This is an essay about boners. But not just any boners. Specifically, this is an essay about the multiple layers of attraction that we, as horny and love-seeking humans, feel toward one another, told through the engaging metaphor of a boner. You’re welcome.
In any good relationship—ideally between two mature, consenting adults—there’s at least one of three types of boners popping up.
The first—you got it, Einstein—is the physical boner. I don’t actually have a penis, so I don’t feel qualified to talk about the wonderful world of blood-to-penis sensations. But I do know what it feels like to be turned on. And when someone gives you a physical boner, and you don’t have to fake one single bit of your attraction to them—hot damn.
The next boner is the intellectual boner. This may not sound as exciting as a man’s actual living and breathing penis, but these boners are not to be underestimated. When you meet your intellectual match, you may as well get a new pair of pants ready, because talking to someone who stimulates your thinking noodle as much as your other noodle is unlike anything else.
The last, and perhaps most elusive boner, is the emotional boner. Particularly slippery and evasive, this boner crops up at the most inconvenient times—if at all. Either it’s prominently there when you’re standing in front of the class giving a PowerPoint presentation on the planets and your hot group member is talking about exploring Uranus in great depth, and vivid detail, or it chooses not to arrive when you need it most. Although incredibly fulfilling when properly given and received, emotional intimacy and attachment are terrifying and not often reciprocated equally—if not avoided at all costs—so this is easily the most dangerous boner in the room at any given time.
While each of these boners is unique and distinct, they can get mixed up in orgy-like situations faster than, well, a person determined to get into an orgy-like situation. When I experience boners, I have a hard time separating which one is which; I have to consciously stick my hand down my pants and check out which one of those bad boys is acting up. Otherwise, awkward issues arise in my intimate relationships. And there’s really nothing worse than having an intellectual hard-on for someone and mistaking it for a physical or emotional one—you end up settling, manipulating, or self-deprecating.
Previously, I separated my sexual and intimate relationships with partners into two categories: partners who wanted to marry me and stay together for life, or that wanted to fuck me and never speak to me again. Those were largely the experiences I had had with men, so it made sense that my brain would separate things that way.
But I recognize now that differentiating the categories of boners is an essential component of understanding why I am attracted to someone. Do they have supple, kissable lips? Physical boner. Do they share vulnerable information about themselves, telling me stories about how much they respect their mother? Emotional boner. Do they have sound thoughts on social justice and feminism that I’ve never heard expressed by a sexual partner before? See, that one’s confusing—I could be experiencing an intellectual boner OR a physical boner! Which is which?
Once I understand the ways in which I am attracted to someone, I can proceed with the intention of maximum attraction. For example, if I know on a visceral level that I am physically attracted to men who smell like fresh laundry and bright futures, then I can continue to seek out such partners. The same goes for the intellectual and emotional boners—I will only date people who voice opinions that make me hot for them because they cause my brain to think in new and exciting ways that instantly drop my metaphorical panties.
By fully understanding the multiple levels of boners, I avoid wasting time on tepid relationships. I can go forth and ardently seek the biggest boner of my life, the one that makes my skin crawl in the best possible way and causes me to shiver deliriously with multilayered sexual goodness: the triple boner.
Martín Montaño-Pilch told me that he was particularly interested in dating me because 1, I was about to move about a thousand miles away, and 2, I was on the tail end of dating his best friend.
I was taken aback and confused by this brash honesty, which was simultaneously refreshing, attractive, and unnerving. I turned him down, saying something like, “Wow, I’m flattered, but I’m still into your friend, so let’s just keep this platonic.” He was respectful and charming, but told me to let him know if things changed. I assured him they wouldn’t.
A week later they did, and I transitioned from a place of inherent, monogamous loyalty directed at a guy who wasn’t all that interested in me to, “Well, fuck it. I’m only in New Mexico for two more weeks. Might as well see what his hot personal trainer best friend is up to.”
But I was on my guard. Martín had informed me that he was looking for someone emotionally responsible who wanted to smooch—nothing more and nothing less. I respected his straightforwardness, but at the same time I thought I wanted emotional intimacy and friendship more than casual sex.
