Catch and release
I’m in a reflective place, thinking back on certain encounters in my life. Warning: this is really long. And probably boring. You may want your beverage to be alcoholic for this one.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was a late bloomer in every way, including with men. I didn’t date in high school. I had a couple of crushes, but nothing came of them. I went through most of college in a haze of depression and eating disorders and had no social life to speak of. I never learned how to relate to boys, and I found myself as an adult completely in the dark on how to relate to men. I was naive, took people at their word, and took any attention I got far too seriously. In my early 20s, I was still a virgin, didn’t know anything about orgasm, and had barely kissed a man. I knew I was supposed to be feeling something, but I was damned if I knew what it was or how I was supposed to go about it. And of course, the spanking fantasies were well closeted and wouldn’t come out for years.
When I was 22, just before my last year of college, I was in school full time and working part time at the hardware store where I’d been for several years. Mostly boys/men worked there and there had been plenty of banter and flirting over my time there… again, nothing came of any of it. But then there was Barry. Tall, dark and handsome, 19, had a girlfriend. And flirted like crazy with me. I remember coming in one day and overhearing him say to another coworker, “Is Erica here?” When they said yes, he blurted, “All right!!” My stomach jolted. I became aware that I had been looking forward to seeing him, too.
I ended up quitting the job at the beginning of summer. My friends there suggested we all go out for drinks and dinner as a goodbye thing. Several of the guys went, including Barry. He did not bring his girlfriend. Instead, he sat next to me at dinner, drinking daiquiris and flirting blatantly with me. At one point, in front of everyone, he picked up my hand and started sucking on my fingers.
Four of us went back to my apartment after dinner, played some music, talked. When it was time to go, I walked the three of them down to the front gate. Two of them hugged me goodbye and left, but Barry hung back. So I turned to him and started to say, “Well, I guess this is—”
I didn’t get to finish that sentence, because he grabbed me and kissed me so hard, I damn near saw stars. Kissing me all the way, he walked me back to my apartment and back inside.
No, I didn’t lose my virginity to him. But we made out until 3:30 in the morning. He took my phone number. He told me how long he’d had a crush on me and how hot I was. When he finally left, I shut the door and leaned against it. A minute later, there was a knock. I opened it, and there he still was. “I didn’t hear you lock the door. Lock it.”
I was in love.
For the next week, I floated on Cloud Nine. I had hickeys all over my neck and chest. I couldn’t wait until next Friday, when I was going to go back to the hardware store to visit my friends, and see Barry again. He hadn’t called that week, but that was okay. Figured he was busy and knew I’d be coming in.
Friday came. I dressed up, went in to the store, greeted my old supervisor and everyone else on shift. No Barry. I went looking for him, and found him.
And he looked right through me. There was no warmth or recognition or attraction on his face. He was clearly uncomfortable. And my stomach dropped into the soles of my feet.
He felt guilty about his girlfriend. Said he was sorry that had happened.
Remember, I was naive. My brain and heart could not accept that he’d been so attentive, so passionate, so INTO me, and within a week it was completely shut off. I figured he must have feelings for me and was just denying them. And I’m horribly embarrassed to admit I spent the rest of the summer pining over him, going into the hardware store ostensibly to visit friends, scoping him out, trying to talk to him. I finally went as low as I could go when I invited him over one weekday, saying I wanted to talk to him, and then when he cautiously but graciously showed up, I did everything I could to seduce him. It almost worked. We were actually in my bed together, I was down to underwear, and that was just about to come off… and then he stopped. Said he shouldn’t be doing this, that he couldn’t do this, that he was with me and thinking of his girlfriend, and he couldn’t do this with me, ever.
Somehow, I got over that. I’m not sure how, as I had no coping mechanisms, no experience to help me make sense of it.
But I didn’t lose my virginity until four years later.
Then when I was 33, it happened again. The sexy waiter at my favorite restaurant, the one where my girlfriends and I would hang out for hours talking. The one who flirted with me, who wrote provocative notes to me on napkins, and who ultimately left me his phone number on a napkin. The one who became my lover, showered me with attention, told me I was “special.” Until I wasn’t. Until about six weeks later, when he drifted away and eventually disappeared.
Again, besides being devastated, I was baffled. How? How could he be that into me and then just shut it off? Where did all those feelings go? That lust? That attraction? That interest? I’ll never forget telling an older guy pal about some of this, and after hugging me hard, he said, “Oh, honey. You fell for the ‘you’re special’ line? Everyone uses that line. I’VE used that line.”
Stupid, naive me.
At 37, I befriended a coworker. When he had a birthday dinner he invited me, and I met his roommate, who was 11 years my junior. Who lavished attention on me, sweetly and adorably. Called me. Sent flowers to me at work (unbeknownst to him, that was the first time I’d ever gotten flowers from a man). Invited me over to watch his favorite movie, and then thoroughly seduced me.
It was hot and heavy and sweet and fun and so damn delicious. Until, two months into it, I made the grave mistake of saying “I love you.” We were in bed. He didn’t answer, just hugged me. And everything went downhill after that, until he broke things off a couple of months later.
By now, I’d gotten a clear message: For whatever reason, men only like me until I like them back.
Until John, of course. The man who stayed. The man who got to know me better than anyone else, who not only saw sexy and funny me but sick me, sad me, cranky me, insecure me… and stayed. Why did he stay? I still don’t know. But I’m glad he did.
