Remember how in Boston I had an amazing group of sex-positive friends, had some mind-blowing sex with witty, hot (and woke! and body-positive!), smart men, ate at places that made me vocalize some “yum” sounds or roll my eyes with pleasure, went to the most interesting museums and soul-nourishing symphony performances? Remember all of that? Remember how excited and blissful and happy I was?
I feel the exact opposite of that in Asheville. I’m not going to mince words: I fucking hate it here. It’s not even that it’s kinda lame and I’m just waiting out my time until I leave with a vague disinterest. I am so deeply unhappy that I considered changing my flight so I can go home early. That’s how bad it is. Here are some of my major gripes:
After a few weeks here, I found myself circling back to the same restaurants, the same shops, the same places for coffee/tea, the same yoga studios—some of which are really good, but the lack of choice really gets to me. It makes me feel more isolated and stuck than I already do. I already live in a small town with few sexual prospects (remember my last blog post?) and even fewer friends. Throw in routine (which is absolutely maddening to me), and I feel claustrophobic. I feel like I’m losing my goddamned mind.
One of the blessings of being a mentally ill child (who is now properly medicated), an Aries, and an ENFJ is that I can always entertain myself. This is also a trait passed down from both my father (who loves to play practical jokes--like planting produce from the grocery store into our neighbor’s garden to see if he would notice) and my mother who, well, just watch this:
Case and point, your Honor.
So, feeling like receiving a lobotomy would be an upgrade from my current situation, I decided to turn to my old stand-by whenever I need to make myself laugh: I decided to make one of my famous Eye-Catching Tinder Profiles™.
See, *I* thought this was funny. Apparently, the residents of Asheville did not appreciate it because less than two hours later, I was banned from Tinder. So there went that.
Cut to me walking around on a cold, rainy night listening to “The Only Living Boy in New York,” (I know what you’re thinking and, yes, I was trying to give myself clinical depression), coming back to my house, stripping off all my clothes, and lying in bed listening to Bach’s Goldberg variations while journaling. This scene has happened on more than one occasion.
When you’re alone with not many friends around, you’re not dating, and there isn’t much to do—I was famous for being go, go, go every day all the time—when you have zero distractions, you’re alone with your thoughts. You’re alone with yourself. I repeat: when you exhaust all the distractions, you’re alone with yourself. And that can be a very uncomfortable position to be in. It’s not loneliness. It’s just a feeling we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to live in very often, if at all.
I’m allowing myself to live in the quiet for a little bit, to be alone with my thoughts, but doing that 24/7 would turn me into Eleven’s mom in Stranger Things 2. So let me, for the purpose of this post, focus on the things that bring me joy here and let me take a break from my own mind. Even though I hate it here, I didn’t want to write an entire entry shitting on Asheville because, first off, I try to not be a negative person and secondly, I recognize how insufferable it would be for a single, 29yo woman living the fucking dream traveling around the country on her own to complain for 1,800 words.
Here are some of the things I do like here:
Tupelo Honey: Seriously, you guys, I have to stop eating so many goddamn biscuits or else I’ll never be able to take a shit again. Here, they come free with every meal and every time I say to the waiter “I’ll just pick,” but then cut to me slathering whipped butter, honey, and blueberry jam on every last bite of those damn things. Some of the other things I like here are the beet and pecan salad with grilled chicken, this non-alcoholic lavender/lime drink with an egg white in it (I would honestly go just for that alone), and the wedge salad (which is not normal for me, but I was crazy hormonal and craving salt and meat). (Be proud of me for not making a perverted joke here about craving salt and meat.) There is also a server here named Jamie who is the most delightful human on the planet and we talked about musicals and NYC and I lowkey want him to be my uncle.
White Duck Tacos: Everyone told me to try the lamb gyro taco and they were right. It’s the best one. I also had the queso, which was good, but let’s be real here: can you really fuck up queso?
Early Girl Café: I usually get their sandwich specials because I’m not a big breakfast person. Love the homemade garlic salad dressing here. One time I ordered a tempeh reuben and they accidentally gave me a corned beef reuben and the manager came out in a panic expecting me to flip a shit, but I laughed hysterically, assured them that I am not vegan, and admitted I thought it was the most meat-like tempeh I’d ever tasted. I was like damn, the vegetarian options here are incredible.
