Review of Dates #20 & #21: The Hacker and the Farmboy

I took a dating hiatus. Then I texted Archie. Do you remember Archie? We met back in April. I didn’t tell you then, but we saw each other for a couple of months. About twice a week, we’d go on a date. It was pretty clear from the get-go that he didn’t want a relationship (I figured this out when he said, “I’m not looking for a relationship”), but I was ok rolling with our arrangement for a couple of months. Then he got busy and I didn’t see him for three weeks. I told him to let me know if he wanted to see me in a rather snippy text message, and never heard back. I wrote this article on ghosting, made my peace with it, and moved on…until I texted him in August.

We went out for a drink, wandered around the neighborhood, and managed not to talk about what happened until the very end of the night—at which point he apologized, I graciously accepted without saying another word on the subject (NOT), and we moved on. We went back to going on dates a couple of times a week. He agreed to call it dating instead of hanging out, and he was initiating plans more than he had the first time around.

I ran into Sam Gamgee at a soccer game during this time.

“I met someone,” he said with a little smile while I waited in the longest line in the history of Earth for a piece of pepperoni pizza.

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s younger than me, taller than me, and you were right.”

“About what?”

“It’s an ego boost and I like it. We’re not ‘dating,’ though. We’re just seeing each other.”

I laughed. We became friends.

When Archie was out of town, I recruited Sam Gamgee into a little mini-day trip. The girl he wasn’t “dating” cared but continued to not “want to date.” The guy I wasn’t “dating” didn’t care and didn’t know.

This was about two months in, and like a dream that repeats, I didn’t see Archie for about three weeks. Call me crazy, but the fun part of seeing someone is, um, seeing him. And he was all, “Well, we’re not in a relationship.” I was all, “Well, that may be but that’s dumb and this sucks.” So I called the game, we thanked each other for the time spent, and hung up the phone.

I went on Date #20 that week. I swiped right on Jeremy Renner—nicknamed that because he looked just! like! Jeremy Renner—not because he looked like Jeremy Renner, but because he had a picture of himself with Bill Nye the Science Guy. He chose a popular bar on Capitol Hill that I would have never, ever picked, because it’s a bar for assholes. I forgave him when he announced that he’d moved to Seattle two days ago.

Then he told me that it was his birthday. Have you heard of this? I’m not the only person I know that’s ended up on a Tinder-organized-first-date-birthday-date. I would think it was very, very weird, but: moved here two days ago from the east coast and didn’t know anyone. He was one of those crazy IT workers that travels around the world hacking into companies’ systems to find their weak spots. He was fun. We’d had a snappy conversation over Tinder, and he proved similarly entertaining in person. I agreed to a second drink at a second bar—”Come on, it’s my birthday!”—and we kept swapping stories. I remember laughing a lot. He was a good flirt.

He was something of a name-dropper—a funny combination of minor celebrities and politicians, through a maze of hazy connections. He ordered fernet and talked about how he’d become fond of it as a bartender. He was one of those people who’d worked in the service industry, and as a result went out of his way to learn and call bartenders by their names. I can never decide if this is actually welcomed. He’d been raised in the south as a ward of the state. He seemed like he’d become aggressively competent in the ways of the world, in dressing, in handling himself, by himself, perhaps in reaction to this. He seemed like he might make fun of you when you were least expecting it, and sometimes it would be funny, and someday it might hurt your feelings.

Sam Gamgee had gone on a date that night, too—someone new, from Tinder. The next day we swapped reviews. “Weird date, weird person, weird vibes,” he texted. “I’m going hiking by myself. How was your date?”

“Good!” I said, reverting to oblique, not knowing what else to say. The date had been good.

Jeremy Renner and I set a second date, but he got a cold and cancelled, and we never rescheduled. Archie and I called it quits. Sam Gamgee and I kept hanging out. I went back to swiping little squares of little faces on my little phone.

Date #21 was the next week—this is about mid-September—with a big, gentle giant of a man from the Midwest, three years younger than me. I’ll call him Jamie. He chose a lovely restaurant with a rooftop bar. I waited outside impatiently, occasionally peering inside the restaurant and scoping the diners. No, that was a couple. That was a family. That was a set of friends. Two men at the bar…but he wouldn’t be with a friend. He was with a friend. He introduced us quickly and made it clear his friend—older, gay—wouldn’t be joining us for drinks. We had a reservation on the rooftop bar. He knew people who worked at the restaurant. The older gay man was his roommate. He was tall, well over 6 feet, and wide. He moved gracefully and had a soft way about him—a soft deep voice, a measured tone—that belied what was to come.

Which was a mother and sisters who worked for a renowned literary jounral, a degree in fine art from a college in the midwest, and then a stint in Australia working in the outback repairing indigenous paintings and doing handiwork at an art gallery. The art gallery was owned by two Chilean women—neither of whom spoke English, one whose family had been killed by the Pinochet regime, one whose family had worked for Pinochet. They never discussed it. Jamie fixed paintings, repaired the truck, chased away wild animals, helped the local farmers round up the stray dogs and neuter them one day on the flatbed of a pickup, got fluent in Spanish and started a company, working with a factory in China to create an electrical little piece of machinery that was missing and he saw a market for.

He came back to the U.S. after a few years, sold the company, went to work for Amazon, saw something missing in the production line and started another company, sold that. He said he missed making things, was applying to industrial design programs all over, but especially in Italy, planned to work for Ducati, wanted to learn Italian, would move there with his two beautiful dogs within the year. He said all this without bragging, and only with questioning. He was a character from The Flamethrowers come to life.

When I told Jamie a joke, he said warmly, “That’s excellent, Maggie.”  I tried to picture what life with him would be like. If his smoothly neutral exterior belied a rich inner life or if his rich outer life was just that: exterior trappings. Could I be his “little wife”? Could I follow a man, a gentle, kind man from the midwest, if it meant I got to go to Italy? Jamie had learned to be patient with a world that was not as smart nor as good with its hands as he was. He knew how to weld, sculpt, paint, draw, design, code, wire, engineer, and fix. He would be better at things than me, and yet I would be impatient with him. I could hear him, in some distant future, encouraging me to write my poetry, being supportive of my artistic pursuits as he quietly left the house to live his own life—it was a vision born of reading many novels set in farmhouses in the midwest, of domestic discontent, separate lives lived under the same roof.

