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Tinderp Tale #7: Feminist By Convenience

It was the start of 2016, and I was still a premature spinster virgin. Some days it was a struggle; other days, a nonchalant passing thought. Love of a romantic or sexual nature was becoming a shrinking possibility in my mind. At this point, I just really hoped I would get laid, preferably before I turned 25 in August. (Being a 24-year-old virgin was bearable in my eyes. Being a 25-year-old virgin, however, was completely intolerable and had to be prevented at all costs.)

I was sporadically using Tinder at this time, but hadn’t been on a date with anyone in months. It seemed to take much more effort than it used to. Where did all the thirsty dudes go? I used to have drawn-out conversations with guys I matched up with that would result in an ask to drinks, but now I was getting a lot of matches who were content with empty chatboxes. Was it because I wasn’t taking Tinder as seriously as when I had first started out? (Which to be honest wasn’t all that seriously, because c’mon, it’s fucking Tinder.) Was it because I was much more cynical and dysfunctional with my dating approach, and it showed? How could that be if these passive motherfuckers weren’t talking to me?

Oh, yeah. It probably had something to do with one of my profile pictures, which was a fairly detailed dating resume I had written after a spontaneous burst of inspiration:

12030307_10206799816330183_1801416795006048513_o

I mean, it’s pretty entertaining, right? Who needs wholesome and well-adjusted when you can get colorful dysfunction in the guise of jokes? Clearly, I’m dating material!

A part of me questioned my unfailing tendency to cultivate a persona of myself as a brutally honest and pessimistic misandrist in my dating profile. Was it a defense mechanism? Against what? What would it hurt to frame myself in an equally entertaining but more positive light? The other parts of me told that part to shut the fuck up, I can do whatever I want.

Anyway, in spite of my strategically interesting profile, dudes weren’t biting, which meant I had to start taking the initiative again. I decided to message one of my most recent matches because he seemed pretty cool (also possibly hot, but his photos were kind of shitty UGH get it together, dudes on the dating interwebz).


You matched with Minh* on 1/14/16

Me

Hey it’s been a week and I figure the sensible thing to do is message you for no apparent reason at 3am when you are probably asleep

*name changed to protect the clueless


Surprisingly enough, he responded the next day.


Minh

Darn you missed it by like 30 mins. I think I slept at 0230. Someone Had a ratchet Friday night?


Me

If by ratchet you mean eating pasta in bed and crying as I’m rewatching the hunger games then yes


Minh

That’s next level ratchet. When a ratchet graduates.


I enjoyed messaging with Minh. He didn’t ask any of the boring questions about where I worked, or what I liked to do for fun. We just said stupid shit to each other and occasionally flirted. He complimented me on my smile. I complimented him on his face.


Minh

My face thanks you

So do you use your online dating experience to fuel your blog? I should add fuel to that creative process.


OH NO.

OH NO NO NO NO NO NO.

HE READ MY BLOG?!

AHHHHHHHHH FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!!!??!!??!!11111

Okay, you’re probably wondering why I would be shocked and horrified by this when my blog is public domain and I’ve purposefully promoted it across multiple social media platforms. It’s my “hiding in plain sight” strategy: I operate under the assumption that most people, especially those who have little to no emotional investment in my creativity, will find my semi-shameless social media plugs annoying and disregard every blog-related post or link I share. I figured random dudes from the Internet in particular would be too lazy and disinterested to look at this blog, which had proven true so far–no one I’ve been on a date with at this point had ever made mention of it.


Me

Oh fuck, you read my blog *smiley emoji with sweatdrop*

Haha well yes I’ve been documenting past online dating experiences but only when things didn’t work out.* Which has been a recurring theme in my dating life *contemplative face emoji*

*To clarify, I’m defining “things didn’t work out” very specifically. Obviously, all connections I make will most likely not work out in a literal sense, unless I end up married to someone until death do us part, which is improbable even for someone way less cynical, less man-hating, and less isolated than me. What I meant is, if I go on a few dates with someone and it goes nowhere, I will write about that. If it ends up becoming a meaningful and ongoing relationship of some kind regardless if it ends after just three months or a year, I won’t write about it. (I mean, I will probably write about that person in some manner, but it won’t take the form of a lengthy and detailed prose narrative accompanied by crudely drawn pictures of stick figures and sperm.)


