One night I finally said, "That doesn't feel good." The truth was, I wasn't at all comfortable with what he was doing, but I'd never previously interrupted a date to tell him that. Since I didn't even like how things felt, though, critiquing technique seemed a safe first step to escaping before I more seriously compromised my standards. When I ran up to my room, alone, a few minutes later, I was shaken by how far and fast things had moved, but also proud of myself for finally speaking up.
After enough men had quit calling over my abstinence, I took a break from dating. As the months gave way to years, I found myself without even a man to dream about. And though I felt the inward, slowly intensifying drumbeat of fertile urgency, I was fine. I didn't need men's attention to be OK. In fact, all the headspace vacated by romantic daydreams left me more energy for things that brought me to life: music, cooking, reading, knitting, and other adventures.
Then one night my church hosted a salsa dance and a stranger asked me to dance. He was handsome and a decent dancer and before long we were chatting on the sidelines. After a while, he asked if I wanted some fresh air.
As we headed for the parking lot, I felt a sinking feeling inside. He's going to try to kiss me. I just know it.
Friends who know me would probably say I'm expressive. I'm notorious for my sighs, but also my utter lack of a poker face. When my boss told me he and his wife were having another baby, I jumped up and down. And when my housemates and I make up after a squabble, we usually hug. Touch provides a spontaneous language of empathy and affection in nearly all my close relationships.
Yet almost every time a man has kissed or touched me, the acquaintance has still been so new that I hardly feel anything for him except perhaps excitement and a little uncertainty. Sometimes such feelings might prompt me to drum my fingers on a table top or fuss with my hair style, but I have never sought to express excitement or uncertainty by kissing someone or grabbing his hand.
So when we walked out to the parking lot that night, and my salsa-dance partner moved closer and started caressing my neck, I uhmed and faltered, then finally said I wasn't ready to kiss him.
It was awkward. I felt like a loser and a kill-joy. But it was also the most honest I'd ever been about my comfort level. He asked for my number anyway, but I knew he wouldn't use it.
Driving home later, I felt the faint wrench of another chance for romance lost, but it was soon assuaged by something deeper: the satisfaction of finally keeping emotions and actions in sync. That night probably marks a personal feminist high point. It took chastity to get me there.