Slowing Down to Make a Connection

My name is Adam Hwang. I’m a 19 year old college student and I am demisexual.

First off, let’s get something out of the way: I love sex, every inch and drop of it. Sex is a release of tension, a key to what makes us human and a  gateway into self expression. But to me, sex has become an abstract concept, despite it being the most raw and natural activity anyone could partake in.

As I’ve grown and matured, especially in my later teenage years, sex began to change for me.

For years after losing my virginity, sex was as simple as could be to me. Whether if it was with a man or a woman, I never had second thoughts about my pleasure nor did I really fathom the connection between emotions and sex. Then came college.

I saw college as an opportunity to start things from scratch. I wanted to try new things, meet new people and of course have as much sex as possible. Little did I know that these experiences would cause an awakening that I didn’t see coming.

To my surprise, hitting a “home-run” became a challenge. It felt as though a change in my body happened overnight. I cannot count how many times that an intimate experience fizzled out because I couldn’t get started. It didn’t matter how attractive I thought a person was, whenever we got to the bedroom, I just wasn’t getting excited. I lost myself in self loathing and I began to fear sex and especially commitment, despite having been in a few serious relationships and feeling as though I knew how to handle these situations mentally.

I felt like I was failing as a man because I felt I wasn’t meeting the standards of what a real man should be.

For about a year I accepted this placebo induced falsehood. Everything changed when I met a woman named Vanessa at my summer job. To make a long story short, we hit it off and went on a couple dates, it had been a long time since I felt such a connection with someone emotionally. She understood me even though I didn’t understand myself.

One night she came to my apartment and we started running singles, doubles and triples. Let me tell you, I never felt so sexually charged in a long time. This was the night I found myself. From that point on I knew what turned me on – a connection.

But what sets demisexualism apart from an individual who likes to take things slow?

Whereas most people who like to take things slow share similar qualities to a demisexual individual, their main difference comes in attraction. Sexual attraction doesn’t manifest itself until an emotional connection is strong enough. Hookups and one night stands are out of the picture. We need to completely immerse ourselves in each other’s emotions to achieve sexual interactions. This not only takes more time but also narrows down our options.

But that’s not a problem because it makes it all the more special when we find that special person. Demisexuality is a very complicated concept, but to me, it’s summarized best by the term “an eye for an eye.” If I give you my heart and you give me yours, we can fuck all night long.

Suddenly, all of the smoke had cleared. To me, great sex isn’t qualified by what I do with the person sharing my bed but rather who that person is. I always knew that there was something missing from my sex life and that was self reflection. However, even when I came to terms with my sexuality, I still couldn’t help feeling self conscious about how people would perceive my sexuality, especially my partners. I was still scared of not being the man I thought I should be rather than focusing on the man I want to be.

Since then, I’ve learned that, as a man, one of the best things you could do for yourself  is to filter out what the world thinks a man should be. The manliest thing you could do is to define your masculinity through who you are as an individual. Masculinity is everything but an objective concept.

Another one of my struggles that comes with being demisexual is sometimes you can feel very restricted in relation to other peoples sex lives, especially when you are young and free. You feel like you’re being left behind because everyone else is moving forward. It’s tough finding the “one” person to truly be able to allow themselves to be not only physically and mentally involved but also emotionally, most people are hard pressed in terms of being emotionally available.

Some people just don’t like taking things slow and those people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Being demisexual is difficult when the world is moving past you at lightspeed – but there will always be someone who is willing to slow down for you.



Photo by Gabriela Velasco


Hoarding Hurt

I think admiration is dangerous.

The thought first came to life on a bench in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. My lips on a cigarette that I had no use for anymore. Holding on to the worst part of someone somehow felt better than letting them go. Pores of people all around me soaked up the sorrowful smoke, sounds around me shrunk into tiny echoes, and I was alone, and no beautiful fog hazed memory could change that. 

Trying to condition myself into a realization that it was the unanticipated end of an era had only worked so well. My heart still hadn’t forgotten the rush and pull I felt when his hand first dropped a cigarette in mine. Untouched beauty and tragedy rolled into a gesture. Moments like those, I lived for. 

I never once craved the feeling of a smoke. The only thing I ached for was an attempt to substitute him with the feeling he gave me. It was a sappy thing but it made sense then. Hoarding his habit in hopes he’d remember me with every puff, the way I remembered him. 

I still wonder: at what point is there nothing left except for the nostalgia I create for myself? In my phone I store a keepsake list of crushes and songs that remind me of them. I listen and lust over my missed connections, losing hope every bit of the way. Ultimately, there’s no reason for it, but it’s easy to prefer the past over the present. Getting tangled up in our dead and buried romances and our happy-go-lucky reminiscences only creates pseudo happiness; momentary joy followed by hours of brooding. 

But still, knowing this, there I was, on a pier with my friends, Marlboro Lights in between our fingers, pain in my chest. Guilty, I felt guilty. This wasn’t what I wanted for any of us. Had I known earlier that it was easier to become addicted to the “once upon a time”s than to the actual nicotine, I would have never confused the two; never let the blueness of his eyes imply the blackening of my lungs. Had I been wounding one part of myself to numb the aching of another?

Once again in isolation I stared out onto the water, feeling nothing but a slash across my chest with every plucked guitar slide in my earbuds.The cigarette reminded me of one missed connection while “Sarah” by Ween blasting in my ears made me miss another boy from time ago. I wanted to be back In that car, back in his arms, back in any of their arms. 

All I had to do to bring myself back to where I’d once been, was scroll through my playlists and play the melancholy melodies of the month that I was missing. This time it was August. Ah, yes… August: I’d almost forgotten the outward rush of hot air from every grate in New York City. The heat that matched my momentary warmth when I heard him speak my name for the first time. Something typically ordinary felt so personal. And by the end of summer, my body really had melted. I felt my heart drip onto my stomach and my lungs collapse into my thighs. Melodramatic – I definitely was, but in all fairness, a thing is only brought to remembrance when it is called to remembrance. And recollection was to me, what Heroine was to Lou Reed (or to any heroine addict, perhaps). 

