Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Madison, WI

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Lydia, 24

Do you have any especially strange dating stories?
I dated this guy who was a commercial pilot, and he was just super-awkward. He never met any of my friends. I dated him for maybe six months. I met him at a Natty Nation concert [laughs].

That's very Madison.
My best friend was here visiting over Thanksgiving break and wanted to go see them, so we got super-high and went to the show. This guy was the cousin of some girl that went to my high school. He was shitfaced drunk and I couldn't tell if he was on drugs. Anyway, he made all these funny references to The Great Gatsby and I was kind of like, "He's not my type at all but, yeah, okay, he's a fun guy, whatever." So that's how I met this guy. He wouldn't leave me alone and I gave him my number while my friend was like, "Do you need help getting out of this?" But I was like [drunk voice]: "Nooo, it's okayyy." He put me in his phone as "Tall Beautiful Woman" and didn't remember my name until, like, our third date.

So is it pretty normal in Madison to meet people randomly around town and start a relationship?
I'd say so. I was at the grocery store with my mom and this cute guy kept following us around the store. My mom kept whispering to me that he was checking me out. So when we were heading to our car he approached me and was like, "Are you Lydia?" And I was like, "Uh, yeah." Then he introduced himself and explained that we had gone to elementary school and middle school together. But he was like, "Yo, you look really good. Can I get your number? I'd like to hang out." It was right in front of my mom, who's always saying to me, "You should date someone. When are you going to date someone?" I was kind of put on the spot, and I couldn't say no, so I gave him my number. And he said he didn't have a phone at the time but gave me what turned out to be his parents' house phone number. It was really weird. He was forty-five minutes late to our date at Chipotle. After calling what I thought was his number and actually talking to his dad, I started walking towards my car. Just then he got there and noticed me down the street, but I just kept walking and pretended not to hear him.

Have you ever hooked up with someone outside?
Yes. Like in the grass or something? I mean, yes.

What about at really public places like Picnic Point?
I've only been there with my best friend to smoke a j, but seriously, that place freaks me out at night!

What's the craziest thing you've done to get a guy's attention?
Probably skinny-dipping. At this summer camp I worked at there were all of these really attractive men from Israel. The lake the camp was on was pretty murky and disgusting and no one wanted to get naked. But I was like, "I'm going to do it," which is something I'd normally never do. I got algae where algae should never be.

Did your bold move work?
[Laughs] No. I mean everyone else jumped in after, but no one was like, "Oh yeah, that girl's cool!" I lost my virginity with someone from that camp though.

Could you tell us that story?
I lost my virginity in Madison at this disgusting house, a house that I actually pass every day as I'm riding my bike. Someone's friend or something had the house, and on the weekends we'd all try to go out to bars downtown. I was nineteen, and I had my friend's fake ID from Canada. I was with a bunch of older people and I wanted to be cool and keep up. I ended up getting so fucking wasted on Long Island ice teas. I remember just being totally shitfaced and walking back to this house with everyone. There were mattresses on the floor where everyone was just lying around. And there were a lot of us — all of the staffers had their twenty-four hours off, and there were also friends of friends and people everywhere. The room was filled with mostly dudes and my best girlfriend from camp. I was lying on my side with a blanket and all of a sudden this guy started fingering me. But it was the worst fingering ever. It was basically just his finger in my vagina going in and out. There were other people around me too, and no one knew what was going on under the blanket. He continued to finger me horribly and all of a sudden I felt his boner on my back. And I was like, "Oh my God. That's a hard penis." As soon as everyone realized that we were getting it on they shuffled out, but we started having sex with everyone there. It was definitely consensual sex, but it's not like there was ever a conversation. It was more like, "Okay, I'm going to do this." Anyway, worst sex of my life. Not sure if anyone's first time is that great. My friend came to door to see if I was doing okay, and I peeked out and said I was fine. She's such a good friend. But I ended up making him stop. No one finished. By the way, I was actually living as an Orthodox Jew at the time. It was a weird time in my life.

Joe, 23

You, sir, have an amazing beard. Has it helped you attract people?
I was at a bar about nine days ago, and this guy came up to me, shook my hand and told me what an amazing beard I had. He then proceeded to buy me a drink. So I thought, why not. But while he was in the process of ordering drinks he kept wanting to pet my face, which was kind of weird. I went along with it because drunk people are always trying to touch my face, and I didn't want to have to knock this random fucking person out. And then I noticed he had on a wedding band, so I hoped he was loyal and there was nothing sexual going on. But then he ordered Jager bombs, and as he was doing that, as he's petting my face, his wife comes up with her hands on her hips, and in front of her this guy tells me multiple times that he wants to suck on my beard, which at that point he's trying to do forcefully. I took the shot and ran away.

And this was all in front of his wife?
She only came over for a second. She downed a shot and disappeared, so I'm not sure she knew what was happening. The guy was extremely intoxicated and from somewhere else; he was here in town for a conference of some sort. But he was pretty persistent in sucking my beard.

So in non-freaky situations, has your beard lead to romance? Do women respond to your style?
Yes and no. I'm not really striving for any particular style or statement with it. The beard is going on three and a half years, but I had to shave off two inches a few months ago because I accidentally lit it on fire. I'm a professional glass blower. So when it comes to romance, if anyone responds to it, my guess is it's not the beard itself but how I'm introduced to a person.

Has your beard ever brushed a woman's face while you were having sex with her?
Yeah, and it's also gotten in her mouth. Which is weird because I see it happen, I know the beard has gotten in her mouth, but she doesn't say anything. So I must not have been doing anything too wrong.

