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Everyday through my adolescence, my mother would scream at the top of her lungs to wake me up in time to go to school. As a young adult, I would eventually find myself with six alarm clocks. I sleep soundly and I wake up slowly. One morning I woke up and I had a vague awareness that there was liquid leaking out of my vagina and seeping between my buttocks. My pubic hair was matted together. He’d done it again. I should have felt pissed, furious, enraged. Instead, I only felt tired, burdened. This was the third time in about as many months.

I pulled myself out of bed, walked through the windowless middle room and then through the kitchen, where the vinyl flooring, which covered the entire apartment and could never be cleaned because its shiny coating had long since worn off, was worn entirely through in patches. I crossed the long narrow hallway that ran the entire length of the apartment, where the tin ceiling, black with mold, had been ripped open in search of a leak that was never found by a school teacher friend of the landlord who moonlighted as a handyman. I probably coughed as I walked. As long as I lived in that apartment I had asthma, a disease I had never before had and which mysteriously disappeared after I moved. Three or four years earlier, when we had first arrived, I made enthusiastic attempts to make the place cheerful. Now, it all seemed just like so much wasted effort. The bathroom was carved out of the hallway and was two and a half feet, or seventy-five centimeters, wide. From the beginning, the bathroom seemed like a physical impossibility. Going into the shower, which was so narrow that I could barely raise my arms, to wash off the semen from between my legs, I had the distinct impression that my life was swirling down the drain.

I got out of the shower and toweled off. Stoneface was at work. I worked weekends at a call center and my days off were in the middle of the week. The phone rang. It was Luscious. It was barely half past noon, that was early for her. Something must be up.

“How are you,” she asked.

“Um, okay, I guess.”

“Bullshit. I don’t even know why you try to hide stuff from me. I can always tell. What’s wrong.”

She hated Stoneface. They hated each other, although they both refused to admit it. I was dreading telling her, but I hadn’t told anyone about what had been happening.

In a normal relationship, I would have had a fit the first time it happened, but Stoneface and I had never had a normal relationship. He tried having sex with several women before me, but he lost his erection every time. He tried having sex with men with the same effect. Finally, I came along. He did start to lose his erection the first time, but I was so patient, understanding, sweet and non-judgmental about it, we were able to fuck. However, our entire sexual relationship became about him. I could never be anything other than absurdly gentle, never speak above a whisper. If I did, he would become impotent for a time. I was the strong resilient one and he was the delicate flower. So, the first time it happened, I confronted him, but as quietly and gently as possible. The next time I wasn’t so gentle and I thought we had settled it. Predictably, he was unable to have sex with me for a few weeks after that, and now there was this.

Luscious knew that I was not happy with my sex life, but she didn’t know the details. Many people seemed to think we were both gay and attempting to have a heterosexual relationship despite our natural inclinations. As dysfunctional as that sounds, it would have been a million times easier than what was going on. I never found out what was at the root of Stoneface’s discomfort. I tried to encourage him to go for therapy, but he refused. We probably wouldn’t have had the money if he had wanted to, anyway.

“I woke up this morning with semen between my legs.” I finally blurted out over the telephone.

“You’re saying that like it’s bad…”

“Yeah, well in this case it is. I was asleep.”

“You’ve been raped.” She said, her voice rising with outrage. She was one of those anarchists that was good at being about outraged over anything, so it was more annoying than meaningful.

“Is that the most helpful thing you could think of to say?”

“Well, you sound as if you didn’t know, so I thought someone ought to tell you. If you didn’t consent it was rape.”

“Thank you, but you fucking well know that I know that.”

“I don’t know why you stay with him. Just leave him.”

She didn’t really need to say that. It was pretty clearly going in that direction, but for the time being I was stuck because of a lack of money.

“Do you still use a diaphragm?” She asked.

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t have it in, did you?”

“No. Why would I?”

“Well, that sucks.”

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My attempts to get an exchange going in the comments haven’t been successful, but I’ll try again anyway.

Have you ever had a potential significant other reject you primarily because you were an atheist?

Yesterday, I posted a story about a man. His mother was very much trying to fix us up, with big hints about marriage and grandchildren. It was a long-distance situation and, following a couple of dates, he sent me regular emails. Some of them contained inspirational, spiritual messages. Eventually, I had to tell him that I was an atheist. He cooled dramatically at that point and within a few weeks communication had ceased. Now, he never told me that my atheism was a reason, perhaps he met someone else, but it was the only conflict we had had. Certainly, it didn’t help.