All things must come to an end though; good things, bad things, all things. A year of continuous heartbreak and I hadn’t cried once, till this moment. With no time to dream it was over, I hadn’t realized just how over it all was. Playing tricks on my body so I wouldn’t feel the impact of being left on my lonesome in the midst of every moment of happiness I’d found, was completely deleterious.

No wonder I couldn’t stop living in the past, I hadn’t processed the dead beat-ness of every missed connection I’d made. But to me those past connections weren’t considered missed yet; there was still hope.

I thought that If the hope hadn’t been lost on my part, then the other person always had the opportunity to rejoin me and start up where we had left off. My transient weakness was something I felt I had to be embarrassed about, but really this was the strongest I had been all year. Letting myself feel was not weak, but overindulging in practices that were imprisoning me, was. The more I sobbed on the stairs of my home, the more I realized It wasn’t just that one boy who caused this inner deterioration, nor was it all the other people that let me down and let me go in earlier years, It was myself. I hadn’t let myself feel, breathe, and accept my present boy-less state. No, I couldn’t get him back. No, I didn’t have to hold on to his bad habit. Yes, I would have to deal with it. I had pent up my hurt in playlists, cigarette smoke, and daily sulks.

But truth be told: hurt is almost impossible to mask. That night, I let go of all of it; the sweet smell of last summer, the way I felt as tall as him when we laid side by side, the way he called me beautiful; not cute.  I knew I couldn’t erase my past, but I certainly would not be trying to relive it anymore. 

The smoke cleared out and finally, I could see his evanescence; how it always lingered behind all of his inimitable whim-whams and seemingly candid words. I woke up one day and every moment was a fleeting moment; every seed once planted was now a daisy, dried up and defunct. The only thing remaining was the memory; my memory

But still, I knew… if the next boy’s stare was gripping enough, I would gladly suffer through it all again. 


Photo by Lucy Welsh

Becoming Fluent in Love

If love is a language then I don’t understand it.

I can’t sympathize with those in love because I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the feeling. Even if I were to feel it, would I know I was feeling it? The word “love” is so personal, so subjective. What if I’ve been basing my definition of love off someone else’s? 

It isn’t really a question, I know that’s what we are all doing. 

I’ve always learned the meaning of a feeling after already going through the motions of it. When I first cried, I was comforted. When I first laughed, someone laughed along. But this raved about, hazy state of passion and sexual desire has always lived on the other side of the screen, hiding on the next page of a story book, waiting to be read about, never in my reach, sometimes scripted, always somebody else’s: this love thing has been getting under my skin since the eighth grade. I know I’m not the only one embroidered with the side effects of this subconscious peer pressure. 

I’ve patted the backs of pouty girls at my lunch tables for years. I’ve listened to them sulk and partake in pathetic conversations about this faux loneliness they’ve created for themselves. I have to admit, in the beginning I was very much an active member of these lonely lady luncheons, but one random day I lifted my head off the shoulder of the girl beside me and looked up for a moment, shocked at the sight of a room full of people. How could someone so lonely as myself be surrounded by so many living, breathing bodies? And yes, I really had been soaking someone’s shirt, while sobbing about not having a shoulder to lean on.

I don’t know if I have fallen in love yet. But I’m scared that my version of love isn’t what’s being advertised to me. Is love a universal feeling or is it only made to feel that way?

Lines often times get blurred in the land of romance. Even smaller signs of affection are difficult to decipher. How can we tell the difference between plain attraction and true feelings? Well, at first we can’t. But then we leave it up to body language, words, and signs to figure it out. If they kiss you on the first date then they must not be serious right? But maybe that thought never even crossed their mind. One person’s definition of “love” is another person’s definition of a fling. That’s just how it is. Whether they’re emotional or sexual, everyone has preferences, and those preferences change everything. 

I’ve felt intensely for a few boys throughout the years, but never considered those feelings to be love. Now, being a little older with a bit more experience, I realize I can come to love someone platonically after only knowing them for a short time. My Love for someone is often birthed on the night we first meet. But if this “love” wasn’t the friendly type, it would be labeled as lust.

So how do I know I haven’t been in love before? Maybe I have. Maybe I’ve just been hiding behind my age and assumed immaturity to distance myself from the reality that: love can be whatever I want it to be. Love can be comfort and convenience and passion, and even sorrow. 


Photo by Adriana Electra


Not Every Ending is Bad

Almost two months ago, I was in my car — a two-time broken down 2001 Subaru Outback, sitting in rush-hour traffic and confiding in a friend. 

I told him everything in my life had just changed over the past few days, and I didn’t know what to do next. He told me, blatantly but softly, something I will never forget. Quoting the TV show Frasier, he said, “Emma, you’re not mourning the loss of your relationship so much as you’re mourning the death of what you thought your life would be.”

And in that moment, hitting me like a ton of bricks — it made sense.

At the beginning of the summer, I thought my life was going to be completely different. I had planned it a certain way, with a certain person. But yet, a month into living in a new city, I was all by myself. I hardly knew anyone, except for a few co-workers. 

I looked around at the apartment we moved into together — so many dreams and future plans. I look where his clothing sat, and the kitchen where he made me breakfast every morning. I see the bed that was once “ours” and I see us intertwined together in it. I remember the mornings, where we’d both sit in silence as the sun rose, thinking this could be my life forever.

But then, just like that, it wasn’t my forever. 

Now, I sit in my overly hot apartment, like Carrie Bradshaw, minus the famous curls and designer clothing, as I write this. A 21-year-old with the world as her feet. It is terrifying. After an extremely difficult year filled with hardships via work, school, mental health, just being young, etc. this was the last thing I wanted.

But for whatever reason, it’s the most uncomfortable scenarios that always seems to be best for us. 

