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Who You Let In Your Bed You Let In Your Head

Sexual Experience Caveat

San Francisco - The Inner Richmond, Spring 2008

Ethan watched my fiancéeé move out and immediately invited me upstairs, where he suggested I become lovers with his much younger female best friend, Melissa. It seemed like such a bad idea I was surprised to hear it. He knew I was just hours removed from the most serious and traumatic romantic relationship in my life so far.

But I really admired Ethan, the little I knew of him. He was the owner of our duplex, as he told me when me and my ex had moved in a month earlier. Like me, he studied some classic literature in college. He quoted occasionally from some of my favorite books. He was the owner of his own business too, and I had seen him flipping pies at his pizzeria many times. It was near my own oddities shop; I ate there with my fiancéeé when we were together.

At 53 years old, and as a property owner and a fellow business owner in our idyllic San Francisco neighborhood, Ethan seemed like an ideal mentor, an older brother of sorts. He told me he was divorced himself and knew what I was going through. I felt lucky to be renting an apartment from him, lucky that he had taken me under his wing.

For better or for worse, I’d describe myself as the type of person who entertains the suggestions of people I respect, especially when they are insistent and persistent. I trusted Ethan enough to take his suggestion to at least get to know Melissa. I promised myself I’d make sure not to hurt her in any way, as she was Ethan’s dear friend and I knew she was too young for this to be a serious relationship.

I had seen Melissa before; she was at the upstairs side of the duplex every other day or so hanging with Ethan. I had never given her a second thought, or even a second look.

Melissa was 22 and a recent drop out after two semesters at City College of San Francisco. Her family still supported her. I was 16 years her senior at 38 years old and had earned a degree and built a successful career. Melissa didn’t seem like the sort of person I would want to date. In fact, after my breakup the day before, I made up my mind not to date anyone for awhile, and then only to date only women in their early thirties with college educations, careers, and lots of travel experience.

I told Ethan that and then listened to him as he went on and on about what an amazing and beautiful “six hundred year old soul” Melissa had. Ethan spent several evenings bringing us together, just the three of us for hours, enjoying dinners he cooked for us on his outdoor grill. Music, drinks, stories, magic mushrooms, marijuana. They really enjoyed cocaine in a way I never had, so I just watched them snort lines, took a taste of it off my finger with my tongue, and persisted in drinking, joint-smoking, and deep, intimate conversation.

It was a week like I’d never had with anyone, just the three of us so together in our special house doing special things. I felt so warm inside, especially considering how alone I’d just felt over the long-term relationship I just lost.

Melissa spent three nights that week in my bed, with her head on my ex fiancée's pillow. Every morning at sunrise, I opened myself up to her like she was my soulmate. Since this is a sex column, I suppose I should say that the sex each night and morning was nice. How bad can sex be amongst two fit and consenting healthy bodies?

What I really liked about the sex wasn’t the swinging of her well-formed breasts, or grabbing her long blonde-tipped hair from behind, or seeing the sexy lines leading to her vaginal lips, or the delight of removing a thong from smooth round ass cheeks and tight firm thighs, or the more X-rated details of who came when and where…

This is a sex article more about the power of sex, physically and emotionally, and its consequences. What I really liked about the sex, what was most addictive to me, was the bonding, the connection, the hours of intimate conversation and direct eye-to-eye attention before and after. Melissa and Ethan hanging on my every word, interested in me; me getting interested in and infatuated with them. I had this pretty young girl I knew I could trust thanks to our mutual and much older friend, someone who understood me through her friendship with my new mentor.

It was as if my ex fiancée had been instantly replaced. I now had a best friend-with-benefits in my house, practically a roommate, and she was up for anything with me. Melissa talked about having threesomes together. She said she had experience, and Ethan had eyewitness accounts to back it up.

I imagined this new world into which I had seemingly entered. I gave Melissa the code to my front door. I introduced Melissa and Ethan to all my friends and my employees at my oddities shop. My store was already sponsoring free community events, so now I created more of them and geared them specifically to include my two new friends.

Ethan had met Melissa when she was working behind the counter of his pizza shop three years earlier. With that in mind, Ethan encouraged me to bring my more fun employees over to party with us. I couldn’t believe a successful business owner was encouraging me to fraternize with my employees! He had figured it out somehow. This was a man who knew how to break the rules—or to live by no rules at all. How he accomplished this, I deeply wanted to learn myself. I decided I would study at the foot of the master.