Curate: This was something more up my alley. The waiter was really cool and put together a tasting menu of all his favorite things (I’m so glad my date was feeling as adventurous as I was—I love that shit!). We had goat cheese stuffed peppers, a charcuterie board with different types of meats, tomato jam toast with manchego, lamb kabobs, octopus (my date ate that), and two desserts (an almond torte with cherry sorbet and an apple tart with apple butter and goat milk cream, which were both fantastic). [Please note that I went on a date here with someone absolutely wonderful and the best dude I've met on this entire “Eat, Drive, F*ck” trip so far, but I can’t write about it because I’m planning on submitting the story to a large publication and it can’t be previously published in any form.]
Mamacita’s: This is like a mom & pop Chipotle. Sounds pretty basic, but they have this citrus tofu here that’s out of this world and their guac is seriously on point.
Dobra Tea House: I really dig this place. It’s probably my favorite place in all of Asheville. Their chai is the closest to what I had in Africa, which is incredible. The only thing I don’t like is that you have to ring a bell in order to get a server’s attention, which makes me feel like a huge dick, so I never do it. I just see a server and say, “Excuse me, but ringing this bell makes me feel like a huge dick.”
Without a car, I’m not able to do much exploring outside of Asheville, BUT I now know the city like the back of my hand. This is no large feat considering the city is small af. Here are some of the things I’ve done:
Minx: This is the only place I shop because a solid 95% of the clothing stores here are filled with frocks for deranged art teachers:
See what I mean? There’s an Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters here, but those are two organizations that have a history of supporting anti-LGBT legislation, so I don’t shop there. And I try to support local businesses whenever possible. Minx is the only store here that carries clothing that fits my style and can ensure that my collection of crop tops is growing and thriving.
I also bought an insane silver-and-black striped velvet wrap dress that makes me look like a sexy female Beetlejuice who just started her junior year at art school. Plus, the music they play in this store is dope and I always end up singing along to it. I’m sorry, but if “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell comes on and I don’t sing, please call Will Smith because it means an alien has removed my insides and is using what’s remaining as a skin suit.
Wake Foot Spa: One of the best spa experiences of my life. You put your feet in a giant copper pot to soak and a nice lady massages your legs, hands, and neck/shoulders, brings you tea and cookies, and opens your bottle of Valium for you when two soccer moms start talking incessantly next to you while you’re trying to relax and your hands are too slippery from the oil that was massaged into ‘em.
Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar: You’re not supposed to chill here without buying a drink, but guess what, Park Book Exchange? Ya girl doesn’t drink, so, yes, I will park my ass in this delicious-looking nook and ya can’t tell me nuthin’. This isn’t a great place to buy books—I’d highly recommend Malaprops for that.
Asheville Salt Cave: I went here stoned off my ass and I’m pretty sure the staff knew I was stoned off my ass. But it was great! I felt asleep in a zero gravity chair while the salt worked its voodoo magic on my chi or whatever the fuck it’s supposed to do.
Violet Owl Wellness: This is my preferred yoga studio. The classes are on a sliding scale so it’s affordable, the teachers are always amazing, and the studio is clean and uncrowded. It’s a half hour walk from where I live, but I’d rather take the long walk than go to the insufferable yoga studio closer to me (the Embodiment Center; don’t go here).
A former missionary WHO USED TO DO BIBLE TRANSLATION OVERSEAS made me come from oral three times in one night and then the following night made me squirt. I’m no longer agnostic, you guys. This is my ringtone now. It's crazy.
Asheville is kinda cool, I guess.
This post is a little overdue. There have been a lot of contributing factors, including me not anticipating this leg of the trip being challenging beyond my wildest dreams, some major changes happening at my 9-5 job, and, as a result of my eating habits in the South, my blood stream becoming 80% biscuit. I’m moving a little slower than usual.
Now let’s get into it.
I don’t believe in New Years resolutions. Many of the most popular ones involve measuring and equating your body or your mind with your self-worth. I want to always think of myself in ways that I am and how to strengthen those things instead of focusing on what I am not. And I don’t do well with rules because I always question them anyway.
