In my childhood, tweens, teens, college years, grad school years, and young adulthood, I never thought I was very pretty. Or funny. Or smart. Or interesting. Or worth much at all. Teachers told me I was talented. Friends laughed at my jokes. But I had the Angela Chase syndrome of feeling everything yet feeling plain jane-with-a-lowercase-j, and basing my value on if I could be good enough to be loved.
Except good enough didn’t seem to exist. Or if it existed, it didn’t matter in the realm of relationships and dating. Once I discovered kissing at the age of 14, I used it as a barometer for likability. For being good enough. If N. Miller was kissing me, he liked me and I was okay. But if he wasn’t, then I wasn’t. If J. Miller (no relation) was kissing me, he liked me and I was okay. But if he wasn’t then I wasn’t. It was a formula I applied to many boys, and one that got me into trouble.
Not just kissing trouble – though there was plenty of that. My brother took to calling me “The Kissing Slut” by the age of 19, which I reclaimed and redubbed, “The Kissing Ninja” at the age of 24. I didn’t, and still don’t, like the slut connotation. I was doing what I needed to do, though not always what I wanted to do.
That was the problem with the formula of kissing = liking = okayness. I didn’t always want to do more than kiss someone. But I figured if I substituted “heavy petting” for “kissing” then “liking” became “liking a lot” and “okayness” became “50% valid human being.” And of course, it went up from there. If Chris R. was sleeping with me, he was likely really into me (pun intended), and I was 100% valid. Which the middle part, of course, isn’t true (as proven by the fact that Chris R. and many other unnamed chaps never did ask me out on a date).
Despite evidence to the contrary though, I kept using my body to prove people liked me. I hoped that speaking the unsubtle, wondering language of sex was reality. I watched men open up, become vulnerable, and seem more real. As though it wasn’t alcohol that was a truth serum, but rather making out. And if I could just unlock them, the truths would come tumbling out. This led to more issues as I found myself in longer term relationships. Somewhere along the way, I began thinking I hadn’t wound up in those relationships because of who I was, but rather, what my body was.
When someone else is basing a relationship on love, admiration and commitment, and you’re assuming they are basing it on your body yet you don’t think your body is worthy of that, things get sticky.
I can’t pinpoint when this changed – when my body became something I gave to something I owned. It wasn’t like I turned 30 and *poof* I saw things more clearly. I didn’t. There were stumbles. There were flat-on-my-face falls. There was still thinking it was impossible for my boyfriend to love me. But like a bar that dims the lights in increments so you don’t even notice the atmosphere is changing, so did how I saw physical connection in my datingverse.
I only kiss boys I like now. Perhaps this is selfish, but it’s not much about them liking me so much as my liking them. I only offer them physically what I want, rather than anticipating what allowances on my end might lead to. I also think I am interesting. And funny. Occasionally smart. Sometimes even pretty. And it’s fascinating how dating changes when that’s all on the table.