Still, Martín provided a convincing case to get me to go out with him, one that included references to Hyperbole and a Half (a life changing book for us both), and a rather sexy wit. He dropped lines like, “Let’s fall in love in ten days” and “Fall for my trap … knowingly and consensually.” He eventually wore me down.
So that Monday night, we went to an Albuquerque brewery. As soon as we walked in, Martín saw one of his clients and her husband. As I would later learn, Martín was something of a regular at this brewery, and tolerated its arguably shitty beer to listen to these very friends play live Appalachian music every Monday night. At the time, though, Martín just looked like a confident superstar who everyone knew and loved.
“This is Allie,” Martín said in a cute little voice that revealed absolutely nothing about his relationship to me. I waved, feeling dangerously excited to be there with him. We took a seat a few tables down, ordered a couple beers, and began the first date small talk, which was stilted by the arrival of our drinks.
In the new silence, Martín took a sip of his beer. He coughed, his eyes widening. “That,” he said, pushing it away from him, “is bad.”
I cocked my head. “Really?”
He tried it again, wincing. “Yep. That’s awful.” He slid the tall, wavy hourglass filled with greenish yellow liquid and its wet napkin the distance from him to me. “Here.”
I prepared to taste something mildly bitter and unpleasant so that I could put on a brave face and look like a badass who was capable of drinking really strong beer. I liked IPAs, so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult. But as soon as the foul liquid—which I’m fairly sure was an unpleasant combination of skunk butt and gasoline—hit my lips, I sputtered. “Oh, God.” I stared at the fermented atrocity before me before turning to Martín, “Do the people working here know what they’re serving to people?!” I looked around the brewery in amazement.
He giggled at the look of horror on my face. Then he turned back to the beer, shaking his head. “I’m going to go see if Anne wants it,” he announced, standing up.
I watched Martín walk away, shaking with suppressed giggles and looking around to see if any of the employees noticed, as he brought the beer to Anne and her husband. He watched them accept it, waiting with his confident grin as he chatted casually with them. Before long, Anne’s husband accompanied Martín back to our table.
“Pick a different one. Which one do you want? I’ll buy it for you.”
Anne’s husband talked us through every single kind of beer the brewery had to offer. He was there a good ten minutes—I would think he was wrapping up, and then he would start up with another variety. Martín and I interjected little comments like “Hmm, yeah, I don’t know anything about beer,” and “Oh, yeah, that makes sense,” until we eventually just smirked at each other, joined by the ridiculousness of the situation. When Anne’s husband finally left, Martín took a sip of his new beer with a smile.
Broken down by the laughter from a shared disastrous experience, I started to feel more comfortable with Martín. Over the buzz of the beer and the music playing in the background, I found myself staring at him—his wide and adorable grin, his habit to pull his dark hair back when he was laughing or thinking about something, his steady eye contact. I liked his voice. I liked his lips. I wanted him closer.
I was wearing a teal scarf, which was resting on the table. Martín reached for the scarf, held it in his hand. I watched his thumb rub swirls, looked into his eyes, and pressed back the smile on my lips.
And then his gaze fell on my lips and I could see the moment of decision. With a pressure that was not at all forceful but definitely intentional, he reached for the portion of scarf closest to my neck, looked into my eyes, pulled the scarf toward him, and kissed me.
It was a slow kiss. Purposeful, and hot. Some distant, buried part of me wondered if it was okay to be kissing like this, over a table in a brewery, for everyone to see. But a bigger, more important part of me didn’t care one bit—it hummed more … more … more.
We broke apart. He put his hands on my knees. I leaned in closer; I wanted his hands everywhere. Only eyelash distance apart, he breathed, “You know that overwhelming sense of relief you get when the person you want to kiss isn’t a bad kisser?”
I snorted. “Yeah.”
We kissed again. He moved his hands back to my scarf and pulled me closer. “I have twinkle lights up in my apartment … you should come see them.” Another slow, intentional kiss. In a fuzzy haze, I looked down at the table and then back up at him.
