Knowing What You Want, In Bed and In Life
At the heart of Mexico City, the Zócalo and its 200-year-old cathedral
I don’t usually Tinder much when I come to the Mexican city my mother is from. It’s a small, everyone-knows-everyone kind of place. So I’m intrigued when I match with a blue-eyed, sandy-haired, obviously foreign 31-year-old named Erik.
We meet the following day, and I find out he’s from Germany but has been living in Mexico for nine years. He’d come here on vacation, decided to stay a few months, then never left.
We quickly depart from the typical first date ‘whats-your-favorite-music-how-many-siblings-do-you-have’ script. We talk about our relationships with the different members of our families, and the ways German and American and Mexican culture differ from one another, and what it’s like to feel so at home in a place where you look different than everyone else.
He speaks fluent English and Spanish, and we alternate between the two. Everything about him seems solid and strong, his shoulders broad, his biceps straining against the sleeves of his t-shirt. His blue eyes contain specks of green and yellow.
But what I like most is his mind. He’s curious about everything, and dissects ideas piece by piece. He pauses before speaking, choosing his words intentionally. He seems to have personal experience with, detailed knowledge of, or a strong opinion on any topic that comes up.
That night, he texts “Awesome to meet you today.” The smile on my face is huge. A European guy who speaks fluent Spanish, loves Mexican culture, and happens to be super smart and hot—it’s like I won a lottery that was designed just for me.
Two days later we meet again. He’s wearing glasses (which I love), and he’s washed his hair (it was a little greasy last time, not that I minded), and he looks So. Good.
After watching the moon rise from the steps of the cathedral, we go to his favorite bar. We drink and talk and listen to the DJ spin, and the hours unwind. When he touches a hand to my forearm, I’m encouraged—surely there will be a goodnight kiss, at the very least.
I’m leaving tomorrow to go meet two American friends in Mexico City—250 miles away—so this may be the last time I see Erik, and I’m already smitten. I want this to be our beginning, not our end.
I’ve never been very daring when it comes to love, almost always choosing to play it safe rather than risk rejection. But that hasn’t worked out too great for me thus far, and Erik is the first person who’s given me butterflies in over a year, and it really is now or never. My heart rate quickens as I say, “Come to Mexico City with me.”
He looks intrigued, and asks where I’m staying and for how long, but gives a noncommittal shrug-nod to end the conversation.
When we say goodbye, I want nothing more than for him to grab me and kiss me, and I linger to give him a chance. But he’s still as a statue. Flustered, I hail a cab, wave goodnight, then ride home in an aggravated, tequila-induced fog.
In Mexico City two mornings later, I wake up to a text from Erik: “I’m on a bus headed there. Gets in at 3pm. See you soon.”
I blink. When I read the message again, it still says the same thing.
Holy shit. A guy I’ve been on only two dates with is taking a five-hour bus ride and disrupting his entire schedule for me.
Nothing like this has ever happened before. The farthest that men usually travel to see me is across a city, and even that takes days of planning.
So he didn’t kiss me yet—so what? He wouldn’t be coming if he wasn’t interested, right?
That night, after a slightly awkward dinner during which I can already tell my American friends aren’t crazy about Erik, they go to sleep, leaving the two of us alone.
We’re sitting on the couch talking, and it’s getting late, and I really want to kiss him but he’s not making a move. So I inch my face closer to his and go for it.
As far as first kisses go, it’s… odd. His lips graze mine, and they’re dry and puckered and unmoving, and he pulls away after about three seconds. He suggests going to bed, and I quickly agree.
Under the covers he embraces me, pulls me to his warm, muscled chest, and rubs my back—but that’s it. He shows zero interest in taking things any further.
I’m confused, but getting too sleepy to care. We did just meet last week, and we have three more nights, and there’s something sweet and tender in the way he’s holding me, so I decide to just enjoy that.
The following days are lovely. Erik and I explore the city together, talking about our lives, developing an easy emotional closeness. We walk around holding hands, and it’s been so long since I held someone’s hand, and I love how strong his hand feels around mine.
The nights, though, are nothing short of torturous. We sleep entwined, and I breathe in his scent and feel his heart beat against my cheek—but no hands wander, no clothing is removed.