Ethan and Melissa seemed to love meeting everyone at my shop’s new weekly “oddball events series” the first Friday night of every month. They hosted afterparties for us at our duplex, upstairs—but then they failed to invite me. And then it happened again.

I asked them about it.

“Of course, you’re always welcome,” Ethan said. “Don’t take things so personally. We just forgot to invite you because we knew you’d come.”

But then they started hanging out with seemingly everyone to whom I introduced them upstairs and without me. They brought their guests to the common areas where I was having a patio built from which we could all look out on a clear day or night to see all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. It seemed to me that Ethan and Melissa were now acting as if we had never been close at all, as if I was just some random guy who lived downstairs.

I freaked out. I confided my worries about feeling left out to Ethan, my new mentor, friend, neighbor and landlord. The one who had set me up with Melissa in the first place. He explained that it was all my problem. I was simply attached. I couldn’t control people. It wasn’t my place to tell my friends they couldn’t hang out together without me.

I certainly couldn’t say Ethan was wrong. I was incredibly attached. I didn’t want to control anyone. I thought I had a bond and a friendship with this person, these two people, and now I felt abandoned and rejected and used by both of them and I didn’t know why.

I called and texted Melissa, thinking she would comfort me with an explanation. She offered no reply for a day. Then two days. I saw her coming and going from Ethan’s. She no longer knocked on my door or called out to say hello to me. She just passed without acknowledging me.

This wasn’t some floozy I’d met at a bar and with whom I had shared some one night stand. This was someone who was at my house every other day, who came on to me so strongly that she was now embedded in my daily life with all my friends, employees, and customers. She had been introduced to me—personally recommended to me, even—by my landlord, neighbor, friend, and mentor.

I had a meltdown. I must’ve sent her thirty or forty texts in a row begging for her just to respond. Finally I asked her to just exit my life forever.

When I saw her a few days later and confronted her in person about feeling abandoned and rejected, she told me to never speak of our weeklong love affair. She told me our experience was meaningless, over with, done forever. She said we could still be friends. She said she would even be the best ‘wingwoman’ I could want, that she would hook me up with lots of girls whenever we’d do stuff together.

I was devastated by her diminished attention toward me, if only because she was now so deeply enmeshed in my home life, my social life, and even my business life. Everyone now knew and loved the wonderful Melissa I had introduced to them! There was no way to make her leave my life, like I would at the end of a normal fling.

But I had never wanted to date her anyway. So a wingwoman, as she described her new role, did seem like a great thing to have. I was a 38 year old financially and professionally accomplished, physically fit man with a full head of hair. What could I possibly complain about? I was more successful than I had been able to imagine myself becoming, and so at this stage in my life, I just wanted good people with whom I could share my victories. I could only imagine the amazing woman I would attract with this college-age girl at my side as my confidant and ally.

Out of ego and pride, I believed I was a successful and powerful person, so much so that if I was to just remain in Melissa’s presence long enough, her connection to me would be restored through my consistent acts of care and generosity. We would be great friends after all. Best friends. Like brother and sister…or stepbrother and stepsister, who’d hooked up for a week once. Anyway, our relationship would mean something. That bond I had felt between us would be real. The feelings of rejection and abandonment would go away.

In those next two weeks, through my introductions in my new role as wingman, Melissa went from hooking up with me to hooking up with my friend Josh to dating my personal assistant Wally.

I figured Melissa would return the favor, introducing me to some girls for the same purpose. She never did.

I hadn’t considered that Melissa might actually start dating any of the guys I introduced her to, let alone Wally, the short, round-faced employee who always seemed to covet anything I had. In fact, that covetousness is why I introduced them. I knew Wally had the skills to hold Melissa’s attention if he wanted her enough, and that he would want her, simply out of her prior romantic association with me. But I hadn’t thought Melissa would stick with him.

That’s when I started to notice that Melissa was treating me no longer as a friend at whom she’d once aggressively thrown herself, but as an unworthy suitor she’d been rejecting all her life. Gone completely was the bond and friendship I had so deeply felt when she was in my bed.

I felt duped. I was confused. How was this the same girl who had come on to me so strongly? The one who appeared to have such a head-over heels crush on me that I wanted to make sure I didn’t break her heart? What had changed? I wished I’d never met her. Why had I brought her into my life?

Melissa brought Wally over to Ethan’s nearly every day. They were always hanging out in our common area, where I had just paid to install the new patio with the bridge view. I made the improvements on the place to improve my own social life with my new friends, Ethan and Melissa, and for our guests. Now I didn’t want to be there. I felt like my employee was being used to demean me.

