This story is also told by Lily.
There was something quirky about her post on Craig’s List. It was a little longer than most and certainly better written, but more so, it was at once cheeky and anxious, as if she had meant to throw caution to the winds but then grabbed it back at the last moment.
I found her post by searching for the word “submissive.”
I had decided that I wanted to meet people who identified as submissive on the premise that this would allow me to go into things as a dominant. If these things were established before the first handshake, I reasoned, it might spare confusion down the line.
I wanted to flex my muscles after sex camp. I hoped to find someone (or, knowing me, someones) who would enjoy experimenting with ropes, floggers, canes and all the new skills I wanted to hone, without the messy complications of love and romance.
Love had lately left me feeling worn out. I had exhausted myself by falling too hard too often, and I was numb from the ways women who loved me were led—almost inextricably, it seemed—to jealousy and potential disappointment.
After sex camp, I decided that I was getting out of the girlfriend business. I would no longer allow myself to be claimed as a boyfriend by anyone who really and truly, deep down, wanted me as her very own.
I was resolved to be studiously superficial—kind, caring and pleasant, to be sure, but in no way receptive to the pursuit of happiness ever after.
My firmer footfalls on the paths of BDSM afforded the opportunity to meet new people in situations where the ground rules are often preset. By establishing facts up front, perhaps I could avoid flame-ups by clearing away the underbrush of drama in my life.
I was succinct and direct in my response to her post. I commended her openness and sensibility, and sent her a link to my blog. By this time, I had decided that I preferred to date people who had access to this site, as it puts everything out in the open. If she was interested in me, it would be in the full knowledge that I am a parent, I am bisexual, I have sex with whomever I please, and I am not likely to be her one and only.
She replied quickly. She was, in a word, astonished, and, in a second word, aghast. She wrote that she had not imagined people really did the things I wrote about. She enjoyed my writing, she said, but she didn’t think she could get together with someone so promiscuous.
I replied that her reticence was understandable. No harm done. I wished her well.
She thanked me for understanding.
I told her there were no worries, and made a joke.
She wrote that my joke was funny.
Pretty soon, we were trading photographs.
She sent me a photograph of a terrace covered in plants, overlooking a verdant park. Just behind a planter was a face; I could make out dark hair and glasses.
“You’re very handsome!” she wrote.
“I want to avoid the word ‘adorable’ in describing you,” I replied. “But I don’t think that’s possible.”
We decided to meet for drinks at a dive bar in my neighborhood. She recommended that we meet at three on a Sunday afternoon, a little early for drinks but safely beyond the range of a late-night snap decision to go to my place.
She certainly thought ahead.
I was outside when she walked up.
“Jefferson!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry I’m a little late. Have you been waiting long?”
“No,” I kissed her cheek lightly. “I just got here—I’m afraid I’m typically late myself.”
“Oh, cheers,” she smiled. “So shall we . . . ?”
“Yes, let’s,” I said, opening the door for her.
I took a longer look as she passed. I added “cute” to the words I would have to avoid using to describe her; she must get that all the time. Her brunette hair was sensibly cut to accentuate its thickness and draped to her shoulders. She had smiling brown eyes that responded to her soft grin. I’m sure she had considered her clothes, as one does before a first date, but I suspected her closet was filled with multiple versions of this simple outfit—a skirt that hugged her hips and ended just above her knees, and a top cut low enough to reveal cleavage, but only a little. Her clothes suggested a modesty determined to belie the sensuality of her wasp-waisted figure.
She came up to my shoulders. I was tempted to pick her up and squeeze her. “Aren’t you the cutest thing, you adorable thing you?” I would coo.
“Do you come her often?” she asked as we slid into a booth.
“No, I very rarely drink in public,” I said, putting a pint on the vinyl tabletop. “Just when I’m first meeting cute . . . I mean, pretty gals.”
“Judging from your blog, that must be fairly often.”
“Nah, not really. Most women just show up at my door. How’s your gin and tonic?”
“Tasty, thanks.” She put the swizzle straw to her lips and sucked a long drink. “So, I’m interested: how did you get into writing the blog? Are you a writer otherwise?”
We talked about writing; it turned out that she was an aspiring novelist with an abiding admiration for Laurie Colwin.
Talking about my blog led us to talking about her interest in domination and submission. As she spoke, I realized I might have been too literal in my understanding of her description of herself as “submissive.” She was not, as I had first assumed, someone who “played” in “scenes” at “dungeons.”
“Oh, God no, not at all,” she winced, putting down her glass. “I mean, I can’t tolerate pain. I’m not into anything like that. What I meant was, I am lately coming to realize that I tend to be submissive in bed, and I like that. I like being told what to do. Like, for example, I was on a date recently and Jeremy—my date—told me to cross my legs. I did as he said and I got a real thrill out of it, because I had done as he asked.”
“Interesting,” I said, refraining from instructing her.
“Hmmm,” she said, taking another sip. “I don’t know how interesting it is, but, you know . . . funny, I’m just realizing I’m slightly embarrassed to be talking about this! I don’t usually.”
