Life at 21: Me, Men, Beer & Sex

Part 1: Men

In 2014, I met a man named Johnny. I don’t usually trust guys named Johnny but this Johnny seemed a little bit different to me. Or maybe I had never really looked for a guy to trust. What’s that for when you’re 20 and lively and restless? And well, probably stupid too. That’s right. I didn’t look for a guy to trust. I looked for a guy to make my night memorable. Like that night. Like the Johnny who was more delicious than Vodka and just as regrettable as five shots of Tequila.

One thing though – Johnny wasn’t a man. Johnny was a rich boy who just turned 23 and needed drugs to get high in clubs. One hand holding my waist while I was sitting on his lap, Johnny told me, “I just took one pill. Give me half an hour” while pointing one finger to the ceiling. At that point, I had absolutely nothing to say about it. I knew about drugs and I was taught to stay away from people who take drugs no matter what kind of drugs. But that night, I just wanted Johnny to want me. “Give me half an hour” was simply interpreted as “in half an hour, I will be all over you” and that’s how my judgement was shut by my vagina.

Ladies, I’m telling you now, you should never trust your vagina, especially when you’ve just drunk half a bottle of Tequila mindlessly. Tequila is bad, very bad unless you want to get fucked by a rich boy who needs drugs to get high in clubs and definitely cares more about his penis than your feelings. The worst part is that I wish I had meant it literally because then at least I would’ve been able to pat myself on the shoulder and say ‘doesn’t matter, had sex.’ But no, I didn’t get to have sex with anyone. I was fucked mentally, crying in front of a club in North London at 3 in the morning because a boy thought the drunken me was a mess and he didn’t want anything to do with it any more.

What a nutter. But I guess you could say the real nutter is me.

***

Later in 2015, God must be kidding me because I met another Johnny. I still don’t trust guys named Johnny but this Johnny had been all over my system before my mental firewall could do its job. I didn’t even care if he seemed different or not. Probably not. In fact, the Johnny’s had never been different. This Johnny, or that Johnny, was exactly the same as the rest of the boys – selfish, restless, short attention span, the typical. Though, I wasn’t surprised or let down because I guess I didn’t really expect anything different. And that’s the part of me that had remained ‘girl’ while the rest was slowly transforming into ‘woman’.

I wouldn’t say a woman wanted intimacy and love more than a girl but a woman surely knows what she wants. At 21, I wanted a guy to trust. I didn’t just want a memorable Friday night but also Saturday morning making breakfast or any day of the week for that matter. I became very sure and clear in my intention and vision, which I suppose was the part that had matured faster than the others. What wasn’t woman yet in me, among many others, was the fact that 1) although I knew what was good for me, I didn’t do what was good for me and 2) I still let my vagina choose the men and when my vagina chooses a man, it’s a man who never chooses me.

Johnny didn’t choose me. The fling or whatever it was lasted for two months. I wasn’t loved or cared for. I was used as much as I got to use Johnny without knowing I was using him. In a way, during our time together, we both had gotten what we wanted. It’s just that by the end of it, I realized I wanted more while he wasn’t capable of giving it to me. Or perhaps, he didn’t want to give it to me. I felt cheated. In a way I suspected that I had been nicely played by this glorified modern hook-up culture: No date, no commitment, no expectation — only warm bodies and real feelings. There are also a lot of “I’m not sure what I’m looking for but let’s see how it goes”, “It’s just a weird stage of my life right now”, “I really like you but I also fuck Jenny and you should totally be cool about it.”

Trust me, I had tried very hard to be cool. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. I should never do.

***

After Johnny, something gradually shifted in me. I’m not sure it was because I met Denver then Denver changed me or I had already changed before meeting Denver. Either way, it felt great. I expected more from men but at the same time, I wanted less from the men who weren’t capable of giving me what I needed. To be fair, it’s not like I ever became absolutely rational and suddenly I got what I wanted as a result. Life just doesn’t work like that. In fact, my vagina still took over the judgement department sometimes and made pretty bad decisions. Though, I must say she had learned how to behave herself for the sake of my heart.

