What are you looking for?
That’s it. The most important question you can answer as a single navigating the dating scene. The 3 options and their consequences to keep in mind are as follows:
a) If you answer dishonestly, you might hurt someone down the road.
b) If you answer honestly, you might scare or turn someone off.
c) If you skirt around answering or addressing the question, you or whoever’s the most neurotic in the flirtationship will live in an amorphous and complicated state of confusion, anxiety, and stress over where things are going and why.
In my experience, we millennials rely heavily on c), much to my dismay and detriment as a neurotic single. Apparently, direct communication is out of style. Let’s just be chill and not specify what the fuck we’re actually doing!
Back on OKCupid, I was looking for a long-term relationship while also pretending that I wasn’t actually looking for a relationship. (Obviously, this plan was set up to fail and did, in fact, fail.) Now that I was on Tinder, I was unclear of what I was looking for but knew it vaguely had something to do with chemistry, whatever that thing was. Must I resist the urge to throw myself at him in person? Then yes, it’s really a match!
There wasn’t much room to be selective on Tinder, anyway. You judged based on pictures and a brief bio, which may or may not have actual words in it. Which in my case translated to: I forced my Dating Sensei/roommate/friend Sayuri to judge based on pictures and on the bio which should definitely have at least SOMETHING in it, because I’m not that fucking shallow, goddamnit.
One of the matches she obtained for me was a guy I will call Anthony. Anthony was cute. He had high quality photos that included an adorable close-up of him and various action shots that showed he was a fun guy who possessed an actual social life. Also, his bio had words that made sense! (Yes, my standards for dating material had lowered considerably post-OKCupid.)
I was excited and optimistic enough about Anthony to hit him up first and decided to go with a pickup line I would never have the guts to use in real life. (To be fair, it wouldn’t make much sense in real life anyway.)
You matched with Anthony on 6/25/15
What brings your handsome mug to this dating cesspool? 😉
Wow I was about to give up on this whole tinder thing. First time a cute girl actually messages me first
So I win?
Yep, I think I owe you a drink or two now
Looking back at this exchange, I must say I’m pretty impressed with my ability to establish flirtatious rapport with a cute guy without fucking it up even once. (It’s the little victories, okay.)
Anthony and I made plans to meet at Cafe Van Kleef, a divey sort of bar in downtown Oakland with eclectic wall decor. The last time I was there on a date was 2 years ago, but I figured it was unlikely I would run into Steven #1. Anyway, I had given up on making an effort to try new activities or places for first dates and decided recycling through previous bars would suffice. (Lowered standards, check. Brief flirtatious exchange based off little to no information, check. Half-assed planning, check. My transformation into your typical millennial dating app user was complete.)
I think Anthony got there before I did. (I am more often than not shamelessly running late to dates. Time as we know it is a Western bullshit construct anyway! Just kidding. Actually, that might be true. Hmm.) He was sitting at the bar and got up to give me a hug when he saw me. Much to my relief and joy, he looked just as good in person as he did in his pictures! We each ordered a beer and got to talking.
I remember enjoying our conversation and feeling somewhat shy, which tends to happen when I’m around guys I find attractive (and is really fucking annoying to my inner/outer radical feminist). He was a techie college dropout who was completely disconnected to his Latin roots, but he was hot and a good listener. His laugh however was really annoying, to the point where I was inwardly cringing every time he chuckled, but I mean, it would have been stupid of me to make that a dealbreaker, right? (Although the dude waiting in line with me for the unisex bathroom at one point in the night jokingly[?] offered the opinion that I should just run away when I confided in him and another stranger about how my date was going (yenno, because I’m an embarrassingly open book, on- and offline).
I could tell Anthony liked me because whenever the conversation trailed off, he would just stare at me and smile. I would look back at him, but I couldn’t maintain eye contact for too long. He made me nervous. It was too intimate. But it was nice, being looked at by someone who clearly desired me in a consensual, non-creepy way.
This is it, I thought excitedly. This is what they call chemistry!
I ended up suggesting we play the game “Truth or Drink,” in which we took turns asking each other questions. You had the option of either answering honestly, or passing and taking a drink. Unlike previous times I’ve played this game with other guys from the Internet, this round with Anthony opened up actual dialogue. There were two things of note that were brought up in the game: his ex and my virginity.
I think it started with me asking, “How long was your most serious relationship?”
“Seven years,” he answered.
WHAT. “Wow, that’s a long time,” I said. “What happened?”
“One day she just stopped loving me,” he said with a straight face.
“Uh, okay.” Kind of a grody way to answer, but okay. I wonder if he was still hung up on her. Given the way he phrased it, maybe. Ugh.
“How long was your most serious relationship?” Anthony asked in return.
