Talking to Strangers: Berkeley, CA
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Rachel Barth
Are you from Berkeley?
I'm originally from southern California, but I'm from the area now. I'm a graduate student and a teaching assistant at UC Berkeley in the English department. I work on twentieth-century poetry.
That's a romantic department. Do people usually find that attractive?
It depends. Some people don't know what it is. They think I teach English language skills — grammar and mechanics. They don't know that it's literature. It really depends.
Have you used poetry to seduce people?
I've written poems for people. I've read poetry with people. People who are into it can be seduced by that. That's worked.
What's the most romantic date you've been on?
I haven't really dated a lot. In my love history, that's not a big part of the story. It's been more friendships turning into something different. And I've also been in a bunch of serial-monogamist relationships that started really quickly and tumultuously. I never got into the dating thing, and I think I'd be pretty bad at it.
Are you in a relationship?
I am. Eight years. And we have two kids together.
And no romantic dates?
We've gone on some. Before our son was born, we'd go to hotels in New York and just hang out. That was really nice.
Are you married?
No, we're not married. I mean, essentially we're married.
How did you meet?
We were both in graduate school in New York together. She was in the same department as me, and we became friends. She was dating my roommate for a while and we would hang out together. Our romance didn't start then, but we would all hang out together and talk. She was just a really good friend to me when I needed a lot of help and was in a bad way, and I really fell in love with her in that moment. She understands me, and understands people in a way that I don't. I'm clueless about people. I tend to work with abstract concepts.
Was the roommate pissed?
They were already separated. He didn't care. He had a wife he was estranged from and was hoping to reconcile with her, and my current partner had a boyfriend back home who she was estranged from, so they had a very defined relationship. When we started seeing each other, I wanted more of a commitment. And then she was pregnant very quickly. And we decided we were going to do this crazy thing, which was have a kid with someone when we'd only been together six or seven months. We're still here. We just had another kid.
Have you made a conscious choice not to get married?
It's pretty conscious on my part. I don't really believe in it. If it meant an incredible amount to her, I would do it. At first, I think she was okay with that, but she's sort of changed her mind. It's a conversation we're having, and I'm open to changing. I don't really understand the institution. It always seemed kind of unnecessary to have a legal marriage to someone if you're already committed to them. There are obvious legal benefits, but in a sense of the legal institution being a declaration of commitment to someone, I don't think that's necessary. I mean, we have two kids together, we live together, we hang out. The commitment's there.
How have kids changed your sex life?
I think a lot of couples, whether they have kids or not, go through changes in their sex lives. When you have a newborn, you're exhausted all the time and stressed out. It took us a year or so, but we basically worked through that.
Did it make the love deeper?
I think it made a certain kind of love deeper, but there are different kinds of love. The danger is taking the other person for granted, and there's a kind of love that does that. We've definitely had moments. It hasn't been a perfect relationship. We've had to do some work. I think she's very accepting of ways in which I can be a very difficult person to be with. I can be kind of selfish, committed to my projects. I can be very self-absorbed.
Do you think that's a gender-wide phenomenon?
No, not really. I know a lot of women who are very self-absorbed.
Do you think you'll be really protective when your kids start dating?
Probably not. I'm pretty open. My daughter's only seven months, so I don't really have a verbal relationship with her. With my son, I try to respect his autonomy, and I probably err too much in that regard. Sometimes I get in trouble with my partner for not setting certain limits. But he's a great kid. I actually don't know what I'll do when he gets to the age where he's disobedient. It's a little bit of a scary thought, because I was a really bad teenager, and I had a lot of conflict with my dad. I have no interest in grounding my son. But if he starts to do things that are really dangerous, I would have to try and do something about that. I think that teenagers are going to have sex, and my response would be to teach him about safe sex. Think about it. Don't be reckless.
Were you nervous when you and your partner got pregnant?
It was an accident. It was not planned. She was more unsure about it, and I was gung-ho. I just had this feeling that it was completely the right thing to do. At first I was very disturbed, and then within two days, I completely changed my mind, and I just knew that I wanted to have this child. I was going to be completely into it and excited. Considering how unstable my life was, it was kind of a weird position to take, but it worked out, and he's the most amazing seven-year old.
Did you choose to have a second child?
Our second child was planned. After a long break. We actually had different opinions about that. I didn't want a second one, and she did. I eventually accepted it was something that was really important to her. There were so many times when she made sacrifices or allowances to allow me to do things that were fulfilling to me. It would have been really fucked up for me not to give her that. And now I have this little, amazing baby girl, and I love her totally.
What do you do for a living?
I work in this juice bar. I'm working toward being a worker-owner. I have culinary and barista experience. I've been a teacher before, but I've left that behind to go a different route.
Have you seduced people with your culinary skills?
It's definitely possible.
Where do you live?
I live in the area, but I'm from Long Island originally.
How do you think the guys here are different than in Long Island?
Long Island guys are much more materialistic. There are a lot more who are into the clubbing scene and fashion. That's one of the reasons I left Long Island. Guys here are way more in touch with their feminine side, in good and bad ways.