When my relationship ended, I didn’t know what I liked anymore, what made me happy, what my goals were, who I wanted to be or what kind of people I liked hanging out with. I felt like a cardboard box. Stale. Empty. 

My relationship, though I gloated about it on social media, wasn’t healthy. But I never wanted to admit it. Me? A girl who always stands up for herself was in a toxic relationship? It couldn’t be. But sadly, it was. Unhealthy, one-sided, and at times, our partnership took the life out of me. But it wasn’t something I ever wanted to walk away from. I was so scared to be alone. I told myself that despite all the bad, there was some good. And wanted to hold onto it for dear life, no matter the cost. 

But it ended. And to my surprise, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

This is the first time in more than a year that my life has been about me. Just me. What do I want for dinner? What am I doing this weekend? What movie do I want to watch on Netflix? And to be honest, it has been amazing to not have to compromise on anything for someone. 

I began painting — I never saw myself as artistic, but somehow it’s working for me (kind of.) I started watching my favorite movies, I made new friends, I started doing everything on my own again. I danced around my apartment like no one was watching.

When he left, I felt like the weakest person in the world. I couldn’t stand any type of upset in my life — it would crush me. But now, I’m beginning to remember that person who got lost on the inside. And there is something so freeing about being young and remembering who you are.

In high school, I dreamt about who I wanted to be: 20 something, living on her own in a new city, paying all her own bills, and doing what she loved — writing.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. 

But yet, it doesn’t always feel like how you think it would when you get to the “finish line.” It kind of feels like it just happened, and you ended up here. But that’s the thing we forget in the spiral of life: It never happens how we plan it, and we tend to not be in the moment for it when we should.

Recently, since the anxiety in my life seemed to subside with the absence of a certain someone, I find myself living in the moment more. I notice the woman at the store with her young son and the joy he brings her. I converse with the cashier and exchange laughter with them. See, when you’re tangled up in a situation, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least that’s how I saw it. You don’t feel the need to connect with others, or build new relationships because you feel like you already have everything you need. But in reality, you could be missing out on so much.

And this is not me being a relationship hater or a #SingleGirlSwag activist, because hey — if you’re happy in your relationship, all the power to you. But for the rest of us, who are young, naive, and still figuring this out — let us have this moment.

I remember being 17 and feeling like I knew everything. Then again at 19 when I got my heart broken for the first time, but now at 21, I know for certain, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. And that’s the beauty in it all. There’s so much to learn, to see and to experience.

If someone told me a few months ago how my life would be in this present moment, I would have kicked and screamed, done anything I could to avoid it. Now, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a reason people continue to say century after century, “everything happens for a reason.” Because it does. In the moment of being sad, stubborn, heartbroken, and angry — we don’t want to believe it. But it’s real. What happened made me find my independence again. The unthinkable, the one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything because I was in love. And at the end of the day, love is great. It’s breathtaking. But when you don’t know yourself, when you don’t love yourself and when you’re not strong on your own, it’s a vice. And it can take you down in an instant.

So be on your own. Deal with the unthinkable — or probably what is the inevitable. It’s going to happen either way. But choose how you deal with it. Because more than likely, it will be liberating. 

I’ve now realized that there’s nothing more powerful than an independent, strong woman who has finally realized her worth. Be that woman. 


Photos by Adriana Electra. Gifs by Jacqueline Jing Lin. 


Why is Monogamy the Default?

I don’t have an end game when dating.

I enjoy it and like meeting new people and learning different perspectives. I’m open to different dynamics and connections. Often times, however, I question what I’m looking for when I go on dates. I don’t see myself abiding to the institution of marriage. Similarly, I don’t have a desire to have children. I’ve found comfort in my independence. I’m financially stable with a full-time job. I masturbate regularly. I have a plethora of hobbies and an active social life that fill up my calendar. I have endless amounts of love and support from my family and friends. There’s not much a romantic partner could give me that I already don’t have. So when the guy I’m dating asks me, “what are you looking for?”

I often say, “nothing at all.”

Kevin told me, “I’m not looking for anything serious,” after we hooked up the first night we met. It was nothing of real concern to me. I was seeing multiple guys at the time — fucking some, dating some, talking with some. All different dynamics, but all equally valuable to me. All deserving of my respect and kindness. It was comforting to know they were all humans looking for connection. Just like me. I gave each and every one of them my honesty. I made my intentions clear and was receptive to their thoughts and feelings. I genuinely cared about their health and happiness. 

One night after a few drinks and a night in my bed, Kevin admitted to liking me. I had to confess I was into him, too. We were always on the same wavelength, he made me laugh, and the sex was great. It felt easy and light-hearted. Our mutual emotions were an added benefit, but it was clear from the beginning that neither of us were looking for a serious romantic relationship.

When Kevin and I decided to only see each other, I thought it was out of convenience. Dating multiple people, while fun and insightful, was exhausting. I was tired of coordinating my schedule, spreading my attention, and constantly managing my sex health (condoms and clinic visits are expensive). I wasn’t opposed to investing my energy into one person. After all, I liked Kevin. I enjoyed his company and the way he touched me. That was enough for me. 

Our monogamy lasted less than two weeks. He drunk dialed me one night in distress, claiming he liked me but wasn’t “ready for a relationship.”

I was confused. I didn’t think we were in a “relationship.” I didn’t see him as my “boyfriend.” I didn’t think about our future together. I just liked spending time with him. Here and now.

I told him this over and over again. For me, being monogamous only meant we were loyal to each other. Choosing to be exclusive was more an action of logistics rather than love. I had only known him for a couple of months and felt we were still trying to figure out what was between us. I cared about him. I wanted to hear about his day. I wanted to add ease and relief to his work week. I wanted to include him in my fun and loving friend group. It’s in my nature to give anyone I care about those things; it didn’t mean anything more than that. I had done this with a handful of other guys I was non-exclusively seeing. Being kind and nurturing automatically meant something real and serious to him.

