A few months ago I was on vacation in Cancún with Veronica. More precisely, we were on vacation near Cancún. We spent exactly one day amongst the big hotels, with their sterile, overhyped, deserted feel (welcome to the effects of a global economy on the entirely contrived Hotel Zone that was supposed to be Cancún’s stable touristville), and got the hell out.
Long story short, 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 decided we should talk to them, considering they were the same two we’d seen at ruins that day, and the fact that there was literally nothing else to do in the town. It was either them or us who asked, “Are you guys from Oregon?” – as it turned out, they’d also been trying to guess where we were from.
They were truly awesome – down-to-earth, fun, entertaining, could (sort of) speak Spanish, the works. So we hung out. We found the one restaurant still open in the sleepy town, which happened to be just next door to a completely empty “nightclub” consisting of speakers blaring either bachata or reggaeton, and a deserted dance floor upon which the silver, blue, and yellow sparkles danced from the disco ball above. There, we shared several bottles of wine, laughed, commiserated over travel mishaps, and generally enjoyed the company of people other than our own travel companions.
Then, at some point during the evening, I became aware that one of the boys, Trevor, was interested in me.
At least I thought he was. Nate, his friend, I had a better read on, and I knew he wasn’t interested. Perhaps he would have been, but he had a girlfriend to whom it was clear he was loyal.
Trevor, on the other hand, I could feel attraction from – not exactly with, yet, but there was potential there. 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 have gotten some action while in Mexico, but I wasn’t attached to it, and I wasn’t that into this guy. He was cute, in a way, 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, which had me repress my breath in the same way around him and kept me from feeling totally relaxed. In some fundamental and likely unconscious way he kept himself rigid, which I strongly suspected was also true of him emotionally.
But while I wasn’t exactly into it, I wasn’t opposed. He did have a nice body and I did genuinely love connecting with him and Nate. They were likeable and responsive and willing to play the kinds of games that Veronica and I love.
So 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. The crowd in Playa is roughly 10% Mexican (meaning those who live there), 15% American, 25% various European, and 50% Israeli. Many of the signs are bilingual … English/Hebrew.
At any rate, we decided to go all out in Playa. 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. Despite this, we managed to get pretty happy and proceeded to go clubbing.
At some point Nate, Trevor and I grew tired of pseudo-dancing (bopping around to Euro-techno-pop is only interesting for so long). We had lost Veronica, who as I discovered later, was engaging in some dance floor romance of her own, and so flopped down just the three of us on a couch on the outside part of the club.
Nate sighed a long, satisfied sigh, glanced around, and grinned. “So this is fun, right?” he asked. Then he looked at me closely. “Are you having fun?”
I smiled. “Sure,” I said, but the truth was I was feeling a little unsteady and somehow … unsatisfied. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I had a feeling it had something to do with what was going on back home with a quasi-psuedo romantic situation. 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?
Nate looked around, people watching, and we all followed suit. Somehow the subject of sex came up (I can’t imagine how … the subject of sex almost never comes up with me), which was when Trevor made his absurd announcement:
“I can tell how good a girl is in bed by looking at her mouth.”
“What?” Nate said, then stopped to consider it. “That’s silly,” he concluded.
“No, it’s not,” Trevor retorted. “It’s true. I can tell.”
“Uh huh,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“No, really,” he maintained. “I’ve done it before.” 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 not always about that, it’s more in the mouth,” Trevor reiterated, and we shared a look. He had straightbacked feeling of energy in his posture, as if there was a lot of information being transferred not about the subject at hand. There was a pause, during which time I changed the subject: “Where exactly is Veronica? I haven’t seen her in a hot minute.”
“I’ll go find her,” Nate 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 to get me going. I waited, anticipating. 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?
“Yeah?” I said, my eyebrows raising.
“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 again.
But somewhere within me, a door snapped shut. I shut down. I was sad, yes, but also angry. Fuck you. You want to judge me? Go for it. Judge all you want. But now you’ll never get in here, 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 had 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 conversation died. Nate and Veronica returned, sporting tales of dance floor conquests. Trevor and I listened and congratulated Veronica, although both she and Nate looked at me, concerned.
“Anyway, how are you guys doing?” I asked, partly to deflect their looks. “You wanna stay longer or are you ready to go?”
We went to get pizza. I barely spoke. The other three talked, joked, tried to draw me out, but I was gone. Before I was talkative, easily amused, fun. Now I was a shell of who I’d been. When they asked what was wrong, I just said I was tired. Eventually we said our goodbyes, and I gave both boys perfunctory hugs before Veronica and I stumbled off to our hostel.
In our debrief the next day, I told Veronica what had happened and how upset I’d been, and 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, yet I’d felt judged and shut down and unhappy. What was wrong?
“I think he liked you,” said Veronica, 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, I did, but I didn’t realize it was that big a deal.”
“I mean, 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 actually was into me, which made me happy and excited. But I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted something to happen, and I wanted to put off the inevitable signals of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I had danced away because I didn’t know exactly where I stood. I needed more time. 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, punishing me for rejecting him. In some way 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 also realized that in all likelihood, it was far more his loss than mine. I didn’t get the feeling that he had a lot of success with women, and I was probably as close as he’d come in a while.
In truth, it was his fear, his insecurity, and his resentment (which likely stemmed from other encounters that had nothing to do with this one) that had led to him making the comment that had sparked a total shutdown on my part. It was literally true that his issues had precluded him getting laid that night. I had gone into the evening with the attitude of openmindedness: if he’d been open and inviting, I likely would have gone home with him.
Here’s the point: 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 before you 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.
Whatever ‘deal with your issues’ means to you, don’t put it off. If you know you’re not clean with your energy around dating/sexuality, be proactive, not reactive. Talk to a friend. Find a therapist. Read a book. Take a seminar. Hire a coach.
In other words, 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.