People love to give me contradictory dating advice: it will happen when you’re not looking for it, they say. But also: You need to put yourself out there. Or, just be yourself and also, conflictingly, stop climbing on shit and setting small fires. I am back on a dating app; this one lets you know whose paths you have crossed, which doesn’t really work if you are just sitting in your apartment staring expectantly at your rabbit, so I’m forced to go out and deal with people.
The app lets me know if I have crossed paths with anyone else who is also out trawling the neighborhood for sex and love, and it is completely freaking me out. My phone informs me some guy I’m cruising is less than 250 meters away and my throat gets a little dry; I have no idea what 250 meters means, and so I feel like they might possibly be right outside on the fire escape. This is not an app for the paranoid or the self conscious; every man on the street who is squinting at his phone might, it seems, be looking at me and deciding which way to swipe.
You can only access people you have physically crossed paths with, and thus my friend and I are going to play foozeball in Bushwick tonight, where every guy is so cute it makes you angry. Yesterday, I rode my bike around Astoria, waving my phone around in circles like a butterfly net.
I’ve been dreading the inevitable return to online dating in part because people are horrible, and in part because I look terrible in pictures. I own mirrors, so I know I don’t look that bad, but I am accustomed to the mirror’s reversal. Photographs make my asymmetrical face look even more out of whack. I feel embarrassed, holding these pictures up for the approval of the men of the internet. It just seems so cringing and sad.
I am not particularly pretty, although men online will tell me I am, testing my defenses. Historically, I am an easy lay after one good compliment. I comb through piles of digital photos, looking for a good one, and there are hundreds of pictures of Sketch. I wonder if anyone else has cropped an ex out of a photo for a dating website. I miss him so bad I could break something.
I can’t find a photo that shows what I actually look like. Similarly, I struggle to find a photo for this blog. I want it to show that I am cute enough to listen to. But it also has to mask my identity, to be deniable enough that if anyone finds it, I can scoff and say, “that isn’t me. What are you talking about?”
I’ve always hated pictures. When I was a kid, class picture day made me incredibly anxious. You only got two shots at it, and it wasn’t hard to blink both times and then your mother would be mad and you’d have to traipse down for retakes day, where a lady would pull your hair again with a plastic comb. When the proofs came back, some insensitive teacher would lay them on your desk for everyone to look at and kids would crane to see them, like they had never seen you before, and they would laugh. That’s how I feel, putting my photos up online. Pictures are kind of stupid looking, the way you are just frozen, smiling at nothing.
The first man I meet up with is way better-looking in person than he was in his photos. I wish he had warned me, because I think I made a holy shit face and took two steps backward. I had asked him to come out of the bar to fetch me, because I hate walking through some crowded venue, smiling at four wrong people before catching the eye of the right one.
Push is smoking hot, and it’s hard to talk to him; I am nervous and he is not, and he makes fun of my non-alcoholic beverage, a juice I don’t want but feel obliged to order. Push calls it my kool-aid. He also gives me some shit about my contacts; they are a little hyperbolically blue, I guess, but tough shit, I like them. He’s six years younger than me, which makes me feel like I have the advantage, but he’s just so freaking hot, and his hands are on my legs and my brain isn’t working right.
We go back to his place. Not what I was planning, exactly, but he pushes just enough. He is a pusher, which I like. I like to be steered a little. He puts his hands on my clavicle and presses down.
Push’s body is smooth and soft and unmarked as soap, except for a hundred stitches’ worth of scar running up the inside of one arm, battle marks from a fight with a window. The glass cut his face too, like a prison initiation. When he asks me if I noticed it, I’m not sure what the right answer is; I’m always so afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings, because mine are so bruisable.
The sex is good, but my vagina doesn’t trust him and I have a hard time finishing. When he gets up to get rid of the condom, he puts all his clothes back on, even his shoes. I do the same, and then we lay on the bed and chat a bit, but with our boots on it’s real clear that this is not cuddle-time. He lays on his back, and I lay on my stomach, our sides barely touching. He doesn’t put his arms around me and tell me I am adorable, and I’m not sure why I expected him to.
I respect it in a way. We are not going to pretend that this is something other than what it is: sex with my hot-ass neighbor. He asks for my phone number, although we live close enough together that we could make do with two tin cans and some string. I predict future booty-calls, but who knows. He lives on the other side of Queens Boulevard, a West Side Story geographic divide. When we were messaging, before I knew how hot he was and got too nervous to rib him, I had joked that I lived on the “good” side of Queens Boulevard, and after the sex, he volunteers to walk me home across the street. On my side of the street, trash is blowing; a garbage bag wraps itself around his legs.
“See? My side of Queens Boulevard is not so great,” I say.
“You’re embarrassing me,” he mutters. I had not seen the Mexican family on the stoop; I wasn’t referring to them. But this is why I should never date. I am prettier in person, but much likelier to say something that will later make me want to run out into traffic.
When I get home, I have the feeling you sometimes have when you get home from dinner and you are still hungry. I drift around my apartment, thinking about touching myself for a while, but fall asleep before I can actually make a move. Someone walks by my apartment, and his photo floats up on my phone, but we haven’t actually crossed paths. It only looks like a connection.