Perhaps not surprisingly, I often think back to one of the most erotic experiences in my whole life.
Perhaps surprisingly, this was it:
In fall of my junior year of college, I was living at home with my parents and commuting to school. And while living at home for college was not ideal, I tried to make the most of it. I was 20, in the best shape of my life, and felt like the world was waiting for me to take it over.
Except I found that gearing up for world domination was a bit of a lonely undertaking.
For one thing, I was busy. I had a full, demanding class load, partook in extra-curricular activities, managed a 30-hour a week internship at a small marketing agency, and had a part-time job. Plus, you know, I was working out like a fiend. (Ah, youth.)
But for another, my school was essentially a "commuter campus" and as such, there was no on-site social life to be had. Those who did "go out" did things that didn't interest me. I didn't have any desire to go club- or bar-hopping with barely legal adolescents*. College crowds simply made me feel lonelier, because I really didn't have much in common with the average college student. I'd grown up kind of fast, and the beer-enriched, newly curfew-free lifestyle that seemed thrilling to so many my age just bored me.
Instead, I preferred the one-on-one nature of dating, and of dating guys who were a little older. I loved the process of getting dressed up to go out with someone who could (at least in theory) talk about more worldly things than their grades or how wasted they got last weekend**. Guys who would have opinions about work and politics and films and books. And also not call me "dude."
God, do you remember that transition in your life? Going from dating men who had to borrow their parents' cars to men who owned their own? Men who had jobs instead of classes? Whose curfews were determined by their office hours? I found it positively liberating. And I knew that for me, for that time in my life, no club or bar or frat party would ever be as exciting as the prospect of finding love.
Or rather, the prospect of finding love and/or sex.
For whatever reasons -- hormones? genetics? blooming early? natural curiosity? -- I was always interested in sex. I found the whole concept utterly fascinating, and spoke at length with male friends of mine about things I've still never discussed with many of my female friends.
Yet despite my keen interest, sex as a teenager always made me feel guilty and shameful. Even under the best circumstances, where it was safe and sweet and with a partner who loved me and took our relationship seriously, I couldn't help but shake the idea that I was doing something wrong.
(I am proof that you don't need to grow up in a religious household to feel guilty all the time.)
So it wasn't until I started losing weight at the age of 19 that I also started to feel...I guess I'd say connected to my body. (For the record, I believe this is why I started losing weight, not the other way around.)
I started to recognize that I did, actually, look sexy on the outside, and that I didn't have to be embarrassed about that.
I finally started accepting that my interest in (and appetite for) sex was not, actually, something to feel ashamed of.
I distinctly remember having an "a-ha" moment wherein I realized that having large breasts was not, actually, a punishment or curse.
And along with my newfound self-esteem, I also began to think that maybe there were men out there who I would or could sleep with simply because I found them desirable. I mean, some of you might find this crazy, but I didn't always find my boyfriends sexually attractive. Instead, I found them sweet and safe and I had strong feelings for them and it was all comfortable and they were nice and sex was really quite fine.
But right. Maybe because I was young, maybe because I lacked confidence, maybe for reasons I'll never get at, I had never been with someone I'd considered a "hot guy." I'd never really been physical with someone I'd felt a "Rrrrowrrr" with. I thought maybe that was something for movies, or maybe I just didn't have the capacity for that kind of chemistry.
Of course, I was totally wrong.
As I started to lose weight and be comfortable in my own skin, I started being sought after by all sorts of guys. And that is when I realized "Hey, I DO find some men really hot. And…you know? I could probably even DATE some of them! How novel!"
Please don't get the wrong idea. It's not like I was (or wanted to be) a complete slut. I was just so happy to have the idea of me and my body and men and chemistry and sex finally "click" for me.
*Not then, anyway. Apparently, I was saving that for ten years later.
**Answer: totally. Totally wasted.
* * * * * *
Because I didn't know where else I would meet them, I spent a lot of time online (yes, a whole decade ago now – things don't always change so much) looking for dating prospects. Mostly I looked for men in the area, but in 1995 online dating was still pretty new. And attractive, age-appropriate, non-nerds living within a reasonable proximity were hard to come by.
TJ was a young medical student and an athlete. He was cute, smart, in great shape, and lived in New Jersey.
For cute, smart, and in great shape, New Jersey = reasonable proximity.
Our first "date," we agreed, should be somewhere between my home and his. We picked New York City. I'd take the train, he'd drive, and we'd meet at Grand Central Station. We'd then go to dinner and enjoy what The City had to offer.
It was probably early October, because I remember picking a warmish outfit so that I wouldn't need a coat. I wore my then-favorite wine-colored wool mini-skirt (minis were in; these were the days of Ally McBeal). I believe I paired it with black tights and a black turtleneck. Probably some sort of ankle boots. Sexy, but with a hint of Connecticut prep.
The train from Connecticut to NYC was a 55 minute ride. The car I sat in was divided in half, where both sides faced each other with a gap in the center. I sat towards the front of my half, which gave me an easy view of those people sitting in the front of the other half.
That was where he was sitting.
I don't know what I spent the train ride doing, but it was my habit to have something with me – a book, a magazine, a journal. I know I had something to focus on, because I know that I was able to look at something other than him. Even though every time I looked up, I couldn't help but notice he was staring at me.
