I’m slogging through the holidays, like I do every year. They’re a combination of sweet and hectic: this is my busy season at my day job, and it makes December rush by in a blur. It’s colder than usual, so cold that when I walk and fart I’m scared people walking behind me can see it billowing out, a beautiful white cumulus smelling of my colon that expands forever, slowly engulfing Portland. I’m lonely, too. All I really want is a boyfriend for the winter I can cut open like a TaunTaun and nestle inside wait not that.
I spot the guy on social media, he is my type, maybe even My Type: tiny. Bearded. Professional. We hit it off, follow the steps, I follow the script to the tee. “Super handsome, how’s your week? I’m Mike.” “Wanna get off this app? I don’t get notifications, text is easier for me.” “Want to grab grub sometime? I promise I’m not a psycho.” The joke is on him, because I am actually a raging psycho. I make sure he is truly single: the hot trend is guys on social media who are in super committed relationships who pretend to be single online just to be more popular.
We meet up for happy hour drinks at a bar that’s less Portland and more like how someone from LA thinks a Portland bar should look like. Matt is a few minutes late, but texts to let me know. He arrives, and it’s a Hard Yes. I’ve always had this ability to know instantly whether or not I was going to feel strong chemistry with someone. That skill makes dating locally more efficient, dating long distance more risky.
I slip into the easy banter, smile, eye contact, my hand briefly touching his arm, the usual suspects. I work the new question into the conversation, the one I now ask all my dates: who did you vote for? I could ask any one of a million other questions that are vitally important, too. “How is your relationship with your dad?” “Do you believe black lives matter?” “Do you recycle?” But no, I stick with this one. I find out what is worse than someone admitting they voted for the coked-up circus peanut, it’s admitting they didn’t vote at all.
The conversation ebbs and flows with the cocktails, he asks my age and is surprised. He compliments me but admits he usually dates younger guys. We don’t kiss goodbye at the end of the date.
I go about my life, and look at my phone one afternoon at work. It’s him. He wants to go out again. As Fiona Apple said, “here it comes, a better version of me.”
If there is one constant in this world, it is that I could power an entire city if they found a way to harness the power from how Zero Chill I am when I like a guy. In the week before the second date with Matt, my mind keeps going back to the fact that he dates younger guys than me. I get a youthful haircut, I buy a shirt for the date that does not belong on a body as many decades old as mine, and then I do the unthinkable.
For the first time in my life, I seriously join a gym.
I am scared of gyms in the same way that other people fear encroaching death, or people who have conversations in public restrooms. I’ve gotten plenty of exercise from biking and walking to work, but during the winter both the weather and my metabolism conspire against my self-image. I enroll my friend Horse (who is not an actual or imaginary horse…or is he?) to come with me to assuage my fear, I pick a gym near my house that is local, venerable, a little worn around the edges. I manage to drape some appropriately gym-like clothing over my lumpy, misshapen body and go.
Entering the locker room is an exercise in sheer terror: through the misty air, white bodies glide at the periphery of my vision. I picked this gym because it probably won’t be full of the guys who only post pictures on social media that people draw of them. I don’t feel intimidated by the mostly senior clientele, many of whom probably just started coming here themselves.
I go straight to the elliptical machines to warm up. “If you’re trying to gain muscle mass these are just wasting your time,” Horse mutters. I give him a carrot and he agrees to get on the elliptical machine next to me, his hooves clacking against the plastic housing of the machine.
Matt picks out a restaurant in the Pearl district. It’s a little cold feeling, with white napkins and plates, no artwork on the walls. I remind myself to pick out the next place we meet at as I absently rub my ears, still sore from furiously plucking out my ear hair earlier. Matt looks nice, so I say “Matt, you look really nice tonight.” He does not know what to do with this compliment, he blushes and freezes, it is as if I shut down one of the Westworld androids. When the food comes, he takes his phone out, takes a picture of it. If you eat and don’t post a picture of your food, does it even taste like anything?
He drives me home, we make out. The two of us talk for a bit in the car, but it’s frustrating getting to know him. He doesn’t ask many questions back, he says he doesn’t let a lot of people into his life. As the two of us part for the evening, he looks up at my forehead, notices something, a frown furrows his brow for a moment.
I close the car door. Oh no, you think, it’s that thing. There’s a slight mark on your forehead from a box that came tumbling down years ago, not even a scar, just a slight discoloration, but it’s noticeable at times when I’m flushed, or in the summer. I make a note in my phone to call the dermatologist the next day.
I am doing squats at the gym with Horse, who is mumbling something about my lack of flexibility while counting my reps by stamping his hoof. I look at myself in the mirror. What reflects back is not only a dadbod, it is the daddest of bods. I do another rep. And then another.
That afternoon, sitting in the waiting room chair at the dermatologist’s office, I’m flipping through a magazine. It could be anything, Teen Vogue or the New Yorker or Cat Fancy. I get to an ad that shows a woman doing a physically impossible yoga pose. For the sake of the ad’s point, she is improbably contorted.
I look at it, and my eyes get wide, because I realize that is me. I’ve been bending and flexing and preening to be this ideal guy who Matt has been sending me hints that he wants.
I get up, I tell the receptionist I’ll make a later appointment. I text Matt an apologetic, heartfelt text canceling the third date later that week. He replies and doesn’t sound concerned. On the MAX ride home, the epiphanies come in waves: Don’t say “I don’t let many people in” as a an excuse for being emotionally unavailable. It is okay to admit that you are a bad fit for someone even if they are a great fit for you. If you have been on this planet over, say, 25 years, it is high time you learned to take a compliment gracefully. And if you do want to change, you shouldn’t change for anyone but yourself.
I text Horse: “Hey! Let’s go to the gym.”
Top image courtesy Dan Ostergren photography.