At some point after a breakup, the desire to sleep with someone else arrives. There is no universal timeline for how long this takes. On one occasion the desire showed up almost immediately, winking seductively at me from a doorway. On another, I’d tried to force its appearance, placing the cart before the horse, only to find myself weeping in the limp arms of a disappointed and horny stranger. This time, when my ex and I broke up, it took a few months; a period I spent busying myself with logistical distractions—moving out of the house we shared, and, later, packing up my halved possessions and fleeing across the country. Then, when the desire did eventually turn up, I did what was expected of me: I selected someone from an app.
The man I chose told me he worked as a chef at a wine bar in Fitzroy, so I looked it up online. On the bar’s account I was able to find photos of him that weren’t included in his sparse dating app profile. In one photo he wore a navy apron and held out a plate of food for the camera: a chunk of charred meat floating in a thick beige sauce. His face held a sly grin. I found him handsome. I liked his smiling green eyes and the evidence of a sense of humor in the arrangement of his features. I spent an unreasonable amount of time zoomed in on his hands. They were pale, freckled, and a little rough. They made my stomach flutter. I’ve always been attracted to a man’s hands; I love the way they look, and I love what they can do to me.
Even though we’d never met, The Chef and I fell quickly into the habit of messaging each other every day. He was consistently quick to respond and, to me, this felt strange, as if he lived behind the screen of my phone and waited to be summoned. After four days of unbroken dialogue, I woke up to a message that read:
Sleep well? :) x
That’s when I wondered if I’d done something wrong. Maybe I’d forgotten to signal early on that I didn’t want a date, only the part that comes after. I wasn’t interested in receiving good morning messages. I was still enjoying the pang of loss I felt when I woke up alone. I didn’t want his intrusion, but I also didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I frowned at my phone and began to workshop ways to subtly set expectations.
That night, apropos of nothing, he sent me a photo of his dick captioned: Free tonight? and I laughed at myself.
While I waited for him to arrive, I changed my outfit four times. Then I walked around my apartment, simultaneously tidying and disguising any evidence of effort. Eventually I sat down on the couch and messaged my friend Beverly to let her know he was coming over. I included a screenshot of his account.
Be safe!!! she replied and sent a string of pink love hearts.
He showed up just after eleven, a wine bottle in hand.
“Here, this is for us. It’s French, from Beaujolais,” he said, placing the bottle down on the kitchen counter and taking his jacket off. “I stole it from the bar.”
“Thanks,” I said, unsure of how to respond to any part of that sentence.
I was surprised by his size; he was tall and broad and when he opened his arms to hug me, he entirely absorbed me. He smelled like grease and charcoal. I tried to imagine myself turning up to have sex with someone after working a ten-hour shift and not showering, but I couldn’t. I’d showered and shaved. I’d put on makeup. I’d tidied my apartment and lit a candle.
He draped his jacket over the back of my couch, before wandering across the room. It occurred to me then that he was the first visitor I’d had since I moved to Melbourne after the breakup, and I realized that by being the only person who had stepped foot in my apartment, I had imbued it with a particular and very personal energy. I felt his energy spreading around, muddying the room as if he were literally tracking a pair of dirty boots across my floor. I wondered then if I genuinely wanted to do this, or if I had just relented to the pressure of this seemingly expected act of moving on. Was I exercising my freedoms as a sexually liberated fourth-wave feminist by sleeping with a stranger I’d met online? Or was I betraying my freedom by choosing to engage in a sexual experience that I was feeling increasingly apprehensive of?
I wondered what he was thinking.
I opened the bottle of wine and watched him casually consider the collection of books I’d stacked on the floor. I felt exposed. The same way I felt as a teenager, my stomach in knots, as I watched the first boy I’d ever had in my bedroom browse my CD collection.
“You have lots of books,” he said, holding one in his hand. With an ache I thought of all the books I’d left abandoned in the house my ex and I had shared back in Perth. When I fled shortly after our separation, many of my belongings (my coffee machine, my couch) were sacrificed.
“Do you read much?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said, putting the book back down.
That was probably strike three, but I’d already lost count.
It was evident from his unfocused gaze and clunky movements that he was not sober but that didn’t bother me. I only hoped to yield momentarily to a blinding and deafening diversion, that elevated form of release that you can’t give to yourself. I wanted to lose myself, even for a second, against an unfamiliar body, and then I wanted to sit on a stranger’s face until my body felt like it belonged to me again.
We drank the wine and made an earnest effort at conversation, fumbling through some small talk about his shift. When enough conversation had passed, I moved toward him and kissed him. He seemed a little surprised that I’d made the first move and it was awkward for a few beats, our mouths moving at different speeds, our teeth overly present. Then he took control and guided me across the short distance between my kitchen and the bedroom. He pulled at my jumper, my favorite jumper, and I took it off myself so he wouldn’t stretch out the neckline. Then I helped him remove his T-shirt. He was so different from my ex, so much bigger. This was an immediate relief; I needed someone completely unrecognizable. I didn’t want to feel any hipbones pressing into me. I specifically required someone who wasn’t going to arrive wearing a threadbare hooded jumper and a pair of jeans held up by an old shoelace.
When we reached my bed, he pushed me down onto it and something inside me lit up. He stared at me and took his pants off slowly without breaking eye contact. Then he said, “You want it so bad, don’t you?” And something inside me switched back off.
I allowed him to continue to lead, though it became obvious that he was performing a method he had most likely perfected in his last long-term relationship and now applied like a template to all his sexual encounters. His exploration of my body felt like an uninteresting task he was required to complete for a reward. He ran his hands over me with impatience, like he was keen to move on. He swooped his head down to kiss me, his technique all exhale and tongue. Then he pulled away and smiled as if to tease me, before swooping once again. All of this was accompanied by a surprising level of confidence. He seemed sure that he knew what I wanted and didn’t need to ask me or read any nonverbal cues. I could have told him what I wanted, but I didn’t. I couldn’t find the right words; the ones that wouldn’t wound him and instantly halt the momentum, leaving us stranded somewhere. Instead, I sent him body language signals, slowing my movements down and shifting his searching fingers to the left by moving my hips. I made affirming noises when he got closer to the right speed, location, and pressure. He bulldozed blindly through these cues. Whether this was because they didn’t land or because he thought himself in possession of a better idea, I wasn’t sure.
Then he was on his knees, guiding himself inside me. I sucked air through my teeth as he entered me, my own body not quite ready. The first few thrusts hurt, but I moaned anyway. The futility of the situation was becoming apparent, but I felt the weight of the unspoken commitment made in these kinds of situations. A line that, once crossed, signaled it was too late to back out. In this case, a line established because: (1) He caught an Uber from Fitzroy to Brunswick for me. (2) He stole us a bottle of wine. (3) He might not like being told no.
I attempted to engineer a change of position so I could be on top of him, a final effort to gain back some control, but it was ignored. He placed one hand on the wall behind my bed and his other hand around my neck. I surmised then that his last girlfriend was probably into being choked and he’d assumed I would be too. The alternative to this theory was that it was for his own pleasure that he choked women, a problematic distinction. I could breathe fine and so I didn’t bother to move his hand.