While you are in your early twenties you will break up with the boy that you were with for four years. You met him when you were nineteen, and you have grown into a woman while he has stayed stagnant. He has forced you into a cube and you are desperate to break free. After staying silent for months, hoping that something will get better, you finally break it off with him at an ill-timed moment in September after his great aunt’s funeral viewing.

You decide to stay single and find yourself. You get a tattoo of a bird, or a feather, or anything that symbolizes freedom. You vow never to let anyone control you again. You start to hang out with all of your guy friends again—the ones you weren’t allowed contact with while dating your ex.

Through this circle of friends you meet a younger boy, a stoner boy, and you start hooking up. He says he will wait for you to be ready for a relationship and you tell him, no. You don’t know when you will be ready. You don’t want to be ready. For months you keep sleeping with him, knowing that his feelings are growing, and also knowing that you don’t care how he feels. One night you are all out and you catch a mutual friend’s eye. A mutual friend who has asked you out and you’ve turned him down. The boy you have been seeing accuses you of hooking up with him as well. You inform him that you are not, but if you were it’s none of his business because you’re not in a relationship. Your cousin is leaving, and you leave with her instead of taking the ride home from the boy and never contact him again.

Part of you feels that this is unreasonable, but you’re convinced you don’t have to settle, and you don’t have to let anyone accuse you of things that aren’t true. Start to realize that you’re more wounded from your last relationship than you thought.

Avoid getting to know the boys and men you are hooking up with. Take home one-night stands and disregard their numbers, deciding you don’t like them much in the morning light. A year ago, you wouldn’t have done something like this. Accept the change and your newfound sexuality and move on.

Make out with women behind bars, but don’t sleep with them because you’re still scared. Turn off your ability to feel emotion for these men and women who end up nameless in your mind and focus on yourself. Tell yourself it’s okay to be selfish at this point in your life. Tell yourself you won’t allow yourself to feel anything towards anyone again.

You’re introduced to a man through a friend. He is twenty-eight and has moved here from another city. He has been on a tour in Afghanistan. You think he has seen the world. He buys you anything you need and you develop the fond nickname of old man for him. You see him more than your usual hook ups and start to stay at his place. It is comfortable in the dark with his two cats curled up in bed with you all night.

For as much as you see him you don’t ever feel an attachment to him that suggests you would want to be with him long term. You spend about three months of your life on him. In this time you do develop feelings, but not ones so strong that you would be seriously hurt. Just enough for a little crush to develop. He constantly tells you how amazing you are and the compliments flatter you, but you can see in his eyes that he is in farther than you are. He tells you in the dark one night that the next woman he stays with is going to be his wife, because he is getting older and wants a family. This worries you, but you push it to the back of your mind.

The sex is amazing and you are afraid that the neighbors in his apartment building will start to complain of the noise, but continue because it’s mind blowing. Finally, someone who will please you first instead of just worrying about himself.

You will have many drunken fights, because he flirts in front of you, or is insensitive in public, but he always knows what to say to bring you back to him. The onslaught of messages wears you down while you’re at work and you always agree to come over one last time.

He insists that while you’re on vacation for a week you’re going to hook up with other men. He doesn’t tell you that you can’t, but you see in his eyes that he wants to. He tells you that he will miss you. He makes comments about your bikinis and how they show too much skin, and you jokingly call him the name of your ex boyfriend. You know that if you were in a relationship these would not be jokes; he would be serious. You feel like a bird trapped in a cage too small for its wings.

His continual messages asking what you’re doing make him feel more like a warden than a potential suitor. Realize you aren’t ready to commit yourself to someone so soon, only eight months after leaving your last long term relationship. You feel as if you can’t breathe and while by the pool on vacation with your best friend you will turn him loose, explaining that you aren’t ready for a relationship and you can’t handle him keeping tabs on you. He responds in an immature fashion and tells you that you remind him of his ex-wife, and you would never be more than a piece of ass to him. Be sad for an hour while you bathe in the sun. Drink a colada and block his number.

Send a photo of you in a bikini to another hook up that you kept on the side. He has a fast bike and a tongue ring. He is continually late. You let him take you out on one date to the Cheesecake Factory a few months ago, and haven’t let him take you again. He is a good lay, but you have no interest in him otherwise. Enjoy his compliments about your body, and find a sick pleasure in hearing what he wants to do to you.

