The Bachelorette by Malia Griggs

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.

Blank Space by Malia Griggs

Update: My best friend, Rachel, and I started a new collaborative project called LOVE + LIKE.

It deciphers relationships (of all forms) in this new era where love meets “like.” This is one of the illustrated stories we published about getting waxed. Rachel is the illustrator extraordinaire, and I’m the writer/editor.

Check it out. And a new gin + platonic will come your way soon, I promise.

Spinning Into Control by Malia Griggs

At a house party, I started chatting with an Indian grad student in a tweed jacket. We discovered a shared love of Asterix comics and IPA and, past midnight, we moved on to Union Hall, a Park Slope bar with bocce ball and a dance floor. He bought me a whiskey ginger, and in a break in conversation about Miyazaki films, he leaned in, sleepy-eyed, and kissed me.

I recoiled.

“No, nope,” I said, glancing around. “Too fast.”                                    

A familiar late-night anxiety had kicked in. At a certain point in any night out, I’d be talking to a guy and think, he’s nice, but what if he wants to go home with me? I’d imagine us fumbling in my apartment, clothes scattering, me trying to figure out how to say “no” without disappointing him. Although I’d often want to be more intimate, I’d worry about having to explain that I didn’t want the first time I had sex to be during a one-night stand. To avoid this scenario, I’d throw out roadblocks to scare off the prospective suitor. I’d say, “I’m not sleeping with you,” or “Even if we do hook up, I won’t do anything to you,” or, the then-truth, “I’m a virgin.”

This deflection method never worked because most men sensed a challenge and puffed up like dragon lizards, trying to impress me with how unfazed they were by my obstacle course of sexual disclaimers.

The grad student was no different.

"Hey, it’s cool,” he shrugged. “I have sisters. I get it.”

I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t at least a little interested, so I followed him on to the dance floor. On stage, a band dressed as nurses covered in fake blood DJ’d from a laptop. The grad student took my hand and thrust me into a twirl. Tipsily, I slowed and stepped back. He scowled, mistaking my movement as rejection.

“I’m going to go,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, grabbing at his sleeve. “I’m overwhelmed, but I’d go on a date with you.”

The offer sounded flimsy out loud.

Two days later, he texted, proposing dinner. Feeling the pressure of dinner-and-me-as-dessert, I requested Sunday afternoon coffee.

We met at Ost, an East Village café that has good chai and newspapers folded over old-fashioned wooden rods. He wore a dress shirt rolled at the sleeves, and I liked that his outfit wasn’t too casual or too trendy, that it rode the line between two extremes of the city.

We sat by the window and compared childhoods – his in a Hindu household in Queens, mine in conservative South Carolina. He told me about his grad program in math. My father is a mathematician, so his stories of spending long stretches of time alone, mulling over theorems, felt familiar. I imagined him at a table in this café, staring into space, contemplating an abstract problem into reality. His intensity drew me to him – gave me hope that he wasn’t going to be just another boy interested in bottle service and “having a good time.”

After coffee, we strolled through Alphabet City, and he suggested a favorite bar with craft beer on tap.

Inside, it was shadowy and cool, and we leaned into each other on stools and picked cheeses to share. Groups of friends and young families filtered in and out as the afternoon faded away. While he paid, I excused myself for the bathroom.

In the stall, I pressed my hands to my face and thought, you should go home. I pictured in strokes what might happen next: rough kisses, slippery hands, the weight of his expectations crushing me. But I tried to silence that voice. He seemed like a nice guy, and I was giddy and light and wanted to believe I could get swept away.

Back at the bar, he asked, “Want to drink tea at my place?”

That tiny, idealistic part of me hoped we could simply drink, listen to music and continue talking. I accepted the invitation.

His roommates weren’t home. We perched on the couch in his narrow living room, mugs of steaming green tea in hand. I waited for him to turn on the TV or speak, but he only stared, appraising me. He reached out to touch my earlobe.

“Are those stick-on earrings?” he asked.

“What?” I said.

“My sisters used to wear stick-ons,” he explained.