But of course, all the aforementioned experiences happened before I came out as a spanko. And then, over the years while I met and experienced various play partners, I discovered the “catch and release” phenomenon doesn’t just happen with lovers; it happens with play partners too.
I know a lot of people don’t get what I have with John and how I compartmentalize play partners. It’s a sort of poly thing, but it isn’t. I made up the term “polyspankerous,” which works as well as anything. The love I have for John is in its own space, untouchable. No one is a threat to him, and he knows it. The test of time has proven that. But do I love my play partners? I have, yes. Not like I love John. But when you have that degree of vulnerability, of closeness, of trust with someone, you can’t help developing feelings. In my case, they have varied. Sometimes, it was deep friendship, like with Danny. Sometimes, it was flat-out lust. Many times, it was a mix of the two and more. Play partnerships are complex. Each one is different.
Why don’t I play with John? I certainly used to. That too is complicated. But I discovered a long time ago that, once we became a serious couple, I felt differently about playing with him. For whatever the reason, he seemed to get it, and so we’ve spent most of our years playing with other people — me with male tops, him with fem-dommes. Until his health issues arose, and he had open heart surgery. He has not played in years. But my desire to play is as strong as ever.
It’s a lot more challenging now. I’m older. I’m not involved in the public scene anymore. I’m in decent shape, but there’s no denying that I’ve aged. And, sadly for me, I am not drawn to most men my own age (John being the one exception). So I play with younger men. Which can be lovely, but it also sets me up for insecurity and self-consciousness.
And then there is that ethereal quality of play partnership. It’s a nether region — it’s not quite a relationship; it should be a friendship but many times it isn’t quite that either. It’s intense, but also easily discarded, it seems. It’s a “until something else comes along” relationship, a lot of the time. I’ve never understood why. I’m able to compartmentalize; why can’t others? A brief memory from about 15 years ago; a play partner with whom I had fabulous chemistry, but who abruptly cut off all communications when he got a girlfriend who was insanely jealous of me. That really, really hurt — I mean, again, I wondered where all those feelings went, how they could simply turn off like a faucet. Interestingly, when that relationship imploded, he contacted me and blithely suggested we “take up where we left off.” I told him I couldn’t.
And now… it seems the “catch and release” has happened again.
When we first got in contact, the messages flowed. He asked a gazillion questions. We met for coffee, sparks flew, and he sent a lovely follow-up message. When we played for the first time, that same night he sent a beautiful email, asking about how I felt and expressing his own feelings about our play.
When we met, he was very busy. He had two jobs and almost no free time. But when I said I didn’t see how we could play with his hectic schedule, he said he didn’t think there would be any problem making time for play; we were local to one another, and there would be a way. I continued to get emails and texts, unprovoked. Compliments. So many sweet compliments. Being 13 years older than he, I had my usual qualms about that, but his messages made me feel sexy and desirable.
And then they slowly dwindled. They got shorter. And then they stopped, unless I initiated contact first. He said he was slammed with work.
We played two more times. As with the first time, the chemistry and attraction were off the charts. I was able to be vulnerable with him very quickly. I wept in his arms. I trusted and I let go.
But after the play, nothing. Always a polite response when I would write, but if I didn’t write, weeks went by with nothing. Again, slammed with work.
I didn’t want to bother him. I didn’t want to be that needy, annoying person. I would wait it out. I would… oh, fuck it. I wrote and said I missed him.
The note I got back was sweet and kind, but impersonal. He enjoys playing with me. But he’s just too busy. Work. Life. Balance. Etc.
I get that. I do. But… he was busy before. It’s not like when I met him, he didn’t have two jobs; he did. And yet he had plenty of time to communicate then. When I was a mystery. When I was still interesting and attractive and compelling. Before he got close and then backed off. Before I got into him.
Catch and release. Yeah, it would be easy for me to say it’s a guy thing, that men are capable of turning feelings and attractions on and off at the drop of pair of panties and it’s just the way they are, it isn’t personal, it isn’t me. But it sure as fuck feels like me. Because it keeps happening. And every time it does, I feel a little older. A little less attractive. A little less confident. And a lot more sad.
From afar, I am intriguing and attractive, it seems. Up close is another story.
Do I want too much? I don’t think I do. I don’t need reassurance every damn minute of every damn day, truly I don’t. I don’t need to hear from someone constantly. I just need to know they’re still there. If they can’t see me, if life is interfering, I get it. I just like knowing that they want to see me. And that eventually, they will. When I have that confidence in a friendship, relationship, play partnership, what have you, my needy side recedes into the background. But this business of lavishing attention on me and then fading out is fucking wrecking me from the inside out.
Especially when I know, no matter how many people say “It’s not you, Erica,” that somehow, it has to be me.
Anyway. I don’t know where I’m going with this, only that I had to get it out. We are as sick as our secrets, as they say. I have prided myself on my honesty over the years, and I’m not going to stop now. I wish I had answers, but I don’t. And I just have to deal with this pain and emptiness, as I have on and off throughout my life. Because the only way out is through, and all those other fucking clichés. Because no matter what, I function. Because responsibilities don’t stop. Because life goes on, even when it doesn’t feel like much more than an existence.
Because no matter how much I want to be lovingly beaten into subspace and then crawl into a strong pair of arms and just disappear and be taken care of for a while, that is not an option right now.
For those who are still reading, thank you. ♥