Kevin is not the first guy to mistake my openness for romance. A majority of my dating life has been this way. When I’m into someone, I want to give them my affection and attention. And it comes effortlessly to me because I want them to be happy and appreciated. I’m not thinking long-term about what it means to give someone my intimacy because I’m not looking for a partner. But it is consistently misinterpreted that way.

As a heterosexual woman in our heternormative society, it is expected of me to want a long-term monogamous relationship. I don’t. I like intimacy. I like connection. I’m willing to invest in people without the expectation of an outcome because I just enjoy spending time with them. And I’m accepting of the end when our time together reaches its limit. I recognize that people’s paths divide most of the time. That’s life. 

I don’t believe I’m an anomaly. As our culture becomes more socially aware and strives for gender equality, women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life. Our culture claims to welcome women to deprioritize motherhood and marriage, but there’s still a disconnect in our dating culture.

Women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life.

Stepping out of that gender expectation is confusing to the guys I date. Even when I tell them I’m not looking for a long-term serious relationship, they still assume my actions are leaning towards one. I’m left with frustration because expectations and assumptions are made about relationships before they organically form. 

In a way, I get it. As much as humans crave love, we’re more afraid of getting hurt than being open to others. Sometimes we want to categorize people to protect ourselves. These roles are so deeply embedded in our head. We’re so used to these gender scripts that we hold them to be true. It takes work to unlearn and most people aren’t willing to take the time to do it.

But I won’t minimize my heart to fit into the social norm. I won’t make myself smaller to get people to understand me. Caring is the foundation in all of my connections. It makes me vulnerable and takes energy, but it’s worth it because it leads me to authentic and genuine people.

I won’t reserve that for monogamous relationships. 


Photos (in order of appearance) by Nikki Burnett, Dariana Portes, and Alyse Mazyck


Summer in New York

To whomever it concerns,

Bittersweet. That was the way my friend Christopher had described it to me as we sat in the middle of New York City. Bryant Park, specifically. He defined what I had been talking about and wondering myself. He asked me why I loved the person I did when it brought me both joy and sadness.

“Something to wallow in,” I said.

I loved him. More than I could say, more than I can even write about now. I thought I had fallen in love before — but not in this way. I’d fall for cities and people.

I’m originally from Los Angeles, but New York City has always been my dream. I graduated college and planned on moving to a different area code. In the middle of June, I landed in Manhattan.

In college, I had one serious relationship. That relationship consumed most of my undergrad years and taught me what I did not want in a relationship or partner. It also brought me the most defining heartbreak I had up until that point — until the following year.

I dated a little, as in by the third date we would fuck then never speak again. It was hard for me to find intimate moments with people I had no attraction to beyond their exterior. It’s also very hard for me to want to continue seeing one person, as I’m easily distracted and have what you may call a terrible case of what if there’s someone better out there? syndrome.

Later in that same year of the disastrous heartbreak with my long-term college boyfriend, I tried to be more open to dating. During that time, I found someone — or rather they found me and everything changed.

I actually had met him before, but unfortunately, we didn’t have much time together; he was only visiting New York. I wouldn’t see him again until the next fall. Unlike most sudden affinities, this did not go away. Immediately after our initial interaction, I realized how much I liked this person. And for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t because I wanted to fill my empty spaces of time with someone. It wasn’t about their appearance, but because of them. Their entirety. It felt too good to be true.

But by the time we started talking frequently again and became physical with one another, I began to realize that I was falling deeply in love with a person who would never feel the same way. By December, I finally admitted the way I had been feeling after too many tequila shots in a bar far away from him.

I was told, “I’m not looking for anything right now.”

He had missed the point completely. My expression of love for him was not to convince him that I should be his girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even want to be his girlfriend. It was to tell him, “You’re something so important to me and losing you in any way at this point would absolutely tear me apart.” In other words, I can’t stop thinking about you and I don’t even want to try not to and I just want you to know that.

But he didn’t understand, and I’m not mad about it.

I fell madly in love with someone who I can now call one of my dearest friends. I could barely keep eye contact — if he ever looked at me the same time I looked at him I couldn’t linger on for more than ten seconds. I would be swallowed by what was between the two of us.

I felt as though I could be around him forever; never tire of seeing him, hearing him, or feeling him. I still can recall exactly what his hair would smell like after he showered and the way his skin felt in the sun. He was always so warm. And if he walked into the same room as me, the Frank Ocean’s line “Wish we grew up on the same advice and our time was right,” would play in my head.

We graduated from our university and as we separated I left him with a three-page long letter confessing my love. Not because he hadn’t heard it before, but because I wanted him to have it in writing.

Then, I started to look for new cities to live in. I spend the beginning of June in Spain contemplating my future. I then end up across the Atlantic back in the states in New York. I go there to meet up with my possible Brooklyn roommate. I always loved the East Coast, so I figured to try it out for a bit. While I was in the city, the boy who I had fallen so in love with was also there. Perhaps against my better judgement, we decided to meet in Lower Manhattan.

We spent the entire day and then the following evening together. I had never felt so deeply for someone as I looked over my shoulder to him lying in Central Park next to me. He was so close yet so far away. Although everything seemed perfect in that moment I knew as soon as I would
leave the city, it would all be gone.

I’ll never forget our night in Brooklyn, and I’ll return to this memory for the rest of my life. We shared a few drinks, some more of our thoughts on similar interests, and then we walked in Domino Park for most of the evening. It was so warm, around 75 degrees at midnight. The clouds had slowly rolled in from the south and as we looked up at the Williamsburg Bridge and over the water onto the Manhattan skyline. It was beginning to drizzle but we didn’t mind. We continued to walk along the river and share the evening. I remember slowly reaching for his hand as we stood side by side gazing at the traffic. It was the hum on the water that consisted of a few boats and the ferry that takes you back and forth from the city to the quieter streets of Brooklyn. I remember the way he grabbed my hand back and as we started to kiss in the summer rain, my heart swelled and sank even more.

