You are not supposed to matter. It’s hard to summarize Penn’s collective attitudes towards the people we casually hook up with, but many of us get socialized, from NSO onward, to live by that statement. Push down our feelings. Only text after midnight. We are not supposed to “catch feelings”, we’re not supposed to get attached, and we’re certainly not supposed to let any trace of emotion linger past move-out and last into summer.
This week, Street presents a collection of letters to the people we’re not supposed to miss.
This is the way it goes: I'm the first to tell you it's just sex. Because I don't want you to think I'd think anything different. You laugh, or roll your eyes, or if you're drunk just let your grip on me go a little limper, and you whisper, "Of course." Of course: we are young and Penn is big and neither of us wants a relationship, anyway. Not with each other. We play the game: I scroll through your formal album and wonder if she's prettier than me. You keep your eye on me at parties, size up who I'm dancing with. We perform for each other. It's absurd how normal this feels.
I know your smell and some of your secrets. I know how fiercely your eyes shut when you sleep, how you look so determined in shutting the world out. I know your subtext. And I still swear to myself that I don't care about you.
“Do you want to spend the night?” you said. I looked up and thought, why not. And that was a mistake. You slept soundly. A deep undisturbed sleep, during which you pulled me into your arms, pressed my body to yours and wouldn’t let me go. I hadn’t realized that my skin was so hungry it gobbled up your touch and in the morning, wanted more.
I never even slept with you. But sometimes I wish I had because then I could easier forgive myself for still thinking about you three years later. Because somehow it would be okay to be hung up on the first person I slept with. But what about the first person to give me an orgasm? The first person I gave one to? The first person to hold me throughout the night your arm wrapped around my bare waist our naked legs intertwined and our fingers laced together after telling stories about friends and families, anecdotes and disappointments of life into the wee hours of the morning? The first person to make me cry for months on end, my first heartbreak from someone I never even admitted I liked?
The first person that forced me to confront the fact that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this game we all play of who can care less?
It was never the nights together that broke me, it was the in between. It was hearing about you going on dates with other girls and wondering what mystery quality other girls had that made them worthy of dates that I somehow lacked. And watching you kiss that girl three inches from my face the day after I had woken up under your chin and wondering if you did it purposefully or if you really didn’t notice me and trying to decide which was worse. And it was after weeks spent thinking about you and the next time I would spend a night with you only to find out that you got back together with Her and that night wasn’t going to happen. And wondering what made Her worthy of devotion and persistence and waiting, while I was worthy of 2 AM text messages.
I don’t know if I can call it jealousy. Even those nights in your bed that you spent talking about Her I never felt jealous in those moments. Because right then when you laid your head on my chest and I stroked your hair, sensing your loneliness that matched mine, I felt like your friend, your confidant, someone you trusted, someone that mattered. It was afterwards. The averted eye contact. The jilted conversation. Putting on a show of indifference in front of all of the friends that knew. Pretending that you were no one to me, no different from any other acquaintance who hadn’t seen every part of me.
I never said anything because I never knew how to voice what I wanted. It’s not that I wanted you to take me on dates or kiss me in public and I didn’t expect you to choose me over Her. What I wanted was to feel like I mattered, to feel like more than just a warm bodied placeholder to stifle your loneliness when you couldn’t be with Her, the one you really wanted. And after all these years you are still the person I’m not supposed to miss, because our nights together tally only a total of four and we never even slept together, an invisible barrier that I somehow thought meant I couldn’t feel used, not if I was still withholding something. But three years later I still think about you, and I wonder if you ever think about me. Because you are the person that made me realize that just because someone isn’t using you for sex doesn’t mean they aren’t using you. And you are the person I will forever associate with sex and with insecurity and with longing and with hurt. And what hurts the most is the thought that while you made up a chapter in my book, I might be just a footnote in yours.
I don’t quite remember the entire night, but I remember that moment. The crowd was thinning out at the frat house, my friends and I were still dancing on top of the table. And you kept on staring at me. You climbed up the elevated surface. You totally wanted me; I totally wanted you, but I kept on looking away.
Those nights where we slip on skimpy outfits and push aside all responsibilities –that’s when we tell ourselves it all could happen. We grew up searching for “it all”. And every packed club or frat house is a roomful of suitors, but only a few actually become something; the rest are faces of potential. Options.
These are the guys we could have danced with, the hookups we could have taken further. Forgetting who or what got in the way, we treasure these almosts, gushing about the hot face to our friends and fantasizing how the night could have ended differently. These moments fuel us to go out again and again.
So no matter how how fuzzy and impulsive my mind, I pushed you into the potential category. Actually it was a voice, my friend earlier whispering that you were the guy she would go after. I hope I am not the only one who would take your attraction for me over her as a compliment. I hope I am not the only who fondly recalls these flickers of something on slow summer nights. I hope I’m better off with the memory than the regret.
You are the only part I remember of some nights. Blacking out doesn't apply to you; I don't know what I was doing before I came into your bed, or after, but flashes of you stream through my mind like a strobe light. I remember you saying you don't do emotions. I remember saying I hated you. I remember you saying you don't cuddle, and I remember hours later when you edged closer to me, slid a hand around my stomach, nested against my curled frame. I remember the pacts we made: text me if you can't find anyone else for the night. I remember telling you, telling my friends, telling myself: I don't give a shit about you. You're a warm body and a queen bed. And now, months later, I remember. I remember you how much it takes to not remember you.