We went back to his apartment. His wet lips trailed my lips, my neck, my shoulders, my chest. He took his time, long and luxurious, devoting his full attention to every dimple and curve, fingers and lips leaving a wake of delicious chills and desires. Every now and then he would look up from his work and make eye contact with me.
Between the kisses and gasps and breathlessness, I pulled myself away and interjected, “So I don’t want to, you know. Actually have sex.”
I braced myself for complaining or wheedling or even just visible disappointment, but it never came. Martín said, “Okay,” and went back to kissing my body just as enthusiastically as he had been before.
And I realized how much I had misjudged Martín. He was attentive. Smart. Generous. He just also happened to be sexy. Freed from my prior inhibitions, I began to rant. I rambled on about how I was about to leave New Mexico indefinitely, worried about being seemingly the only person in the world who wanted a long-term commitment, and asked him if it was weird that I was bringing all this up while we were making out, mostly naked, on his bed.
He rolled over, thinking about my half-formed thoughts, alternating his responses with kisses and throaty chuckles and down to earth comments. His fingers roamed my body. Listening … listening … listening, his body pressed against mine—he gazed down at me, thoughtfully, and then punctuated with his unbearable contrarian snark: “I’m sorry you didn’t find the perfect New Mexican boyfriend.”
I gaped at him. “Excuse me? I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend!”
“Okay. Then what were you looking for? What did you expect?”
The turd was right to match my self-pity and drama with practicality. Martín forced me to evaluate the reasons why I was seeking long-term, monogamous relationships, and consider the possibility that I was missing out on experiences and personal development by thrusting (Yikes on the word choice, but I’m not one to make a sexual pun and then pretend like it didn’t happen.) myself onto the development of others.
The next morning, I waited for the same crushing sense of loneliness and devastation that I was accustomed to after being intimate with partners, but it never came. I actually felt light. Happy. Because, despite the fact that I had convinced myself that it would, being with Martín didn’t feel bad or wrong. Heck, if I felt this good, maybe I did want to have sex with him.
A couple days later, Martín and I made plans to meet up one night after he watched a movie with his friends. Honestly, I was probably in the most hungover state of my life. The night before, while at a house party, my friend Elías and I rationally decided that we were both only going to have a single beer—until, of course, we subsequently took shots until about four in the morning. By the end of the night, Elías went home with a stranger, and I gave a political speech that resulted in (my own) passionate tears.
As it turned out, Martín was also a walking zombie of exhaustion, for his own reasons, so the two of us meeting up couldn’t have been deemed a good idea by anyone’s standards. Nevertheless, we wanted to see each other. So we pretended our bodies were in functioning states and met anyway.
When I walked outside to meet Martín, he pulled me close and planted a slow, warm kiss on my lips. “Mmm,” he said. “You taste like …” He kissed me again. “Maple syrup?”
“Maple syrup?” I mused, leaning in, hoping he would kiss me again.
“Mmm. There’s definitely some maple in there,” he decided.
We sat in his car. I waited for him to drive us somewhere, such as his apartment, so that we could have sex. Much to my silent displeasure, he did not do this.
Instead, he kept leisurely kissing and chatting with me. In between some pretty hot kisses, I pretended to be interested as he told me about how much he and his friends had hated Rogue One. (“Darth Vader made a pun,” he told me, with the highest possible level of disgust.) He shifted around uncomfortably, laying across the front seats of his car, eventually resting his head on my thighs while we were talking. I patiently waited for him to decide where we were going to go without actually bringing up the topic myself.
After about an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore. “This is weird.”
He looked up at me from his resting place on my legs. “What?”
“This! This is weird! We’re just on the side of the street, making out! There’s, like, people around. Do people do that in New Mexico? Is that a thing?”
Martín stared at me. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know! I feel like we should go somewhere.”
“You want to go somewhere?”
“I mean. We could.”
“You mean, you wanted to go somewhere this whole time and never said anything?”