That said, I made some promises to myself this year that I am determined to keep. And they are promises that honor myself, my time, and my worth. They include:
That last one seems like it would be pretty easy to follow. But what I’m talking about is fucking someone I feel meh about: I don’t hate them, but I’m not reaaaaally jonesing for them either. I’m only going to fuck people because I want to, not because I’m curious as to what sex with them would be like. Herein lies my downfall—because I’m a sex writer, sometimes I get myself into situations solely because I’m curious about them and not because they are true to my personal sexual desires. Sometimes I meet a hot guy and I’m like “I wonder what they’re like in bed” as opposed to “I am dying to fuck them.” Those two things are worlds apart. I encourage curiosity in all forms, but the sex I desire for myself is more based in want than solely just to sate curiosity. This is a huge lesson I've learned. A few years ago, sex-because-I’m-curious served me well! It helped me figure out what I like and what I don’t like! But now I know. I don’t need to wonder anymore.
Why is this relevant to Asheville? Well, because I have been presented with some opportunities to have sex out of curiosity (or because someone likes me) than out of actual desire. But here’s the problem: connection is necessary for desire. And I don’t connect with many people here. I lucked out with the booty call I initiated the first week I got to Asheville. After our hookup, he took a trip out of state to visit his primary partner, and with our mutual itch scratched, we agreed to hang out as friends and just be activity partners in the future. He was so cool about it:
So aside from that lucky friend find, there have been only two people I’ve agreed to go on dates with. Two. I’ll get into those later.
The thing about Asheville is that it’s small. Hellbent on never using Tinder again ever since I quit the app cold turkey three years ago (Tinder, for me, was more addictive than peeling sunburned skin, black tar heroin, and sour cream & onion Pringles combined), I used OKCupid and Bumble for the first few weeks here. For the first time in my life, OKCupid told me they had run out of people with match percentages high enough to recommend to me. I logged onto the site for weeks to see the same 30 or so people. And of those 30 people, let’s say I was attracted to 8. And of those 8, only one didn’t answer “yes,” to my top three dealbreaker questions:
“Are you okay with acting out a rape fantasy if your partner asked you to?” (I understand that this is contingent upon your partner asking you to, but if you can maintain an erection while pretending to rape someone, I don’t want you anywhere near me.)
“Do you own a gun?” (I don’t feel safe enough to sleep over a stranger’s place knowing this; I very rarely invite people to mine because I want to be in control of when I bounce.)
“Do you strongly prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” (I can’t tell you how many profiles had this question openly answered in the affirmative. WTF. THESE ARE THINGS I HAVE NEVER RAN INTO IN NYC. I’d say 20% of men in Boston had answered yes. Here, it’s around 90-95%. And when I ask people about it, they have no shame or remorse in answering yes. It’s FUCKED.)
Bumble wasn’t much better in terms of finding a large section of people; I recognized many of them from OKCupid. Eventually, I started talking to people here and being like WHAT GIVES. WHY IS THERE NO ONE ON THESE APPS, at which point I was politely informed that everyone uses Tinder here. Everyone. That is pretty much the only app that people use.
I never wanted to return to Tinder, but I had no choice. I used the strategy I did in NYC; I made something I knew would stand out. I used my initials instead of my name and didn’t list my job or university. It became very clear that everyone knew I was the new girl in town. And they were all excited to talk to me. Here are some things I noticed:
I don't mean to come across as an elitist (absolutely none of the things I've outlined above are negatives at all), but it's hard for me to connect with people here because my friend group in NYC is full of creatives from all over the globe. I won’t get into it, but men here don’t understand me. I’ve been called directionless, uneducated, and ("jokingly," according to one person) a cunt. Many use subtle (or even overt) misogynistic language when talking to me and it’s clear that they’ve never been called out on it. Ever. They don’t know how to process a confident, intelligent woman calling them on their bullshit.
God, that guy even made bitchy New Yorker Dana come out. But this one drove me absolutely nuts:
And so from such a small pool of people to choose from, when it came down to deciding who to meet up with, I narrowed it down to two people that seemed more socially aware, interesting, and kind.