How so? My vagina liked Denver. My vagina didn’t do whatever it takes to get Denver. I was calm and cautious. I stayed by Denver’s side and learned about him more and more each day — the good, the bad, the high, the low and especially the ugly. That’s how I kept my feelings in check and stayed grounded. Perhaps you would think I had become too guarded. I thought so too but surprisingly enough, this approach actually allowed me to explore my capacity of love to its depth. I didn’t regard Denver as the means to an end: a relationship or a wedding with three children. I liked Denver because I liked being with him and the person I was when being with him. It’s a very fundamental level of love. It’s something I didn’t know I was ever capable of. Something that had successfully taught me to become patient.

Meanwhile, I carried on with my daily life. I focused on my career and my money. I spent more time with my friends while building my network. Sometimes I still thought about Johnny. I thought if life had gone the way I wanted it to, maybe we would have become a great couple. But it would also mean that I wouldn’t become the person I’m today and I like the person I’m today too much to ever want to change a damn thing in my past. Well, I figure I like myself more than I like being with Johnny. Or even Denver. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t value having a man, a partner in my life. I’m a family person. I don’t plan to become the poster child for the modern woman who sleeps with her money, literally or figuratively.

It’s just not now. Not the time yet.

 

Part 2: Beer

In 2014, I started to smoke. I smoked whenever I drank. I would stand outside a noisy club in central London, usually in the cold without a jacket, and smoke some random guy’s cigarettes. The first time, I scoffed. It didn’t taste nice. The second and the third, it still didn’t taste nice. Though, as a fast learner I’m, I looked like I knew what I was doing and there wasn’t any question asked. I would take a cigarette from a guy, flirt a bit, talk way too much about things that I didn’t really give a shit about and maybe get some drinks then repeat. And just like that, smoking, from a taboo and R rated word in my own dictionary, had soon become a normal thing and almost a daily thing.

The truth is, even in my tenth pack, I would still struggle to really enjoy it. Yet, like the first time, for however long that cigarette lasted, I felt grown up and special. I know it’s silly. I’m aware smoking doesn’t make me cool or really reduce my stress but there’s something about using substances that gave the twenty-year-old me a sense of identity. Maybe I was really lost. Maybe I just wanted to fit in, to feel, to be equal to the boys. Maybe I wanted to do something different but I didn’t know what. Smoking is easy. Drinking is also easy. Puking and having hangovers are not easy but they do make you numb for a day then appreciate the process of getting better.

When I met the first Johnny, it was one of the first few times I actually stepped my feet into a bar. We went to a fancy hotel lounge and sat at a window table he had reserved for us. As a young girl, I was very easily impressed. The moment my eyes caught him standing in front of that hotel, with a tall figure and tailored jacket, was when I lost the game. I quickly fixated on him for his look, his money, his background, his cocky, bastard treatment that hadn’t included me yet and because for a night he generously gave me a taste of his affection. That time, while he went for an old-schooled Scotch, I ordered a cocktail with the typical, boring, girly requirement of “something sweet”.

“Something sweet” had always been the first response that came out of my mouth whenever I went on a date with a guy and he asked me what to drink. Firstly it’s because I had very limited knowledge and experience of alcohol and I didn’t want to come across as such and secondly, I believed sweet cocktails wouldn’t get me too drunk too fast. It worked. No one judges a girl who orders “something sweet” to drink because any basic bitch would say the same basic shit anyway. The problem is, as soon as we entered a club, which is a huge mistake because you should never go clubbing with a new guy you have romantic intentions with, I would immediately switch to taking shots as if I could actually drink. After half a bottle of Tequila, I was ready to go home. Well, if I wasn’t literally crying in front of the goddamn club.

***

Later in 2015, I reduced the drinking and clubbing while keeping up with the smoking. How does it make sense if I only smoked when I drank? So I went out less and I drank less every time I went out but I would take more trips to the smoking area and ask for more cigarettes. I was worried about lung cancer but just like we all think one time unprotected sex wouldn’t possibly give anyone HIV, I didn’t think a few cigarettes would cause me cancer. And I know I was dumb. I was smart but I was also very dumb. Even at 21, I was ignorant of health risks and I indulged in substances because I couldn’t find any sense of meaning in my life.

