Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Atlanta, GA

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Edward, 33

What do you do for a living?
I operate a dive bar in Little Five Points.

Does that get you any dates?
No, I don't get laid from my bar.

Are you in a relationship?

What qualities would a potential girlfriend or boyfriend have to have?
A girl would have to be laid back, not needy, and speak Spanish.

Do you speak Spanish?
Yes. I'm from Chamblee. My mother's Mexican and my father's American.

Why is so important that a girl speaks Spanish?
Because I like to speak Spanish, and if she speaks Spanish it's better. We can communicate differently. There are different phrases and a different atmosphere with different languages. Different slang you can use than in English.

What's the biggest turn-off you could see in a girl?
Bad hygiene and poor taste.

What qualifies as poor taste?
Poor taste would be wardrobe, taste in food, and taste in pop culture.

Could you give an extreme example of poor taste in one, wardrobe, two, food, three, pop culture?
Wardrobe: not neat, too eccentric, something to attract attention that's not necessary. I prefer something simple, clean — like a building. You don't want a bunch of flags and whistles. Nothing catchy or trendy, something very classic. Bad food would be eating a lot of fast food; that's poor taste. If you're doing it out of necessity because you're traveling or you're hung over, that's different. Some people have certain remedies. Shitty chain restaurants or a pretentious place that has really bad food. Like Pure Taqueria in this neighborhood. They put a lot of effort into their exoskeleton. Pop culture: bad rock and roll.

Like Incubus or something?
Yeah or anything that's obviously overrated. Justin Beiber for sure. That and romantic comedies that don't have Vince Vaughn.

So you'll watch any romantic comedy with Vince Vaughn?

What do you have to say about your sex life?
I don't have a sex life.

How come?
I don't have a girlfriend and I don't have a fuck friend.

I was interviewing a girl earlier tonight who said she had to have sex multiple times a week. So if she's not in a relationship she's going out to see who she can hook up with. Are you beyond that point?
Yeah, I'm beyond that. I'm beyond masturbating too. I don't have to masturbate; I don't have to have sex with a girl. It takes a minute. I enjoy the passion involved with sex. That doesn't exist when you meet somebody and they're either bluffing or flaky. It's based on consistency. So it's a dry well until I find really good water. 

Any particular physical characteristics that you look for in a girl?
Yeah, most of them, but it's not like anyone in particular that I favor. I'm a butt guy, I'm a boob guy; I'll take both at once, sure.

Yeah, what's the deal with that? Are some guys boob guys and some guys ass guys?
That's the nineties. I'm both. There's no such thing as either/or. They're both great.


Caitlin, 25

What do you do?
I work at a coffee shop and I'm studying to go to grad school for library science. And I'm an actress. That one doesn't really count because it's so fucking hard to be an actress.

Have you been snowed in with your boyfriend?
Yeah, we were snowed in — it was fun. We went sledding in the park. I have all sorts of bruises from the ironing board we were using as a sled.

Ironing board?
You better believe it; it was fast as shit. The legs were originally on it, and we were standing up on it holding the legs, then the legs just busted off. It was a two-person sled. It was awesome. Everyone up on the hill was like, "Ironing board is the jam!" We left here and were piss-ass drunk, scouring the house being like, what can we sled on?

I saw a surf board, boogie board, crib mattress, alligator pool float, and a kayak. Anyway, what's better: life in a relationship or life being single?
I think they're both hard as shit. I happily think of my boyfriend when I'm making plans or somebody asks me to do something, because we have so much fun together. But at the same time that can also be hard. Sometimes it's just a little bit more of a struggle to make both parties happy. When I'm single I still really like and need to have sex several times a week. Whenever I'm first single I try to be good and have time to myself. But I've done ridiculously belligerent things to have a booty call. Half the time the next day I'm like, "What the fuck? That was so stupid. Was it worth it? Because I feel like shit today."

Have you ever looked back on a situation like that and thought, "I actually put myself in danger?"
Yeah. That's like my entire relationship with this bar MJQ. Like, "That was dangerous." I hooked up with this guy who I met at MJQ one time who noticeably had a penis that sort of went like this; it was a little bit of a candy cane. And my friend was like, "Wait a minute. What's his name?" I told her and she was like, "Oh my God, my roommate dated him for three months." Apparently they had met at MJQ, too. He prowls.

You're going to find somebody.
It's the best place to just sloppily make out. It's so dark and seedy, and then they turn the lights on and you're like, "Oh no!"


Joe, 26

What do you do for a living?
I work in public health. Particularly in violence prevention, youth suicide prevention.

Has that gotten you any dates?
All the time. It's a good pick-up line. No, I don't mention it too much; it can be a conversation-ender. When I say I work in suicide prevention people are like, "Oh. How's the rest of your life going?" I work for the government too, and go to a lot of conferences, but people are often careful about what they say because they're afraid it will come back to them. It's an interesting topic, but not a great conversation starter. I wouldn't use it if I were you.