Except, of course, with Jamie, the visits to the midwest would be once a year, we’d be descended upon by his mothers and sisters, the rest of the time I would be in Italy, Australia, China, wishing I were home, wondering what the man next to me was thinking, so close and seemingly available and yet so self-contained. I didn’t imagine unhappiness; I imagined quietness. A man who would praise my jokes instead of laughing at them. A man who I would have to hurry to keep up with while he looked like he was standing still. I would flit and feel flighty.

The thing is, most people you can sort of tell what they’re looking for, who their type is, whether you match that or at least have made them wonder if perhaps they should consider branching out. Despite my elaborate daydream, I had no sense whatsoever of that with Jamie. Who would Jamie date? I tried to picture her in my mind. Did she look like me? She looked like a woman in a novel—someone written well enough to feel real but who doesn’t seem like anybody you’d actually know.

I wanted french fries but I didn’t order them because before I knew all of this about Jamie but after I had shook his hand, I was planning to hurry the date along. And after learning all of this, I still had to tell myself, enjoy this fascinating person, don’t hurry. I slowed down but my instinct to move on with my night, that this was not a stopping place, didn’t change. Jamie responded with kindness and curiosity to everything I said, wrote down my book recommendation—offered half as an inside joke to myself—to read The Flamethrowers, bookmarked my blog. I didn’t imagine that it would captivate him, for some reason. Despite the remarkable lack of pretension about him, it felt like he had more interesting things to think about and read about than my little corner of the Internet.

We said our farewells and I headed for the park. I got an ice cream cone for dinner and sat where I could watch bike polo on the my right and baseball on my left. Sam Gamgee texted and I told him to come down and join me. We went back to the ice cream shop to get him a cone, then took a walk. I told him about my date, and he said it sounded like I’d met my dream man and was moving to Italy. I laughed. I didn’t think he was fooled into believing I was interested. He was assuming Jamie was. (I wasn’t.) Sam Gamgee is almost exactly my height, and we were comfortable enough around each other to swing along in the dusk at the same pace, turning to circle the park once, then twice. It was too nice to go home.

“How long before we screw this up?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“We’re spending more time with each other than the people we’re supposedly dating,” I pointed out.

“Let’s screw it up,” he said. “Right now.”

I’d meant it half in jest, in flirtation, the other half to set up some future moment. I hesitated. Was I sure? I wasn’t sure. I shouldn’t have said anything until I was sure.

But he kissed me anyway.

I made a lot of noise over the next week—I needed to finish a project, I had that ill-fated second date with Jeremy Renner that I wanted to follow through on, I had a trip planned—and Sam Gamgee took all this in and nodded, then offered to pick me up from the airport when I got back. I waffled, and by Sunday morning, boarding in Los Angeles, I had agreed. Because—and this had been my reaction to Sam Gamgee from the start—when I boiled it down to the basic question of whether it sounded nice to be picked up by him and go to lunch, the answer was yes, it sounded nice.

We went to lunch, and then it was a nice day, so we took a walk. Then it started to rain, so we went to a movie. Then I went home. Then I thought it sounded to go to dinner—there was no food in the house, I’d been away—so I asked Sam Gamgee if maybe he was free for dinner—because after all, he lived just a few blocks away.

Then it sounded nice to see him again, and again, and to cook dinner and go on walks and hikes and little weekend trips and to brunch and to sit on the couch and watch TV and talk about things or not.

And then it sounded nice to go on an adventure, so tomorrow we go to Italy.

Review of Date #19, Part II

Sam Gamgee and I hung out, as promised. When he texted me about a time and a place, it was Italian food on a Saturday night. I still wasn’t sure if it was a date. He’d sounded so sure, so specific, when he’d asked me about “just hanging out,” and sure, it was Saturday, but everything feels casual in the summer. And yes, it was a nice Italian restaurant, but it was also pizza, and close to both of us…anyway, when he looked at me very seriously before we’d even ordered and told me he needed to tell me something, I knew it was a date and waited for the get-this-out-the-way-early confession.

I don’t have any of these myself, but I was prepared for them after so many first dates. Sometimes it’s devastating: “I don’t like pizza.” Sometimes it’s meaningless conventions that are laden with judgment considering you’re both on the same date: “I don’t usually go on online dates.”

“I was engaged,” he said, looking like he wished he wasn’t having this conversation. “I’m not anymore.”

“That’s nice.” I said. “What kind of pizza do you want?”

Our third date, I hesitated. He’d asked to make me dinner. Did I want him to go to that effort? On the other hand, a homemade dinner….and Sam Gamgee was easy to say yes to. When I ignored all other questions—What does it all mean, what does he want, what do I want—the fact of the matter was, spending the evening with Sam Gamgee was pleasant. He was good company. We talked easily. I felt relaxed and known and knowing. He reminded me of one of my best friends from high school, of people I’d always known. He’d grown up in the area—maybe that was it—he was trying to make it easy for me to say yes—he snuck up on me, in other words, as hobbits are wont to do. I kissed him in his kitchen that night. He walked me home.

“I just don’t know,” I kept saying. “I like him, but.” But I really wanted my break from dating. But I was already loath to give up the sure-friend I could sense for the less-likely-relationship. But he wasn’t after casual dating, and I wasn’t done with my dating experiment, and how would those two things work out. But I was worried about his feelings already and I’d loved dating without that sense of obligation, of responsibility, with the freedom of knowing everyone was an adult. But he’d just gone through this broken engagement, and he probably needed (so tempting, always, to diagnose what others need!) an ego boost, which I am most assuredly not (I can just hear my ex-boyfriend snort in laughter). Look, I just think society is kind to men’s egos; they don’t need me to help them too.

I told him almost all of this. The telling, too—it was another sign to me that I was treating him delicately, that I felt responsible for whatever happened between us, a feeling familiar from years of dating people in my social circle (high school, college, mutual friends) rather than that great sense of experimentation and low stakes that had marked my Tinder dates up until this point. (Is it caused by a shared social circle? Or is this just what happens whenever people cease being strangers, however that comes about? Was he waiting for me to tell him how things would go?)

He nodded and asked if I didn’t want to see him anymore. It was a smart question. Did I want to not see him? The truth popped out of my mouth, quick, before I could take the exit I’d created. I said no.

