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Hey, Modern Love listeners. We’re looking for stories from people with divorced parents. And we’ve got a question — what’s the moment when your parents’ divorce really sunk in? Not necessarily when they told you they were separating, but the moment where it really hit you, and you realized, my life is different, and it’s always going to be different? Tell us about your moment of realization and find all the submission details by visiting nytimes.com/divorcedparents. That link is also in our show notes. We can’t wait to hear from you.
From The New York Times, I’m Anna Martin. This is Modern Love. When I was dating, I felt like people were always telling me to have fun. And, frankly, that ticked me off because I was like, this is not fun at all. I’m constantly confused, wondering if the person likes me, not sure if we want the same thing, terrified they’re ghosting me. Like, what is fun about that?
Today’s essay is by Denny Agassi. Denny managed to do what I never could. She was actually having fun dating. She was on the apps, hooking up with guys, and genuinely having a good time, until she met this one guy who made her want more.
Denny, welcome to Modern Love.
I heard you just celebrated a birthday.
[GASPS]: Who told you?
I know, one of my producers —
Oh my god. Rats.
One of my producers did. How old are you?
Oh my gosh, I’m 26.
All right, so, Denny, you wrote an essay about someone who wasn’t in your life for long but who helped you realize what you deserve in a relationship, what you’re worth. And I want to start the story when you just moved to New York City. How old were you when you moved here?
I was 21. I had just graduated from undergrad, and I went straight to my Fordham masters program. And I was really looking to truly get my Carrie Bradshaw New York City writer sweaters in the oven status, and I had published my first-ever piece, and it was about the correlation between transitioning and thrift shopping.
Thrifting, to me, means a lot because when I was transitioning, it was not only accessible. I felt like giving these old clothes a second chance. But it felt in tandem with myself, giving myself another chance of figuring out how I wanted to move through the world. And so I had left undergrad with this mentality of, I just want to enjoy being 21. I got Grindr for the first time that summer. I was not even looking to date. I really was OK with meeting people at their apartments. I was there with a mission.
What was the mission?
That’s when I started to learn that, a lot of the times, profiles were blank. And I think that was enough to let me know that there was some sort of a cultural shame, at least with guys who are attracted to women and women who are also trans.
Tell me a little bit more about what you understood a blank profile meant.
Well, it communicated to me that they didn’t want to be known.
Was your profile blank?
No. I had a few pictures, yeah. My bio was, “Be trans friendly. Send face to chat.” And so, usually, when guys messaged me, they would send a picture first. And when I had first moved, there were probably three or four guys I was seeing in rotation. And they were really lovely.
How were you feeling post hookup?
In the scope of Grindr, in the scope of hooking up and being a sexually active trans woman in New York City, I felt like I was doing — I was playing.
Four out of five — yeah, you were. Mhm.
And I think it was easy for me to not get attached because there was always one hang-up. Maybe there was a part of their personality I didn’t really feel attracted to, or maybe they were just a little bit older than I would have preferred. But there was always one thread that I could say, yeah, maybe this is not the best if I were to date you.
Right, it’s not going to work out because of this thing.
It’s not going to work out. But I think there comes to a point — maybe it’s hours later. Maybe it’s days later — that there is a comedown, and I sort of feel a bit emptier. And so maybe there is a bit of curiosity in me that’s like, OK, what if it was a little different? Because I did wonder a little bit — this is my Carrie Bradshaw moment. I wonder, what would it look like to have something more?
And then you meet this one guy.
Yeah. I was in my bedroom. I was doing homework. I had a message. And it was a selfie. And I was like, wow, he is really cute.
Oh my god, describe what he looked like.
OK, so —
“He is wearing a gray lacrosse shirt and what’s been his high school, and he had a bit of a smirk, and messy, light brown hair. And I thought, this guy is actually really adorable.”
So his first message to you was just the photo. Did he say anything?
He said hello.
You know, with a smiley face.
[LAUGHS]: And listen, compared to the other messages I’ve been getting, that was probably the most wholesome one.
Sad in retrospect.
I think I had said like, ah, a lacrosse boy, I see.
[LAUGHS]: And he was someone who immediately I could characterize as someone who is really playful with me. And, to me, that was really attractive.
Do you remember what his profile looked like?
It was blank.
