When I worked at Cosmo, I ran the “Hottest Bachelors” contest, which means I spent most of 2012 tracking down a single, attractive-shirtless man with an interesting job for every state in the U.S. Theoretically, there are thousands, but I wound up with stacks of submissions from beefy bartenders and “entrepreneurs.”
For a certain East Coast state, one girl nominated a violinist enrolled at an Ivy League master’s program. This guy sounded unreal on paper. He spoke multiple languages, was a minor celebrity in Korea and traveled the world performing in concert halls. Throw in abs and a "diverse” (read: half-Korean, half-German) background, and he stood out from the personal trainers and part-time models.
I rallied for my editor to select him because I was curious to meet this prodigy-man who went to a top-tier university and taught orphans in his spare time. My life seemed ridiculous in comparison. I got paid to organize photos of hairless men and pitch penis advice.
After the violinist accepted his nomination, there was a whirlwind of background checks, instruction on how to wax your chest for a photo shoot and interviews for the final “Hottest Bachelors” spread. I had to ask the violinist, and the other bachelors, questions like, “What’s your most sensitive body part?” and “How long should good sex last?” In the same time period, I wrote a cover story for the magazine called “I’m a Virgin Working at Cosmo!,” which detailed my lack of sexpertise. I was paranoid the bachelors would find this article and wonder if I was qualified enough to interview them.
In the fall, the bachelors swarmed the Cosmo offices in V-necks and tight jeans. They were in town for the contest’s press tour and party. Many of them had never been to the city before and were ready to go wild. The violinist struck me as different – good-humored, but more of an observer than a participant in the frenzy of bro energy. The other bachelors spoke highly of his courteous demeanor.
On the day of the press tour, I spent the morning coaxing the bachelors into a push-up contest for a radio interview and escorting them to “TODAY with Kathie Lee and Hoda.” After, they ate lunch in the Cosmo cafeteria, but I was stuck trying to find the bachelor from West Virginia, who overslept the press tour with a hangover.
By the time I could grab food, the bachelors were clearing out. But though he’d finished his meal, the violinist offered to sit with me. We talked about his studies, and how he was nervous about his serious musician friends and professors finding out he was in this contest. We also discussed being half-Asian, and how it is to navigate between extreme cultures, never quite knowing where you fit in.
That night was the party. I’d spent the weekend before agonizing over what to wear and landed on a black dress with a deep neckline. After prepping the bachelors to “Magic Mike” during their runway walks for the crowd, I stopped at the bar for a drink. The violinist joined me and said, “Malia, I wanted to tell you – you look very pretty in that dress.”
At that point, I could count on two fingers the number of times a boy/man/man-boy had told me I was attractive. I’d heard, “That’s a nice skirt,” and guys at bars had told me I was “exotic-looking,” but I’d never been complimented so directly and believed the words.
After the Bachelor of the Year was announced, most bachelors stayed to party, but the violinist had to return to school. This became the general theme for our friendship.
Since the contest, I’ve only seen the bachelor a handful of times. I’ve followed his life through Facebook. He completed his master’s, moved back to Germany and continued to perform abroad. Even a year after, I was still impressed by his accomplishments from afar. But as his timeline moved on, so did mine.
I started a new job at Comedy Central, working on a TV show I loved. For my 25th birthday, I traveled to Istanbul with two of my best friends.
That week, with room to breathe, I got lost in the tiles and golden ceilings of mosques, in the great expanse of city and water and sky. I began to ask myself, quietly at first: What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for, Malia? Years you’ve spent, all of these inhibitions bottled up inside. For what? What are you waiting for?
I carried this question back with me.
Never an athletic person, I took up running. After years of nagging myself to, I enrolled in an improv class. I started wearing lipstick because I wanted to; hats because I liked them. I began going on dates. I slept with someone. I wrote more and read more. I spent more time alone and more time with friends.
And then, a few weeks ago, the bachelor said he’d be in town for a short visit.
We met at Momofuku in East Village. Inside, we crowded into a long community table, surrounded by chattering couples and steaming small plates of kimchi and pork buns.
Over sake and noodles, we filled each other in on what we’d missed. He’d filmed a documentary and traveled across Europe and to India and Korea, never living anywhere longer than a couple months. He asked me about my dating life (and this blog) and what could I say?
I haven’t written in gin + platonic in months because I’ve been on a string of lackluster dates. Dates that felt like interviews. Dates with men who said they were “working on getting hobbies,” with men who pestered me for “industry” advice, who friended me on Facebook, but never texted. The bachelor was amazed to learn that the furthest I’ve gotten with a man since moving here is a third date.
After dinner, we wandered around the perimeter of Union Square, then paused on a bench. It was a clear, cool night, and we just sat, talking about how, post-grad, you have to evaluate the amount of effort you put into relationships. How some friendships are better in person, and how others seem to age well, regardless of time apart.
We talked about the future. He asked what I might do next, and I told him that so far, I’ve trusted, maybe foolishly, that my life will work itself out the way it is supposed to. It makes me anxious to have no sure path, and yet, that anxiety propels me forward. He told me he feels the same way – that this not knowing is exciting in its own right.
After midnight, we descended into the subway station. We hugged, and he said he hoped to visit the city again soon, and I knew that might happen, and it might not.
As my train pulled away, I realized I wasn’t intimidated by the bachelor anymore. In the time that had passed since my first year in the city, I’d grown more aware of myself. I felt like I’d spent the evening with a friend, an equal – not some idealization of a man.
It was all I’d ever wanted from a date.