“Oh. I’ve never been in a relationship,” I replied, feigning casualness.
He was taken aback (as they usually are). “Really?”
“Have you ever been with anyone…? Like intimately?”
“Oh, uh…no,” I said quietly. “I’m…a virgin.”
It was uncomfortable to say it out loud. I had never been a proud post-adolescent V-Card holder, honestly. Not that it’s anything to be proud of (boo to implicit slut shaming!). But to me, being a virgin signaled a lack of worldly life experience. It meant I was sexually naive and immature, and only three-quarters of an actual adult. It wasn’t like I was waiting until marriage, or anything like that. I was simply too awkward and insecure to make it happen, and a real opportunity had never presented itself.
My public confession was made worse by the look on Anthony’s face. I could have been reading too much into it, but he looked like he was the slightest bit dismayed by the news. Like maybe me being a 23-going-on-24-year-old virgin spinster was a total turnoff and dealbreaker. Like maybe he wouldn’t have sex with me because he thought I was an attached bleeder.
From S1E04 of the HBO show Girls.
I was definitely not looking at him anymore.
“Are you okay?” asked Anthony. “You’ve gone quiet.”
“Oh, yeah…” I mumbled. “I just feel like…it’s weird.” Damn it, I should have drank instead.
“I mean, it’s fine,” he said. “I’m not judging.”
The subject was changed, and we thankfully moved on. At the end of the night, he walked me to my car. He smiled like he meant it and gave me a hug that told me he wanted to see me again. I drove away, in awe that I had finally met someone I was interested in, who was also interested in me! Maybe this would turn into something real for once. Maybe I wouldn’t be left disappointed.
He texted me a few days later, asking me if I wanted to get dinner.
I said yes. Then, my worst dating nightmare happened: I had an acne breakout.
It was one of the worst breakouts I’d gotten in a while. Of course this would happen right when I had made plans with a guy I finally clicked with. Of course.
He thinks you’re cute, I tried to console myself. So what if you have a couple of pimples on your face? You’re still cute. The pimples will pass.
Shut up and crawl under a rock, you ugly fuckface, my inner mean girl voice replied.
I cancelled the date, citing tiredness.
That’s when Anthony invited me over to his place.
Oh. My. God.
This was it. My opportunity to get laid!
Excitement quickly devolved into anxiety and fright. This was a really last minute request. I hadn’t even properly groomed myself (i.e., thoroughly shaved down there). And I still had those fucking gross zits to reckon with. I bravely looked at myself in the mirror. It’s okay. You can do this. You deserve this. You’re beautiful. You’re awesome. You’re–
Nope. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do this. Insecurity took over.
Well, maybe we don’t need to have sex.
Bitch, please. He did not invite you over to play board games.
I was disappointed and frustrated with myself. I had spent years trying to unlearn the shame and self-loathing that came with my body and my sexual desires, in a world that taught me both were wrong. It seemed I still had a ways to go.
I let Anthony know I couldn’t make it. He seemed okay with that.
A couple of days later, he texted me with some bad news.
Anthony: Hey I know this is really sudden, but I’m moving to New York next week. My company offered me a promotion and I accepted. I didn’t think it would happen so soon. The timing sucks because you’re the first girl I’ve really liked in a while.
I read his words, feeling kind of sad but not too upset. I didn’t know him well enough for this to have really impacted me, but it was disappointing that the first guy I ever had chemistry with was being snatched out of my hands by the tech industry. I mourned the lost potential. I would never have sex with him now. I mean, I could, but he was leaving for good and having sex with someone in those circumstances would make me feel used. Was this it, then? I realized I still wanted to see him regardless, even if we weren’t gonna bang.
Me: Thanks for telling me. It sucks because I like you too, but I’m happy for you. 🙂 Would you be down to hang out one last time?
Anthony: Lol sure
Per the suggestion of my Dating Sensei, Anthony and I met at Off the Grid in Oakland, a weekly food truck event hosted by the Oakland Museum of California. My breakout had subsided by that time. I was relieved when he did not look at me like I was a fizzling slug. Instead he hugged me and briefly rested his head on mine, a small gesture that made my heart leap with joy.
We ordered food and sat down to watch people dance along to the live band playing salsa music.
“I don’t understand how you’ve stayed single,” he exclaimed at one point. “You’re so cute!”
I gave him a small smile and shrugged. No point in ruining his projected fantasy of me. But it also irked me, to be diminished to this one word: cute. He only liked me because I’m cute? Is that really the only prerequisite for a guy to like a girl? I was more than just cute. Cuteness was only something I had recently made a conscious effort to cultivate. It was mostly aesthetic and superficial, and I had other valuable qualities outside of this flimsy label. Obviously, this train of thought didn’t make for dateable commentary, so I just shut up and took a huge gulp of my Coke.
