The creation of “Eat, Drive, F*ck” and this trip happened—surprise, surprise—after a horrendous breakup. That breakup is now a little over a year and a half in the past, but I had an epiphany this month regarding how it still affects my dating life and how I interact with the men I date... but not in the way you'd expect.
Let me explain.
This trip ends a little over a month from now. As I approach its conclusion, I’m thinking about next steps and how I want to date in the future. As a person hardwired for monogamy (it’s literally in my blood—my parents met at 13 and 15 and have been together ever since) who has dated nonmonogamously for the past year, it has been eye-opening, fun, and beautiful, really. I tried it--it worked for me while I traveled--but after some soul-searching, I've realized it's not a sustainable dating style for me. I will absolutely look back on this experience fondly, however. I’ve been able to get to know a (very) select few men (and even fewer women), learn about these unique people, have all different kinds of sex, and build friendships.
But it took me a while to put things into a healthy perspective with these individuals I dated. Because after my breakup, the way I thought about romantic prospects was off. The funny thing was I wasn’t suspicious or cynical or closed off, as one would expect after such an awful breakup. Problems arose when it turned out I was the exact opposite.
I know in the past I’ve spoken about how crappy things got with my last relationship. I was called a bitch, a slut, and a piece of shit “jokingly.” But there were a few other things that really paint a picture when it comes to why my radar was off (and has been off for a while).
About four months after we started dating, I had to divulge to my ex that I had been assaulted in the past after experiencing a PTSD flashback in front of him (this was before I started taking PTSD medication—Prazosin is a lifesaver). His response wasn’t “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” What he said immediately after I told him was “I don’t want to hear about the details.” I was dumbfounded. Mostly because he truly thought I’d volunteer that information like it was nothing. At the time, the last thing I wanted to do was recount the details of my assault.
But what hurt the most was when I talked about my book, a Young Adult novel (that recently experienced a major plot change and will be completing a proposal for this fall/winter). He said, “Before you ask, I don’t want to read it.” Mind you, I had read everything he published in a very well-known publication that has a sour reputation among established writers because it doesn’t pay—all about topics I had no interest in. Because I wanted to support my person.
My work is my life. For a partner, someone I am very close to, to say they don’t want to read it—before I ever ask (and the kicker is I wouldn’t! I have a very good agent! And an editor! And writer friends who are New York Times bestselling authors!)—was probably the worst thing he could say to me.
It was even worse than when we broke up and a friend discovered he published a poem—one that involves me drowning—in a shitty upstate New York magazine that doesn’t pay. (I think it angered me most that he didn’t even get money for it considering my rate with national magazines is quite significant now—five times what I got per piece while I was dating him.) If you’re going to publish something about me, at least get a check for it, boo.
There were other things. We had a couple’s sleeping bag that he returned half of. When he forgot to return my hammock, he didn’t write my first name on the package. He just wrote my last name. My friends were like, “Hamilton? He mailed something to a musical?”
It was ridiculous. And this is someone who would swear up and down that he’s a “good guy.”
I kept my mouth shut, never talking about any of this publicly. But now it’s been over a year and I truly do not give a shit.
I’m sharing all these experiences because this is everything I was buried under and worked to slither out of over the course of a year. And what happened as I slowly eased myself out from under this rubble when I started this trip and started befriending/sleeping with/dating new people is I started being stunned by any small, kind gesture.
One time my Asheville sex friend (HB) waited for me and helped me as I carefully climbed down some rocks that led to Kehena Beach on one of our first days in Hawaii. My ex used to race in front of me during hikes, getting annoyed with me when I couldn’t keep up (sorry, but I go on hikes to enjoy the experience, not fucking run up a mountain). When HB waited patiently for me, I was floored.
Denver sex friend would open the car door for me (unnecessary, but appreciated) every time he picked me up for a night out because he insisted on driving once I had told him I was scared of parking in Denver (I’m a weirdo).
When Chicago sex friend had forgotten he had a wedding to attend the night of one of our planned dates, he called me to explain the situation instead of sending a text.
When things like this happened, I marveled at them. When HB helped me walk down those rocks, I told a friend—stars in my eyes—who then reminded me, “That’s what he is supposed to do.”
I mention this because during the Kavanaugh hearings, I posted on Instagram about how the boyfriend of one of my best friends texted to check up on me. He never told my friend he did this. He didn’t do it for the recognition. He did it because it was a nice thing to do.
