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In The Absence Of Sex

We should have been best friends, but we convinced ourselves we were meant to be lovers.

March 10, 2020

Rebecca Oleander
Friend Zone
Raphael Perez Israeli

re you sure you want me to do that?” he asked.

“I think so!” I said.

A pause.

“I think for something like that, with your history, and my own problems, we should be more deliberate. We should avoid any impulsive decisions that you might regret later.”

Another pause.

“Perhaps you’re right. Thank you.”

I remember we stopped there. Perhaps we cuddled, pressed against one another, too much to say that could not be said. It was a familiar scene. In the darkness I could hear his breathing, I could feel him against me, and I felt guilty, and I felt happy. I felt guilty because I wanted to give him something I could not. I felt happy because he was holding me.

Perhaps I closed my eyes and let the silence lie between us, basking in every bit of warmth and affection and knowing the next embrace with any modicum of sexual desire would be months away, if not longer.

Eventually, I always get up, get dressed, and walk out of the room.

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Things have always been so complicated. In the three-and-a-half years we spent together, we never had penetrative sex. The scene described above was one often repeated, and over time, they became a source of healing for some old, bleeding wounds.

He was good to me. I loved him — in a certain way.

Perhaps I was more in love with the comfort of his presence than I was with him. As someone who had never experienced unconditional safety with another human being until that relationship, I was loathe to look any deeper.

The fact that sex was absent was no true burden for either of us.

It was just our way. It was a simplicity of connection that allowed for a private sort of affair. We had separate rooms, separate beds. We lived almost separate lives under the same roof. Sometimes there were embraces. A more familial communication of endearment than anything more. If there were a color I could use to describe what we had, it would be a warm blue.

In the absence of sex, we expressed our intimacy in other ways, you see.

There were trips, vacations. A journey to a sea-side tourist town, we took hundreds of photos of the sights, we laughed, we ate delicious food, and shared a peculiar sort of silence as we sat with the company of seafood and listened to the distance between us become loud. No matter how many trips we made, there was never a kiss shared, not so much as an embrace, or the holding of hands.

There were holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas spent quietly with his family. We would talk about the weather, about the traffic, and the tamest of familial rumors. There was once a concern expressed by his mother, she wanted to make sure I was on birth control.

I remember laughing together in the car for so many reasons—not only had we never had penetrative sex, I also happen to be transgender.

His parents never knew, no one ever does unless I tell them. When we first met, he thought me so different from what he expected. I explained to him, upon our first time in bed, that I have a certain history with men, that I could not allow myself to be penetrated, that I was sorry, that I understood if he needed to find sex outside of our relationship because of what I could not give him.

I think that broke his heart when I said it. It was, however, a most genuine sentiment, born of a dysfunctional desire to please, to make peace, to be accommodating to the one whom I had decided to love.

Therein lay my own burden. His came in the form of what we at first assumed was low testosterone, but which turned out to be repressed asexuality once he began taking medication and saw no changes to his libido. But he only fully accepted his asexuality following the demise of our life together.

Strange as may seem to others, it was an arrangement, which suited us quite well.

We should have been best friends, but we convinced ourselves we were meant to be lovers.

I remember Valentine’s Day blowjobs, an expectation given and fulfilled, both parties exchanging pleasantries of desire and reciprocation given; in retrospect, it was a very formal, detached affair. Such occasions were the only moments of physical intimacy, and often became the times I felt the most lonely.

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When it finally came to an end, we both knew why.

The first time he met Her, the three of us stood there and it was like a breeze passed over — cold and inevitable. I had been introduced to her through another friend at a social function, and it was like the world stopped.

We were inextricably drawn to one another.

The first time I met Him? I had felt a warm sense of kindness and familiarity — but more than that? I cannot rightly say how much of my affection was gratitude for the promise of safety from a man and how much more was something more.

The affection she showed me, the single-minded obsessive tenderness, was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Her caresses were sweet and stormy, tangible and sexual, a world apart from the way he touched me.

And as much as I have played the part of the amicable ex, I was and still am angry at him for rarely touching me; because although the distance was mutually beneficial, the loneliness it created was ultimately devastating, for myself at least. For his part, he resented her for showing me something he could not or would not.

He told me after it was over that he knew he had neglected me for a long, long time, and in that moment my fears became reality. I could have expected more, that it wasn’t wrong to want more, that I didn’t have to be thankful for the bare minimum because of my inability to endure a man penetrating me.

This is one of the hardest and most necessary of lessons I’ve ever learned.

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In the end, I remember him fondly. For a brief moment in time, we built a lovely little life together. All my life, my family moved from city to city, my father hunting some elusive sense of perfect fulfillment in each new job opportunity; because of this, “Home” has always been a thing more of fairy tales than reality for me. So for the three years that it was mine, that home was indeed a precious thing to find.

When it became clear that one of the foundations of our relationship — our mutual distance from carnal things — was becoming the source of our unraveling, I became stubborn. I did not want to let go of my home, nor of the man who had given it to me, who required nothing but a distance between us. In the end, the alienation I felt from my own desire became as much a culprit in the destruction of the home we had built together as was the cruelty of his neglect.

Our connection was at once very pure and healing, while in another they carried with them an oppressive loneliness, and such loneliness needs constant work to overcome. It became clear that neither of us was able to do that work. And so it ended, with tears, with shouting, with all the things we kept in the pit of our hearts …

and then, it was over.

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