I know, I know, I *still* haven’t written about Hawaii. And don’t worry—I’ve had people ask me why some of my pictures and videos from Hawaii were taken down. No, I didn’t pull an Aries and completely ice out my friend HB. He and I are still buds! It’s just that we mutually decided that it’s kinda sorta maybe hard to date people in our respective cities when I have social media up that features us getting fake engaged five times. Especially when one of those engagements was at a naked beach. So don’t fret! My friend is not dead nor dead to me and I’ll write about the trip soon.
Let’s talk about what has happened over the last few weeks that has made me decide to continue with this trip. (I'll also reveal a few secrets in this post! Ooooo!)
Ok. I didn’t bail on the trip. Why? Well, because three things happened.
I needed a therapy session because I had become overwhelmed by the frustration I was experiencing when it came to trying to forge meaningful interpersonal interactions as I travel. Austin is the most challenging city I have ever dated in. Please let the record show:
Easiest places to date in, ranked:
And I know what you’re thinking. Dana, how the fuck is dating in Austin harder than in Asheville? You were researching how to perform a Viking burial on yourself there. Let me break it down for you.
In Austin, the men are incredibly hot. It’s probably tied for first place with Boston when it comes to how hot the men are. So when I first got here, it was incredibly fun. I had a lot of great first dates. But that’s just what they were: first dates. I have only had a second date with *one* person here. And that is for a variety of reasons.
We all know why I love Boston men. They’re hot, smart, sexually open-minded (two straight guys agreed to an MFM threesome with me!), and more serious when it comes to dating. They’re like me—dating with more intent than booty calls, but not forcing anything either. If they like you, they’ll set up a second date fairly quickly. They’re reliable hookups. I’m into that.
Asheville men were super monogamy-focused (they want the baby and wife and job at the car dealership and white picket fence—which, not for me, but you do you!). They just also happened to be, yanno, kinda racist and misogynistic, and overall terrible; a lot of them think they’re emotionally, culturally, and politically more evolved than they actually are. Asheville is full of dudes who claim they’re feminists, but when it comes down to their actions… a feminist they ain’t. But they’re dependable—they follow up, they don’t ghost, but, like, you wish they fuckin’ would.
Austin men are neither dependable or emotionally evolved. They are not monogamy-focused. And when I say monogamy-focused, I don’t mean wanting to get a girlfriend or get married. I just mean they don’t want a regular fuck. They wanna fuck as many people as possible (and, to my horror, without protection and without getting regularly tested). And because they’re all so fucking hot, they can get away with it.
When I can’t see anyone on the regular (and I’m not talking a lot! I’m just asking for once a week or every other week!), it’s isolating and sad. Beyond that, I've gotten so fucking angry here. I once told a very attractive date that I wanted him to blow my back out (hey, listen—I’m direct and honest #Aries #TextbookAries #AriesLife). He was very into that idea. I said he could do that if he got tested (something he’d never done in his entire life). He never contacted me again.
Just kidding! That didn’t happen. Because what kind of person would do that?
SIKE. THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. BUT YOU BELIEVED ME FOR A SECOND THOUGH, DIDN’T YOU? BECAUSE ONLY AN IRRESPONSIBLE MAN-CHILD WOULD ACTUALLY DO THAT, RIGHT? RIGHT.
Dating got so terrible with these irresponsible men that I (small secret #1) tried dating women. It’s something that has been floatin’ around my brain since I was about 13 or so. I had grown up with the cultural messaging that I’m sure many of you had: bisexuality means you’re 50% attracted to men and 50% attracted to women. It wasn’t until I recognized my sexuality—I’m 90% attracted to men and 10% attracted to women—that I really accepted that sexuality is a spectrum. I always knew it was true, but it wasn’t until I honored my own sexuality that I truly understood it. I don’t identify as bisexual (I identify as heteroflexible) and I don’t have romantic feelings towards women; I don’t develop crushes on women (and never have) and I don’t think about them after I go on a date (I daydream about dudes a lot because SUE ME I’M AN ARIES). I’ll write more about what it was like to sleep with a woman one day (it was fascinating and it was fun), but today is not that day.
Austin women are better than Austin men, but only slightly, y’all. Slightly.
Dating aside, the other thing that hurt much, much worse was that I no longer felt like I had a purpose for this trip. And, oh god, here comes secret #2: when I first planned this trip—back in August of 2017 when I was in bed with mono and Lyme’s, delirious, my face swollen to twice its normal size—I created the idea for this trip out of spite. I’m not proud of this. This is the face of a spiteful woman:
Here is a reminder of what I looked like after I made a recovery six weeks later:
See? My face doesn't usually look like a baked potato. Anyway.
This entire trip started out as a big fuck-you to someone who convinced me that everything about me was bad. I was “teased” about my appearance (my hair, my clothes, etc), my family, my laugh, my singing voice, the amount of noise I make in bed, my career, my sexual history, my taste in music, what I read—everything. When I called him out on it, I was told I was being “too emotional” and that he “wanted a girlfriend he could tease.”
I was "jokingly" referred to as a piece of shit, a bitch, and once, when I giddily told him he was the second man to ever take me on a date to the movies, I was told, "You know why you haven't gone on more dates with men to the movies? Because there isn't a bed there."
Again. All of these were "jokes."
When the relationship ended, I was left with nothing I liked about myself. Because everything about me, I was told, was awful. My light had dimmed; all of my feminism, sex positivity, body and fat positivity, outgoingness, optimism? It was all gone.
Secret #3: Because I had nothing left, I became acutely suicidal. This was May of last year.