For months on, Melissa alternated her time between my home address and my business address, ignoring me at both, not even saying hi to me anymore, ignoring me in front of the employees and friends to whom I introduced her just weeks earlier when we were sleeping together. It was humiliating. Why was this person still around me and why did I feel so rejected and abandoned? I had only met her reluctantly at the suggestion of Ethan, and had brought her in to my circle thinking she would be a great friend to me. Now I hated my life. I hated being at home. I hated being at my oddities shop. I hated being around Wally and the rest of the staff, who all seemed to acknowledge him and the boss now instead of me.

Could I blame Melissa? Was she doing this on purpose? Was it all a plan between her and Ethan from day one? I wasn’t sure she was even aware she was doing anything.

So I told her it was hurting my feelings having her in my life this way. I asked her for help. She told me I was being too sensitive and that this is what friends do. She told me to “get over it.”

I confided my concerns to Ethan and asked his advice. He agreed with Melissa that I was just too sensitive. She could do whatever she wanted and it was my role as their friend to accept it and keep my unpleasant feelings to myself. I was wrong to feel upset.

I could hardly bring up with subject with Wally. What could I say to him? He was my employee. I didn’t want anything from him. I just wanted my friends back, and not to have to share my closest confidantes with someone on my payroll. And I wanted Wally to respect me again and to not impose upon my personal life by coming around without my invitation. I lived there after all. A little bit of privacy didn’t seem much to ask—but somehow it did. It was like he didn’t understand. Maybe he didn’t want to understand.

Was I just crazy?

Wally asked for more responsibilities at the oddities shop. I gave him all the responsibility he asked for. He asked me for a loan, and for advances in pay he claimed to need to cover immediate bills, and I gave him those too. As long as he was dating Melissa and being treated as family by Ethan, I too would treat Wally as family. He would be my little brother, and I would care for him as such. It would have to be that way. How else could my life make any sense? Wally, just like Ethan and Melissa, was beyond reproach. It was wrong for me to suspect them of anything hurtful or harmful to me. If I ever felt taken advantage of by them, I would accept that it was my fault for having such feelings. I would commit to being less suspicious and to giving even more.

At the same time, I had never foreseen Wally entering my personal life so intimately and being at my home so much. I felt like he was taking over my relationships, taking over my shop, taking over my home and even my identity. I couldn’t fire him over it. I couldn’t fight him over it. I decided to just give him more space to do whatever he wanted.

Eventually, I began to suspect that Ethan, Melissa, and Wally were doing this to me on purpose, and they were enjoying it. They all held a power over me, one I was unable to articulate at the time but now understand as this: I would’ve done anything to win back from Ethan and Melissa the attention and affection they showered on me initially. They now gave that love to Wally, almost as if in performances at my home and at my shop, so it was impossible for me to ignore.

Was it maliciousness? Was it carelessness? Was it all just an invention of my mind?

Friends would never do this to one another, I told myself. They swore that they were my best friends. I believed they were my best friends. Now Melissa was even telling me she loved me. Ethan told me he loved me. Wally, my employee, started giving me long hugs every time he saw me and telling me he loved me too. It became something I got used to from all three. “I love you,” they said every time I saw them—especially, it seemed, when I felt most hurt by them. Sometimes I said it back. I had no idea what love even meant anymore.

I wished often that I could just wake up and not know any of them, that I could have my business and my life free of them. But breaking up with them then meant firing at least one employee and moving out of my apartment. I’d spent ten thousand dollars furnishing it when I moved in just months ago with my former fiancée, not to mention another ten on the communal bridge view patio. Breaking off our friendship would also mean also breaking up with all the friends I had introduced to them, with whom they were now so deeply intermingled. And cutting them out also meant standing up to them, and to standing up to anyone else who’d gotten used to walking all over me. This would seem so out of character that everyone would probably think I was the one who’d “changed” and blame me for the fallout.

So I took Ethan and Melissa’s advice and tried to be less sensitive. After all, everyone loved me because I was “so chill,” they said. They weren’t hurting my feelings. They weren’t invading my life. They were friends. They loved me. This is just what friends do, I told myself.

For the next 18 months I agonized over leaving the situation. I even left my business and apartment for as many weeks as I could manage. But I kept hanging on, waiting for something good to come out of it.