Yeah, it was blank, other than his age. Yeah, it said 22. Yeah. And he tells me, I’m Jack, by the way. And I said, my name’s Denny. And then we exchanged numbers that night. And he would always initiate conversation. And getting messages like, you’re really pretty, or, you’re so cute — it was really simple. And I think what I really liked was just, honestly, how ordinary it felt, you know?
Mm. But then you and Jack did eventually meet up, and you have a part of your essay about the first time you hung out. Can you read that?
Yeah. [MUSIC PLAYING]
“The first afternoon Jack came over, he admired my bathtub and drank his cup of water with two hands. His poised demeanor in a beige wool peacoat and long scarf reminded me, in a good way, of John Bender in ‘The Breakfast Club.’ In my bedroom, he fixated on my yellow Power Ranger figurines. He noticed my framed academic award next to them on the windowsill.
We sat on my bed, my back leaning against the wall. He slouched his head onto my hip and wrapped his arms around my waist. This is weird, I thought. My hookups were mostly no cuddling, no expressions of affection. I kissed him and rolled on top. I took off my shirt, and he hugged me tight.
His face dug into my chest as he said, I like you. I think you’re really cool. Unsure how I actually felt, I said, oh, I think you’re really cool too.”
Were you caught off guard when he said, I like you?
Oh, I was like, what are you doing?
Tell me what was going through your mind.
Well, at first, I was honestly surprised by his honesty. At that point, I didn’t really have that much experience with guys who are really in touch with just expressing how they felt in the moment. You know, this guy is underneath me, and this is what he says. It was a bit of an, aw, but also, huh?
And in terms of the huh, you said that, initially, when you met him, there was some sort of inkling that maybe this could be something other than a hookup.
Yeah. So when he was looking at my academic award, he had asked, Oneonta, like SUNY Oneonta? And I was like, yeah. He said, oh, I went to Potsdam.
Are those schools close?
I had multiple friends at Potsdam. And so now, not only was he really cute and sincere, my age, I was really struggling to find that hang-up that I usually had with other guys. And for now to have mutual friend groups for our social circles to collide, there was a moment where I was like, oh my gosh, this guy is not only not a stranger to me anymore, but he understands my perspective of my universe because, in some ways, he lives in it too. It felt really intense.
But I remember seeing how cool he looked. You know, he had that a brown wool peacoat. And he had a thrifted sweater on, and, you know, I have a very soft spot for thrifting.
It sounds like, though, with the sweater and with the Potsdam, you’re drawing all these connections between you and Jack. You sort of are inhabiting similar worlds.
And not only similar worlds. It felt like we were occupying the same ones, given the friends that we had, given our age and how close he was to me.
Had you felt that way with someone that you’d met up with?
Did you want to see him again after that?
Oh, immediately. [MUSIC PLAYING]
Jack wanted to see Denny again too, and things escalate after the break.
So you and Jack hang out again, but this time, you let him sleep over.
Uh-huh, yeah, and I had a full-blown panic attack.
Yeah, I did not sleep.
Tell me about that. OK.
Yeah I was sweating so much, and he was also so warm. And I was sort of under this assumption that sleepovers were really cute and fun and totally not sweaty. And I just got out of bed, sat in my bathroom for a bit.
The panic, though was — it sort of like — was the panic because you’d let someone into your world in this really intimate way?
Yeah, sleeping alone was really sacred. And so this was my attempt to sort of — I wanted to see what it would look like to invite and let someone into that.
Mm. What about him made you want him to sleep over? What was it about him that made you feel comfortable enough to let him do that?
Honestly, I think there might have been a bit of a desperation and an urgency of having experienced something really lovely and selfishly just wanting more of it immediately.
Mm. What was that something you wanted more of?
I think somewhere tangential to romance, for sure. Yeah.
Part of your essay is about that night. Can you read it?
OK. ”‘Customarily, my flings with strange men were brief. The men did not take note of my bathtub or my educational history before sex, and they did not linger after. I came back into bed, disturbed by the rumble of his snoring. But his sleeping face on my pillow struck me.
For the first time, the thought of sharing a bed with a man did not come from pure imagination. I now had a real image for this fantasy. I could pretend Jack was my boyfriend, reach for his face, and whisper, I love you, good night, then fall asleep and meet him somewhere in his dream as if we had done this a hundred times before.”