Send the same photo to a caddie that you met at the mall last winter. Ask when he is coming back home, because you’re lonely. Smile to yourself when he laments that he can’t be back for months, and the fact that your picture is like torture for him, because he is on the road. Relish the fact that you are in an oasis with books and bikinis and a tan, and male attention. Wonder briefly if you are a whore, and then chastise yourself. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sex as much as a man, if not more.

Two nights later in paradise you will find some of Oahu’s treasures: Navy officers. One will wave at you across the bar, and you and your friend will wave back. Before you know it they will be sliding into the hard wooden booth beside you. They will buy you drinks all night. They will say you deserve to be spoiled. They will be tall and handsome and young: a year younger than your twenty-three.

One will introduce himself to you and he will be taller than you and place his hand on the small of your back where your shirt is slit to show some skin. His hand will be warm and while you know his name you call him by the state that he is from. A state known for nothing but fields of corn. His blond hair is cropped close to his head, and his smile will be contagious. His abs will feel like a washboard under your fingers when you pull him into a private alcove late at night.

Take him back to your hotel room for the story and to prove the old man right.

The next morning you and your friend will make nothing but jokes about how you drunkenly clambered into a small car with four Navy men, and how your mothers would kill you if they knew. You must have programmed your number into his phone, because the next morning you receive a message from him. For the rest of the trip you two talk constantly, although you don’t get to see him again before leaving. Find out as much as you can about him and realize that your Botoxed heart may still have the ability to feel.

You met these men at the end of your trip, and in the airport you feel weighed down. If only this were just the beginning. You start to think about what it would be like to fuck a seaman for the rest of your life. You start to imagine a life of time apart and great distances, but also happiness and sunshine. Allow yourself that moment. Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale. And realize that every other girl that he lays while she’s on vacation thinks this too. That maybe she will be the one to hook him. After that moment try not to dwell on it. Get on the plane and travel six hours forward in time to your ordinary life.

Go back home to the man with the motorcycle and allow him to take you for another ride. You balance on the small back seat of the sport bike and watch the world go by in blurs of colors. Your fingertips vibrate with adrenaline. You only hop on because your father doesn’t approve of this bike and how fast it can go. Close your eyes under your helmet visor and hang on while the bike dips and turns through the countryside.

Don’t text this one as often. You’re not interested in getting to know him, other than the weed he supplies you and the sex he gives you. Don’t make the same mistake as with the others. Recognize that you are beautiful, and it’s better to keep your distance from men you don’t want anything more than a physical relationship with.

With every passing day think more and more about the sailor. Ask yourself why you can’t forget his baby blues. Find him on social media networks and get excited every time he likes one of your pictures. Try to be strong and not to text him. Tell yourself that he needs to contact you first.

Finally, after two weeks, give in one night at a bar. Tell him that none of these shitty men with beer bellies and gauges in their ears compare to him. Tell him that he would laugh if he saw what you had to choose from. Allow him to get flirty with you and fool yourself into thinking that this is a step in the right direction. Send each other pictures and messages. Stay up until six in the morning, even though you have to be awake at ten. Because your six is his midnight. Wake up feeling slightly hopeful, even though you are also slightly feeling dreadful. Know deep down that this will never work, but start to obsess over the fact that it could.

Text your best friend and talk about him non-stop. Know that you are annoying and she is humoring you. Start to find yourself annoying and try to dial back on your crazy meter. You don’t hear from him again for a week.

When you’re ready to give up all hope, receive a friend request on yet another form of endless social media. Tell your friend that he sought you out, you didn’t ask first. Take this as a good sign. Allow her to tell you that he is into you; he’s even liking her pictures of you, even though you know it’s bored and not genuine.

Hear from him the night of a big country concert. He sends you pictures in his navy camo uniform and you wish you were back in paradise so you can take that uniform off of him. After the concert fall asleep halfway through your conversation and in the morning send him an apology text for needing rest.

You can see that he read it, but doesn’t respond.

Every night sit on Facebook and wait for him to message you, and feel disappointed when he doesn’t. Try to time the posting of your photos right so that he will be online to see them.

Ask your one good male friend, practically a brother, why you like him so much, and what you can do to keep him. His reply is like most men’s: send nudes. You are worried that lack of real conversation won’t keep him. You wish he were stationed closer. Start to fantasize about driving over to his state for Christmas. Let yourself believe that this might be possible.

Pine away for the sailor who shows you no time of day. Get mad when a friend tells you that you suck because you have men falling at your feet and the one’s attention you want lives in Hawaii. Start to feel exasperated.

This is not how you meet your future husband.