Someone responded to the post by saying her husband skipped his usual golf game to stay home and watch the hearings with her. I commented back, “Wow. Where do I send his medal?” but then deleted it. That day was not the day to say something snippy to a fellow woman. But I stand by the sentiment. I would hope to God that a man would skip his golf game to support his wife. We have started to expect so little from men, we have set the bar so damn low, that when they do things that are kind, we are dumbfounded.
That’s how I’ve felt this entire trip.
When I had a PTSD episode in Hawaii (and what that looks like is me sitting completely still as I dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands, my stomach in knots, crying, and unable to talk until I say the things I see around me--in this case, it was stuff like "stop sign," "wheel," "road," "tree"--which is one of the most embarrassing things on the planet for me), HB waited a half hour to let me regain my composure before asking if there was anything he needed to do to change his behavior because he was concerned he had triggered it (he hadn’t). “If there was something I did that made you upset, I want to know so I can make sure I don’t do it again.”
I wiped away tears while sitting next to him on Waialea Bay. Because I had been waiting for my ex to say something similar the entire time we dated.
My friend reminded me again that that’s what people are supposed to do. (Though of COURSE I genuinely appreciated the act and will never forget HB saying that to me; he may be an incredibly weird tornado of a human, but he’s also a good person.)
So there is hope.
As I traveled across the country, not only have I been able to make meaningful connections with at least one person in every city (with the exception of Austin, Texas, lol), the way I’ve been treated by people has continuously gotten better.
When I felt tempted to quit my trip while living in Austin, I put a call out on Instagram for some encouragement, for a reason why I should continue. HB was the first friend to call me.
A few months after I left, Denver sex friend sent a 4-paragraph message telling me how much he enjoyed our time together, how his face would light up every time he saw me, and how I gave him more confidence around communication when it came to sex. That took a lot of vulnerability and guts to express how he felt about me and I respect it so much because it’s not easy to do.
Chicago sex friend took a car to West Loop to hang with me at a coffee shop for twenty minutes between meetings at his new job, offered to help one of my family members (someone he doesn’t know) with something, and insisted he buy my friend a very nice gift for arranging special treatment for us at one of the best restaurants in Chicago.
These are above and beyond-type actions.
As I date more people, I am discovering what people are capable of and what I deserve. Men keep setting the bar a little higher and I stop tolerating less than it because I already know what’s achievable and realistic. I told this to one of my friends recently and she said that it gave her faith in humanity. It gives me faith, too.
There are people out there who can meet you on your level.
Many of my followers (fans? It feels weird calling y’all my fans) have asked me how I find these men. How do I find people who treat me well? Who are hot as shit? Who care about my sexual pleasure? Who actually respect me?
And how do I have the emotional energy to sift through so many people in order to find them?
The truth is very simple: I swipe very selectively and I unmatch a lot of people. I unmatch people the moment they show me they’re not good enough for me. This often takes less thirty seconds because, as you know, many people are terrible.
Make a sexualized comment about my job? Unmatched.
Fatphobic? Fuck off.
Not a feminist? Gone.
Loudly proclaim you’re a feminist? (Equally as bad.) LOL bye
Don’t respect my time? Sayonara.
Bad communicator? Welp. That is the last you’ll hear from me.
Some of my friends don’t understand why I vet people so heavily before agreeing to meet up. I usually make people talk to me for at least 3 days, sometimes even a week or two. If someone asks me right off the bat to hang out, I tell them “let me feel you out a lil more first.” At the end of the day, I work 4 jobs (day job, freelancing, writing a book, writing this blog). Prove to me you’re worth my time.
“Yeah, but there’s such a thing as chemistry!” those friends argue. They say they agree to go out with someone within a few minutes because “you don’t know anything about the person until you actually meet them.” And that may be true, but that’s like agreeing to go to a 2-hour work meeting without knowing if it’s even for your department.
These friends may not understand my vetting process, but I don’t care. Because it works. This vetting is how I meet amazing people. This vetting is why I haven’t had a single dissatisfying sexual encounter in all of 2018. Because I force people to show me that they’re a good person first.
I am learning how to trust people after having my faith destroyed by someone else. I am also learning to swat the stars away from my eyes, see the difference between what should be expected and what is above and beyond, and set the bar a little higher. And I stand by the idea of not giving your 100% to someone until they prove to you without a doubt they deserve it. I will admit all of these things are hard.
But the good people are out there. I am living proof they’re out there and they are findable. We just need to recalibrate a little.
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.