I found out last weekend that I didn’t know about the questions portion of OkCupid. You know, the section that the entire algorithm is based on to match you with people, which might explain why so many dudes I don’t want to date keep sending me gag-worthy pick-up lines (“You know what’s beautiful? Read the first word again.”) So I spend an evening drinking wine in my best friend’s kitchen and blowing through questions about my feelings on gun control and dental care. And the next day, a British guy messages me, asks me for drinks and I book my first OkCupid date.
We meet for a nightcap at Flatbush Farm, a bar in between our two neighborhoods. I come from work and carry a massive bag with a box for a new pair of boots I ordered. The British guy sits near the middle of the bar, wearing jeans with holes at the knees, a grey t-shirt and black jacket. With his squareish glasses and traces of facial hair, he looks like a more substantial version of Edward Snowden – a fact he noted on his profile.
“Thank you! New shoes, for me?” he immediately says, gesturing at my box as I find a place for it. I sit next to him at the bar. He’s taken the liberty of ordering a cheese plate, and I get an IPA.
Al (let’s call him Al) sits facing me. His legs create a wide V, so I’m almost forced to glance at his goods every time I look down. This positioning, which I’ve noticed some guys do on drinks dates, seems designed so that my legs are either locked between his knees, or so that one of his knees can slide between mine, closing the space between us like a zipper. Except I don’t want to be zipped into him, so I angle myself forward.
He tells me about his job. He works in radio and does voiceover work on the side. In fact, he is the voice of British Jaguar (said in the English fashion: jag-oo-waahhhrr). Earlier this week, I met a woman who is the voice of British Vagasil (“The acidity of your lady parts lies somewhere between a grapefruit and rain!”). I’m starting to wonder if all Brits secretly do voiceover work.
As he describes recording his radio voice as a child, he sucks cheese crumbs off his fingers with relish. He scratches his stomach in a way that casually tugs his shirt up, revealing his abs.
We talk about English and Australian accents sounding different, and I make a comment about Mandarin and Cantonese varieties and add that I don’t know how to speak Chinese.
“Which of your parents is the half?” Al asks.
“What?” I say.
“Which is the half?”
“You think I’m half-Asian?” I say. “Was that on my profile?”
“No,” he says, “but it’s obvious you are.”
“So, you’re just assuming I’m half-Asian.”
“Because you are, come on. Clearly.”
I know he’s right, but I hate the presumption.
“Well, my mother is Asian,” I finally say.
“See, I knew it!” he crows.
“I could not be Asian. You really don’t know that,” I say, but then let it go for the moment.
We talk about work, improv classes we’re both taking, about how he’s 34 and was born close to a full decade before me and about how all English people have connections to Harry Potter. His ex designed the giant pumpkins by Hagrid’s hut, and he was born in the town where the movies were filmed.
“So, let’s see, we’ve got to cover Harry Potter, Turkey, cheese, Halloween costumes,” he says.
“Did you memorize my profile?” I ask, recognizing these as items on my OkCupid.
“I certainly spent time looking at it,” he said.
“Was I supposed to memorize yours?”
“Kind of,” he says seriously.
I feel like I just failed a pop quiz.
He orders an IPA as well, and when I decline a second drink, he pushes his at me to finish. I take a sip and say something like, “Tastes as hoppy as a rabbit in a forest.”
He laughs and leans in to squeeze my hand.
“Can we just hug it out then?” he says.
I know what hugging turns into and look around. “I mean, you can hug me, I just – I don’t know, I don’t know about PDA.”
“Oh, I don’t have a PDA,” he winks. “Those are out of fashion. Anyway, what’s wrong with a little making out at the bar? There are only six people here.”
Yeah, I think, six people with eyesight. I’m not drunk enough for this.
“What if we lice hug?” I say. “In second grade, there was a lice outbreak, and we all had to hug each other like this.”
I leave a large gap between us, put my hands on his shoulders and squeeze them. He does the same, but I quickly notice that he is much better at it.
“I took a massage course,” he says.
I’m wondering if I should just pay him for a shoulder massage and call it a night.
At the end, I bring up his comments about knowing I am half-Asian. I can’t shut up about this topic lately. It’s something about living in New York, where people feel much more comfortable directly asking about race from the get-go. “What are you?” “Let me guess, you’re Filipino.” “What half are you?” I’m processing my feelings about this, and I crave discussion. Because I want people, and men specifically, to know that I notice when my race is the first or second thing mentioned in conversation. To know that sometimes it bothers me to be categorized.
It’s not the most flirtatious subject matter for a date, but I don’t care. We talk about how being British in America comes with its own stereotypes when you go out, and I explain why it bugged me that he thought it was okay to assume my ethnicity as if he had any right to know – as if you can always tell what someone is.
