Standing at the craps table in Henderson, air-conditioned within an inch of my life in this refuge from the Vegas heat, I take the emerald green dice from the stickman and blow on them.
I see the people standing around me at the table — a short, sad yet angry Israeli next to me in a salmon pink shirt smoking cigarettes; a tall black man on the other side who eyes me warily, as I am the only female at the table; an older gentleman playing with his chips nervously, their clicking sound echoing in my ears; and the giant of a guy who identifies himself as my boyfriend, throwing down money.
Tossing the dice along the top, getting the hard eights and sixes, I watch my partner in craps whoop as our chips graduate from one row to two. My nose is sniffling from traveling from arid desert air to the chilled casinos as I continue roll after roll, my bags stacked under the table with two Jameson and gingers just above them.
He passionately kisses me after I hit seven and my turn is over. Calls me lucky and gets us comps for the buffet upstairs. I’m barely able to eat because I don’t feel well as he loads up three plates full; food piled so high it practically measures up to his almost 400-pound, 6’6 frame.
We have been together for three months, and generally things were working. We enjoyed each other’s company, my family liked him, my friends enjoyed how he made me feel. Yet there was a gnat of truth buzzing in my ear: He didn’t want to be monogamous, and continued dating multiple women. He got angry and jealous when I would suggest dating other men. He was controlling in bed, and my pleasure was completely ignored. He didn’t want to get married, although he was warming up to the idea of having a child.
I told him we have different values. He said we didn’t. We continued on, although I sensed something not right. He was bringing me in and pushing me out; putting me on calls with his mother, giving me a key to his house, and yet not wanting to compromise on things I requested.
I wanted to end it, but something told me to keep giving it shot after shot. All the issues were just me, I told myself. It was my past, my fears, my anxieties. And now here I was with him, in Las Vegas.
He’s in his element; he lived here for three years, knew everything about placing bets and getting what you want. Every show has a comp, every venue comes with the wave of his hand as he parked at the valet. He’s always walking five steps ahead of me, playing with his phone every spare second, my feet barely able to keep up.
I’m lost here. I hadn’t been to Vegas in almost two years. Yet every minute with him there is a thing to do outside our hotel room. I pack dresses I never get to change into as I’m shunted from local businesses to fancy pools with giant facades, from dramatic theaters to elaborate casinos. I always dreamed of experiencing Vegas as a VIP, and these were princess-style treatments. I should feel special.
I miss my friends back in Los Angeles, who are celebrating birthdays without me. I’m not with my father for Father’s Day. I should be happy that I’m with my so-called boyfriend in Vegas and he’s actually tagging me on Facebook posts, but at the same time I feel like he’s hiding more than he’s showing.
He’s surrounded by all the things that make him feel like a king, with a cute little piece of arm candy to take it in with. But I could be any girl he feels like pampering at that given moment. He doesn’t see me, ask me what I want to do or how I’m feeling, even though my throat feels like it’s on fire. We’re just floating along in the heat.
As we walk past the Paris, I dream of real Paris, and in New York New York I long for the city’s cursing residents. The world was designed to be here at our fingertips, yet I felt further and further from it as he talks about his dreams but never asks about mine. Facades and fantasies in the desert heat, as I stand in a bright fuchsia dress as he barely grooms himself enough to go out to the nice restaurant I picked for that last evening — the thank you for our trip, overlooking the Bellagio fountains.
Something changes in there. His constant phone companion is gone. He cuddles closer to me, sharing food off forks and kissing me deeply. Finding a way to make deep conversation. Taking me to the Bellagio fountains and through the hotel’s conservatory, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.
At the end of the evening, he asks if I want ice cream. I nod furiously. Although there’s no ice cream, we find a Jamba Juice, sit on a bench and split a smoothie, laughing about the man who was wandering through the mall farting, giggling about all the things we saw.
This was my version of heaven, all that I wanted from him in this relationship. Not fancy pools and VIP shows, crap tables or blown-on dice. Just the two of us, a smoothie, true companionship and overwhelming laughter. This is where I felt special.
It fades away just as fast. The next day he makes me cry at breakfast during a debate about religion he asks me incredulously if I think I’ll see my mom after I die. The entire drive home he texts and calls customer service on a never-ending loop, yelling at them to the point where I become scared and cry again. I ask to talk to my dad just as we cross the California border; he doesn’t let me until we reach Pasadena. I’m silent for hours, wishing to be close to him the way I was the night before.
When we get back to his house, I ask to use his bathroom before I leave. I see another girl’s makeup on the counter. He begins stumbling in excuses, claiming it’s his female roommate’s. Yet two weeks before he said he was strict about his roommate’s stuff not being in his bathroom.
I know him better, and unload on him the truth: That the last time he was in Vegas, he took another girl and asked me to watch his dogs. He probably did the same thing again, and I wasn’t dumb. He never hid the fact he dates multiple women, but lacked discretion.
“We just had a great weekend,” he lamented. “Can’t we just enjoy this? I don’t want a serious conversation right now.”
He never wants a serious conversation. Not about the future nor the past. He just wants the hedonism of now.
“That’s not the point,” I replied. “I think I might be falling for you, and I need to know that this is a thing before we move forward.”
He responds. “I care about you deeply, and I like the fact that you’re getting attached to me.”
No. That’s not right. I deserve a better answer. A worthy answer for who I am as a person. And he didn’t have one.
He asks me what I want. I say I want to be with him. He echoes the words, but I don’t believe him. He kisses me under his jacaranda tree and I walk away, thinking about where this relationship was going. And it’s not in the right direction.