“No, they’re just regular earrings.”

He tried a different approach. “Sorry if I was too handsy last weekend.”

And there it was. I could brush him off, move on to other topics. But I thought, he wants to kiss you, and how often does this happen, you should just do it, maybe you’ll like it.

Without making eye contact, I said, “You could try again.”

He too-quickly set his tea on the floor and leaned in. I tilted my head, and my neck cracked. I sprung back.

“Oops!” I said, laughing. “Guess you can call me a ‘cracka’!”

He paused. “What did you say?”

“I’m a cracka?” I repeated. “You know. Like, Cracker Barrel?”


“It was a joke,” I said, wincing.

He smiled hesitantly, then pressed forward.

We started making out on the couch. The stubble on his face gritted against my skin, and he slid a hand under my shirt. I couldn’t concentrate, worried his roommates might walk in. My foot knocked over the tea, and he leapt up to grab a towel.

“Maybe we should go to your room?” I suggested, even though I knew better.

His room was large with no pictures on the walls. He pinned me to his bed, and I stared at the ceiling as he kissed me. We awkwardly tangoed, him tugging at my pants, me guiding him up, him pushing my hands lower on his hips, me pulling away. Eventually, I let the making out fade.

“Sorry,” I said, for the second time that week. “It’s just – it’s all too fast.”

He exhaled. “Happens.”

In the quiet, I caught him checking his watch.

We heard one of his roommates come home. I gathered my things, babbling about the snow and directions to the train. At the door, he bent for a kiss, but I hugged him and scurried for the elevator.

Outside, the cold air hit me. I wanted to scream. Why had I gone home with him? Hadn’t I predicted this scene – the roaming hands, the inevitable regret? 

For the next few days, I hated myself and my inexperience and inability to be as in the moment as he was. I talked to girlfriend after girlfriend, but it was a coworker who gave me the lecture that shook me awake.

“You’re not in college anymore,” she said, as we huddled by the coffee machine. “Dating isn’t about watching a movie drunk on someone’s futon, ending up hooking up, and then saying, ‘Hey, we’re exclusive!’ You’re an adult. So, date like one.”

I asked what that meant.

"You lost control,” she said, turning on Oprah-voice. “You could’ve walked away after drinks with that guy, but you didn’t. The moment he asked you back to his place, the moment you let him set the pace, you gave up control. And that’s what dating is about now – control.”

Later in the week, he asked if I wanted to grab a drink. I decided to go, reasoning that although I’d freaked out, I had liked our conversations. Perhaps there was something still worth salvaging.

Over glasses of wine, I listened to him talk about his fluency in French, his Phish phase and the awards he’d won. I started checking my phone when he made statements like, “I hate sleeping. It’s such a waste of productivity.” When I told a story about my job, and his response was, “I’m going to the bathroom,” I realized: I didn’t like this guy. I definitely didn’t want to date him. And, for some reason, that felt good.

It seemed counter-intuitive to be excited about not liking someone. Wasn’t I supposed to feel like I’d failed when a date was a dead end? But I was glad we’d gone out. I regained control in knowing what I wanted – which was that I didn’t want anything from him at all.  

Around midnight, he let his hand linger in the middle of the table, as if waiting for me to take it.

“Could I interest you in some cider?” he asked casually.

I glanced around the bar. “Where?”

“Back at my place,” he said. “We could drink cider. Watch Netflix.”

“Oh,” I said, knowing what a beverage was code for in his book. “I have work early. I shouldn’t.”

“You shouldn’t?” he teased. “Sounds like you want to.”

I reached for my wallet. “It’s okay. I need to catch a cab.”

“You can call one from mine.”

“No, really,” I said, smiling a little. “I’m going home.”

While I hailed a taxi, he pulled me close and started kissing me. I slipped out of his grasp, said good night and hopped into the cab.

Once inside, he texted to ask if I wanted to meet up again, and I answered, yes, but as friends. 

Six weeks later, he responded, “K. Want to get lunch?”

I did not. So, I didn’t.