But I could feel the relationship circling and I ducked. I went out of town for a weekend, and when I came back, I texted Sam Gamgee and told him I was bowing out—work, a contract to be renegotiated, a friend in need, etc. Excuses, but all true, too. I stared at my phone.

“No worries,” he texted. “Have a good week.” Nice to the last. I told myself perhaps we’d be friends, later, and I turned off Tinder.

Review of Date #19, Part I

You know those nights when you’re rushing for no reason, and you leave work just a little bit late, and then your friend’s fiance needs a place to sleep, but you already have a Tinder date scheduled, and you do a bunch of math in your head, and then say let’s go, Tuesday night, let’s do this, but you’re a bit distracted by the other thing the whole time you’re doing the one thing?

My friend’s fiance pulled up before I had time to change for my date. I skedaddled into the bathroom (because while my apartment has a bedroom, that bedroom doesn’t have a door), and pulled on a black sundress, and when it turned out to be just a little bit too tight, I was too rushed to do anything about it. And while I often change my clothes repeatedly before I leave the house, I didn’t want to be that person who changes twice before a date while someone was watching.

The fiance and I skipped down the hill for tacos, me with my phone in my hand, trying to calculate how fast we’d have to eat if I were to make my date in time.

“How was your day?” I asked Z, telling myself to pay attention to what was in front of my face.

“It was ok,” he said. Whenever Z talks, I think of California. This is partially because he grew up on the beach, and partially because he sometimes has a slow and soothing surfer drawl. “I’m tired. It’s funny…modeling isn’t that hard physically, but it’s really taxing mentally.”

I made the same work-is-hard sympathy face I make for all work complaints/comments….Oh your boss sucks? Mmmhmm. Oh there are termites eating through your desk? I feel ya. Oh modeling….wait what?

“Are you excited for your date?” he asked. “You don’t seem excited,” he added before I could open my mouth with that eerie sixth sense model-surfer-hippies sometimes have. You know.

“I’m….tired,” I admitted. “I’m sort of over it. This is going to be my last date for a while. I had a date last night, and I think I’ve just hit a wall.”

We stuffed tacos in our faces, I gave him directions back to my apartment, keys, and a general idea of where he was, and then I set off down the hill at a quick trot.

It’s not that I was opposed to going on my date—I just wished it was on a different night, and that my dress wasn’t quite so tight around my ribcage, and that I wasn’t late, and that I didn’t feel guilty about leaving Z to entertain himself. I didn’t want to cancel on someone who seemed nice—not because I was so sure it was a match, but because cancelling is rude, and I really had no excuse: we’d had an entertaining exchange over the weekend, I already knew we had things in common, and he’d made the date easy on me, suggesting a day, time, and place that all were convenient.

Plus, he looked like he fit a type that I hadn’t been out with and that I’m objectively and subjectively fond of: blond, blue-eyed, short, loyal, trustworthy, and generally nice. In other words: Samwise Gamgee.

He was sitting in a booth, facing the door, and I immediately knew I hadn’t been wrong. We talked easily, like we were friends already, and he looked patient and the the server looked impatient while I quick-scanned the list for the beer with the lowest alcohol content. This is my only beer strategy. It didn’t work. My beer still tasted like beer. He ordered a 10 lb hammer double IPA, the opposite of what I’d chosen.

We talked about work, and words, and places we’ve been and places we want to go. When I said Italy, he looked hungry. I valiantly finished my beer and he enjoyed his. “My tongue tastes like hops,” he marveled. I chugged water.

“I have to go,” I said. “I have a friend sleeping on my floor—my friend’s fiance—he’s up here for a modeling gig—” I stopped talking.

Sam either didn’t notice or didn’t care that I had a model-worthy man sleeping on my floor and walked with me back up the hill without a change in tone. When we reached my street, I paused. “This was nice,” I said, thinking about how glad I was to be done dating for a bit, that this was a nice note to end on.

“Do you want to just…hang out sometime?” he asked. Open-faced, open question. Like the date, it was easy to agree to. Low stakes. Hanging out. Someone who already felt like a friend. I’m telling you: Samwise Gamgee.

I went home and sat on the roof with Z, and talked about his fiance, one of my first and best friends. She and I met two days before sixth grade, at band orientation. We both played clarinet. I held her close in my mind while I talked to Z, who sees her every day, and is planning a life with her—a baby on the way, a new family, worlds expanding and small and large, the summer sky cool and mild, and almost tempting enough to say yes when Z, who loves sleeping outdoors, asked if we could sleep on the roof, but my usual self rising up and winning out, I slipped down the stairs for my four walls, a bed, and a roof—something of a habit-bound hobbit myself.

Review of Date #18: The Mystery Man

He was mysterious.

I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean it in a literal way. In his first message, he asked me out. I asked him to tell me something about himself. He said no. I said I wouldn’t go out with him. He said what kind of thing. I said, anything. What are you doing right now, do you prefer guacamole or salsa, what do you do for a living. He said he was buying ingredients for guacamole but couldn’t find a lemon. I asked what store he was in. He told me. He asked me out. I said, what do you do for a living. He said, I majored in philosophy. I recognized the dodge but let it go. He asked if Thursday worked, and why couldn’t we have this conversation in person. I said, I need to know a little about a person before I meet them. He said ok and told me he was an engineer and liked to build things. I said ok and picked my favorite bar.

He looked like his pictures, but less friendly. He already had a drink in front of him when I sat down. He ordered food and pushed me to order something so he wouldn’t eat alone. I ordered dessert but I didn’t want it but I was glad when it came; it gave me something to do.

I asked, what kind of engineering?

He said, I’m only sort of an engineer.

I said, what does the sort of mean?

He said, I just ended up being good at building things. I don’t have a degree or anything in it.

I said, What sort of things do you build?

He said, Anything.

I said, Who do you work for?

He said, I can’t really say.

I said, You can’t say?

He said, I build refrigerators.

I said, Oh? What kind?

He said, It’s sort of this nonprofit thing.

I said, I work with nonprofits. Which one?

He said, Well it’s sort of contract.

I said, Ok, sure. So do you work for yourself?

He said, Not really.

I said, Who do you work for? Why can’t you say? Is it covered by an NDA?