I realized this was a person who would refuse to change, and it wasn’t worth giving ultimatums and demands. I deserved more than comps and craps tables. I needed a relationship where I counted.
I break up with him via email; it takes me a week to get the courage to go through with it, block him on Facebook and drop off the key in his mailbox. I ask for monogamy, knowing I’ll never receive it. That he won’t chase after me nor shed a single tear for my absence; there would always be another girl to replace me.
As the breakup settles in, I see things clearer, like a veil being lifted or the relief of Pacific breezes after the stifling Vegas heat. I see him for who he is beyond our Vegas trip — his close-mindedness, bullying and bigotry; his grabs at control by any means necessary, whether through chronic overeating or manipulating women. Although the sadness of losing his good qualities still stung, I was better off finding someone worthy.
We had a Vegas relationship; a façade, a dream, an image presented to the world of happiness yet simmering under the brim with emptiness and pain. That wasn’t a relationship that represented me.
When it came to love, I wanted a Jamba Juice and laughter relationship, a passionate kissing relationship, a deep conversations relationship, a put-your-phone-away-because-the-other-person-is-so-good relationship. A place beyond arm candy, but rather fully fleshed souls trying to find a way through life together. Where reality lived, and what happened in it wasn’t just sinful nights in the desert, but the foundation for something even greater.
And now, as a single girl once more, I realize I truly am lucky.
We all want things to be perfect.
At least I do, anyway. It’s one of the hazards of having been an editor for so long. You will find faults in everything — wonder why people can’t use their grammar correctly, how that tree sap found its way on your perfectly cleaned car window, how there can be one minute of gray to spoil the row of beautiful, sunny California days.
This nitpicking may be weird coming from someone who has a hard time cleaning. But sometimes you yearn for things to be the way you want them. Otherwise, you just can’t help but to wonder.
Over the course of my life, I have angrily stared at my split ends, sprinkled various herbs into dishes for the best flavors until I was satisfied and spent hours trying to take the perfect selfie, then yelling at myself because my eyes are never the same size. I worry when people post their pictures of me on my Facebook — do I look fat? Why do my teeth stick out like a chipmunk? My hair looks limp. Other girls are prettier than me; I’ve seen their Instagrams.
And beyond that striving for the perfection of our physical appearances, there’s also the other things that hint that something isn’t right under the surface; the things you desperately don’t want other people to notice. There is a worry in me too about all of them:
Are you single? If you are, what’s wrong with you? If you’re in a relationship, why isn’t he marrying you? Or maybe he’s not good enough for you if he’s this or that? If you’re married, why don’t you have kids? If you do have kids, why aren’t they X, Y or Z?
Where do you work? Who do you work for? How long have you been there? If you haven’t been there for that long, there must be something wrong with you. If you’ve been there for too long, you have no ambition.
People like me want to be perfect. We strive for the best. We want to win, to have people admire and look up to us.
We are given ladders to climb that have no real top, that aren’t what they seem because we determine the top of them when in truth the outer ends of the universe is the limit. Or if and when we reach the “top,” we look down from the top of the clouds and don’t see what we missed in order to climb up here. And to go back down means you could potentially fall, and hit the ground harder than when you were first there.
Yet we keep reaching for perfection. Is it because we’re told to or because we’ll never be satisfied if we don’t? I can’t tell you.
I thought I knew perfect. If you asked me before, I could tell you what perfect looked like, or at least my version of it. There was a vision in my head, and I felt the desperate need to go there in all aspects of my life — job, dating, you name it.
Several weeks ago I walked into a dive bar off of Ventura Boulevard. I sat at the bar and waited. I even told my friend on the phone, “I don’t expect anything much from this. Might as well.”
About an hour and a half later I was sitting on a couch in the bar, right in the middle of a popcorn war, laughing all the way as I tossed popcorn playfully into his graying hair. A week later I was drinking wine with him in the middle of the Angeles National Forest, looking up at the stars for hours and listening to “Something” by the Beatles play on the car radio. And another week passes and we’re whispering, which makes his voice sound like husky honey, then giggling softly like sneaky teenagers as we’re trying to fix a closet door and his dog is licking my face.
The normal exchange of stories began. Every day there was a conversation. There would always be time for a text. There were innuendo messages as much as the encouragement and advice, as well as debates about movies and music. I would be my normal sassy self and he would lap it up. We shared our beliefs of the world. He found my social consciousness sexy and loved how close I am to my dad.
I would stand up for myself, and he would hear me out, but check me in my fears and anxieties. He not only calmed me, but it made me realize, “Oh crap, this guy has my number, and we haven’t even known each other that long.” It wasn’t a bad thing; rather, it reminded me distinctly of my friendship with my best friend of 14 years. It made me feel more like myself.
That night of the broken closet door, I laid on the bed and looked at him. I could feel my face turn into a goofy smile, feeling incredibly comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel anything weird about the way he was touching me, unlike some of the other guys I had been with. He played with my hands as our fingers weaved them this way and that. And yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself, “This is it? After all this time and the countless number of strangers, this is the guy?”
He didn’t know a lot about grammar — his texts were riddled with typos, which is usually my number one dating pet peeve. He’s a big dude, which was strange for me; I’ve always been taller, bigger, whatever. He’s an outdoorsy type, loves to go fishing, camping, hiking. He gardens, which I am completely clueless about. He reads, but not as much as I do. He grew up in a completely different culture than I did. His work schedule is erratic.