Which are the good and which are the bad?
Sometimes, instead of just doing stuff, there's too much talk about how you feel about doing stuff. It's like, stop talking about feelings about something, and just do something. That's the negative side of it. The more positive side of it is that the guys around here are more open-minded. But I haven't dated much since moving here. I came out here with my boyfriend from across the country. I've been coupled the whole time I've been here.
What's the most romantic thing a guy's ever done for you?
Maybe when he decided to pick up everything, and leave the East Coast, and move out here with me.
And what about you? What's your most romantic move?
It's hard for me to think about things I've done as romantic. I like to bake, so when I feel like I screw up, sometimes I bake a pie. Probably the most romantic thing I've done is the same thing he did: picking up and getting everything in a car and moving our lives out here.
Where's the craziest place you guys have ever had sex?
In the mountains, in the middle of the woods, on the bank of a river.
Do you prefer renegade liaisons?
I don't know if it's a preference, so much as an adventure.
What's the strangest way you've been hit on?
One time there was a guy driving a garbage truck in the opposite direction. He made a u-turn and started going the wrong way down a one-way street just to hit on me.
Did he get in an accident?
No, no one was on the street. But that was pretty crazy.
What do you do for a living?
I work at a gym.
Have you had any women ask for a little personal training? If you know what I mean?
I mean, sometimes. Not in a sleazy way most of the time, but sometimes. That's kind of more an L.A. thing from my experience, not so much the Bay Area.
Have you ever had someone ask you out on the job?
A couple times, yeah. They'd start up a conversation — not just like come up to me abruptly and say, "Hey, let's go out," because I'd probably say no to that. That seems a little aggressive. Sometimes girls ask me out and think I'm sort of a reserved guy, but it ends up being the other way around.
Can you elaborate?
I'm not looking for someone to be in a relationship. We can have fun, but as far as being in a serious relationship, especially with someone who's going to come up to you at work... nah, I'm good.
Any dating dealbreakers?
Being from a small city, if it's one of your boys' ex girlfriends, that's a no-no instantly. A girl who's pretty obviously faking and being phony — when I feel like I'm meeting someone's agent, not who they really are, when you're telling me everything I want to hear, that's never good. I'd rather let the flaws hang out from the jump. That way, in like a month, I'm not going to get hit in the face with all this bullshit that's really the truth. That's why a lot of second dates don't happen with me, because I'm bluntly honest. I'd rather not be this pretend person, and you end up finding out months later that I'm some asshole you didn't think I was going to be. I'd rather just be myself, but a lot of girls don't do that either.
Have you ever had a long-term relationship?
Yeah, yeah. I just got out of one that was five years, on and off with a girl. Long time. We had been broken up a while, and then I moved back from Miami to try to make it work in L.A. I must have been out of my fucking mind, because there's a reason you break up with someone. It just didn't work out. There was a lot of head butting. I'd rather get out of a relationship before something bad happens, than stick around waiting for something to happen where you guys can never talk again, because I've been in that situation too. It got to the point where it was so bad that both of us were cheating, and I'd rather not end up in that situation.
Is cheating a dealbreaker for you?
Oh, if a girl cheats on you, it's a wrap. How can you ever go back to... I'm a secure person, but if I know you've gone out and fucked some other person, how can I ever have the same views about you and feel the same way about you sexually? It's one thing if you don't know about it, but if it's in your face...
Do you have any crazy exes?
Not really exes, but girls I've hooked up with who don't live in the same city come visit and don't realize it's not a real relationship. It's just hanging out. I have girls who'll be like, "I love you, da da da," and then I'll be like, "What are you talking about?" and then they're like, "I need to never speak to you again — just erase my number," and I'm like, "Okay." And then like a week later, they'll be like, "I miss you." And I'm like, "I thought you said you never want to talk to me again."
Do you say I love you often?
That's not my go-to move. I know a lot of people where that is their go-to move. Maybe if I'm really banged up — like really, really drunk — but I try to keep those to the minimum, because I know where that can lead.
What about in the five-year relationship?
Oh, I was definitely in love, head over heels. But sometimes you've got to stop pretending that things are going to work just because you want them to. I'm sure there're tons of guys out here that want to play in the NBA, but at some point you have grow up despite the fact that you still love basketball.
Where's the craziest place you've had sex?
I went to boarding school, and I fucked on the principal's desk. Another time, I was at some crazy snooty ball, and me and this girl hooked up on a roof in downtown L.A. I was feeling like a boss because I was drunk as shit too.
What's your stance on protection?
If you can, you've got to use one, but let's be honest. Everybody's like, "I use a condom every single time." That's bullshit. It's bogus. Sometimes, it's either going to happen without a condom, or not going to happen, so... I try to as much as possible. And I'm not extra-promiscuous without them.
Do you get tested?
Oh yeah. I'm a frequent flyer over at Planned Parenthood. They put me in the express line. Kidding, but yeah I do. One of my friends got a plethora of shit from going down to Mexico and having a good time. I was there — I took him to the doctor — and that scared the shit out of me. So I try to make sure.