Maybe it's a new fetish.
You may be right about that. There have been a few instances where my beard has gotten me laid. They were the kind of situations where I think they were the type of girls who just wanted to take a picture with me, and figured me to be the type of person they had to sleep with to get it. Which doesn't say much for the girls. Or for me, really. [Laughs] I didn't enjoy most of those interactions. It was fun at the time, but the next morning it wasn't that great. I usually left my own house before they did, hoping that they'd be gone by the time I got back. It worked every time.

You make it sound like a sacrifice.
It's more of a mutual agreement.

The beard has that kind of power?
That's what I keep saying — it does and it doesn't. Only in Wisconsin does it seem to provoke that kind of attention. I get about ten to fifteen comments a night.

Why do you think women in Madison are more likely to be attracted to a bearded man?
Well, there's that saying that girls are attracted to what their father was like growing up. And I think it's partially true; it's this weird Freudian shit. So Wisconsin has long winters, and it's cold as shit and you have people drinking all the time. And you have these manly men who have beards, so women are used to seeing that.

Your theory would seem to only hold up in the winter. What about during the summer when your face is sweaty?
It's not my face that gets sweaty but my neck. And that's the good thing about the beard, because it conceals it.

What if a girl tries to kiss your neck?
Then I put a hand out and tell them to fucking hold it. I'm not into kisses or hickies or whatever. I don't allow anything around the neck area unless they are choking. Then I'm down with that.

Choking you?
Or me choking them. Either one.

Amazing. What is it about choking that turns you on?
It goes back to pregnant chicks, kind of.

I think you should take a moment to think this one over before you respond.
All right, let me think about this for a second… It's sort of an adrenaline rush. Kind of like having sex with a pregnant girl.

I think you should take another moment to think about this question before you respond.
Well, listen: pregnancy is a natural thing, and so is death. And choking is sort of the bridge between the two. Minus all the iPod and MTV bullshit of life, getting pregnant and dying are the things we are essentially born to do. From the beginning of time, people have been getting pregnant and dying. It's a rush. I can't think of the words. Help me out here.

Sam, 25, and Alex, 26

What do you do?
Alex: I'm a waitress at a restaurant. I've worked there about two-and-a-half years. Before that, I hosted at a lot of restaurants in Wisconsin Dells. Big tourist attraction there. 

It's been my experience that there's a lot of sexual magic surrounding the service industry. Have you had that experience?
Alex: There is a lot of magic. The restaurant I work at is very low-key. Dating doesn't really happen between coworkers. There's just a lot of flirtation, and there's probably a lot of sexual harassment. But it's a part of the industry.

How long have the two of you been together?
Alex: About a year and a half.

What do you do, Sam?
Sam: I'm a painter. I was born and raised in Madison.

Do you think there's a good art culture here?
Sam: Not really.
Alex: We're thinking of moving soon.
Sam: I'm probably going to move to New Orleans at the end of the summer. I mean, I don't think there really needs to be an artist community here. I don't really need one. I have a studio here, and it's enough. But I just want more weirdness. And there's not a lot of weirdness in Madison.
Alex: It's not Portland, Oregon weird.
Sam: Right. I went to school in Portland, and it's different. You have this saying: "Keep Portland weird." And I think when you even have a saying like that, it makes people want to be weird in an unnatural way. You have people trying to be weird instead of it just being fucking weird weird.
Alex: But what other kind of weird are you looking for in terms of your art?
Sam: I guess I just want to be somewhere where there's culture, and I don't feel like there's culture in Madison.
Alex: There's culture.
Sam: But what is the culture? I mean, there's a college town, drinking culture. You have the farmer's market…
Alex: It's a very liberal town, but on a smaller level.

Do you thrive in an atmosphere unknown to you?
Sam: I do. When I'm comfortable, I'm not really inspired. I'm more stimulated in places where I'm not exactly sure how things are going to go. I don't feel that way in Madison.

In that kind of atmosphere, do you think the excitement transcends into your relationship or what you look for?
Sam: Well, that's interesting. I do find that when I'm in a comfortable relationship, it's a low point for my creativity.
Alex: I think it can be both ways with you. I mean, comfortable with past relationships where you just got into a groove…
Sam: I think that creativity comes from love and stress compounded. So if you're too comfortable in your relationship and in your life, it's hard to push that creativity out. But when I'm in a comfortable relationship, I'm happy, I mean, it's a great thing…

Are you happy or are you content?
Sam: Both. It's easy for me to find that, but not find inspiration from it. It's beautiful in that sense, but it becomes an issue. It's not very stimulating. What's more important? You have happiness and comfort, but what more is there to look for and want?

That's an interesting line of thinking. Do you think other people share a similar view?
Sam: No, I think most people look for contentedness and happiness.
Alex: I don't think they seek out stress the way artistic people do.
Sam: I think non-creative people are looking for stability, period. I think most people just want to be comfortable.
Alex: And I think a lot of other careers can separate their work and home lives.

So in this stressful kind of situation, do you sacrifice the relationship for the sake of creativity?
Sam: No. Art takes a back seat. That's something I struggle with. I don't know what's more important than love. To live is to love, so I don't know what better way to live. Because of that, art takes a backseat. A lot of my creativity is derived from instability. So, if I fester and focus on that, it causes me to do things like cheat or stir things up in my relationship that cause a lot of drama. I can't decide which is more important.

Seems like a difficult situation. You're in a happy relationship, but you don't want to completely cut art out of your life. How do you maintain a relationship with that attitude?
Sam: I think that's why I want to move to a place like New Orleans. That way, my life outside of the relationship will be stimulating while allowing me to maintain a healthy relationship. An uncomfortable level of chaos outside of the relationship will allow me to have a comfortable life in the relationship. That's my theory. I don't know if it's going to work or not.