I had a panic attack at my day job and my friend Emma came to my apartment straight from work to stay up with me until 3am because she feared I was going to hurt myself. I feared I was going to hurt myself, too. I was so broken, I went and lived with my family at the beginning of June. When my mom came out and visited me this past weekend, we talked about it. “I knew you were going to get yourself out of it because you always do, but it really wasn’t looking good there for a moment. I had never seen you like that before and I was scared,” she said.
That ex had tried to convince me that I wasn’t a strong person. And so I wanted to prove that I was. Because through everything I’ve dealt with—and I don’t even know where this comes from—there has always been this TINY bit of fight in me.
The other purpose of this trip was to figure out where I wanted to live. And congrats to me because I figured it out early: it’s Boston. At the end of this year, I’m moving to Boston. No other city has captured my heart more and, as I travel west (and deal with the time difference—even just an hour deviation outside of EST completely fucks with my groove), I know I don’t want to live on the West Coast.
So I figured out where I want to settle and here’s what happened when I came back from Hawaii: I made a conscious decision that I no longer wanted to give a single shit about that person who tried to convince me I was bad. I actually wrote him a letter where put down all of my anger and, at the end of it, I forgave him. And then I burned the letter. It had been a year since the breakup and it was high time I moved on.
All great things, right? Wrong. Because if the purpose of this trip was to prove something to someone I was now completely indifferent about and I already figured out where I wanna live… then what was the purpose of the trip now?
I didn’t know. And if there was no reason and the trip itself hurt like hell, then why go on?
When I called my therapist, I was a mess. I hated dating and I had zero purpose for the trip now. I told her I wanted to give up. “I’m hurting,” I told her. “How do I make this stop hurting?”
“Emotions are based on facts,” she told me. “Let’s look at the facts.”
“What are you talking about? I’m hurting. Those are the facts. Tell me how to stop hurting!” I was getting frustrated.
“If you want me to spend this session comforting you, I will. Just say the word and I will do that for you. But I know you and I know that you feel better when I don’t comfort you and instead help you understand what’s going on. Because I’ve noticed that you become the most upset when you don’t understand something. You’re always trying to understand.”
Don’t you just hate it when someone is so fucking right?
I conceded. “You want to know the facts?”
“Yes. What are the facts?”
“The facts are that dating here is fucking terrible.”
“Why is it terrible?”
“Because no one knows how to communicate with each other. Everyone is walking around thinking they’re more emotionally evolved than they actually are. No one knows how to be open or sincere.”
“Are you saying that people nowadays aren’t capable of creating a sense of intimacy?”
“Are you saying that people may not know how to be vulnerable around other people?”
“And do you see this in other places?”
“Yes, but not as bad as it is here.”
“What a cool thing to learn,” Cecilia said.
I was dumbstruck. “What?”
“Think about it. You’ve learned something you didn’t know before. What if we looked at your time dating in Austin as you collecting data? You are observing the differences in dating culture in each city you go to and you’re seeing all of these negative things in varying degrees. How fascinating.”
And then she asked me: “Do you think this is an epidemic?”
“YES!” I practically shouted.
“Don’t you want to fix it?”
“Yes.” I do.
“I think you just found your purpose. When you go back to school, you can start fixing this.”
Now here is the big secret: a few people in my life know this, but the thing I haven’t come out and publicly said is that I’m 95% sure that I’m going back to school to become a sex therapist. Now DON’T FREAK OUT, coworkers at my lovely day job who are like wtf are you talking about, bitch. It’s going to take me two years to come up with the $75k tuition. And then my program is 3 years, but I am able to work a full-time job during it. So we’re not talking about me becoming a licensed therapist for another 5 years and we’re not talking about me leaving my job any time before 2023. Calm your tits.
Now how the heck did this come about? Welp. This is all because of some signs from the Universe that were too creepy to ignore. First off, I’d been toying with this idea for a while (before I even started the trip); there have been many times in my life where I've considered becoming a sex surrogate for people with disabilities. I’ve always known I wanted to create a career in sex. (I mean, come on, look at my current career.) In Asheville, my Airbnb host was a therapist and we talked a lot about her job. My wheels, which were already turning, kicked into high gear. Next, my friend HB’s sister graduated from the exact program I want to go to. Then, in January, I had been thinking about skipping the Denver leg of my trip. But then my friend Zoey (who is earning her doctorate in psychology at the moment) found an organization called AASECT, which is comprised of sex therapists and sex educators. They hold a yearly conference and each year the city it’s held in changes.
This year? It's in Denver. In the middle of June. The exact month that, if I were to go, I’d be in Denver. It was too coincidental.
I asked HB’s sister about it. “You have to go," she told me. "You’d love it."
The last weird Universe thing?
I mentioned to my therapist in February that I was now seriously considering going back to school.
“Now Dana,” Cecilia said. “You know I would never tell you what to do. That’s not my job as a therapist. My job is to guide you and help you tap into your intuition so that you can figure out what you want. But I will confess something: I’ve been subtly hinting at you to become a sex therapist for years.”
This is the new purpose of the trip. I am going to continue to travel so I can know what it’s like to date in different places. I want to understand the sex, dating, and relationship struggles of people across the country. Because, ultimately, this experience will help me become a more effective therapist and understand my patients better.
Even through the last three legs of this trip, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into who have said to me “I’ve never told anyone this” and/or “I’ve been dying to talk to someone about this.” Sexuality is a huge part of our lives—and a very large part of where our sense of fulfillment and joy comes from. And people are fucking scared of it. I’m seeing the trip through so that I can gain empathy and perspective and understanding.
Also: I am a maniac and I will do this.
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.