That time I wasn’t vanilla

My naive theory

Time and time again, I have had to learn the truism that a person’s occupation does not shed light onto their character: a garbage truck driver is not necessarily a dirty old man and a mortician is not likely to be a necrophiliac. While I have no trouble accepting that less glamorous jobs do not imply less pleasant characters, I seem unable to accept the inverse about artists and athletes. It is well documented that many artists throughout the ages have had repulsive or broken characters. It boggles my mind that the ability to create and see beauty does not imply a greater insight or morals than the rest of us. Naive. Similarly, when it comes to elite athletes, I always assume that the discipline and work ethic that is required to make it to the top must indicate a responsible, ethical character. If someone is willing and capable to bike all those miles in the Tour de France over and over again, deal with the drudgery and sacrifices necessary to be an athlete, that person must be honest and hardworking. Ain’t that so, Lance Armstrong?

Growing up in Montreal, and enjoying sports myself, I have been privileged to meet and befriend many athletes, of all levels, and many sports: amateur, national, Olympic and pro athletes; swimmers, boxers and kickboxers, hockey, rugby and football players. I have dated a few. I once went on a couple of dates with a water polo player on the national team, because he liked pickled herring. I love pickled herring, not the most common of favorite foods, so I assumed his preference for this delicacy meant that we were soul mates. It turns out we had almost nothing else in common. Next!

Case study: El Athletico

It started off lightheartedly. Athletico romanced me for several weeks. Some moments were sweet, some were dorky, all of them were fun. I was a snob: I felt our backgrounds were too different, it would never work. I wasn’t ready for anything serious, too busy enjoying the dating scene, with all my amusing trainwrecks. I was standoffish; he was persistent. I eventually gave in, touched that he would think I was worth pursuing for so long.

I experienced my first non-vanilla moment. I was intimidated the first time I saw it: it confirmed a popular racial stereotype. I did not handle that situation with grace. I read up on the topic, to see if my inadequacy could be overcome (my Google history is permanently more “colorful”). The most common advice: relax – difficult to do when you are worried about internal hemorrhaging. Never fear, I learned to enjoy myself. #personalgrowth

The romance quickly dried up, given the very limited quantity of shared interests. We settled into (very) casually seeing each other for a few months. I enjoyed his beautiful body, and the boost to my ego, knowing quite well that the expiration date on this arrangement would sooner or later arrive.

The unexpected expiration date

In the days immediately preceding one of Athletico’s competitions, I reached out to some of his friends, with whom I was slightly acquainted, to see if a group viewing could be arranged. During one such conversation, a girl referred to Athletico as her boyfriend.

Full stop.

My first thought was to not let my dismay show. My impulse was not to say anything to her, to shield her from the fact that her boyfriend was a cheating shit. Never having been faced with anything similar before, I wanted time to think, and figure out the best way to navigate what would undoubtedly be a very messy situation.

Unsurprisingly, I failed in my attempt at moderated facial expressions. An hour later, she messaged me, noting that I had looked surprised when she mentioned Athletico was her boyfriend, was there something she should know?

Unwilling to lie point-blank, I called her and told her. Awful. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I never thought to ask him” does not seem adequate in the circumstances.

The screening for STDs

Needless to say, I decided to get tested for STDs, following that interesting discovery. I dragged myself to the nearest clinic, the longest walk of shame I have ever done. I waited miserably in the waiting room while my mind played a broken record of self-hatred: “Slut, whore, home-wrecker, trash…

The nurse was sweet and business-like, as she asked me an interminable list of questions, including but not limited to:

  • Did you use syringes together?
  • Did he ever have anal sex with another man?
  • Did you guys ever engage in rough sex, exposing each other to the other’s blood?

She summarized: “So the only reason you are at risk is because you were having sex with someone who had multiple sexual partners!” That sounded quite vanilla. I’ll take it.

A few weeks later, I got the call that I was clean. Thank you, Athletico, for not saddling me with any more problems.

The aftermath

He had some of my stuff, which he eventually dropped off at my work. I wanted him to see fancy the lobby of my office building, full of beautiful, corporate, intimidating lawyers and accountants, to see how much I belonged to this fast-paced powerful world, and for him to feel out-of-place – I thought that might even out the dynamic.

I thanked him for my stuff, and turned to leave. But he was too fast for me: in front of the security guards (who had been attempting to stop his access to the building, much to my enjoyment), he stepped back, looked me over, and with an appreciative smirk, told me how hot I looked. I coldly thanked him again, and left.

I’d barely made it back to my desk, totally spent from the effort of appearing calm and unbothered, when the texts started coming in on my phone: crude compliments about how sexy I looked at work.

The next day he left on a romantic getaway trip with his girlfriend.

She is still with him and they seem stronger than ever – clearly, she is better at forgiveness than me. I run into them, occasionally, because the world is a small place, and Montreal is even smaller; I smile and pretend I am not resentful, for her sake. But I am. Every time I see him, I remember that he successfully flattered me with empty words; that I let myself be blinded by a beautiful physique; that he never saw me as a person, only as a hole that would help satisfy his needs; and that by indulging my shallow impulses, I allowed myself to be the unwitting means by which he hurt his girlfriend.

It will be a long time before I stop having uncomfortable recollections.

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