A few months ago I went to Mexico on vacation with a close girlfriend. Opting for more off-the-beaten-path than touristville, Cancún, we ended up in a tiny town known primarily for being en route to elsewhere. And among the series of adventures we had there (some of which may or may not have included getting stranded at a snorkel spot only to hitch a ride with a French couple we simply hoped weren’t serial killers), we met two awesome American boys.
They changed our trip.
We ran into them outside a gelato shop (you’d best believe they serve nocciola in the middle of nowhere, Mexico), and they turned out to down-to-earth, fun, entertaining, the works. So we found the one restaurant still open in the sleepy town (just next door to a completely empty “nightclub” consisting of speakers blaring either bachata or reggaeton and a deserted dance floor, where we shared several bottles of wine, laughed, commiserated over travel mishaps, and generally enjoyed the company of people other than our own travel companions.
And at some point during the evening, I became aware that one of the boys, Trevor, might have been interested in me.
I could feel attraction from him – not exactly with him, yet, but there was potential. But it also felt like he was hedging his bets, playing it safe, being a bit conservative. It didn’t feel like he was going to let on that he liked me unless … unless what, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even sure I was right.
I also wasn’t sure I was into him, either. I would have liked to get some action while in Mexico, but I wasn’t attached, and I wasn’t that into this guy. He was cute and definitely had a nice body, but there was something stiff about him, something … regimented. He didn’t quite breathe into his whole upper body, and in some fundamental and likely unconscious way he kept himself rigid, which I strongly suspected was also true of him emotionally.
So while I wasn’t exactly into it, I wasn’t opposed. He did have a nice body and I did genuinely like connecting with him. The ball really was in his court: if he handled himself well and I felt open around him, I was up for something happening. I decided there was about a 50/50 chance I’d hook up with him.
The next – and last – night we all hung out (they were flying out the next day), we met up in Playa del Carmen, which is where all the travelers go. Not the souvenir-buying, postcard-sending, rental-car-packaging tourists, but the Lonely Planet-packing, zip-off khaki short-wearing, I-stay-in-hostels-not-hotels-so-you-can-suck-it travelers. Playa’s population at any given point is roughly 10% Mexican, 15% American, 25% various European, and 50% Israeli. Many of the signs are bilingual … English/Hebrew.
At any rate, we started by “getting drinks” (which really meant consuming beverages consisting of one part tequila, one part sugar water, and three parts red dye number five), and then hit a club. And it wasn’t long into said clubbing adventure before the boys and I (we’d lost my girlfriend, who I learned later was engaging in some good old-fashioned dance floor romance) flopped down just the three of us on a couch on the outside part of the club.
By this point I was feeling a little unsteady and somehow … unsatisfied. Reflective about some things I’d be going back to when I left Mexico, and unsure of what was going on or would go on with Trevor, I was contemplative – and not in that good way. Also, Trevor was acting a little strange. We’d all been dancing on a balcony earlier, and he and I had gotten a little close, grinding a little. Then I’d stepped away playfully to go inside, unsure of exactly how close I wanted to get but pleased that he appeared to be trying a little bit. Was it my imagination, or had he been acting extra-stiff since then?
Then subject of sex came up (I can’t imagine how … the subject of sex almost never comes up around me … NOT. This was when Trevor made his absurd announcement:
“I can tell how good a girl is in bed by looking at her mouth.”
“What?” his friend said, then stopped to consider it. “That’s silly,” he concluded. I just rolled my eyes.
“No, really,” he maintained. “I can tell.” He looked over at a beautiful Latina woman swaying seductively (if not entirely to the beat, then close to it). “Her,” he pronounced. “She’d be great in the sack.”
“Yeah,” I said, my eyes dropping to her hips. “That’s cause she’s smokin’.” We all gazed for a moment. “Damn.”
“Whatever, it’s all in the mouth,” Trevor reiterated, and there was a pause. I changed the subject: “Where exactly is my friend? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“I’ll go find her,” his friend said, jumping up.
“OK,” I said, leaning back on the cushions and closing my eyes for a moment. I opened them to find Trevor looking at me closely, considering.
“What?” I asked, smiling the tiniest bit. Here it was, the choice point. He was going to say something flirtatious, something that would sway me. If he said the right thing, if he was teasing but masculine, engaging and forthright and really noticed me, maybe we could still salvage something of this evening.
He tilted his head, leaned in a bit as if studying my mouth, and said softly, “Mediocre.”
What? At first I was confused, and then my face flushed. Was that really what he’d said, what he meant? That I was mediocre in bed?
“Yeah?” I said, my eyebrows raising, knowing that I was interpreting correctly, but unsure of how to proceed.
