The quick: Denver is the shortest leg of my trip so far!
The dirty: Read on.
Denver, you are my second favorite city. And that’s only because nothing will ever beat Boston. This decision may be influenced by the fact that I rode a super hot dude’s face last night while high on my favorite sativa, but who’s to tell, y’all. Who’s to tell.
The funny thing about Denver is I almost skipped this leg of my trip. I was so the-opposite-of-jazzed about it that I only planned to stay the month—to go to that sex therapy and education conference and then peace out. And then, of course, every time I go into something thinking I’ll know the result, I’m always wrong.
Here’s why Denver became my second favorite leg of the trip:
#7 probably has a lot more to do with why I like Denver than I care to admit. He’s a good dude.
This is how it went down. First, let me set the scene:
Austin left me feeling completely beaten down. The men there were truly awful and the one woman I connected with turned out to be pretty emotionally unintelligent and deceitful (though the sex was great). These feelings were worsened by me leaving Hawaii because, c’mon, Hawaii was paradise and I missed it and my stupid friend HB. It’s hard to go from 11 days of laughing nonstop from the moment we woke up to the moment we went to bed in one of the most gorgeous places in the world (with zero plans or responsibilities cuz VACATION) and then move back to our respective homes thousands of miles away from each other. It was a bummer.
So when I got to Denver, I was pretty mentally exhausted, but I had some hope that dating here would be good. Because anything was better than Austin. And it is! Except for one thing.
The men here are terribly uninteresting. Have you ever swiped on a dating app and seen a man who is completely dead behind the eyes? He works an uninteresting job, has a bio that says “just ask,” wears a button-up shirt of some synthetic, striped fabric whose colors are very aesthetically displeasing, and has a haircut that’s so basic, it’s what someone off the street would draw if you instructed them to just “draw a haircut”? There’s a lot of that here.
And they all fucking hike. All of them. I have never seen so many men who believe their love of the outdoors is an adequate substitution for an actual personality.
The problem with men like this is that they don’t have passion. I try to ask “what’s your story,” and it’s like pulling teeth. There’s nothing there. It just seems like they’re climbing shit to pass the time. I would be so down if climbing shit was one of someone’s many hobbies, but that’s not the case here. A love of pizza isn’t a hobby. IPAs isn’t a hobby. Sarcasm isn’t a hobby.
And so I was like fuck it. I’m going to spend this month in Denver just focusing on myself. Like I had mentioned in my last post, I sent out a text to everyone I had been talking to on apps and said “boy bye.” And then one of those guys said he'd be happy to meet up for dinner with zero expectations if I ever changed my mind. I agreed because I was bored--and then on the day of, I almost canceled. On that first meetup, I was a giant bitch to him. Afterwards, I have no idea why he wanted to see me again. And maybe that was the point. I wanted him to hate me so that I could stick to my plan of swearing off men in Denver. If he didn’t like me, then there was no way I was going to like him. And then we could part ways.
I called him a schmoozer to his face. When he made a joke I didn’t like, I told him, he said he was sorry, and I said, “Good. You should be sorry.” I told him I thought he was trying to manipulate me into meeting up so that he could consider it a date.
But the thing is, this guy never pressured me. He was so laidback and took all the shit I was giving him in stride. Instead of getting defensive when I told him who I thought he was, he did the best thing to prove me wrong: he showed me who he is by his actions. Very sneaky, sis.
(Just kidding; that is what you should do in that kind of scenario.)
And he did. Because what he showed me was that he is a good person who had zero agenda. By the end of our first dinner, I liked him. And by the end of our second dinner, I wanted to sleep with him. I asked if he wanted to sleep with me—and very nonchalantly said it was totally cool if he didn’t and cool if he did. He said yes and then we fucked like complete animals.
Now before we get any further, I want to make one thing clear: this is NOT a “just keep trying until you convince someone to go out with you” narrative. That narrative is bullshit. He later told me that he was surprised I had asked him to fool around and that he had no plans of ever bringing it up himself. He had listened to me. When I first said no, he heard me. He never flirted or cajoled me. He treated me like a person. And him treating me like a person with a brain in her head and respecting my initial wish to not date and only be friends--that was what made me like him, NOT him convincing me. He was just himself with no ulterior motive. And I know that if I had never asked to become bed buddies, we could have spent my time in Denver hanging out as friends and it would have been just as great.
That’s how consent works. Both parties need to mutually agree that they want to act sexually together for it to work. Consent can be given and taken away at any time. And a lack of consent ultimately changing to real, enthusiastic consent (“yes please”) does not mean that the original lack of consent didn’t count. You being offered a sandwich on one day and deciding not to eat it and then getting offered that same type of sandwich a week later doesn’t mean that the first time you refused the sandwich, you didn’t really mean it.
I wanted to set that straight. And the reason I do like this person is because I know that if I said to him right now “I don’t want to be in contact anymore,” he wouldn’t ask any questions or try to fight me or say “fine” and then try to follow me on social media a bunch of times. He would respect me and not contact me again. I know this. I like this person because he respects the fuck outta my boundaries.
Good. I’m glad we’ve settled that. Because now here’s the fun stuff.
Denver friend comes up with really good date ideas. Once, we went to a bookstore and played a game. You can play this game as well: you pick a book out for the other person, and then choose a passage for them to read loud enough for other people in the bookstore to hear them. The purpose of this game is maximum discomfort. We did five rounds and chose five different genres of books. One genre was erotica (obviously), but you have no idea how embarrassing it is to read out loud how Giada de Laurentiis describes steaks, in a bookstore that's a converted theater with incredible acoustics nonetheless. Every fucking person in that bookstore heard me talk about thickness and juiciness. Well played, Denver friend. Well played.
We also decided to ask each other the famous 36 Questions to fall in love. It can get fairly intimate at times, but it's a lot less awkward than you would think. One of his answers to #25 was so good I had to write it down. The question was to make 3 "we" statements about us. "We both like," "we both seem," "we both feel," etc. For some context--he is a nonmonogamous person by choice and I am a nonmonogamous person by circumstance. We've talked about relationships (past, present, future) a fair amount. We've spoken about our independent nature and our thoughts around having an "anchor" person. When he answered question #25, he said, "We both are people who are searching, but not yearning." I loved that.
Also, there are three things that were never in my sexual repertoire: mirror play, coming from riding someone’s face (it’s a position I have a hard time orgasming in), and going to someone’s office after hours and fuckin’. I changed all of those things in Denver with this dude.
The second time I slept with my Denver friend, he bent me over the back of his bed and I realized that we were right next to the full-length mirror he uses to get ready in the morning. The visual was pretty insane and made the already hot encounter even hotter. I got a text soon afterwards that he had found another full-length mirror and he’d find a good spot for it. That spot ended up being propped up horizontally on a chest of drawers facing the bed. So while in reverse cowgirl, I could see everything from my neck down. AND IT WAS INCREDIBLE.
I know mirrors have a bit of a stigma--I'll admit I had preconceived notions that mirror play was cheesy as hell and/or vain and/or some Patrick Bateman-type shit (like when he films himself flexing while fucking two sex workers). But I’m here to tell you I was wrong. So wrong. It’s incredibly fun. We took a bunch of photos and videos because, I’m sorry, but we both looked so, so incredibly hot and this trip is all about making and collecting memories, you guys.
So after we had some mirror play, we went to dinner. Then, on the drive home, my sex friend and I talked about all the crazy places we’ve gotten down at. I get off VERY hard on sex in public places. I don’t want to ever get caught—and I haven’t—but I like being in situations where the risk of getting caught is very high. I tell him this. He’s fucked in some crazy places himself. And then he says that he started a new job recently and ahh never mind it’s a crazy idea, etc. etc. My face lights up.
No, no, we can’t.
[me absolutely beaming]
Ok we’re doing it.
[me bouncing up and down in my seat]
He turns around and we head to his office. We get past security and he gives me a tour of the place. His office is pretty high up in the building, so the view of Denver is amazing. I end up blowing him while he sits in his chair and then he eats me out while I’m lying naked on his desk. It was a blast.
My life is essentially a porno.
We ultimately make it back to his place, where we get stoned and give each other massages. For massage, I like to smoke a nice sativa-leaning hybrid because it makes me super tactile (all I want to do is touch things) without feeling tired. When I want to have stoned sex and be able to have orgasms, I take a small hit (and I mean SMALL) of some indica. The thing about hybrids and sativas (sativas more so) is that they're GREAT for massages because everything feels eye-rollingly good, but that’s the problem—your body stays at 99% the entire time and it’s hard to get to a full 100. Touch feels AMAZING, but it’s difficult to get pushed over the edge and actually come. So I don’t smoke sativa or hybrids if I want to have a ton of orgasms. Usually that sexual encounter (especially on sativa) is a lot of work towards one orgasm. It takes a while.
So we’re massaging each other and it’s so pleasureful (a word I just made up—just roll with it) that I’m like well, this guy has asked me to ride his face in the past and I never did it. The last time I rode someone’s face was, like, in 2014, because I had tried it with a few partners and it just never worked for me. But in that moment, I was like fuck it. Let’s see how this is gonna go.
The thing about this dude is I forgot how good at oral he is. I came fairly quickly and I was high on that sativa-y hybrid. This man deserves a medal.
