Because nobody told me not to.
Four days after I moved out of the home I shared with my now ex-husband I went surfing for the first time in 14 years. I was with my cousin/friend/life-long partner-in-crime, an avid surfer who spent the afternoon pointing out good waves and helping me get back on my board.
At one point when he was in closer to shore, a wave came up and, for the first time that day, I caught a ride on my own. It shocked the hell out of me but was kind of amazing.
Talking to my cousin later he said “That was awesome! You totally caught that. That wave was WAY too big for you!”
My answer was something like, “Oh! Nobody told me that”
In the letter, she talks about how many dates she’s been on, how many men she has been sexually active with in relation to her dates and generally stresses out in reference to the question, “When does playfulness with men become slutty due to multiple partners?!”
This woman and I are very similar. She is only slightly older than I am, we were both recently divorced at the time, and we had both just re-entered the dating world.
But here’s the BIG difference between us. Until I read her letter, it hadn’t even occurred to me to count up the number of my dates, compare ratios or get worried. I pretty much just jumped in.
Because nobody told me that.
While the piece actually offered some sound advice on approaching casual sex, the base question “Is it ever okay” holds in it the implication that, of course, you believe this is normally not okay, but you’re considering making an exception here due to extraordinary circumstances.
Again, while I have learned lessons and fine-tuned my approach, it never occurred to me that casual dating and, yes, casual sex, might be things I was engaging in to get me "through" this “rough time” until I could return to my “normal” behavior.
Nobody told me that.
Suddenly I flashed back to a fro-yo date I went on with a favorite friend in which I was telling her about a “we-should-have-drinks-when-I’m-in-town” guy who was morphing into an actual date I believed had the potential to end in sex.
My friend was adamantly against this. She had more to say about buying cows and milk than a dairy farmer.
(BTW, I didn’t know we were still doing the whole cow/milk thing. I thought that was something people once thought was smart but realized was dumb — like nude pantyhose and aluminum siding.)
When I argued that I was 1) not a cow and 2) not for sale and that I actually wanted to sleep with the man in question, my friend said, “Well, what if you just do everything else?”
And I couldn’t figure out why we seemed to be negotiating.
Once again, it hadn’t even occurred to me to be anything but excited for this date. It hadn’t occurred to me to label a certain set of activities “acceptable” and others “bad”.
Nobody told me that.
When I first found myself newly single, I was hit with two giant realizations:
1. I had never really dated before.
2. I could count on one hand the number of times I had sex during the Obama administration.
I was terrified. What I desperately wanted was someone to guide me through the process, like my cousin had when we went surfing. Someone who would tell me what to do, help me spot good guys, etc.
But as happens when you are in your 30s, I suppose, I looked up and found that most of my friends who used to be single with me were off having babies and stuff. So, I went ahead on my own.
This resulted in some huge missteps but also in some really awesome connections, situations and experiences that (I could tell by the response to later recountings) would have been strongly advised against by the peanut gallery.
And all along the way, I learned how to define what I want, which, in some cases, is drastically different from what folks think I should be looking for.
Working without an audience and making my decisions without a committee gave me the freedom to define what I needed from dating rather than follow the script I'd been handed earlier in my life. Turning down the volume on everyone else I could, for the first time in my life, hear myself — and finally, I stopped feeling like what I needed was wrong.
Nobody told me that.
And hallelujah for that!
The only way to learn anything for yourself is to take the chances, face the fears, ride the waves if you will.
So, sure, you could write in for advice, ask if it’s ever okay, talk about cows and milk. Honestly, that’s the easier way. You don’t have to make decisions when they are made for you. You don’t have to take responsibility because the responsibility lies with others. You don’t have to acknowledge your own needs, wants or desires because there is a structure you have to function within.
However, you also forfeit the knowledge and power to have your needs met. You set yourself up to walk the tightrope of propriety, watching carefully because doing this much is “okay” but that much is “bad”. And frankly, you never find out who you are.
I like to say you are only as badass as what you get yourself through.
Take yourself through the process of defining yourself without help and not only will you be a badass, you will come out with some serious swagger.
I recently asked my cousin if he remembered that day we spent surfing. He said, “Yes I absolutely do. I saw the size of that wave and my stomach dropped.”
And then he told me something he hadn’t before, something that changed the story a bit for me.
“You had a look on your face I’ll never forget. You were dead focused on what was in front of you. You knew where you were going and there wasn’t an ounce of doubt in your eyes. I told myself not to worry because you weren’t and then you shot out of the wave like, ‘THAT'S what I came to do today.’”
My eyes are still focused and there is still no doubt. I know where I’m going.
I don’t need anyone to tell me that.
JoEllen Notte is a writer, speaker, and researcher who has been writing about sex, mental health, vibrators and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site, The Redhead Bedhead, since 2012. She is currently working on her first book, "The Monster Under The Bed: Sex, Depression, And The Conversations We Aren't Having."
This article was originally published at The RedHead Bedhead. Reprinted with permission from the author.