The event ended close to 9. I asked Anthony if he wanted to walk around Lake Merritt with me. “Is this where you take all your dates?” he joked.
“Haha, no,” I said. (Just some of them, ahem.)
Night had fallen by this time. We walked side by side, under the soft light coming from the lamps strung along the path. I had this strong urge to hold Anthony’s hand, because I had never held hands with a guy before. Yes, this is pitiful, but bear with me. Who knew when I was going to meet a guy with whom I shared mutual attraction to again? The time to lose my handholding virginity was now.
“I….I have a question to ask you,” I mumbled.
“What is it?”
“Um…uh…it’s a really awkward question.”
“Just ask me.”
This literally went on for 10, 15 minutes and is definitely one of the top 10 Most Embarrassing Date Moments I’ve suffered in my entire anticlimactic dating history.
Eventually I burst out with, “Canweholdhands?”
“Sorry, didn’t hear you,” said Anthony. “What’d you say?”
“UGH! FORGET IT!”
He laughed, came closer, and slipped his hand over mine. It sent thrills through me. I was elated, and also really nauseated by how elated I was by this sappy, innocent gesture. People passed by us. It struck me that to them, we were a couple in love, not two singles going on their final date together before they never saw each other again because why the hell not. It was sad. But also, gross. I had become one of those people who blocked up public pathways with my desire for physical affection.
We ended up cuddling on a bench overlooking the water. We talked about random shit, but kept returning to the subject of relationships (or the lack thereof).
Anthony elaborated on his 7 year relationship. They started dating when she was a senior in high school and he was in his first year of college. They were even living together, but then she started getting distant. She eventually cheated on him and that was the final straw. They split up.
And apparently, this officially ended like only a month or so ago. He did clarify that the breakdown in the relationship happened long before, but still, COMPLETE turnoff. Part of me was glad he was leaving. But I knew that at this point, I couldn’t really be picky about anyone’s relationship baggage, just because I was some weird anomaly who had none.
“I don’t really like dating,” said Anthony. “I prefer relationships.”
“I don’t know if I could be in a relationship, honestly,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“I like being alone, and being independent. If I were to be in a relationship, I would want some personal space. I wouldn’t want to hang out with someone all the time or feel obligated to text or call someone everyday.” As I was explaining this, I could see disagreement register on Anthony’s face. Hmph. I guess it was a good thing he was leaving after all.
“I still don’t get why those other guys never worked out,” he said.
I took a breath. “Okay. So when I first started doing online dating, I was set on finding someone who had the same sociopolitical beliefs as me, because I don’t want to date someone who’s racist or sexist or whatever. I would ask guys to define rape culture on the first date, and bring up feminism and stuff. But then I realized doing that wasn’t helping me find someone I liked or clicked with. So I stopped.”
“Oh. Well, I consider myself a pretty open-minded guy, so–”
I looked at him. “I think you should stop talking.”
He laughed. We stayed on that bench for a little while longer, trying to savor the moment.
Eventually we made our way back. He walked me to my car and gave me a final hug. “I’m glad I got to see you again,” he said.
“Yeah, me too,” I replied. He was just looking at me and smiling. Anxiety kicked in. Oh god. Were we supposed to kiss? It didn’t seem like he was trying to do that, though, and I didn’t know how to initiate one. I didn’t think I wanted to anyway, because kissing in my experience was shitty and I didn’t want to ruin our farewell with a gross, sloppy tongue dance. Also, we had both eaten garlic shrimp pasta for dinner, so no. Definitely not.
He told me to keep in touch. I was surprised.”Do you mean it?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Yeah. Why not?”
I didn’t keep in touch, and he never reached out to me again either. What was the point? We were on opposite sides of the country. He was looking for love, and I was looking for something that couldn’t be provided to me through a long distance connection.
I think about him from time to time, wistfully wondering what could have been. It’s my default dating mode. I’m always looking back. Pinpointing mistakes. Stuck on what-ifs. Longing for what isn’t. Fantasizing about what could never be. Filled with regret. It’s incredibly lonely when romance and desire are experienced more through retrospect than in the present. But the ache is so familiar, it’s become a part of me.
tl;dr Learkana finally has chemistry with a guy! Learkana freaks out about some zits and her cunt and doesn’t get laid! Learkana engages in some nauseating handholding for the first time, woo hoo!
Now it’s time for…
RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Cafe Van Kleef
Review: Well, this is the second time I’ve been here, so obviously I think this place is awesome. Chill vibe, cool decor, nice people. 5/5 would go again (and did *cough*).