New ways to blow it

Written by

The Gromble – Toto

She wasn’t quite sure when it started. All she knew is that one balmy night in the car she became aware that Fred was unnervingly comfortable touching her stomach.

The aircon was on to combat the sticky heat. He made some half-assed joke about babies while driving and reached over to pat her belly, where one would grow if, God forbid, she became pregnant. She pushed his arm away as quickly as she could, but he kept chuckling.

That wasn’t the first time either. It had been happening relatively frequently recently. Once, when she’d made an off-the-cuff joke about her protruding beer-belly, he’d viewed that as an invitation to palm her bulging shirt. Another time he had playfully punched her in the gut. Each time she pushed his arms away and told him not to touch her, and each time he laughed her protests off.

They weren’t dating. It wasn’t that. She knew he was harmless enough. It just felt like an invasion of personal space that she couldn’t convey was inappropriate. She wasn’t even exactly sure why it bothered her quite so much.

The slight she felt was undeniable, however. Each time, she instantly shut down in the conversation and could feel the pressed area tingle with lingering regret. She felt dirty. Which didn’t seem fair, since he was a friend and no one else seemed to ever care, but it was how she felt.

So she examined her motives. It was possible she merely felt tender there, her soft underbelly, directly between and so close in proximity to her breasts and vagina, and didn’t necessarily want to be touched there in public, even in friendly conversation, by anyone, be it Fred or a boyfriend or a mother. Some added weight in recent months surely didn’t help. That point seemed to hold some validity, but felt insufficient. Hypothesis No. 2: She had noticed, through the years, that often how she reacted to touch told her how she really felt about someone — occasionally, an instinctive recoil at the benign arm brush of someone she had previously thought she liked would underline that the relationship had been superficial and that some issue, an unwillingness of the supposed friend to show a softer side or mercy even in tougher situations for instance, would forever prevent her from truly caring about the supposed friend — and maybe her overboard emotional reaction to Fred’s contact with her stomach was her own psyche’s way of revealing her own feelings to herself, not about the touch, but about Fred himself. It was true that she’d always felt some disconnect with Fred, that, as much as she appreciated his perpetually upbeat spirit and overwhelming willingness to prioritize friendship above other important parts of life, deep down she knew the two of them would always approach life with an intrinsic, irreparable difference.

She spent a long time trying to drum up Hypothesis No. 3, because, without it, she was left with the unconvincing first guess, which she knew to be incomplete, and the cruel Hypothesis No. 2, which she wasn’t ready to fully embrace.

When she spent time exploring other reasons, her thoughts usually turned to one of two exercises. One, she would try to imagine if she would have the same reaction to others touching her belly. She couldn’t remember offhand if anyone else ever had, but was sure that at some point in her life someone must have felt her stomach, at least incidentally. Did the fact that it hadn’t imprinted her memory enough to recall now mean that it hadn’t bothered her? Or were circumstances significantly different enough to negate its impact and emotional reaction?

This exercise always frustrated her on two levels. Firstly, she couldn’t imagine her emotional reaction to anyone else touching her belly, a close girlfriend, say, because the unexpected severity of the reaction was what had so startled her and caused all this fretting in the first place. She couldn’t have predicted her reaction to Fred’s touch beforehand either, so mental experiments wouldn’t work. Secondly, she couldn’t replicate the situation with another, closer, friend, because the invitation to touch her belly would release the barrier she felt had been so crudely bashed aside by Fred. It was like the difference between her laboriously rubbing herself in the shower in an attempt to get off versus the magic and tingle and exhilaration and euphoria of someone else’s hand down the front of her pants.

The second exercise she fell back into was trying to figure out how to make Fred stop. She’d pushed his arm away consistently as quickly as she could. She had never laughed with him. She’d told him, immediately after each incident, not to touch her. And she’d fairly obviously shut down in the conversation each time.

She was extremely non-confrontational, but that wasn’t it. She felt silly. Despite being convinced of, if not the validity, then at least the accurateness and acuteness of her feelings, it seemed spurious and pitiful to address the issue separately, as in, to bring it up in a one-on-one conversation as something that needed addressed. She couldn’t even imagine how he’d react to a direct confrontation because she couldn’t imagine herself ever doing that. It wasn’t like this was happening incessantly. It was maybe once every handful of times they hung out – sparsely enough to hope the most recent time was the last and that if she just approached each situation perfectly it would never repeat itself. Furthermore, it sometimes seemed to her, given the intensity of her emotional response combined with her fully acknowledged unwillingness to confront him directly about it, that perhaps a suitable solution was to never hang out with Fred again. If he was never in the same room as her, he’d have an awfully difficult time patting her stomach.

Even considering ending the relationship of course made her think that it was an issue worth confronting him about. But wait, the non-confrontational or the malicious part of her brain (she couldn’t tell which) countered: If the whole issue is that you deep-down don’t like him on some basic human level, then is that a relationship worth keeping at all, let along engaging in scary confrontation over? In this case, the easy road might turn out the best road too.

Of course, the easier road turned out to be the wrong road a statistically staggeringly amount of the time, and so she debated back and forth. Eventually all her interior conflict, exacerbated whenever she was around him, gave her a distant, moody demeanor around him, and the mental shift caused a tangible separation in their friendship, and they drifted apart. Plus he moved 45 minutes further away. Plus she started working out at the gym and that cut into a lot of the time they used to hang out. It was a lot of things. Whatever the reasons, they stopped hanging out as much, until it wasn’t at all, and then some months went by.

They ran into each other in a Ralph’s and he said “hey there” and she said “omigosh” and they hugged and she felt comfortable enough doing that.


One Response to “New ways to blow it”

  1. Stewart says:

    Touching. In a non-stomach way.

    Also, this girl’s name is Sarah, even though her name isn’t mentioned. I don’t know why.

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