Always believe in yourself, you guys. I leave Colorado next week (I can’t believe how quickly it flew by!) and I hope to ride this man’s face off into the sunset.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I haven’t written about Hawaii yet. I KNOW. But guess what? I’ll be in NYC for a few weeks soon for work and will finally have the time to crank out a few blog posts about Hawaii. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.
But let’s talk about where I am now though. Denver. This is what I’m gonna say:
Denver is literal paradise.
It’s green, it’s sunny all the time, half the city is super cute and walkable (walkability is something I love about NYC and Boston) and the other half is all residential houses whose architecture I lust after, and it’s just relaxing as hell. The dispensaries are wonderful. You walk in, they scan your license, you pick out what you want, you pay, and then you're on your merry fucking way (aka HOW OBTAINING MARIJUANA IN EVERY STATE *SHOULD* BE). Everyone is chill. It was hard for me to find some good places to eat at first, but then with the guidance of a few new friends (and the dude I’m “dating” here—I mean “dating” in the sense that we go on dates together), I’ve found some good stuff. All in all, the city has good energy.
The only thing I take issue with is that it’s incredibly, painfully, noticeably white. It makes Asheville look like fuckin' Epcot, you guys.
Denver is a place I see myself visiting from time to time for vacation or whatever, but I sure as hell would never live here. Besides the lack of diversity, I had forgotten that, well, the altitude is a thing.
When I first got here, I thought I was becoming diabetic (which, if you know how I eat, wouldn’t be surprising at all to you—my food pyramid is essentially a pyramid made out of sugar cubes). I'd drink so much water but would still be constantly parched. For the first time in my life, my lips got so dry they started cracking (and, mind you, I’ve survived some pretty gnarly NY winters). I felt like shit the first week I got here. And then someone reminded me that we’re 5,000+ feet above sea level and that Denver has an incredibly dry climate.
“You never get used to it,” my Airbnb host told me. `
But anyway—I felt like I was getting sick, I felt wiped out, and then I started meeting some pretty shitty men.
As always, I encountered men that don't respect my boundaries:
Just a heads up that EVERY man who has ever harassed me has been someone who has told me they would never harass me. EVERY ONE has told me they'd respect my wishes if I decided to cut off contact. Every single fucking one of them. So a guy telling me “I would never do that” means absolutely nothing—and men should realize this before they say it. “That’s not me”? I have no fucking idea if that is indeed the case or not. So just tell me you’re sorry that it happens to me a lot and show me by your actions instead of your words that you would never do such a thing.
Then, the next guy, WHO STARTED OFF SO COOL AND KIND, randomly texted me the day before we met (guys *always* fuck it up at the 11th hour, I swear to GOD) that he was looking forward to meeting me the next day and… was feeling frisky while watching a hockey game with his friends (???) and was planning on going home to masturbate (you guys, I don’t even fucking know anymore):
Then it just came down to this, honestly:
Eventually, I figured, you know what? I’m only in Denver for a month. I don’t have to date. Why don’t I focus on some self-care? And so I did! I started reading an incredible novel (How Should A Person Be by Sheila Heti) and swimming laps on my lunch break, did things like take an hour-long walk from my place to the Denver Botanic Gardens (where I took some tincture and stared at a baby bunny eating grass for, like, an hour), and started pitching magazine articles again. I texted all the guys who I had been talking to on various apps and had given my number to: “Listen. I don’t think I’m going to date in Denver. Take care.” I was going to devote my energy towards building some friendships. Because, at the end of the day, I didn’t have the emotional energy to date, but I always love meeting new people and wanted some friends to do shit with without any sexual expectations.
And I did! I met a few really awesome women on Bumble BFF—and I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, I felt like a total weirdo going on an app to find new friends, but it is actually a fabulous tool when you move to a new place and don’t know anyone. I met someone for lunch one day to make sure we got along and the next day she recommended a place for my first tubing experience, which was so fun. I highly recommend Bumble BFF.
Next, I met a nice person on social media (ah, the modern world!) who lives in Denver and he showed me a great place to eat. [Please note that I never meet up with people from social media, especially if they're under 35 and/or single (and he was neither). So if you’re a dude reading this and are like, “I’m gonna slide into her DMs,” LOL, buddy. It ain’t gonna happen unless you’re Adam Pally.] But anyway, he, a fellow East Coaster (!) and I went out and had a great time. New friends for the win!
And then something interesting happened. Remember when I texted all the dudes I met on apps, “I’m not going to date in Denver BYE”? One of those guys reached out and said he truly only wanted to meet me because he thought I was interesting (to be fair, my OKCupid profile is incredible) and that he’s nonmonogamous with a few partners, so he truly wasn’t looking to go out solely for romantic/sexual reasons. We didn't have to go on a date. If I wanted to make another new friend, we could meet up.
I figured that if we met up and it was clear that he was manipulating me, I could tear him a new orifice. And if he was a genuine guy, I'd make a few pal. He turned out to be pretty great. After our first meetup, I conceded and said we could call it a date. Mostly because he’s really hot and charming and I really wanted to fuck him. Then we ended up going on three dates over the course of four days.
In every city, because I’m naturally monogamous and, well, exhausted as fuck as I travel, my ideal scenario has always been to meet someone and have a regular hookup until I leave. It just makes things easier (and safer). And, to my surprise, this person suggested us doing that. That he wanted to hang out with me as many times as we could before I left.
He’s also the kinda guy who opens the car door (not necessary at ALL, but adorable and appreciated), calls me pretty instead of cute (I hate when people call me cute—I’m not a puppy; I’m a grownass woman), thinks of super creative date ideas (my weakness), and, well, the sex is also incredible.
So that’s a good thing that’s going on. We both understand the situation for what it is and intend on being friends after I leave. I really lucked out.
And that's not even the best part! The main reason I even came to Denver was because I was attending the annual AASECT conference, which is a conference for sex therapists and sex educators. The first day of the conference, as I sat in the ballroom of a hotel surrounded by 700 people, I was on the verge of tears the entire time. These were people who talked about sex openly, thought of it as the most normal thing in the world, and were devoting their lives to helping people achieve healthy, amazing, joyful sex lives and preventing sexual violence. I have never felt more at home. It's hard when the rest of society views your passion as something weird or icky or uncomfortable that shouldn't be talked about. These were my people.
I attended lectures about how doctors are finding new ways to prevent STIs among women in underserved areas (that talk was by the amazing Maria Trent), vaginal rejuvenation, how to enhance pleasure for people with clitorises (Laurie Mintz is a GODDESS; buy her books), the ethics of disclosing personal details as a sex therapist, a comprehensive overview of pedophilia (one of the most interesting presentations I’ve ever seen, led by Michael Seto), the psychology of gay men’s cuckholding fetishes, intimacy on the asexual spectrum, a case study on the treatment of sexual aversion (i.e. non-asexual people who are not finding pleasure in sex), sex and cancer, empowering young women to advocate for their sexual pleasure (led by New York Times’ bestselling author on the subject, Peggy Orenstein, who is a total force of nature—I want to be her when I grow up), the taboos and myths around sex dolls, and how BDSM can help solve sexual trauma. I was in heaven, you guys. Literal heaven.
I also exchanged business cards with many, many people, had impromptu talks about my work, and made connections within the field spanning the country and beyond.
I told my friends this:
I'm digging you, Denver.
Welp. I don't know how you did it, Austin, but you beat Asheville to claim your title as the worst city I've dated in. You did, however, win the Dana Hamilton Best Eating City 2018 award as well. Was it because it's the city where I sampled pussy for the first time? Nah. Actually, Austin is the best city I've ever eaten in. It hurts to say this, but... it's better than New York.
I'm currently in Denver (where both the men and the food have been mediocre at best!), but, as per tradition, Imma break down the last city I was in through the lens of what this very blog is named after:
Odd Duck: My favorite restaurant in Austin. If you go to Austin and don’t eat at Odd Duck, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. The menu changes every day based on what the best meat/produce is available at local farmer’s markets, but there are a few things (I’m talking a very small handful) that are permanent fixtures. One is this roasted beet dish with pureed black beans, fried cheese curds, pepitas, shaved radishes, and onions. This flavor combination sounds weird af, but it WORKS. I got it both times I went there, it was that good. The first time I went, I had a chicken-fried pork chop that was out of this world and they gave me a giant fortune cookie that's made in-house for my birthday. And usually fortune cookies are tasteless and gross, but this one is essentially a giant vanilla cookie. It’s awesome. When you go to Odd Duck, definitely lie and say it’s your birthday just so you can get the free fortune cookie. We may or may not have done that when my mom came to visit, but I won’t tell. We also both got the steak with mushroom croquettes and it was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. My mom said the same thing
Franklin’s Barbecue: Franklin’s is the most famous barbecue place in Austin. There’s also a wait so long that people get up at 8am and pretty much tailgate for an entire afternoon. BUT, fun fact: if you order a few months ahead of time, you can pick up a catering order and skip the line. That’s what my friend Mikey did.
I met Mikey on my friend Janson’s boat for Mikey’s birthday. And so when Mikey said he ordered Franklin’s and was having a party, I thought the same company that was on the boat (a bunch of fun dudes) was going to be at the party and that it was a continuation of his birthday celebrations.
So I wore what I usual wear when among my peers: a t-shirt that says “Support Local Female Orgasms” that I cut up and turned into a crop top. You know, typical Dana Hamilton: fashion icon, smartass, and Doc Marten enthusiast.