That being said, I don’t intend to give a confused, rebellious, depressed kind of narrative to my growing years. I was absolutely fine. In fact, I had changed to become so much more functional and rational than I used to be considering my childhood, while not damaged, wasn’t exactly happy and conventional. I was merely curious. I wanted to know what it’s like to have certain feelings. Like being high on weed. I tried weed. Three times in my life so far. The third time was also the time I was finally stoned and it happened all thanks to Ethan, a boy I met after the second Johnny. It was such an embarrassment because I didn’t know we were meant to share a joint and naively asked him to roll me a different one.

He shot me a look. And another one when he noticed that I didn’t inhale it properly. He said, “You’re wasting it. You don’t really smoke, do you?” and I didn’t really know how to respond coolly. Now I wonder why I had cared so much about being cool. Why did I even think Ethan was cool, even for a moment, for being rich, reckless and purposeless? After that meeting with Ethan, I went home, feeling overwhelmed. And it wasn’t because of the weed. It was because I saw the difference between me and him, between our classes and subsequently the kinds of life we led. I even told my friend this absurd thing that If I could be born as a rich kid like he was, I would choose a life like he did too because I was sick of striving on this hard mode.

At the time, I was going through an existential crisis. I went to a very dark place and I found it hard to get back up.

***

By the end of 2015, I stopped thinking so much about love and boys. I still cared about being cool but in a different way. I lost interest in the clubbing scene and I drank wine instead of taking shots. I figure part of it was because I had naturally grown out of that hot mess phase and part of it I stopped investing my time in boys like Johnny and had chance to meet men like Denver. I liked the fact that Denver never let me get too drunk. Every time I showed even a small sign of losing my control, he would remind me and prevent me from causing myself humiliation. In the occasions we had so much fun and both got drunk, he would be the first one to do outrageous things and I would never have to feel like I needed to “behave like a lady” to be liked by him.

However, Denver was only a small part of this more-wine-fewer-shots stage of my life. The main reason is that I had become more focused. I put most of my time and energy into searching for jobs and the wine intake was mostly the result of countless networking events I had attended. To my amazement, I genuinely found it tasty. It also eased me when I had to talk to strangers that I had almost nothing in common with, hoping that they would be kind to my future. But what am I to complain? I already started with more than most could wish for and I didn’t exactly have any real problem except that my mind was a real troublemaker.

At times it was exhausting not knowing what would happen next, having no choice but to keep running ahead and taking all the chances. Yet, other times, it felt thrilling and addictive. I’m young and I can’t stop now. I need to keep moving ahead, doing whatever it takes to get to where I want to be and know that this process is where all the fun is at. Then maybe one day, it will be the right time, right place for everything.

 

Part 3: Sex

In 2014, before meeting Johnny, I had been casually dating a few people. Nothing good had ever come out of the word “casual” but there were certainly a few valuable lessons that helped shaped my thinking. At least I had thought so until the first Johnny came over and once again fucked everything up. I felt weak and worthless. It was like I didn’t actually learn anything and was still as dumb and gullible as I had been three heartbreaks ago. While he was pointing his finger to the ceiling with his lazy eyes staring down my cleavage, all I could think of was how to make him want to go home with me but at the same time, ironically enough, I was worried he might think I was too easy.

That’s literally the most classic dilemma of any confused 20-year-old girl. One hand, you want him to find you wild and sexy and irresistible. The other hand, you want to be the lady he dines and wines and respects for not putting out. As a girl, if you think of boys and sex that way, you can never win. You will always lose because you don’t know yourself well enough to understand where your values are placed and you don’t prioritise your own needs. I lost because I didn’t do what was good for me. I cared way too much about what Johnny thought of me instead of having my own boundaries. In the end, we didn’t have sex but that night my mind was so fucked that I had sworn to never make the same mistake again.

But I guess you could never change until it was too hurt not to change. The first date I had with the second Johnny was almost similar to the experience I had with the first one which also involved alcohol and attempts to get laid. After 6 happy hours of food and drinks, we went back to his flat with excuses along the line of “we don’t want the night to end” and “maybe we can watch a movie.” It was a bad idea, obviously. He pushed me onto his bed, kissing me, trying to undress me while I used all the strength I had left to stop him. I felt disrespected and violated. I realized right then that Johnny had never had any intention with me other than having a new casual fling. Now looking back what was more upsetting is the fact that he even had the guts to tell me “You know, many relationships start with a one-night stand” just to get me to have sex with him that night.

