Okay, Cupid

“I’ve really gotten into water sports lately.” The handsome man across from me says. A pair of oversized glasses, a shaved head, a nose ring.

“I’m…pee shy.” I say. I start to take another sip of my drink, but think better of it. Subconsciously set the glass as far away from me as I can reach.

That was months ago, and the cute, kinky guy has since moved on to a relationship with his BDSM dom, while my most enduring relationship in the past year has been with a box of Girl Scout cookies. We probably weren’t sexually compatible anyway, but I’d have at least considered trying to please him. I have a fairly laissez faire attitude toward fetishes.

I haven’t seen C in over a year now. He’s still a constant presence, even in his absence. I’m consistently reminded of our time together. The time he nakedly sang his impromptu and mildly obscene “I love hot dogs” song. The time he was acting out the dance from Memoirs of a Geisha while walking down an icy sidewalk in Chicago and fell so gracefully it seemed like he did it on purpose. Weekends of wine bottles and frozen pizza, playing the original Legend of Zelda with our green, clay face masks.

Last week when we talked, he asked if I had a hot date that night.

It was the first time we’d talked about moving on since I left. He’d been seeing guys here and there. And there was a guy who’d moved to Minneapolis that he liked. I didn’t have a date, hot or otherwise, but I thought, after a year, maybe it’s time that I put myself out there. Maybe I’m ready to really start dating again.

The thing is, I don’t really know how to meet people anymore. Technology has changed since the last time I was single, and the organic way that people used to meet one another, in bars or coffee shops, has been replaced by apps that make it easy to dismiss people. I dutifully download the apps and vacillate between wholesome profiles extolling my nerdy persona, and slutty ones celebrating my muscular pecs.

I scroll through men with laundry lists of who they aren’t into. Through the greedy guys who already have boyfriends and are looking to hook up. The headless torsos, and the pics of men who don’t list their ages that are always taken from very, very far away.

Nearly everything is a turn off to me.

Poor grammar.

People that don’t read books.

Anyone who refers to me as “stud” or “bro.”

Unsolicited anus pics. (For the record, unsolicited penis pics are welcome…For science.)

The word, “Looking?”

Twenty-three year olds who say, “Hey daddy!” (I invariably ask for a paternity test, and only one guy was clever enough to tell me where to deposit my DNA sample).

I’m attracted to quiet, bookish types around my age, who are reasonably fit, and who think it’s fun to stay in on a Friday night playing video games and watching terrible movies. Ideally guys who don’t smoke or do drugs, but who love hot, sweaty monkey sex at reasonable hours. However, if I were to draw a Venn diagram of guys I am attracted to vs. guys who are attracted to me, I feel like there would be no overlap.

At brunch, I tell my faggles that I think I’m finally ready to date again.

“I don’t think you’re ready.” Sassy Bear says. “And that’s fine.”

Brian, on the other hand tells me about how he’s made some matches on OkCupid. I’m surprised to learn that OkCupid still exists. I used to have a profile when it first came out, long enough ago that I still had hair when I created it. I cannot remember my old login, and my old profile was certainly expunged after years of disuse. So I download the app on my phone and create a new profile for the modern Lance that I’ve become.

The idea behind the site is that you’ll be more compatible with people with whom you have things in common. It asks you a seemingly never ending series of questions to gauge what kind of person you are, from, Do you believe in god? to Would you sleep with a serial killer? I’m narcissistic enough that I enjoy answering questions about myself more than I do actually looking through profiles of prospective mates.

My matches are filtered based on my ideal date range and relationship type, single guys between the ages of 35-55 who are interested in monogamy. The pickings are decidedly slim. The site quickly runs out of results and advises that I try again later.

A few guys message me with whom I have little in common. Our exchanges are polite, but perfunctory. No one I chat with really excites my interest. Nor, do I suspect, do I excite theirs.Then one guy messages me who I’d chatted with sporadically on other apps over the past year.

He’s an artist who, from his pic, appears to be in good shape. Who is single and in my acceptable age range.

“Are we finally going to meet?” He asks.

I say, “Sure.”

Things start off on the wrong foot. He wants to meet at my place and seems miffed when I suggest we meet at a well lit public place with people nearby who can potentially hear my cries for help.

“You think I’m a knife killer?” He asks.

“I think you could be.” I say.

He finally agrees to meet at a sushi place near my apartment, then later changes his mind and says he’d rather go to a burger place instead. I put on a nice pair of pants and wait outside the appointed restaurant for his arrival. He is late, and I’m briefly relieved that I can potentially go back home and crawl into bed in my underwear and watch Predator II. Again.

But he arrives.

