This is going to be a pretty frank appraisal of my ideas of masculinity and how they relate to my ideas of self.
I downloaded Tinder fairly quickly after my partner and I broke up.
When I was in my twenties, I had this number of women I wanted to sleep with before I turned thirty-five. My partner and I broke up in August, leaving me with exactly 193 days to hit that number. I figured it was attainable.
I don't know why I'd set that goal. Scratch that; I totally do. For as long as I can remember being interested in the opposite sex, I've based a significant fraction of my sense of identity and self worth on the idea that a real man sleeps with as many women as he can.
I figure this idea took root in my hockey-playing days as a teenager, where locker room talk constantly reduced young women to walking blowjob machines to be used up and thrown away. I was an ugly duckling, a bespectacled nerd who could somehow stop a puck; the guys I looked up to were studs, strong and fast and skilled on the ice, obsessed off the ice with their cars and their muscles and, weirdly, comparing notes on how to best remove all of their pubic hair.
While I spent my teens and early twenties a serial monogamist, jumping from one long-term relationship to another, I secretly wanted to be those guys. I repressed it as long as I could, but when I turned 28 and found myself with a book deal and suddenly single and significantly less awkward and ungainly than I'd been as a teenager, I decided to finally make it happen.
Understand that I'm not trying to say sex is wrong; just the opposite. I'm a sex-positive dude to the core. But this was something other than sex. This was defining myself by an external metric. This was trying to mold myself into the person I thought I needed to be, like the father of a woman I dated who asked me how many women I'd slept with, and bragged gleefully about how he'd lost count after one hundred.
I tried to be that guy, in my late twenties and into my thirties. I padded my stats with a singlemindedness; I'm pretty goal-oriented, and once I set a target in life I can usually reach it.
I also hurt people. I was so focused on adding to the notches on my bedpost that I was blind to the good things in my life, the good people, the opportunities for something deeper that I passed up because monogamy would keep me from reaching my target.
That changed when I started dating my former partner. For once, I didn't feel as though there was an opportunity cost to monogamy that I was unwilling to pay. I felt perfectly happy expecting to spend the rest of my life with her.
But that didn't happen.
So, suddenly single again, I downloaded Tinder. I reset my goal.