In April I spotted Oliver standing at the edge of a party in the Fountain backyards. He looked dazed and out of place, his shoes sinking into the dewy grass. I had several PBRs in my recent past, which made it easier to gather up the nerve to introduce myself. I don’t remember what we talked about, or how we agreed to head back to my dorm together. He was the first boy to lay naked in my bed all year, and I was delighted to have him there.
Oliver was thin with curly black hair and nervous eyes. His shyness enchanted me. There was a sweetness to him, an open wonder in how he looked up at me that made me feel strong. When he lightly bit my neck I thought to myself, this one is a keeper. I asked against his lips if I could see him again, and he said yes.
I suggested we watch the sun rise. We got dressed in my colorless dorm room, our bare feet hopping across the cold linoleum. When we reached Foss Hill, the sun had already risen, its light smothered beneath clouds. Our plan foiled, awkwardness pooled between us. We waved goodbye.
I wrote Oliver’s number down on a piece of scratch paper and stapled it into my notebook the next day as proof that I hadn’t made the whole thing up. Aside from its anticlimactic ending, the night felt romantic in a way I’d never experienced at Wesleyan, a hipster meet-cute that escalated beautifully. I couldn’t wait to see him again.
We did see each other again, and soon: our dining schedules perfectly overlapped for the next week. When I went to the dining hall for breakfast with Leah, Oliver was eating French toast with his roommate a few tables away. When Jonah and I went to WesWings for dinner before class, Oliver was in the back booth with a crew of friends. I began to wonder if we were stalking each other by accident, or if we were the subjects of some elaborate practical joke.
At first when we bumped into each other, I said hi and he nodded back with an uneasy smile. Shyness, I figured. There wasn’t exactly a social script for bumping into a stranger you’d just slept with during Usdan brunch.
But after that, Oliver pretended not to see me. It wasn’t the first time that someone ignored me after a random hookup—ghosting was common on campus—but it hurt far more than I expected. How humiliating and bizarre, to feel so close to someone and then watch him bolt out of the cafeteria when you got up to refill your Diet Coke.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t honor the tacit social contract that everyone else agreed to, to be shockingly intimate and then pretend it never happened. Baffled shame chased my hurt feelings. Shouldn’t I be fine with just having a one-time thing? I was the sexually empowered feminist, the self-proclaimed slut. A pillar of my identity buckled with my heartbreak. Was I incapable of having casual sex after all?
When I vented to Mirabelle about how annoyed I was—it was more socially acceptable to be insulted than to be sad—she told me I needed to care less. She suggested that I wasn’t good at compartmentalizing my emotions and I needed to learn not to get attached. What was I expecting, to fuck a stranger and then fall madly in love?
I didn’t want to fall in love. I didn’t even want a capital-R relationship. Part of me was still hoping my high school sweetheart would finally realize what she was missing and ask me to be her girlfriend. But my night with Oliver hadn’t felt like a one-night-stand. It felt like the beginning of something, even if only a physical something.
Maybe it was the way we held each other after sex, half-asleep and limbs entwined. We traded soft kisses in between my tiny yawns that made him laugh. There was a weight to it, a preciousness that matched his delicate fingers. Oliver didn’t gawp; he looked at me with tenderness. The memory of his gaze bowled me over for weeks. It had been years since I’d been with someone like that. Hell, maybe I never had.
I drafted text messages, fishing for something clever enough to say that would erase the awkwardness between us and restore the connection we had the night we met. When I landed on a version that earned both Jonah and Leah’s approval, I hit send.
“I’m sorry we seem to have the exact same schedule! I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable. You just seem like someone worth knowing.”
Oliver didn’t answer.
This is an excerpt from my essay The Care Less Contest. To read the rest — and more essays about hookup culture, casual sex and intimacy — join my Patreon community here.