Yet I looked into his half closed brownish hazel eyes as his slight smile matched mine, and realized that I would be absolutely crazy to let him go.
Perfect is often what the world tells us, not ladders of ascension but boxed prisons of the mind. It’s up to us to shake the chains that bind us and let go. Perfect is the striving for the future when you need to count the present too. And sometimes it’s desperately hard to count.
Will it last? I definitely don’t know the future. But I look forward to it: Arms wrapped around me while gardening, more laughter as the dogs lick my face, maybe even another popcorn war and plenty more music. And that, for me, is perfect.
In the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”
But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.
I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.
Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.
The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.
Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:
Us In a Nutshell
We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.
Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?
The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.
Let Me Upgrade You
At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.
Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.
There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…
Sex or Pizza?
At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.
Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.
As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.
The Accountability Dilemma
Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.
Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.
When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.
Fear of FOMO
Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.
Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.
Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.
My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.
I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.
There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.
There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.
When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?
Once upon a time, we were girls.
We clomped in our mother’s high-heeled shoes around the house and tried on her makeup, wondering what it was like to get older. We watched television shows with adventurous, curious and confident female characters, whether we wanted to slay with Buffy, fight evil with Sailor Moon or even be smart like Penny from Inspector Gadget.
We drew hearts around boy’s initials with ours on our middle school binders and dreamed about our various superstar crushes. We dreamed of falling in love, not knowing of the consequences.
We developed our own styles. Some of us put on red lipstick and vintage prints, wanting to be Gwen Stefani. There were the girls who dreamed of being Courtney Love, wearing baby doll dresses and grunge flannel shirts. Others wore cute little plaid skirts and danced, hoping to transform into Britney Spears. But we loved being girls.
We then got older, and our bodies started growing. And that’s when the talking began.
“Girls don’t say that! Girls shouldn’t do that! Girls can’t wear that!” they growled.
“Why not?” we asked.
“Boys will get distracted!”
We wanted to argue it wasn’t true, and our education was just as valuable as boys. Yet there we were, being groped in the hallways and pressured into things we didn’t want to do. When we tried to tell, the administration told us it was our imaginations. That doesn’t happen here. Yet tell that to the boy at my high school who was assaulted with the end of a broom. It made girls scared; if boys could do that to each other, what could they do to us?
There were also the lecherous teachers who purposefully sat the girls in miniskirts in the first row or paid particular attention to certain girls in their classes. We knew who they were. They were adults and we were “children.” They would fight for their own, not for us. We were sexualized long before we were ready to have sex, and the code was silence. If you were smart, loud and stood up for what you believed in, like I did, you were punished.
We were girls. We deserved better.
And these were the girls who were sent off to colleges across the United States. A lot of them rebelled from the mentality of “sit still, look pretty,” or at least I hope they did. They probably learned more about themselves during these days than they did during puberty’s grip. But unfortunately, as these girls turned into women, some of them turned into victims of rape, which according to most statistics are one in five women (there are very few statistics on men, but there are estimates of one in 71).
A lot of these victims have no name. In the Stanford rape case against Brock Turner, she is only identified as “Emily Doe.” On my college campus, she was known as a Jane Doe assaulted in the hallway of the business building my senior year. In fact, in journalism one of the first lessons I was taught in reporting was that you name everyone in relation to any crime — except for rape and sexual assault victims.
To this day many of them still have no names. It’s sometimes because they are one of the over 80 percent of rapes that are never reported to police, or they are victims who refuse to tell anyone, even their own families. Perhaps it’s because of the idea that they might be told it was all in their heads and targeted as false accusers. Maybe it’s worse than that.
I wish I could say rape stopped in college and as soon as we left we were safe. But we weren’t. We still aren’t. I hear the story about my cousin finding out she had been drugged at a party, and telling her friends so they could get her out before it’s too late. The sobs from my friend when she woke up the at a friend’s house blacked out with her pants off still ring in my ears. Another woman is on her couch passionately talking about her own rape on a fourth date as I talk about the boy that told me he loved me, and about an hour later I threw off of me when he tried to force me to have sex with him. When I told my mother a year ago, she told me a similar story from when she was dating.
We became a part of a never-ending rape culture, so we began to follow a survival creed, whether we were single or with someone. Instead of adventurous and curious, we had to be cautious. Watch your drink. Be careful how you dress when you go out, don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t go out by yourself, particularly at night. Feel free to drink, but don’t drink too much. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be easy, because who would believe you if something happened?
We had to stop being girls, because being girls meant being naïve and possibly becoming prey. We had to become women to take responsibility for our own safety. But then we’d hear the calls throughout out lives: “Well, boys will be boys!” Boys never had to stop being boys. They can be boys for as long as they feel like, even into adulthood because it was “cute” or “fixable.”
On the playground, boys could hurt girls until they cried and then have the girls be told, “Well, that just means he likes you.” It meant boys trying to act more aggressive, screaming obscenities at those whom they thought to be less manly. And yes, that sometimes included showing their junk off, whether flashing or sending that sexually harassing text with an inappropriate picture in it.
There were fewer limitations. They were expected to be rowdy and act like wild ruffians. They were allowed to be dominant. There was no one judging what they wore to class or whether they spoke up too much. They were boys.
Even though they didn’t have to stop being boys, most of them wanted to be men, too. The pressure for obtaining masculinity was high. They had to be physically strong and fit a mold. Don’t cry, be tough, don’t show that you feel anything other than anger. The goal was to be so powerful that they dominated others, including other boys who were “different” — gay, brown, black, Asian or even differently abled. This was called patriarchy.
