Here is the funny thing about Pride month. When asking for your submissions on Pride, and what you’re proud of, all the best stories came out. The secret stories. Because it turns out the stuff we’re really proud of is the stuff we hold close to our hearts. The stuff that’s too important to bother bragging about, or too weird sounding to share. Like meeting your partner in a BDSM Dungeon. (Fun fact: I’ve known a couple of women who worked in dungeons and holy shit were they the coolest women.) So here is to realizing that all that weird stuff deep down that we secretly love? That’s the stuff that’s awesome. Pride, indeed.
When I was thirty-four, I realized something: it wasn’t happening. And it probably wasn’t going to. By “it,” I mean “a romantic relationship.” I’d been single for over a decade. And though I’d briefly dated people during that time and had my share of, ahem, dalliances (a gal’s got needs) the thought of one more well-meaning, polite OkCupid date was making me want to poke my eyes out with a fork.
And, truthfully, I liked being alone. I loved living in my own apartment, decorated by me (Who loves that throw pillow? I do! Who else cares? Nobody!) and I loved having ample time to organize camping trips with my friends, live as messily or neatly as I was inclined to that week, and pick out exactly what I wanted for dinner, every single night. I told myself I wanted a relationship, because that’s what everybody wants, right? But really… after years of single bliss, I’m not sure I actually did.
The hitch was that I wanted a kid. I had since my mid-twenties. Not with any great immediacy (obviously). I liked life fine enough as it was, but at some point I’d recognized a space in my heart for parenting—for caring for and loving a kid, helping them grow, watching them figure shit out, and encouraging their best self. I’d always seen this as something I’d do with a co-parent; in my head, I pictured a sporty, grounded lady (I’m bisexual, but in my head this person was always a woman). She’d coach junior’s peewee soccer league and indulgently let me pick out all the paint colors for our house. But Sporty Lady was a no-show. So, facing facts, I did what I do best: I sat down with pen and notebook and made a plan. A plan to be a single mom. It was a really good three year plan, and it looked something like this.
Year 1: Year of Sex and Saving Money
Year 2: Year of Obtaining Kid (Adoption or insemination; I’d figure that out the same year.)
Year 3: Have the Kid
Year one was all about sex and money because I realized that one, kids are expensive and I’d need to save, and two, when I was a parent I’d be pretty busy, and sex might be in short supply, so I should get some now and avoid being a grumpy mommy. At least, I reasoned, if Sporty Lady failed to appear, I could look back at year one, go, “Damn, that was a fun year,” and not get too bitter about the whole enterprise.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up on April Fool’s in a BDSM club, totally sober, and making out with a sweet-faced stranger.
Say what? Yeah, here’s the thing. Just try going on OkCupid and being honest about looking for consensual, fun, mutually respectful, sober sex, without any strings, and see how far it gets you. Women who wrote me politely ignored this part of my profile. Men who wrote me were pretty much exclusively, and I say this with all the sex-positivity in my being, totally gross. I want to have some nice sex, dude; that doesn’t mean I want to be treated like an extension of your right hand! And the folks that I wrote to didn’t write back. After a month of that, I was done. I was considering just getting drunk at a bar and seeing what happened, but not totally loving that plan either (Safety! Consent! Bad drunk sex!), when I started talking about my problem to some kinky friends.
My friends thought I had it all wrong; if I just wanted to have some safe fun, I should consider looking at the local kinky scene. An amalgam of their advice goes something like: “Dungeons in this city are awesome women-run totally empowering and super safe sober spaces and way better than the bar scene or online; you should totally give it a shot.” They made it sound pretty awesome. So, I thought, what the heck. If not now, when? Am I freaked out? Yes! Am I intrigued enough to get past being freaked out? Also yes. Once I’d decided, my biggest concern was actually the same worry I have about non-kinky parties: will there be anybody there I know? Who will talk to me? I had signed up to an event online, but my kink pals were out of town. So I looked through the invite list, and wrote to someone else who was going. He looked fairly normal, or was at any rate not dressed like Voldemort. He was friendly and nice; he said he’d be happy to say hello at the party and introduce me to people. Phew! I had people to talk to: him, and a friend-of-a-friend who said she’d be happy to meet me and introduce me around. I had my well-rehearsed boundaries and exit lines, and a safety phone call scheduled with a friend in a different time zone. I also had a hot outfit (very important). I was ready.
And you know what? Two years later, I am buying a house with that fairly normal, not-cape-wearing guy. He turned out to be exactly who I needed in my life: kind, considerate, smart, open-minded, and open-hearted, someone who was capable of seeing my defenses for what they were, and waiting patiently as I slowly, slowly dismantled them. The night we met I told him I had a three-year single-parenting plan, and that I didn’t want a boyfriend. He said, “Okay,” quite sweetly, and we proceeded to have the best sex of my life, and after a month of sex and making breakfast together, I looked in my heart, and realized he was there, right in the center. I had let him in, and I wouldn’t want the apartment with the awesome throw pillows if he wasn’t in it.
I’m actually really proud of how we met, but it’s not something I can tell my family, or he can tell his. Most of our friends know, but the story to coworkers and family is “we met at a party.” I really don’t want to have a conversation about sex clubs with my parents (hellll no) so I’m okay with this, but I’m not okay with what our little lie might imply—that we’re embarrassed about how we met. I realize some people might hear this story and make some unflattering judgments about me or us. Heck, even some supportive people find it a bit weird. After we started dating, more than one friend asked, “What if it gets serious? What will you tell people about how you met?”
After some thought, here’s my answer: honey, I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: the night I met my partner was one of the bravest nights of my life. Without the white noise of dating-with-the-intent-to-get-serious buzzing in my brain, I was my most authentic, honest self, and I met the kindest, most loving partner I could have ever wished for, someone who really sees me for who I am, and who makes me happy every day. I do not want to run a little kingdom by myself; I want to create a life with him. I don’t care if I get to pick all the paint colors. And I’m really proud of our story: I think it’s, well, unmistakably us.
I know other people who get embarrassed about how they met their partners: this seems to (still!) happen sometimes for folks who met online, or who met as a one-night stand—they want to make some excuse, or have a “better,” more “romantic,” more socially acceptable story, one that could plausibly be the plot of a movie starring Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl. Meeting my love in a dungeon was a gift, because it made me realize that no one’s story needs embellishment or excuse. It’s the story of how you met, and out of that meeting came your love, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
Photo by APW Sponsor Gabriel Harber