This is Called Living

When I was in love with Jake back in early 2015, I had never thought about what I was looking for with him. I got to see him every day in different colors of suits and I thought it was already too much to ask for. Him in navy was definitely too much to ask for. Him catching my stare and responding with a cocky half-smile as though he had already seen through my little secret and enjoyed it, was almost unbearable, in a fucking orgasmic way.

And so when it came to Jake, the man who took pleasure in seeing me miserably thirsty for him, I was never in any position to ponder on the whole 'what I was looking for' question. But if only I had paused for one second and asked myself that, I would’ve realized there was no point pursuing these feelings with him and saved myself some dignity. Well, maybe at the back of my mind I did know. My brain was just too clogged by those love chemicals to weigh in the obvious fact that we were unpractical.

In retrospect, falling in love with him was like getting hooked on a drug. A dangerously addictive one that turned everything else into noise. Rationale, pride, the desire to have a reciprocated loving relationship – none mattered. That drug had already taken control and infected my brain, leaving me with no choice but wanting him. I just knew I had to have more of it, more of that high, more of that man like a zombie hungry for brains. Starving and hopeless. Every hello. Every glance my way. Every little expression of interest. They kept me going.

Just like that, I was used to getting so little that I soon forgot what I deserved. I forgot that I was a smart woman worthy of a man’s interest and I also got to decide whether I wanted that man or not at a dinner table. That man could be Jake. But before we had a chance to get to any dinner table on equal terms, I had given him all the power over me. I had taught him to treat me the way I treated myself terribly. I put him on a pedestal. I chose to commit my feelings to a man who didn’t even consider taking me to dinner.

It took me a while to knock some sense into my head and do something for real. By late October 2015, I finally had the courage to stop this madness in the name of unrequited love. I detached myself from him, deleted his number, stopped romanticizing whatever I had with him and started acknowledging him as the flawed human he was. Yes, he was flawed. Very much so. He didn’t deserve the blind love I devoted to him. No one did. It wasn’t fair to myself either.

As 2016 rolled around, I had taken a new approach to dating which I thought was smart: 1) I only responded to the men who showed interest in me and 2) I asked myself what I was looking for with him – all before hard feelings were involved. Thanks to this, I managed to weed out a fair amount of men who were only after some “good fun”, “nothing too serious”, “something casual”, “someone to hang out with” which in more blunt language is basically no string attached sex with bare minimum effort from their part.

This is probably going to sound bitter but those men really made me sick of the word “fun”. Even if I wanted to “have fun”, at 22, I was grown up enough to spell “sex”.

And I did love sex just as much as any man but I knew I never wanted just sex. I wanted something more substantial and to my own surprise, for once in a very long time, I had genuinely felt ready for a long-lasting, trusted relationship. As a result, what I did next to my dating life was almost revolutionary: I stopped bullshitting myself and started to be completely honest about my intentions and expectations.

I told all the men I met straight away that I looked for someone who wasn’t afraid to commit and didn’t have to say “fun” all the time, who was comfortable expressing his feelings and affection, and especially in a place to take responsibility and wanted to take responsibility.

It was when I encountered Seth.

After hearing all that, he looked me dead in the eyes and asked me point blank, “Then why are you here?”

It was a good question.

I wasn’t at home. Not in England. I was having dinner with that man on his very own balcony looking down a beautiful river. In Southern Italy, mid-January. It was the eighteenth day of my three-week vacation. I had known Seth for fifteen days. And nights.

None of this was ever in my plan as I was sure my heart had been closed off after Jake but here I was, all softened and in love. Even after that bold speech about what I was looking for which clearly did not mean him, my mind and body were still electrified just like the first time our eyes had met and I was ready to come back to his bed for more. He was aware of that.

“You do know as soon as you leave this country, and let’s be realistic here, we will probably never see each other again?”, he continued, not giving away much of his emotion but I could sense that it was something he had been thinking hard about.

“Yes”, I nodded, with a certain smile.

“Don’t you think this is a mistake? Or say, a waste of your time?”

“No”, I said firmly, holding his gaze, “But if you asked me that question on the first day, or three months ago, I would probably think so. Now, it’s already too late.”

