Talking to Strangers: Morgantown, WV
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Elissa Gross
So, you're from Morgantown originally. What's your love life been like here?
Well, I've always dated people kind of by accident. I've had I think four legitimate boyfriends in my lifetime. The first one, I met just in the mall. Then I dated a guy I went to high school with. Then I dated a guy I went to college with. And then my current boyfriend, I met working at a Halloween store. I had a boyfriend at the time, but a year later, I wasn't working at the store anymore and I was single and I went to visit. I remembered this really hot guy who I had worked with and I was wondering if he still worked there. I opened the front door, and he was standing right there. And I decided, "I'm making this happen by the end of my trip here." So, I started talking to him and very coyly got his phone number. He's a tattoo artist in Morgantown now, and I told him I was going to contact him about tattoos, and immediately texted him like some weird freaky obsessed girl, and now we've been together for about a year.
So, now you work in a porn shop while going to school. What do most people come in here looking for?
Whippits. The whipped-cream cartridges. Or the "incense." That's it. Otherwise, people come in to jerk off downstairs, in the DVD viewing booths. The majority of people that come in here are older people that go to the booths. I'm pretty sure most of our customers are married men.
Do you have any weird stories from working here?
I have so many weird stories. One time I had to kick out this sixty- or seventy-year-old couple 'cause they were having sex really really loudly downstairs in the booths. It was an awkward intervention. I had a guy come in one time, covered in blood, stumbling around the store, drunk as can be. And he kept saying, "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you! You look so scared right now, but I won't hurt you." And I was like, "I really hope you don't hurt me, but I'm going to get you an ambulance. Just stay fucking far away from me, please!" I was so scared.
Was he okay? Were you okay?
I guess so. Sometimes, I get terrified working here. Whenever I close late at night, I'm tired anyway so I start freaking out and thinking somebody is still downstairs. I always yell, "All right guys, we're closed! It's time to go!" And no one ever answers, but sometimes people come up. And sometimes I get the courage to go downstairs with my taser out in front of me, like in Silence of the Lambs or some shit, busting down doors and screaming, "All right, is there anybody in here?" If I still think someone's down there, I have to call a cop. And a cop will come and just give me an awful look, like, "Why are you making me come to a porn store right now?" And little me has to get him to go check, and sometimes there are people still downstairs! Sometimes people pass out drunk in the booths! I don't want to go downstairs and have to find them there, or have them jump out at me. I'm waiting for the day that I'll stumble upon someone with their dick in hand. We all get pepper spray when we work here, and then I have a taser too, because — oh, here's another good porn-store story — I used to get letters in the mail to the store that were addressed to me, and they would make absolutely no sense at all. There were weird little drawings and phrases and words, and they'd be three pages long! I ended up finding up who it was after I got the cops involved. They explained to me that he's this homeless guy who sends letters to people randomly. I was terrified. But he ended up getting arrested for something else. I actually was given a link to the jail website so I could see his mugshot, so if he ever gets out I can recognize him.
Wow. I thought about working at a place like this, but I don't think I could handle all of that. So, what do you think there is in Morgantown for people who aren't already in relationships?
I think a lot of people don't really date anymore. I've tried out the "Well, let's hook up and not date but we can screw around on the side" thing. There are a lot of people who are totally cool with situations like that. I can't do it. I'm a very romantic person, and I can't have any kind of relationship without having emotional attachment in some way. I know so many people who are bummed out because they're single for a long time, but really, if you just wait until the right person comes along, you'll be so much happier than if you go out there and just date the first person you can. My current boyfriend, who I've been with the longest, just kind of came into my life by accident. I think good love just kind of happens.
I think some of the best advice I've been given was, "Don't date someone just because they like you."
That's true. I think that was my problem. All the guys I ever dated were guys that liked me first. And then my current boyfriend, I was the one who pursued him. Being single is kind of rough. I don't do well being single. I just remember periods of time, whenever I was single, how much I wanted to be in a relationship. And it's so backwards, because every time I hear people say that, I'm always like, "You should enjoy being single!" But I can't take my own advice.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I don't know, because when I worked with my current boyfriend, I knew that I really liked him and wanted to date him, but I don't know that I was immediately in love with him. I also think that there a lot of people out here who end up being stuck with someone who isn't good for them, because they don't think they can find anybody better. People are like, "Okay, so my boyfriend has an anger problem. We can get past that!" Well, good luck. I've heard that one a million times. I've heard, "Oh, I can change!" a million times. I think once those words even appear one time in a relationship, it's a sign that the relationship isn't going to work in the long run.
If you had magical superpowers, what would you want to change about men in general?
I think guys get the wrong idea of what you should do to show a lady that you like them and end up with them. Maybe it's just 'cause I work here, but I deal with a lot of guys who are like, "What's up? You a hot lady!" And I'm like, that's wonderful, I totally want to date you now that you just said that. And then I get, "So, what kind of stuff do you like here? You want to show me what you like?" No, I don't, actually. Maybe there are women out there who love guys who stay stuff like that? Yeah, I think there are.
Where are you from and what do you do?