He was probably in his fifties. He was well dressed while still casual. His clothes were clearly expensive – slacks and sweater, loafers – but they were a little "slick" for Fairfield County. He had a look that said he had money, but that he hadn't grown up in Connecticut. He looked Italian. Actually, because I thought it at the time, he looked like I imagined a real-life mobster would look. A thinner, more attractive Tony Soprano on his way into the city from his suburban palace. He carried nothing with him.
I didn't exchange glances or smiles with him. If I met his eyes I would quickly look away. Still, even when I was not looking, even when I was trying to concentrate on something else, I could feel when his eyes were on me.
It wasn't a bad feeling. I mean, it made me slightly uncomfortable, but it also didn't. He wasn't leering or being rude. I knew – could feel – that he was looking at me because he found me attractive. I knew he felt desire. And as a result, I felt desirable.
Now, it's entirely possible that I would have forgotten about him, the stranger, had that been the end of it. Because as soon as the train pulled into the station I was only thinking of TJ. I nervously and excitedly headed toward the information booth where we had determined we'd meet.
But as I approached, I realized TJ wasn't there yet. And in my disappointment, I barely noticed the stranger from the train exiting the station.
I was a little crushed. I assumed TJ was just running late (after all, it was Friday night in the city) but I had just spent an entire train ride in anticipation of our date. I'd had a full hour of "what will this be like" build-up, and then…sigh. He wasn't there yet. I'd have to do more waiting. My mind filled with thoughts of dating and disappointment, and had no room for thoughts about looks from strangers.
I probably wore my disappointment on my face. I was standing next to the information kiosk, wondering what to do (other than just wait), but thought of nothing. We didn't have cell phones then, nor portable email. So I stood. And tried not to look at the clock every 30 seconds.
Maybe 20 minutes later, maybe even 30, I was still scanning the enormous station for signs of the young med student when I recognized the man from the train. He seemed to have also recognized me, and was walking towards me. He was carrying a plastic bag.
At first I wasn't sure if he was walking in my general direction or actually approaching me, but it became evident that I was his target. In fact, he walked right up to me and didn't stop until he was close enough to be able to speak in low tones.
I was a little surprised, but not scared. He did not seem threatening or unfriendly, though he was not smiling. There was just something in his look – even on the train. He was unapologetic about it, which made it feel somehow okay. And not a little sexy.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello," I returned.
"I...am sure you noticed me staring at you on the train." I am not sure it was a question. I am sure I smiled, as politely as possible.
He continued to look at me intently. I did my best to look back the same way. I did not know what to make of the situation, there in the middle of Grand Central Station, but I knew better than to seem afraid. Which, anyway, I wasn't.
"I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable," he continued, "but I couldn't help myself. You are–" and he shifted his gaze only slightly, but slowly and purposefully "—a very attractive woman."
His pointed approach was not something I'd ever experienced. He was confident, comfortable and commanding.
I don't know that I had a reply for him. I wanted to be shocked, but instead I was intrigued.
He looked at me some more, still serious. If it weren't so trite, I would say his gaze was piercing and unyielding, in a compelling way.
He gave a vague gesture toward his bag. "I used to live in New York. I moved a couple years ago. It's okay, but there's just no good Chinese places anywhere. So if I want good Chinese, I gotta come to The City."
I thought that was one of the classiest things I'd ever heard. It spoke volumes about him, and his lifestyle, and about his quick jaunt in New York while I was standing like an idiot at the information booth at Grand Central.
He leaned forward ever so slightly. "You should come and have dinner with me. At my house. I have a very nice house. And this is the best Chinese you'll ever have," he said.
Or at least he said something very close to that. Truth is, I can't remember exactly what he said, but I remember knowing it was a fascinating offer. He didn't know anything about me. He had no idea why I'd come to the city. And he didn't care. He thought I was attractive, and he wanted to take me home. He seemed to be the kind of man who thought that was enough.
I wondered if he usually got what he wanted. I thought he must.
"I..." I'm sure I somewhat stammered. I didn't know what to say. Obviously, I couldn't go with him. That would be crazy. But...but I didn't want to turn him down. I had to, but I didn't want to. Or maybe I didn't have to? Maybe...
"...well, it's just...I'm waiting for someone..."
He knew I was declining, but he barely hesitated and never took his eyes off me.
"I would never make you wait," he said.
Whoosh. It was almost as if he'd knocked the wind out of me. It was a gentlemanly comment, romantic and almost old-fashioned, except the suggestion of urgency was plainly sexual. When I think of it now, I'm reminded of old movies, where no one ever spoke directly of sex except in heavy innuendo.
I think I smiled and I probably blushed.
I didn't know what to say, but I didn't have an opportunity to think of anything, because as the man's comment was hanging in the air, I spotted TJ entering the station.
TJ looked red-faced and harried, as though he'd just braved a couple hours of Friday night city traffic and wasn't sure his blind internet date would have had the patience to wait for him. He, too, saw me almost immediately, and he sort of smiled and rushed over to me.
"That's him," was all I said in response to the man. I think I sounded apologetic. I know I felt a pang of disappointment. But...what? What would I have done?
It didn't matter. I didn't even have time to consider the possibility as so much as a drink with the man, because TJ practically swooped in. He grabbed my hand and whisked me off and I only barely had time to say good-bye to the man.
As I was escorted off to a perfectly nice, perfectly forgettable date, I remember the expression on the man's face. I think I expected him to look disappointed -- me, running off with a boy maybe 30 years his junior -- but he didn't. Instead, his look was that of...knowing better? He seemed almost bemused, as if to say, "It's your choice, but I think you're making a mistake."
Ten years later, I'm old enough to understand.
He was right.