They were also told about being men was that, in order to be good enough, you needed to get two things: money and girls. In that mentality, we were not people. We were things to be possessed, purchased, conquered. And if you had enough money and privilege, you could.
A lot of boys hated it. They were the boys who never made the football team, never got the girls, couldn’t get the fancy jobs that were supposed to bring them everything they could ever want. Quite a few got smart, seeing that there was another way to be men, and they found that there was often a great power in respect for others.
But others began blaming, finding anyone to target, often hurting women because they felt slighted by them or there was no other way to obtain them. On both sides of the spectrum, whether rebelling against traditional masculinity or embracing it, it was all about dominating women and girls, being stronger than us. We were surrounded, harassed with open threats of rape online and subtle hints of it in real life. Women couldn’t stop looking over our shoulders, sometimes wondering if we could trust our male friends, as often the perpetrators of rape are people we know.
We were girls. So is every woman who is a victim of rape or has to thwart an attempt. We rally together to take back the night and help protect each other in bars. Yet there is something lacking in those conversations: The men aren’t there. They don’t hear the stories we tell one another about rapes and sexual assault. But if we talked as openly with the men in our lives about it as we do the women, they would.
It’s time to change the conversation. We are better than this, both men and women, and the power of sisterhood and brotherhood means we should act as one human family. We are partners in making this world not only better but also safer. And it’s time that we act like it.
We need to talk about what rape means, what male to female relationships boil down to. There have to be discussions about the over-sexualization of our society. We need for them to understand that our friendships with one another don’t mean the other owes us anything. We need to teach boys that it is not having girls, money or privilege that makes them powerful, but their own individual contributions to this world that do. That it’s okay to feel. That women count just as much as men, and in order to dismantle the roles that society has given us and let go of rape culture we have to do it together. It’s because rape culture began when we were children and grew into a weed wrapping us up with it, and we need to kill it now.
There is a new generation of boys and girls, watching new shows that tell them all the amazing things they can be, with fashion icons and crushes to draw hearts around. But what are we telling them about each other when we can’t figure out as adults how we relate to one another? They deserve to have a safe world, to know that the way of adulthood is not where men and women become enemies on a battlefield. It’s where we become partners in figuring it out, because somewhere inside of us we are still the children on the playground before the world told us what we should and shouldn’t be.
We are women and men. But we are also boys. We are also girls. And at the end of it all, we are people, so it’s time to start acting like it.
Since I became single four years ago, my change in relationship status meant that, if I ever wanted to have sex again or even think about finding love, I would have to dive back into the cesspool that is dating. After seven years of being out of that world, it was like mingling in a river of toxic waste and trying to figure out the lay of the land from all the people with three heads.
At the time, I was 29, and I hadn’t dated since I was 22, let alone in the technology era. Seeking a relationship really was a different language, and everything you did had a message, like how a friend of mine told me there was a hierarchy of dating places: Coffee for friends and casual dalliances into friends-with-benefits territory; drinks for friends, potential hookups and the slightest chance of a relationship; and dinner for potential hookups and half-possible relationships. Or how when you give your number to a guy you’re interested in them dating-wise and if you add them on Facebook you think of them as a friend. (That one I don’t follow. I’d probably add you on Facebook either way.)
Then of course there are the requirements and rules: Don’t have sex on the first date. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show too much cleavage, but don’t be a prude. I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of don’ts that I’ve been told. Meanwhile, there was a whole online dating vernacular to acclimatize to beyond that combined with hundreds upon hundreds of unsolicited pictures of human male junk and requests for pictures in return. For example, I had to learn that a guy asking for more body shots in online dating is a secret way that he’s trying to make sure you’re not fat, because that’s men’s greatest fear while online dating. I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about going out with a person and them possibly taking advantage of you. Either that or I guess it doesn’t matter if I would gouge your eyes out, as long as I’m not overweight while doing it.
The truth was there are so many little variables and squabbles that I couldn’t pull them apart. Don’t post that picture, post this picture; don’t say this, do say that. Let them pay for the meal, or pay your own way to show your independence. Pay for your Match.com account for quality men, or why would you spend money on such an endeavor? It’s very confusing.
My friend Ron gave me a challenge: Write a list of dating etiquette principles that people should follow. Being single and slightly removed from the dating scene as of late (but not enough so that I don’t remember the hell it is), I welcomed the task. As I started coming up with a list, I realized it really boiled down to ten simple, extremely blunt rules that I’m pretty confident most daters and generally nice human beings can agree on:
- Don’t be an asshole.
This may seem like a simple concept, but even if you just look at the standard comments section of a Facebook post, you would be amazed at how many people have a problem with it. Not being an asshole simply means respect for the fact that everyone in the dating world is looking for their better half, and it’s hard to find someone. It means being straightforward in what you want: If you want a hookup, by all means, say so and don’t lead them on. It means that, if someone tells you they’re not interested, not attacking them. Were you listening in Sunday school to the golden rule? No? Well it’s that whole, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” thing. So don’t be rude. And don’t contact people in the form of a proposition of, “Hey, dtf?” Not only does it mean you’re an asshole, but you’re lazy.
- Stop thinking with your junk.