Another time, a man I met at a singles event phoned for a date. As it happens, Easter was that coming weekend and he asked what my family was doing. I said that I was an atheist and no one in my family was religious, so we were doing nothing. He hemmed and hawed and said that he couldn’t fix a specific date at that moment but he would call me back, which he didn’t. Remember, he had phoned me, so this was a major u-turn in the direction of the conversation.

I’m never really sure how much atheism has had an effect on my love life. On the one hand, received wisdom has it that male atheists are more numerous than females and several men have nearly jumped up and down in delight when I’ve said I was also an atheist. On the other hand, atheists are a minority and stereotypical gender roles make it seem to me that it’s easier for atheist men to date theist women than for atheist women to date theist men.

In any case, I’ve had great difficulty maintaining relationships with men who are not atheists even though I’ve tried on several occasions. Usually, things go smoothly for a few months and then the man starts pointing out miracles or times in his life when he feels that God has intervened. Eventually, we start arguing. Theoretically, I don’t care what religion a man is, but, since in the past things have not gone well, over time I’ve come to significantly prefer other atheists.

So, what about you?

I lived in Manhattan. All the trains except the G train go through Manhattan, and in Manhattan the trains are always crowded. For the first few stops into the outer boroughs, the trains still tend to be crowded. Then people start getting off. Occasionally people get on, but mostly they get off. With each stop, there are fewer people until there is no longer a crowd but just some individuals.

One day, I was on I don’t remember which train going I don’t remember where, but I was on a train which wasn’t one I typically took heading to the outer boroughs where I didn’t typically go. It was one of the trains where the seats were two lines of benches facing each other. We rolled deep into the outer boroughs. Eventually, there were only a few other people in the car and there was a couple sitting across from me. Two young people. I would guess them to be about twenty-one or twenty-two. The woman was asleep, her head resting on her boyfriends shoulder. Her boyfriend looked down at her, and, with great gentleness so as not to wake her, brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen across her face.

I was charmed by the couple who were unaware my presence. Then, without warning, I began to feel very melancholy. A young man once stole a car to see me. Another would hitchhike from Canada to New York City. A man once threatened to throw acid in my face if I didn’t marry him. I’ve known plenty of passion from men, but never tenderness.

I made a couple of references recently to a friend who no longer returns my emails. I didn’t write any details about him because, I’ve always had the feeling that he was a private person and wouldn’t appreciate any obvious references, even though I’d never use his name, or anyone else’s, without permission.

Since he was the last close friend I had on whom I could rely, this leaves me without any substantial emotional support besides my sister. This evening, I was half-tempted to reach out to a few people I don’t know well in an attempt to… well, honestly, I don’t know. An attempt at reaching out for the sake of reaching out, I suppose. So, I guess this blog is a weird mess of different stuff anyway, so some awkward emotional self-exposure couldn’t harm it any.

We met through a dating site. My experiences on dating sites have been far worse than my experiences dating the old-fashioned way. That wasn’t what I expected. At first, I thought internet dating would be perfect for me and I was the first among my friends to try it when there was still a stigma attached. Oddly enough, that period was actually okay, if not as great as I’d hoped. You see, there are a few ways in which I am not in the big fat middle of the bell curve and I thought that the internet, by allowing a person to contact  more people than only those in one’s own narrow socio-economic, and regional, group, would allow me to meet people who may share some of my less common characteristics. Okay, as long as I’m confessing to embarrassing things, I might as well admit that I once joined Mensa because I was lonely. Okay. Whew. That’s a lot off my chest. Please don’t hate me because I used to belong to Mensa.

Yeah, so I thought that the internet might be a way to meet some really smart guys who might just also be available, and I might even be able to weed out the ones who just want to hold hands and cuddle without having to date them for six months first.

Well, since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why internet dating works so poorly, and if anybody with the requisite skills would like to collaborate on trying to create a totally different type of dating site based on some crazy notions I have, there’s a contact form on my about page, although I should tell you that everyone to whom I’ve described my idea says that we’d get no users. Anyway, back to me…

