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Call it Secondary Sex

The photographer and I had sex twice, in one evening. It was everything television and film tells me sex should be: Spontaneous. Unhesitating. In an exotic (read: not domestic) location.

It was on a wooden bench swing near a river in the trees behind the barn. And then it was in the barn, in the summer heat and humidity.

Afterward, we walked hand in hand down the main road leading to town, giggling while we watched the fireflies appear and disappear around us in the fading daylight. It was romance and whirlwind. It was sweat and sweet.

That last morning in Kentucky, I woke at 6 a.m. to the soft sound of rain and the tinny sound of Bon Iver floating from his cellphone speakers.

He photographed me while I packed my clothes, and I remember him telling me that airports are romantic because they’re where people come to understand what they feel about each other.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to have sex since then. It wasn’t one of those bowl-you-over summer romances. It was what it was. Fun. Invigorating. Kind. But we lived 3,000 miles apart, and I was still heartbroken from my previous relationship.

If I were to update the definition of “secondary abstaining” I discovered through my Google search, I would add the following to the list of reasons someone may stop having sex: failed relationship, broken heart and being cheated on after a near proposal by the man you spent your whole life loving.

Maybe this is where faith comes in. Maybe my secondary abstinence isn’t in allegiance to God but to my own broken heart and the fear that seems to produce a kind of magnetic repellant whenever I come close to someone I desire.

My friends don’t seem to understand my secondary abstinence. They ask if I’ve had sex yet.

“How can you go so long?” they ask. “I can’t imagine.”

They say: “You have to lower your standards.” “Go to the bar more.” “Join a dating website.” “Make really good eye contact.” “Get rid of your hang-ups.” “Be more open.” “Stop being afraid.”

“It’s just sex,” they say. “You have to stop refusing to sleep with people just because you don’t immediately want to marry them.”

My secondary abstinence is the wallflower type: sitting quietly on the couch at the party making everyone else feel a bit more awkward for having a good time.

Every night that I go to a concert or a party, every day that I walk around the neighborhood, I find my secondary abstinence trailing me like a sad ghost or an unwanted dog.

It’s not as if I haven’t tried to move on from this phase of my life. I joined Tinder. I sat in my friend’s apartment, punctuating our conversation with questions like, “Who is supposed to write to whom on this thing?” and “Why do so many guys have photos with tigers? Do you have a photo with a tiger?”

I asked my friend how to tactfully respond to my most recent Tinder message from a man named Dakota who teaches yoga and doesn’t have a tiger in his photo. I found the profile of a man whose name is probably Matt and told him I’m new to this Tinder thing and asked him how it works.