And then I met up with them.
One was meh. I had met him on OKCupid. I’ve gotten into the habit of mentally noting if the person I’m on a date with asks me any questions about my life because all too often, the count is zero. This was one of those dates. The food was mediocre, the conversation was uninteresting, and it was made worse when he, out of nowhere, asked if I was wearing makeup. Confused, I said I was wearing some. I don’t wear much, but I do wear some. “Oh good. Because I don’t like when women wear a lot of makeup,” he answered cheerfully. And this was someone who self-identified as a man who respects women.
I wanted to get up from the table, but there were three things in my way:
So I stayed and said I don’t accept compliments at the expense of shaming other women. That I don’t give a shit if other women wear a lot of makeup. If a woman wants to wear a lot of makeup and it makes her feel good, I have neither the right nor the desire to judge.
“I mean, have you ever heard that song that goes ‘Went to bed at 2 with a 10 and woke up at 10 with a 2?” he asked, laughing.
I didn't even crack a smile. “Wouldn’t a man have to be pretty fucking stupid to think that a woman with a lot of makeup looks like that naturally?” I asked back.
That ended the conversation. Now, this was before I had my booty call, so I was, if you remember, unbearably horny at this point. He had made it clear throughout the night (and his communication after the date) that he wanted to sleep with me. This was a scenario where I could have sex if I wanted to. But at that moment with the makeup comment, I knew I did not want this person touching me at all. I stuck to my resolution.
The other was straight up terrible. A guy had driven an hour to Asheville to pick me up and take me to dinner. Before the meeting, he had asked me some questions about my sexuality, which I answered honestly. We seemed to like a lot of the same things so I had said if we vibed, a hookup was entirely possible. He arrived to pick me up and I knew the moment I saw him that he did not give me a lady boner. It wasn’t a physical thing; he looked like his pictures. For whatever reason (and I don’t even need to give a reason), I was not feeling it. But he wasn’t rude, he wasn’t mean—I absolutely was interested in having dinner and talking and just meeting a new person, but that was it.
Halfway through the date, he brought up sex. I steered the conversation in another direction. Towards the end of the date, he made it apparent that he wanted an answer: was he coming back to mine or no? I said no. He said he understood, but I could tell that wasn’t cool with it.
I don’t have a car in Asheville. And I had trusted this person with my address after telling him that he wasn’t allowed to come to my place without an invitation. And the restaurant wasn’t within walking distance, so I had to have him take me home. (Looking back, I should have taken a fucking cab.)
We’re about ten minutes from my place when he starts trying to sell the idea of me sleeping with him after I have made it explicitly clear that I was not interested. He literally uses the term “elevator pitch.” I start to feel nauseous.
“I don’t go on many dates.” [guilt tactic] [and not my fucking problem]
“I don’t get out much, haha.” [ditto]
“I drove an hour to come here. There aren’t many dateable people in [city he was from].” [ditto]
“But when we were talking before we met, I thought…” [I never gave explicit consent and EVEN IF I HAD, I am allowed to take it away]
And this one fucking took my breath away:
“I think that when you left the house tonight, before you even saw me, you knew you didn’t want to have sex.”
At this point, I am sick to my stomach. I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my head, and I am trying to keep it together.
As calmly and evenly as I could muster, I said, “I know the desired effect of your 'elevator pitch' is to endear yourself to me, but I want to let you know that it is doing the exact opposite. Because you are pissing me the fuck off.”
He threw up his hands in surrender and said okay. And then he proceeded to ask me multiple times if we were going to meet up again. At this point, I am feeling incredibly unsafe. I am in a car with a stranger in a town I don’t know and he is not taking my no to sex as an answer. I do not feel safe enough to give a flat-out "no, I never want to see you again." I have no idea how he will react--if he'll start driving me somewhere other than my home, if he'll pop me in the face, who knows what the hell else--because I don't know this guy. So I keep repeating “I don’t know” every time he asks.
When he drops me off, I tell him to text me when he gets home. (Because I wanted to know when he was an hour the fuck away from me.) And then I sent him this:
The next morning, my AirBNB host (who is a badass) asks me how the date went. I tell her. I know the make and model of his car, I know his first name, I have his picture, and I know his license plate number. We have a cop who lives across the street. It's downright sad that I even have to think about these things.