“Well gosh, who would you talk to about this?” I picked up my glass. “’Hey mom, guess what I’ve discovered? I like it when boys boss me around.’”
She laughed and looked steadily at me. “You know, you’re nothing like I pictured you. I think you may be nicer than the ‘Jefferson’ you write.”
“Thanks.” I wiped the suds from my lips. “I mean, I am the Jefferson I write, but I’m also, you know, me. I appreciate the challenge of reconciling those things.”
“I guess the blog creates certain impressions.”
“Indeed it does, which can be amusing or distracting by turns. It’s a challenge to turn oneself and one’s friends into characters. You’re a writer; you should try blogging—you’ll see what I mean.”
“Oh,” she said, taking the stirrer from her lips. “I do have a blog.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh, do you, now?”
“It’s nothing, it’s good I think . . . ,” she hesitated. “It’s about dating and this decision I made to go on more dates and have more sex.” Her head tilted slightly. “Please don’t think me superficial for hoping it leads to a book deal.”
“Attractive woman dating in the Big Apple,” I said. “That’s a book, all right . . . maybe even a television series . . .”
“And did I mention I have nice shoes? I have very nice shoes.”
I laughed. “Well, you’ll have to share your blog with me. You know, for professional reasons.”
“Hmm, we’ll see,” she demurred. “I haven’t shared it with anyone I date.”
“Why, Miss Lily, how presumptuous,” I drawled. “Is this here a date? Mind if I walk you home afterwards? Maybe meet your mama?”
“Okay, okay,” she nodded, reaching for her glass. “Point taken. We’ll see.”
“I’ll take that as ‘yes, sir.’” I ran a finger along the rim of my pint. “So, tell me something: you say that you have this new lease on life with sex . . . ,”
“Hmmph,” she nodded, taking the swizzle stick from her mouth. “Right. Well, in March I decided that I wanted to have had more experience . . .”
“’Have had?’” I interrupted. “Why the past tense?”
“Yes, I mean, as in later, when I’m married. I mean, my long-term goal is to get married and be monogamous and have kids. Well, maybe ‘short-term’ is more accurate, since I’m thirty-three. I’m not exactly waiting to get married, I just haven’t met anyone yet. Anyway, so I made a conscious decision to have more experiences now, for about a while. I call it my ‘Year of Living Somewhat Dangerously.’”
“Cute . . . I mean, nice. So you conceive of this as an experiment of limited duration.”
“Yes,” she sipped her drink and swallowed. “A year or something like a year, unless of course I get into a monogamous relationship. Then, of course, I would tell him.”
“’Him’ being this man you have yet to meet. You would tell him about your experiment? Or about your relationship with him?”
She smiled. “Well, no, obviously he would know about the relationship. I mean I would tell him about my sexual history.”
I took a sip of Bass. “Got to watch that subject agreement, young novelist.”
She nodded. “Duly noted. So yeah, so honesty is very important, obviously. It’s one reason I have a list of questions I ask prospective partners. It’s all about sexual history and . . . STDs. I have to confess, I am concerned about HIV . . . well, more than concerned, I’m frankly paranoid about contracting HIV—or anything, really, but especially HIV—in this experiment.”
“Well yeah, you have to be careful,” I agreed, taking a sip. “That’s not paranoia; that’s common sense.”
“Well, I think my concern exceeds most people’s.” She took another sip of her drink, staring at the ice in the bottom of the glass.
A moment passed. She looked up.
“So?” I asked.
“So . . . ?” she echoed.
“Am I not considered a prospective partner? Do you have the list?”
“Oh yes, of course, I keep it with me always.” She put down her glass and reached for her bag. “I mean, I’ve read your blog, so I know some of the answers already, but . . . hang on, it’s in here . . . ah!”
Lily pulled a folded sheet of paper from her bag. She began to open it. “Are you sure you don’t mind . . . ?”
“Okay.” She adjusted he glasses and looked down at the page. “I hope you don’t think this is silly, but . . . I found it online, and I trust the source, so . . .”
I smiled. “It’s fine. Hit me.”
She nodded and looked back to her page. “Well, this one is kind of obvious—‘Have you ever had sex before?’”
I laughed. “Uh, yeah. Now and again.”
“Wait, wait, there’s more. ‘If yes, how many partners have you had before? In the past year? Right now?’” She looked over her glasses at me.
“Hmmm, gee. Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t keep track of numbers . . .”
“Would you say ‘more than ten?’”
I looked at her.
“’More than fifty?’”
Lily paused. “’Hundreds?’”
“Let’s say ‘less than thousands.’”
She raised an eyebrow. “’Thousands’ plural?”
“Well, ‘less than thousands.’ I think that’s safe estimate,” I said, reaching for my pint. “I mean, the highest number in that category would be nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine, right? I seriously doubt I’ve broken a million, so it would surely be somewhere between zero and a million.”
She laughed. “That’s not the most reassuring answer.”
