You need to feel worthy of being loved before you can really enjoy intimacy.
Almost unwilling, I peel my 17-year-old half naked body off my twin-sized bed, dragging my feet in slow motion over to my ugly, cumbersome brown dresser. I reach for my Wizard of Oz tin box and take my sweet time sifting through all my secrets; personal notes I passed in school, a mini bottle of vodka, a small bag of weed — but nothing to smoke it with, of course — and condoms. "I'm so bad," I think to myself.
I rip one from the chain like it's a ticket stub, and I feel the thing slip-slide out of and around my fingers. I bring it to him with uncertainty, as if to ask, "Is this what you need? Can I get anything else for you? Can I be anyone else for you?" He takes it from me, and for the first time since our first kiss, he looks like he doesn't know what to do. Mostly, I don't know what to do.
When I was 17, many of my friends and acquaintances had already been having sex and oddly, I got a lot of attention for still being a virgin. I felt proud, or relieved, or something. When people asked what I was waiting for, I usually responded with, "I just want to wait until I'm OK with the guy leaving right afterward, because, well, they always leave." Any psychologist will tell you this is a significant and dangerous belief for a young woman to have.
I watch him tear open the small wrapper like a Christmas present. I realize he's spending forever looking at this thing from all angles. Has he forgotten I'm right next to him? I want this to be the moment he asks me to be his girlfriend. I want to hear him say reassuring words. But all he does is grunt and struggle to put the condom on. Eventually he leans in for a kiss; a weird "this-is-how-we're-supposed-to-start-I-think" kiss, and I don't realize my body has scooted away a few inches. Then a few more. Then a few more, until his body is practically chasing mine along my little-girl bed."You'll never catch me", I tell him with my eyes.
My Body Believed (Knew?) It Was All Wrong
Despite friends trying to describe it to me, I didn't know what sex was supposed to feel like. But I guessed it wasn't having my skin shrink back from his, my stomach roll with panic and sadness, my head pound out "this is wrong." And when my body acted like that, I felt confused. I kept reminding myself I want this ... I want him. I kept trying to convince myself that on some level, he loved really liked me. Whether I really loved him wasn't the point; I just wanted to feel adored. Wanted. Desired. Not forgotten. Unforgettable.
For a moment, I stare wide-eyed where the wall meets the ugly popcorn ceiling as a familiar song starts humming in my head; "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles. I suddenly acknowledge that this will eventually come to an end and it most likely won't be in my favor. He is going to leave afterward, no matter what choice I make, and he may never come back.
I'll be left defeated, confused, uncertain and broken, like so many young women who find themselves in this situation are. I somehow decide I'm too smart for this, though, and before I can turn my head to look into his big blue eyes, before I can tell him what I'm thinking, his unusually stern, annoyed voice startles me; "Erica! Yes or No?" I wish I could answer with confidence and not shame. I wish I could make him understand what I'm going through. I wish I could make him love me. But it doesn't matter, the answer will be the same ..."No", I whisper. And I watch as he puts on his clothes and leaves.
What I Wish I Knew Then
I keep digging and searching for the *exact* moment I learned that the act of sex and the act of "being left behind" go hand in hand. Even though I waited until age 23 to have sex, in the confines of a committed relationship, I still didn't and don't find it easy to feel worthy, or special, or wanted, or cherished or loved by men. Each time I hear that Shirelles song on my iPod, tears well up in my eyes, time stands still, my chest turns red and I'm 17 again; I'm right back on my twin-sized bed, wondering why it seems everyone else is so much easier to love than me.
Sometimes, I picture myself as a newborn. I imagine grownup me scooping up that sweet, round little baby Erica, holding her close and telling her she's worthy. I tell her she's deserving of a love that has little to do with sex and everything to do with intimacy. I want her to know the world is full of good men; that all men are not like the ones who'll hurt her.
Most of all, I want to tell her that only when she unconditionally loves herself, when she truly takes herself to the next level and exists only as the highest, most incredible version of herself, can a relationship do the same. She needs to hear all that. And one day, she will meet a man who'll not only love her tomorrow, but always.