So those have been my dating experiences in Asheville. Can I move back to Boston yet?
When I flew into Charlotte airport, I hadn’t eaten all day. Planes make me feel gross, so I always concentrate more on hydrating, but also, let’s be honest, there were some nerves thrown in there, too. So, while sliding into a booth at some Charlotte Airport eatery, it all hit me at once, like smelling salts.
Oh. I forgot that Southern accents are a thing.
Oh. I forgot that country music is a thing.
Oh. No one here wears headphones while they’re walking around? Cool, cool.
Hours later, I got to my house in Asheville. There’s a fantasy that many people with remote jobs have when we visit places in the middle of nowhere where it’s like: I could live here. I could stay here in a cabin in the middle of the woods, out in nature, and live in a cheap place. I could BUY A HOUSE MAYBE. And have dogs and a yard and go hiking—those city people who have to commute into work every day? Those SUCKERS.
And then you get to a place like Asheville and you remember that that’s why you like going there on vacation. Because it is a place to vacation. Maybe not so much a place to live.
When I got to Boston, I was overwhelmed and intimidated and thinking what the fuck am I doing. I’m not strong enough to travel across the country by myself. And then it passed after two days through a combination of long walks, seeing friends (new and old!), and, let’s face it, beautiful men who do things like bring tincture on dates and ask if they can go down on you. Here, the travel hangover lasted a week. It was a combination of the following things:
Between total screen time burnout, culture shock, and adapting to a new dating style (the ONLY app people use here is Tinder!), there were tears. Oh, how there were tears.
I know myself well enough to realize after four months, I needed a session with my therapist. I needed a tune-up, so I scheduled a FaceTime appointment.
Now, in addition to the burnout, there was something else going on as well. I was positively, insanely, unbearably, uh, as Austin Powers would say: randy.
I have rolled my eyes so hard at dudes who are like “If I don’t sleep with someone soon I’m going to explode, I need the release, it’s a biological thing, dear god all this testosterone, I just need to plow something, I can’t think of anything else, yada yada yada.” I’m like, oh just calm down over there, champ. But then after my first five days in Asheville, out of nowhere, despite feeling completely exhausted, that horn dog compulsion hit me. It literally felt like an itch I needed to scratch, nothing more, AND I WAS COVERED IN FLEAS.
Now, when I was home in NY for the holidays, everyone asked me the same thing: BUT WHAT IF YOU FIND THE ONE, DANA. ARE YOU GONNA SETTLE DOWN?!!!” And my answer every fucking time is to laugh and say, “First off, I highly doubt I'd find anyone I'd consider to be The One while traveling, but if I do... then I finish my trip. Because the kind of man I would want to date would want me to see this through and would be willing to figure our relationship out until the trip is over.”
But sometimes I do get worried when I move to a new place that I’ll meet someone that I really like and then won’t be able to stay, which seems like a legitimate concern for someone in my position. But I got here and was like “yeah, no, there’s no fucking way I’m living in Asheville” and that took all the pressure off. Oh! I realized. I can just hook up with people and not worry about them being The One.
Still horny (which, incidentally, is the name of my fifth memoir when I’m 70), and with all the pressure taken off, I did something I never did before: I initiated a booty call via Tinder. There has never been a time where I have said to someone, “Yeah, just come over.” I prefer to meet in person and have my A+ tits out, charm someone with my dazzling personality, and see what happens.
But then I met a really chill bisexual dude in an open relationship on Tinder—we discussed testing, he went above and beyond to give me a rundown of the sexual history of him and his primary partner, and let me know that he’s on PReP. He was charming and woke, identifying as an intersectional feminist. Our conversation was great, I liked what he was working with, and eventually asked if he could come over.
Before I did this, I thought long and hard (heh) if I was doing it for the right reasons. Was I doing this because I was lonely? Was I doing this because I felt unsettled or sad? Was I doing this for anything other than the right reasons? I had an inclination that the answer to all those questions was no, by this time the sad feelings had dissipated, my friends make it impossible for me to feel lonely, but I wanted to go over it with my therapist just to be sure.