“What can I say? I’m slutty. But seriously, yeah, I just don’t care about numbers. I could probably reconstruct the number from before my marriage, and of course I was monogamous forever, but these days . . . actually, in point of fact, my numbers may not even be that astronomical, as these days I mostly have sex with the same people, just, you know, lots of the same people lots and lots of times.”
“Ah, which gets to the next part of this question—‘How many partners have you had in the past year? Right now?’”
“’In the past year?’ I dunno. But I regularly have sex with about . . .” I looked up and counted in my head. “Maybe a dozen people? Maybe?”
“Okay, we’ll put you down for ‘less than thousands’ and ‘one dozen, give or take.’”
She nodded. “It’s a lot, but . . . okay, next question. ‘Have you ever had sex without using a condom?’”
I nodded. “I have four children.”
Lily looked confused before my answer sank in. “Oh right, of course, but now . . .”
I nodded. “Yeah, condoms are de rigeur in my crowd.”
“Okay, good . . . that’s one, now this one . . . well, I know part of it—‘Have you ever had sex with another man? With a prostitute?’”
I nodded. “Yes to both. My boyfriend Marcus is a whore.”
“Oh!” she said. “No one has ever answered ‘yes’ to that question.”
“Not many men are likely to be honest if they have, either,” I noted. “But wait, is that seriously a compound question? They equate sex with men and sex with a prostitute as comparable health risks?”
She reread the question. “Yes, it’s the same question.”
“That’s pretty absurd. I mean, this assumes that all prostitutes and all men who sleep with men are automatically health risks, which is simply untrue. And kind of insulting, actually.”
Lily blanched. “Oh, I didn’t mean . . .”
I smiled. “No dear, it’s your list that’s insulting, not you. Anyway, go on.”
“I really didn’t mean . . .”
“I know, it’s no big deal. It’s just a persistent homophobic stereotype about bisexual men, that we are carriers between gay men (who can all be assumed to be diseased by this line of reasoning) and heterosexuals (who are clean and, ultimately, matter more anyway). Never mind the implication that all prostitutes are diseased and reckless.” I sipped my pint. “Don’t get me started, I can talk all night. Okay, next question.”
Lily looked to her list. “Have you ever had any STD? Have any of your other partners ever had an STD?”
“Yes, long ago and all gone, and yes. Next?”
“Um, okay . . . “ She sipped the remains of her drink and read. “Have you ever shot up drugs? Or had sex with someone who did?”
“Nope and nope—well, not that I know of, anyway.”
She looked up.
“The second part,” I clarified.
“Oh, right. Okay. So, ‘Have you ever had a discharge from your penis? Any sores or warts on your penis? A burning feeling when you urinate?’”
“Nope, I’m all good.”
“’Have you ever had a blood transfusion?’”
“Yes.” She looked up, expectant. “No, wait, no. I misheard you: I thought you asked if I gave blood. I used to, but no more, as the Red Cross is prejudiced against bisexual blood. That’s more fodder for the ‘I can talk all night’ talk.” I sipped my pint. “Next?”
“’Do you have a tattoo? If so, are you sure brand-new sterile needles were used?’”
“No, but man, I like ink on others. However, I did get my left ear pierced back the day. At a Spencer’s in a shopping mall.”
She smiled. “Quite the outlaw, eh?”
“Vroom, vroom. Is that the last question?”
“Nope, one more—‘Will you agree to always use a condom if we have sex?’”
“Who says we’re having sex?” I teased.
She laughed. “Hypothetically.”
I grinned. “Okay, in the hypothetical event that we have actual sex, we will use actual condoms. Deal. So do you really ask these questions of everyone you have sex with these days?”
“Yes,” she said, folding the paper and returning it to her bag. “I know it may seem silly or paranoid, but I dunno, it helps with my anxieties.”
“Then do it,” I said. “But goodness, if those are your standards, who do you wind up having sex with?”
“Well, they aren’t exactly ‘standards,’ just guidelines. And not everyone has been as sexually . . . adventurous as you.”
“To sexual adventure!” I toasted, raising my glass.
“Cheers!” she said, raising hers. She sipped from the glass. “Hmm, but my glass is empty . . . and I need to go to the ladies room.” She looked around.
“Back and to the right. I’ll order another round.”
“Cheers, that’s nice.” She smiled as she slid across the vinyl seat of our booth. She stood and suddenly blushed, as if embarrassed by a thought. “I’ll be back.”
“I’ll be here.” I returned her smile. “Unless I decide to dump you mid-date.”
Her shoulders fell forward. “Oh thanks, that’s a nice thing to say,” she laughed. “You’re mean to neurotic girls.”
I smiled, saying nothing.
She turned and walked to the restroom. I watched her walk away, noting how her prim skirt seemed tailored to her low-slung hips.
“Jefferson, Jefferson, Jefferson,” I muttered. “You are totally checking out that sweet young lady.”
I ordered another round.
The next day, I sent a nice follow-up email to tell Lily that I enjoyed our date and looked forward to more.
“Also, before our next date,” I added. “I’m getting tested.”