Authors: Jessi Klein
hile men spend most of their romantic energy pursuing the hottest possible women who will have them, we ladies invest more of our energy thinking about whether any particular man measures up to a more widely encompassing set of “standards.” These include, but are not limited to, how he will treat us in general, whether he brushes his teeth at night in addition to in the morning, whether he asks our friends questions, whether he knows to keep the perimeter of his bed free of balled-up jerk-off tissues when we come over.
But when you are young and innocent, if you've had a decent enough childhood with some semblance of loving parents (or parent), you don't really think too much about standards. This is because you assume everyone will meet them. Standards are something you accumulate over a lifetime of interacting with potential romantic partners and figuring out, as you encounter new bullshit, what is bullshit you will tolerate and what is undeniably dealbreaker bullshit. We generally see holes in our friends' standards before we see holes in ours. When we were in high school, my friend Maggie met a guy named Saffron (name has not been changed) who was very cute but struck me as being a littleâ¦simple.
One day after school we were sitting at our local diner and Saffron noticed my pro-choice button, the one with a red line over a hanger.
“What do you have against hangers?” Saffron asked.
He was serious.
Maggie needed higher standards.
By the time I was thirty-three I thought I'd curated a very solid set of standards. Since my life-changing breakup I'd dated, in addition to a group of very good dudes, an assortment of dullards, weirdos, and withholders. Every time I would part ways with one of those guys, I would fine-tune my standards to exclude their category from my future explorations.
And yet, at some point in every woman's life, she dates a cad. Someone who consistently fails to meet every rule you've carefully cultivated over the years as to how you will permit yourself to be treated. My friend Tami describes this condition as “being lost on the Shutter Island of good dick” because you are under the sway of a powerful and confusing force.
I thought I might possibly escape this fate because I was nerdy and academic and went to Vassar and in general considered myself immune to cads, whom I pictured looking like James Spader in
Pretty in Pink
, all blazers and loafers with no socks and
ish looks. I liked chubby shlubs with hairy arms and beat-up Converse. I didn't like vain guys, or guys with too much style, or guys with money.
Then I met Damon.
My friend Henry is the one who set us up. I wish I could blame the whole thing on him, but that wouldn't be fair. He is responsible for about one-thirtieth of it, insofar as anyone else who knew this person, including friends of his who were even closer to him than Henry, knew what a bad idea it was to date him. Maybe Henry's responsible for two-thirtieths.
But I wasn't really looking for something serious. (I swear, I really wasn't.) This is how unserious I was: I was living in LA, where I was finding even casual dating to be impossible. I was lonely and, I apologize in advance for using this wordâ¦horny. (Is there any word worse than
? No, there isn't.) One night (probably drunk) I started texting with an ex of mine, Luke, someone I hadn't seen in at least five years. Silly sexy ex texting in which we slowly established that:
I had a week off from work approaching, and I'm ashamed to admit that I hatched a “plan” to fly to New York, where Luke lived, spend the week having sex with him, and then return to LA. I acknowledge that this was less of a “plan” and more of a “bad idea.” And I am not proud of the fact that I was going to travel thousands of miles to have intercourse. I'm even less proud of the fact that at that point in my life, it wasn't even the most miles I'd ever flown to have sex with a person.
I got to New York and quickly wrangled a rendezvous with Luke. He was in a different, bigger apartment since the last time we'd dated, but despite the change in space and some updated furniture, the vibeâmidcentury emotionally withholdingâremained the same. By the second day of hanging out, we were already having the exact same kind of fight that had broken us up in the first place. We had lunch at a panini bar, started bickering as we ate mozzarella with red peppers, and parted ways in a mutual huff. We didn't see each other again until I ran into him on the street years later, just weeks before his wedding.
In the midst of this failed reunion, my friend Henry had mentioned Damon. “I have someone you could have lunch with,” he wrote. “Worst-case scenario, you'd be friends.” This is what people always say when they are setting you up. That the worst thing that could come from meeting up would be a friendship. It is a lie. There are so many much much worse things that could happen. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking murder, rape, a broken heart, theft, to name but a few.
But I was intrigued by his description. Damon was a green architect, which sounded sophisticated. It's the kind of job desirable men have in movies, and yet you never meet them in real life. He lived three blocks from my New York apartment and had been divorced about a year. I had never dated a divorced guy, which was like being a bird-watcher and never having seen a fairly common variety of bird, a bird your other bird-watching friends would occasionally mention they'd been fucked over by.
Okay, I told Henry. Lunch.
Damon emailed me. It was one of those flirty first emails that landed perfectly in the place between being humorous and trying too hard that only a few people really nail, but he did it. He suggested a few places to meet, all of them perfect foodie choicesâthe Spotted Pig, Joseph Leonard, Waverly Inn. Places with brick walls and antique chairs. We decided on the Spotted Pig. He walked in and, in an all-too-infrequent miracle, looked like his picture. My one fear had been that he would be super short (I don't mean to make short men feel bad, I am just fairly tall for a female and thus have that embarrassing emotional need to be with a taller man so I can experience the feminine feeling of being the tiniest most delicate princess in the world, basically Thumbelina), but he was a normal height.
We ordered red meat and cheese and drank tons of red wine until we were both laughing at jokes that were only a little funny. He had a deep voice but spoke softly, in a way that made you lean in to hear him. We talked about architecture and design and even a little about his divorce. Overall, he was delightful. The only thing that threw me off slightly was that I noticed he was wearing loafers with no socks. Deep in my gut, some ancient female cosmic wisdom was whispering to me that this was not okay. But I ignored it.