The funny thing about Cecilia is that she looks very much like my mom. Both of us with our earphones in, I got right to the point.
“Listen, Cecilia. I’m not doing this because I need to feel validated or wanted or suppress some feelings. I got out all the tears throughout the week and am feeling so much better emotionally. I just feel burnt out. I need to blow off some steam and I went about this in the safest way possible. This guy and I talked about testing, consent, and the parameters of his open relationship, I gave him my address with explicit instruction to never come over without my invitation, and he freely gave me his first and last name, which I Googled, to verify his identity. I’m being as responsible as I possibly can in this situation.”
There was no trace of judgment on Cecilia’s face. “Do you have a bad gut instinct about this guy? Is that why you’re questioning this? Because if you are, I would listen to that.”
I did a gut check. I didn’t feel bad! He and I talked throughout the day and I ensured he was respectful, consent-driven, someone I actually liked, and that there was plenty of physical attraction. I didn’t want to fuck someone I was just meh about. After the gut check, I realized I was excited to meet this guy! I was excited to get plowed! So what was the hold up?
The truth was I was uncomfortable with the stigma regarding a booty call. I felt like I was somehow being a bad person. It felt dirty or wrong (says the girl who has a little story coming out in Time Out magazine about how I watched a dude in Astoria jack off via webcam every few weeks for four months…). It’s not something I’d done before; I’M NOT THE KIND OF GIRL WHO DOES BOOTY CALLS, I thought.
Then I took a step back. Women who make booty calls aren’t inferior. Women who make booty calls for the right reasons (not for emotional management, not “to feel wanted,” not to stave off some uncomfortable feelings) and consider their health and the health of their sex partner—what was wrong with that? If a woman came to me and asked me if these parameters were wrong, what would I say? I would say no. I would say that that all seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
So, sure, I have never been a booty call person before. Well, what if, in this situation, I was?
After explaining this, Cecilia chirped, “Then this doesn’t seem like a problem to me!”
Phew. Armed with my mom-therapist’s thumbs up, a wave of relief crashed over me. I let out a breath. At peace with my decision, I hung up and realized I had to pee. I went to the bathroom.
Until that moment, I thought my period was over.
Narrator voice: “It was not.”
I did the right thing and texted the dude that I was on the rag. He said that he was fine with it, but if it made me uncomfortable, we could plan for another time. I thought I was dreaming. Who was this angel?
Blah blah blah, he came over, he was super good-looking and kind, and we essentially ended up turning my bed into a deleted scene from CSI Asheville. (I even put a towel down!) (Side note: I’m not sure really what the fuck to do. Do I take the sheets to a dry cleaners and risk looking like Patrick Bateman? Honestly, I’ll probably just end up buying my AirBNB host new sheets and towels.)
And the best part was he was a super nice guy! In real life, he was as good of a conversationalist as he was online, plus funny and smart—afterwards, we laid around and traded Tinder horror stories (I won—my “a dude brought me back to an air mattress” story is good on paper, but even better with my delivery), we talked about what it’s like to date men here (he had some of the frustrations I had), and he even offered to show me some good hikes and waterfalls around Asheville, which I will take him up on. He even joked that the sex was so fun he might even finally give Tinder a rating on the App store.
I've always believed that sex is a form of self-care, but, for me, it was usually within the parameters of a date or a relationship. This experience challenged me to think outside that box (and my box). So I guess the lesson I learned was that I didn’t think I was a booty call kinda girl, but if you try hard and believe in yourself (and do it safely and responsibly), anything is possible. There’s no reason to judge yourself. The only judgment I experienced happened later that night when a delivery guy from Mellow Mushroom Pizza came by and read out my order (“Cheesy breadsticks, wings, chocolate peanut butter cookie?”), his voice DRIPPING with shade. (I felt like saying, YEAH BUDDY, I’M PERIODING SO HARD RIGHT NOW, but I somehow kept it together.) And that’s how it should be.
Passionate about everything having to do with the body, Dana Hamilton writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. She is a regular contributor to Playboy and her work has appeared in VICE, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and SELF, among other publications.