The 10-year anniversary of the NYC summer blackout reminded me that this date is actually quite significant to me. Not only did I have (blackout facilitated, I’d say) sex for the first time that night, but it’s also the anniversary of my immigrating to the United States. What’s even more uncanny is that the guy I had sex with that night had the same immigration anniversary. I don’t mean just the date. The year was the same, too.
Of course, I took this to mean something at the time. And of course part of the reason I finally gave it up to this college boyfriend, when I was 20, after all my Catholic “I-have-to-wait-till-marriage” hang-ups, had something to do with believing that these coincidences added up to “fate.”
I was working at a job in Queens that summer, when I still lived with my parents in Brooklyn. I’d go to his place often after work, but never stayed the night (my parents were overprotective. I was trying to keep my virginity intact, etc.) He was the one in my introductory post who kept saying, “let’s get naked” for months before the blackout.
That night, when the power went out at my office and we were all sent home around 5 p.m., I had nothing to do but walk to his house, as the trains weren’t even running. The power outage continued throughout the night and into the next day. Public transportation had shut down. Even most cell phones weren’t working. The traffic lights were out so getting a cab home was impossible, too. And everything had essentially “conspired” for me to stay there that night and finally “get naked” with Alex*.
He poured us some red wine and made dinner with candlelight. There was steak and mashed potatoes (some of my favorite things!). He introduced me to Pink Floyd. And, after months of foreplay, I had finally (gasp!) gone all the way. I didn’t enjoy it that night. It hurt and felt awkward. But I didn’t feel terrible about it on a moralistic level, so I kept doing it. I enjoyed it later, of course. And I still believed that, given the alignment of these dates, this had to somehow be destiny and that this guy had to be “it.”
He wasn’t it, obviously, and I’m not writing this with any kind of nostalgia or remorse. We just grew apart over time. He claimed he was too old to go out and dance, or do anything remotely fun, at 26. I’m 30 now and I’m still dancing, so that clearly wouldn’t have worked. His idea of fun was obsessing with solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle and, after he did, showing it to me over and over again, as well as filming the top of my head or the door knob in slow motion, while playing Pink Floyd in the background and calling these things abstract films. He was smart, but he spent a lot of his intellectual energies on spouting endless philosophical theories on finance, religion, mathematics and everything in between. This was interesting to a point, but eventually the constant mental masturbation became a bit much.
We were on and off again for a year or so and finally stopped seeing each other after one awkward morning in bed together.
“Why do you like me so much?” he asked.
“I kind of …don’t,” I said.
And, yet, there is this strange three-pronged coincidence that remains. I tuned into an episode of This American Life earlier this year that talked about coincidences. “A coincidence is a surprising concurrence of events that seems meaningfully related with no apparent causal connection,” is a definition that Sarah Koenig shared on that podcast. “It’s that middle part–‘meaningfully related’—that people seem to get stuck on, because when events line up just so, you can’t help but wonder if there is a message in that. Coincidences are like shortcuts to very big questions, about fate, about God, even to people who don’t believe in them. The notion that there is some one or some thing out there that’s paying attention to your life,” she said.
I no longer feel like Alex and I were “meant to be,” because, well, we’re not. But then again, if such things as fate or destiny exist then maybe they mean something different than what we imagine them to mean. We always expect that fate/destiny should relate to the big things in life, e.g. finding your soul mate (if such a thing exists) or finding your dream job/vocational calling or some big moment of eureka/epiphany where everything suddenly makes sense. But maybe fate/destiny (and the coincidences that make them seem plausible) are also about the small things. Maybe, if fate exists, then every step of the way is meant to guide you to your ultimate destiny.
Maybe I was supposed to meet Alex, who was attractive, smart, kind and consistent (a quality most people I had dated before him lacked) enough to make me finally throw in the towel and fall in love with him (cause of course I had to be in love with him, or tell myself that I was, in order to justify finally giving it up for him). Maybe the coincidence of the dates was meant to make it seem meaningful, so I would finally “get naked” with him. He was the gateway drug to sex for me. And I was glad he opened that door. And if God exists, I don’t, for a second, believe that sex is somehow “wrong” and will land you in hell. What’s wrong is being dishonest about your intentions, using people and hurting them. The sex rule (and all the other rules) are invented just so we can avoid doing this. But if you’re an intelligent, compassionate person, you can have sex and do lots of other things without hurting anyone.
Alex wasn’t “the one” and, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have wanted him to be. Now that I’ve had multiple sexual experiences, with both genders, as well as transgendered people, attended sex parties and explored kink, I’m grateful for all those experiences and everything they’ve taught me (emotionally and physically) and wouldn’t, at all, have wanted the first guy I slept with to be the last. Nor can I envision meeting anyone else at that time in my life that could have opened that door for me, so I’m grateful to him that he did.
“God is coincidence.” –L.H.
“A good coincidence is like a good magic trick, when you see one, a struggle ensues instantaneously between the thrill of the apparent miracle and the urge to debunk it.” –Sarah Koenig.
* name has been changed