“There’s a sort of sadness about you,” my date says, swirling his whiskey. I’m sipping peppermint tea he didn’t offer to pay for, probably out of fear it might make him look regressive. That’s the type of thing enlightened men worry about here. I wish I could say I found it sexy.
“Really? That’s funny — I thought I was doing kind of well today.”
“I hope that doesn’t offend you. It’s not like being sad is a bad thing.” In fact, I can tell he finds it romantic.
“I don’t mind — I mean, I am situationally depressed.” I’m up here in Oakland to take care of my uncle during chemo while also helping my mom move out of the house I grew up in. We were going to try to relocate her, but it’s too expensive to buy or rent a studio here now. It looks like she’ll be moving to Portland.
I’ve been going on some dates since I got here in the hopes I might feel something good, or at least inspiring. My Tinder bio says that I’m looking for kindness and levity. I’m trying to see if that attracts a better population than when I said I was looking for MFM (male/female/male) threesomes with my partner, who’s back at our place in LA going on dates of his own.
I’m not attracted to my date, but as I suspected, he makes good conversation. He wants to hear about the book I’m writing, the topic of which is my first non-monogamous relationship. The problem, I tell him, is that I’m trying to experience, record, and write my story all at once. It’s a real mindfuck.
“I’d be interested in reading the story of someone trying to construct their story in real time,” he says. It’s not a bad idea, nor is it one I haven’t already had. Out of gendered habit, I let him think he’s told me something new. We hug goodbye, and I speed walk home in anticipation of comfort food. If only I could be as certain about anything as I am oatmeal with peanut butter.
A tall scientist who’s come to make his fortune in the cannabis Green Rush, he bit my neck and lightly choked me in a way that gave me real hope.
I go visit my uncle in the hospital. He hasn’t been doing well with chemo. As Kavanaugh is sworn in on the TV, I start to feel a dull ache spread through my body. My hairless father figure tenderly eats some of the vegan burrito I brought him, half-watching the muted ceremony. I log onto Tinder to distract myself from the present moment.
The Israeli guy I went out with in San Francisco a couple weeks ago messages me to see whether I want to “hang out.” The first time we met, we ended the night by making out like teenagers in the back seat of my car for three hours.
A tall scientist who’s come to make his fortune in the cannabis Green Rush, he bit my neck and lightly choked me in a way that gave me real hope. I was glad to wake up to verified hickies, as well as to five texts from five different men, four of whom I hadn’t heard from in a long time. (They always seem to know when you had a good night with someone else.) Though I didn’t invite him, the Israeli insisted on coming to Oakland to see me that very next day. By the time he met me in the park, I’d inexplicably-as-usual lost almost all my attraction to him. This happens often, unfortunately. Fantasies like soap bubbles, popped before I even blow them.
I tell the Israeli I can’t hang out tonight, then chide myself for being someone who tells half-truths.
I write all morning, then meet up with yet another guy from Tinder for lunch. He’s about 20 years older, but not totally unattractive to me. He asks me about my open relationship.
“Isn’t that really about commitment issues? Was this his idea?”
I’m used to these assumptions and tell him the short version of the story. My date says he’s not really interested in someone in an open relationship and calls himself “a pretty traditional guy.” It said on my profile that I have a partner, so he knew my situation when he asked me out, but he also likes meeting friends this way. He likes to swipe when he’s stuck in traffic. I hope he doesn’t mean while he’s driving.
I go home to the studio I’m subletting and resolve to let myself hibernate as long as I want to. I haven’t had a room of my own in over three years — my partner and I started living together after our second date. I wonder if the growing pains we’ve been having could come down to the fact that we’re both writers without enough solitude. Even my jealousy of his dating other people — and his ability to remain interested in them — feels tied to the fact that I don’t have a room to call my own.
When we’re apart, I’m barely bothered by what I don’t know. Back home, it’s impossible to separate his actions from my moods. Sometimes he’s my prince, other times he’s my captor. Really, I know he’s just the mirror, magic only if I decide to see him that way.
One guy I started messaging with — but who hasn’t replied in two days — texts while I’m at the grocery store to ask if I want to get a drink. I tell him I’m tempted but didn’t sleep well, suggesting Wednesday instead. He takes a long time to agree as if to punish me. In bed that night, I read a poem by Rupi Kaur:
“I long/For you/But you long/For someone else/I deny the one who wants me/Because I want someone else — the human condition”
I think of the one guy besides my partner who I managed to sustain an attraction to these last few years. A handsome poet with a big dick, he never wanted me as much as I wanted him. He once called Rupi Kaur an “asinine” writer, despite never having published a book himself. I wish I had better taste sometimes, I really do.
I feel like these dates are the equivalent of running the engine just to keep warm. I’m going out tonight with a fellow vegan, who wrote that “confusing the means with the goal is a dangerous thing.” It sounds profound, but no matter how many times I chew on the phrase, I’m not sure I understand it.
He talks for too long without pausing and interrupts me more than a few times, but he is otherwise smart. We discuss when to hold your tongue as a vegan, and I say that people often confuse directness with rudeness, but that directness can actually be the more compassionate choice. He says that he’s very direct, so I ask about his past. He’s only 34 but has been divorced twice, and he’s “on-again-off-again” dating someone while occasionally still hooking up with his ex-wife.
“She doesn’t care. She just doesn’t want to meet anyone else I’m seeing. We talk all the time, see each other at least once a week, and still sometimes are intimate. She just doesn’t want to be in a relationship now.”
“Well, she’s in a relationship with you still, it’s just —”
“It’s just different.”
He asks me about being open, and we talk about that a while. He says that he was with his ex for ten years and that he was “totally sexually satisfied” and would probably go back to being monogamous once he’s out of this “grey area” period. His second Old Fashioned and my second hot water with lemon in, he starts touching his knee to mine. I angle away, but he continues to subtly graze my leg in a way I find deeply repulsive.
He asks whether I want company on my walk home, and I feel mean refusing, though I have just told him that there is a difference between being rude and being direct. When he drops me off at my door, I can feel a part of him still thinks I might change my mind.
The guy who texted me in line at the grocery store is running late and typed “ur,” but I still have hope.
He looks significantly older than the pictures in his profile and confesses he lied about living in Berkeley — he lives in Oakland. He’s not sure why he did it, but suspects it was sort of like satisfying the compulsion to shoplift by taking a pack of gum. I don’t ask him whether he’s actually 39. The answer seems evident.
He’s been dating someone for the last three years, something he didn’t mention on his profile. For two years they’ve “been allowed” to see other people but have only had a few isolated experiences. He doesn’t much like hearing about her adventures; “I’m OK with it, but it doesn’t turn me on, either.” They don’t live together. He doesn’t feel ready for that, not with her. She “needs to work on herself” a little more.
I turn down his offer for a ride home so I can walk and talk to my partner, who’s called while I’m on the date he didn’t know about, but wouldn’t care about, just to say he misses me. We discuss where my mom will live, the logistics of our impending trip to Portland. He tells me about the book he’s reading, “Sapiens.”
“Right now he’s writing about capitalism, and how it’s all based on a narrative we choose to believe. You sort of have to just buy into it and hope it doesn’t implode before you die. It’s kind of scary.”
I think about how this is true of everything, including our relationship. I’d say so, but it seems obvious, a lesson I’ve been learning for years now. I think about telling him I’d like to move out, but that I’m scared claiming all the solitude and independence I want will make me lose him in the end. He knows this all already, anyway. And so, for now, I just smile.