He pays, and I cover the tip, and he walks me to the Atlantic Avenue train stop. At the entrance, under the giant birds’ nest of Barclays Center, he pulls me closer. He goes on a spiel about improv technique and makes a “yes and” joke.
“We can kiss it out now,” I say.
He doesn’t do anything.
“I’m waiting for you to make a move,” he says.
“That was my move,” I say.
Then he kisses me. It’s a nice kiss. Not too aggressive. I hear the trains squealing below and a homeless man shuffling by to my left. He touches the collar of my jean jacket, and I awkwardly shift the giant boots bag in my right hand. I pull away. He notices a bus out of the corner of his eye.
“Wear those boots next time!” he shouts as he dashes to catch the bus.
I watch him go. Amused and wiping lipstick off my mouth with the back of my hand, I descend into the underbelly of the train station, picking up my stride. I don’t know if I’ll see him again. Seems unlikely. At 34, I think you’re either looking for a longer-term commitment, or you don’t want to mess around going on silly dates because you know what you want, but at 25, in this city, I’m still figuring it out.
On my first day of preschool, my mom walked me up to the playground, and I pointed at a boy on the jungle gym and said, “Mommy, that’s my boyfriend.”
That’s the last time she heard me say that in her presence.
I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Turkey, where my best friend from college, Tas, lives and works. Before I left, my New York friends teased me by saying that I’d have “plenty to blog about” because of all the Turkish men I’d meet. To which I dryly responded that there was no way I’d be hooking up with some undeodorized European who may be chockful of STDs.
Because the thing about Turkish men is that they are aggressive. Not ALL of them, of course, but (as is the case with men everywhere) the ones you wish would talk to you never do, and the ones who you least want to spend seven minutes in heaven with are attracted to you like mosquitoes to fruit-scented lotion.
I traveled with Tas, who is Indian, and our friend Monica, a natural blonde, and our ambiguous ethnic identities made for massive male curiosity. Everywhere we went, men on the street pestered us with pick-up lines and kissing noises. I didn’t learn Turkish for “hello,” but I did learn how to say “I’m Indian” and “I’m American” because of all the times Tas had to say these phrases to persistent guys. As a means of a conversation starter, men tried to speak to me in Korean and asked me if I was from China, from Japan, from Uzbekistan. (I told them Kenya.) One man approached me to say, “You are photo?” while waving a camera phone in my face, to which I replied, “No. I am not.”
This got old fast. Tas, the Turkish pro, was quick to flick off the most annoying pursuers, so I learned response tactics from her. On the last night of our trip, when a car stuffed with men making hissing noises followed us down the street, I whipped around, made an obscene crotch-grabbing gesture, screamed “EH! F*CK YOUR MOTHER!” in my best “Cake Boss” accent and flashed them the face of a Japanese dragon monster.
There were some creative stabs at flirting, though, that should be rewarded. A sampling:
1. My friends and I were referred to as “Charlie’s Angels” in the market, which, if you think about the fact there there is an Asian angel and a blonde angel, is two-thirds accurate.
2. Monica tripped on a curb, and a shopkeeper speedily called, “Don’t break your leg – break my heart!”
3. We went to the spice bazaar, which was just rows and rows of men trying to sell you stuff by shouting out “all the single ladies!”, “you give me pleasure in my eyes!” and “hey, fat one!” But one honest guy said, “Please, come to my shop! We have everything inside!…except customers.” He muttered that last part, so we almost stopped out of pity. Pretty effective.
Sadly, none of these attempts were clever enough to woo me into any Turkish beds (or onto any Turkish rugs). I would’ve sooner gone home with a doner kebab.
But there was one man who might have changed my mind. Here’s a fun fact: getting your hair blown out in Istanbul costs $2. Screw you, DreamDry, Drybar, Blow, and all other $40 blow-out businesses – in Turkey, hot, bearded men blow you for a price that’s cheaper than a single subway ride. It’s criminal. We went three times during our trip, and I developed a crush on Kaan, the auburn-bearded, hipster gent who dried my ’do. One visit, I was wearing a halter jumpsuit, and the halter became untied. Kaan handed me the loose string. Our eyes met in the salon mirror, and our fingers almost touched. It was super romantic, as all eye contact is for me (when it’s not making my stomach turn).
Did I act on this romance? Have you met me? Oh, you haven’t? Well, I don’t act on romance unless sandwiches are involved. But Kaan will live on in my memory, as will the feeling of his fingers running through my follicles. He probably doesn’t remember me at all. I have less hair than a baby feather.
Oh, Kaan. Oh, Turkey. I weep for all our possible futures.