"Extreme couch surfing does put a bit of a damper on my dating life…"
Not long ago, I told an old friend that I was living as a hobo. He playfully offered me a handful of change, but I wasn't joking — I am living as a hobo. A fancy hobo, but still. Unfortunately, I don't have a bindle, but I do have a polka-dotted suitcase. I don't mean to belittle the actual homeless, but I'm not slumming it for fun, either. I grew up poor and have always worked my balls off; I'm living this way because I recently fell flat on my face career- and life-wise. I'm broke as a joke. This is the only way I can stay in New York at the moment. So I stay with friends for as long as they'll have me, being careful to not wear out my welcome, become a nuisance, or make too many messes. I clean, do dishes, and try to be as small as possible.
This is extreme couch surfing. It's not ideal or permanent, but it's necessary for the moment. That said, it does put a bit of a damper on my dating life. Clearly, I'm in no position to tend a committed relationship. But, I like people. And I like having sex with people I like. So here are some things I've learned about love from my time as a hobo. Even if you have a room to call your own, you may find they serve you. Happy hoboing!
1. When you're outside a lot, meeting people is easy.
Unless you're Bridget Fonda in Singles, you usually don't meet people without leaving the house. Even when I had a house, I sometimes met men on the street and the subway, because I'm a mix of adventurous and stupid, and I always think that some attractive stranger might have a good tale to tell. If it works out, it might make a good story for the grandkids. (In practice, dating people I've met randomly has rarely worked out for more than one date, but it's an interesting experiment.) Take the same stance you might while traveling: have a destination, but be open to the whims of the moment. Be bold. Be kind. Make eye contact. Tell them you like their shoes. For some reason, that always works.
2. Be a cheap date! Or don't.
A while back, I went on a date with a nice man who pointed out that his taking me out fit rather well into my meal plan. He bought me a great Korean meal and some hot chocolate and we had a lovely conversation. (Had he not been a recovering alcoholic, our lives might've fit together more. Good on him for getting well, but that's not an emotional burden I could take on. I'm traveling too lightly.)
Pay if you can, though. It maintains your autonomy, and the tradeoff for being mindful of your spending is that when you occasionally eat well, you'll appreciate it more. That said, if they insist, hey, why not? I have never and would never demand this of any person… unless they brag about making a bunch of money. In which case: oysters.
3. Limited resources force you to be creative.
You probably won't be going to expensive shows (unless you know a guy who knows a guy who knows the band) or taking boat tours (unless you're headed for Staten Island) or skydiving (cost-cutting on this is not recommended) or whatever the hell else it is normal people do to get to know one another and decide if they like each other well enough to see one another naked. Instead, wander around parks! Go to museums on their free day! People-watch! Free things can be really fun with the right company.
Drinking, of course, helps with this. But drinks are expensive. It's not unlike the food thing: be moderate, go for quality over quantity. Keep it classy. If you can.
4. You can learn a lot from someone's bedroom.
So, you meet a person worth boning. Good for you! Obviously, your place is off the table, because there is no your place. Maybe it'd be easier if there were, but the good news is you'll learn more from going to theirs. Even when I had a home, this was my strategy, because when you are at someone else's, you have a very direct window into all their personal life. (Plus, you can leave.)
From the fellow who had a custom-made box spring with heavy-duty hardware attached for wrist and ankle restraints, to the platform bed with a huge mirror propped up next to it, to the house full of taxidermied animals and a wall-sized mural of the solar system — painted as a backdrop for a short movie about a Russian cosmonaut lost in space — I've seen some really left-field decor choices.
If you can't go to their place, if either of you have an office, that is also useful. And hot. If your host is out of town, and you simply can't work out any other place, fine, have your date over. But be respectful. Don't bang on your hosts' dinner table, for instance. (Don't worry, hosts! I never did this! I swear!)
5. Travel light.
Only bring with you what you need. If you're female, a toothbrush, makeup, deodorant, a sleeping mask, a few very good outfits, and one pair of bitchin' heels is usually enough. Pare down your daily routine — simplicity can be elegant as fuck.
It's always smart to have some travel-sized lube and condoms on you, and the number to a car company that can come and whisk you away, should things get weird. If you see a person more than a handful of times and/or really like them, be honest about whether you're sleeping with other people, just like any ethical slut. Speaking of traveling light, nothing's heavier than a secret. (I'm just saying.)
6. Know when to saunter on.
Recently, a man-friend I'd been seeing on-and-off for quite some time became the only person I wanted to sleep with. Though he cared for me a great deal, he didn't reciprocate this devotion, and it made me very sad. (I mean, I may not have a home, but I have a heart.) I wanted him as an adventure partner, and for him, I was maybe just one of several adventures. So we had to part ways. Which is painful and upsetting under any circumstances, but it's especially hard to let go when you already have so little stability. It's okay, though. The nice thing about being transitory is that you're always in a state of moving on. The important things will always stick.
Arrivederci, Mr. Fancy Hobo. I'll see you in the Promised Land, when the jungle fires are burning bright.
7. Remember the campfire rule — leave places and people better than how you found them.
It's an interesting experiment to have so few attachments. I've learned so much about myself and what I want and have to offer by getting rid of everything familiar and safe. I'm beginning to think that "stuff" is overrated, although it sure would be nice to have my own bed eventually. Those realizations aside, while the first rule in the Hobo Code of Ethics is "Decide your own life — don't let another person run or rule you," this lifestyle actually demands a great deal of dependence and consideration. At base, the only solid thing I have is the relationships I forge. My rent is the ways in which I can meet the generosity of the people who have helped me get back on my feet. When I finally (hopefully!) land somewhere nice, I will invite all my kind hosts over for a huge, indulgent meal, and big drunken sleepover. I will house them, for once. And I'll even do all the dishes.