I never wanted it to end. In the separated seconds of pressing our mouths to one another, I felt the sadness of everything when we stopped. As he looked at me and as I saw the lights of Manhattan behind him, I wanted to scream at him, “How can you not feel the same way?”

I mean, we were in New York, it was summer, it was raining, and we were kissing. If this wasn’t enough of a magical package of the best feelings to convince him we should be together, then I knew there was no convincing that could work. It was the way he felt. And although I respected it, I didn’t understand the way he could compartmentalize his feelings and moments with me into categories labeled “platonic.”

A few days later, I left New York. I haven’t seen him since.

But before that, I met with Christopher to have coffee after a morning of suffering a serious hangover. As we sat in Bryant Park, he asked me about this person and the past two nights we spent together. He asked me why I let myself fall in love with someone who showed no real want for me.

I couldn’t explain it. It was like I was addicted to it. I was so in love with him but also okay with the pain it brought me. I knew that no matter what I did or said, I would never be to him what he is to me. Once again he described our latest interaction as “bittersweet” because despite the happiness, it did not come alone. The sadness still lingered as I recalled his words of disbelief for my feelings for him and unreciprocated actions and words of affirmation.

That last night with him in Brooklyn was the closure I needed; he could only give me these small doses of intimacy that were not consistent with the rest of our interactions.

Although I have never stopped loving him, I have finally stopped wishing things would change. He still hinders my ability to want or try to be with other people — that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. I don’t want to see another sunset without him, I don’t want to go back to the city and know he is not there. But I will. It’s the only way I can go on without feeling as if I was carrying a brick on my chest.

I still haven’t spent a full summer in New York, but the days I visited in June felt like an entire summer wrapped up into one. Although I am still in my early 20s and have so much life ahead of me, I can’t help but think I will not feel this way about another person for a long time. As I try to date even now, I subconsciously look for him in other people. I wonder if he is doing okay. I’m not sure if he’ll ever read this, and even if he does I still don’t know if he would fully grasp it. But this was something I wanted to share. An open letter, an opening heart.

I wonder if I open it enough this love will pour out of me as easily at it seeped in. Maybe it’s to share with others that it’s okay to fall in love and be sad about it. Maybe it’s to finally put it in writing. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was all real and it was all on purpose and that’s the best thing I could have asked for.





All photos by Willow Gray


How I Discovered I’m a Love Addict


“Hi, my name is Ana. I am a 21-year-old junior in college, and I’m pretty sure I struggle with love addiction,” were the first words to come out of my mouth during my first Sex Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meeting. 

Realizing that I was love addict was a lengthy process, but finding what triggered it was almost instantaneous.

For almost two years now, I have been conducting a strict, solo-polyamorous lifestyle. Which, simply put, just means “single with multiple partners.” Most of the relationships I am currently in are nothing but casual, and they are based on both sex and friendship. In my head, this pattern seems ideal. I mean, I’m getting all the perks of being in a relationship without having to worry about commitment, having to introduce someone to my family, or wanting to be intimate with someone new.

So why does it hurt so much?

I began to suspect I had some addictive tendencies whenever I would find myself mistaking sexual encounters with a new romantic opportunity. To this day, I crave emotional connection, non-sexual affection, and the feeling of falling for someone. All because it temporarily boosts my perception of self-worth. Unfortunately for me, I oftentimes find myself having sex in order to obtain all of those things. Mostly because it seems to be the easiest and quickest method. Unsurprisingly, all this does is put me in the perfect position to get constantly burned. 

I frequently catch myself putting other people’s needs, specifically those of my sexual partners, before my own.

Although I can admit this is a nice gesture, it is definitely an unnecessary one. I begin to act like “the perfect girlfriend” in order for me to get a glimpse of the perfect boyfriend. Deep down, I’m aware that I could never really hold a genuine romantic relationship with a lot of the men I’m involved with. Yet my mind never fails to overwhelm me with negative emotion whenever these men don’t treat me how I dream of being treated. In the past, I caught myself defending this behavior with “the golden rule” — but I recently discovered it’s rightfully inapplicable in this scenario. 

So, what exactly is love addiction? To be quite frank, I found out about it less than a month ago. In fact, it was hard for me to believe it was a real thing. However, that thought quickly changed after going on an hour-long Google binge which ended on the SLAA website. 

While The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not officially recognize love addiction as a real disorder within the manual, it is considered a behavioral addiction amongst many psychiatrists. Like any other addiction, this particular one provokes compulsive behavior that can lead to self-destructive tendencies: practicing unhealthy habits, having falling-outs with friends and family, and even developing new addictions. 

In my case, I am severely addicted to the rush I get from the disingenuous relationships I’ve developed over the past two years. My symptoms are merely focused around the dependency within romance. My coping mechanisms include finding new partners or contacting old ones, fantasizing about love, restricting my eating, and of course, having sex. 

Though I’m still unsure from where exactly my addiction stems, I am confident that the absent relationship I had with my father growing up, the highly manipulative, age-gap relationship I had with my first love at sixteen, and the sexually and emotionally abusive relationship I had with my most recent ex boyfriend are all contributors. I will not go into detail about what exactly happened in each of those chapters of my life, but I am grateful to be at a place where I am comfortable enough to admit that they happened and that these events still haunt me. 

I’m still having a hard time trying not to blame the people I mentioned before for my current struggle with love addiction. I understand that being angry at them is acceptable, but at the end of the day I know I’m the only one who can improve my life.

In other news, I also have a hard time staying away from sex and the habits that come with my addiction. For example, I only ate one meal yesterday and I spent the entire day crying because I told myself I should try and limit how much I communicate with my current partners.

All I want is the constant reassurance and happiness that stems from a romantic relationship. It makes me feel confident, it makes me feel wanted, and unfortunately, it makes me feel good enough for everyone.I’m still confused as to why I seem to need it from a man I find attractive. But I’m proud to have been brave enough to come to terms with my ongoing problem.



For more information about sex and love addiction, you can visit Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Photos (in order of appearance) by STAA Collective and Francesca Iacono.