We live in an age where we are programmed to think with our respective genitalia, from dating to what kind of hamburger we buy. Therefore, when we look at online dating profiles or go to singles mixers, all we see is, “Hot or not?” or, in Tinder terms, “Swipe right or left?” Hate to break it to you, but looks fade or change. Also, you’re not going to have sex with this person 24/7 — you’re going to have to talk to them and reason with them eventually if you want to keep that person around. Sure, we all have physical types, but a relationship has to go deeper than that to work. So don’t think in those terms and talk to someone new. It’s amazing what you’ll find, and personally I find people more attractive if they’re smart, funny, decent and can carry a conversation rather than if they have six-pack abs. And speaking of…
- Be open to new possibilities.
I have two examples of this. One was where a 5’6 guy contacted me on a dating site (please note I am 5’11). Normally I don’t go for shorter guys, but he was so easy to talk to and fun to be around we actually dated for a while after that. The second was a girl I used to work with who went on a date with a guy who liked baseball. She said, “He likes baseball, and I don’t like baseball. So I’m not going to pursue it.” That guy could have been her perfect guy, and she threw him out simply because there was one interest that they didn’t have in common. Meanwhile, I took a chance and explored something that I would have never done before, and even though it didn’t work out, I loved the time we had together. Being open means new opportunities, meeting wonderful people and who knows what else? Possibly meeting the love of your life and not having to worry about this dating thing anymore.
- Stop texting, you idiot.
The text is great for many things, ranging from finding each other in a large, crowded shopping center to getting into a car accident for doing it while driving. However, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to dating and being able to get to know each other. It’s so bad my friend once had to dump a guy via text because he wouldn’t take calls. If you’re trying to date someone, opt for more connection and not less. Texting and even its cousin, Facebook messenger, is a great starting point for getting to know someone, but it can’t communicate the full picture of a person — what jokes they laugh at, how they respond to different topics and their tones of voice. If you have the time and the ability to call, do it. If you don’t like phone calls, impromptu visits work too. Make the effort. Which leads me into…
- Don’t be lazy.
Oh, the lazies, the procrastinators, the shiftless dreamers who hope a person will sweep them off their feet instead of going to get them. They come in many forms, to the girl who contacts a guy on a dating site to say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions,” to the guy who is too scared and/or lackadaisical to pursue a girl, and when she finds someone else, he decides that it’s the perfect time to declare his love. If this is the approach they take to dating, it’ll probably be the same in a relationship, so avoid them and be better than that. If you like him/her, ask them out. If you’re interested, don’t play games; just say it. One of my favorite instances of this was at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock after I performed at a comedy open mic. He told me flat out he was interested. I was so impressed that he was straightforward that I immediately grabbed a drink with him.
- Focus on the other person.
You know that electronic leash you have in your pocket that you call a cell phone? Yes, technology is grand, with all the pretty lights and dinging sounds, not to mention the ten zillion dating apps and your queue of 20 guys and/or girls in various states of flirty texting. Guess what? If you intend to connect to anyone in human form, it’s got to go into hibernation. If you’re going on a date, don’t play with your phone and don’t answer calls unless it’s an emergency. Same goes for darting eyes around the room and paying too much attention to distractions. Also, if a person says something to you,listen. Ask questions and find out things. Respond with your own experiences. We live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out) that we actually do miss out on great things, even if that person is sitting in front of us.
- Follow basic topic discussion guidelines.
When I went on my first date post-split, I called a former friend of mine in New York for advice. He got very nervous when I asked him, so he started making a list of all the topics that I shouldn’t talk about: No politics, no religion and no mentions of my ex or any previous relationships. When I gawked and asked him what I should talk about, he said, “Anything else.” Years later, the advice still works, but I would add any personal topics that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, like medical or family issues. In the first few times of meeting, it’s all about whether or not you click, and you can only see that if both people are comfortable with the conversation. Topical, touchy issues and possible deal breakers can be dealt with later.
- However, throw the rulebook out the window when it’s time.
When I was dating a chef several years back, the initial chemistry between us was so hot that everything else seemed like a refrigerator. As a result, the above basic topic discussion guidelines were thrown out the window immediately and nothing was restricted from our conversations. What I love the most about dating is that when you find an amazing person that you really connect with, it can be completely unpredictable and exhilarating. It’s instinct; you just know it and they know it too. Any rules that society throws at us, from not having sex on the first date to taboo topics, are tossed aside. These are not the times to be guarded and listen to everyone else. This is when you carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO — whatever you need to do.
- Be you.
There are two important components in dating: This new person and you. Beautiful, wonderful, fabulous you, who sings as loudly as possible in the car and has a passionate relationship with snobby coffee and red pens, not to mention an unnatural love of drag queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Sorry, that’s me). Many people put on facades and fronts while dating, hiding themselves in the hope that the other person will like them, but that means we are doing a disservice to the other person by not letting them get to know the real us. Perhaps we’re insecure or uncertain, but don’t be. You’re great, I know you are, so don’t hide — and if you aren’t great, don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. This doesn’t end in dating, FYI: We sometimes forget ourselves in favor of the new relationship, and I encourage you not to. The best relationships are when the people around us bring out and love our strongest selves, not put us down. So keep doing you, no matter what happens.
- Seriously, don’t be an asshole.
It’s sad that I have to repeat this, but I do. In the second repetition, it’s more in the, “If this is not working out, don’t be an asshole.” This means if you know a person likes you and you don’t like them back, don’t lead them on to thinking it’s more. This means give someone the courtesy of letting them down if it isn’t working, i.e. not disappearing without another word, or ghosting. If the other person lets you down, it doesn’t mean yelling at them, stalking them or going from asshole to psychopath. Rejection is hard, but it’s a part of the dating process on both sides. That being said, if you need to, I give you permission to wallow in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix before you get back up again. Or take a run. Just remember rule 9: Be you, and do right by you always.