It turned out that it wasn’t another birthday party with friends. It was Mikey's fucking graduation from grad school and his entire family who flew out from Oregon was there. Including Mee-Maw.
While I was mortified, Mikey assured me that if there was a family to wear that shirt around, it was his. They thought it was hilarious. It ended up being a super fun night.
But yes, I tried the brisket, potato salad (which had some curry in it, which I love), mac and cheese, and coleslaw. It all was very good! Would I wait on a 6-hour line for it? Probably not because I’m impatient as fuck, but was I glad I tried it? ABSOLUTELY. Very, very yummy.
Loro: My mother said this was the best brisket she’s ever had in her life and I said the exact same thing. This restaurant is the creation of the person behind Franklin’s and the owner of one of the best sushi places in Austin (I forgot the name because I don’t eat fish), so it’s no surprise how good the barbecue is. The brisket has a rub on it that is definitely Asian-inspired. Get that, the garlic rice noodles (TO DIE FOR), and the Thai Watermelon Punch (sweet and spicy watermelon cocktail).
June’s All Day: June’s is on South Congress (the main strip of Austin, filled with shopping and restaurants, but mostly shopping) and it’s super cute. From 4 – 6pm on weekdays, all the food is half off. The first time I went, I got the burrata with asparagus, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, and dill (weird flavor combination, but it was DELICIOUS), Boston bibb salad (okay—the truffle oil was a lil’ heavy-handed), and lemon tart. The next time I went, I had that same burrata (it was that good), chilled roasted artichoke (SO GOOD, especially on a hot summer day), and my mom and I split the hot chicken sandwich (which was in-fucking-credible; their fries are really, really good, too).
Vespaio: A date took me here and I was like ARE YOU SURE DUDE, I’m from New York, but it was absolutely fabulous. I learned later from a Lyft driver that Vespaio was voted the third best Italian restaurant in the country. Order the polenta con funghi (amazing), the cacio e pepe, and the Bolognese. I’m very hard to impress when it comes to Italian food and this place blew me away.
Torchy’s: This is the most well-known taco place in Austin. There are a few locations—it looks a little fast food-y, but don’t let that fool you. It’s great. I had the pork chili verde and their monthly special, which was a hot chicken taco with honey. Both were fabulous.
Taco Joint: This place’s name is ~marihuana~ reference. Get the 4/20 and The Street Taco. One of those—I can’t remember which, comes with potato sticks on it. It’s like putting chips on a sandwich. A+
Via 313: This is one of the most well-known pizza places in Austin. They do a Detroit-style pie, which is essentially a Sicilian slice (soaked in butter and baked in a pan) with cheese on top and then sauce on top of that. It was really good! I didn't get any good pics because I inhaled mine. Pretty delish.
Frank: Vegan chili cheese fries and a vegan/gluten-free Chicago-style hot dog? I LOVED this and I wasn't even stoned. (Sorry, I ate this on my bed like a total garbage person.)
Valentina’s Tex Mex: I really liked this place, but my fondness for it may have been influenced by the fact that I went there with one of my favorite friends, VP. While we were driving over (it’s in the middle of nowhere), we had to drive through a ton of residential areas and VP said, “Wait. Is this place at someone’s house?” While that ended up not being the case, the “restaurant” is based out of a trailer and this place has Port-a-Potties instead of bathrooms. It was super weird. That said, we both had the brisket sandwich, which was fab, and the rice and beans, which were fantastic. We just had to both hold our pee until we got home because… Port-a-Potties.
"I want people to know that I'm purposefully posing to look silly in this photo and that I don't actually look like that." - VP
Elizabeth Street Café: I love this place. They have Vietnamese coffee (I had the hot--which I looooved--a bunch of times, but the iced is UGHHHHH *chef finger kiss*). I ate their everything croissant (a croissant stuffed with cream cheese and topped with everything bagel seasoning) at least 3 times and didn’t want to try any other pastry (and they all look delicious), it was that good. I also had their egg, sausage, and sticky rice Korean breakfast once and it was fab. The sausage tasted like the inside of pork gyoza. Ugh. So good.
Lick: The best ice cream place in Austin. Their flavors rotate week to week (I think?) and I had the salted caramel (my go-to), carrot cake (GAHHHH), and Meyer lemon (lfksjd;lfakjsdl;kfjasdf WITH REAL LEMON CURD IN IT; it tasted like eating a lemon bar). Go here.
Amy’s: Get the Mexican Vanilla ice cream. Just trust me on this. If you’re high, have the ice cream sandwiches (chocolate chip cookies with Mexican Vanilla ice cream between them) Postmated to your house.
Sweet Ritual: This is a vegan ice cream place. And listen. I usually LOVE vegan ice cream. I eat non-dairy ice cream all the time. But this place’s flavors are… a little earthy. I sampled a bunch and was like no thanks. BUT I did end up going with the chocolate peanut butter cup and it was very good. So if you’re vegan, definitely go there and get that flavor. They even make the peanut butter cups that are in the ice cream in-house.
I’ll admit that some of the time I spent in Austin (especially as the dating scene wore on me) involved me staying in a lot because I was emotionally drained. That said, I went to a few places:
Hamilton Pool: Read my review/worst dating story here.
Barton Springs: I went here on Memorial Day. Big mistake. It took us a looooong time to get in. It's fun to go to just to say that you've gone, but was I impressed? Eh. It's a giant spring-fed pool. Very refreshing on hot days, but I feel like there are better places to swim in Austin.
Lake Travis: I went here for the first time on Janson’s boat, which was fun as hell. Then I went back with my mom a few times to go swimming. It was great. Be warned: there is very little shade at any of the beaches around Lake Travis. You will burn. Hard. But the water is crystal clear and lovely.
Bookpeople: I love this place. It is my ideal independent bookstore. You know in some bookstores when they have a few placards throughout the store that are handwritten book recommendations from the staff? This place has those kind of notecards on practically every shelf. I LOVE THOSE SO MUCH. They also have a second floor devoted to kids’ books, toys, and games, which was so fun to play around in because I am actually four years old.
Okay, y’all. You’ve heard time and time again how much I hated Austin’s dating scene. But the one thing I will give it credit for is that I was able to go on dates with two very attractive women. And then I slept with one of them. I won’t get super into it, but here are some quick notes:
Two of my queer female friends were SUPER excited about me dating women and one was “so happy I’ve finally admitted to being a lesbian.”
Here is that first friend:
I told her, "You know how you're a Gold Star Gay*? I'm more like a bronze."
"You're more like a rock," she said.
"I'm tin foil," I said.
[we both cackle]
*A Gold Star Gay is someone who has never been with the opposite sex
My next friend said THIS:
WISHFUL THINKING, YOU GUYS. But I get it. And to be honest, I WISH I were romantically interested in women because dating men is so fucking boring sometimes. I discussed this with one of my friends yesterday:
So yeah. I have 6 months ahead of me until I move to Boston, at which point I will be able to actually date with intention, which is absolutely me in my element. Dating with intention/looking for a more genuine connection than just sex is exciting and less soul-crushing/paranoia-inducing (STI risk!) than dating around.
My friend Janson described me as “a Christian schoolgirl at heart”—that I’m out there having sex and being crazy, but deep down, I have very traditional values when it comes to relationships. I had never been more offended in my life. I told him to get out of my Christian home.
It may be true or whatever (shut UP), but this schoolgirl was gonna get nuthin’ in Austin besides syphilis. I’ll be back to eat and visit friends, but I sure as hell won’t date there ever again.
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.
The last few posts on “Eat, Drive, F*ck” have been kinda bummers because I’ve been talking about all the negative emotions that come from traveling. But one of the best parts of really shitty experiences are the stories that come afterward. So let’s take a break from the turmoil I’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks. I’m ready to tell you one of my best dating stories of all time. It happened here in Austin. And, of course, when I say best I mean worst.
My first week here, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was ready to plow through my list of places I wanted to check out; this list is something I create the week before I move to any new city. I match with a dude on Tinder. He is very, very attractive and suggests that we go swimming. I tell him that Hamilton Pool is on my list. He says great. Let’s go.
Hamilton Pool is about an hour from where I live. At the time, I didn’t think of it, but by agreeing to go on this date, I was essentially agreeing to spend 4 hours with him (an hour drive there and back + a few hours at the pool). As he is driving up to my place, I'm like oh shit what have I gotten myself into? I didn’t really vet this man. What if he sucks?
But the GREAT thing is he doesn’t suck. At all! Our conversation in the car on the way to the pool is fabulous, I'm super attracted to him, and he is very intelligent, laid-back, and easy to talk to. I am into it. He asks if we can stop on the way to grab tallboys. I inform him that I don’t really drink, but if he wants to have a beer at the pool, have at it. As long as this guy isn’t grabbing a six-pack he plans on finishing on his own (also because he is driving me home), I truly do not care. Please go ahead and grab a beer. He does.
This detail doesn’t seem very relevant, but it will make sense later. Hold on.
After grabbing his beer, he tells me that he has a joint if I would like to partake in that instead of alcohol. I tell him thank you, kind sir, because that is exactly what I would like to do.
So we get to the pool. We’re the first people there and it is fucking magical. The conversation is still great and he is still as hot as ever. While he’s enjoying his beer on the beach, I notice something on his face.
