3 min

Romance novel letdown

The night I lost my virginity was a terrible disappointment. But what really bothered me was how betrayed I felt by all the romance-novel writers whose work I had read. Admittedly, I had never met any romance writers, and there was no official agreement, but still — I thought we had a deal.

I had spent most of my adolescence reading every romance novel I could get my hands on. I even had a dealer, a lovely lady who lived down the street from me. At least once a week, I would ring her doorbell and she would hand over the goods.

Those romance writers described so perfectly (or at least I thought they did) the fiery passions between a man and a woman. Pages and pages were filled with descriptive detail: fevered kisses, hot-to-the-touch skin, caressed breasts, repeated thrusting, passionate cries of pleasure. I ate it all up.

At the time, I identified as bi-curious. I wasn’t ready to come out any further than that, and I was dating a man. So there I was, on that memorable night, wondering how and why things had gone so horribly wrong. I was a late bloomer by most people’s standards, in my early 20s — old enough to have been well past believing in romance-novel fantasies.

I would blame this on my parents, but I have read enough books on Buddhism and self-improvement to know that blaming one’s parents for life’s disappointments and failures isn’t an evolved thing to do.

I had a fanciful picture in my head of how beautiful first-time girl-boy sex would be, and my hazy understanding of my own sexuality was not going to get in my way. I had done all the making out I could do with cute boys and pretty girls and my hymen was still very much intact.

Since I was so worried about being seen as a tease, I gave it up willingly to a boy who barely remembered my name. We had been dating for a few weeks and I thought he was cute; he thought I was pretty. Those seemed like good enough reasons.

I didn’t actually believe he liked me as much as he said he did; I knew he was more emotionally involved with his car. When I confessed to him that I had never had sex before, he thought I was joking and laughed. If he had believed me, he might have been more gentle, not so hard, not so fast.

None of it felt right, and I wondered what was so wrong with me that I didn’t enjoy it. It was more painful than I thought it would be, and because I didn’t want to cry, I laughed. He kept going harder and faster. Inside, I went numb.

Halfway through the mess, I told him he didn’t have to keep going. I told him he could stop anytime. He somehow interpreted that to mean he should go faster and harder, as if that would prove his superb sexual skill. I just lay there and waited for it to be over.

It wasn’t up to the romance writers to warn me about mindless boys who might not value me. It wasn’t their responsibility to point out my sexual identity. What I really wanted, I belatedly realized, was to cross that event off my checklist of normalcy.

If I let the romance writers off the hook, I’m left with two options — him or me. I am not sure who I should be angrier with. I am not sure who was more careless. I faked my way through that entire night and I wondered if that was how it would always be, with me pretending enjoyment and looking for a way out. Looking back on that memory, what hurt more than my disillusionment was my dishonesty with myself.

The contrast with my first time with a girl was what Oprah would call the “Aha moment.” It was a moment where everything clicked — I didn’t feel confusion or any sense of loss. I wasn’t trying to re-create sugary fiction that had never applied to me in the first place.

The moment was tender and clumsy and made more sense than any of my previous sexual encounters. When I think of that night, how perfect I felt kissing her, her lips and soft skin — well, I could go on and on reminiscing, but that’s a whole other episode of Oprah, a story for another day.