It was a nightmare. I was no longer pursuing my passions or life goals and didn’t know why. I was swimming in limerence for Melissa who I had accepted into my life against my own better judgement, and instantly and wrongly I had trusted her and Ethan with my deepest feelings. It was if Melissa had been some female extension of Ethan and now I wanted nothing but reciprocation of my feelings toward both of them.

Did they know this? Could they have just told me what was going on and we all could have happily exited the situation? Was it my fault for believing they were the types of people who would stop me from letting them, or others, take without reciprocating?

My oddities shop and all the casual neighborhood friends I had made through it had all been infiltrated now by Ethan and Melissa, who seemed to have made me her submissive. (And now it felt like Wally too was treating me as his subordinate. My own employee! How had I gotten into this mess?) Could I even blame Melissa or even say it was her doing? Was it all my fault? Was it Ethan’s fault for suggesting, nay, recommending, that Melissa and I begin a sexual relationship in the first place? Had he known this was going to happen? Wasn’t it obvious this would happen? Had he actually coached Melissa through the whole thing? Did he set me up? Did he target and groom me for this abuse? Was it all my fault for longing so badly for a return of the attention and affection they first showed me? How had I gotten myself into such a mess? Was it Melissa’s fault for her role in this? For not being more open communicator to me?

Or was it all my fault? I just took it all too seriously or something and made this all happen? It was my life, after all. My home, my business, my relationships, and all my friends and acquaintances seemingly caught in the middle. I had created in my own head that Ethan was someone I looked up to, someone I could trust, and that Melissa by extension was worthy of my same faith. Was I guilty of idealizing people I hardly knew? Was I that desperate to look to another man for leadership and protection, and to expect his friends to care about my well-being? Was it there fault for not living up to my expectations?

While all this was going on, mostly just to distract myself, I met, hooked up with, and even dated some wonderful and attractive women. Some of them were physically beautiful, statuesque women with perfect features, women with fake boobs, women with great natural tits, a woman with six pack abs, one very pretty woman with the happiest and funniest and most enjoyable personality who I still miss fondly, all of whom I maintained friendly relations with afterward…

Almost all of these women were much more attractive and all better qualified mates for me than Melissa. Unfortunately for all those wonderful women, and for me as their partner, I always had the specter of Melissa hovering over me both literally and figuratively, at my house and at my business. I couldn’t get Melissa off my brain, and if I did, she reappeared in my home or shop nearly every day, always seeming to reinforce the feeling of rejection. Whenever she was around, I felt like she treated me as a discarded product and that treatment was designed to repel every other woman. I’ve never felt so small or had so little dignity.

I think now that mine was just a normal human reaction to the proximity of a former mate who once came on very strongly and then surprised her former lover with unexplained rejection. Whether or not she was intentionally using this as a weapon, I may never know.

At that point Melissa interacted with my social circle just as much if not more than I did, and within that group of people I felt it could be sensed among them that I was her submissive, desperate to please not just her but Ethan in any way. Confused and embarrassed, and feeling unable to shake this unwanted identity that followed me from home to business, I simply shrank inside.

After almost a year, Melissa finally broke up with Wally, who had been taking advantage of me and my business. By that point, he owed me thousands of dollars in unrepaid loans and advances in pay. To make matters worse, while I had been paying him to work at my oddities shop, Wally set up his own eBay business on the side, using my shop’s logo and address while collecting payments himself without my permission. He even wrote checks to himself from my accounts, selling his inventory to my store at his own prices without my permission or approval. After Melissa dumped him, he soon stopped performing even more of his duties and got himself fired. Only months later did I discover the mess of theft and deception he had created.

I figured Ethan and Melissa and I would go on being friends. For a few months that was the case. I was relieved to no longer have Wally around, even though I seemed to lose what little connection I had left with Melissa when their relationship ended. I was disappointed in everyone. I felt like Ethan and Melissa and Wally had all let me down. But at least I wouldn’t have to move, and I felt like I had my shop back, especially since I canceled the monthly “oddball events” at the shop.

Then I asked Ethan to stop inviting Wally to our duplex because he had stolen from me, owed me money, and, most troubling, was still illegally using my logo and address to deceive customers online. I had asked Wally to stop and he wouldn’t. I was scared if he were to come around, the situation would get out of hand.

I figured as a fellow local business owner, Ethan would have my back. But Ethan said I wasn’t being fair in asking that of him. He said that he could bring over anyone he wanted and had no obligation to watch out for my well-being. I thought he just didn’t understand and put his response down to a bad mood.