Similar to when I fell for Jake, by the time that question was laid out between Seth and me, it was already too late for me to fight back the burning desire I had for Seth. Though, the difference was that this time, I purposely let it become too late. It was my decision. For sure this wasn’t a “long-lasting, trusted relationship”, or at least it hadn’t yet developed into one, but I didn’t bullshit myself anything either. I was honest. I was in control. I wanted him. I had him. I had the time of my life for as long as it lasted.

“Well I guess sometimes it’s best not to think too much and just do”, he said softly while gently tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

I leaned over, teasing him, “Is this your move to get women in bed, telling them not to think too much?”

Seth seemed amused, yet remained silent. He moved even closer to me and unexpectedly pressed on my lips a deep kiss.

Leaving me all fluttered, he said matter-of-factly, “If it’s about getting women in bed, no need to tell them anything.”

Right then, I remembered all the reasons why I decided to be here with him and why this was definitely not a mistake. And it was not just because he was irresistibly attractive like that but because it was him, not anyone else, who could make me feel this way and turn this moment into a striking memory. I felt in touch with myself, my femininity and this life I no longer wanted to fast forward.

He carried me back to his bed and we made love under the bright moon.

I rested my head on his arm and told him more about myself. We never ran out of stories.

“And maybe you’re right”, I said, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Right about what?”, he was intrigued.

“That I might think too much”, referring to our conversation outside the balcony earlier, “About all this. About what we’re doing here.”

“Tell me.”

He gave me his full attention as I tried to find the right words to express myself. I loved rambling to him like this, even about the most silly things. He really knew how to listen and most importantly, he got me.

“Okay I know I’m not born to be someone’s wife”, I resumed my train of thought, “This is my body. I’m free to decide what to do with it. And I have a life to live as well. I mean I know all that, but somehow I can’t internalize it.

“This double standard I have on myself is so deep-rooted that it’s not even about what society says anymore. It’s what I choose to believe and say to myself. It’s the fact that I can’t even allow myself to have some womanly pleasure without feeling less than. Like every time I sleep with a man who isn’t going to be my husband, something is taken away from me, and I’m less and less. And like my worth is determined by how many people I’ve slept with and whether any man wants to commit to me or not.

“You know, it’s fucked up. I even worry about whether my future husband would think I fuck around in my early twenties and only settle down with him when my clock is ticking and I can’t fuck around anymore. But how do I know who I’m going to get married to? What if I even decide to not get married at all? I’m free to enjoy my life as an individual, a human being too, right?”

“Yes you are. And I get what you mean”, he responded understandingly, “Though I don’t agree this is fucking around. Like you said, you have a life to live as well. This is called living. I don’t think any less of you, and I hope you don’t of yourself either.”

“It’s easy for you to say since you’re a man. I’ve been hurt and shamed before. Multiple times. There have been people whom I opened up to about my past, my scars and the only thing they cared about was how many people I had slept with.”

“Then you know those people are not your kind of people.”

I turned my whole body to face him, asking earnestly, “There is no right or wrong way to live right?”

“No. There isn’t”, he stroke my hair reassuringly, “There’s only your way and your way is always the best way for you.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“All this. For being here with me. For not calling this just fun. I’m being very honest right now and I really don’t regret any of this. My trip would’ve never been the same without you.”

“Well, thank you too. I don’t regret either.”

His words touched my soul as he placed a tender kiss on my forehead. I knew he was telling me the truth.

In my remaining three days, we didn’t leave each other one step. We carried on with our talks, our dances, our kisses, our love-making like there was never going to be a goodbye. Having him beside me and inside of me, not even once had I felt any less. I actually felt more as though I was being filled up. Now thinking back, maybe not just those three weeks, but even my life would’ve never been the same without him.

Because unbeknownst to me at the time, my wounds were being healed slowly and gradually at every loving touch, every “I get what you mean”, every look he sent my way. He didn’t just see me. He saw me for everything I was. He showed me beauty even in my imperfections and like a miracle, having him with me, I actually believed I deserved goodness in life.

Learning from mistakes and being cautious is good but perhaps sometimes we should not think too much and instead just do. Giving other people a chance is also giving ourselves a chance. A chance to dive in and let our heart guide us to the answers we might not even know we need. Surely along the way, we will do stupid things and make mistakes. But whatever it is, there’s really no room for regret — it’s called living.

After all, who knows what will happen in a few years down the line when time is right, paths cross twice and lives are intertwined? Before we even realise it, the seed we planted yesterday might have already grown into a beautiful tree.