When I mused in my last post about not knowing what to wear for my date with Kevin, I wasn't kidding around. I was right puzzled by the situation and a girl like me really has to think hard about what kind of message she sends with her clothes. We were in uncharted territory. I had arranged a meeting that may or may not have been a date, with a guy I was maybe sorta getting to like, and who I thought kinda liked me. Getting the fine details right is crucial.
Luckily I have three roommates who are lifelong females, two of whom are quite femme and glad to help me play dressup.
In the years I've been a woman, I've reached a grudging acceptance that clothes make the woman. I was Judith after all, and Lauren before that. But as Valerie - as myself - I am free to dress how I see fit. I don't need to please clients or compare myself to other teenage girls. Mostly I work, and when I'm slinging coffee that means jeans (or yoga pants) and whatever top I see fit, usually a dark crew neck tee. I do have the occasional night out but it's not hard to fit the right mood: casual, fun or (more rarely) fancy. I don't mind being the most modest girl at the party. I don't usually want the attention.
Now I had to walk the line and I didn't even know where it was. In theory this was just a cooking lesson. I could go right from work and seem right in character. But I wanted it to look like I'd put some thought in. Maybe to suggest that I would be up for more, but not that I was planning on it. (See? For womwn fashion is practically a language. And they speak it to men without them even knowing.)
I've got this little black dress I've been itching to wear all summer. It falls just at the sweet spot midway up my thigh, and really showcases my chest in a tasteful way because it has a high neckline, uet managrs to a oid looking like a potsto sack. I bought it months ago but haven't had the courage, or a reason, to wear it out. If I wore that it would be clear what message I was sending: "Let's go straight to dessert."
Don't think I didn't consider it, but that's more of a third date outfit.
In the end I wore my "good-ass" jeans and a top that is a little more revealing than what I wear to work, with a deeper neckline. It reads casual, as if I might not know my tits are on display. Rest assured, with the bra I was wearing, I knew full well.
I also did my makeup more than usual and curled my hair. It kills me how men never notice these things, and we don't even expect them to. It's just to make ourselves feel like our version of sexy. I also wore nice underwear, on the off chance it came up. For the men's part, I remember sort of taking it for granted that women's looks just kind of fell together easily without so much dang work.
Arriving at his place, I felt more nervous than I have been for a very long time. I felt like I was crossing a threshold. All the dates I've been on since the beginning of the year felt more like something to do, with guys I could take or leave (and mostly left.) This was the first guy I was starting to really like, and my uncertainty about how he felt about me, my need to win him over, was really affecting me. He greeted me with an ambiguous hug. I leaned into him to try to put him - and myself - at ease.
His place was pretty nice, considering what I'm used to around here. I mean, having a place to yourself in Brooklyn is pretty much a sign you're doing well as far as I'm concerned. That was intimidating. I'm not as young as I look, but this guy had a whole "grown up" life that I guess I haven't experienced since being Judith, or even much before that.
It's oddly intimidating being around him, in a way. I'm so used to being in positions where I have more life experience than people. But this guy is older than me, and he's lived a life and matured in ways that even Kitty never seemed. Being around him makes me feel not just my age, but Valerie's, like I'm still a kid to him, even though I've lived five lives and seen and done incredible things.
He offered me a drink of wine. I thought okay, that's pretty datey, semi-romantic, right? Setting the mood.
I felt better once I started cooking. I didn't know his skill level so I thought I would focus on the basics - correctly cooking a chicken, with some seasoning and presentation. How to design an idiot-proof meal. Get him to where he can stop buying meals that come in a box, and just buy the ingredients for them instead.
We got to talking some. He noted my skill and comfort in the kitchen, and asked why I wasn't doing this for a living.
"Working in a restaurant? Eh, I've been there and done that. All kitchens are is just a bunch of douchey tattooed man-children sweating and swearing and pulling their cocks out for laughs. I kind of outgrew it."
He nearly choked on his wine from laughing when I said that. "I had no idea you had such a mouth on you!"
"Oh, sweetie I've been around!" I said, consciously more feminine language. "I may look pretty and delicate but I'm a tough cookie inside."
"Yeah? Are you secretly one of those tattooed sweaty guys inside?"
I grinned wide. "Oh, totally. That's me all over," I said in a tone that maybe sounded like a joke. I think I might have been blushing. Might have been the wine.
I switched the topic. We talked about his work, and his kids - why they live with their grandparents much of the time and not him. With some shame he admitted he didn't feel comfortable being a single parent, and wanted his kids to have a more stable upbringing.
I didn't ask, but he explained this much about his ex: "She got in some trouble a few years back, and the court had to... well, it's an ongoing issue."
We ate, and again he raved at the quality of this very basic meal. "You sure you don't want to get back into the food biz? Maybe open your own place?"
"I don't think so," I said, "Like, that just seems like another way to get me in a room with those guys I was describing earlier. The amount of work, money, sweat... hell, I don't even have the education necessary to be a chef."