He is my height, which makes for a nice change. He’s handsome, if a little out of shape. Like many men who came of age in the 90s, he seems to have adopted the aesthetic of Ethan Hawke from Reality Bites and never moved on. This is not necessarily a deterrent to my finding one attractive.

“You say…I only hear what I want to…”

In the restaurant he doesn’t sit across from me, like a normal person, but instead sits awkwardly beside me, so I have to turn and face him, and we are uncomfortably close. I pick at a texturally unappealing veggie burger. He asks if he can have some of my grilled mushrooms.

I am at first relieved that he isn’t the pretentious person that I expected. But then dismayed that he is very into astrology, but not at all into sci fi. Our waitress disappears for an hour and we are trapped there making awkward conversation until she returns with the check.

By then it’s already after 10, and because I’m an old Lance, I’m already sleepy and wanting to call it a night. But he seems engaged, and I don’t know how to graciously stop things once they’ve started, so I keep rolling with it. Because he’s driven in from the suburbs, I feel obliged to get the check.

He doesn’t thank me.

I suggest maybe getting dessert somewhere, or coffee, or a drink. He does not want to do any of these things. I don’t really want to do any of those things either. Instead we take a walk to a nearby park, and stand, shivering beneath an orange street lamp.

He smokes a cigarette, and I internally cross him off my list of prospective suitors.

“Do you want to go back to your place?” He asks.

And because I still find it impossible to say no to people, I say, “Sure.”

We sit on my bed and listen to music. I do not believe in astrology, or ESP, or any hidden powers of intuition buried in the bean gray gloppiness of my cerebral cortex, but I can very clearly see how the night is going to progress and feel impotent to stop it from happening.

I see his doughy face coming toward me, and he kisses me. And it’s not the worst thing in the world. He’s not a terrible person, and he’s relatively good looking, and making out is kind of my thing. But I’m just not into him, and I’m frantically trying to think of a polite way to get rid of him, but, short of honesty, can think of nothing. Instead, we kiss for a while, and he shows no sign of stopping or leaving.

Finally it’s after 1 am, and he starts to settle in. He turns off the lamp on the bedside table and takes his sweater off. I do not want to have sex with another person I’m not attracted to. And I don’t want to have sex with anyone that I don’t know well enough to feel comfortable around.

“It’s late.” I say.

He looks confused. “Do you want me to go?”

“I’m just tired,” I say. “And I can’t sleep with someone else here.”

He says nothing.

We kiss a little longer, and he finally puts his sweater back on. Picks up his phone and cigarettes and slips into his shoes.

When I’m standing in my doorway, and he is in the hallway, turning to leave, he turns back to me and says, caustically, “Tease.” Then leaves.

On one hand, I feel bad for making out with him when I didn’t want to.

On the other hand, we never discussed sex, and making out with someone doesn’t mean I’m obligated to put out.

I didn’t mean to lead him on. But maybe he’s right. Maybe I am a tease. Or maybe I’m just not as ready to date again as I thought. Or maybe he just wasn’t a good match for me. Or possibly a combination of any or all of these things.

As soon as he leaves, I delete OkCupid.

If I do meet a guy again who makes me feel sexy and safe, who makes me laugh, who gives me space, and makes me feel loved…and if I do all of those things for him, then fantastic. But if I never have that kind of relationship again…maybe that’s okay too. Being happy and being single aren’t mutually exclusive, despite what all of those toxic romantic comedies would have one believe.

Despite misgivings, I’ll continue to put myself out there. However tentatively. Even if I’m not entirely sure what I want on any given day. And even though there is nearly always a reason to swipe left…I will still look for reasons to swipe right. Because after years of failed relationships, of one night stands, and missed connections, I’m surprised to discover that I’m still somehow a romantic. Love exists, not in meet-cute romantic comedies, but in the relationships that endure. In my faggles and my friends. My family. And sometimes, during rare moments of clarity, it even seems that love really is all that there is.

Or it’s all hormones and co-dependence.

I vacillate.

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Wolves – Texas, 1995/NYC, 2013

lancewolvesIn New York City the wind howls down the stairwells leading to the subway. Scarecrows in designer shoes pull their black coats tightly as they descend. They travel in packs, in their gray suits fresh from Wall Street. There is a hunger that drives them to early meetings, to bars and back to apartments in Chelsea, Midtown, and the Upper West Side. I see it etched in their gaunt faces, shining blackly in their dark, feral eyes. We stand, starched and freshly pressed in subway cars as young people break dance between stops and walk through collecting change. We stand so close together that we can feel the heat of one another’s breath, and smell the barest hint of aftershave that lingers after a day spent in cubicles and conference rooms. All lonely hunters, searching for the same thing. All driven by the same, dull ache. Everywhere I go, there are wolves.