I am a sexual health writer. I know what a herpes lesion looks like. And I know what a herpes lesion looks like in comparison to razor burn or acne or any other skin ailment. But when I look at his face, I truly cannot tell. And when you can’t tell, you should probably err on the side of caution. He also mentions that he’s just gotten over a cold, which, if you did not know—herpes outbreaks usually coincide with cold-like symptoms. I take this information and file it to the back of my mind. My brain is just like, “Dana, please just note this information.” And so I do.
Others have been arriving to the pool and we’re now around twenty or so people. My date asks if I want to hike off-trail with him and smoke that joint he brought. I say yes.
As we hike to a spot where we can smoke in peace, I ask what kind of weed it is. I have PTSD (to the point that I have to take medication to prevent nightmares) and am an everyday smoker to help with my sleep schedule (otherwise I would never sleep). If there’s anything I know better than banging recently divorced dads, it’s weed.
So I ask what we’re smoking—is it indica, sativa, hybrid, etc? Does he know the strain? And he’s like, “I honestly have no idea. I’m not really into weed. All I know is that it’s cheap.”
In my experience, cheap equals weak. And I already have a pretty high tolerance. I don’t say any of this to him, but this is something you, dear reader, should keep in mind.
Now, remember, I can’t tell if what is on this guy’s face is herpes or not. I don't want to share a joint with him while he has active lesions (if that is what they are). So I tell him, hey, I have an autoimmune disease (which is true). My immune system is weaker than other people’s. And you just got over a cold. So instead of passing the joint back and forth, could I smoke half and then pass it to you? And he says that he has such a nice buzz going from the tallboy that I can smoke as much of the joint as I want, to just save him a couple hits.
Remember—this stuff is weak and I have a high tolerance. So I suck down 85% of that joint. After all, he said that it was cheap.
It ended up not being weak. At all.
And here’s the thing—weed is a huge aphrodisiac for me. I will make out with a lamp post when I’m high. All I want to do is TOUCH THINGS. And by THINGS I mean YOUR DICK. And I’m out in nature with a beautiful man and I’m stoned and ALL I want to do is make out with him. But then I think of the small cluster of I-don’t-know-what-that-is on his face. There’s a part of me that thinks, “Dana, you’re being paranoid. Of course this person doesn’t have herpes. It looks like razor burn.” But there’s also a louder, more assertive voice in the back of my mind that says to me, “Dana, don’t do it. Don’t you fucking do it.”
And so I don’t. Even though that is literally ALL I want to do. I want to kiss this man’s face off. But I abstain. Because I am a fine, upstanding Christian woman.
I am so high that I can barely walk back to the pool. However, when we do, we go swimming again and it is incredible. Swimming there while high off your ass is a transcendent experience and I highly recommend it.
It’s been a few hours and it’s now time to leave. And honestly, it’s been a fabulous date. Truly. This guy is really cool and hot and brought me weed. What more could a gal ask for?
We now have an hour drive back to Austin. And for forty minutes, it’s just like—it’s eighty degrees outside with zero humidity, the sun is on my face, the windows are down, the music is turned up, and we’re driving through the lush Texas countryside. And I’m just chilling in the passenger’s seat, completely blissed out. I’m not talking. Neither is he. About forty minutes pass like this.
He then turns to me and is like, “Hey, I’m so sorry I haven’t been talking! I hope you don’t think I’m being rude—I’m just super content and relaxed right now.” And I’m like, “Dude! I feel exactly the same way! I was just thinking how I hope you weren’t thinking I was being rude.” We share a laugh. It is comfortable. And then he says to me:
“Do you want to hear my poetry?”
Please remember that I am incredibly high when he asks me this. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if I heard him correctly. I don’t even know what year it is.
Without me saying anything, he fiddles with his phone, which has been hanging in a cradle attached to his rear-view mirror. I think to myself if this guy is going to read his poetry off the Notes app in his phone, I am going to shut this down. That is essentially texting and driving and that is dangerous. I also hope that is what he is doing because then I have an automatic out from listening to his poetry.
That was not what he was doing.
What he was doing was connecting his phone to the audio system of his car because he had already recorded himself reading the poetry.
Now, one thing you should know about me is that an ex of mine once wrote a poem about us after our breakup in which, at the end of it, I drown. So poetry is a bit of a sore spot for ol’ Dana Hamilton. But I would have gladly taken another poem about me drowning over what happened next.
Because I thought: he’s going to read a poem. How long could this possibly be? It takes 90 seconds to read a few stanzas, yeah?
You guys, it was five to seven full minutes of rhyming slam poetry.
If you’re thinking to yourself, hey, didn’t people stop doing rhyming slam poetry in the late 90s, I get it. I’ve asked that very question myself. But I’m here to tell you that that is indeed not the case.
I am so high that all I keep thinking is am I hallucinating this or is this really happening. The only thing I remember doing is clenching my hands so hard that I could break pencils in them. I keep waiting for it to be over and yet it keeps going. This man has a lot of shit to rhyme.
When, finally, mercifully, it is indeed over, I am frozen in place. I honestly don’t even believe that just happened. I’m also violently high. He looks over at me. I don’t say anything. And so he proceeds to say the worst possible thing he could have said in this moment, which is:
That’s right. What did this guy follow up a 5 to 7-minute rhyming slam poetry reading with? Another fucking rhyming slam poem. Surprising no one, this poem is worse than the first one.
[Later, when I tell this story to my friends, two of them said I should have opened the door and tucked and rolled. Another said, “He held you hostage in a car and forced you to listen to his poetry? He is a terrorist.”]
Now here’s the thing, you guys. I worked really fucking hard to become a writer. I take my work very seriously—and part of the work is workshopping and analyzing and critiquing my own work and others’. That’s what you do when you’re a writer. I've had friends whose books, before they were published by top houses, were once manuscripts I saw and covered in notes. I try to push my friends to be the best they can be. I was also an editor for ten years. And so, as a result, I do not give false praise. Ever.
So after that second god awful poem, when he looked over to me, the best I could do was say: “I like that you like it.”
THIS IS ANOTHER REMINDER THAT I AM ALSO HIGH AS SHIT AT THE TIME
But yes, that is what I say. And he is confused and I try to backpedal and be like I like that you feel comfortable enough with me to share your work and I like people who are proud of what they do and it was very vulnerable of you to let me listen to your poetry and blah blah blah I barely remember what I said because, again, I am so high I could have questioned the very spelling of my own name at this point.
We arrive at my place and I thank GOD all of this transpired within the last fifteen minutes of a 4-hour date and not a moment sooner. I thank him for driving and for agreeing to go to Hamilton Pool with me and then get out of the car. When I open the latch of the gate in front of my condo, he asks if I want to check him out at his place of work later on that week. I hesitate. The question catches me off guard and this latch to my door feels like a fuckin’ Rubik’s cube at this point. (It also took me a solid four minutes to figure out which keys opened my front door, that’s how high I am.)
When I hesitate to answer him, he just says, “Think about it.” And then he drives off like a villain in a teenage 80s flick.
I get inside my condo, strip off all my clothes, and get the shower running. I call my friend Sophie and essentially yell this entire story at her in disbelief. It's hard for me to grapple with the idea that any of this even happened. But it has and after the story is over, I realize something.
I was very tempted to make out with that man. Very, very tempted. And I almost did. I almost threw caution to the wind because I wanted to act on a sexual impulse. I was thinking with my clit instead of my brain, but, thankfully, my brain took over.
And listen. I loathe the stigmas surrounding STIs. They are dumb. 67% of the world’s population has herpes. It is an incredibly common and benign STI. I’ve even had an STI before (chlamydia). But in that moment, while I’m talking on the phone with my friend, it hit me that I could have contracted herpes from a slam poet.
Would herpes be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life? No. I take all precautions I can to prevent contracting any STI, but I know that contracting something wouldn’t mean that my life was over or that I wasn’t worthy of love or respect. I know those things. But to have, with every outbreak, a reminder that I once made out with a slam poet? This blog post would probably be the last time you ever heard from me. Because I would totally Lance Bass it and make plans to move to the moon.
And so, yeah, that is my worst dating story from Austin.
I recently wrote about how I have been frustrated and sad, but recognizing some ways to look at the situation in order to overcome it. And then I got a phone call from someone who was crying, telling me how much they missed me and how much they needed me. Then I got a text that something atrocious happened to one of my close friends. Then I had something go down with someone I really liked in a city I have three more weeks in. And I just lost it.
I’m 1,700 miles away from people who need me. And continuing the trip makes me feel selfish. Because I am always there for my people, am literally not there right now, and won’t be for a while. And I don’t have my real-life network available to me beyond my phone.
You’d be a sociopath if you just picked up and left the home you’ve lived at your entire life and your entire network of friends and felt nothing. Or just spent 11 days with a friend who lives far from you and really enjoy spending time with and felt zip. Or felt yourself grasping for a steady figure--any steady figure at all because NOTHING is steady in your life right now--while you’re in a city for not very much longer, feel like that person has hurt you, and just be like oh well.
On the road, you’re peaceful, excited and happy. You’re also frustrated, mournful, and overwhelmed. You are all of these things. Sometimes the scale tips in one direction and you have the time of your life in Boston or it tips in the other and you find yourself in Asheville Googling how many Tide pods you’d have to eat in order to meet Jesus.
Also, sometimes that scale tips in the negative direction for a day. Sometimes it’s a week. Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes and comes in and out of your day multiple times like getting hit by a powerful wave after floating on the ocean in the sunshine, minding your business.