Part of me understands Erik’s prudishness, because I’ve been known to be somewhat prudish myself. I usually like emotional intimacy to preclude physical, not vice versa. I like to wait a while, get to know someone first, have it mean something.
But I’m in the midst of the longest dry spell of my adult life, not coincidentally, in the wake of the worst breakup of my adult life. It feels far too cruelly ironic that Erik, the first person I’ve invited into my bed in over a year, doesn’t seem at all excited to be there. And the fact that he has the nicest body of any man I’ve ever dated just adds insult to injury.
I could take the initiative, like I did with the kiss. But there’s nothing more destructive to a woman’s ego than propositioning a man and being shot down. I don’t feel up to risking it.
Thinking it through, I realize that Erik has never given me a compliment, of any kind. I don’t think of myself as a girl who needs to be showered with praise, but c’mon—throw me a frikkin’ bone. What if he’s gay? What if he’s not attracted to me? What if he came all the way here simply because he had nothing better to do?
We’re walking through a park when something inside me snaps, and I stop mid-step and turn to him. “Why aren’t we having sex?” I demand.
I tell him that, for me, his coming here meant something—something kind of big. I tell him I’m looking for a relationship, and I really like him, but I’ve never shared a bed with a guy—a twin bed, for chrissakes—for three nights in a row and had nothing happen, except once and that guy was gay. I hold nothing back, because I’m leaving tomorrow and I’ve got nothing to lose.
“You obviously didn’t come here for sex,” I finish. “Are you interested in a relationship? Or else… what are you looking for?”
He puts an arm around my shoulders, and we walk several steps in silence before he finally says, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know…?” I press.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for,” he says. “I don’t know what I want.”
He tells me he came here to spend time with me, but hasn’t thought beyond that. He goes into detail about a past bad relationship, which made him hesitant to get intimate with anyone too fast.
I’m a little discouraged, but instead of cutting bait, I do the thing you’re never supposed to do: hope he’ll change.
Maybe he’ll figure out what he wants. Maybe he’s on the brink between man-child and man, and just needs a little nudge to finish making the transition. It’s not often someone comes along who makes me feel this way; I can wait.
That night is no different from the others, and in the morning I come out of the bathroom to see Erik lying on his stomach, shirtless, propped on his elbows reading. His muscular shoulders and back taper to a narrow waist, the line of his spine a deep, straight groove at its center. His skin is smooth and there’s not an ounce of flab on him. As I stand there staring, I realize that my mouth is actually watering—I’m a split second from drooling over this guy.
I have a renewed sympathy for every man who’s ever been blueballed.
After a friend tells me that Germans have a reputation for being bad kissers, I do some research. I find more than one article that says something to this effect: after the war, Germans came to associate traditional masculinity and assertiveness with Nazism, and the men thus became ultra-passive.
I’m mildly comforted at the idea that maybe the problem isn’t Erik, it’s all German men. But it still feels like too much of a blanket generalization, plus Erik left Germany nine years ago.
For the first couple weeks after I’m back in the US, Erik texts me every day. We say we miss each other, and we send photos of where we are and updates about what we’re doing.
Over the course of our communication, I realize Erik not only doesn’t know what he wants in love or in bed, he doesn’t know what he wants in life. He talks vaguely of doing an internship in Brazil, but hasn’t applied yet, though he wants to go this year. He’s not sure what kind of job he’d like to get once he finishes his master’s. He doesn’t like his apartment, but doesn’t feel like looking for a better one. He’d like to visit me in the US, but he’s living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford the flight.
Around the two-month mark Erik stops responding to my messages, with no warning or explanation.
I’m more hurt than I probably have reason to be; he never promised me anything, and I’d already figured out we weren’t long-term compatible. But he’d been the one to pull me out of a year-long funk, and he’d understood things about me that most people don’t.
Deep down, though, I know he’s doing me a favor. If he hadn’t ended it I probably would have kept waiting, letting time swirl down the drain.
I’ll never know what was in his head. Maybe there was something deeper going on I was oblivious to the whole time. Maybe he’ll know what he wants when he meets the right person, but that person wasn’t me. Maybe he won’t ever know.
You can’t always get what you want, but Erik showed me that knowing what that is is a great place to start. Without a target, you’ll miss it every time.
Note: A modified version of this content was originally published on RoleReboot