Heartbreak in Hindsight
This month makes ten years since I had my first taste of heartbreak…and being slut-shamed. I can’t help but think of that emotional time in my young adult life as these last days of September roll around. At the time I marked the date in multiple artistic works—poems, essays, songs—so it’s etched in my mind. One poem in particular was published in my high school literary magazine and won me a $25 check that I probably used to fill my 1995 Toyota Camry’s gas tank. It was a memorable time for me.
But while I was living it I wanted nothing more than to fast-forward my life to this current moment. I knew that some day far down the road I’d look back on my current hell as a trivial moment in the grand scheme of things. I wanted so badly not to feel all the shitty feelings I was feeling—regret, confusion, sadness, shame. I thought it was the worst thing ever. My senior year of high school was tarnished by obsessing over a boy, Jake*, who deemed me undateable after I’d smashed one of his classmates. Jake wasn’t my boyfriend and we never had sex. We’d been “talking” for a few days or maybe a week when I hooked up with an old friend of mine who happened to attend the same school as him. I went to school the next town over.
I was comfortable with casual sex at just 17 years-old. It started with pop music. It deepened when someone I hooked up with didn’t want to be more than friends with benefits. I adapted to fucking for fun and learned to compartmentalize my feelings. During that time I was more likely to have sex with someone I didn’t see a future with than with someone I actually liked. If I really liked a guy I wanted to take my time and make our sex meaningful.
When Jake “broke up” with me I was crushed because it was the first time I felt so close to someone of the opposite sex. He made me feel more at ease than any other person I’d dated at the time. He was funny, charming and grounded in who he was, even as a teenager. We only dated for two weeks but in that time he made me feel special. I’d get wake-up calls from him at 6:00am before school. He was affectionate and always held my hand in public, as if to let the world around us know I was his. He made me laugh often. I must’ve hooked up with the other guy out of sheer boredom.
At the time I didn’t have the vocabulary or life experience to realize I was being slut-shamed for the first time in my life. Jake’s ego wouldn’t let him get passed the fact that I had sex with someone he had to see at school every day. We never talked about being exclusive but he made it seem like I cheated on him. When he started seeing someone else he rubbed it in my face. I remember talking to him on the phone one time shortly after we went our separate ways (I always answered when he called because I hoped we could work things out). “She’ll never do what you did,” he said to me. “You know why? Because she’s a virgin.” It was the ultimate burn.
Had I known then what I know now about double-standards, who I am as a person, and about life in general, I would’ve handled the situation differently. I would’ve stood up for myself and I definitely would’ve moved on much faster. When you’re that young everything is magnified. It took me most of the school year but I eventually moved forward and looked ahead to things like enjoying my summer and starting college the following fall. In the following years I occasionally bumped into Jake at social events and we’ve kept in touch on social media.
A few months ago things kind of came full-circle when he contacted me to talk about Spike Lee’s 2017 Netflix reboot of his 1986 movie “She’s Gotta Have It”. If you’re not familiar, the film follows a sexually-liberated young woman, Nola Darling, navigating casual relationships with three men at the same time. In the movie each of her suitors knows about the other men she’s seeing. I think Jake said Nola reminded him of me...or maybe it was implied. Anyway, I felt like his reaching out to me was his way of saying he “gets it” now. He could finally wrap his head around how I could be totally interested in him and still have a no-feelings-attached hook-up with someone else.
Life is funny like that—the way things come full circle and make more sense much later. That 2008 experience was heart-wrenching, but I learned that I’d have to go through life fighting to be seen as equivalent to men. I learned to write my way through the chaos. I learned resilience. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade teaches me.
*Name’s been changed