It’s 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night and I’m waiting for a picture of a threesome to appear on my phone. A “naked” threesome as Naveen called it. I suppose that compares to the many clothed threesomes he has participated in? My phone blinks. The picture has arrived. I don’t want to look at it, but I know I should. I like Naveen. I have, against my best judgment, allowed myself to start imagining future dates with him and to ponder ways I might clear a little more room in my schedule here or there to see him more.
My first date with Naveen ended on a sweet note. His good looks, quick jokes, smart conversation, and plump kisses had warmed me to him. He managed to go a whole evening without saying something racist or sexist, and I hadn’t been pressured to do or act in any particular way (if it seems like my standards are low, this is after 25 years of dating predominantly American white men, people). I knew I was in dangerous territory with my infatuation-prone heart.
The morning after our date, Naveen flew to Las Vegas to meet up with his old college friends for the weekend. He was the only one not bringing a wife and children. I teased him about the debauchery waiting for him, and I was surprised when he said he’d never been inside a strip club. Not only that, but he didn’t have interest in visiting one. My heart thumped away when I heard that. Not interested in objectifying women? Oh boy oh boy oh boy!!! I knew that I had zero claims over what he did on his trip, and I told myself that I didn’t care. But I did care. I couldn’t help it.
Naveen is back in Portland now, and texted me that he had his first threesome in Las Vegas and took some pictures. He’s asked if I would like to see one, and I really don’t. I’ve seen my share of amateur sex photos, and rarely find them titillating. I’m not talking about professional, staged photos taken by experts who know how to titillate. I’m talking about pictures taken late at night with some dude’s iPhone in terrible lighting. Pictures that make everyone in them look like they’re doomed to have a terrible life.
My phone keeps blinking. I’m going to have to respond. I’m afraid that looking at the photograph will make me not want to see Naveen again, which is too bad because we have a date to see a new Bollywood movie in two days. He knows a ton about Bollywood and I am looking forward to learning from him. I pick up my phone.
Here’s what I see: three bottles of Naked brand juice lined up next to each other. A “Naked threesome.” Ba-dump-bump. He’s corny! I feel myself begin to fall in love with this man just a little bit. Uh-oh, here we go. This is the dangerous water I am determined to stay out of this time around. I text him that I am relieved he didn’t actually have a threesome, and we continue to banter for another half hour before I say good night. Then I sit and reread our message exchange several times, involuntarily analyzing the jokes and punctuation marks. I have to stop doing this. I set the phone aside and will myself to do other things.
Naveen and I have another date coming up in a couple days. Since I last saw him, I have chopped my hair super short. Essentially, I got my head buzzed. It’s something I’d been wanting to do for years. When my last relationship ended, I decided that it was time. My cousin came over and did it for me. I was in the middle of moving into my brother’s house, and we set up a chair in his back yard.
I put my hair in two ponytails and, in an effort to make the change less traumatizing for my daughter, let her cut the first ponytail off. When she was finished, her face fell and she went to sit beneath a tree until it was over. Then she climbed onto my lap and sobbed that she wanted her mommy. It was very sad for her. For me, I felt so liberated and fresh. My hair is super thick and curly, so when it’s long it is like a temperamental animal that I am constantly trying to keep quiet and calm. It’s great when you have money for the right products and time to hand shape the curls, but I usually don’t. So I end up with a large, disheveled halo of frizz.
Before my first date with Naveen, I wrote him that I would be chopping off all my hair and suggested we wait to meet until after. But neither of us wanted to wait, so I was rocking my long curls when he met me. For our second date, we’ve made plans for me to drive out to his house in the suburbs, then go see a Bollywood film. I have updated my OkCupid profile with a picture of the short-haired me, and I text Naveen that he should check it out. He responds that he’d rather see it in person. I’m nervous. My hair has always been the feature that people comment on the most. Without it, I definitely feel less feminine. To make matters worse, all the hair that got chopped off was dyed auburn, and all the hair that’s left is gray. So I also look like I aged 10 years overnight.
But something else has happened since I last saw Naveen, something that took me completely by surprise. A friend of mine named Liam, whom I’ve known for two years, has told me that he has a crush on me. We saw each other at a group we both belong to, and he took me aside after and told me of his feelings. I’d received no hint of his feelings, although he said he’s had them for a long while. Liam is tall, very handsome, kind with an open face, the sort of man who people gravitate towards and look up to (metaphorically and literally). Because we’ve known each other for two years, albeit casually, I know that he is a genuinely good, honest, solid person. All of these traits contribute to my surprise when he tells me that he is attracted to me and can’t stop thinking about me, because there is something else that Liam is. Married.