I was told by an ex (mind you, this is emotional abuser language):
“If you’re this tough, take-no-shit-type person, then why are you crying?”
Here’s the thing. You can be both. You can be tough as nails and super emotional. And guess what? Usually, the people who are the former are also the latter. Because it takes being in tune with your emotions to be able to truly handle and take care of the shit that comes your way.
You can be a strong bitch and resilient and brave and feel pretty amazing about yourself (your body, your mind, everything). You can also have moments where you’re overcome by confusing, conflicting emotions. When I’m happy, feelin’ myself, or acting silly, it’s genuine. It comes from a place based in reality because I worked really hard to get there and I’m proud of who I am (while recognizing that I am also a work in progress). When I’m sad or upset or feel like breaking down, it’s… also genuine. These are all facets of the same person because I’m not a fucking robot.
I had been told for over a year that I was weak for experiencing pain (and funnily enough, that pain was coming from the person who was telling me that, which is a fabulous tactic when you hurt people and don’t want to own it) and that I should just get over it. It took a while for me to realize the messaging I had been fed was false. Let’s think about what makes us “strong” in our society when faced with negative emotions. What does that look like? It looks like “I’m going to ignore it because I can’t change anything that happened” or “I’m not going to cry” or “I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps.”
But here’s the thing: you can’t exactly pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you haven’t processed what’s going on. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps isn’t “tackling the issue.” In fact, actually pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when you haven’t tackled the issue isn’t, well, possible.
It’s difficult to sit with your emotions. I’ll even admit that when I got back from Hawaii, I definitely smoked more than usual and had a hard time eating. I’ll admit that. (And it’s hard to admit that because it’s embarrassing.) I think the natural thing to do is to try to do things that numb the pain. We are human; we are biologically wired to avoid pain because it signals to our body “you are in danger; get out of there!” The thing about distracting yourself, however, is that it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s just delaying the inevitable. You do things to turn off your brain (go into a dating frenzy and fuck everything you see, use substances, overeat/undereat, etc etc; hmmm these sound familiar to me…) and then the feelings you’re trying to avoid just come back with a vengeance. Ignoring your shit doesn't make you strong... because it’s actually really, really easy.
After using convenient coping mechanisms that feel safe and comfortable, you “move on,” but then you go through all of it again later. You feel the pain, stuff it down, feel the pain, stuff it down. And each time it comes back, it’s stronger. It’s a vicious cycle filled with temporary fixes. The hardest thing to do is to actually take time to recognize your emotions and honor them. That takes strength.
And since I’ve made a promise to myself years ago to no longer hurt myself, it’s downright frustrating that I can’t do the stuff I used to do. It feels like FUCK, I WISH I didn’t love myself as much as I do so that the unhealthy coping mechanisms were available to me. This sounds weird, but sometimes I wish I was back in a place of denial and could do things that are bad for me. Because those things, in moments of pain, feel pretty fucking good. Retreating feels good. Undereating/bingeing feels good. Drugs feel good. In the moment, all of these feel pretty fucking amazing. THAT’S WHY MOST PEOPLE DO THEM.
If you know me, you know that I love my friend Shanaz very much. If you REALLY know me, you know that I am indeed in a group chat called "Daddies Anonymous."
Luckily, what I have that feels good and is healthy is the ability to write. At the very least, I have this. But it’s also not enough. Because what do I do? Stay in and write all day?
It feels uncomfortable to reach out to friends sometimes. It feels like the biggest hurdle in the world to get out of bed and go to that spin class. It feels raw and vulnerable to get on Instagram and say hey, I’m having a really hard time and I need some help right now. Please remind me why the fuck I’m even doing this trip. Please remind me that I can do this because I am not feeling that way right now. Please remind me how hearing about my life has brought you comfort because that’s what keeps me going; the messages I get from people who read my stuff and say “I’ve felt that way, too! I feel less alone because of you” or “I feel like I can do things outside of my comfort zone because of you” or “I took charge of my sex life because of you” they are powerful. And not just for me—for everyone. If you ever feel tempted to tell someone how proud you are of them or how much they mean to you or how much they’ve helped you, do it. Something so simple is much more life-changing than you’d ever think. Trust me.
When I write a blog post about how I’m at peace with everything one day and then a few days later I am doubting everything I just wrote, that blog post isn’t a lie. I honestly wrote what was in my heart at the time I was writing it. And that last post wasn’t a mask to be like “ha ha don’t worry everything is fine.” Everything was fine that day… and then the next day it wasn’t. That is called life and being human. There are days when I feel so confident that what I’m doing is the right thing. And then there are days I want to jump ship and return home to support the people who need me and avoid the emotional toll of accepting that the people I meet on the road are fixtures in my life with zero permanence.
A very kind coworker and friend reached out to me and reminded me that “Just like you said in your [last] post, what you share about this journey on your social media is a Photoshop of your life. It’d be the same if you were rooted in your ‘forever place’ for the next 8 months though.”
She is absolutely right. We all have our own shit. And if I weren’t experiencing these negative emotions that result from the trip, I’d undoubtedly experience some from something else. Because life isn’t painless. These travel-related problems that have come up would evaporate… but then be replaced with new ones. Like feeling disappointed in myself or restless because I always want to see new places and, well, wanting to jump off a bridge once I read the lease of a New York City apartment. (And after seeing what my rent in Austin gets me--a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, a parking spot, SILENCE—I can’t go back, you guys. Please don’t make me go back.)
So I’m going to keep going. It’s going to be hard. But what was the point of this trip? To build a new network of friends? (I have enough of you weirdos—and thank goodness I do.) To get into a relationship? (Hell no.) To get into a comfortable routine? (*spits out food laughing*) Or was it to challenge myself, explore, and do things that make me feel good?
This is the time when I go back to the list I make before I arrive in every city filled with things to do, places to eat, and experiences to buy tickets for. And I start checking them off. When I do this, I’m doing the right thing and rediscovering the purpose of this trip. Last night, I got a pedicure, ate at a place I’d been meaning to try (Torchy’s), bought 3 new books at Bookpeople, and started writing this post--and I already feel a tiny bit better. Time heals all wounds, but healthy coping mechanisms speed up the process.
I wrote a blog post about Hawaii (which, trust me, I’ll post soon), but there’s something that’s been on my mind lately. Ever since leaving Big Island (and YES, I did leave the DAY BEFORE the eruption—those streets you see on the news that cracked and started bubbling with lava? I lived 4 miles from there), I’ve been frustrated. Sure, it's the jetlag, the blues that come about after leaving paradise, and the readjusting to all the work and responsibilities I got to take an 11-day break from. But it's also something more than that.
Last night, I went out to dinner with my friend Janson and after a bit of easing it out of me, I admitted that I am jealous of people who get to stay in one spot.
There. I said it.
And I know what you’re thinking. What you’re thinking is a big, whopping FUCK YOU.
“You get to travel the country!”
“You get to go on all these crazy adventures!”
“You get to fuck beautiful people!”
“You get to live without a budget for a year and eat at the best restaurants, do the best activities, and check out all the best places each city has to offer!”
“I would kill to be able to do that!”
I totally get it. But here’s something that hit me lately. Y’all get to see me post ridiculous snapshots of me cracking myself up on dating apps, share big news when it comes to my career (like when a new article of mine gets published or I get invited to do press at a cool tv show), and do things like fuck off to The Four Seasons in Hawaii. But here's something to keep in mind: social media is real life Photoshop. Y’all don’t get to see the shitty parts.
Y’all don’t get to see all of the rude, gross, emotionally draining interactions with men on dating apps I have to endure in order to find the handful of people I actually want to hang out with, me being too exhausted to write or pitch articles (or hounding my editors when I try to collect the money I earned for shit I’ve already written and delivered), or me crying after I leave a city or experience because I have to leave the people I spent time with behind.
I think the thing that’s been hitting me the hardest is the interpersonal relationships part. And here’s why: I am a down ass bitch. I’m a ride or die bitch. I’m the person who picks up the phone, gives advice/reality checks to my closest friends, and will always be there. And this fucks me in a few ways.
Firstly, and most obviously, I’m not able to be there for my people in the way I usually am. I am busy researching and/or booking my next leg of the trip, I am going around doing as much as I can before I leave a city so I can make sure I fully experience it and understand what it’s like to live there, I’m documenting the trip in these blog posts or in my journal (which takes a lot of time), and I’m trying to freelance more so I have more money to play around with as I travel (so I can stay in the best parts of each city, which, as you know, gets expensive and I do not want to lose money on this trip). It doesn’t leave me much time to be there for my friends. And I hate it because, at the core of me, that is not who I am or ever was.
Next, making connections in new cities is hard. I mean, regardless of where you live or if you’re there permanently or are traveling through, making friends as an adult is hard. And when your hobbies are solitary activities like reading and writing, you don’t really drink so the bar scene isn’t appealing, you’re the least competitive person ever so you don’t do sports… and when your biggest hobby is, well, sex, you can’t exactly go to Meetup.com. You can’t exactly make platonic relationships easily. I’ve been so fortunate that I have friends in every city (Cara in Boston! Katie and Meredith in Asheville! Janson in Austin! Vincent in Portland! Shelli in Chicago! A BAJILLION PEOPLE IN LA and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I can’t live in your garbage city), but I also don’t want to monopolize those people’s time. All of these friends in each city have their own lives and I respect that. I can’t hang with them all the time.