I guess it lasted two months because I wanted to validate myself after what happened and buying my own bullshit was easier than confronting the truths which frankly speaking, I was already too smart to lie to myself about from the start.

***

Later in 2015 as I encountered Ethan, I had become very straightforward and direct in my approach to dating and the topic of sex. Even when I was flirting with Ethan on Facebook, saying that we would do “something fun” and “see where it goes” while he claimed he was the most “chill” guy on earth, I had already decided that Ethan would be the hot friend I had sex with whenever I had needs and time. I didn’t waste my energy lying to myself or expecting anything from Ethan because it was clear we were totally irrelevant people except that we both wanted some actions when bored. And I also needed him to gain some sense of aliveness as I was at the bottom of a pit I dug myself as a result of the occasional existential crisis.

I must say I had a good time with Ethan. Even though we had nothing to talk about, he was physically attractive and everything about him was interesting enough. But strange as it might sound, it was nothing as electrifying as the first physical contact I’d ever had with Denver which was simply a goodbye hug. Do you hear that? Sex with a hot guy was nothing as electrifying as a goodbye hug with Denver. And that was when I knew I was in love with him. It explains why when it came to Denver, my brain worked in such a bizarre way. I didn’t even fantasize about him sexually because not only did I feel it would be disrespectful but I had already been so filled with the joy from being around him to even care about anything else.

The tragic part is that Denver had a girlfriend who I knew personally was an amazing person. And even if she hadn’t been in the picture, practically at this stage of our lives, I could see no future with him. It wasn’t the right time for me yet. Most importantly, I would never want to risk ruining our friendship. However, meeting Denver had taught me many things about myself and what I really wanted. I didn’t want to settle for less than the excitement I got from holding him. I wanted someone who made me feel that way and only more, no less. I wanted to go all in, to give my best, to have someone to wake up next to on a Tuesday morning and never have to use the word “chill” or “casual.”

Sometimes I still wondered how amazing it would be if Denver and I could ever have a moment… Who knows maybe he would realize something like I did too.

***

It’s funny how everyone is so interested in the topic of sex. Everyone wants to know what others are up to and throw cruel words around as though it’s their own business. Maybe sex does reflect personality and lifestyle. Maybe it can predict whether a person is more or less likely to cheat later. But it’s also important what a person does today and plans to do with their own future. Personally, I believe everyone’s past should be respected and so be the choices they make regarding their own body. If I want someone to tell me about who or how many people they have slept with, it’s only because it’s part of who they are and I want to learn about it too. Likewise, I’m willing to share mine.

From 2014 to 2015, as you can see, I have changed drastically. My views on men, substances and sex have also changed accordingly. Some might say I think too much — I guess they are right. However, for me, “over-thinking” has worked out quite well: although I’m still occasionally lost and my existential crisis friend won’t stop hitting me like a big ass meteor destroying a planet at its full speed, I’m getting closer to the person and the life I want. I honestly don’t know what will happen next, where I will be in the next two years or who I will eventually meet but I do have a positive feeling that it will turn out just fine. Even if I will soon be bitchslapped by reality, I’m prepared and I will take it as another opportunity to learn and grow as well as having fun with my life.

A friend once said, “Life can be overwhelming sometimes but that’s a good sign.”

That’s definitely a good sign.

 


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction inspired by true events. All names are fictitious.

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  • George Williams

    A very hard thing to do (speaking for myself) is to separate out being in love with someone vs being in love with my mental/emotional/hormonal construct of that person. At your age your’re supposed to make mistakes, especially if you learn from them, and sometimes regret what you did. However, as you age, your greater regrets will be of that which you didn’t do vs that which you did. So enjoy and experience life and make mistakes as long as the stakes aren’t too high.

    • Hi George, thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree with you completely, especially the part about being in love with the construct of someone instead of who they are. And yes I will try my best 🙂 I hope the same for you!

  • AnhDo

    Living far away from home and your cultures creates opportunities for you to experience moments that you would never have in life without being judged if you lived in Vietnam.

    • an13893@my.bristol.ac.uk

      There’s judgment everywhere, Vietnam or not. That’s in human nature. The thing is how each person chooses to deal with it.