“No! I mean. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Oh. My. Goodness. We’ve been here over an hour, and you didn’t say anything. Sipe. Do you not know how to ask for what you want? Let me teach you how to stand up for what you want.”
“Oh my God, no, it’s not that.” There was something really insufferable about a hot guy resting his head on my lap and teaching me how to stand up for myself. “I know how to stand up for myself.”
“Are you sure? Because we’ve been making out in this car for over an hour, and you didn’t say a damn thing.”
“I know, okay? Shut up.”
“Fine. So what do you want to do.”
“I want to go somewhere!”
“Well, okay then. Where do you want to go?”
Did I really have to explain to this man that he needed to take me home so that we could have sex? I was way too shy for that.
I tried to change the subject, but he cut me off mid-subject change. “Tell me what you want, Sipe.”
I cleared my throat. Every word was painful. “Is your place far from here?”
“No.” He waited.
I glared at him. Found no other way around it. “Then let’s go fuck!”
He shifted back to the driver’s side in one swift motion. “Okay. Let’s go fuck.”
Conversation on the drive to go fuck:
M: I can’t believe you manipulated me into having sex with you.
A: Oh my GOD. I did NOT manipulate you into having sex with me.
M: Then what was that hour in the car?
A: I. Was. SHY.
M: About admitting you were manipulating me.
A: You know what? Maybe I changed my mind.
M: I was kiddiiiiiing …
And so two completely exhausted humans, who probably needed sleep more than anything else, went through the motions of sex. I officially came full-circle from being sure that Martín was just using me for sex to insisting that the two of us have sex even though we were both way too tired to do it properly. As Martín would later tell me, “It was more of a climax of our clash of personalities than some crazy sextravaganza.”
Afterwards, in the early hours of the morning, I asked a very tired Martín to drive me home because I was nervous about taking an Uber in a still mostly unfamiliar city late at night. Martín drove me home without complaining, although not without yawning. I didn’t appreciate it at the time because I was focused on going to sleep as quickly as possible, but it was an act of genuine kindness and care.
When Martín dropped me off that night, we were all sleepy smiles and mutual affection for one other. Still, when we kissed goodbye I thought it was with a faint air of knowing that would be the last time we spoke.
To my surprise, we stayed—and stay—in contact. We started talking on the phone on Christmas, while he drunkenly took a bath (don’t ask) and I peed during the conversation (after Martín reminded me that it was the twenty-first century and I should just pee if I had to). Like we did in person, we flirt and fight from afar about monogamy, intimacy, and the fact that Martín is a fucky badger who likes to piss me (and probably everyone else) off in every way that he can. When he gets too smug and credits himself with changing my previously strict views on relationships, I figuratively smack him upside the head to remind him that I am a complex individual who chooses to show him only a portion of who I am. And then he reminds me that I’m young, and I get mad at him all over again because I am a twenty-one-year-old, dammit, so what does he expect from me.
In addition to our flirty and oftentimes mildly infuriating banter, Martín and I exchange writing. He sends me some of the poems he keeps in his phone, and we spend about half an hour arguing about a single word. In turn, I send Martín drafts of shit like this that I’m working on, and he tells me he wants it juicer and reminds me that writing is hard and revealing your heart kind of sucks. We’re the perfect workshopping buddies—we think in completely different ways, but we both care deeply about writing and self-reflection.
Through the process of mutually sharing our intimate truths, we have grown to genuinely care for one another. We’ve become much closer than I ever would have imagined after that tingly first kiss mingled with beer the taste and consistency of cat pee. You can’t force that kind of commitment on a person; genuine relationships happen organically over time, or they don’t.
And so it’s funny to think that I initially resisted my attraction to Martín at every stage possible. I was unexpectedly—triply—attracted to this human, and I couldn’t do anything about those feelings.
So besides the potential for us to enjoy butt sex in the future, I’m grateful to have had Martín’s perspective to expand the previous boundaries of my brain and test the elasticity of my mental framework. I’m comforted by our unique kind of intimacy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid that this bizarre friendship will end one day. Secretly I still want to be Martín’s biggest triple boner.