And with that, I wish all of you fair daters very happy dating lives and hopefully the right person to be your complement. Personally, I will be overanalyzing guys’ intentions towards me while listening to all your worries about dating as we hang out. Or at least I’ll be lip syncing for my life in the privacy of my car. Whatever works.
Despite my cynical nature when it comes to dealing with celebrities and various Hollywood activities (one of the hazards of growing up here in Los Angeles), I never thought anything in entertainment would disturb me quite as much as the legal case of Kesha.
For those who don’t know her, Kesha was a pop star who was sort of the antithesis of Lady Gaga — strange, but more gritty and grimy versus the latter’s high-fashion polish. Most people were hit and miss on her music, but I always thought she was interesting; a different take on the clean, perfectly polished pop princess, and I respected her for it.
So imagine when you find out that her producer has possibly been the source of emotional manipulations, rape and abuse. How he aggravated her eating disorder and even supposedly forced her to do drugs. And that he was allowed to keep control of her career, despite allegations of committing crimes, because there was a contract between the two of them. The fact that she was a woman who probably went through hell didn’t matter, as long as there’s money on the line.
So many things scare me about the Kesha case — and it goes beyond rape, abuse and the sad reality of being a woman seeking to make a career in the entertainment industry, which are hard enough to stomach on their own. It goes to the concept of personal safety and mental wellbeing being worth a lot less than professional stakes and the almighty dollar. This should not only scare women. It should scare every working person in the United States.
As a young working woman, I have seen it firsthand. When women (and men) are in terrible, abusive romantic relationships, they are told to leave immediately. Get out, no matter the consequences, like how a person leaving an abusive situation is more likely to die in the first two weeks of leaving than any other time in the relationship. If a victim doesn’t leave, they are often viewed as weak-willed and in constant danger.
However, eight hours a day you’re at a job, and if someone is there who is psychologically manipulating you or even harassing you, you’re often told to shrug it off. Ignore it, maybe it will go away. Report it, they’ll help (and although sometimes they do, there are times that they can’t or don’t). Go find another job in the off hours, in pure secrecy, or hang in there no matter how bad things get, because things will get better. If a person does choose to leave a job when things get unbearable without another job in hand, they are often viewed as irresponsible. Yet the emotional, mental and physical drain can be just as strong, if not stronger, than the romantic situation.
Like those who stay in abusive relationships, those who opt to quit jobs due to difficult, abusive circumstances before finding another one are also viewed as weak. Somehow, this seems slightly contradictory to me. And in the case of Kesha, it is nothing short of heartbreaking.
It was unfortunate that two of my first bosses out of college were very abusive, and I witnessed the behavior above firsthand. One editor’s favorite trick was to get me into a side room on a daily basis and berate me, telling me that I was the worst writer that he had ever seen. After he was fired for sexual harassment, it turned out I wasn’t the only person he was doing this to, but I was his favorite target. Yet no matter where I was, from sobbing in my car to sitting at the dinner table, I was told to “hold on.” His behavior shaped me for years to come, although on a positive note, it made me really think about treating others better in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the next boss after that one was worse — an anti-Semite who would needle me about not having gone to UCLA and, even though I was well liked by sources and readers, would tell me I constantly needed overwhelming editing. When I finally quit because I couldn’t take his abuse anymore, he said, “Oh, so this means you’re probably going to be marrying some rich guy and having 20 babies.”
When I came home and told my now-ex that I quit, I was yelled at and told how stupid I was, how I live in a fantasy world, how dare I walk out the door on a job without another one in hand, because that was common knowledge that everyone knows you don’t do. He was the most vocal; others were tut-tutting in the background. Yet barely anyone bat an eye four years later when I walked out the door due to his behavior.
Over the years, I wanted to think that my case was singular; after all, in the years after I never had bosses quite like those two mentioned above, and some are still my favorite people. That was, until my friends started talking. Each of them had a story about people at work whose behavior was unacceptable. They were actions that would normally get people fired, but for some reason there was a blind eye turned in each case. Each of these people were in different industries, but the stories were eerily similar, and they were all hurting from their treatment at the hands of their team members and their bosses.
One friend was so upset, his head was in his hands. “I wish I could just quit,” he sighed, and he felt scared of being fired while looking for another job due to the level of harassment he was experiencing at his job. Another friend said he didn’t have enough money in his savings to quit, and if he did how he would walk out of his 50-hour a week job where he is often emotionally manipulated and never look back. One girl, who is normally so warm and fun to be around, seemed to be dimmed out by her controlling boss, and I would give anything to help her. But all I can do, sadly, is listen. Like Kesha, we can end up trapped into the spiraling bad behavior of others who seem to get away with it. And in her case, Kesha is being preventing from making a living at it.
I’m not suggesting giving up when things get difficult; we do have to work through them. We have extensive obligations that we have to make sacrifices for, like long days and difficult people, and sometimes that’s necessary to push through. What are we sacrificing over the long term, though, is the most important question. If we are placing on the altar our mental stability, physical health or emotional well being for the sake of money, this is not freedom. When you see a woman forced to work for someone who has abused her, having to relive unspeakable trauma over and over again and fighting desperately for her livelihood, that is not liberty. And we, as people who have friends who love us and family who need us to be there, should not tolerate this.
