Talking to Strangers: Montreal, QC
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Ruth Tam
What do you do for a living?
I'm a massage therapist.
Does it get you any dates?
It's really not supposed to. Like, when I meet people around, some of them think it's pretty cool, but I'm usually not interested in the ones that do.
Who are you interested in, then?
I'm interested in men who are really respectful and sensitive and have the same physical sensibility that I do. I'm interested in relationships with a lot of reciprocity and independence. Like, I'm that person that actually hates to be taken on a date. If there's a tablecloth, forget about it. Even when a guy pays, it makes me so nervous. It's very stressful for me.
Have you ever had a good date?
Yeah, there was a guy I dated in Toronto. We met through a friend, and our first date was skating, a movie, and coffee-shop crosswords.
Coffee-shop crosswords! That's cute. Are you from Montreal?
I've been in Montreal for six years. I was born in England and I lived in Mississauga, a suburb outside Toronto, until I went to university outside Ontario. It's funny because I'm British and I miss that boldness that comes along with that. In Canada, you just don't have that. People are not bold in any sense, including romance.
Do you like it when a guy makes the first move, then?
Not necessarily. I just like when a guy says what's on his mind and is straightforward about what he's feeling. It took me a while to realize this about myself, but I actually like to make the first move. I'm very comfortable as a predator! I don't understand why more women don't accept that part of themselves. I think it's a big part of feminine energy.
Has it been successful?
Sometimes it's great and sometimes it takes a turn for the worse and ends in disappointment. But it's helped to open my heart and want something deeper.
Is being a massage therapist a plus for your love life?
It really shouldn't be, you know? But it's a plus in my life overall. I have a really physical energy, but I would have that even if I wasn't a massage therapist. It makes me really tuned in. My fiancé is a pianist, and he's always nervous about me massaging him. He has his own regimen and he's always worried that I'll overwork him. He doesn't want to be tweaked. It'll be like a twenty-minute massage and he'll be like, "I need a cigarette."
What it like to be with a musician? There's that stereotype that artists are selfish and self-centered.
I had really decided not to date artists anymore, because they can be so temperamental and in their own world. But when I met my fiancé, he was not that typical artist personality at all. He is such a talented musician but so humble.
I did. It was pretty exciting. Last November, I was thinking about it. I knew he was the one. I had fought the relationship for a while, but we were already kind of married to each other spiritually and I was just starting to see that. I just wanted to treasure him and spoil him because I was overflowing with this happiness. There was an excitement about it as opposed to the uncertainty and fear that you feel at the beginning of a relationship. At some point, my friends were like, "Just ask him!" I mean, I hear a lot of stories where women will pull an ultimatum and be like, "By this time, you have to propose to me." But women know when it's time to get married. They feel that energy and that initiative within themselves, so why shouldn't they be the ones to just get it on?
So how'd you get it on?
I arranged for a little spa day on the anniversary of our first hookup. We went to one of the first restaurants we ate at together, and afterwards we went to my place. I have this beautiful claw-foot tub in my bathroom, and I had cleaned it all up and gotten rid of my roommates so we could have a bath with candles and wine and chocolates and all of that. I didn't want to overwhelm him, but I just had to do it. I told him about all the wonderful things he made me feel and how excited I was to be with him and how I would be honored to have him as my husband. I had gone to an antique store that I love and bought him these mother-of-pearl cufflinks. I read online that that's what some women do.
How did he react?
His reaction was really great. He just looked at me and was like "What?" He kept on smiling. It was totally out of left field. We had only talked about marriage briefly before because we're both kind of marriage-phobes. The legal benefits made sense, but we weren't into the religious aspect. The spiritual part, maybe. We could make it our own. It was very brief, though. We would do this thing where we would mention marriage through dreams we had had. He would have this recurring dream that he was part of an Indian wedding and he would keep mentioning that. But he was pretty shocked.
How did you change from being a marriage-phobe to being someone who actually proposed?
The fear just transformed into joy somehow. My fear was based on seeing so many bad examples of people who would just compromise their personal integrity for the sake of harmony. He and I are really individualistic and intent on keeping ourselves who we are. It's the priority for us. Marriage had to come in a way where we had already built that trust and respected each other.
I've noticed more interracial couples in Montreal. Is that more common here?
I don't really have a point of reference, but what ends up happening, especially in the Plateau, is that people get mixed in with each other and form bonds based on different things, like their subculture.
What do you do for a living?
I'm an acrobat. I was with Cirque du Soleil for the last eleven years, but I moved here three days ago to train on a new trapeze act with my boyfriend.
How did you get involved with Cirque?
I was in sports my whole life and Cirque has scouts all over the world looking for talent. There were recruiters at a competition in Las Vegas and I joined the company at eighteen. My family completely freaked out. I was going to school on a scholarship at the time and my grandmother called the FBI. She thought I had joined a cult.
Do they know what you do now?
Yeah, after I came home with pictures and videos, they learned. It made things much easier.
Where were you living before you and your boyfriend moved and how is dating there different from dating here?
