When I met Kainoa, I was 30, fresh out of a near-marriage situation and spending the better part of my days swaddled in my childhood blanket and the warm glow of my parents’ television. I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone new during this trip home to Hawaii over the holidays, but as soon as laid my eyes on Kainoa’s dark, wavy hair and unfadeable beach-boy tan, I knew he was just what I needed to make me feel less like a loser.
Kainoa was the type of guy I would’ve swooned over in high school. Familiar but unconquered. As soon as we were introduced through a friend at a glossy surf bar in Waikiki, we immediately locked eyes, then bashfully looked away. I’d been out of the game for six years, but I remembered that maneuver -- the invitation to shamelessly flirt -- and the whole ritual felt a lot less self-conscious than it had in my twenties. His interest was what I was after, and there was no use wasting time, pretending otherwise.
I awwed at his self-effacing jokes, gently grabbing his arm at the tail end of my chuckle. He gave me those eyes, that parting of his lips. He told me he was newly single too, working for an artist and thinking about starting a magazine.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Twenty-six,” he said. So young and naive, I thought; he’ll have a new dream in six months. But I also understood the beautiful part of our four-year age difference: Maybe he saw me as an experienced Mrs. Robinson type and I could fake my way to using it to my advantage.
As the night progressed into a group barhop, he made sure to sneak into booths right beside me, putting us thigh to thigh. His eyes met mine even when I was away at the bar or out on the dance floor. I couldn’t believe how easy this was. I felt like I was awakening one of the greatest feminine powers in the world -- securing a man’s attention -- and pathetic or not, it didn’t feel pathetic. It made me feel more accomplished than I had in a long while.
Broke and Lonely
You could say I was having a third-of-my-life crisis, which, conveniently or not, happened to be butting up against the peak of my womanly horniness. In the year prior to this holiday visit, I’d embarked on an adult-life do-over. I’d dumped my full-time PR job (not creative enough), my six-year boyfriend (no longer compatible enough) and the city of Los Angeles (never subtle enough). I feared succumbing to the affliction best known to my generation as Settling.
The plan to achieve my new self began with enrolling in graduate school for creative writing in the understatedly hip city of Portland, Oregon. The end goal was to write my best-selling memoir from my subsidized South American veranda, with a bottle of wine at my side and an artistic lover at my whim.
However, I’d barely embarked on my journey before I needed a break. I’d neglected to consider how broke and lonely an unattached, jobless grad student in the grayest city in the country would be, and by the time I returned to Hawaii that Christmas, everything about my parents’ home seemed lush and extravagant.
My old bedroom had been renovated into a deluxe guest suite. Here, now, the king-sized bed was always made, the flat screen boasted 500 channels and the air conditioning was permanently set at 69 degrees. It didn’t take long before I’d regressed into a teenager, locking the door behind me and indulging in MTV reality shows, breaking only to run upstairs, grab a handful of Goldfish crackers, then shuffle back down into my cave and slip under the covers.
Yes, I was in paradise, but I rarely left my room. Nights when I grew restless, my dad willingly handed over the keys to his pickup and I drove to bars I frequented in college and had endless cocktails with old friends, who, like my parents, appreciated my company because they hadn’t seen me in a while. Friends who laughed at my jokes because I was somehow wittier now that I’d lived on the Mainland.
Out about in my old life, I felt for brief moments like I was interesting, evolved even, but tucked into my childhood bed, I didn’t have to think at all -- not about the treacherous road of writing and rejection ahead, and not about the much-better financial and emotional state I thought I’d be in by 30.
The only part of my revised life where the challenge still seemed fresh and exciting was my newfound singledom. So out into the night I went.
Hooking Up for Hooking Up's Sake
Kainoa and I canoodled in corners the rest of the evening, then took our flirtation back to his place -- only to end up passing out with most of our clothes on. Still, I went home the next morning rejuvenated, thinking this could be the start of the whimsical life I’d envisioned for myself.