Lastly—and the thing that fucks with me the most—because of traveling, I am not able to get to date the way that I usually do.
Since starting this trip last October, I have dated nonmonogamously, which was incredibly new to me. It was super exciting (and allowed me to fuck 3 of the hottest guys I’ve ever seen in Boston). I was also fresh off an awful breakup and so, even without the travel, I didn’t want to (nor was I capable of) jumping into a new relationship. (It also would have been incredibly unhealthy and I don’t commit to people easily at all anyway.) As I travel, there have been hookups whose names I barely remember and hookups I ultimately befriended. I’ve forged awesome friendships that have a sexual component with multiple people—people I really care about. As a result, suddenly I questioned everything I thought I knew about myself when it comes to monogamy.
Because what I thought was this: these friendships are fulfilling and I’m glad I have the opportunity to get to know multiple people fairly deeply and have sex with them more than once—isn’t that polyamory? Nurturing relationships with a sexual component with multiple people? I realized that is what I have been doing. And guess what? It’s been really enjoyable and satisfying. So what the fuck does that mean? I felt confused.
But what Janson coaxed out of me was that it’s fulfilling right now because I have no opportunity to be monogamous. Nonmonogamy only feels okay because it’s the best I can do right now. But eventually I am going to land in a city permanently. And at that time, would I choose to continue to forge multiple relationships in the way I have been doing? I felt something flicker in my belly and realized the answer is no.
A very recent sexual encounter confirmed that. I took time to get to know this person’s body. When people are open to it, I really enjoy giving long massages to new partners so I can explore and see what feels good to them. (The recipients of this attention more often than not have their mind blown because it’s usually the first time they’ve ever been explored and felt seen in this way because very, very few people take the opportunity to do this with their partners—both casual and committed, monogamous ones.) This makes me feel both incredibly sad to be the first person to do this exercise with them, but also so, so joyful and honored to be that person. When you take the time to explore your partner’s body, the sex is ten thousand times better. And that’s exactly what happened. We had some incredible sex.
And that felt like a microcosm of what monogamy is. Focusing all your energy on that one person. Not asking yourself “what can I get?” but rather “what can I give?” Bringing joy to that person. Growing your sexual relationship and exploring with them. And the right person for you is the person who does all of these things. And there is something you miss out on when you divide your time and energy amongst multiple people.
I am not able to date the way I usually do. I am not able to love (romantically, sexually, platonically) the way I usually do. And that is frustrating. That is why I feel down sometimes. That’s what makes it hard to get out of bed a few days a week. At times, when the alienation or loneliness or, well, quite frankly, sadness that comes with traveling on your own—not being able to be there for my friends, not being able to make new friends easily, not being able to love the way I want to—gets to me, I become not as available. I retreat.
When the stress and unhappiness feels like too much, there have been times when I’ve been tempted to just stay in all day. But I refuse to do that. That is not the purpose of this trip. I’ve legit had to say aloud to myself, “Dana, we are not doing this today.”
Sometimes you have say that to yourself and then get up out of bed, eat the half an ice cream cookie sandwich that’s left over in your freezer for breakfast, put on your belly shirt that says “FEMINIST (not the Lena Dunham kind)”, go to church (Sephora), and then sit outside in the sunshine writing this blog post while listening to Tchaikovsky and drinking your eighth can of lime LaCroix.
Because what is the alternative? Do I cut off all contact with people who I build temporary relationships with because I want to avoid all the pain I’ll experience when I leave? Or do I remain thankful and happy I get to spend whatever time I do get to spend with them (a day, a week, a month, ten years)? Do I, for the same reason, quit the rest of this trip and settle somewhere?
The truth is I really don’t want to stop. I just have to accept the yin of this yang. The expense of the freedom and joy you gain from traveling the country is some pain; it couldn’t all be perfect. And you know why I don’t want to stop? This trip has been an emotional boot camp and has made me a much stronger person who now has a higher threshold for pain, knows how to forgive and move on (something I have struggled tremendously with in the past), and accepts things for what they are instead of trying to will them to become what I want them to be. And so many other transformations within me have happened over the last eight months that I can’t even imagine the other things I’ll learn about myself and the ways I’ll change and grow even more over the next eight.
“We are all on loan to each other,” my therapist wrote to me recently. At first it crushed me, but then it made me feel better. Even the dearest friends of mine—we truly never know the exact amount of time we’ll be fortunate to have each other in our lives. Life happens. And so I’ll try to continue (as difficult as it is) to view each of my social interactions as a blessing instead of anticipating when they’ll be over. Because when I do that, I get to do things like fuck off to Hawaii with someone I met in Asheville or enjoy a day where I get to sing “All I Want for Christmas is You” with new friends on a boat on Lake Travis in Austin or make out topless on a public park bench with a hot dude who ended up fucking my hip out of alignment in Boston. When I accept that nothing is permanent, I actually get to experience life.
Hey so did y’all know that Austin is a sunnier, calmer Boston? Cuz I sure didn’t. Austin is so fabulous, in fact, that I've been doing a lot and am more interested in getting out there and doing more stuff instead of blogging. Writing is usually such a joy for me, but here it feels like a chore. This post will be a little different than usual (more sex though!), but I'd like to start by dispelling some myths:
I’ve done some really amazing things over the last few weeks; I’ve eaten at some truly incredible restaurants (Vespaio, Odd Duck, Loro), gone on dates with a bunch of hot dudes, and went on a few adventures! Here is a sampling of a few of them:
Yeah. It’s been pretty fucking incredible. Let’s talk dudes for a second though.
The men here are gorgeous. There’s no two ways about it. But here’s the thing—I’ve heard that because of the local college (Austin is technically a college town in the same way that Boston is technically a college town), a lot of the men here have Peter Pan syndrome. And because it’s the South, many did not have access to adequate sex ed growing up so nooooooo one gets tested around here. No one. So it’s a lot of dudes fucking a ton of people not-so-safely and not wanting to be in a relationship anytime soon. The second part isn’t a big deal to me because I’m not in a position to date seriously either, but I take huge issue with the first part. Because casual should not mean careless. So am I going to be celibate in Austin? No. And here is how I handle this unfortunate situation.
Let me paint a picture:
A former NFL player came over to my apartment. I wanted to climb him like a tree. He legit had one hand up my shirt and the other down my pants when I pulled back and asked when he was last tested. “No one around here gets tested,” he told me. Not exactly the answer I was hoping for. He asked if he should leave (which, hey, kudos to him for not pressing me on the issue) and I was like DUDE I’m a sex writer. We can have a ton of fun without adhering to the “normal” definitions of sex. Because here’s the thing: anything that requires consent is a sexual act. I hate when sex is put into this box where it’s like “if there was no penetration, it’s not sex.” Because that, my friends, is bullshit.
Now here’s the best part. I didn’t feel safe having penetrative sex or oral with a dude who’s never been tested. And he’s a FORMER NFL PLAYER WHO LOOKS LIKE A MODEL AND IS RETIRED WITH NOTHING TO DO so clearly he is slaying a ton of puss. But you know what? Sometimes you lay naked next to another person and jack each other off (I mean... I give great Handrew Jacksons) and then you lay over that football player’s lap while he spanks you and fingers you while you’re on all fours and it can be EVEN HOTTER THAN PENETRATIVE SEX. Seriously. I’ve been fucked by dudes where the experience was lackluster (not much anymore because I’ve gotten better at pickin’ ‘em, but still). Do you know how sexy it is to drape your leg over another person’s thigh and touch each other’s bathing suit parts? And then to be like fuck it, I’m lying across your lap? It’s a pretty cool thing.
So yes. This is a reminder that you can have super hot, fulfilling, enjoyable sexual experiences while keeping your body safe. I’m getting better at sticking to my guns in this regard. Trust me, having this 6-month rule is hard because I love sex. I will literally drop my pants and bend over for any hot guy who can make me laugh. But if someone who hasn’t been dating monogamously (aka just got out of a relationship), is on Tinder looking for the same thing I am, and the date of their last test was over 6 months ago, I don’t feel super comfortable with that.
And, also, guess what? The STI rate in Austin is off the charts. That should be enough motivation to protect myself, but there’s another reason why I’m so careful: I’ve had an STI before. Twice, actually.
Now, I had never had an STI my entire life—and I slept around a lot in my mid-twenties as a cute lil’ blonde spitfire in NYC (and had a GREAT time). Then, after a breakup right after my twenty-ninth birthday (that’s right! I went 29 years STI-free!), I hit up an old f-buddy, asking him to meet me at a hotel in the Village. He’s a Scorpio, so I barely had to say anything before he agreed. Plus, when a Playboy writer texts you, “I already paid for a bougie ass hotel room, you don’t have to do anything but show up and put it in my butt,” what kinda idiot is really going to turn that down?
Between the last time we hooked up years ago and us hooking up at the hotel (in which we kept getting interrupted by hotel employees gifting us free champagne and then cookies because I knew someone who worked there LOLOL), Scorpio had only slept with one other person. Having gotten out of a year-long monogamous relationship, I missed condomless sex (I know, I know), and I had a history with this dude. We were friends. I trusted him. I told him I had gotten tested recently and that I knew I wasn’t within my ovulation window (I used rhythm and pullout method before I got my IUD—I only recommend this if you have a very regular cycle, know how to track your cervical mucus and know your body very well). “I’m clean, too,” he told me.