He said, No, not really. I can’t really explain. What do you do?

And on. He lived in a downtown loft. I pictured an open space filled with neon and tools and refrigerators, all humming quietly, until he blew the space and sound open with music and the screech of power tools on steel. He said he’d been in Seattle 20 years and it was home. I asked where he was before that and he said lots of places. He said he loved swimming and he’d never been swimming in any of the lakes. I started to wonder if he’d really lived here 20 years. He said he loved Colman Pool, and I had to admit I’d never been there. Perhaps there was no proof I’d lived here.

I found myself dodging his questions, not wanting to give up my stories to this man who played his cards so close to his chest. His secrecy seemed suspicious to me; it made me wonder if there was something secret lurking. He seemed nice. He smiled more as the evening went on. He asked for a bite of my brownie. He was nice to the bartender. I dragged pieces of information out of him and offered bits of my own and kept my smile on my face even as I wondered.

He said I should take him swimming in the lakes, and I smiled and didn’t answer.

We finished our drinks and went outside. I was tired. I wondered if it was tiring being that guarded all the time. I started to say goodnight when he told me he needed a walk before he could get on his bike. There was a motorcycle sitting in front of us, something black and metal and powerful and loud-looking. He’d had two drinks. I felt obligated to walk with him to keep him off the machine sitting at the curb that already looked like death to me. We walked down to the park.

Even in the semi-dark, the ease of walking side by side and released from having to make conversation in the way you have to in a bar, he didn’t relax. Or maybe he was relaxed, but he didn’t feel relaxed to me. I reminded myself that I could relax. I thought about all the interesting things he’d told me: the refrigerators and having spent summers in Alaska and philosophy and the loft and other things he’d built and what he thought of electricity and art. He was smart, and engaged. I just had no idea who he was.

I thought about how I’d explained that I prefer to meet people, too, not have drawn-out conversations online, but that you’d be surprised how many red flags could go up in just a few messages. He’d been understanding of this, agreeing with the premise and disagreeing gently with the importance, talking about how much more you know of a person when you can see their face. It’s hard to deny. And despite the dodging of the questions, the guardedness, I wasn’t worried as long as I remembered that I didn’t have to get on the motorcycle. When I thought of it, when I thought of it sitting at the curb and the excuse it had provided for the walk, I felt restless, uneasy.

He seemed to like me. I felt like he was someone I wanted to be kind to. Not in a pitying way. In a kind way. In a feeling that he was interesting way, and there was probably some reason for the guardedness, but not anything that posed any threat or danger to me. I felt like he’d probably already lived a couple of lives. I wanted to know what they were. I knew that if I didn’t already know, if I hadn’t already lived them too, he wouldn’t tell me.

I asked if he’d gone on online dates before. Yes, he said, once. In China. With a Canadian.

Why were you in China? I said.

Working, he said.

We had turned from the park and headed back up the hill to where the motorcycle waited for him and not for me.

On refrigerators? I said.

Something else, he said.

How was the date? I asked.

Sort of weird, he said. The ex-pat world is sort of weird there.

How so? I said.

I don’t know, he said.

How was China? I said.

I ate a lot of yogurt, he said.

Yogurt? I said.

Yeah, he said. You should take me swimming in the lake sometime, he said.

Maybe, I said, thinking that swimming was an intimate second date, especially with a man I couldn’t get an answer out of. I wondered if he had tattoos, and what they were of, and what it would take to get him to tell the stories behind them. I wondered if I wanted to try.

He heard it for what it was: a no, and he said goodbye and turned away.

Review of Date #17: The Zookeeper

June was hot. After work I’d drive home, put on a swim suit, and then go to the beach that’s a few miles from my apartment. If I left work about 4:45 and hustled, I could make it to the beach by 5:30, which gave me a full two hours before the sun dipped behind the hill.

One day, though, I was stuck. I was trying to solve a problem at work, or finish a project. My bosses knocked off early to go watch the World Cup game and told me to go home. I nodded and told them I’d close up, and then kept banging my head against whatever thought-wall I was up against. The office got hotter—our windows faced west, and afternoons we roasted. I finally gave up and went next door to the pub, thinking my bosses might be watching the game there. They weren’t. I almost turned around and went home, and then I got stubborn. I wanted to be one of those people who has a drink after work in the air conditioning, and it was already too late to make it to the beach.

The thing is, I hate beer, so it was all pretense as I forced myself up to the one empty stool at the bar. I didn’t want to eat. Not being a beer drinker, beer menus fill me with dread—the embarrassment of not knowing!—and my one saving grace is that I know to ask for a schooner. I picked a label off the taps that I knew, and away we went.

There was a dark, curly-haired guy about my age sitting next to me with a plate of food and his eyes fixed on the tv. A few minutes after I got there, though, the game ended, leaving me stranded with a beer I didn’t like and an idea percolating in my head and no one to talk to about it.

So I asked the guy when the next game was. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t really follow soccer.”

“Oh no?” I said.

“No,” he said, and went back to his phone.

“I think it’s tomorrow!” the lady next to me piped up.

“Who’s playing?”

“Germany and Norway!” she said.

“No,” the guy said. “They already played.”

I looked at him. He looked at his phone.

“Oh,” said the lady. “I thought they were playing tomorrow.”

I sipped my beer that I didn’t like and dreamed of french fries.

After a long, painful pause, the guy said without looking up from his phone, “It’s Germany and France.”

“Oh! Germany and France,” she repeated. “It’s Germany and France,” she told me.

“Mmmm, that’ll be a good game.” I started really making an effort to drink my beer, alternating sips of it with sips of water.

We sat there. The lady left. Just drink half, I told myself, then you can leave.

The guy looked up suddenly. “I really don’t follow,” he said. “I had to look it up on my phone.”

“Ah,” I said, wishing I’d sat anywhere else. But I was in the middle of trying something that’s most easily explained as just stand still. The premise was simple: It’s easy to make eye contact. It’s easy to exchange a few sentences with a stranger at a bar. The hard part is standing still long enough to see what develops. People are slow. I am slow. You both have to sit there, stand there, make yourself available for what happens next for an excruciatingly long period of time. So I sipped my beer and said something else about the game. He murmured. I waited.

