Sex and the Ivy

Fear of Drowning

Filed under: Love, Summer Guy — Elle July 21, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

Part of the reason why I write about my life is because I am scared of not remembering anything about it. I have a terrible memory, no doubt an ironic symptom of childhood bullying that taught me the art of forgetting terrible memories. (Truth: I routinely have problems with recalling things that happened before the age of 12). Unfortunately for me, I never quite unlearned how to forget. Now that I am full-grown and expected to remember things like faces and names, I find myself standing around dumb-founded as all my friends recall events at which everyone but me seems to have been present. I routinely fail to recognize guys with whom I’ve gone on single dates, or even people I went to high school with. It seems I am a spectator to other people’s memories but never the one doing the remembering herself.

And it’s not just memories either. It’s skills like how to use JSTOR (thank you, high school debate) or how to swim (thank you, community pool) that I must relearn because I’ve somehow magically forgotten despite everyone’s insistence that there are some things, like riding a bike, that you remember forever. Well, trust me, if there were ever a person who could forget, it’d be me. In Ibiza, for example, this was precisely my problem. Here I was with miles of unpolluted ocean before me, and I was terrified of wading too far out because I hadn’t swum in years. I was always scared to go into pools as a kid until I braved swimming lessons during early elementary school. Then I promptly forgot and had to learn again, this time during a summer around age 10. I don’t think I’ve really swum again since. Eventually in Ibiza, I gave it a go at a shallow beach but I conceded defeat after several gulpfuls of seawater. This was a performance from someone who used to relish jumping off diving boards several yards above her head.

And so I consider my life history a sort of project. Narcissistic it may be, but most of my writing concerns relationships; and my knowledge of relationships is inseparable from my understanding of myself. It’s too bad my mental timeline starts somewhere at last week. To help myself remember the important things, I sift through blog entries from high school, reread old instant messaging conversations, or simply ask questions to people who were paying attention when life was happening. I am endlessly recording and recalling the details of my existence in hopes that turning my laptop into a life library will offer some permanence to my fleeting memories. Last summer, I even paid a friend $40 to transcribe 200+ text messages. This spring, I requested from Harvard my mental health records from 2006 to 2007. It’d been a tumultuous year, and I thought these logs might come in handy some day, not just for “memoir research” (the reason I cited on my request form) but for … well, me. When I go home for the holidays, I dig up paper diaries of my youth and old notes passed from friends to my middle and high school self. I actually still have plenty, including mean ones that declared me a slut at as young an age as 12 and nice ones from girls who are still some of my closest friends today. I’m the type of person who doesn’t throw things away, despite easily blocking out large chunks of my childhood. I’m pretty sure that none of these habits are common, that I am straddling a fine line between forgetfulness and repression,that I likely appear crazy or self-obsessed or both . (That last one may be a correct assessment, since I am, after all, applying journalistic techniques to research my favorite subject: myself.)

The funny thing about reexamining the past is that I always find something new. I have a hard time remembering, and so the Lena of yesterday never seems familiar. I might as well be going through the personal documents of a stranger. Besides, I’ve changed so much that it’s hard to get a grasp of who I was or wanted to be at any given point in time. It’s a good thing that I do a better job than most of keeping track of feelings and thoughts in the moment or else my account of my life would begin somewhere at 17. Luckily, I’ve maintained multiple blogs for the past five years in which I have a record of everything from my adolescent sexual experiences to college admission anxieties to freshman year disillusionment to first loves and last loves. The girl preserved reads like a fictional character to me. Whoever I was then is always too far removed for me to get a good hold on her now. And it’s sad. It’s tragic that I forget.

It’s tragic because forgetting means throwing out the good along with the bad and though I think leaving behind the latter is a matter of self-preservation, it’s the former that makes life worth living, isn’t it? Besides, there are lessons I could learn from myself if only I had the will to remember them. I must admit that there are some things I did better at 15 than I do now. Somehow, things seemed clearer then, even when it came to what I wanted to accomplish with my writing. There are other things I’ve simply stopped knowing how to do, like letting myself fall in love without worrying about what risks it might entail.