I was so surprised by Liam’s revelation that I literally could not speak after he told me. I stood there with my mouth open and stared at him, people milling about, until he said something like, “I just needed to tell you. I’ve been trying not to tell you and I couldn’t do it anymore.” I still couldn’t think of anything to say, so I continued to stand there in silence, but I started to nod. Just nod. After a few moments he touched my shoulder and left. That was it. Liam telling me he has a crush on me is like being told I can speak fluent Japanese. What?? I never knew I could speak it, so I never thought about trying. But now, of course, I just want to go off and speak Japanese. Like, I really really want to speak Japanese, and it’s hard not to think about anything else for a couple of days. But speaking Japanese is wrong… isn’t it? Because Japanese is married. With children.
All of these things and more are on my mind the evening of my date with Naveen. For this second date, I drive out to his house in a nearby suburb. He rents a room from a co-worker. I get a little lost because the houses and streets look exactly the same, but finally arrive and knock on the door. Naveen answers and invites me in for a bit before the movie. The house is sparsely furnished, with undecorated walls. We sit on a couch in the living room. I can already tell, by his expression and the way his eyes quickly dart away from me every time he looks over, that he is not a fan of the über short hair.
We talk for a few minutes and then he says that he needs to make a work phone call. I’m a little annoyed, but sit next to him while he talks on the phone. His foot is propped on his knee and his sock is riddled with holes. A weird thought involuntarily flashes through my mind, “Couldn’t he have put on new socks for our date?” My mind keeps drifting to Liam. I wonder if he is thinking about me. There is an odd smell in Naveen’s house, not bad, just unidentifiable. Maybe food? My eyes drift around, looking for the source. The kitchen doesn’t look like any food has been cooked in it, ever. Takeout. I’m probably smelling last night’s takeout.
Naveen ends his call and apologizes. He smiles at me, but the zingy spark from last date doesn’t appear to have survived. We kiss anyway, and when his lips touch mine an immediate, prismacolor image of Liam fills my head. I know, without a doubt, that I want to be kissing Liam right now. I feel bad. We pull apart and smile, then sit in awkward silence. Naveen glances at my short, grey old-lady hair and then at his watch. “We should go!” he exclaims.
Naveen has already explained to me that his suburb is heavily populated with Indians, and the Bollywood films tend to sell out when they first come out, so he is anxious about getting seats. We drive over in his car and make pleasant conversation. At the theater, I am the only white person, which I like very much. I grew up in New Mexico, where non-Latinos are the smaller group. And while I love Portland, I do get sick of white people and white culture. I also lived in Mexico for a year when I was 19, and I often miss the experience of being surrounded by foreign elements.
The movie begins and the audience claps and cheers. Naveen has warned me that in India, movies are not quiet affairs. Throughout the film, certain actors elicit hoots and whistles from the audience every time they appear in a scene. People sing along to the songs they know, and comment on the plot. I read along with the subtitles, but the songs don’t have subtitles, and apparently the lyrics are hugely important in Bollywood films. Naveen translates them quietly into my ear. He doesn’t reach out to touch me or hold hands like he did during the play on our first date.
The movie is a slightly cheesy love story starring a beautiful young woman with thick black hair that flows to her waist. Her hair is a big part of every scene she is in. Towards the end of the movie she disappears for months. When she dramatically reappears, on a rooftop at dawn, she is bald. Dying of cancer, she has come to spend the rest of her days near her best friend who has always been in love with her. It’s never spoken, but clearly she is supposed to be ugly now, without her hair. In an effort to make her feel better, her best friend shaves his head too, so they can be ugly together. Then they do a big, bald Bollywood dance and she dies.
After the movie I use the restroom. I pass one Indian woman after another with thick, beautiful hair. Washing my hands under the harsh lights of the bathroom, I look in the mirror at my buzzed head and feel like 90% of my femininity has fallen away with that dead hair. I find Naveen and we walk to the car, me feeling almost completely unattractive. Thank goodness I wore a dress. We decide to get a bite to eat, and on our way to the restaurant I say, “Wow, so much beautiful hair around me tonight. I feel self-conscious all of a sudden.” Naveen smiles at me and says, “Me too!”, which is a good joke because he is starting to go bald.
