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.