A few weeks later, I went for my yearly exam at my gyno and got tested. The test came back positive for chlamydia.
I have never felt the panic I have felt upon being told I had an STI. I was mortified even though it’s a very curable STI (you take one pill, you avoid sex for a week, and then you’re good). It’s like having a cold in your vagina. It seriously isn’t that big of a deal, it’s the most common STI, and, as stupid as it sounds, it really put things into perspective for me. I did internalize a lot of the stigma that comes with STIs—that they happen because you’re not careful and/or don't have self-respect. But I legit had done all that I could do (I had gotten tested right before I had seen him) and it still happened because of his ignorance. It also made me realize that STIs happen all the time, people weren’t “bad” for having them, and the fear of STIs is worse than the STI itself.
But regardless of how low-grade the illness is, I was incensed. I texted Scorpio. “You said, ‘I’m clean, too,’ so when was the last date of your test? I’m not sure how this could have happened.”
“Oh, I wasn’t tested,” he responded. “I just only had that one partner between you now and you then and didn’t have any symptoms, so I thought I was clean.”
I wanted to reach through the phone and chop off his (albeit perfect—length and girth-wise—besides for the chlamydia) dick.
When you don’t know your status, you put other people at risk. Because Scorpio didn’t know what was going on in his own body, he not only didn’t know if he had chlamydia, he also didn’t know if he had herpes, gonorrhea, hell, even HIV. And even though he gave me something that was curable with a pill, he could have given me something that wasn’t.
“Never say ‘I’m clean’ unless you know your status. Got it?” I asked. He got it. And here’s the thing. I like Scorpio. Yes, he’s super-hot (and one of those dudes who doesn’t really realize it, WHICH IS EVEN HOTTER) and there’s a reason he was the first dude I texted after my breakup—he’s not an asshole. He didn’t do it to be a jerk. He just didn’t know. 90% of men are carriers, meaning they can have something and show zero symptoms. He didn’t know about things like incubation periods (the amount of time it takes for an STI to show on a test if you have it—for example, if you contract herpes one day and get tested for it the next day, it won’t show), how yearly testing is only recommended for people who use protection every time they have sex, how no symptoms does NOT mean you’re free of STIs, how you have to ask for herpes and HIV on your full STI panel because if you walk in and say “I would like a full STI panel” those two infections are not considered part of standard testing. He didn’t know any of this and, truthfully, most people don’t.
And so, months later, when I started the trip and got to Boston, I began asking about testing before I started hooking up with any dude.
A fighter I fucked in Boston said he had to get tested for STIs because there was potential for bloodshed and illnesses that are spread by bodily contact in fighting—this meant getting tested for herpes and HIV. For some reason, I didn’t think to ask about other STIs because those are two of the big ones. And then he put the condom on incorrectly (I was stoned and he DIDN'T PINCH THE TIP uggghhhh, which didn't cause the condom to break, but it caused spillage) and gave me chlamydia for the SECOND TIME six months after getting it from Scorpio. I honestly should have known because fighter was CRAZY DELICIOUS and gave off the I-fuck-a-lot-of-college-girls vibe. (And you know what, Fighter? Bless you. Go fuck those college girls because you’re amazing in bed and will bring those co-eds so much joy. But people under 26 have the highest rates of chlamydia.)
That’s right. 29 years STI-free and then, boom, the clap twice in a year. Goddammit. (And both were due to my partners’ ignorance. Not mine.)
So needless to say, I’ve learned lessons. And one of those lessons has been that I can do everything I can to be safe—I get tested regularly (99% of the time that means monthly), I use protection consistently (I’ve had some slipups in the past, but now it never happens), and I talk about testing with everyone before anything goes down. But at the end of the day, I don’t have control over other people. So if you ever do come down with something, this is my chance to say: please don’t beat yourself up over it. Try your best, be as safe as you can, but, yanno, shit happens and you’re not a bad or dirty person if it does.
So as much as this stuff isn't ideal, the silver lining is that it’s a great litmus test. I’m a lot of fun in bed. I’m a respectful hookup and I’m not clingy (I never sleep over and as one of my favorite friends told me the other day: “Unless you have an engagement ring or a cock ring, you’re not sleeping in my bed” – my motto as well). And if testing is too big of a hoop to jump through for you, I don’t want to fuck you. You don’t deserve this pussy. Decent people hear my rule and say “Oh shit, I’ll get right on that.” And those people have been great.
And another reminder: just because a dude gets tested doesn’t mean he can fuck you without a condom. Because a clean test is NOT a free fuckpass. It means “Great job. Keep baggin’ your junk!”
So listen, Austin. I like you and all, but I’m not getting the clap for the third time in a year because your men are hot and stupid.
First off, it’s my 30th birthday! And how have I been celebrating this week? Well. I drove to Austin by myself. So that’s a thing.
When I started this trip in October, I spent 2 months in Boston (UGH, I MISS IT) and then went home for 6 weeks for the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s). Then I went to Asheville for 5 weeks and had to come home for a month because I needed clearance from my gyno to drive cross-country; the last thing she or I wanted was to be on the side of the road with another ruptured ovarian cyst. (I did get that clearance—albeit begrudgingly—but I still need to get another follow-up while I’m in Austin; my gyno wasn’t happy with what she saw on the ultrasound).
My point is that for the last two legs of the trip, I had “breaks” home in New York. And those breaks were great. A guy I fooled around with in Boston who used to live in NYC said the first time he returned to New York, he felt as if his eyes had been dilated at an optometrist’s office. When I returned home after Boston, I couldn’t agree more. I felt completely disoriented on the subway and overwhelmed by the sounds and crowds and energy. When I got back home from Asheville, however, I was like OH THANK GOD. A REAL CITY WITH PEOPLE WHO ALL DON’T LOOK THE SAME AND PLENTY OF THINGS TO DO AND GOOD FOOD THAT CONTAINS ACTUAL NUTRITION AND VARIETY. I wanted to kiss the piss-scented sidewalk.
So what had I been doing at home in NYC for the last month? Well, I went to all my favorite places (Sweetgreen! Babeland! Journelle! Monster Cycle!), my day job has been crazy busy (my boss got fired!), I’ve been freelancing (THIS and THIS and THIS!), I went to a ton of doctor’s appointments (I have another cyst! And an anal fissure!), I booked my Denver Airbnb (weed!), planned a big "project" that I’ll be able to talk about in two weeks (IT’S SO GOOD), and I even got asked to appear on Buzzfeed’s morning Twitter show “AM to DM” (a total blast!). I crammed so much shit into a single month that before I knew it, it was time to drive to Texas. And for the first time on this trip, it was "real." I had wanted to drive to Asheville, but couldn't because of that damn ER trip in Boston. This time, I was driving. There weren't going to be breaks at home anymore. Once I left, I was committing to 7-8 months on the road.
Now, I mapped my route out months ago. I planned to drive 8 hours to Virginia, crash for the night, and then drive 7 hours to Atlanta, where I have family. I don’t know how high I was when I rationalized that 15 hours of driving in 2 days would be a normal undertaking. Because Jesus Christ was I wrong. Holy hell.
Now here are a few thoughts I have about driving for long periods of time:
Here’s the thing about my car. Now, I am not a bougie person at all when it comes to cars. In fact, I had the option to buy a new car for this trip, but decided against it just in case the worst happened (I’d rather total a 2001 Honda Whateverthefuck than anything else). So my car is old. I’m talking has a CD player old. But you know what? I hate touchscreen shit in cars and prefer not to have them because with actual buttons I can feel for the controls without taking my eyes off the road. I also have super fond memories of my car in high school (a black Dodge Neon named “Baby;” RIP) and you bet your ass I kept all of my CDs from middle and high school (REMEMBER THOSE ZIP-AROUND BOOKS WITH THE PLASTIC SLEEVES? YEP) and so for 7 hours from New York to Virginia, I listened to shit like Coheed & Cambria, Motion City Soundtrack and the soundtrack from RENT (because I was a very angry teen who was consistently on the honor roll and smoked weed, like, once), singing every lyric. I can’t remember shit because there’s a giant Ambien-sized hole in my brain (recommended Ambien usage: 1-2 months, how long Dana had been on it: THREE YEARS), but for some reason I know every lyric to every song on O-Town’s second album (take it from me—they should have stopped after the first one).
Do you know how fun it is to listen to albums that hit you right in the feels as a preteen for the first time as an adult? I legit burst out loud laughing at a gas station in Virginia when Erik from O-Town sang “Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I can’t find my lover/Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I CAN’T EVEN FIND MYSELF.” Incredible.
When I pulled into fuckin’ Shitkick, Virginia (no, no, I’m joking—where I stayed was a very bougie neighborhood filled with colonial homes and mansions; I just had to drive through Shitkick to get there), I felt like a deflated balloon. My Airbnb host was the absolute nicest woman—an art professor at the local college—and I could tell she wanted to chat more, but I didn’t have the energy (I was very kind and polite! Just very quiet). I think she understood. When her husband came home, I heard her excitedly stage whisper “She’s a writer from New York City!” which was very sweet. I was so wiped I settled for the Applebee’s down the road, which had muted Fox News on their TVs and Tatu’s “All the Things She Said” playing on the sound system. (Interesting choice, Virginia Applebee’s. Interesting choice.) After that, I took a bath with a plenty of Epsom salt (my body was so sore) in my private bathroom and ate peanut butter M&Ms in the bathtub.