“What do you do?” he asked suddenly, awkwardly, aggressively.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “Work down the street. What do you do?”

“I work at the zoo,” he said.

And there it was. Our conversation arrived, whole and complete.

Or rather, our question-and-answer session arrived, because I asked all the questions as I tried very hard to work my way through my cup of cardboard.

But he thawed as we went, and I learned that penguins really are as fun to work with as you think they might be, and that there is a penguin in the world named Wingnut who has bitten a zoo educational assistant on the hand.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Have you ever online dated?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Would you go to an event that was kind of a singles mixer, where people who were online dating could come and make art and talk about how weird online dating is, and have a dance party afterward?” My idea spilled out of me like jelly beans.

“Well, I only online dated once,” he said.

“What does that mean? One date? One month?”

“I signed up for OkCupid for free once because my friends made me and I never looked at it.”


“I guess I’m just too traditional for online dating,” he said, spinning his iPhone on the bar.

I went quiet for half a second, then blew past the stupidity of that. I’ve since figured out that when men say they’re “too traditional” or “too old-fashioned” for something regarding dating, it means it offends their sense of how women should behave, and I’m rarely if ever interested in men’s ideas of how women should behave.

“Ok, but would you think an event like that would be interesting? I mean, a dance party!” I accidentally gulped my beer in my excitement and had to wash it down with water.

“I don’t really like to dance,” he said.

My enthusiasm for him, my dance party, and the stool I was sitting on started to flag.

“What do you mean, art about online dating?” he asked.

“Ooooh! Well, it could be almost anything! I’m a writer, and I write about online dating. So I figure other artists have to be…” I chattered on. He might have listened. Hard to say. He continued to poo-poo the idea of online dating, at one point mentioning that he just likes to meet people in person.

“I met my (murmur) girlfriend through inter-mural volleyball,” he said.

I paused. Did he say last? ex? Did he just swallow? No way to know. Are you supposed to just exit a conversation you’re having with a stranger at a bar if they mention a current relationship, anyway? Aren’t we supposed to pretend to be interested in each other as people in that situation? Like any good idiot who has decided to become the sort of person who makes friends with people in bars without any real natural inclination to do so, I went for the jugular.

“Do you still play volleyball?”

Not long after, our conversation ended. Circled back to my event, his zoo, his commute, my plans for dinner. At some point he’d made a comment about how sometimes it takes a while to warm up, like when you’ve had a hard day at work and need to just sit quietly and eat some food before you can be friendly. It was close to an acknowledgment that he’d been uninterested when I sat down, and now he was in for the interaction. I gathered my things slowly. We’d be talking for an hour or so. I paused.

“Well, maybe I’ll see you at my event!”

“Yeah, maybe,” he said.

I smiled. “But how will you know when it is?” Ok, this is stupid, but so is 90% of flirting.

“I’m here most nights after work. I’m sure I’ll see you again.” He sounded sincere, or perhaps a cousin to it: polite. He turned back to his phone.

I looked at my empty beer glass—hateful thing—and nodded. Yeah, right. It was just as I reached my car that I remembered how people smoother than I handle these things—business cards.

And look, our conversation hadn’t been that fascinating, but he was good-looking, about my age, and friends with a penguin named Wingnut. I was curious about the prospect of meeting someone in the wild and I’d gone on dates for less and I’m stubborn as a dog with a bone once I get an idea in my head.

I got out of my car, told myself embarrassment is a temporary state of being, and went back into the bar. I slid my business card across the polished wood until it was near his hand. “In case,” I said. He took it, eyed it, lifted it in a little salute.

He never called.

I did, however, plan the event—see dog with bone—and a ridiculous number of people came—over 135—and there was a line out the door before it opened and we told stories about online dating and artists made paintings of cats they’d matched with on OkCupid and people still talk to me about it.

It wasn’t until two months later when I ran into him again while ordering pigs in blankets at the pub for our office party, invited him to come join, and he once again responded to all questions and jokes and banter with an outlook that was factual at best and a tone that edged on morose, that I figured out who he was: our old familiar friend Eeyore.

Review of Date #16: The Musician

I was planning to take a few weeks off from dating after Date #15. I was tired of hanging out with strangers. It was summer. I was hot. I just wanted to eat popsicles and sit on the beach after work in the setting sun with my friends Stephanie and Carlos—who showed up wearing Aquasox. A+, Carlos.

But I already had a date scheduled with Mick Jagger.

This was my third date in as many days—I’d had my second date with Arnold Palmer, my first date with Walt Whitman, then this with Mick Jagger. I’d set it up for my usual time and place, but when the time came the last thing I wanted to be doing was sitting in a dark bar having a drink. And Mick Jagger had already proven himself a seasoned online dater—he texted a few minutes before our date, suggesting we meet outside the bar. So I figured he wouldn’t be thrown if I changed the plan on him and made him go eat ice cream with me in the park.

I pulled this off super smoothly, by saying quickly the minute he showed up: “Hey you mind if we go eat ice cream instead I just really want an ice cream cone and it’s a nice night but we don’t have to if you don’t want to it’s fine it’s just down the street.” Then I smiled like an insane person to prove I’m normal.

He looked bemused. Or confused. It’s hard to tell the difference. But he agreed and we started off, me trying to walk at a normal pace—ice cream!—and him trying to decide what to do with his hands.

He was skinny, rangy, jittery. He walked with a tight bounce. He was wearing an oversized cardigan and jeans on an 80 degree night. He looked underfed and wired. I guess it won’t surprise you that he was a musician.

I have a rule against musicians (and artists and writers). I don’t remember why I swiped right. We talked about my rule before we went out. It was a point of flirtation, as so many exceptions granted and given and taken are.

(Later, someone would tell me my rule is not against musicians, artists, and writers—it is against assholes. This is fair.)

The flirtation was full of fits and starts, walk-backs and awkward pauses. So, too, was our conversation as I led us down the hill and away from the dark bar toward the ice cream shop and the park.

I knew I was tired but I couldn’t tell why things felt so awkward. I wasn’t really attracted to him but I had been on many of those dates at this point. Was I being tense? I did a quick body scan. I didn’t feel stressed. I decided not to be stressed. I was reacting to, not creating, the tension. I started people watching instead of focusing on what we were or were not saying or doing or connecting.