We need to think about Kesha as well as the work culture we have created. We need to solve these problems together: Human relations, upper management and those who are willing to make workplaces easier places to be on a day-to-day basis must combine forces. We don’t necessarily need fancy lunches, ping pong tables and open floor plans to be happy. We do need to feel safe when we come in, be able to work with level-headed people and not be put on trial if we are being treated horribly. People as individuals who can change the world are worth more than just their jobs, and it’s time we start acting like it.
Over four years ago, with the emotional maturity of a college student, I ventured back into the dating universe like an explorer heading to the new world. Sure, that broken heart was there from the tumultuous past seven years, but the possibilities felt endless. As my best friend encouraged me to open an OK Cupid profile, I felt an exhilaration and nervousness as I had to go through all my firsts again — first date, first kiss, first time sleeping with someone new in over seven years.
All those firsts went to a guy named Jason, a Samoan with pillowy lips, soft brown eyes and a bald head. As we were talking, I explained to him that I was fresh out my marriage — it hadn’t even been a month since I left. My wants and needs were made explicit: No relationship, no commitment, and if anything expect only a friends-with-benefits type scenario.
So, naturally, he asked me to marry him after two dates.
When I told him no (after all, I had just left my marriage less than a month before), he began crying. “Well, apparently our making love didn’t mean anything to you,” he said, leaving me flabbergasted and crawling through the dark looking for a proper response.
And thus began my trail of breadcrumbs and broken hearts. Some were necessary, as the people were desperately clingy, incredibly toxic and didn’t need to be around in my life. Others were just cases of ghosting and, “I’m just not feeling it.” But I walk on eggshells despite my best intentions, emotions I have cracked because I’ve been searching for true love for quite a while now.
I only began thinking of Jason again last night when I was meandering through my local Trader Joe’s around 8:30, my favorite time to go shop for my wants and needs. After a warm, relaxing bath, I decided to head out, my hair wet, dark circles of makeup the remover hadn’t gotten under my eyes, slipping on my Star Wars t-shirt and a pair of jeans with no underwear because, hey, no one else had to know.
Given my disheveled state, it only made sense that, while wandering through the produce, the front door opened to reveal Ryan. He had that standard outfit of Adidas track pants, little round glasses and white t-shirt that I had previously grown so accustomed to him wearing. My heart started pounding as I rounded the corner, pretending I didn’t see him, agitated by my shopping solitude being broken.
Ryan and I had never dated per say; rather, he was my hook-up guy for over six months, that random 10:45 pm call where I would head to his house in the hot summer months and end up lying in the grass and having sex with him on a blanket under a full moon. It was a mutually-agreed upon situation, and I enjoyed it. My friends jokingly call him “the cookie guy,” as one night I showed up his house around midnight and he was randomly baking chocolate chip cookies. But the sex was hot and it was a nice distraction from the more difficult moments. Best of all for me, there was no attachment and promises that I had to make if he was more involved in my life. It allowed me to keep things separate, divided, private — the way I liked it.
I hadn’t heard from Ryan in over a month. The last time I did, it was a cold January night, and we switched to the guest bedroom instead of the lawn. I remember getting up from the bed, slipping on my clothes and looking down at him. He looked up at me in desperation, as if his eyes and gaping mouth were begging me not to leave. Yet the aggression in me was seething; while we were in the middle of the act, he asked me about things I don’t like talking about, wanted me to do things I didn’t want to do once we were back to our non-sex reality, which forced me to come up with a lie to get him off my case. The anger was palpable on my face, but given our casual relationship, it didn’t feel right to explain myself. And with that, he disappeared.
And now here he was in the Trader Joe’s, seeing this person with my basket overflowing, my hair matted and my ass unprotected under my jeans. It was only in this moment that I finally understood Arnold Schwarzenegger and his calls to, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!”
I didn’t bother to track Ryan down by the dairy; rather, I wanted out as soon as I could. My cynical mind scoffed with the thought of: If he wants to see me, he could text me at 10:45 like he always does. Anger, shame, the parts of my life that I did my best to keep separate from each other were gathering under the fluorescent lights and among the employees’ Hawaiian shirts.
I saw him watching me from one of the aisles as I stood at the checkout stand, making the cashier laugh with one of my jokes. Heading out to the parking lot, I noticed his car parked next to mine, not beginning to believe this string of coincidences. And for the first time in a while, I really thought about Ryan; how scared I was before that he was actually falling for me, how he didn’t really know me from a hole in the wall, how I missed his 6’3 lithe, strong body wrapped in mine. How us being sexual together is so natural, but knew that he was leaving me so unsatisfied and unhappy in other ways that maybe it was best we weren’t doing anything at this moment. How I sought romance, love and monogamy, and knew that this was probably not the person who would give me those things.
As I drove home, I was forced to think about my dating sins — from Jason to Ryan, there were plenty of boys who broke my heart, but there were those whose hearts I destroyed along the way. For the first time in four years, I had to admit the truth: No matter how good my intentions were, how I thought I was being altruistic, how my body slept with boys and left them with no emotions attached, I was just as bad as the guys who did it to me and my girlfriends. I hurt men and did things that I hated other people for doing to me. I refused true intimacy, putting up walls to protect my highly sensitive romantic ego from everyone, which over the years has meant everything from pretending certain people who hurt me didn’t exist in the room I was in to running out of a random Trader Joe’s at 8:45 at night.
