Affection That Does Not Withold

Do not touch a black woman’s hair. That unspoken rule of law zips through my brain as I feel his palm glide over my kinks. But somehow, I do not care. I do not stop kissing him. In fact, I kiss him harder. I do not pause to reprimand him, as I’ve done to some men before. Something about him is different. Maybe something about me is different now, too. 

Later that night, love drunk and disheveled, he reaches for my hand. The lights are still on. CNN serves as white noise in the background. We have stayed up past our bedtime, fooling around like high schoolers in our parents’ basement. Except now we are two adults in my apartment, and there is nothing to hide. It is quiet as we both catch our breath. In that moment, I feel sure of something about him and his staying power. I look down at our two hands intertwined. Then I turn to him and say, “This is going to become a thing.” 

“This as in us?” he asks.


“Oh, absolutely.”

He reaches for my hand and kisses it twice.

He is ready in a way that I’ve never witnessed up close, unwavering in his conviction that there is something solid brewing between us and we should bet the house on it. He’s right. And yet I worry I will make a mess of things and prove myself to be unlovable once all of my layers are revealed. Somehow I completely trust him. I’m still learning, however, to trust myself. 

Perhaps that’s why I have spent the greater fraction of my twenties tethering myself to emotionally unavailable men. I have not had to show up this whole and naked before. My therapist tells me that I am used to emotional boundaries, always aware of the lines and just how much I can color within them. This was born, and later crystallized, from dating men with guarded hearts. Men with too much of a penchant for the bottle. Men who were madly in love with other women and could only see me as their sweet escape. All of these circumstances presented a different ilk of red tape, and I knew I could only get so close.

There was something so exquisitely safe and broken about that.  

But, with him, there aren’t boundaries. There are no lines. Our limitlessness comes to life during three-hour phone calls. Debates about the Oxford comma. Strolls through Old Town with our hands interlocked. Couch conversations where he tells me about the father he’s only met twice. Confessions about the fractures in my sexual history. Stories about his early days in the Navy. Kisses at the bar. Kisses on cobblestone sidewalks. Kisses in the elevator on the way up to my apartment. Kisses and more kisses, long and lingering, making temples out of one another’s lips. Kisses that serve as the preamble to nights where I stare into his eyes for so long that I see my own half-dressed reflection.

His affection is the kind that does not withhold. It makes me feel like this relationship could blossom and bloom and stretch and roar.

There is something so exquisitely frightening and beautiful about that.

Up until this point I have been drawn to uncertainty, to flashes of tenderness, to men whose affections would spark, only to be snuffed out on short notice. Up until this point I have hooked myself to men who were not ready for a Sunday kind of love. Maybe up until this point, I wasn’t ready either. 

But, something about him is different.

Maybe something about me is different now, too.