He told me he doesn’t sleep much. I tried not to have a panic attack. No sleeping? How do you live like that? Who does that? Is it contagious? Dear god what a life.

We sat down on a bench. He finished his ice cream and I, being the slowest eater in the world, started to think about mine.

And then, as we watched hipsters wearing tank tops with armholes cut down to their waists play trash can frisbee, we started talking about art. About how it’s easier to get friends to come to the shittiest band’s show than to a poetry reading. About how it’s on artists to hustle their own art now. About how artistic communities are created, and disbanded, and what it means to find ways to make a living from art. About how music might be the people’s art, and alcohol never hurts. About how people want to be outside in the summer, and stay home in the winter, and where does art live. About how to keep scrapping and how to jump up to the next plateau, and what it means to turn your art into a steady paying gig and what might be gained and lost by such a transformation and whether the hours and hours and relentless hours of doing art—of writing, of making music—as a day job will wear you out or keep you in shape and what to say when people say that isn’t art.

(I know that trash can frisbee is called KanJam, but I like trash can frisbee better, and anyway, they weren’t playing with the branded set of trash cans you can buy online for $39.95 but with trash cans from the park that they’d emptied and repurposed and I could see all the girls’ bras and all the boys’ scraggly chest hairs and everyone was so awkward, sticking their tongues and elbows out as they tried to angle discs into the flat gaping mouths of the trash cans and so celebratory, jumping high into the summer air when they found that sweet spot of silence, and then a drop and sudden clang, flat smack of hand against hand.)

We hit that turning point in the date when we both realized “this”—the date part of the date—wasn’t going to happen for us, and we were both ok with it, and we relaxed and time passed more quickly and gently. The hipsters kept throwing their frisbee into their trash can. I finished my ice cream cone just before it transitioned to soup (it’s an art).

And then we walked back up the hill, I having inadvertently extended our date in my harried attempt to confine it. As we neared my turnoff I said something about being the youngest child, and that’s when Mick Jagger told me birth order theories didn’t really apply to him, because he grew up in a missionary family way out in the countryside with five or six siblings, most of whom were adopted—some adopted when they were older than he was, some younger, all of different races and nationalities. All of whom have grown up to live extremely disparate lives—I can’t remember now—a musician, an investment banker, a lawyer, an early bride, a drifter, a mechanic.

I was so dismayed that he’d withheld this fascinating information until the end of the date when I couldn’t ask ceaselessly nosy questions about it that I just made some polite murmuring sounds about how interesting that must have been and turned for home a block early after an awkward handshake, our hands angular and bone-filled in one another’s, my brain shortcircuiting with alternative family realities.

How to be single in a sea of couples

I have spent years and evenings within those years being the single person in a sea of couples. Perhaps embarrassingly, I have stopped even noticing when this is the case. It helps—perhaps counterintuitively—if you’re with couples who have been together for a long time.

Because then they are bored of themselves and interested in hanging out with the group, and the group includes you. This isn’t some corporate Hollywood depiction of how all relationships are terrible and people in them hate each other and want to die; it’s just that shiny new things eventually lose their shiny newness and then sometimes you shine ’em up again and stare at ’em for a while and then not so much anymore and it’s all fine. I’m a big believer that if you’re around couples who are miserable, everyone in that situation is doing it wrong. Part of what’s nice about about hanging out with couples is that, you know, it’s nice to hang out with people who like each other.

But either way. Foolproof tips for surviving a situation that the world seems to think is difficult and I think is fine because seriously, we’re all grown-ups here:

  1. Choose your activity wisely. Nothing that requires partnering up. As long as you don’t go ballroom dancing, tandem bicycle riding, partner figure skating, or double kayaking, you’ll be fine. Maybe not camping? IDK;  use your best judgement.
  2. Act like a human being.
  3. Hope other people act like human beings.

If they don’t, leave! Screw ’em. Buy yourself a milkshake and flirt outrageously with whoever serves it to you. That 15-year-old boy with acne working in the service industry is having a worse day than you.

Whatever happened to Reggie, date #8?

You all remember Reggie, right?

Reggie fed me oysters and ordered a whole bottle of wine and asked me if his voice was turning me on.

Reggie flirted outrageously and only listened to NPR and only shopped at farmer’s markets.

Reggie lived in my building and walked me home and when he said good-bye at my door, he didn’t touch me for the first all evening.

I texted Reggie after our date: You forgot to kiss me. 

Reggie didn’t text back, not even weeks later when I asked if I could borrow a cup of sugar. I’ve since been told no one borrows cups of sugar, and there is no possible interpretation for such a request other than its subtext: gimme some sugar. 

Whatever. I was making cookies.

And then Reggie moved across the country.

Interpretations for Reggie’s behavior, crowd-sourced from various sundry friends, included: He’s in a relationship. He’s a manipulative flirt. He just likes the chase. He’s an asshole. He didn’t like you. He’s a liar and a dirtbag and that probably wasn’t even his real name. He’s just not that into you. He’s scared of how much he likes you (people who love you love this explanation for people who don’t love you and I’m all awww and this is never true). He wanted you to invite him in and despite the fact that he said repeatedly he was tired from the night shift and had to go to bed, he thought you were rejecting him. He’s in an open relationship and flirtations/hook-ups are fine but he actually liked you and dating around is one thing, but two girlfriends is impossible.

I was having dinner on the rooftop with neighbors in late summer. There were two caprese salads on the table, a farro salad, two bowls of identical castelvetrano olives, figs and balsamic vinegar, a loaf of bread from the Greek shop two blocks away. My apartment rooftop overlooks Capitol Hill all the way to Elliott Bay, from downtown to the Space Needle to Gasworks and Queen Anne behind it. It was beautiful. We were eating food from the p-patch. We were talking about the article, recently published in the New Yorker, about how everyone in Seattle is going to die when the earthquake hits.

One of the women had just left Amazon to work at a company that offers an Air B’n’B–like service for dogs. One of the women is a yogi and English teacher. One of the women is a caterer with her own business who also volunteers clearing trails for Washington State Parks. The one man who was there is the sci-fi curator at a local museum. His girlfriend is a speculative fiction writer.

