By the time he was 35, the only way Ted could get hard and remain so for the duration of sexual intercourse was to pretend that his dick was a knife, and the woman he was fucking was stabbing herself with it.
It’s not like he was some kind of serial killer. Blood held no erotic charge for him, either in fantasy or in real life. Key to the scenario, moreover, was the fact that the woman was choosing to stab herself: The idea was that she wanted him so badly, had been driven so wild with obsessive physical desire for his dick, that she was driven to impale herself on it despite the torment it caused. She was the one taking the active role; he just lay there as she thrashed around on top, doing his best to interpret her groans and facial twitches as signs that she was being crushed in an agonizing vise between pleasure and pain.
He knew it wasn’t great, this fantasy. Yes, the scene he was imagining was ostensibly consensual, but you couldn’t ignore its underlying aggressive themes. Nor was it reassuring that his reliance on the fantasy had increased as the quality of his relationships had declined. Throughout his twenties, Ted’s breakups had been reasonably painless. None of his affairs had lasted longer than a few months, and the women he dated seemed to believe him when he told them he wasn’t looking for anything serious — or at least to believe that the fact he’d said this meant they could not accuse him of wrongdoing when it ultimately proved to be true. Once he reached his thirties, though, this strategy no longer worked. More often than not, he’d have what he thought was a final breakup conversation with a woman, only to have her text him shortly afterward, telling him she missed him, that she still didn’t understand what had happened between them, and that she wanted to talk.
Thus, one night in November, two weeks before his 36th birthday, Ted found himself sitting across a table from a crying woman named Angela. Angela was a real estate agent, pretty and polished, with sparkly chandelier earrings and expensively highlighted hair. Like all the women he’d dated over the past several years, Angela was, by any objective measure, way out of his league. She was two inches taller than he was; she owned her own home; she made an amazing fettuccine with clam sauce; and she knew how to give a back rub with essential oils that she’d sworn would change his life, which it had. Ted had broken up with her more than two months earlier, but the subsequent texts and phone calls had become so relentless that he’d agreed to another face-to-face meeting in the hopes of gaining some peace.
Angela had begun the evening chattering brightly about her vacation plans, her work drama, and her adventures with “the girls,” performing a happiness so clearly calculated to make him see what he was missing that he writhed with vicarious embarrassment, and then, at the 20-minute mark, she dissolved into tears.
“I just don’t understand,” she cried.
What followed was a hopeless, absurd conversation in which Angela insisted that Ted had feelings for her that he was hiding, while he insisted, as kindly as he could, that he did not. Through sobs, she marshaled her evidence of his affection: the time he’d brought her breakfast in bed; the time he’d said, “I think you’d really like my sister”; the gentleness with which he’d taken care of her dog, Marshmallow, when Marshmallow was sick. The problem, it seemed, was that while he’d told Angela from the beginning that he wasn’t looking for anything serious, at the same time, confusingly, he’d also been nice. When what he ought to have done, apparently, was tell her that she could get her own damn breakfast, inform her it was unlikely that she’d ever meet his sister, and be a jerk to Marshmallow when Marshmallow was puking, so that both Marshmallow and Angela would have known where they stood.
“I’m sorry,” he said, over and over and over again. Not that it mattered. When he failed to admit that he was secretly in love with her, Angela was going to get angry. She was going to accuse him of being a narcissistic, emotionally stunted man-child. She was going to say, “You really hurt me,” and, “The truth is, I feel sorry for you.” She’d announce, “I was falling in love with you,” and he would sit there, abashed, as though the claim damned him, even though it was obvious Angela didn’t love him — she thought he was an emotionally stunted man-child and didn’t even like him all that much. Of course, it was hard to feel entirely self-righteous about all this when the reason he knew what was coming was that this was not the first such conversation he’d had with a woman. It was not even the third. Or the fifth. Or the tenth.
Angela sobbed on, a figure of perfect, abject misery: her reddened eyes, her heaving chest, her mascara-stained face. As he watched her, Ted realized that he couldn’t do it any longer. He couldn’t apologize one more time, could not continue with this ritual of self-abasement. He was going to tell her the truth.
The next time Angela stopped for breath, Ted said, “You know none of this is my fault.”
There was a pause.
“Excuse me?” Angela said.
“I was always honest with you,” Ted said. “Always. I told you what I wanted from this relationship from the very beginning. You could have trusted me, but instead you decided you knew better than I did what I felt. When I said I wanted something casual, you lied and said you wanted the same thing, and then immediately you started doing everything you could to make it something else. When you didn’t manage to make what we had into a serious relationship — the thing you wanted and I didn’t — you got hurt. I see that. But I am not the one who hurt you. You did this, not me. I’m just — just — the tool you’re using to hurt yourself!”
Angela let out a little cough, like she’d been punched. “Fuck you, Ted,” she said. She pushed back her chair, preparing to storm out of the restaurant, and, as she left, she picked up a glass of ice water and threw it at him — not just the water, but the whole, full glass. The glass — it was more of a tumbler, really — cracked against Ted’s forehead and landed in his lap.
Ted looked down at the broken tumbler. Well. Maybe he should have expected that. Because who was he kidding? This many crying women couldn’t be wrong about him, no matter how unfair their accusations felt. He reached up and touched his forehead. His fingers came away red. He was bleeding. Awesome. Also, his crotch was really, really cold. In fact, as the ice water soaked through his pants, his dick started to hurt even more than his head did. Maybe there should be a legal limit on how cold restaurant water could be, the way there was a limit on how hot coffee could be at McDonald’s. Maybe his dick would get frostbite and shrivel up and fall off, and then everyone he’d ever dated would come together to throw a party in honor of Angela, the fearless heroine who’d ended his reign of terror over the single women of New York.
Wow, he was bleeding more than he’d originally thought. In fact, so much blood was streaming from his forehead that the water in his crotch was turning pink. People were running over, but sound was coming to him kind of scrambled and he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Probably something along the lines of: You deserved this, asshole. He remembered what he’d said right before Angela had flung the glass at him — I’m just the tool you’re using to hurt yourself — and he wondered if this was related somehow to the dick-stabbing fantasy, but he was bleeding and freezing and possibly concussed, and he didn’t have it in him right then to figure it out.