Minh

Haha you and me both. I haven’t read it, but I inferred it in your dating resume.

Yea dating is exhausting :/


Me

Lol oh right. Yeah idk why we subject ourselves to this torture

I mean I guess in hopes of falling in love or getting laid or whatever


Minh

I guess it’s nature sprinkled in with some cultural entitlement here and there. [I have no idea what he meant by this]

With that said, I would be grateful to see you’re [sic] sarcasm and quick wit in person 🙂


Me

Lol oh right.

I don’t think my wit is as quick in person lol but yeah, let’s meet up


tinderp 7.1

We made weeknight plans to get coffee at Philz in Berkeley, his home turf. In person, Minh was shorter and stockier than expected, and not as cute as I’d hoped. Still, I was determined to be open-minded. I was excited to learn that he was part Cambodian. “You can call me by my real name, Leh!-keh-nah,” I told him as we walked over to the coffee shop.

“Okay, Lahgena,” he said, completely butchering the actual pronunciation of my name.

I cringed. “Uh. Never mind. Just call me Learkana.” It became even more apparent as we made small talk that he hadn’t been raised Cambodian and spoke zero Khmer, which was somewhat disappointing, but I wasn’t going to count it against him.

After getting our caffeinated drinks, we grabbed a table upstairs. It felt comfortable and easy, conversing with Minh. He chatted about TV shows, working as a nurse at a psych ward, and having an allegedly sarcastic sense of humor (allegedly because I saw no proof of it and at one point wondered if he knew what sarcasm meant). I smiled and nodded and looked at him and tried really hard to find him attractive. It was kind of working. Wasn’t it?

I soon became painfully aware that we were the only ones engaged in animated conversation in the cafe. Everyone else was studying. Minh didn’t seem to notice or care how loud and obnoxious he sounded. His dude-bro voice droned on, penetrating the silence like some oblivious phallic object. I was embarrassed. I also felt old as fuck, sitting in the middle of all these college students. “Can we go somewhere else?” I asked. “This place is too quiet and I feel kinda awkward.”

“Okay, sure,” he said. We left the cafe and walked a few blocks over to a tea house. Minh led me to the patio in the back, where we sat on some steps to talk some more. I don’t quite remember how the patio looked, but it was pretty fancy and almost romantic, except I felt absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, it seemed Minh could tell. He kept making “jokes” about the date going badly and my lack of interest in him, but I would just smile and say nothing in response, and that probably only served to confirm his suspicions. I felt trapped in some ways. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t like him, but I couldn’t bring myself to express interest outside of simply being there with him. I also didn’t know how to flirt in person, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, even if I had known how. At this point I usually would have made up some excuse about being tired and left already. But I didn’t want to call it quits this time. I was sick of giving up so easily. I needed this to work, because I couldn’t bear the thought of this being the first of yet another long and tedious string of first dates with guys I would never see or hear from again.

So the date dragged on. We were running out of things to talk about. At one point, Minh asked me what I was going to write about for this date.

“Oh. I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t really think about it until afterwards.” I didn’t want to tell him that this date was probably going to be pretty boring to write about.

We somehow ended up sitting at a table outside of a restaurant we weren’t planning on entering. Minh was looking at me, trying to engage me in a discussion about past dating experiences. I was avoiding his eyes. I hated this conversation. I hated it because reliving my failures was no longer fun for me and talking to him was no longer comfortable or easy.  I suddenly felt anxious, panicked. I didn’t know what to say to him. We had said all the things that needed to be said. I was so bad at this. “I’m really bad at this,” I said out loud. “Sorry. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m sober. I usually drink on first dates to make things less awkward. I know, it sounds bad.”

“We can go to a bar if you want to,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said quickly. “I don’t want to depend on alcohol.” I was such a dumbass, trying to take the high and sober road. We should have gone straight to the nearest bar to get shitfaced drunk so we could move past the inability to verbally connect and sloppily make out in some corner. Instead we awkwardly sat outside until he suggested we get pho for dinner and I said sure.