But it had been a long time since I hooked up for hooking up’s sake. The last time I did so, I was 24, and all I could remember was the desire to be filled up -- physically, emotionally -- and, if given any thought, I knew this was just more of the same. My free-spirited dream self who’d swill wine in Costa Rica wanted to believe Kainoa was the first of many flings I would have until I fell upon the right guy, or the right guy for the moment, but the serial monogamist part of myself, the part that had been in one serious relationship after another since I was 18, was dying for him to call. Dying for him to fawn over me. Dying, secretly, in the most embarrassing depths of my soul, for this random surfer dude to be “it” so I didn’t have to do any more work.
Over the next few days, Kainoa and I sent a few texts back and forth, but by the end of the week, my phone went silent. My friends had returned to their regular lives, and other guys in other bars were about as interested in me as I was in them. My charm with my parents had apparently worn off too, as they announced they were going away for the weekend -- without me. I was ready to pull the covers over my head and snuggle up to an episode of “True Life” when Kainoa texted, “Goin 2 Chinatown 2nite.” I put on my vampiest bra and low-cut dress and hopped in my dad’s pickup.
Several hours and many overtly sexed-up dance moves later, my arm was looped through Kainoa’s as we trampled down the staircase of a club in Chinatown. I suggested that we catch a cab back to my house. “My parents aren’t home,” I whispered into his neck, my heels stomping sloppily along the sidewalk. He nodded. Now I had him.
Mrs. Robinson, Not Taylor Swift
When we arrived at my parents’ house, I took Kainoa’s hand and led him straight into my sacred lair and onto my bed. What I remember most is that his skin smelled of salt water and sweat. Maybe I’d been drunker during our first encounter and didn’t notice, but after being in a relationship for so long, I’d forgotten that men smell different from each other.
I buried my nose into the mess of his waves, wanting to explore his newness, wanting to nestle into the curls that brushed up against his ear. Then I felt him thrust from under me, and I remembered I was on a mission to be untethered, not get cozy. To be Mrs. Robinson, not Miss Taylor Swift.
I tugged at his shirt and yanked it over his head, moving my lips down the light trail of hair that led to his pants’ button. I unzipped him, putting myself between his legs and lifting my dress over my head in one sweep, so he could watch as I did it. He smiled a drunken smile, his eyes open at half-mast.
I jumped off and grabbed a condom from my purse that a friend had given me as a joke several days before. But I didn’t act like the condom was a fluke or a punch line. I proudly raised it in the air like Lady Liberty, showing him that I wasn’t a woman who was worried about where this was all going. My stare smoldered that I was in control here (promise!) and this very boozy sex we were about to have was going to liberate us, or at least me.
Kainoa lifted his head from the pillow to slip the condom on. I got on top of him and he closed his eyes.
“Your tits are so hot,” he blurted, handling them like they were balls to juggle. I froze for a second. Suddenly, our encounter had become more bad teenage wet dream than naughty, off-the-rails abandon. Luckily, my determination snapped me back in. I moved him in, then out of me, slowly, then faster, trying to figure out a rhythm that suited us both.
He repeated how he felt about my tits. Over and over and over again. Then he changed it up.
“Oh, your pussy’s so tight,” he said, moving his hands to brace my hipbones. I pressed my finger against his lips.
I wiggled, pushed, rocked and rocked, anything to get him to come, anything to get him to shut up. I looked toward the window, thinking I heard maybe a door slam, hoping even that I’d heard my dad’s voice and that he was going to come in and put this whole thing to an end.
But no one was going to save me. I rolled off of Kainoa. This was not going to happen, not in any kind of way either of us wanted it to. We laid there on our backs, trying not to look at each other.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“It’s cool,” I told him.
All I had wanted was to feel better about who and where I was at 30, and as I laid in bed with this man-child stranger beside me, I only felt more worthless and alone and aware that I had to do all this life-rebuilding on my own. I probably wasn’t ever going be the woman I’d dreamed of being, but I also couldn’t be afraid to try. Couldn’t be afraid to get back out there and find fulfillment in work, in a partner, in a home that I’d create for myself. And for now, I had to be okay with how unsettling it felt not to settle.
I looked over at Kainoa and he was already fast asleep. I turned over on my side and began strategizing how I’d get rid of him in the morning. Just that tiniest bit of initiative and resolve was enough to get me through to tomorrow.