It took me all this time to feel guilty, to ask what had become of me. I used to be a loving partner; what cynical creature had I morphed into? I generally liked who I have become over the past four years, but not in a dating sense; I was the girl who seemed to have no filter, get angry and irritated over little things and shoot myself in the foot constantly when there was someone giving me romantic attention. It was one of the reasons why I checked out of the dating process in recent months, shutting down my OK Cupid and deleting all my dating apps; there was enough pain and difficulty in my life with pressing commitments to family and work without having to deal with all the games we play and the hurdles we jump.
The truth is that there are no innocents in the dating game, and we have to learn to accept this and come to terms with ourselves and our guilty consciences. When taking two random people from different backgrounds and experiences and combining them to create something, whether a sexual connection or a love match, it’s inevitable. And, in turn, it sometimes means seeing ourselves for our faults as well as our strengths.
Yet somewhere inside of me, I believe love is possible. That it’s difficult, and yet we can find someone right for us. That we can be together and not hurt each other time and time again without healing and forgiveness. I have to believe that we don’t have to play into the games that swiping right and left and the numerous options that the online world gives us, ordering a person like ordering a pizza and having a list 10 guys long. Somewhere in me, I hope we are more than that, and I no longer have to walk the trail, leaving broken hearts behind me.
Two days before my birthday, heading to a bonfire on the beach, the words “happily ever after” somehow slipped into my consciousness, as the random universe does. They are used to end every fairy tale when the princess gets her prince and they ride off into the sunset together. It’s where supposedly everything was made right in this messed-up world so life could go on normally… as least as normal as it does when your story is required to end with a happily ever after.
Going by myself to Catalina on my actual birthday, I would watch couples holding hands roaming around the shore of Avalon. Some were obviously happy and in love, leaning in with big smiles and sunglasses. Others were aloof, forcing the trappings of coupledom. I watched one girl jump over her boyfriend like an anxious puppy, until his tense shoulders seemed to give up and he grabbed her hand.
In my past two and a half years of single life, I watched my friends couple up as I vigilantly remained unattached. For some, it was amazing to see them in love with their partners. Their bodies relaxed, smiles grew wider and hearts would just open like bright, big flower buds to everyone around them. But for every case like that, there were those who seemed to disappear. Their bright personalities dimmed in the face of their deepest desires, their minds blinding them and fears amplified in the desperation to keep a person by their side. And this, supposedly, is happily ever after.
We forget that when we get the ubiquitous ending, it doesn’t come with the epilogue. We see joy and reunion. It doesn’t show Cinderella and Prince Charming going to couples’ counseling due to Mr. Charming’s unnatural obsession with women’s shoes. It’s just supposed to be, and the world around you tells you that you should be happy with whatever you got because, hey, at least you’re not alone.
That idea of riding off into the sunset on a prince’s silver horse heading up to his fancy castle is something we have been watching on movie screens and have been tucked into bed at night with. We’ve been conditioned to want it, right down to poofy ball gowns and fairytale weddings. Couple that with the natural fear of being alone and you have a dangerous cocktail for bad decisions.
I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t been guilty at one point in this (myself included), and that’s because most of the time we don’t do this consciously. We don’t realize we are throwing our friends into the hell fires in the hopes that we will have someone to come home to at the end of the day. The things we love most in our lives and our uniqueness fall to the wayside often so we can be one with another. And then, when we let go of the person who’s been weighing us down, we come back to the world and remember what it’s like to be ourselves, then wonder why we were so willing to let go of it so quickly. The truth is we were all seeking happily ever after, and we’re willing to do anything to have it. Even give up our own identities.
When I analyze that phrase, I realize that lifetime love is something we have attached as a society to it. The words don’t necessarily say it. There’s also nothing in there that says we necessarily will have love always or that things will be perfect 100 percent of the time. It’s just that the happy will outweigh it overall — possibly the healthiest approach. I think that happily ever after should come with an ellipsis, because the way modern society sees the phrase it’s how the story ends, when in truth stories never end. Every tale bleeds into one another to become the tapestry that is our every day lives and then, if we’re really lucky, they’ll become a part of other people’s quilts.
Two and a half years ago, I rebelled against what was supposed to be my happily ever after. There were things in my life much more precious to me to keep and protect, things that would have never happened before. So I ran into a forest of uncertainty, away from the wicked prince who was already beginning to destroy me.
I lost beautiful things along the way: A precious home that fell into dark decay and crawling insects. A community that I was a pillar of but could never reclaim from my past life. A boy who was one of my best friends who I realized I loved desperately, but had to stay away from me and my then-destructive ways. They are all back there in the deep dark forest, tangled in the thorns where I also left the pains of my past and discovered what type of woman I really was when venturing the road by myself. Although there were people along it who would join me and be my friends and loved ones, most of this journey was a solitary one. It had to be.
That evening two nights before my birthday, I was driving down Culver Boulevard through the wetlands on the way to Dockweiler. The sun was glowing as the marine layer was kicking in, bathing my car in a silvery yellow light. My big sunglasses were on over my smiling red lips, my body swathed in a long dress. The windows were down, “The Walker” by Fitz and the Tantrums was playing (my current happy song) and the wind was blowing through my hair. I was riding my noble steed into the sunset by myself. Happily.
This isn’t forever; nothing ever is. We shift and change and our endings come and then we begin again. Soon enough, a boy will come into my life and be not a prince but my wonderful partner. I am looking forward to seeing him, getting to know him, making him laugh and smile and watching him bring out my biggest grin and best heart. But until then, I am living my own happily ever after for me. The end.