Originally, I'm from Ripley, West Virginia. But I went to school here and now I work here. I'm a web developer and an artist.
Does that get you laid much?
It used to. I started dating a wonderful girl who I met at art school here.
Before you met her, how did you feel about the dating scene here?
I was in Morgantown for about four years as an engineer, and I was always an extremely artsy person, but had an extremely hard time meeting anyone. But then eventually I got into art school, and that's where Morgantown splits from literally every other town in West Virginia — it's one of the only towns with a legitimate art scene, engineering scene, business scene, or anything. It's the only city where there are peer groups in the entire state.
What's the craziest hook-up you had in Morgantown?
I don't know if it's crazy. Everyone's gone home with someone that they've gotten drunk with. I could try to give you crazy, like Hall & Oates crazy, but it's not like...
Wait, what's "Hall & Oates crazy?"
You get drunk, you hook up in a bar, and you go home. It's the kind of bullshit that Hall and Oates wrote about. It's basically a sleazy hookup that happened in a bar, but the only reason you talk about it openly is 'cause it's been romanticized entirely. You don't call it a sleazy hookup. I'm kind of a really moral guy. I only go home with people I've had a crush on for a while.
Okay, fair enough. One time I saw Hall and Oates live, but that's a story for another day. So, how did you take your crush on your now-girlfriend and make it into a relationship?
It was kind of like a Johnny Cash/June Carter thing. Basically, we were always dating other people the whole time we were friends, and I was always extremely attracted to her. I didn't see her too many times throughout the year, but whenever we did it was always the best part of my life. And we would both feel immensely guilty for enjoying each other's company so much, especially when we were dating other people. But eventually, I was single for about a year, and she was getting ready to move out of town with her then-boyfriend, and I pretty much had to pounce or miss it forever. But he was an asshole and had cheated on her in the past and she really didn't love him and it had gotten to the point where I was like, "I'm really only happy when I'm talking to or around this girl." And I knew I really had to try to get this girl to stay here. It felt terrible, because she was dating this other guy, and I didn't want to hurt what they had. That's a sacred thing — whenever you love somebody, you don't cheat on them. So, I felt terrible about it, but I didn't want to see her leave either. You get to a point where you're debating what your own mind perceives as sacred.
So what did you do? Did you stop traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge like in How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days? What was the epic moment?
There's not really a Sleepless in Seattle scenario here. It was really like a way more lame You've Got Mail situation. We just chatted back and forth on Facebook every night. I would sit there and troll on Facebook for two or three hours until she got on, then we would talk things out. Finally, we went out for a night, and things changed. She got to the realization, "Hey, maybe I don't want to throw everything away." And she did it for herself too. It wasn't for me, it wasn't for love, it was for herself. And that's what love is. That's what I hate — people want to get wrapped up in this bullshit of "I live and die for you!"
Love is actually Facebook creeping for as long as you can until you get the girl!
Well, it's not necessarily that. But, what I'm saying is, she stayed here because she wanted to go to school here. She didn't want to give up everything else for a dude who she didn't even truly love. And now we're together and it will be a year in about a month.
Does she inspire your art?
Well, she inspires everything.
What brings you here?
I'm a graduate student in the foreign-language department at WVU.
What's your experience been meeting people and dating in Morgantown?
In Morgantown, none. I've been in a relationship for seven years now. It's a long-distance relationship — he lives in Canada now, so I'm in between Canada and Morgantown many times a year. I'm from Cameroon.
Then what's your general impression of the dating scene in Morgantown, as an unbiased observer?
If I weren't in a serious relationship, I wouldn't mind. It's really fun here, actually. I'm teaching freshmen right now, and they tell me all kinds of things. You see a lot of diversity and matches you wouldn't expect. You'll see someone and say, "Oh, you probably won't be able to get with that person!" and then they say "I'm dating them!" So, it's mixed. You never know. You can't stereotype anyone here in Morgantown.
How is it being in a long-distance relationship?
It's hard, it's really hard. But I'm in Canada a lot, and he's been here many times too. But I'm really busy and so is he, and we're pretty young, so for now it's fine. In like two years, I want to be in the same place as him. I can't be away from him for much longer! But for now, it's okay.
Well, what's the most romantic date you've had here in Morgantown?
In Morgantown? Um...
I mean, what do you do when he comes here?
He's coming here from a bigger city, Montreal, so mostly we like to go out when I visit him. But when he's here, I try to impress him, to show him, "You're not in a village! You're actually coming somewhere." I took him to Texas Roadhouse. He loved the food. I wouldn't say it was romantic, but it was fun.
Did you meet in Cameroon?
Yes, we met when I was in tenth grade and he was in eleventh grade.
What are the differences you've noticed in dating between here and Cameroon?
Back home, it's pretty conservative. He always would come to my place and we would hang out in public. My mom wasn't right there, but she was around. This was in tenth grade, but even now I'm pretty sure she would do the same thing — be watching out, making sure we don't go near the bedroom. So, back home we can't do the kind of stuff that we can do here. When I go to Montreal, he has an apartment and we live together. Same here. But back home, it wouldn't be that way. Here, we're trusted.