it would have been yet more of the same sweet pain that engulfed us both for these precious hours.
That night there was silence on the text line. We’d stopped using OKC as he’d closed his account. I didn’t read too much into it and carried on with numerous other flirty conversations with young bucks.
The next day Paul messaged that he’d been spooked by our morning together. He’d felt afraid of where it might lead and said that he wasn’t ready for it. He was nervous and had second thoughts.
I felt the pit in my stomach and I knew it was my own fault. Through my hasty, ill-considered attempts to satisfy my own desires for physical closeness and sexual expression, I ruined what could have been a meaningful friendship, possibly something deeper in the fullness of time.
If there was one thing I learned from this experience, it’s that sometimes sexual contact really does change everything. There is no going back, no changing what’s come alive between you, and no undoing poor decisions. Yes, Paul was ambiguous and giving mixed messages about what he wanted, as perhaps was I, but it was through my blind seduction that I pushed the infant relationship we had beyond its bounds.
And I do regret that.