I wanted to ask your opinion on my relationship, sex, and how to facilitate healthy conversations.
I am 26, new to NYC and I met a guy who is really amazing. We hit it off and we are on the precipice of becoming boyfriends, which for me is amazing because I have never had one but always wanted one. He is older than me, with much more experience in terms of life; he’s already been married, lived in NYC for nearly 15 years and its kind of intimidating sometimes to see myself as someone with whom he wants to pursue a relationship because he is hot enough that he could have anyone. But also that makes me nervous because I do not have nearly as much sexual experience as he does.
I have had sex a handful of times with different guys that never seemed to give me the enjoyment that I have been craving from sex. I have bottomed 2 times and both were terrible experiences which have kind of left me scared to try again without someone I trust. I see him as that person. We have not had sex yet, but we have had some frank conversations about sex, our differing HIV statuses and how to approach it from a physical standpoint. All have been great but I am concerned because right away he gave me some hard and fast “no’s” to things that he is not into sexually or that is averse to. Additionally, I know that he is into several kinks that I do not think I am.
I am concerned because I am at the start of my sexual awakening and still discovering what I like and don’t like. I find kind of retaining to know that the things he isn’t into are things I wanna explore while other areas that he is interested in are scary and foreign to me so I am not really chomping at the bit to explore those kinks. I wanna know what to do so that way I feel not feel so weird about our differing interests and so I can enjoy this sexual journey we’re about to begin.
PS I think his bestie subscribes to your blog so I would prefer the post be anonymous, or call me “Kevin” (my alias lol)
We’re in similar boats, Kev. I’m 26 too and I moved to NYC just under a year ago. I’m dating someone older and more established. He has a tighter friend network and well-paying job and I have neither. This definitely presents challenges.
Adjusting to this city is hard enough without navigating a new relationship. Whenever I get depressed and overwhelmed, I remember my college poetry professor. Her name was Angela and her powerful skill was the ability to read poetry aloud beautifully, in a way that wasn’t shy or pretentious and really made you feel the words. That’s a skill that writers rarely think about, the ability to read your stuff well.
One day a classmate came in with a poem about a pumpkin. The pumpkin gets carved out, cut up, and turned into a garish, grinning jack-o-lantern. The classmate had just broken up with her boyfriend of several years who, if I remember correctly, cheated on her, so I had some idea about where the poem was going.
As soon as she finished reading the poem, she explained: She was the pumpkin. Then she started crying.
We felt embarrassed for her. No one said anything. Everyone stared at the floor.
Angela was quiet and let the girl cry for a couple minutes. Then she sat on the corner of her desk, crossed her arms, and said this:
“You think you hate him but you don’t. You tell yourself that you’ll never do something like this, you’ll never hurt anyone this badly, and you will.”
The girl looked up. Angela continued: “This may not help you much right now, but you’re supposed to be doing this. You’re young. You’re supposed to get your heart broken and get it broken over and over so that you can learn how this feels, and learn what to do with it.”
By now, the room was silent. Angela finished: “I know you’re all working hard and trying to figure all this stuff out, and I just want to remind you that you’re just kids.” Then Angela started crying — the first and only time I saw her cool composure break.
“You’re just kids,” she repeated. “You don’t have to put yourself under so much pressure all the time.”
As a student, I had never felt so understood. This was art school, which, to the outside world, seems like an airy and easy college experience. In reality, creative careers are brutally competitive and most dreams get dashed. We were being taught by professionals — every assignment was a potential referral, a potential job. We were producing industry-caliber work at a time when many of us were barely old enough to buy booze. Life was constant pressure.
That pressure never goes away. After school, you hunt for work, move, meet people, have sex, and pay rent, and the pressure continues. Here you are in a new city, enchanted by a man whose life seems more put-together than yours, and that creates more pressure for you — pressure to appear older and more experienced than you are, pressure to perform sexually, pressure to measure up.
This may not help you much right now, but you’re supposed to be doing this. You’re young. You never know how a relationship will work until you try it. You will never know how to navigate differences until you’re in the middle of them. You’ll never advance sexually unless you learn from people with more experience. You’ll never learn how to “facilitate healthy conversations” until you’re dating someone and have to tell them how you feel. There is no way to teach this stuff — you simply do it, fail, and do it again.
Every relationship has differences — differences in sexual experience, differences in income, and, in your case, differences in HIV status (all my relationships have been with HIV-negative men, and I’m positive). The only way to handle these differences is to talk honestly, and that’s not easy to do.
You won’t communicate perfectly at first. It might take a few months of dating — or, more likely, a few relationships — before you get it right. Also, it’s fine if your sexual interests do not align. How else will you grow? Like you said, you don’t have as much experience as he does, so you might consider trying the things he’s into. Everyone learns their sexual interests from someone else. I suggest trying everything twice — ideally with two different sex partners — before deciding that something is not for you.
He’s not your guide to sex — you are. Your sexual journey is a ship with one captain, you. He will not be the top that teaches you, once and for all, how to be a better bottom. He’s just the next person you will experience, and while you may learn a lesson or two from him, you don’t need to put him on a pedestal of being a guide or helper. Yes, it is nice to build trust with someone and advance sexually with them because of that trust, but good sex depends on chemistry more than trust. Strangers will be better bed partners than people you’ve dated for years.
When you have those “healthy discussions,” avoid “you” statements like: “Why did you [something awful he did]!” or “You’re always [something awful he does]!” or “You’re not into the things I like!” Instead, say “I feel”: “I feel lesser when you don’t have the same open-mindedness to trying what I want to try,” or, “I feel like I’m working hard to meet you at your level and you’re not doing the same,” and so on. Accusations will get you nowhere. That simple rephrasing gives him the opportunity to address your feelings, not your finger-pointing.
This isn’t what you want to hear right now, but you have to get your heart broken a few times before you learn how to get through that. Every relationship is doomed before it starts — that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Love the relationship you’re about to start for its experience, its change, its fleeting beauty, and at the end of it, you’ll come out more complete, more blessed, in New York.