Last night, while trying to dig up resume drafts from my inbox, I found an old email exchange with an ex-boyfriend I dated two summers ago. In it, Summer Guy (his pseudonym on my blog) said one of the most important things anyone has ever told me: “Your writing is beautiful; don’t ever stop.” To which I responded, “I’m more flattered than if you had said I was beautiful. Thank you.” The rest of the emails were about our relationship, about falling hard and fast, about — as I called it then — “love … or its short-term equivalent.” We were writing at the height of our passion for each other, and I found what I said to him remarkable because for once, reading the old Lena brought about a feeling of nostalgia, a sense that I had indeed felt that way in that moment. I remembered her. This hasn’t happened in a long time for me. Recognition of my former self, in place of embarrassment at who she was — or even worse, bafflement — has largely been rare, and yet last night, I could recall what it felt like to love someone.

I don’t love him anymore. At least not in the way that I used to. And though I consider us good friends, I enjoy Summer Guy’s company most from afar … or preferably in short spurts with breaks for good measure. But despite only harboring platonic feelings for him nowadays, recalling how much I once loved him made me smile. It reminded me that relationships are great, and believe it or not, I need the reminder. I’ve been spending the past month trying to convince myself that relationships are the precise opposite of great. Instead, they are emotionally precarious, troublesome, and unnecessary. Maybe I’m clinging desperately to my independence for fear that I will lose some part of myself in the process of falling for someone else. Maybe I simply don’t know how to respond to someone who exceeds the expectations I’ve habitually lowered in light of attached suitors and so-called liberal lovers who later balk at my ideals. Maybe I’m not willing to run the risk of abandonment. But though I’ve been afraid for weeks to make this concession, I must say: by and large, love is worth it. The fact that an email from a former boyfriend can conjure up this rare spark of recognition of the feeling is proof enough.

Love didn’t used to terrify me, and I certainly didn’t think I was scared of it but reading those emails I wrote to Summer Guy made me see how differently I am now behaving in this relationship. Because unlike the community pool, love is more like swimming in the ocean. Once you’re far out, there are no lifeguards or railings, and more often than not, your final destination is not forward but back from where you came. For the girl who used to throw herself headfirst into the water without hesitation, it seems like I’ve taken one too many steps away from the sand to remember that the view is worth it, that drowning is more fear than real possibility, that even those who never properly learned how to swim — or who have long forgotten — are capable of staying afloat.

Do You Have A Type?

Filed under: Men, Summer Guy — Elle October 29, 2007 @ 3:05 am

Because I don’t. I know it’s hard to believe. People like to declare that they’re type-less and then they tack on the criteria of “as long as he’s not a Republican.” Me? I’ve dated a Republican.

You would think that it might be tougher to date someone of a different cultural or religious background. Well, not for me. Republicanism might as well be the Christianity of a foreign land named Coulterville. I spent my entire relationship with Summer Guy attempting to ignore the fact that I was sleeping with the enemy, but at the end of it all, I learned a lot about myself. My views on race, poverty, and gay rights came out stronger, because his (facetious) challenges to them made me think critically about why I believed the things I did.

(A year and a half later, it now looks like he’s on the verge of a conversion to my god. Can’t help but feel a little smug about that.)

I was fairly non-discriminatory even before the Republican, but I think I’m even more so now. Race, religion, profession, education, class, whatever: as long as the guy’s tolerant and intelligent, none of it really matters. Just about the only criteria of late is age and even that’s rather lax (within five years of my own — and obviously, no 15-year-olds). Further, I don’t merely claim to be an equal-opportunity bed partner. I actually am in practice. Thanks to public misconception and a ton of presumption, I get quite a bit of criticism for only dating or sleeping with white guys, which pisses me off because that’s indicative of major stereotyping of Asian women. The actual racial breakdown in my history between white vs. everything else? Probably closer to 70-30, which is within five percentage points of Harvard’s actual demographic makeup.

Still, I think I go through phases — trends, if you will — during which I become fond of a certain kind of guy. For example, I’ve hooked up with three rugby players, which is pretty disproportionate for someone with only one friend on an athletic team. It’s also with bemusement that I’ve noticed my recent liking for less corporate and more creative types as well as — drumroll, please — undergrads! Crushes and hook-ups from late summer to mid-autumn include: an actor, a photographer, a couple NYU guys, four writers (three professional, one aspiring), a tech geek, a Currierite, another Harvard junior, and a grad student doing something other than law/medicine/business. A diverse bunch, but none are cubicle-bound.