If you don't use your job to pick people up, what do you use?
I don't know if I would say I pick people up. Looks are only part of the equation. They're the first chapter of a huge novel. There's also kindness, humor or mirth, the ability to roll with the punches, being willing to laugh at my jokes. It's a bit self-serving but I'll admit it. Even doing something that I have a little bit of interest in helps. I'm not big into the pick-up scene; I've never really done a one-night stand.

So you're looking for something more permanent?
I guess. A certain degree of permanence. I don't go into relationships thinking I'm going to get married. You don't know where that's going to go. You can set yourself up for failure coming in with predetermined expectations. So a certain degree of permanence. I don't take a chance on somebody, thinking it's going to be a couple of days or a night. That can lead to desensitization. I've been trying not to use my emotions as a calling-card or a transaction. I have certain neurotic tendencies and entertain them by feeling out a person, looking at their resume and not just their first day at work.

Good metaphor.
Thank you. I worked on that for a while.

Are there any sexual experiences that you regret?
I wouldn't say so. I try to be largely in control of what I'm doing. The one time I tried pot I freaked out and never wanted to do it again. I like to be in control of my mental state, and it's the same with relationships. I use sex as a way to illustrate love. I don't think I've ever regretted it. Although, when I lost my virginity I regretted it to an extent, just because I thought I was going to hell. I was baptized Catholic and I was scared for a couple of days after that and leading up to it. I was petrified. And it wasn't exactly enjoyable, because I didn't really know what was happening. But I wouldn't say I regret any of it. Regret can be very damaging, and I think it's better to take experiences and learn from them.

How old were you?
I was pretty old, twenty-three. I sat out in high school. I didn't really find any women attractive because I grew up in a redneck town. And I was afraid to talk to women until I was eighteen or nineteen. I was too intimidated. It's just the way I was. It was kind of late, but whatever.

Where are you from?

How do you find that the dating scene in Atlanta compares to Pennsylvania?
It's hard to say, because I've been a student for much of my life. Dating as a student is much different than dating in the "real world." My first time in the real world was here in Atlanta. It's very different when you're in classes. You're not going to bars to pick people up; you're meeting them in classes and things. For example, I met a girlfriend at a climate-change conference I helped organized.

That's awesome.
Climate Change Awareness. She was part of Sierra Club so I joined Sierra Club.

Because you liked her.
Of course. I don't care about the environment. No, I actually do; it just worked out that way. Though I probably wouldn't have been as engaged in the conference had I not been interested in her.

Virginia, 25

What do you do?
I'm a freelance writer.

Do you meet people through that?
Actually, I do meet a lot of cute guys, but I can't really date any of them. When you meet somebody in a professional environment, you just don't really think of them that way.

Where do you typically meet people you want to date?
We'll meet at a friend's party or something like that. I feel like it works out best when you're introduced through someone you know, because that kind of lends credibility. You can meet someone at a bar or wherever, but then it puts a lot of pressure on you to contact each other, when you don't really have anybody in common that would invite you to the same events or anything like that.

When did you start dating?
My first boyfriend was when I was fifteen. That relationship weighs in as my second longest at two years, which was a really bad idea in high school. I kind of wish that my parents hadn't let me date him. After that I wasn't in another relationship until college. That lasted a little over two years and has been my longest. But it probably should have ended after about a year, maybe less. Maybe it never should have started. I'd say the last year and a half of that, I knew that we needed to break up, but I was afraid to break up with him. He was very insecure and emotionally volatile and would get angry easily. He never hit me or anything, but he was emotionally abusive, I would say. Verbally abusive.

Were there qualities about him that you liked?
That's a good question. Yeah, there were things about him I liked. I think it took me a long time to remember that. But whenever I go through a break-up I'll start looking back on other relationships. And when I went through my most recent break-up, I kept thinking back to this one. Now I'm at the point where I'll find myself attracted to guys who remind me of him. In some ways it's like, "Gross! I don't want to date that guy again." But in other ways, his extroverted humor and know-it-all attitude and kind of charming abrasiveness, I liked all those things. Those were the things that I kind of hated about him too.

Are those qualities that you look for in a future partner?
Not consciously, but I can't be attracted to somebody unless I find them funny. As one of my college friends said to me, "You like guys who are funny. And not all guys who are funny are nice guys." So that's kind of a pattern that's repeated itself in my dating behavior.

How do you avoid the not-nice guys now that you know that?
I have the benefit of having a lesbian roommate. She gets to meet a lot of the guys that I go out with, and she'll usually tell me if she likes them or not. And because she isn't attracted to guys she's a good litmus test for whether or not they're assholes. I'll just ask her, "Is that guy an asshole?" And she'll be like, "Yes," or, "No."


Michael, 25

What do you do for a living?
I work in the construction industry. Concrete foundations.

Does that get you any dates?
No. It's working with a bunch of burly old dudes and immigrants.

That could be hot, I guess.

So how do you meet people?
Just in our circles of friends. Past relationships were people in school. When I was in college, people I had classes with.

How would you pick up somebody in class? What kind of line do you use for that?
It's strategic. You gotta start off with, "Let's make a study group." And you weasel in that way.

So you've got your eye on one person but you invite a few different people.
Yeah, you want to share notes, but you want to share other things too. That was my ploy, my game.

