Meeting Mr. Man: A Lesson I Learned from Pursuing Casual Sex

I have an ambivalent relationship with casual sex. The risks of it terrify me. Still, I enjoy it because I don’t have to put much thought into it. It wards off the emotional mess that usually comes along with intimacy otherwise. But of late, I’ve realized that reflecting on the reasons behind the decisions I make in my sex life—noble or not—as well as the reasons why I gravitate towards the things I’m generally passionate about is key to understanding my purpose in examining sexual politics itself.

Various themes have popped up in my life throughout my writing project on hip hop and strip club culture, Poles Power and the Everyday Woman (PPEW). However this one finally sank in after a night out with a potential conquest.

Baldwin* seemed like the dream child of the Talented Tenth—a well-read Crimson man with a nice suit and an expertise in politics. He was a beautiful man with a quiet confidence; I tried not to stare at the warm glow in his skin set off by the light shining from the other end of the bar. We didn’t know each other very well, but I felt comfortable. I knew he didn’t have an agenda like they usually do.

I was out of my element. I hadn’t set up the date this time—one of my girlfriends did. For months she lobbied to play matchmaker with her two black friends and eventually I relented. Operation Backstroke wasn’t picking up, and I was bored from not having any prospects. I would have been offended if she hadn’t made such a good choice. At one point I got a little too comfortable and casually referenced the men I was involved with in college.

“Let me guess,” he said laughing, “You were the mature type that could get away with dating men in their thirties.”

I leaned back in my chair to look at him, impressed and uncomfortable with the fact that he could read me so well. I knew that I could come off as absentminded, but I didn’t know I was so transparent.

“What are you looking for?” I asked, half wanting to change the topic, half wanting to see where this conversation might lead.

Baldwin gave me an indistinct answer, something about not wanting to plan everything when fate could easily take care of it for him. When it was my turn, I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer to my own question. Just tell him I’m pretty and up for the casual thing, was what I said to my girlfriend when she told me she wanted to introduce us. But after I’d enjoyed Baldwin’s company, I knew I couldn’t give him such a flippant and insincere response.

I tried to say something distinctive and intelligent, only to mumble about wanting to take things slow, but that I didn’t believe in the three-month rule. Baldwin shrugged and took another sip from his wine glass. After some more small talk I told him I was ready to call it a night and go our separate ways.

If this were a romantic comedy, I’d probably tell you that Baldwin called me three days later and that we’ve been fooling around/falling in love ever since. The truth is that I called him, and I haven’t heard from him in months. (Sometimes I am too bold for my own good.) During the world’s most awkward phone conversation, we’d realized we’d both be at my girlfriend’s party, and agreed to meet there. But when he finally showed up, we barely spoke. While I was engrossed in conversation with a mutual guy friend about music and feminism, Baldwin wandered around by himself from room to room trying to mask his inebriation. I’d like to think he was too shy and flustered to approach me, but I’ll never really know.

Today when people ask me about my relationship status, I think of Baldwin’s handsome face. He resembles the kind of man I thought I’d be with when I was grown, experienced and free from the confines of all-WASP classrooms. It’s a funny visual for the inner monologue that accompanies it: Relationship? Who needs a relationship? This is my time and I won’t let a man squander it. When I told my girlfriend the disappointing turn of events, I’d come to the conclusion that you can dream and pray for a certain kind of man, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the right man for you. The truth that settled in months later is much harder to swallow: you’re never too pretty to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. You’re never too kind to lose. Sometimes fate just says, “No.”

The real reason I walked into that bar, picked up that telephone and waited around at that party (for three hours at that) wasn’t because I wanted to put an end to Operation Backstroke or felt like seducing someone. I walked in with the hope that I would be seen, heard, loved—and I felt as though I had nothing to lose. Similarly, I didn’t become entranced with my writing project, PPEW, because of the seductive glamour of the strip club chic. I became drawn to it because it changed the way I think and act on my sexuality, forcing me to be candid about my pursuit for love. Now that I can identify my avenues of sexual power, I can accept my vulnerability, too—all while enduring the humbling experiences that come along with it.

I outlined various objectives in PPEW, but the underlying one is to question the expectations we place on our sexual partners and ourselves when our media suggests that we are to see and understand our sexuality in a certain way. I’ve come to the odd realization that my venture in examining pornographic images isn’t just about pornography. It’s about appreciating authenticity in a world where we’ve been socialized to want and mimic fantastical representations of ourselves as sexual beings. Strip hop tells me that good sex is a dollar and a G-string away. I’m starting to wonder if this music says as much about women’s habits of sexual experimentation as it does about our expectations of detachment and debauchery. Or perhaps it communicates our fear of claiming the attraction we feel for one another when we can’t hide behind the money and the neon wigs.

*Not his real name.

Monique John is a writer and activist specializing in feminism, racial politics, media representation and hip hop culture. Her writing has been featured in The Root, For Harriet, The Feminist Wire and Redbook Magazine. Monique has also spoken at NYU, Fordham University, Tulane University and the Borough of Manhattan Community College for her research and writing on black sexual politics and violence against women. You can find more of Monique’s work at her personal website as well as her musings on hip hop feminism and the strip club chic at her blog, Twerked.

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