I do not intend this in any way to be an advice book, but if there happen to be any young women reading this who have an iota of desire to glean anything from my experience, let it be this: When you encounter a man wearing loafers with no socks, run. I once heard that the late Tim Russert also believed that a sockless man is not to be trusted, which means it is definitively true.
We parted ways with a polite hug around four in the afternoon, and I went back to the weird extra room in my parents' house where I was staying and lay down on the bed to enjoy my wine buzz. An hour and a half later, I checked my email. There was a message from Damon. “Wanna get an after-dinner drink?” I was ecstatic in the way you get when you are certain someone has just fallen very hard in love with you and is currently scribbling their first name with your last name in the margins of a notebook. Two drinks in one day! Magic! I went to meet him at another bar.
More red wine and more drunkenness followed until we kissed next to one of those NYC garbage-bag mountains and then he asked if I wanted to go home with him. Deciding I didn't want to come off as too easy, I declined. After all, I have standards.
So we had sex the next day.
It was a different kind of sex than I'd had in the past. I had always laughed at that stupid cheesy John Mayer song “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” but as we tumbled naked on his bed, I started to think for the first time that perhaps this guy was thinking MY body was a wonderland. I had never thought of myself as having a “wonderland” body, but that was the vibe he was giving off. More than anything, I was excited that my sex trip plan had taken this unexpected detour. I'd never had a one-night stand before, and this felt close enough. I was going back to LA on Monday, on an eight a.m. flight, and assumed I would never see him again. I felt like such a grown-up. I did my own taxes, I had health insurance, and I was having casual sex. So incredibly casual. I barely knew this guy! I was an adult!
And that was the end of my first and only attempt at a one-night stand. And also, as I would soon learn, my standards.
We started writing each other all the time. He was always funny and charming and would tell me self-deprecating tales of his most recent failed attempts at jogging. I would write back with exaggerated tales of how silly Los Angeles was and how much I was daydrinking. He would respond with emails saying he kinda wished I was in New York (and then there would be an asterisk, and at the bottom of the email, the asterisk would indicate that after typing that sentence he'd gone to hide under the bed, ablush. That kind of endearing bullshit). We were falling into the exciting tingle of fake intimacy through email, where a few personal overshares, blended with a sprinkling of coy, overly specific compliments, mimic the sensation of falling in love (when in fact usually you are only falling in love with yourself and your ability to write a really top-notch flirty email).
One morning I woke up, and my inbox was empty. No email from him. I panicked. I consulted my work friend Jim about how to time my responses back. He wanted to know more about Damon before answering. I showed him all of Damon's emails.
“What do you think?” I asked.
Jim, a married father of two and an ultimate mensch, was underwhelmed. “He seems pretty into himself,” he said.
“Whatever, but is it better to write again or wait for him to write back?” I asked.
Jim, like any sane person, advised not writing until Damon did, and even then skipping a day or two before responding. I did as Jim said, and of course, it worked. I didn't write him for two days and then, magically, in his very next email he told me he was coming out to Los Angeles in a few weeks, glomming on to a work trip with a good friend to share a hotel room, and would I want to hang out?
It seemed OBVIOUS and VERY CLEAR he was using his friend's trip as an excuse to come see me. I began elaborate preparations for our tryst.
I waxed. I made an itinerary of my favorite things to do in LA (there weren't many). I bought some new outfits. I cleaned my house. I bought a shit ton of booze. I went to Trader Joe's and bought one of those large bags filled with many smaller bags of almonds. I bought crackers and the fanciest cheeses I could find (at Trader Joe's). At work, a few days before his arrival, I began to plant the seeds of the idea that I wasn't feeling well, so that I could believably call in sick and spend the day with
my new boyfriend
him the morning after he landed. Jim looked at me with weary side eye as I mused aloud in front of the writers room about my “sore throat.”
Damon texted me from the plane when they touched down. We met up that night at Chateau Marmont, where he was staying with his friend, and had another boozy dinner. Afterward, we drove back to my apartment. I showed him around my sublet, making my usual jokes about the lesbian-centric furnishings (I was renting from a lesbian) and the high number of AIDS-related books (she was a doctor specializing in AIDS treatment). Midway through the tour, we tumbled into bed. Everything was going well when he whispered into my ear, would it be okay if we didn't use a condom?
This is where my standards should have kicked in. This is also where it gets embarrassing.
I grew up in the '80s and thus was trained from an early age to avoid dying of two things: a crack overdose and AIDS. I watched more teachers slip more condoms onto more bananas than I could count. As a result, I was a condom Nazi. At no point in my life had I ever allowed a
penis to come near me unless it was sheathed, and ideally also medically tested and approved. And yet for some reason, at this moment, I was weak. Agh, it is so embarrassing to tell you what I was thinking but I will tell you what I was thinking. In my head, the only reason he would ask me such a thing, when we'd known each other for such a short timeâoh fuck, this is genuinely so humiliating, but I want this book to be nothing but the FACTSâthe only reason I could generate, in the middle of movie sex with this guy who had so very obviously flown across the country just to see meâwas that he already knew he was falling in love with me and knew he wanted to be in a committed relationship with me.
I know I know I know I know.
But in that moment, surrounded by AIDS books, I said okay. What did it matter if we didn't use a condom if we were never going to be with other people again?
The next morning, I woke up, aglow
and ready to hatch my hooky plan. It was an ideal LA day, the California morning light shining gently through my windows.
I said, “I'm gonna call in sick to work.”
He said, “You are?”
I replied, “Yeah, it's no big deal.”
He then watched me as I called the writers' assistant to pass along the message that I was “severely” “under” “the weather” and would be an infectious danger to all around me. I hung up the phone, a naughty, triumphant gleam in my eye.