So in the interest of kicking off an interesting comment thread, here’s my ideal type at the moment. He may or may not actually exist in real life.

(Also, notice that race is as close as I get to discussing looks when it comes to type. I don’t have a type in terms of looks either, though I admittedly err toward the darker-featured. Every guy I get involved with is gorgeous in my eyes … as he should be!)

Race: Unimportant
Religion: Agnostic, whatever he can get, “spiritual”
Education: In school, whether it’s undergrad or grad
Bad Habits: Poor hygiene and messiness unacceptable, drug use tolerable.
Super Powers: Enough tech savvy to resuscitate my website when I do something stupid to it, culinary expertise, and tolerance for my “quirks” (also known as “my friends”). Just kidding, I love you guys.
Other Important Stuff: He must like sushi and be well-read.

Your list?

Quickies: Weekend Recapped

Filed under: Philadelphia, Quickies, Summer Guy, Travel — Elle October 21, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

Weather has been beautiful the past couple days. Head of the Charles was clearly blessed this year. A few blurbs:

* This Thursday, come hear me speak at a True Love Revolution discussion forum from 5-7pm in the Winthrop JCR. Details follow:


A discussion forum to be held Thursday, October 25th, from 5-7 in the Winthrop JCR.
Could opposites attract?
Join us as Lena Chen, author of blog “Sex & The Ivy,” and Janie Fredell, of the True Love Revolution, face off in an open discussion on sex & dating at Harvard over pizza.

* Decided that my Halloween outfit should come with a twist. JB is going to be Peter Prep/Pan, his Jewish boyfriend is going to be Captain Hook Nose, I am going to be Chinkerbell, and Kay (who’s Indian) is going to be Tiger Chutney/Lily. We’re going for “Most Patently Offensive” group costume. Still need a costume? Buy from Pierre Silber. I was this close to coming as a sexy version of a Hogwarts gal.

* Totally pumped for next weekend’s Halloween parties. Always tend to have fun at these, and I love that Heaven & Hell forces my River friends to party at the Quad for once (and thus, visit me in Currier). Might be hosting a pre-game since I anticipate more pals willing to make the trek than usual.

* Summer Guy visited this weekend. Was fun and significantly less stressful than when he visited this summer in New York (in the midst of my 50-hour weeks). Might be spending Thanksgiving in D.C. with him. Never been to the city, so it could be fun. Plus, tons of friends from California are spending this semester in D.C.

* Was supposed to go to Dartmouth homecoming, but couldn’t since Summer Guy visited. What a shame, because I wanted to see CeCe, my UCSD friend who spent last quarter at Dartmouth and flew in to visit.

* Been thinking about visiting Philadelphia as well. It’s been six months since I last visited for spring break, and I kind of want to check it out again. Plus, my friend’s boyfriend, a Penn student, was visiting this weekend and I found myself yearning to be on the campus while talking to him about what was going on there.

* Somehow managed to light the conveyor toaster in Mather on fire yesterday. I was trying to toast a warp and it got stuck at the end and caught fire. The dining staff — who let me say preemptively, I do love and appreciate — came to my aid but one snapped, “Those are not allowed in the machine!” I replied, “Sorry, I didn’t know!” (After all, the sign above it only says that buttered goods aren’t to be toasted.) I got a terse “Guess we’ll just have to make a sign” in response. Great, I am now responsible for the dummy-proofing of Harvard dining facilities.

“Where Are They Now?”: Ex-Boyfriends Edition

Filed under: Aidan, Berklee, Dating/Relationships, Kyle, Mark, Men, Peter, Riley, Sam, Summer Guy — Elle July 19, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

Consider this a sexy, condensed version of VH1’s Where Are They Now?

Some readers have inquired via email and comments about the missing men in my life, so I thought I’d offer up some explanations in semi-chronological order (not really). Hopefully, the following will help everyone understand why 1) these guys have dropped off the face of the earth — the planet being my blog — and 2) have left me single and disillusioned…

Berklee — When we last hooked up beginning of spring semester, he said, “I’m seeing a girl who reads your blog. Don’t identify me!” Fine. No more free sex. Let’s be friends.