Our rooftop dinner was disgustingly, spectacularly full of Seattle. Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to live in the city where I grew up, or they say, “So you’ve always lived here?” in a voice that is equal parts bemusement, something akin to but not quite pity, and wonder. At this point, I just shrug. Where else? Why?

And my neighbors all said, their eyes lighting up with curiosity and delight and gossip and olive juice, You went on a date with Reggie? 

And I was all like, Yes. He asked if his voice was turning me on before dinner ever arrived.

They leaned forward. Gossip!

And then he ran away and never texted again. 

I live near nice people. They looked at me carefully and reviewed my tone of voice. They made sure they were right in thinking I sounded cheerful and unconcerned. Then they eagerly filled me in.

Reggie had a long-term, long-distance girlfriend who used to live in our apartment building with him. First she moved across the country. Months—a year?—later, when he moved, he was joining her. Rules were unclear to the neighbors, who had originally known them both. Two of the women, in a relationship, felt he had always been rather assertive about hanging out with them—yes, yes they nodded when I described how he tried to get me to rearrange my work schedule to go on our date earlier. Perhaps eager. Perhaps pushy. When is enthusiasm demanding and when endearing?

They said when he was with them, he would answer the phone and aggressively establish who he was with to the long-term, long-distance girlfriend—I’m with our old neighbors, that nice couple so-and-so and so-and-so! in a way that made them suspect that she was suspicious. He would ask to hang out at odd hours in a way that made them suspect she was right to be suspicious.

But the neighbors also said their read on the situation was that parameters for Reggie and the LTLD relationship were flexible. Just maybe complicated by the fact that the parameters stated “freedom,” but only one of them was exercising that freedom.

Maybe the boundaries included oysters and wine and flirting and aural arousal and dates but not kissing or sex or texts or sugar.

But they also didn’t know. People are mysterious and unknowable, and our glimpses into our neighbor’s relationships even more so.

For the record, the female neighbors said Reggie had repeatedly asked to borrow kitchen supplies and ingredients from them for late-night cooking projects. The male neighbor—who had lived right next door to Reggie rather than three flights up—said he had never been asked, to which everyone nodded knowingly.

And then he told a story about when he first moved in, and knocked on someone’s door to borrow a can opener.

“Yes?” a voice called.

“Hello, I just moved in, may I please borrow a can opener?” he called back.

“I’m occupied,” the voice answered, leaving us to wonder what sort of situation would keep one from opening the door but answering anyway.

This is dating—knocking on a door and hearing a voice uncoupled from the hand that does not open the door. No further information. No sugar for you, sugar.

Dear Movember

This post originally appeared on Dear Mr. Postman on November 2, 2011. I’m reposting it because #relevant.

Dear Movember,

It’s that time of year again, when men indulge their secret desire to look like creeps from the 1970’s even though it is no longer socially acceptable for them to behave in corresponding creepy ways.

So now they grow mustaches, leer inappropriately under the guise of “irony,” and defend it in the name of a good cause. Political correctness is great.

Let’s pretend that Movember and its most visible cause—prostate cancer—is the male equivalent of the marketing push behind breast cancer (they’re not direct inverses, obviously, but bear with me for a second).

So one of the ways breast cancer funding is marketed is through this whole “boobs are sexy; let’s save ’em” thing. While I like my boobs, and I want them to be healthy, and I don’t disagree that they’re sexy, I still feel like this campaign is a very concerted effort to get men to care about breast cancer. Which is fine. Men should care about breast cancer. This is also manifested in the idea that most breast lumps are found by women’s partners…so get involved in catching breast cancer early by coping a feel of your lady’s ladylumps (really, do it). (“This isn’t for me, baby, I swear, it’s all for you. It’s a hard-on for health.“)

AND THEN in the other corner of the ring, we’ve got Movember! And prostate cancer! Wherein guys….grow mustaches. I took a poll, and it turns out this is something guys like and women don’t. So let’s call it an indulgence on their part. It’s their health issue, their gender’s health month, so ok. And then in an attempt to include women in this mission, Movember advocates “Have Sex with a Guy with a Mustache” day:

Awwwww so sweet! OH WAIT. I feel like this isn’t really for women, actually. I feel like it’s for the dudes with mustaches, whose sex lives have suddenly dropped off with the advent of Movember.

So let me get this straight:

1) To fight cancer, men get to feel women’s boobs and grow mustaches.

2) Whereas women have even more focus on their breasts (can be great but not the pleasure center, dudes), have to see guys in mustaches, and “get” to have sex with guys with mustaches. Which by the way does nothing to prevent cancer. Just in case some guy tries to tell you that, ladies—it’s not true.

3) Women need to get men involved in the campaign against breast cancer—need their support so badly (because this country hates funding women’s health issues, as evidenced by overwhelming evidence)—that the entire marketing strategy revolves primarily around drawing men to the cause. (I maintain “boobs are hot” is not designed primarily for women. By the way, should we talk about saving the woman who has the breasts? No? Oh ok my bad.)

4) Whereas the marketing to get funding for men’s health issues involves growing mustaches and encouraging women to have sex with guys with mustaches. As in, this does not actually show a concern for drawing women to the campaign through something that appeals to them. AT ALL. DOES NOT APPEAL TO THEM AT ALL. As in, men don’t seem to need women to support their health care cause.


Why doesn’t Movember include an educational component of “how to check your man for prostate cancer”? I don’t know that this is really for women, either, but it would at least make sense. It, sort of like Samantha on Sex in the City, would advocate sticking your finger up your man’s rectum.

As the video above would say: “It’s for health, baby…I’m fighting that asshole, cancer.” Or you could also say: “that asshole cancer.”

Punctuation is my favorite.


PS—Also this is a very heterosexual-relationship focused post because the campaigns are that way.

PPS—I support funding for health research for almost all issues. Except the boner ones. I think we can all agree we’ve sucked that one dry      flooded the market       raised awareness      opened the floodgates       tipped the fulcrum       it’s no longer no country for old men       oh screw it. (Literally, you can now.)

Dear Couples’ Costumes

Last year I went as Baby from Dirty Dancing for Halloween. I already have Jennifer Grey’s former nose and hair, so it was an easy sell.