"Don't you work for a catering company on the side? Why not start your own?"
"Yeah, that's more my speed, but I never thought about going into business for myself or anything."
"Why not? All you'd need is some investment money."
"Right, all those millions I have socked away under my mattress," I sighed.
"Well, I'm enjoying your work tonight," he said with a smile.
I told him this was nothing - wait until I make him some buttermilk friend chicken, with Hushpuppies.
"Oh, is this going to be a whole regular thing?" he said.
"If you want it to be," I said, trying to ease off the gas a little if that was what he was feeling.
"No, it's cool, very cool..." then he got a little distant. Like he was trying to work up the nerve to say something. It didn't feel impossible he was trying to work out a way to kiss me. I thought about lunging forward, but I... was very mindful of seeming to eager.
But he was being such a gentleman, really charming and warm, it only solidified the feelings I'd been having, and strengthened my resolve to pursue this.
He killed the bottle of wine between both out glasses. We moved over to the couch.
I decided to take a liberty and laid back and propped my feet on his lap. "Do you mind?" I asked, "I've been on my feet all day, and my back is killing."
"Really... back problems already? You're what, 25?"
"Oh, yeah," I said, "It's these things." I cupped my boobs. For a second he looked nervous like he didn't know where to put his eyes. I told him he could look - I know they're there.
"They're a pain in the ass," I said, really just venting off the cuff and barely realizing I was now openly discussing my boobs with this guy. "Ever since I got them. I've thought about getting them reduced but..."
"But what? Money again?"
"No," I said, thinking of the gift I got from the former Valerie back at Christmas. "I could swing that. It's just... they're a part of me. It's hard to explain. I hate them, but I... I'm not sure I'd still be who I am without them."
"That's ridiculous," he smirked. "You're more than a pair of..."
"I... really can't explain. I have a very complicated relationship with my body. The idea of doing something to change it like that is both... very easy, and very hard to contemplate."
What I as trying to say was, part of me wants to keep this body as close to how I found it as I can, and that includes the massive boobs, as much of a hindrance as they are. Objectively, it really only makes sense to go down several sizes. But I worry about losing touch with my conception of who I am as Valerie.
A weird silence hung in the air as we both tried to reckon with the fact that I had just stirred up a conversation about my breasts. I felt like maybe I was getting a bit drunk.
"Listen, I really appreciate this," he said tentatively. I could sort of read where he was going, but I stayed quiet in hopes I was wrong. "I should be up front. I didn't mean for things to go too far here, I didn't even realize... I mean, if you were expecting this to be something else, besides... well..."
He hesitated. I finished his thought for him. "This isn't a date."
He shook his head.
"You don't... feel that way toward me."
He stayed still.
"Val, you're really lovely, but I'm not in a place to pursue something like that right now."
"What does that mean?" I said flatly, trying real hard not to let my growing disappointment - and anger - show.
"I have some serious baggage. I'm not the man for you. I really need you to know that - it's me."
"I have baggage too," I insisted. "I have been through shit that, no disrespect, you couldn't even fathom. I mean that."
"Why, because your ex cheated on you? I don't mean to minimize that, but..."
"Bud, that's the least of it."
I was getting very upset that I couldn't play the 'I had my body stolen years ago ad had to learn to like being a woman - basically to get to this' card.
He took a breath.
"It's really not you. You're great. And you deserve a great guy. Ever since things went down with my wife, I... oh God, this is really hard to say, okay, so please, please bear with me...
"...I have completely lost interest in sex and relationships."
I looked at him probably very suspiciously. "You what?"
"I just don't want that anymore. None of it. I don't feel that way about anybody. I'm in therapy, and I don't know, maybe with some work I can learn to feel that way again, but... trust me, being with someone like me is the last thing a young person like you deserves."
I honestly didn't know how to take that.
I was still mad at the rejection even though it had nothing to do with me. I was hurt, confused. It was hard to process, and yet in the days since I have been able to understand it a bit better... after all, I've dealt with my own desires changing away from what I used to want, what I still wanted-to-want, to what my body, and my heart, really does seem to want. So why couldn't it go the same, in a different direction?
But in that moment I really didn't know what to say, so I finished my drink and shook his hand and offered an awkward hug, and called for a ride.
I was so upset. For days. And I couldn't even be mad at him without feeling guilty, because it's not his fault. But part of me did take it personally, did resent all of that, and was mad at him, and at myself for getting so invested in the possibility that someone so good would be interested in me. I've made my peace with it, but in that moment I sure felt like an idiot who worked too hard to make herself pretty.
Part of me still suspects it's a lie, even if the idea of a man lying to not have sex with a much younger woman seems absurd when you say it out loud.
In the end, I reached out to tell him it was fine, and I could be his friend and teach him to cook for his daughters and anything else he needed. And I felt like I meant it, but I'd be lying if I said my feelings for him completely dissipated.