The Story of a Fling, and the Myth I Created From It


Out of all of Mari Andrew’s Instagram posts that I have saved on my phone, there’s one that I return to time and time again. It’s simply six pairs of lines titled, “Relationship History.” Each of the six relationships is broken down into two lines: one indicating the length of the relationship; the other, the intensity. Perhaps you can already imagine the pairs aren’t all balanced. In the caption, Andrew mentions spending seven years getting over three dates she spent with someone.

My someone was Max. 

Why have I continued to want to see him a year later? Why was I so intensely attached to our situation? How did I feel about it then? How do I feel about it now? What storylines did I create before, during, and now? What were my requirements? What patterns were showing? What meaning did I attach to the relationship? His actions? The short answer could be I actually — almost — believed he wanted me. So when he later didn’t, it proved once and for all that I was unlovable.

He was already a mythic figure to me, even before we knew Skater Boy’s name was Max. I felt as though he was smitten with me immediately — something that stuck with me for the year before I saw him again because it was such a contrast from the usual response I received when chasing guys. The intensity of the attraction I felt towards him was acute, sharp. Like getting the wind knocked out of you. If someone like that could be into me, then maybe I was desirable. Already, I was layering on the possible meanings. So when I saw him later that year, as I handed him a cup across a different counter in a different coffee shop, it only felt more miraculous that he still seemed to want me. 

The fantasy of him was so perfect.

He, unlike my exes, liked to dance. He was stylish, wore jewelry, had a nose ring. He threw artsy gallery shows and house parties where there was live painting and music. He was the first guy I spent the night with, which I didn’t even consider might connote different things for each of us. He was cuddly and generous with words of affection and admiration. He said he felt lucky to have me.

He didn’t know how loaded that could be for someone so convinced they were a disappointment. I believe that people who were abused repeatedly in the past play out the story built by their abuser(s) with different people — thinking that if we try again, try harder, try to change ourselves, we can kill the ghost of their abuse. And maybe also find peace by obtaining their love and acceptance. The darkest, most poisonous part of this narrative is the idea that we affect — even cause — their behavior. The little kid who had “you are worthless” screamed at them, thinks the actions of their abuser were their fault, that they deserved it. Broken: it’s a devastatingly normal way to see yourself if you grow up like us. 

But Max wasn’t like that. He wanted me. And because he was cool and stylish and artsy and popular and wanted me, that meant I was cool, stylish, artsy and popular enough, too.

But he was messy. I made so many excuses for him, refused to even entertain negative ideas about the relationship. On some level, I must have known the darker realities. I was preoccupied with him all the time, I would feel this visceral jolt that made me sick to my stomach every time I saw him, and I slept restlessly when we shared a bed. I thought the reason I struggled to be and want what he wanted was because there was something wrong with me. There it was again: “broken.” I was working so hard to push away anything that didn’t fit my carefully curated narrative.

The first time we went out together, he only answered and confirmed the date an hour beforehand. I paid for food because I wanted to, but he promised he would cook me dinner in return. Next time I ended up making us dinner, while he showed up without the bottle of wine he had promised to bring. Yes, I would’ve liked to hear from him while he was out of town, but that was manageable. What was not as manageable was him telling me he didn’t have cell service in Vegas the entire time he was there. The doubt and the distrust continued to creep in. 

Relatable to some of you, I’m sure, but for those who are confused, here’s an explanation: I still felt unlovable. Unlovable enough to think that him acting like this, or him making me feel this way was okay — to not think anyone could or would treat me better, that I deserved better, or that it might even be better to be alone. I still craved someone outside of myself telling me I was good enough. Max is just one someone I’ve tried. There have been a few.

I repeat the pattern… until what? Maybe I actually inch towards creating higher standards for myself every time. Maybe I just say fuck it and dump people on a whim that the reason I’m miserable is that my low standards are not being met. Maybe one day, feeling powerful on a bathroom break between dance classes, I’ll see my one-day-a-week boyfriend posting flippant jokes about falling in love and getting his heart broken on Tinder and I think, “I don’t have time for this bullshit.” Maybe it still takes me a few months, fucking a few other guys, and at 4AM one morning, I’ll briefly consider moving to New York with him, before ultimately, I call the whole thing off. Maybe that won’t be the last time. 

Maybe Max sends me a DM now, a year later, saying he’s sorry. Saying he wanted to reach out but it wasn’t possible, because he lost his phone. But he thinks my hair looks really good buzzed… what do I do?



Art by Quin Feder. Photos (in order of appearance) by Ana Salazar and Dariana Portes. Gif by Mole Hill.


Is Chivalry Good Sexism?

One night, a fateful one that is, I began lamenting over my history of dating experiences, as I do every so often when I’m in the mood for a self-inflicted emotional rollercoaster. Most were good, some were bad, and some were so unworthy of recognition I struggled to recall them. Picking away at the crusty scabs of my love life I unravelled, to my surprise, minimal-to-no chivalry. This frustrated me, evidently, as here I am aggressively puncturing my keyboard in distress. 


Is it doomed, six-feet under in a sealed coffin? Would it be absolutely, utterly, and undeniably incomprehensible of me to ask to be wooed in a quintessentially romantic way? You know, whisked away on a horse carriage by a man who, ever-so-smoothly, lodges a rose stem between his teeth while somehow still being able to whisper sweet nothings into my ear? I’m not asking for too much am I? (. . . don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question.)

As I awingly replay movie scenes of knights in shining armor protecting their women at all costs, going above and beyond to ensure their utmost safety and comfort, a pestering feeling of guilt brews inside me. 

Am I — a self-proclaimed warrioress spouting chants of equality — in a position to demand such courteous, self-less, savior-like behavior from a man? I’m not, clearly, if I am an independent woman and the motive behind chivalry comes from the placement of women on a pedestal, RIGHT? 

WRONG! Ish. Wrong-ish. No… but yes. Okay, let me explain. 

