Talking to Strangers: Morgantown, WV
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Elissa Gross
So, what are you doing here in Morgantown?
I'm studying dance at West Virginia University and I'm a bartender.
Tell us all about the dating scene in Morgantown.
There are stereotypes here, just like everywhere else, but the thing that's special about Morgantown is that everyone has their unique twist. And mine happens to be a fanny pack. And my feelings on the dating life with a fanny pack is that you're always prepared. Listen in, and I'll tell y'all what's in my fanny pack...
Please do share.
We have money, to go on an expensive date. Twenty dollars — talk about expensive. Clearly. We also have a pack of Marlboro Reds, because if the date's bad, you're gonna need a Red. But, if the date's really good, and you get a little Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on, afterwards, you're gonna need a Red. Either way. I have my phone, in case I get in a date-rape situation. My keys, with a condom attached — because everyone is sexually active in Morgantown. My party pouch in the front, where I keep my... ooh, never mind. Off the air.
So, generally, how do you meet people?
I'm never looking to meet people, but if I come across them and they intrigue me with conversation and ideas, why not? But I end up meeting people almost everyday. You know why? 'Cause I wear a chaos pouch. It's a conversation starter. Wait a minute. Let me erase that last part. Maybe I am looking to meet people. And maybe my way to attract people is a nice conversation piece, such as...
A fanny pack?
A chaos pouch, if you will. I'm trying to start a chaos-pouch movement here. It is an old-school, Grandma fanny pack, but you cock it to the left side a little bit, right off-center... nothing can be perfectly straight. Let's be honest. So, you put your party material in there. You get pulled over, get a DUI test, no one's going to look through your chaos pouch. You know how many airplane bottles I can fit in here? It has saved me from multiple sticky situations. And I mean, sticky.
Do you have any crazy exes?
I have some crazy exes. One of them chased me through a Wal-Mart. I went there, he followed me. He was begging, and being really needy. I was trying to get music for dance class. It was at least midnight if not later. No one was in Wal-Mart at this time. But as janky as Wal-Mart might be, they have a good music selection. They have a lot. Those five-dollar bins — you find things you could never find for five dollars. Anyway, I'm looking through the bins, and he just shows up. And I walk by the bananas, trying to make a diversion, and he followed me through Wal-Mart, crying.
Did you break his heart?
I broke something, obviously.
Has anyone ever offended you in the bedroom?
No, but I've been a little offensive myself. There've been countless times when I've been really drunk, been hot and heavy in the moment, like hard and ready. And then as you start to get into it and start to sweat, the drunk goggles slowly melt away. And so does the hardness. So, I've gotten to a point where I'm like, "Ooh, I'm sorry. I took this home? No."
What was it like coming out in West Virginia?
I've known I was gay for a really long time. I mean, when I was five years old, I was like, "I'm fucking gay." So, it was never really an issue of coming out with my parents, 'cause they kind of knew. When I was sixteen and told them I was gay, they just looked at me and laughed, and were like, "Well, obviously. What's for dinner?" I've heard a lot of horror stories about it, but I guess I got lucky. I have good parents and good friends. But there are some people I know who were afraid to come out thinking they'd get kicked out of their houses. It's sad, because West Virginia's a really good place to grow up, but the older generation here can be very close-minded. When changes happen in the world, West Virginia is one of the last places to catch on.
What is the gay scene like overall in Morgantown?
It's actually pretty slim. There's a regular crowd that goes to Vice, the gay bar here in town, but we're only an hour from Pittsburgh, so I go there if I'm trying to have a "really good gay night." But I like Morgantown. There are still enough gay people here in town. There's a lot of diversity, so it's not an issue being gay here. It's just hard to find someone you want to be with here. I've never found a boyfriend here in Morgantown — it's always when I'm away. The gay life here is a certain type — you have to be in with the drag queens and the twinks at the gay club, which isn't my scene. But, the gay scene is very cliquey — you have different groups of gays that hang together, and won't talk to the other groups. They give them the shun.
Wow, it's like the Sharks and the Jets.
Exactly! But it's even gayer than West Side Story. Picture West Side Story with wigs and glitter, and you have the gay scene around town. But, to each his own. I might have to look a little harder, but I'll find something a lot better.
You want a man, not a boy.
I do. Girl, I want a man. Make him thirty-five, six-foot-three, and 180 pounds, and call it a day. Put it out there. Johnny: single and ready to mingle. With my chaos pouch on.
Where are you from?
Originally, from Cambodia. But I grew up in the DC area and had a scholarship for petroleum engineering, so I came here to study.