During dinner, the chemistry between us picks back up. Naveen reaches across the table and grabs my hands. “I’m sorry I was so aloof during the movie!” he says. “Indians are very conservative, and generally don’t show affection in public. I’m not like that, but I was trying to be respectful of the others in the theater.”
He then launches into a long, uninvited lecture on India and Indian culture. He gave me a similar lecture on our first date. I find it all very interesting, and he is a good storyteller, but I do find it a bit odd that he assumes I want to know all of this stuff. He tells me that he has refused several arranged marriages set up by his parents, and now he is a bit of a freak when he goes home to visit because he is in his late 30’s and has never married. He says that nearly all of his Indian friends are in arranged marriages. I ask if they seem happy and he says yes, but they are also all following very traditional gender roles in their homes. He doesn’t want that. In fact, he tells me of a recent ex-girlfriend whom he got quite serious with, until she told him that she wanted to get married and stay home to raise children while her husband worked.
His distaste for this conventionality is apparent. In fact, as I share some of my racy dating stories with him, he seems unfazed. I appreciate how open and accepting he is. By the end of dinner, we are fawning all over each other again. We go back to his house and there is some awkwardness as he doesn’t directly invite me in, but we get past that and go inside. I already know we won’t sleep together tonight because I am on my period, but I also want to have a more involved make out session so I can see if I’m interested in more dates.
His roommates are home. We sit with them in the living room for a while and talk about movies, Bollywood, and India. Then they go up to bed and Naveen seems uncertain about asking me up. The self-consciousness returns, as I’m not convinced he really likes me. But I like him, and I need to know how much I like making out with him, so I ask if we can go up to his room for a while. I’m feeling bold.
We go quietly up to his small room which looks remarkably like the room of a college student who studies all the time. A small bed, some printed fabric hanging on the wall, a collage of family photos hanging above the light switch, clothes on the floor, a desk with a computer and some papers and books scattered on it, and an overhead light. There is nothing about the room that suggests he’s lived there for more than a week. He is not a homemaker, I can see.
I’m not sure how we end up on the bed, but soon we are kissing and pressing against each other. His hands are soon wandering up my shirt, and down my pants. I don’t stop him, but I do tell him that I don’t want fingers or anything else inside me that night. He kisses as though we’re on vacation and have all day to explore each other. I like the pace. I also haven’t had sex in about a month, and it’s not too long before I am cursing my period.
This might be a good place to talk about my DivaCup. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a bell-shaped cup made out of silicone that women can insert in their vajayjays (yes, that means vaginas). I’m not crazy about the DivaCup, but it’s great for intimacy. You can wear it for a long time without emptying it, which means I can go a whole date without worrying about a tampon flying out of my pocket or purse. It’s also very clean and generally leak proof, so I can feel confident letting a partner play around in the area. Also, there’s no string dangling about like a lost mountain guide. DivaCup, y’all.
Anyway, Naveen and I progress to being in just our undies, and then even those come off. I am very turned on and really want to have sex, but there is just no way with the DivaCup in there, and I have to know somebody pretty damn well before I get all Carrie-at-the-prom on them.
What we do end up doing is slightly awkward, and would have probably looked very strange to anyone who might have stumbled into the room at that point. We end up with me somehow partly on top of him, on my back, with him on his back, rubbing our parts together. It feels very seventh-grade, first-contact sort of thing. He’s already told me that he hasn’t had sex in months, and I was feeling pretty eager myself. We both come embarrassingly quickly and then lie there in silence. There is something unbearably sweet about it all. I look over at him and smile, and he returns it. Naveen feels very…honest. I think that’s a good word to sum him up. Honest.
He looks at the clock and mentions that he has a swimming lesson early in the morning. It’s a little after 1 a.m. He invites me to spend the night, but I want to leave. We walk quietly downstairs and say good-bye at the door. I’m not sure if we’ll see each other again. I had a nice time, and we obviously like each other, but it feels like this spark that is trying to ignite between us just isn’t quite taking off. I drive home and my mind returns to Liam, who had drifted out of my head sometime during the movie. Liam who is funny. Liam who is sexy. Liam who is earnest. Liam who is married.