One of the problems with dating sites is that you have to put down a whole list of requirements, height, weight, age, hair color, eye color and… location. So, I put down “anywhere,” which perhaps isn’t quite true, but it has enough of an element of truth. There are probably places I wouldn’t go for anyone, but for the right person I could go pretty far, especially now that I’ve gained experience and have realized how few and far between those right people are. One of the people who kept popping up on the little list of “people you might want to meet” was a programmer/journalist from Germany a couple of years older than I was whose profile made me laugh a little. Prior to internet dating, many of the men I dated were younger. After the rise of the internet, when your age would be pasted right next to your face, I found that approaching a man who was born six seconds after I was would get me a response of, “You seem wonderful and I bet you’ll meet a wonderful man soon, however, I want to meet a younger woman.” Actually, I’ve gotten that from men as much as ten years my senior, all the while being approached by guys fifteen years younger in person. Now, why couldn’t any of those young ones have had something in common with me? Meanwhile, this guy had something about age I could relate to. He wrote something to the effect of, “Your IQ must be at least 120 plus our age difference.” That might sound weird, but that’s a little bit how I feel about it, although I might say 135 plus our age difference. I’m not against dating older or younger men, but the further they get from my age, the more we need to have in common. If a sixty year old man, or forty, sends me an email saying, “You’re cute. Let’s meet,” I think to myself, “Let’s not.” However, if someone the same age sends an email saying, “We have X, Y and Z in common,” then I think it’s great. Also, since there was no upper limit on IQ, I figured it implied smarter was better. Men who feel that way frequently like me, so I was encouraged. So, I wrote. Actually, I wrote, “Boy, you’re easy.”

He wrote back.

Partly, I kept writing because the men in New York City who were contacting me seemed to be demanding to a crazy extent. I wasn’t tall enough, rich enough, young enough, educated enough- why date a kinda cute girl  (well, middle-aged woman) next door when there are so many twenty-year old neurosurgeons who moonlight as exotic dancers just waiting to cater to all the emotional and sexual needs of a horde of IT professionals who realized at forty that playing hard to get isn’t a good idea when no one’s chasing you… but I digress.

So, M. seemed, by comparison, relatively normal. He was vulnerable, imperfect and grumpy by his own admission. He only had one photo posted, and that was a head on shot that showed nothing but his face. In fact, it looked like an id photo might look, although it wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t hideous, but it wasn’t enough information for my interest to be based primarily on his appearance.

So, did I actually think something romantic could develop with a man living on another continent? Yeah, I confess, I did. You see, I’m not that into monogamy, although I confess I haven’t given it much thought in a few years. However, the idea of having a man who was a friend and lover, yet seeing him once or twice a year, was not in the least bit inconceivable to me. I can conceive of many things. I don’t have a preconceived notion of what a relationship should be.

Our early emails, and by early I mean the first six months, were beyond flirtatious. We had very frank discussions about what we would be willing to do with a partner in bed. There were even a couple of things he told me he had always wanted to try but none of his previous girlfriends were willing. I told him that, if we ever met, we I would try them with him. For the record, one was something I’ve done and another was something I haven’t done.

As I already said, I could see that he wasn’t perfect, and he had been single for an unusually long time. Meanwhile, I continued to write to other men and go out on the occasional date.

Finally, I asked if he would like to visit me in New York. I did phrase it as a chance to visit New York and stay with a friend, mainly because “fly to the other side of the ocean and see if we find each other physically attractive” seemed a bit high pressured. I figured, once he arrived we could play it by ear. I’m at least as good as the average person at telling if someone is interested in me and I could trust myself to not throw myself at him in a way that would make us both dreadfully uncomfortable. In fact, with me, and I suspect with M. as well, if there’s a danger it could be that we might each be too reticent.

He wrote and told me that he did not like to fly and an eight or nine-hour flight to New York sounded like pure torture. However, there was no reciprocal invitation and he didn’t sound exactly filled with regret. Suddenly, it hit me, the painful way it only does when you realize it though disappointment, that I had developed quite a degree of affection for him. I called it a crush, because I didn’t know what other word to use. “In love” is too specific. Without meeting in person, I don’t know if I could truly fall in love. In any case, I suddenly realized that the possibility of anything more romantic than our flirtatious emails was highly unlikely. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed and wondered if it was too painful to be friends. I think I might have cried a couple of days in a row and then I decided that I could work through this disappointment and we could, in fact, be friends. Over the course of the next year, the flirtatiousness faded to the background, although every once in a while it would return.

That was four or five years ago. We have continued to write frequently, although the regularity has varied. There have been times that he’s fallen silent for a long time, but when I’ve written to ask if he was okay, he’ll write a short note saying that he’s fine but work is busy, etc. He suffers from depression and I do worry a little, although he hasn’t had a major episode in years.

So what events could have led up to this recent rupture? Since he hasn’t written, if something has occurred on his end, I can’t know. I was long, very long, in returning an email to him. When I finally did, I did not hear from him quickly, but that in itself was no surprise. Then I wrote an email asking if he was okay. No response. Then I wrote another that was a little bit more blase and chatty. No response. Then I wrote a pleading one. Then an angry one. Then, this evening, I wrote a whiny, tearful, pathetic one. If he had asked me to stop, I’d be bordering on being a stalker.

It’s been too long now for him to be on vacation.

Is he alive? Is he ill? Those sound too melodramatic and feel too much like denial.

So, basically, I feel as if I lost my best friend.