In the six years of having my autoimmune disease, I've learned what I need from a person in order to view them as a potential long-term partner.
When I used to date, I’d do something my good friend Karen calls “frontloading.” When I misspelled it right now as “frintliading” my Android’s spellcheck suggested "reinforcing." EXACTLY.
Let me tell you everything awful about me so that if you're going to reject me we can get that part over with.
I did not realize that telling dudes highly personal stuff about yourself that you are obviously ashamed of weirds them out. When the “relationship” -- I am talking about guys I’d gone on zero to one dates with -- didn't work, I’d blame it on my past. Confirmation that I was dirty and damaged and that no one would ever really want me.
When I started dating this time after my last breakup, I went to my friend Francisco for advice. Francisco is not only my friend but the guy that gives free sex advice in Union Square Park -- you know, “Free Sex Advice with Francisco.” Perfect source for knowledge and insight. We talked about this issue of my “coming out” and came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to. Not right away. In fact, given the fact that I’m the kind of writer that writes all my personal biz on the Internets for all the world to see, it made a whole lot of sense to not give dudes so much as my last name.
Most guys didn’t even ask. If they did, I just said I was a public figure and preferred people got to know me vis-a-vis me, rather than my work.
Waiting until the third or fourth date meant that I didn't even tell most guys that I used to sell sex. When I did tell a guy, I began to notice that something interesting would happen. Instead of giving me the stink face I’d have gotten had I told him when we’d just met, most guys that I’d gone out with on a couple dates beforehand didn’t react at all. They didn’t judge me or see me differently. In fact, when we talked about it a little, a lot of guys naturally shared that, at one point or another, they’d purchased sex. No big deal. If they didn't volunteer it, I would sometimes ask. Every guy I’ve ever asked has said yes.
You might have never asked him, but your boyfriend or husband has probably bought sex.
I think because I had learned how to ask in a truly non-stigmatizing way, these dudes felt safe enough to share how they boinked a Russian hooker on a trip abroad or went through a stage in college when they, too, spent lots of time on Craigslist. And, I mean, I guess it’s not really that surprising. The guys I met while selling sex were grown up versions of the boys I went to high school with. I met all kinds of guys -- young men, old men, sad men, clever men. Sleazy, oily typical strip club types but also charming, attractive, successful, bright men. Just as there’s no one typical sex worker, there’s no typical “John.”
Now that I’m out of the industry, I sometimes make the mistake of categorizing all the dudes who fucked me for cash as deviant. And some were. But then, some guys were exceptionally nice. Some were sick and suffering, just as I was. But the overwhelming majority were relatively benign. They were visiting a world I lived in 24-7, akin to someone who goes out every now and again and gets drunk. I was an alcoholic and a sex addict, they were spending one random night at the bar.
I went on no less than thirty dates before I met my current boyfriend -- I know this because I kept track in my Google calendar and at some point, probably when my friend Niesha was complaining how hard it is to meet a decent guy, I went back and counted. Niesha’s right: meeting the right guy takes work, regardless of who you are and what ish you’ve got stuffed in the back of your closet. Dating is weird and hard. But rejection, I learned, is not always personal. You have to keep an eye out for the prize and believe that you deserve it, which is really only possible if you’re not thinking of yourself as a “booby prize.”
There used to be a gameshow called “Baggage.” You can guess what it’s about. Sure, some of us have something we think is gameshow-extreme, but everybody’s got something. The key, I learned, is to get to know each other without stereotypes getting in the way. When I met my BF, there were a couple “red flags”: he didn't drink (alcoholic!), he was five years younger than me, he’d never had a serious girlfriend before, he worked for the NY Post. I’m glad I overlooked my prejudices and gave him a chance.
Because he works for the NY Post, something he told me in one of our first conversations, it seemed illogical to withhold who I was, and so I told him right away. He said something to the effect of "I'm sorry that happened to you" -- regarding this. Then, he told me something personal about himself to even the playing field. Right response! Moving on!
On the issue of my sex work past, he was neither turned away nor titillated (another equally common, equally undesirable response). When it comes to women’s participation in the sex industry, he’s neutral -- probably more neutral than me. This is how you develop intimacy and trust, something I’m slowly, slowly getting better at.
We’d been dating for around four months when I realized I had never asked him the question: had he ever bought sex? I asked him one night. After a thoughtful pause, he said: “Does a hand job at a strip club count?”
Uh, yes, that counts. And it doesn’t matter either way.