He drove us to a cute little Vietnamese place that was mostly empty. “Is this the worst date you’ve been on?” he asked in what I was certain was only a half-joking manner.

“No, I’ve been on worse,” I reassured him. I recounted to him the story of the torturous hike I went on with someone from OKCupid. “He kept making these dumb jokes that weren’t funny at all,” I said. “It was awful.”

“So my jokes are better,” he said lightly.

“Haha, yeah,” I lied. We sat down and ordered. He finished his pho in no time; I gulped down a few noodles. I wasn’t really hungry. I agreed to dinner because I didn’t want to be the one to say no. I was playing the waiting game, passively sticking out the date in hopes of one spark. It never happened. Conversation had slowed to an agonizing trickle. Looking back, I’m not sure how I lasted so long in awkward first date limbo.

tinderp 7.2b

The check finally came. I asked the server for a container so I could take my three quarters uneaten pho home. Minh put down his card. “I’ll pay for it.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Oh, you’re not going to offer to pay?” he inquired. “So you’re just a feminist when it’s convenient.”

I looked at him. He was smiling, so he was probably joking. Half-joking. A lot of things flashed through my mind in that moment. The fact that I have never expected, suggested, nor insisted a guy pay for me on a date, in contrast to some of my feminist friends who were still invested in chivalry as a consolation prize for systematic sexism.  The fact that I usually paid for myself on these endless dates that never went anywhere. The fact that free food is a tempting offer regardless of gender politics, because I live paycheck to paycheck and being cared for even in small material ways feels nice. The fact that he and I both live in a white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy that primarily operates through capitalism and refusing his payment for my food wasn’t going to help end it, nor should it be a strike against my feminism when fighting for gender equality goes well beyond who pays for dinner.

I didn’t have the mental capacity, time, energy, or will to articulate any of this in a way that was socially acceptable, so I reached for my bag instead. “You want me to pay? I’ll pay.”

“Oh no, that’s okay,” he said, chastened. “I can afford to.”

After Minh paid the bill, we left the restaurant. I stopped in my tracks. “Fuck. I left my pho in there.”

He shrugged. “Oh well.”

His response made me feel worse. I wasn’t sure why.

We got into his car and he dropped me off at the downtown Berkeley BART station. I thanked him for dinner and we said good night to each other. By the time I got home, I was in low spirits. Why was I still terrible at dating? I had wanted to believe I had changed as a person. That I could be optimistic and carefree and open-minded. But when faced with the opportunity, I shut down. Pessimism, anxiety, and judgment overshadowed all thoughts in my mind. I couldn’t hold them at bay.

I decided that even though I was a failure tonight, the very least I could do was reach out to Minh and apologize for being such a lukewarm date.

Me: Ack sorry if that was weird. I’m terrible at social interaction

Minh: No not at all. I think I overwhelmed you

He overwhelmed me? What a weird, condescending thing to say.

Me: With what? Your Berkeley food recommendations? Lol

He never responded. At first I was upset that he wasn’t willing to put in the effort to see things through. It meant I wasn’t worth his time or interest. But then I realized he was only ending our mutual suffering. We weren’t a match in real life. It was so plainly obvious on that first date. I just didn’t want to let it go because I was sad and tired and lonely and didn’t want to get back out there and meet up with another stranger only to have the same anticlimactic situation repeat itself like it had so many times before. But now I had no choice. I was going to die alone, but at the very least I should go out with a bang. That meant more bad and awkward dates. That meant boring dates and exciting dates and hot dates and ugly dates. That meant dates that left me sad and confused and disappointed and also dates that left me hopeful and giggly and nostalgic. I had to keep trying because failing spectacularly is better than failing timidly. Because sitting across from a guy I will never see again is better than sitting at home and wondering what if. Because feeling lonely with someone is sometimes better than feeling lonely alone.

tl;dr Learkana has a dating resume! Learkana is still really bad at dating, like reeeeeeeally bad, but you already knew that! Learkana refuses to give up!

