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.
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.