Since middle school, I’ve craved male attention. Early on, I developed a sixth sense for athletic and charismatic boys, the kind who’d make the loudest jokes in class; ask the girl next to me to slow dance while seeming to look right through me. At night I prayed to magically wake up more extroverted, flirtier and funnier and please, please less pimply. I became certain if I could just make one boy like this love me (or at least look at me), then I would somehow be lovable, confirming my femininity and worth.
Though I remained fixated on boys, my closest, most intimate relationships were with other girls. There was my best friend in seventh grade, who would read me Harry and Louis One Direction fan fiction on the bus while I found my eyes inexplicably drawn to her lips. I spent late nights talking with her, confessed my love for writing and fear that I wasn’t good enough. She knew me better than anyone, far better than the boys I chased. Why, then, was it not her opinion of me that I valued more?
In high school, I experimented physically with boys, but even during intimate acts, maintained emotional distance. I needed to be wanted, to know the right way to kiss and touch. I needed stories to tell my new group of girlfriends, and mostly, I needed a way to feel less crushed when she — we’ll call her Lazy Line Painter Jane — told me about crushes or later boyfriends. I didn’t just want Painter Jane to like me so I would feel I was likable, and it was much more complicated and less fixed than the way I felt and still feel about boys.
I wanted her to like me because she overwhelmed me. I wanted her to like me because of the softness of her voice and how I couldn’t not lean in to listen. I wanted her because of her room that was collaged with photographs and glow-in-the-dark stars, and because of the freckles sprinkled over her nose and cheeks. I wanted the nights when we drank strawberry beer and lay side by side on a blanket in my backyard, and I wanted the days we were cold and ignored each other. More than anything, I wanted the nights we stayed over at each other’s houses so I felt the heat of her skin through thin sheets and tried to close my eyes and sleep but found I was wide awake. I wanted her because I could cry in front of her or skip school to skinny-dip. And I wanted her because of her words — out loud and in writing — and how they always made me ache.
Very little actually happened between Painter Jane and I in high school. We kissed a couple times, wrote letters and made mixtapes and spent many nights almost saying what we felt, hanging in the kind of almost that defined our intimacy. And yet, she was and still is one of my best friends, my first love, one of the people I trust the most. It was and was not about sex; I wanted her in the vague way of being young and longing without totally knowing what the object of that longing is.
After high school, I dated and even loved boys. I threw myself into intimacy and sex, and it felt good — better even than I’d imagined it could, though I still thought about Painter Jane, still wondered occasionally about that mysterious ‘second sex.’
When I walk into a room, I instinctively scan the male-presenting faces seeking someone to desire — or more accurately someone to make desire me. I count my self-worth on the number of fingers of boys who’ve liked me back. Still, I naturally find myself drawn to girls in friendships. In bed, boys are a language and I know all the words. With girls, I’ve barely tried, and when I do, I find myself wishing I’d brought a dictionary. Why do I need boys to validate me, to feel the contours of my body and tell me I am female, whatever that word even means? Why do I naturally fall into sex and relationships with men while continuing to feel greater closeness with women?
Maybe I’m less attracted to girls physically, even though I usually feel closer to them emotionally. Or maybe I’m scared that if I really go there with another girl — both physically and emotionally — I’ll be forced to feel recognized for real, to see myself for what I am and not as a made-up ideal of femininity, or a confident and outgoing mask concealing the shy, afraid girl I still can be. I guess I don’t really know yet. My own body still sometimes feels like a hazy outline, other people’s even more so. I don’t know yet what I want from intimacy or love, or if I see those two things as separate or the same. Maybe a year from now, I’ll fall in love with another boy, or have a string of casual hook-ups with people of all genders, or maybe I’ll love a girl, and it will be as it was in seventh grade, and as it was with Painter Jane. But this time, I’ll know the words to say what my self and this body are, and I won’t need a man or anyone else to tell me what I am: desirable and deserving of love.
Dirty Blonde is a student at Cornell University. Love in the Time of Tinder runs monthly this semester. Sex on Thursday appears every other Thursday.