“Yeah,” he said again, nodding industriously. “Definitely mediocre.”
I didn’t want to be affected, but the truth was I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Here was a boy who hadn’t even slept with me, judging my sexual prowess. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous, and still I felt the ache rising. It probably didn’t help that I was tired, drunk, and a little bit discouraged even before he’d made his pronouncement. I shook my head, brushing it off, and changed the subject. God knew I wasn’t going to let on that I was upset.
And somewhere within me, a door snapped shut. Whatever attraction, whatever interest, whatever openness I’d had where it came to this boy, was crushed under the weight of disappointment and defensiveness. I shut down and became a little emotionally vindictive. You want to judge me? Fine, go for it. But now I’ll never let you in, you’ll never get this – and I know you wanted it. You would have been thrilled to feel this mouth on your mouth. You would have loved to have the softness of my body, my skin, my heart, in your hands. I know you would have, and now you will never, ever get that opportunity. I’m done with you.
The rest of the evening spiraled downward.
After the club we went to get pizza. I didn’t eat. The other three chatted, joked, ate, tried to draw me out, but I was gone. Where before I was talkative, easily amused, and fun, now I was a shell, technically present but totally checked out. I barely spoke. When they repeatedly asked what was wrong, I just said I was tired. Eventually we said our goodbyes, and I gave both boys perfunctory hugs before my girlfriend and I stumbled off to our hostel.
In our debrief the next day, I told my friend what had happened. I also shared how confused I was about it since I hadn’t even slept with the guy. He wasn’t even in a position to judge me (not to mention that I’d only ever gotten positive reviews when it came to being good in bed), yet I’d felt judged and shut down and unhappy. What was wrong?
“I think he liked you,” my friend said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “I think he really liked you and he was … well, did you notice him on the balcony?”
“You mean when we were all dancing?” We’d literally only been on the balcony for a few minutes. “Yeah, but I didn’t realize it was that big a deal.”
“I saw his face when you kind of danced away, and well … it wasn’t good,” she said. “He was disappointed. He looked like he felt – I don’t know, not just like you’d left, but like you’d left him.”
“Oh,” I said, at a bit of a loss.
“I think he took it as a rejection.”
Suddenly it all fell into place. For me, the balcony had been a moment of realizing that he might actually have been into me, which had me feel excited, but also unsure. I still wasn’t positive I wanted something to happen, and therefore wanted to put off the inevitable signals of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’d danced away because I didn’t know exactly where I stood; I needed more time. I needed to get to know him better – I needed to be able to trust him, to feel he actually was into me. But to Trevor it was a risk, which led to feeling dropped. And insulting me later was his way of asserting control, of getting back at me for not being more into it. He was punishing me for rejecting him. I had hurt his feelings, and his response was to try to hurt mine.
I spent much of the next day recovering, trying to figure out why it had felt so bad. And somewhere along the way, I realized it was because of how much had gone unsaid. I hadn’t gotten how much he’d liked me, and I hadn’t understood where his comment had come from or what was with the venom behind it. I also felt a sense of loss for what could have been, the sense of not only a missed opportunity, but the death of what could have been a warm friendship.
Eventually I came to realize that in all likelihood, it was far more his loss than mine. I had the feeling that I was as close as he’d come in a while to being with someone, that it was a bit of a rarity for him.
And it wasn’t my fault. I’d gone into the encounter feeling neutral, even hopeful, willing to see what happened. It was actually his fear, his insecurity, and his resentment (which likely stemmed from other, previous instances that had nothing to do with this one) that had led to him making the comment that sparked a total shutdown on my part. In other words, his issues literally precluded him getting laid that night. If he’d been open and inviting, I likely would have gone home with him.
My anger and hurt faded, replaced by sadness but also a sense of hope. Because as much as I have a long way to go when it comes to relating (and I do), I’m also pretty good about actually addressing my issues. I’m willing to look at them. And the thing is, if you don’t deal with your issues before you start dating, when you do find someone you really like, you’re more like to fuck it up. It’s like fixing a car. You sorta wanna deal with that faulty spark plug beforeyou go on the road trip of your life. Otherwise you’re gonna break down before you’ve even hit the interstate, and then you’ll be kicking yourself. And if that has to do with a person, you could lose them forever. The stakes are real, and high.
So if you have issues (and many of us do), don’t put off dealing with them. If you know you’re not clean with your energy around dating/sexuality, be proactive, not reactive. Talk to a friend. Get a therapist. Read a book. Take a seminar. Find a coach. Manhandle your issues – don’t let them manhandle you. Otherwise, you could lose her before you’ve even had her.
And you don’t want that. You want to get her before you’ve even had her.
So does she.