Impotency. Obsession. Resentment. I associate this Bermuda Triangle with relationship anxiety. It differs from other types of anxiety because it relies almost exclusively on the behaviors of another individual, at least for me. I tend to reflect the emotions I receive. So if someone is aloof, I tone down my innate enthusiasm, and hopefully run the other way because my therapist told me to avoid the emotionally unavailable. Most of my discomfort and fear in the beginning of a new romance likely stems from an experience I had with a previous partner. I check myself again and again, but I can’t always talk myself out of the fear factory or off the past-pain train. And if the tracks are too littered with red flags, I wave a white one and haul my ass back to lonely island, at least these days. Because the power plays obliterate trust, and distrust leads to intimacy issues, and unfulfilled desire devolves into disdain. Frankly, I’d rather masturbate.
My struggles with relationship anxieties often involve communication breakdowns and sexual dysfunction—and somehow they’re connected. The worst is when I fret over what and when to text my partner. Like in the following story I call…
The Text Message Masochist
The screen of my cell phone illuminates my face. No other lights are on in my 150-square-foot apartment. The walls threaten to cave in with each breath. Thoughts hammer through my mind at the speed of light. I try to clear my head with that absurd yoga trick whereby you say “thought” to yourself. But the thoughts fail to cease. Instead, they rapid-fire like an AK through my brain. Blat Blat. Blood spattered fears.
The darkness of the room suffocates me but accentuates the downward spiral of repetitive banter in my skull. Stale air sours the space, a decades-old musky stench. I prop open the tiny street-level window and tug the rusted chain that’s fastened to the ancient wood to block intruders. Then I turn on the strand of white Christmas lights that hang over my bookcase, with half its bulbs burnt out.
I cradle my cell phone. I type a message. “Are we hanging out tonight?” The floodgates of worry spew over my consciousness. He’s going to laugh at me and think I’m pathetic. I’m just a needy loser sitting in this shithole on a Friday night, alone. I press the backspace button until each letter in the sentence that seemed perfectly reasonable a moment ago—but now somehow reads as embarrassing and inappropriate—is gone.
I can’t let my anxiety win completely. I wrestle it to the ground, put it in a chokehold to silence its screams. I grab my phone, out of breath, a little bruised, but not too disheveled, and type a cooler, less desperate invite. “Whatcha up to 2nite?” I press send.
Minutes go by. No reply. An hour, two hours. Silence. The night moves on. But I don’t. Per usual. I could’ve played that Sopranos pinball machine at the bar down the street. Or danced to 80s music at the Jack London Bar. Instead, I waited for his text, a text that never came. I meditated the night away in the death posture on the commercial carpet in my room to the entire Joy Division boxset because I know how to party.
This strange digital power struggle would continue throughout our entire relationship. It took us breaking up for me to see it was a way for one of the two of us to establish dominance. After a few months, I caught myself doing something similar. After he ignored me too many times, I’d avoid answering his texts. I’d wait for his frantic follow-up, “Is everything alright?” Then spitefully wait a little longer before I’d respond with a simple, “Yeah. I was just busy. Sup?” It was our game. Silence. Power. Absence. Control. All fueled by fear and anxiety. At least I was closer to understanding what it was like to be a power bottom.
This S&M text game interfered with our trust. At least it did for me. I envy the women whose trust issues aren’t wired directly to their vagina. For me, no matter how much I intellectualize it, sex and emotion are forever entwined. I can’t orgasm if I can’t trust. And I can’t trust if I’m ignored.
Sexual dysfunction doesn’t only happen to dudes. My friend asked me to imagine a female’s equivalent to a flaccid dick, which he said would be a pussy without elasticity. But I argued, no—it’s the inability to have an orgasm. Both put all the pressure on the one not delivering. It’s the silent relationship killer.
It took two months for me to have an orgasm with one of my exes. The process is almost always the same. I tell them what to do and what not to do, but it often doesn’t seem to register with either of their heads. Usually the same guys who keep playing on my phone don’t know how to get me in the zone.
Which brings us to…
The Lust-Trust Battle
My stomach muscles tighten. My body stiffens like a sheet of glass in his bed. I watch him between my legs. If he doesn’t stop, I’ll climax. I gave him the instruction manual, so now it’s up to him to follow it.
My breath becomes shallow. I try not to think of reminding him of our conversation. I don’t want to come across pushy.
It seems like I’ve stopped breathing; I can tell it scares him. But I already told him it was normal for me and to just trust that I’ll be alright.
I manage to squeeze out, “Almost…there.” That’s part of the ritual, so he knows not to stop any time soon. I try to push the please-don’t-stop mantra out of my mind. I take a deep breath. Our fluids cover my thighs. My glass body is about to shatter all over his face. But the please-don’t-stop mantra won’t shut up. I hold my breath. He lifts his head. “Don’t forget to breathe.” The window to my soul slams shut. I can’t figure out why he’d do the exact opposite of what we already talked about. My anxiety turns to frustration. I let him keep trying for another 10 minutes just for the hell of it. Then I rub his back and tell him to stop. That it’s just not going to happen this time. I try not to make a big deal about it, but he sulks.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” I tell him. He tells me again that I need to relax and breathe. My heart races. Is it me? Am I just a total freak? I’m sure starting to feel like one. I take a shower and try to forget about it. But I don’t. Instead, it ruminates. I even almost cheat on him. And the resentment remained, even after he started listening, because it was part of a bigger pattern. I couldn’t handle being ignored, and he couldn’t handle being told what to do.
Sex was almost always missionary, which was something I was not used to, and it stressed me out. It got to the point where I would have to literally ask to change positions, and he usually wouldn’t. But then one day he surprised me.
He mentioned it after we had sex. We were sprawled across the flannel sheets on his bed. I turned my face toward the window so he couldn’t see my pursed lips and furled brow. We talked about it a couple of times after that first conversation, but it never happened, and he never brought it up again. Even though I initially winced, I eventually found myself looking forward to it. I obsessed on it until it became a metaphor for our draining relationship.
He asked me to pee on him, specifically on his chest and in his mouth. I agreed to do it. At first it made me nervous. It needed to be as clean as possible, at least for me. I would have to be prepared, so no coffee before seeing him, and no asparagus. I’d have to drink plenty of water. Maybe this was the answer to his occasional erectile dysfunction, which I always silently blamed on myself, and never discussed unless he brought it up, which he only did twice.
Urine play was new territory for me that I was willing to explore for the sake of more boners. I suggested the bathtub. The shower was dirty anyway. A pink ring encircled the drain and mildew stained the inside of the tub.
For days and weeks, I anticipated it. I wasn’t sure if I should initiate it, so I hinted at it instead, as an effort to make him feel comfortable. I stood in his bathroom doorway naked and drank a glass of water in one, long gulp. He’d just walk by, pat my ass, then go sit on the couch. Was I doing something wrong? Did he change his mind? Did he just bait me to see how much of a freak I was? Who knows.
Me whizzing on him was just another thing we’d never do. So many of those botched plans flash through my mind—no trips to Enchanted Forest, no sex in the woods, no role playing wearing go-go boots and false eyelashes (him, not me)—and I roll into a sweaty ball and weep to Soft Cell on my bed.
Was I actually crying over a missed opportunity to give a golden shower? Or was it because the same person who confided in me about this taboo fantasy was so unwilling to do normal relationship stuff like answer my texts? Now I feel guilty because I actually do want to pee on him.
This essay originally appeared in Exotic Magazine, October 2016.