Does the age-old saying of “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” ring a bell? Well lo and behold, gentle reader, chivalry is no exception! A simple Google search reveals that chivalry is, essentially, sexism — benevolent sexism that is. 

Now, I know what this looks like. Here she goes again, a man-hating feminist in her prime, storming her way through the world ready to shred the remaining good things in life to bits — but hear me out.

I likewise initially thought feminism was going too far when it began scrutinizing men’s harmless acts, such as them opening doors for us or pulling out our chair (“UmMm I cAn Do ThAt MySeLf ThAnK yOu VeRy MuCh”). Were we so desperate to seek out faults in male behavior for the sake of feeling oppressed, handpicking instances in life to feed our victim mentality? I considered this angle, as well. But things are often far more complex and multi-faceted than they initially appear, as I will come to unpack here.

Benevolent sexism — unlike the hostile sexism we can inarguably label as being unjust — stereotypes women as affectionate, delicate, sensitive, and in need of protection and provision. 

The bewildering paradox of benevolently sexist behavior is that, instead of despising it for underhandedly promoting the idea that we’re weak and incapable of taking care of ourselves, women often seek it. Exhibit A: me.

A recent study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that women, irrespective of whether they identified themselves high or low on the feminist scale, were attracted to benevolently sexist behavior. What’s more is that, although these women understood that a chivalrous man would potentially come at the expense of their independence being dismissed, they still sought out these behaviors.


Perhaps I’m not the only one struggling to wrap my head around this existential crisis-inducing catch-22? You may wonder why, despite its shortcomings, chivalrous (benevolently sexist) behavior is still attractive to women. There’s a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that we perceive these actions as something a nice, decent human being would do! They’re viewed as being nothing more than acts of prosocial behavior, and most of the time, that’s precisely what they are. I highly doubt that a man offering a helping hand to a woman carrying heavy luggage does so with  malicious intent.

The other (much more thrilling) reason emerges from an evolutionary and copulatory standpoint. Let’s plunge — head first 😉 — into some Mating 101. 

One of my favorite papers on this topic is by David M. Buss, wherein he postulates the undeniable truth about sex: women bear far larger consequences for having sex than men do (think internal female fertilization, pregnancy, lactation). So, the costs of making poor sexual decisions are much graver for women than they are for men. As such, women would ideally be choosing a mate of high value. When a man displays acts of benevolent sexism, it alludes to the idea that they are willing to commit to, protect, and invest in us and our potential future offspring. Which, in prehistoric times, was crucial — given the many surrounding predators and our physical weakness during (and after) pregnancy. 

Now let’s say that you, as the strong, empowered, capable woman that you are, decide to — just like I have — submit to your primitive yearning for chivalry. “What are the consequences?” you might ask. Well, apparently “plenty” is the answer.

In the unlikely event that you think I’m full of shit, I have even more research (that’s guaranteed to spiral you into an even deeper identity crisis) to back up my claims! 

Benevolent sexism is bound to affect women’s internal thought processes as claimed by a plethora of research articles. Women holding benevolently sexist beliefs are less ambitious education and career-wise, likely to depend on their future husband for financial support, and more prone to self-objectification. Agonizingly for me, however, these women also self-report greater life satisfaction. 

To further rub salt to your (and my very own) gaping wound, Glick & Fiske’s theory on the subject states that we often rely on benevolent sexism to protect us against other men’s hostile sexism. This is especially the case in highly sexist societies, where sexism is both the threat and the solution. Although, naturally, there’s a pitfall.

It isn’t all women that benefit from benevolent sexism. According to one study, only women who abide by traditional gender roles (e.g. housewives) do so, while those going against these gender norms (e.g. sexually promiscuous women, queer women, etc.) are treated with the healthy, standard dose of hostile sexism.

All that glitters (more like faintly glimmers in this case) isn’t gold, however; by using one form of sexism as a guard against another form of sexism, we perpetuate our own disadvantage in society. Fuck me, right? We can’t seem to win. 

So ladies, given this likely uncalled for amount of information, what will it be? Are we to succumb to chivalry and seek it out for personal satisfaction, or restrain ourselves for the greater good? Savor the blue pill, or gulp down the red pill?

Pick your poison wisely. 



All photos provided by Derya Yildirim. 


Cancer and Sex(ual Appeal)

I grew up in the 90s, during the peak of “heroin chic” — a look based on the emaciated bodies of heroin addicts.

However, I grew up into a primarily indoor artsy teen. I always had an appetite and just never seemed to be able to lose that darn baby weight that kept me from looking “so pretty.” Needless to say, I struggled intensely with body image issues for the next decade and a half.

Over the course of my cancer treatment, I lost and gained noticeable amounts of weight. From there I was routinely asked, “How much weight did you lose?” I was told that I “look good now” and “chemo suits you.” Since 2014, I have shifted in and out of periods of disordered eating and have now finally landed in a healthy mental place with my body. But the comments go on. People are quite quick to fetishize superficial benefits; weight loss, the social perks of an easy parking space with a disability placard. 

*  *  *

As a whole, the American general public is still stuck in the 90s when it comes to appearance standards. This antiquated obsession with skeletal women routinely invades my space and I’m expected to embrace it, graciously. But I’ve learned that impact > intent, so I no longer care if you think you’re being nice. 

What usually happens: 

Them: “Oh, you’ve lost weight!”

Me: “OMG, thank you so much!”

This kept the conversation nice and easy. But the frequency at which this type of exchange happens has made it very apparent that my overweighted-ness was my defining feature to everyone as a youth, and I’m done. If you come at me with a personal comment on my body, I will come back with a highly personal reason and we can take bets to see how comfortable that makes you. 

What happened this time:

Them: “Oh, you’ve lost weight!”

Me: “Yeah, I haven’t had an appetite for over a year. I’m talking with my doctors about it.” 

This led immediately to the assumption that I was dying. I had to explain that no, I wasn’t dying. But likewise, I wasn’t perfectly healthy. And that’s okay. 