(Side note: Growing up, Jennifer Grey was my model for having what was kindly termed a “strong” nose in my family and being considered pretty (anyway) as a girl. “Look at Jennifer Grey! She has a great nose, and so do you,” my mom would say. “At least you didn’t get my dad’s or your uncle’s nose—whoa! Now THAT’S a nose,” my dad would say. Then Jennifer Grey got a nose job. Then as an adult I had to have sinus surgery and my mom asked the doctors if they could just sort of fix the crook in my nose “while they were in there.” Answer: “Um, no.”)

These are my requirements for Halloween costumes: That they require no effort. That they cost no money. That there shall no be crafts involved. That they be easily identifiable. That they be comfortable and easy to move around in. That they look awesome and make me seem clever.

This is an absurd and impossible list of requirements.

I don’t like Halloween very much.

I also don’t quite understand the point of it as an adult. The best thing about Halloween is little kids in costumes. Adults in costumes are weird, alternative universe versions of themselves playing our far-fetched and often disconcerting fantasies.

James Bond: I’m wearing a tux and a misogynistic attitude.

Sexy kitty: I live in a society that is not only sexually attracted to cats, but is playing out a bestial-pedophilic attraction to the infantile development of said animal.

Batman: Glamorization of a rage-filled citizen vigilante obsessed with latex.

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: This costume is always half-assed. Take acid to do it right.

Maverick from Top Gun: Short man with a Napoleon complex who believes he will live forever due to the harmful and psychotic beliefs perpetuated by a egomaniacal 21st-century false prophet cult.

Mario & Luigi: Sexualization of round, short, bald Italian men who are good at fixing houses.

Banana: Jaundiced penis.

As writer Erin Sroka puts it in this great essay in The James Franco Review, getting ready for Halloween “in the traditional way” includes “turning non-clothing items into clothing, sexualizing occupations and characters from children’s media.”


Anyway. I put on a white button-down shirt, jean shorts, converse, fluffed my hair up (just kidding, I had to tame it down), and called myself Baby, like a totally normal grown woman.

I almost didn’t do this costume, because I realized it would be so much better if I had a Patrick Swayze to play Johnny Castle. Then I got really pissed off about this false idol worship of couples that emerges on all holidays, from Christmas to Labor Day to National Cat Day.

So instead of sourcing a boyfriend for the day, I made myself a paper doll of a picture printed from the Internet of that muscular and soulful-looking man with a distinctive jawline and hair swoop, and put him in my pocket, and called him Pocket Swayze.

And it was totally normal that I felt like I had a friend looking out for me all night from the corner of my denim shorts and felt genuinely sad when Pocket Swayze was lost on the dance floor at Rhino, a terrible and giant cavern of a bar on Capitol Hill that was filled with tourists from Bellevue and one very handsome and tall Urkel that bent his long lanky legs to fold around me on the dance floor and gave me one of the sweetest moments of my life.

Him: “Damn, girl, you got them abs.”

Me: “It’s so hot in here, I’m sorry I’m so sweaty, please stop touching my stomach sweat.”

Him: “Huh? Abs! Girl! ABS.”

Me: “Oh my god marry me. Someone has to be dressed as a preacher in here.”

Sorry, I’ll stop gushing. I know you guys hate romance.

So I was thinking about couples’ costumes again this year, and the sneaky pervasive belief that they’re better. This is one of the nasty social pressures: get married by the time you’re 30, have babies before your eggs rot, anyone who doesn’t want to work at Amazon just can’t hack it, your costume sucks unless it’s part of a matching pair.

In all other aesthetic considerations, we’ve gotten rid of matching. You’re not supposed to match your shoes to your shirt anymore. You’re not supposed to wear matching outfits with your mother once you’re grown. You’re not supposed to wear coordinated cardigans with your partner, unless you’re queer, in which case it’s so counter-culture it goes all the way around the circle to be cool again. You’re not supposed to wear matching bows in your hair with your pack of corgis. Etc.

But Halloween comes around, and our society goes full suburbia: all the matching! Match or die alone and have your face eaten off by the sexy kitten costumes of yore!

I think matching costumes are great if they meet certain conditions.

  • One of your costumes is hard to identify on its own, but together, you’re unmistakeable. The Princess Bride is a good example of this. Without a bald, nasally man by your side, you could be just any giant. But with Vizzini, you’re clearly Fezzik.
  • You in some way need each other—literally—to complete each other. Like an iPhone that’s dangerously close to dying and its charger.
  • Your costumes help each other level up. My sister and her boyfriend once were figure skaters ice dancers (correction issued by my sister, who tells me there is a huge difference). Now, a woman dressing as an figure skater ice dancer? Eh. Just an excuse to wear illusion netting and sparkles and a bum skirt. A man dressing as an figure skater ice dancer? Easily mistaken for a mariachi player (true story). A couple being an ice dancing pair? 9.6.
  • Nontraditional romances. Don Quixote and his horse. Alison Bechdel and her pencil. Vincent van Gogh and his severed ear. Adjunct professor and health insurance.

My sister, who is better at crafts, themed parties, friends, and being in relationships than I am, has frequently been in highly imaginative paired costumes while I was a vintage stewardess for three years in a row because I had a navy dress with gold buttons on it (FTW!).

Beyond the ice dancing costume (half of which she tragically lost in the break-up), she has also been half of a lion tamer and strong man (skilled use of contouring can really help on this one depending on how much CrossFit you’ve been doing) and half of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell from Overboard.

What I don’t understand is the insistence on couples’ costumes without even an idea for one.

“Hey, babe, I have this great idea to be Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. And I’m going to carry 100 tampons with me.”

“But what will I be? We don’t even know who her sugar-cheese was or if she had one because all we know is that she was awesome and it’s like she stood on her own apart from her love life. Can I be a tampon?”

“No, honey. This is something I need to do on my own. I don’t know. Maybe you could dress up like an independent human being?”

“So confusing.”

Now group costumes. All of the Arrested Development siblings. The characters from The Lego Movie. A set of legos that forms a spaceship when connected. (Come on, humanity, up your game. What are all those engineers at Apple doing, anyway?)

But the trouble with group costumes is I don’t like people.

Now friend couples’ costumes. Sam and Frodo. Abby and Ilana. Romy and Michelle. Many of the costumes from this pretty amazing ’90s two-fer costume list.

But maybe I’m just revealing the neuroses of what my friend recently called “your former aversion to couplehood.”

Hahahaha! Former!