I come from a family of hunters. In the fall when I was growing up, my father would come home from a hunting trip with a  deer strung up on a tree, skinned, it’s blood draining into a stained, white bucket to be cut up into venison. My grandfather trapped mountain lions to kill them for their pelts. Once he’d even trapped a wolf, a skinny, gray she wolf. After killing her, he’d heard a rustling in the nearby leaves, a tiny whimper, and discovered that she had a little pup. My grandfather coaxed the little pup out of the brush and took it home to raise it like a dog.

But Wolf was not a dog. Though he’d started out looking like any other puppy with his oversized head and clumsy paws, as he grew up and became leaner, hulkier, there was a wildness that came out at inconvenient times. He was protective and snarled and growled at strangers like the mail man and the gas meter reader. No matter how well fed he was, he behaved as if he was starving, nipping at my grandmother when she came home with bags of groceries. My cousins and I were wild too, rowing across ponds in old, rusty wash tubs,  building forts in the same brush where wild hogs rooted, and bob cats padded along with shining eyes, climbing trees and jumping into piles of leaves.

My grandfather’s property was bordered by train tracks that ran along the northern edge, and one night my grandfather said that he found Wolf’s body lying beside the tracks. He’d been hit by a train during a lonesome, late night walk. I always wondered if that had really happened or if my grandfather had shot him because he knew that the adult wolf was going to be too dangerous to live among people, and too unused to fending for himself to survive on his own. I never asked. As children we were told so many stories to protect us from the harsh realities of life.

I was learning to lie, myself.

I was collecting Jasons and desperately trying to lose my virginity. I was 18, and the prospect of turning 19 and still being a virgin was too humiliating a fate to subject myself to. Jason II and I had been dating for a few weeks. Because I was living with my parents during my first year of college, I had a curfew of 1:00 am, and there was a 45 minute drive from Jason II’s dorm room back to my parent’s house. Every time things were just getting good, I’d have to stop and leave. We were both frustrated with pent up desire.

His M.O. was always the same. We’d go to a movie, then have dinner, then sit on his couch and make out in front of the TV, his hand slowly creeping up from my knee toward my inner thigh. The first two times we’d nearly gotten to the moment where we’d begin to shed our clothes when I’d have to leave to drive the thirty five miles back to my parent’s house. The night it finally happened we’d watched a movie like we always did, our knees touching in the theater, our hands accidentally brushing one another as we both reached for popcorn at the same time.

When the movie ended this time, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

I said. “No. Not really.”

I was starving, but I’d had enough dilly dallying and was ready to get it over with. Not because I was intensely attracted to Jason II, because I wasn’t, or that I was in love with him, because I didn’t even like him, really. He didn’t read, or listen to cool music, or talk about philosophy. He listened to hip hop, and had a blanket with a southwestern print draped across his couch. But he was there, and willing, and had a room of his own.

We went back to his place as usual. Even though he was a senior and I was a freshman, looking back, it’s clear that he wasn’t much more experienced than I was. Sitting on his couch, we listened to terrible, mid ninety’s club music in front of a muted nature show. He was kissing my neck while I watched a lion ripping the throat out of a wildebeest. We went through the motions of our standard mating ritual. I talked non stop nonsense as his hand crept up my thigh until it rested between my legs and I froze.

“Why’d you stop talking?” He asked, smiling.

He was khaki, a fraternity, a polo shirt. But I let him kiss me anyway.

When he took off his pants, his underwear were so soaked with precum that I thought he’d already ejaculated. His penis was short and sort of pyramid shaped, with a thick shaft and tiny head. I wasn’t sure if I should touch it or not, but he seemed to expect me to, so I did. It was warm and sticky. He pulled my own pants down and took my penis in his hand and I gasped again. It was the first time someone else had touched me and it was scary and thrilling at the same time.

“Let’s go back to the bedroom.” He said.

After three weeks of shedding our skins I was ready to finally slither into one another’s systems. I watched him sliding on a condom and covering it in lube with a certain detached curiosity. I looked back over my shoulder on my hands and knees in front of him, clueless as to what I was supposed to do. When he slid into me with no preamble, it hurt. I inched up further and further on the bed until I reached the headboard and could go no further. I stared at the red numbers on his digital clock until they were burned into my brain so that I could see the after image of them when I closed my eyes.

The Prêt-à-Porter soundtrack was playing as he rammed himself into me. To me that was the worst part, not the pain, not the lack of feelings, but the fact that I lost my virginity to “Here Comes the Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze.

Driving home afterward the sky was seven shades of gray whether my eyes were closed or open. Traffic lights stretched across rain swept streets, blood red like a baby’s scream. I had to remind myself to breathe, to drive when the light turned green, thinking over and over, “What was that?”