Ethan agreed to watch my dog while I was out of town. I came home to find that Ethan and Wally had been inside my apartment without my permission. They left me a photo of themselves giving me the middle finger.

Confused fool that I was, I confronted Ethan. Surely he was my friend, my fellow business owner, my older, wise mentor figure… he could explain it all away. Instead he got angry told me it wasn’t his responsibility to keep his guest out of my apartment, and that I would have to call the police if I wanted any resolution.

“YOU are not that important!” he shouted, snatching the middle finger photo from my hand, crumpling it in a ball, and throwing it off the bridge view patio where we stood in confrontation.

It occurred to me then that maybe Ethan had always secretly disliked me or was even jealous of me for some reason.

“I guess this means you’re finally moving out!” he added.

In the process of reporting the incident to SFPD and moving out, I learned something that shocked me. Ethan was not the owner of the home I was renting, as he had told me. He wasn’t even a business owner, as he had said. He was just the owner’s son, living at one of his parents’ properties and cooking pizzas at one of his parents’ businesses. He would most likely the pizzeria and the duplex one day, but we were not in any way fellow travelers along the same life trajectory. Now I knew how he could invite his employees over to do drugs with him. They weren’t actually his employees! I was taking advice on being a boss from someone who had never been one. He was indeed older than me, but I gave up hoping he was any wiser. And I stopped thinking of him as a friend, at least not in the definition of any friend I want in my life. The mentor I had seen in him was dead.

Clearly this situation was in so many ways my own fault. I had been so eager to have a mentor figure (perhaps even a father figure) in my life, and so willing to trust his choice of lover. While I thought I was taking the counsel and direction of someone well-meaning, I had actually made myself the puppet of someone who didn’t have the experience to guide me, and who seemed to get just as much (if not more) joy watching me squirm in pain as he did celebrating my achievements.

There must have been thirty or so friends and neighborhood acquaintances of mine in our Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco caught in the middle of my strange friendship with the man I thought was my landlord and mentor and his female best friend I had mistaken for my own. It felt like every single one of them thought I lost my mind and that I was a bad person for no longer including Ethan or Melissa or Wally in my life or work. It felt like my whole world had turned its back on me. Luckily I had my family, and my lifelong friends all over the country and all over the world, who were completely removed from what had become a toxic situation.

Perhaps I’m wrong. For every character involved, there is at least one more side to any story. Perhaps in Ethan and Melissa and Wally’s version I was taking advantage of him somehow. Maybe I was. Maybe I just wanted people to party with and that’s what I got. All I know of their perspectives is from what they told me: that I’m too sensitive, that we were friends, that they loved me.

What I learned:

Every person has their own narrative,

and while it’s important to consider other narratives than your own, no one’s narrative, when it concerns your life, is more important than yours. It’s your life. No one else’s. Anyone else’s thoughts about your experience can be no more than an imagined idea.

Don’t look up to people.

Only you know best for yourself. Even the best lifeguard can fail to save someone. The security other people offer us is limited at best.

A “friend,” by my definition, is someone you can count on to get you out of trouble, not someone who gets you into trouble.

A friend is not someone who lets you stay in a bad situation, or who encourages you to harm yourself or to be anything less than you desire to be. A friend is someone you can count on to uplift you in all ways, and someone who, if they do let you down, will apologize and make up for it.

If you feel rejected by someone, or someone allows you to feel rejected, leave them alone and never try to win their respect, even—especially—if they gave it lavishly before.

They may be intentionally trying to manipulate you. Better off alone loving yourself than working to feel loved by another.

15 years later…

Ethan is still around, I suspect, though I’m gone from the neighborhood most of the time traveling so I haven’t seen him or spoken to him in years. The pizza place is still there, so I presume he or someone in his family must be kicking along just fine. I neither see nor hear from Melissa or Wally at all. Probably for the best.

As for me, I focused on my career and built community and businesses around my passions. I myself am 53 now, and the rather old father of a young child. It’s hard for me to believe how naive and easily influenced I was at that time, but I don’t really know I could have learned these lessons any other way. I like to believe that and to be thankful and wish well on all the people involved.

And my oddities shop? It survives, I am proud to say! Though it’s evolved so much so that this origin story really has nothing to do with the ad I’ll leave as the end of this story… But if you want to visit a real life oddities shop here in San Francisco, visit the Pirate Supply Shop at 826 Valencia, San Francisco, CA.


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