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What I Learned About Romance from Having Casual Sex

After spending most of my 20s hooking up, I'm shocked to find that traditional courtship is pretty great.

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As I approached my official date-date, I found myself panicking. I wrote one of my best friends a flurry of insane Gchat messages:

“How do I be normal and have fun? Take an Ativan?”
“Oh my God, are we going to touch?”
“I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
“How have I ever had sex before?!”

The idea of spending time with an available man who unambiguously liked me — not just as a potential sex partner — had sent me into a tailspin of anxiety. I’ve done serious, meaningful, long-term relationships, but they’ve all developed alongside or after sex. There’s a degree of certainty with sex — even if you never sleep together again, at least you’ve consummated something. But waiting, lingering in the stomach-flipping in-between, that exposes you to an entirely different type of vulnerability.

Sometimes, tearing off your clothes is just a pathetic attempt at taking control of the uncontrollable: love. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t always getting what I wanted from hookups. As a friend recently told me, “It’s a terror to put your heart on the line and ask for what you want. You don’t have to be naked to feel naked.” My M.O. has often been getting naked to not feel naked.

I’m conflicted about all this. I don’t believe that one’s sexuality can be broken like fine china, but I do think it’s special. I don’t believe that you should have to withhold sex in order to get what you want from a partner, but sometimes you really do get what you want when you wait, sometimes for entirely unexpected reasons. I don’t think sex on the first date dooms a relationship, and yet there’s a specialness in waiting until you’re comfortable enough with someone to get naked together while totally sober. I would never advocate a return to traditional gender roles, but courtship, actual effort, is refreshing — no matter the sex of the courter.

And you know what? I’m a feminist, but I really like flowers. Next time, I’m getting him some.


Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow@tracyclarkflory on Twitter.

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