The first time he sent me a photo of his dick I giggled like a schoolgirl in fourth grade sex-ed class. The photo was blurred, obviously; he didn’t want to give away too much at once. That was the policy I made for us to preserve some sense of, I don’t know, perverse virtue? That’s not at all true but it saved me more than him. I never gave him anything more than a peek at what my favourite bra looked like in my foggy bathroom mirror.
I don’t remember what he said to introduce the picture. I laughed in any case because these kinds of pictures are really, really terrible but especially this one. It was a lumpy bit of darkness, wholly un-erotic and on the verge of turning me off completely. I am sure it would receive a D- on Critique My Dick Pic. I may have sent him back a seductive photo or maybe I faked a kind of moaning through my words about how I loved his dick so.
I didn’t actually love his dick. I loved the things he said about his dick, the things he said he would do to me with it; the things we could do to each other. In no other way did I love him than the lengths we would go to satisfy the other. Green blobs of text appeared on my phone telling me all the ways in which he’d be a superior lover: the lover to end all lovers. He always confirmed to me in our exchange when he got off, and I to him, but I always faked it. I never could rhythmically pleasure myself to the second by second responses and respond to him.
It’s been two years, three months and a handful of days since I met the boy who sent me that blurred photo. I’ve seen him, touched him, and kissed him once, but we’ve only gone less than two months at a time without talking since we met, which has, to date, not ended. We both had tumultuous relationships, dreamy and mediocre lovers, one-night regrets in that time, and yet here we are. Our interaction is limited to what can be said with our fingertips. We have only spoken via text. Via sext, that is.
We met IRL by drunken happenstance on a hot October night in my hometown. I was twenty-two at the time; he was twenty. My friends and I went to some middle school auditorium during our annual heritage-y festival. We exchanged our pinky drink tickets for some cheap beers and watered down vodka and orange juice. That night is a haze of grimy yellow flags and loud polka music and vile Neil Diamond covers. I spotted him almost immediately amid the suburban pseudo-hedonistic chaos. There was nothing particularly special to him: he was human-shaped and tall and a bit rough around the edges. I think I said something clever to him, I usually do in situations like these, and he smiled at me. Leaning in unbearably close to my face, thumbing the buttons of the jean jacket I wore, he said, “I’ve been waiting for a girl with a jacket like this my entire life.”
There is something to be said for someone who can speak so directly, so surprisingly complete, in a text message about all the ways they want to fuck you. Each is a different version, another self. We seamlessly created our identities not like our truest selves so anything we said, he wrote, I felt, was infinite, and that was exceedingly powerful.
The messages we sent the months after we met are obscured to me now. I can pinpoint when our sexting tryst began though; when the soft musings of “I miss you” turned into lurid statements of “I wish you were here to give me head forever.” I awoke most nights to my phone vibrating continuously with him telling me how he was going to make all of my fantasies come true and that really though, he did his best work from the bottom with me on top.
But none of the things he said to me were new. Sexting is clumsy and ordinary now: it’s a string of “what are you wearing” and “tell me how close you are.” It wasn’t especially good in the beginning with us until his one-line aphorisms turned into novel length extraordinarily sexy thoughts. It takes someone with particular skill to make your skin pulse and fizz like freshly poured ginger ale in an icy glass without actually touching you.
And with that he slipped between the realms of a real life lover to the idea of a great lover; synthesized and wholly automated. Our exclusivity was with our phones: we were entirely dependent on a piece of technology that bounced sexual requests between satellites until they reached the other. I consciously fed it, him, us, craving a sort of connection with him in anyway I could. When he promised me he’d visit, that he’d drive all the hours from his school to my apartment and really have me, I secretly wished he’d forget and never arrive so we could preserve whatever it was our relationship had become.
A film like Her portraying a relationship between a man and his sultry sounding operating system rather than any singular person is a reality with which I had become acquainted though, sadly, Scarlett Johansson is nowhere in my story. It all comes down to human-made simulation of feelings: we get attached to objects rather than people in a friendly, comforting or sexual manner, and ascribe certain ideas and expectations on them that in turn humanizes them. It’s easier to slip into our imagination than truly form a bond with another. All of that takes effort. This is effortless: it’s a kind of affluence and truer comfort because it is comfort of our own making. We fluff our virtual pillows, prop them up behind us, and feel a kind of ease with which no one could possibly make, even if those kinds of things are manufactured.
The almost two and a half years I’ve been involved with this one person via t/sext is not unlike the snapshot of our social/sexual future in Her. The difference here could be that I met the person first and then he became an object, a machine, and a mechanism of pleasure. But isn’t that the kind of thing we’ve already become accustomed to anyway? Wouldn’t this progression from real person feelings to feelings with/from a machine happen organically?
The shift from a potential real life lover to a simulated one was rather easy. Whenever I got particularly mad at him I’d punish him by turning my phone off because that was really the only physical action I could take in our pseudo-relationship. I resented my phone. I wanted to smash it until it was nothing but shards. But I needed it to truly need him.
I ask myself what is/was the value of not having that real life interaction. He was an unknown known thing to me; so unfamiliarly familiar in a sneaky sexy paradoxical way that elicited such a thrill. He still is in some ways, though now he makes me weary and I’ve grown apart from him. He is someone, something, I created and can easily turn to for comfort; he is, after all, simply a text away.
I thought I gave him up for good this summer when I fell in love with someone else — an IRL man who rarely texted me the dirty things he wanted to do, he actually did them —but he persisted. He’d come to me earnestly saying “hi, how are you?” or “baby, please, pleeeeeease.” I turn to my phone in the night still half expecting to see a meager “hello” permanently etched into my display. He wrote once — on a night I swear I was dreaming about him and he was actually holding me — saying, “hi, wish we still talked.” We never talked though; we said skin humming sexy things that ought to be whispered to you by a lover, not read on a screen. But I read him. I have read all of his lines. I memorized them and played them over and over because it’s what I have of him. Or maybe what I have left of him. He’s a string of words now: poorly structured sentences with terrible grammar and spelling; black and white letters on a screen; a flash, vibration, an annoying little ding noise. He is pixilated arms and legs and has no face.
The last I heard from him was as recently as a few weeks ago when I was visiting my hometown and he asked me if I was there, if we could finally see each other. I’m still waiting to find out if we will.