We were living in Orlando, Florida. In terms of my life as part of a couple, there are so many more opportunities here. This town is so vibrant, full of cool cafes and cool outdoor festivals and things to do, and I think we'll be much more stimulated here than in the U.S. Plus now we're only training, not working, so there's much more time to go out and explore and meet new people.
Does being an acrobat help you out in your love life?
Yeah, it does. I think as an acrobat, I have a little bit more flexibility, strength, endurance...
Have you ever used your occupation to impress men?
No, I try to keep it quiet unless someone already knows about it. But I know that people in my field exploit it and it works.
Is it complicated to work with your significant other?
I think it's really important to keep a balance between our personal and professional lives. We have to remember that whatever happens when we're working together is professional and that anything that happens while we're training stays out of our personal life. It's not easy. You have to understand that if you're making a mistake and your partner's frustrated with you, it's not you that he's frustrated with, it's the mistake. And you have to be able to walk away from that, even if it's a really bad training session.
Have you had bad training sessions with your boyfriend?
We had one bad training day in particular where we were both really frustrated with each other. It did not go well and we both got mad at each other and didn't walk to one another for the entire day at work and went home and still didn't talk to each other at all. Finally, we had to say, "All right, we can't do this crap," and we made a rule to separate our professional and personal lives. You have to go into both with kind of a mental block.
What are you attracted to in a partner? Do you look for someone who can do the same kind of work as you?
For me, I'm more attracted to someone's personality and their confidence. Physical fitness is important, but I'm most interested in someone who can make me laugh and is totally comfortable with themselves. I don't want someone who has a false front or is worried about impressing everybody.
I guess putting up a false front is what you do for a living.
Yeah, exactly. I need someone who is real, someone I can trust.
Do Cirque du Soleil performers have kinkier sex lives?
Yeah, I think people are more comfortable with their bodies. Of course, it's always a professional environment, but you're constantly seeing every part of every person's body and people are comfortable with that. They're definitely more comfortable with how to use their body, what their body can get them. And some people use their body quite often.
Do you have any crazy hookup stories?
I'm as prude as they come, so I'm not the best in terms of crazy stories. It's kind of a contradiction in my workplace. I'm originally from Texas, which is a very conservative area. I was just not as comfortable with my sexuality as a lot of my coworkers were. It was always very interesting to sit back and observe from my perspective and listen to their stories about the previous weekend.
Did you find yourself becoming more in tune with your sexuality through your work?
Absolutely, which is amazing. I am who I am because of those experiences and those people who made me feel more comfortable. Sex is not this taboo thing. It's okay to talk about it, explore a bit. Before, it was more like, "No, you can't do that."
Before working with Cirque, did you ever have set rules against certain things?
Well, being from Texas... gay is not okay. That was already something I was battling with. On top of that, there's this whole stigma about gay culture and being promiscuous. And being sexually adventurous was seen as something for nutty people who were freaks. That's what I grew up with, and when I came to Cirque and met people outside Texas from around the word, I realized that those people are completely normal. They just enjoy sex and having a good time, and there's nothing wrong with that.
What is dating in Montreal like?
Usually, people don't want to get in real relationships. They want something fast and quick.
Do you like that?
Well, I met my boyfriend here and I don't think I would've been able to meet him in any other environment. People are open and really artsy. I think there are only those kinds of people in Montreal or in big cities.
What do you do for a living?
I'm a student and I work at a coffee shop.
Is that how you met your boyfriend?
Yeah. I met him as a student. He's getting his master's in art history, and I'm getting my bachelor's degree.
What attracts you to a man?
His culture, knowledge, and sense of humor.
Do you have any crazy hookup stories?
In an office, on a desk, at an airport. I was seeing someone who was going to France and we had about two hours to kill.
That gives new meaning to the word "layover." How did you avoid getting busted by security?
We were just walking in the opposite direction of everything. We looked like normal people, so we just opened a door, slipped in, and locked it.
Nice. Do you have any crazy exes?
I had a boyfriend who cheated on me constantly. When I found out, I broke up with him. It was hard, because I still had a lot of emotions for him. I loved him. But I felt like he would just do it again and again. I'm kind of cheesy and would say that love is strong and that people can change and things can get better. But there really can only be two in a relationship.
Do you think young people in Montreal agree with you?
No. When I moved here, I was looking for a relationship, and the guys I were interested in only wanted to hook up. That's normal here. The city's kind of fast and there's no time to get involved in a relationship.
If you wanted to settle down and have a long-term monogamous relationship, could you do it in this city?
No, I'd have to move out. I've already found the person I want to do that with but I can't leave yet.
How do you know he's the right guy?
Because when I was younger, I was looking for a certain type of person. I wanted to date a university teacher. The kind that's a little bit older, that knows a lot about culture...
So you basically want a guy in a tweed jacket and a bow tie. Is that why you're dating a graduate student?
Does he know you're into older guys?
Yeah, he thinks it's funny. He's only six years older than me. Not too bad!