What were you trying out when you touched Jack’s face, when you whispered, I love you?
Yeah, I guess picturing those things was my way of facing myself and being really honest and being like, oh, hey, girl. You’re thinking about dating this guy. Let’s explore that. And, for me, it felt really good to be upfront with myself, at least, and say, OK, if you want to date him, what would it look like?
And at this point, you and I have not even been talking about the dynamic that this guy is someone who’s cis, and I’m a trans person. Like, even in that moment, I don’t feel like that was even a thing, you know? I think I had a lot of presumed baggage about that kind of a dynamic and what a public relationship would look like. But for him, it felt really — yeah, really easy.
Did this night and him sleeping over make you feel a little bit closer?
I let myself be a little more affectionate, for sure. You know, like, [LAUGHS]: some nights, we’re in my bed just watching YouTube, and maybe he’ll give me a kiss on the cheek. And sleepovers became sometimes the thing I was most excited to do, just like getting ready for bed together.
And there was one time I was doing my thesis, so I woke up early. And I was doing my homework on the ground on my laptop. And then from the corner of my eye, I see his hand sort of come up to touch my face. And I had just, out of instinct, took his hand and started kissing it and rubbing my cheek with it.
And it was really my first moment of following Jack’s suit of thoughtless affection. I mean, in the moment, I didn’t think about it. But I do remember feeling like, I just can’t believe some people really get to experience that all the time, you know?
When you say that other people get to have that, do you mean cis people?
Right, yeah. Mhm. Yeah.
Yeah. Had you felt like you’d experienced that before?
And I felt really grateful for that, to trust someone that much and have his trust in return to share that with. Yeah.
It was something I had sort of realized I could have.
You got a glimpse, yeah.
Yeah I felt like this sort of world I was picturing about what a beautiful, colorful relationship would look felt like he was helping me chip that door down, and I could see more and more. And I was like — it’s like, I’m starting to see the full picture and think, with your help, I’m at a place where I think I can really admit that I want that a lot.
So what happened?
Ah. Well, in between us, as the months went on, sometimes I wouldn’t hear for a few days, and then sometimes it would be a few weeks, then it was a month.
So like the space between texting just got bigger and bigger?
Bigger and bigger, and, like, the closer we were getting, too.
That feels confusing.
And that felt so confusing. And then it was crickets. Yeah.
Yeah. You were ghosted, which is so painful because it feels like you were just starting to admit to yourself that you wanted something more from Jack, and that’s the moment that he pulls away.
Yeah. I was at a point where I felt pretty open, and then, suddenly, I’m alone in it, and I felt like, am I making a fool out of myself for wanting these things? Because the silence is telling me a lot. And then it just got to a point where I sort of just embraced it and said, I think it’s just going to be something that I carry with me.
You know, like, I was born and raised in Indonesia, and I’m at a point now where I’ve lived in the States longer than I have back on the islands. And from what I know here with how we grieve is that we sort of isolate ourselves. We bury it all in that moment in time, and then we move forward with our lives.
And I did that with Jack, and it worked until it didn’t. So going into therapy was my way of undigging all of that pain and all of the nice things that he allowed me to experience. And even though my time with Jack was just a blip, I have a lot of gratitude for what he allowed me to experience.
It’s really striking to me that gratitude is the thing that you’re taking from this. Like, you said these beautiful things, these beautiful moments and emotions that you could experience. What did experiencing those with him tell you about the possibility of experiencing them later on?
I think it’s taught me if I want someone to treat me a certain way, I better be doing it already to myself first. But also, it’s taught me that being trans is not a hang-up, that it’s OK to want more.
Denny says her experience with Jack has made her more open to a relationship, a serious one. She has clarity on what she wants, and she’s comfortable asking for it.
This is the last episode of our season. We’re going to take a little break, and then we’ll be back in late May with all-new episodes.
Modern Love is produced by Elyssa Dudley, Julia Botero, Christina Djossa, and Hans Buetow. It’s edited by Sara Sarasohn. Our executive producer is Jen Poyant.
This episode was mixed by Sophia Lanman, and our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello. The Modern Love theme music is by Dan Powell, digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. The Modern Love column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of Modern Love projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thank you for listening.