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Philz Coffee
Rating: **
Review: Okay I feel kind of bad because I think the awkwardness had to do with the time and location and not really the coffeehouse chain itself. So I’ve thrown in an additional star out of pity and will also be specific and advise anyone trying to plan for a date to NOT meet up at a cafe in Berkeley on a weeknight that is not in the summer. It will likely to be filled with very studious college students who will incidentally make you feel old as fuck even if you only graduated college like 2 years ago (okay fine 2 and a half)

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3

Khmai Takeout

I don’t cook much, or ever, being the lazy twentysomething millenial ass that I am, so after work I call my favorite local restaurant, Phnom Penh, to order some takeout. A man answers. “Hello? This Phnom Penh.”

“Hi. Can I get the chicken fried rice?” I ask.

“Yes. You mean the…the chicken rice or the chicken–uh–basil rice?” I could hear him struggle to connect his words in coherent English syntax.

“Uh…what’s in each one?”

“The chicken fried rice–has uh…it has chicken, green onion…tomato–”

That sounds about right. “Okay, I’ll have that one.”

“Okay. Can I have your name please?”

I pause. “Leer-kaw-nah.” I say my name the anglicized way, the white people way. I regret it as soon as the last syllable drops from my mouth.

He doesn’t notice of course, and tells me my order will be ready in fifteen minutes.

Traffic is pretty slow, but I also stop by Autozone to get a couple of things, taking extra time to make sure I don’t end up sitting alone in the corner in awkward silence while waiting for my to-go dinner to be ready, as has happened many times before. When I arrive at the restaurant, I spy a lone carton sheathed in a plastic bag at one of the empty tables. It must be my order.

The owner of the restaurant, also the man I spoke with over the phone, spies me through the little window that separates kitchen from dining area. “You order the fried rice?”

“Yes.” I wonder, not for the first time, if he recognizes me. I’ve eaten at this restaurant since college, but only a handful of times at most. I came here for a celebratory luncheon with family after my graduation, which could have been more memorable to him. We were loud and many and Asian, and had shown up without a reservation. There was the fobbish cousin, the whitewashed cousin, the mother gabbing away in Khmer at the speed of light, and everyone else, all shades of brown and tan, including me.

My Cambodianness had shone through then. My hair had been longer then. Now, I was alone, with nothing to show but my short hair and my short American words, my Asianness read as Chinese and nothing more–even by the random black guy on the street who had greeted me with “ni hao” the other day, and moved on without another thought.

“That’s it right there.” He gestures to the bag I had suspected was mine, and taps the bill for emphasis.

I pull out my credit card, telling myself, I can just say it: Aw-gohn. Say thank you in Khmer, then he’ll know for sure.

Why does it matter so much, chides an ambivalent part of me.

Because…I am Cambodian, the other part of me retorts. He’s Cambodian. This is a Cambodian restaurant. Why shouldn’t I identify myself as Cambodian?

The owner comes over to the table, takes my card, and says, “Thank you” in English. I could have responded in kind, in Khmer,engaged in that strange exchange of thank you’s where no one wants to break the chain by saying “you’re welcome” in fear of sounding rude or arrogant, where gratitude becomes yet another meaningless transaction in our capitalist quid pro quo culture. I could have, but I don’t. It doesn’t feel like the right moment.

He’s swiping my card. Has he ever bothered to look at the name printed on it? Looked past the erratic spelling and found Cambodian quality? (Leh!-keh-nah means “quality” in Khmer. I confirmed this in a secondhand Cambodian-to-English/English-to-Cambodian dictionary I’ve kept with me since I began living on my own.)

Guess not. He returns it to me without so much as a glance, along with a receipt for me to sign. “Thank you,” he says again, and leaves before I have a chance to decide whether to squeeze in my aw-gohn. I’ll definitely say it when it’s time to say goodbye, I reassure myself. That’s the most appropriate time anyway-when I’ve signed the receipt. Then I could just hand it over to him and thank him for his service–in Khmer.

I sign the receipt and look up. He’s busy bustling around the kitchen, preparing more food, taking more orders, although the restaurant is mostly empty. I realize I’m just another customer. I leave the receipt on the table and walk out with my dinner, the question of why I didn’t just say my name the right way to begin with chasing at my heels. Is it because I’m secretly ashamed of being Cambodian? I wonder.

No, that disconcerting voice replies, it’s because you are ashamed of not being Cambodian enough.