I have since managed to move beyond basing my worth on my meat suits and I’d kindly ask that you respect that choice. Body shaming or praising comments are so beyond gross and upsetting to me now for so many reasons. I am at peace with my physical body for maybe the first time in my whole life but it takes daily effort.

What a bold assumption; silly me, thinking I could take on the Cerberus of misogyny, ableism, and fatphobia!

 *  *  *

The idea behind ‘heroin chic’ is a tale as old as time, unfortunately. In one form or another, disease and illness have been informing appearance trends for centuries, notably with tuberculosis shaping beauty and fashion.

Even today, illness and beauty and sexual appeal are so grossly entwined with one another that I don’t know where to start with it all. At the first MRI after being diagnosed, I was told by the technician, “Don’t worry, you’re too pretty for a brain tumor.” But then again, this is in line with all things within cis-hetero-patriarchy: a lady just can’t win.

While the socially desirable aspects of diseases are appealing to some, we’re deluded into thinking it’s appropriate to insist upon the beauty of illness. Yet, we also reject the notion that a beautiful person could ever become sick. Our ascription of worth, health, and decency to appearance is supremely fucked up. 

And I see it constantly in the form of people consoling those with illness or suicidal ideations or just general painful times with confirmations of their beauty. “You’re beautiful!” “She was so beautiful.” “You’re too pretty for XYZ!” etc. I’m routinely told that I’m either the best looking sick person around or that I don’t look sick. To which I respond… “Thanks?” I need to start calling people in by asking, “What exactly do you think I should look like?”

*  *  *

It’s amazing how much can change with a cancer diagnosis and how much stays the absolute fucking same. 

All I wanted was a boyfriend in college. I pined and longed and took up too much mental space thinking about it. Cancer finally forced me into an adult mentality towards relationships, among other things. I finally escaped sexual desire and it has been fucking blissful not to want. But even now, the first time and the split second intimacy becomes even the slightest possibility again I revert to teenager mode. I guess I was surprised to learn and understand that cancer hadn’t altered that.

But, I also realized that after cancer, I have no problem at all letting a person know I’m attracted to them.

The first person I was interested in after my diagnosis, my therapist said that even if it doesn’t work out, he’s already given you gifts. He’s shown you that you can still have feelings for someone, that you can experience wanting someone like this. “He’s shown you that there are experiences to be had outside of cancer.” That was essential for me to hear as someone who had been single throughout my diagnosis and treatment.

As I was starting to entertain the thought of dating again, most of my body systems had settled into relative predictability. Enough of the chemicals that had coursed through my body during chemo had readjusted, so I could have feelings again.

I began the process and immediately encountered the problem I had read about in books: when to disclose, i.e. when to “come out” as having (had) cancer. Because so much of my post-diagnosis life involves cancer it’s been challenging even to have the first few words without massive lies by omission.

Tell me about yourself!

What do you do?

What’s your writing about?

What’s your art about?

Where do you live?

As a baby cancer diagnosee reading about this issue in 2014, I didn’t get it. I honestly thought it would be simple — just tell the person ASAP.

Now in 2019, as a slightly wiser cancer patient dipping her toe back in, I was beginning to understand the unique challenges. I’d gotten my share of mixed bag responses to people finding out I have cancer and so adding the romance element just ballooned the anxiety.

Do you tell someone during your first conversation? What medium is acceptable? Does it need to be done in person? On the first date? Second? Third? When things start to get serious?

I’ll never know if that’s the reason why after I told a guy on our first in-person date and he seemed cool about it, he promptly ghosted me. 

With these forays into relationships with new people it’s just been impossible to tell how they will respond. Because cancer carries so much baggage in our society, telling a brand new person, whether you’re trying to forge a connection with them or not, is exhausting each and every time.

*  *  *

Sex post-diagnosis seemed entirely monumental.

The only intimate physical touch I’d had for over two years was from healthcare professionals in gloved hands. I was building it up as almost a second virginity to lose (even after I’d finally broken that bullshit construct down in my mind). So, when I found myself on a date that was heating up, I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. The choice presented itself: did I want to have sex — casual sex at that — finally, after all this time?

I did.

Honestly, the state of the planet and climate catastrophes were a factor at that  moment. I didn’t know when a long-term partner was going to come along and I didn’t want to die having never slept with someone again. This also happened to be the week after the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. I remember feeling distinctly grateful to be experiencing a human connection closer to love than hate. Make of that what you will.

Months later with a different partner I managed to experience an orgasm. My first by a fellow human. This happened only after my diagnosis. I connect these two things and credit  my massive dive into self-discovery the last five years. It’s forced me to contemplate and connect to my feelings around self-worth in relation to relationships and pleasure. All of my sexual interactions post-cancer have been infinitely more balanced and consensual than they ever were before and for that I’m grateful. 

* * * 

I’ve been forced to make a lot of difficult decisions in recent years. Most times, in an effort to save myself. When it came to my fertility vs. my life for instance, it was easy for me. But then, I was also asked to mourn that loss and hide my rage at the fact that my fertility had ever been prioritized over my humanity. That was just my experience though and my reaction to it as the person that I am. Still, decisions made by necessity will always carry a different weight than those made by choice. 

As patients we are first and foremost people. And as whole beings we bring our unique histories, beliefs, goals, attitudes and priorities into exam rooms. I have yet to meet an illness that doesn’t in some way affect a patient’s sex life or intimate relationships. When we aren’t given the information or told how our bodies will be affected over time, it drives home the belief that we aren’t expected to exist after cancer, that sex is beyond the pale or some other dehumanizing, ableist assumption. 

I have found there to be infinite interpersonal and sexual complications unique to the young adult cancer patient, beyond the topics of fertility or pity sex. I would love for us to do better in 2019 than the rest of history in assuming basic humanity of sick and or dying people. Because I have also found that as offensive ideas of sexiness because of sickness (your consumptive looks, your heroin chics), sexiness and sickness almost always come hand in hand. 



Photos provided by Siobhan Hebron.