It felt like the bones of butterflies were turning to dust in my stomach. My insides ached and I felt like I was full of some gray and burning sediment. All I wanted to do was crawl into my own familiar bed and cry. I never wanted to do it again. The idea that this was what sex was, what adulthood was, was devastating to me.

“Never again.” I repeated to myself over and over on the long drive back to my parent’s house like some pathetic mantra.

When I got home they were in the living room waiting for me.

“Who were you with tonight?” My mother asked, her eyes were already puffy and red, and her voice was stretched taut like a fishing line, accusatory.

“Sara,” I’d answered, cautiously. I knew something was up, guessed what it was, and knew it wasn’t something I was ready for.

“That’s not true.” My mother said. “Sara called looking for you.”

I cursed my dumb luck. Sara had always been my alibi on the nights I’d spent cramped on Jason II’s couch, and usually I’d let her know what I was up to, but on that particular night she was out of town and I hadn’t expected her to call. I was uncertain what to say, trying to think up some convincing lie to explain where I’d been.

“Who is Jason?” My mother asked.

“No one.” I said. I was in full panic mode, and there was nowhere I could go, no place to run, nothing I could do but stand there.

It all came out then. A girl I’d gone to high school with had seen me go into the gay club one night and had told my cousin, who told my aunt, who told my mom. My mother had gone into my room and found Jason’s name and number written on the back of a cocktail napkin inside the drawer of my nightstand.

“How can you let a man touch you?” My father asked in disgust.

I didn’t have an answer.

“Do you have somewhere you can go?” My mother asked.

“Are you kicking me out?” I asked, terrified. I knew they wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t think even my parents could kick me out for being gay.

My father intervened. “No one is kicking you out.” He said.

Instead, they took away my phone. They forbid me to leave the house except to go to school. I wasn’t allowed to talk to Sara, or to anyone. I was grounded. For the first night in my life, my mother didn’t tell me that she loved me before she went to bed.

At school the next day I had a calculus test. I bubbled in circles on my Scantron without looking at the questions in a room that was vomit green. In the parking lot, a black sports car hit my car, and because I didn’t see any damage, I told the driver not to worry about it. Only when I tried to drive again did I realize the axle was bent and I had to turn the wheel sideways to go straight. This didn’t stop me from driving 80 miles per hour home and getting a speeding ticket. I sat in my car on the side of the road with the red and blue lights reflected in the rearview mirror. Everything in the world was wrong.

For weeks, we sat across from one another at the dinner table in silence. My mother wouldn’t speak to me at all unless it was absolutely necessary. We went to the grocery store in silence, and to my grandmother’s house in silence. My father went away on a hunting trip, and it was just the two of us in a house, her wrapped in a depression quilt on a couch in the living room, and me in my bedroom with my headphones on, listening to The Cure, R.E.M., Tori Amos, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails, finding escape where I could.

One day Jason II called and my mother answered the phone.

“Never call this house again.” She said.

I never heard from him again.

“From now on you’ll act normal.” My mother said, still wrapped in a quilt on the couch, red eyed and sniffling. “From now on you’ll be normal.”

But I wasn’t normal. I was a hurt, feral thing, rejected by the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally. I stumbled from relationship to relationship, interspersed with one night stands, all looking for the love that I didn’t get from the people who had mattered. I graduated from college and found myself adrift, going from job to job, city to city. From Austin to Los Angeles to Seattle to Portland to Chicago to New York City. I was always on the move, searching night scenes for love leaning against a bar room wall, on an internet chatline, on an app on my phone, in coffee houses, and used bookstores. Nothing else mattered except filling this overwhelming desire to be desired. My life became full of gray, cubicle days, and black, strobe lit nights. The cities changed, but the scenery was always the same.

New York City was as far as I could get from my childhood home in rural Texas. But designer clothes and subway cars could never dilute the country blood that pulses through my veins. Despite years spent carefully removing any trace of an accent, despite my travels, the foreign films and novels, the exotic restaurants I visited to try to exorcise my country upbringing, the skinny boy from Texas is always there, wide eyed and trembling. All I have to do is close my eyes when I’m on the subway and the city melts away, is replaced by a childhood of mobile homes, windmills, rusty cars on concrete cinders in the overgrown lawns of the neighbors’ houses.

I howl. Am howling, silently at the gym, in my apartment, in my cubicle at work. Padding along on my furry feet. Solitary. Hungry.

Back in Jason II’s apartment, twenty years ago, the night I’d lost my virginity and my parents had found out I was gay, throbbing and sore, carpet burned and cathartic, I spilled a glass of wine on his nightstand. He said not to worry. He’d clean it up. It wouldn’t stain. And I knew that it was true. There was no mark of it’s passing. Just a shirt on the floor that smelled like him, an empty glass, and one less claim to innocence.