My father (who has driven from New York to Florida and back) warned me that after a long drive, your body is so wired from being on constant alert that even though you’re exhausted, you can’t sleep. That happened to me. Have you ever spent a day at the beach body-surfing and then that night, while you’re trying to sleep, your body still feels like it’s bobbing in the ocean? That night, when I shut my eyes, I was still in three lanes feeling cars go by in my peripheral vision. It was awful. My body was on autopilot and couldn’t rest. But the next day, I got up super early, drove to my overnight Airbnb in Montgomery, Alabama (in a rough neighborhood), ordered a pizza and crashed like the dead. The following morning, I just wanted to get back on the road so the driving planned out for that weekend would finally be over. I got up at 7, was the first person at the local Goodyear (something was up with my tire; I got it fixed), and got to Atlanta around 3 in the afternoon.
I spent the week with my uncle’s ex-wife (who I don’t feel comfortable calling aunt because she’s, like, six years older than me and a total babe), her awesome husband, my 11-year-old bookworm cousin aka the only man I’ll ever trust or love (“I know all about how babies are made. I know everything from the cerebral cortex to the gluteus!” – my cousin, who definitely does not take after me at all, nuh uh, no way), and an 18-month old lil’ chickie who is all smiles and snuggles. Vivi’s favorite word is “donut” and she isn’t a big fan of wearing pants so I guess what I’m trying to say is I lived with the baby version of me.
Living at Jen and John’s was wonderful because Jen eats mostly vegan (I’m mostly vegetarian) and so I’d come into the kitchen and a meal would already be on the table for me. I made lattes with a real espresso machine and milk steamer. The downstairs apartment is super private and I had my own kitchenette (that Jen filled with snacks) and my own bathroom. “When my friends get divorced, they usually stay here.” – Jen, my hero
My week was spent working 90% of the time, but it was a great stay. I just needed to unwind and take care of myself. Driving takes a lot out of you. Here are some tips I want to pass on after driving across half the country:
Once I left Atlanta, I stayed overnight in Baton Rouge, and then by afternoon the next day, I was in my BEAUTIFUL condo (in an incredible location) in Austin. This is also the first leg of the trip I’m living on my own and it is *amazing*. I am fully clothed about 20% of the time and that estimate is generous. There is a lot of naked dancing going on. And naked getting stoned. And naked eating. You get the picture. Living alone is the tits.
I’ve only been in Austin a few days, but so far I’m getting very positive vibes, similar to what I was experiencing in Boston. I also randomly had a crazy hot ~sessual encounter~ the second night I was here (completely unplanned), so that may color my thoughts slightly. But overall, I am so proud that I made it. Driving across half the country is hard. I have joined the ranks of women who have driven across half the country by themselves. (I also have the distinct honor of being probably the only person in the history of West Virginia who has ever ordered a salad from a Burger King rest stop. And it was most definitely just the lettuce and tomatoes they put on the burgers and a piece of grilled chicken someone dropped behind the grill in 1996. Homegirl was charred.) I couldn’t be prouder of myself and I couldn’t have more positive vibes about Austin. Good things will happen here.
A few weeks ago, I scared the crap out of my AirBNB host because I was sitting out on the back porch around midnight in complete darkness. She had gone out to recycle something and I made her jump. The mist that had been beading on my canvas parka was turning into steady rain. I was chain-smoking even though I hate cigarettes and never smoke. Looking back, I realize this is something Dana in College™ would have done when she felt like being a total shit.
My AirBNB is very nice. It’s so convenient to everything that walking everywhere isn’t weird, the house is super clean and smells nice, there’s a dog (!) who I say “Good morning, sir!” in a dumb baby voice to every morning, and did I mention that my host is a therapist?
So when she found me on the back porch like a scene from a Tim Burton movie, we struck up a conversation. I told her about how miserable I was here. How it was very hard to connect with people. How I was bored. How it was emotionally draining to not be able to date (one of my favorite things to do!) much because of the sheer amount of misogyny—subtle and not so subtle—perpetrated by the men here and how none of them were used to being called out on it. How I missed talking to others with big dreams and big ambitions (outside of getting married, a house, and kids) and an entrepreneurial spirit. How no one was weird here outside of “Phish fan”-brand weird (we get it—you smoke weed and wear tie dye and live in an RV voluntarily). How I had been desperately looking for the people with insane origin stories, wants outside of staying in Asheville forever, and interest in having something other than “average” conversation. (Please note that I ultimately found some fabulous people here who these attributes did not apply to, but they were few and far between.)
My host stood in the doorway in the freezing cold in only her pajamas to talk to me about how the periods of discomfort in our lives teach us the most about ourselves. Now listen. My host is a total badass with a degree in wilderness therapy. She has dug holes in the ground to sleep in. She has worked in places that are only accessible by helicopter. I’m living in a house with heat and toilet paper and coffee. There is no comparison in terms of the level of survival skills we have had to develop and employ. But we talked about the feeling of being by yourself and how it shapes the mind. It fucking sucks, but it opens you up in a way that is very unique. It’s raw and it hurts. Something I wasn’t expecting from this leg of the trip is how I became more receptive to pain and more aware.
Everyone’s averse to discomfort; no one likes being sad. We distract ourselves, we self-medicate (in healthy and unhealthy ways), we try really hard to avoid sitting with our feelings. Because feelings suck. In Boston, I wasn’t sad. I was having the time of my life. I actually wanted to extend my trip (but couldn’t or else my mother would kill me for not being home for Thanksgiving). There was no sitting with sad feelings in Boston. My three factory settings were: blissed out, horny, and both.
In Asheville, I let myself be sad. I let myself spend a day in bed bingeing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (I very rarely watch tv), I let myself call my mom, I let myself wrap myself in blankets and eat a hundred pistachios for dinner when I was too sad to leave the house, I let myself cry when I missed people. And, most importantly, I didn’t judge myself for it.
There was a moment where I looked into changing my flight so I could come home early. I even pitched a story to Playboy where I’d attend a sex party in Brooklyn a week before I was supposed to leave Asheville. I actually did want to go to the sex party (because how fun would it be to write about that?!), but I was more interested in them accepting the pitch so that I had an excuse to get the fuck out of here.
There was a part of me that knew I’d feel immediate joy upon landing back in New York, but it would be fleeting. I emailed my therapist, who said she supported whatever decision I made. She reminded me that I am allowed to give myself the option to leave early if that’s what I needed to do for my mental health. I don’t believe in “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stick it out” mentality; I believe in doing whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. I believe in being kind to myself and nixing plans if they don’t end up being in my best interest. Leaving early felt like taking care of myself.
I gave myself enough flexibility in the trip that if I ever wanted to stay in a certain city for longer because I loved it or wanted to leave early because I hated it, I could. That was a gift I gave myself before the trip ever started. But, deep down, I knew that once that flash of joy upon returning to New York passed, I’d be filled with regret. Because somewhere inside myself I knew I could do it.
Playboy didn’t end up accepting the sex party pitch and I’m glad they didn’t. Mostly because I pitched something much, much better afterwards and I have a feeling they’ll go for it, but also because it made me more resilient. Even though I absolutely hated it, I rode out the rest of my time here. I did it.
In Boston, I learned I am enough. In Asheville, I learned that I am fucking strong.
So thanks, Asheville, for testing my limits and forcing me to live in some discomfort. Thanks for putting me through something that was important to facilitate the realization of a few things I needed to recognize. Thank you also for:
1. The opportunity to meet someone I had been online buddies with for years (List App, despite being dead, still brings people together!). Katie’s a wonderful person who let me gripe to her about dating in Asheville, who checked in on me when I wasn’t feeling great, and didn’t judge me when we went to French Broad Chocolate Lounge and I washed down carrot cake with hot chocolate because I have a sweet tooth some doctors have referred to as “concerning.”
2. Meeting a new friend from my old life in NYC publishing! What are the chances someone from Hachette Book Group (who left right before I got there!) now lives in Asheville? (Also, is there any greater joy than reminiscing about former coworkers with someone hilarious? Especially when the company was a complete insane asylum?) Meredith introduced me to the best restaurant in Asheville (Copper Crown) and is also responsible for my most fun night here in which we went to a Britney Spears-themed dance party WHERE THE DJ DIDN’T PLAY ANY BRITNEY SPEARS, took a 90s limo to a dive bar where us and our four friends were the only people on the dance floor when we got there (and then the whole bar was dancing by the time we left), and I didn’t get home until 3am. We also witnessed a drunk chick refer to a perineum as a type of flower, which, I’m sorry, will be the only thing I will be able to think about for the next 12 years.
Oh, btw, THIS IS THE ACTUAL LIMO THAT PICKED US UP:
3. Being the leg of the trip where I finally got off Ambien for the third (and last) time in three years. It SUCKED (it is so, so hard, so GO ME for actually doing it), but it was important to get off of it because it had caused me to develop NOTICEABLE memory loss and I was like oh boy definitely don't want to forget how to, yanno, find words or think or whatever.
4. The knowledge that I can never live in a small town. By learning that I cannot live in Asheville, I can now say without a single doubt that I can’t live in places like Burlington VT or Portland ME or Crotchcheese NH or that charming cottage Kate Winslet owns in “The Holiday.” Before this trip, I had always wondered.
5. The necessary quiet (and pain, ha) to get so much fucking writing done.
So that’s it! Bye, Asheville! See you again never, but thanks for the memories.
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.