Did you say that? "Let's share notes and bodily fluids."
Well, I wasn't that upfront with it, but yeah.

Do you have any crazy hook-up stories from doing that?
Not from that. Crazy hook-ups came from parties. Drunken debauchery at random parties or bars. That's what normally happens, I guess.

Anything in particular?
I'll spare you the gory details…

No, I want the gory details.
East Side Lounge over in East Atlanta. That was probably the last wild hook-up. It was a girl I was kind of talking to here and there. We ended up doing it on the hood of the car, in the parking lot next to East Side Lounge. We were on top of the car… doing something… and two of my buddies drove by and flashed the high-beams at us and honked at us and gave us all kinds of shit before they drove off. Normally I try to get the situation back home, where you're in an enclosed area. I try not to do too-wild stuff. I'm not real straight-laced, but I try to be pretty traditional. Take her home, take her over to my place, work it out from there.

What do you look for in a girl?
It depends on what stage in life. If you're looking for a girl to go a long ways with, you look for somebody who's level-headed, who you're very compatible with. But if you're just out prowling the bars you're probably just looking for the hottest piece you can get of the night, and just go from there.

What does the hottest girl look like to you?
Somebody who just knows how to handle themselves. They're very comfortable with themselves. A lot of women are beautiful in their own way. They know how to accentuate their own femininity and work it. The whole persona, how they carry themselves, how they act.

So that's more important than blonde or brunette, tall or short.
Most definitely.

What's your hottest fantasy?
[Jennifer, his girlfriend: "It has something to do with Star Wars."]

Star Wars? Is there a light saber involved?
Could be. I love the Star Wars flicks, man. I tell you what. A girl in a Princess Leia outfit, with a little chain hanging off of her, she'd have to be tied down, but if I have a good hold of her like that, that'd be pretty hot.

So do you like playing the dominant role in bed?
I think it has to go both ways. I like being in control but I like being controlled too.

What was the thing about Jennifer that made you say, "This is going to work for the long haul?"
[Jennifer: "I told him."] She's pretty in control. Kind of put me in my place but wasn't domineering. She knew what she wanted.

How did you two meet?
She used to date my old roommate. We're still cool; we also went to high school together. She dated him and they broke up and we met around the same time. We hung out a few times and drank beers. It wasn't really pushed or anything; it just happened. I guess the best relationships just kind of work out that way, where you're not trying to look too hard. I think that's the problem with a lot of people; they push too hard to make things happen when they shouldn't. The best relationships just fall in your lap.


Liz, 29

Are you seeing anyone right now?
Not right now. But maybe when my divorce is finalized. Casually, for a while. I don't know how soon I'll be ready to actually have a serious dating relationship with anybody. It all depends on circumstances and who I meet. But the idea of going out to get coffee or just hanging out with friends who are guys — that sounds great.

How old were you when you first had sex?
I was twenty-three and it was after I first got married.

Why did you wait until you were married?
Because sex is way too intimate and important to me. I have trouble opening up to people that closely unless I have a commitment. And I just want to be accepted for who I am and my own thoughts and ideas without sex being part of the equation. Because I think sex builds on top of that. It doesn't just add to it. It's not the beginning of intimacy; it's an addition.

Are you looking forward to having sex again?
Hell yeah!

What will it take for it to be the right person?
That's an awfully complicated question. Can I get into my faith?

It has a lot to do with his respect for me as a Christian, because as cheesy as it sounds my heart belongs to God first, and that means that he's going to take everything to God first in making a decision. I'd love to have a lot of my silly little interests and hobbies to be in common with him, but that's not what's most important to make a good relationship happen for me.

What are some of those superficial things that you'd like to have in common, if it worked out?
I would love for him to play video games with me, to love sci-fi and fantasy, to like to go dancing, to listen to ambient music with me, go to concerts, dress kind of fun. I like metrosexuals. Guys who kind of take care of themselves, look well groomed and get mistaken for gay guys.

Do you think that people who wait to have sex are wilder in bed than people who don't?
I don't think that has anything to do with it.

What does have to do with it?
Partly personality. And how adventurous you are as a person.

Are you adventurous?
Oh yeah, I like wild actually. I'll do role-playing and dress-up. I like getting a little loud, a little dirty. But it also depends on who you're with. I know people who have had a different sexual experience with one person than another. It's a lot more complicated than we'd like to make it out. Although it can be just fun.

What's the best date you've ever been on?
Probably the best one was when my husband took me out to a movie and proposed to me in the middle of a field in the middle of the night, after we'd both had a lot of martinis.

Was it premeditated?
Somewhat. He had a proposal kit in the trunk of his car. He was waiting for the ring to come, but it just seemed opportune to him that night.

What's a proposal kit?
He had a blanket, candles, two goblets, wine.

What movie did you see?
Oh, gosh. It's so cheesy. Constantine. It was a Keanu Reeves sci-fi movie with like demonic activity. It's actually based on a graphic novel.

That was enough to propel into each other's arms, into matrimony.
I guess so. We loved watching that kind of stuff together.

Interviews and photography by Acree Graham.