Aidan — Exhibit A in “What Happens When You Blog About Transparent Cases of Housecest.” Or conversely, “How To Broadcast The Car Wreck That Is Your Love Life While Becoming a Celebrity in Three Weeks or Less!” Ahem, we’re friends. He’s also the only one currently within fucking distance.

Peter — Oh honey, we knew this wasn’t going anywhere anyway. We’re friends.

Kyle — Surprise! He had a girlfriend. We hooked up during an off-period and kept doing so after they were back on. I’m a bad person. We do not hook up anymore because I would like to stop being a bad person. We’re friends.

Sam — He had a kind-of girlfriend. Who I did NOT know about and who did NOT know about me. He told us both we were sexually exclusive. (I deserved this for the Kyle thing). NOT FRIENDS.

Riley — He had a girlfriend. Who I did not know about. And was my friend. And lived in a dorm five blocks from mine. Massive amounts of forgiveness (and a few punches!) later, we’re friends.

Mark — Good: Works too many hours to have a girlfriend, secret or otherwise. Bad: No time to blow money on me. Boo. His wallet and I are friends!

Summer Guy — Visited me in April. Always has a sort-of, kind-of, not-really girlfriend. Still talk all the time, still care deeply/want to have babies with him — but in a detached kind of way! And maybe ix-nay on the babies. We’re … you guessed it, friends.

In conclusion, I have a lot of friends I want to have sex with/take money from.

But kidding aside, Mark is my current fave, even if the possibility of this turning into something more is next to nil. And no, this has nothing to do with money, because I’m only a pretend golddigger.

Oh and the whole streak with guys who have girlfriends? Not broken. Number six was last weekend. Is there some kind of spray to deter taken men? Please?


Filed under: Dating/Relationships, Love, Summer Guy — Elle May 22, 2007 @ 2:43 am

This weekend at Dartmouth, I was hanging out with Cece and a pal when we got to discussing her boyfriend. She’s spending her quarter in Hanover on exchange while he’s staying in San Diego and being exceedingly attentive and understanding despite the distance. At one point, I had the urge to tell her, “You have the sweetest boyfriend ever, Cece.”

But I didn’t. Cece is one of my best friends from home and her current boyfriend is my ex-boyfriend from high school. Complimenting her on her great catch seems incredibly odd, when I was the last girl to date him. But then again, the guy she’s with today is not at all the same person I was in love with at 16 and I consider him more a friend (or even, the boyfriend of a friend) than I do an ex. It’s like he’s this entirely new individual who I’ve re-met and re-integrated into my life.

It’s different with my last significant relationship. Try as I might, I’m not able to say that Summer Guy’s my friend, but “ex-boyfriend” doesn’t quite fit either. The latter sounds like such a write-off, and he means so much more than just a blip in my romantic history. On the other hand, I don’t treat or deal with him in the same way as I do my other friends. While I never get into fights with pals, we bicker and argue and vow to not speak. We also go through long periods of regular phone calls and IMs. I have spoken to him more often than I have spoken to anyone else in California, including my mother and my best friend. He is the only person during my entire time at college who has flown to Boston for the express purpose of visiting me. He is one of only two people whose presence I actively yearn for (the other being my mother). Yet from 3,000 miles, I do not nurse hopes of a romantic reconciliation and would be more than wary of dating again even if we lived in the same city. So what am I left with?

It is easy to tell my friends I love them. I say it on the phone, as a goodbye, over email. I mean it, certainly, but when I tell Summer Guy that I love him, it means something more than a response-by-reflex. I love him like I love my best friends — deeply and unconditionally. But he is not my best friend either. My best friends are two girls from California I consider sisters and two Harvard friends who have stuck by me since freshman fall. These are people who have seen me through intense times of change and tumult. How can I say my love for him is the same as my love for them? And yet, it seems quite fitting. After all, I share with him a unique understanding I share with each of them. Cultivated over time, it is something that can only be felt, not articulated.

There is no one else in my life like Summer Guy. The almost frightening truth is that he is irreplaceable. Thus, I don’t want to call him my ex-boyfriend because he is not just my ex-boyfriend, but I don’t want to call him my friend because he is not just my friend. And so I guess the best I can do is say that he is someone I love very, very much.

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