How are you finding the Morgantown dating scene?
Well, I'm a serial dater to begin with. So, I've dated a bunch. But it's a lot more easy for the hookup scene, honestly. Which means that on any given night you can take somebody home with you.
What are you looking for? How do you spot the girls who are going to come home with you?
On a given night, if you can decrease your standards with your alcohol intake, you'll take anybody home, honestly. But most of the time, you find somebody interesting enough to talk to, and it normally works out because everybody understands the culture here.
When you say you're a "serial dater," what does that mean?
It means I'm a semi-commitment kind of guy. I'll find somebody, I'll date them, if it doesn't work out, I'll find somebody else.
How many dates are we talking here? Do you have an estimate per month? Petroleum engineering might get you the ladies...
I'd say a dozen, honestly. Per month. It's hard to double up. I'm actually not a petroleum engineer — I quit school. I dropped out, and I'm a chef at a restaurant now.
Is there anything about a girl that would immediately cross her off your list?
I like to see where the first date ends before I make a dealbreaker. Everyone deserves a chance. Or two times, at least. Or the next day, and if breakfast or lunch goes horribly, then it's over.
Do you have any crazy exes?
I do, but I respect my ex-girlfriends and I will refrain from sharing that. I mentioned I'm a chef — I broke up with a girl and she has about $9,000 worth of my knives. She's a chef too, so she may be using them.
So, when you say "date," what are we talking about? What does a date consist of for you?
I'm very traditional, actually. My family raised me traditionally. So, when I say a date, I take someone out, we go out to dinner, we have a good time, we talk about our fears, our aspirations, our life goals. See if it could go anywhere.
With a dozen dates per month, you must have a crazy dating story to share.
I don't know if this is appropriate, but I met this girl one time, at a bar — friends of friends — and we started talking. I was like, "Okay, I'm drunk enough. I'll talk to her." She was kind of cute. So, she's all over my arms, we barhop all night, she's trying to hold my arm down the street. And I'm like, "All right, I'll go for it for now." We get back home, we're in bed, we're fooling around, and she's like, "Give me a second, I've got to go to the bathroom." And I'm like "Sure, that's fine." She comes back, stands in the doorway, naked, and I see a fucking tampon string. And I puke all over the place.
You puked because of a tampon string?
Well, shit. Why did you even get naked in the first place? Just tell me when I first meet you, "Hi, I'm so-and-so. I'm on my period. Maybe we'll meet later." I'm not an asshole, I'm just saying. I know it's disgusting, but I literally puked on my sheets. I had consumed a lot. This is Morgantown: a drinking town with a football problem. Everyone drinks every day. You know, Morgantown is not like any other town there is in this world. I grew up on five different continents, I've lived in twenty different countries, but it's incredibly unique. The dating scene here is different — the hottest girl will go for the douchiest guy, or vice-versa. It doesn't make sense, but it's fun. There's such a motley collection of people here. In this town, anyone can talk to anybody. On a good night, anyone can get lucky.
Danielle, 22, and Kait, 23
Are either of you in a relationship?
D: I am. We met a few months before we started dating, at his birthday, through mutual friends. He's in one of the fraternities here. Later, I was walking to his fraternity house, and on the way, I saw a dollar on the ground, and picked it up, and quickly realized that there was poop in the dollar. So I was freaking out, and then I heard a group of the frat guys laughing. I walked up to them, and there was this guy who I'd met at his birthday. I pushed him up against the wall and almost hit him in the face. So, later on that night, he felt bad for what he had done and he bought me a drink... and then another. And then we ended up hooking up, and eleven months later, we're still together. But, he's not a typical frat guy, and not someone who I originally ever would have gone for. He's not the "hit it and quit it" type. He's very reserved and sweet and not what you would think of when you think of the typical frat guy. Those exist, but he's not one of them.
Wow, that's true romance. It all starts with a crappy dollar. Well, if there was one thing you could change about men in general, what would it be?
K: Just get rid of body hair in general. Oh my God. Disgusting. Makes me want to die.
D: No, body hair's okay. When I lived in Charleston, I dated a guy who had his pubic hair waxed into shapes and designs, and I thought it was so stupid. One was a money sign, like a dollar symbol; another was the shape of Homer Simpson's head. I would get rid of manscaping. I hate manscaping.
I didn't even know they did things like that. Did he do it himself?
D: No, he paid to have that done. What a waste.
K: I would get rid of the not-cuddling-after-sex bit that guys tend to do.
D: Good one.
K: But there's not a lot of dating here. There's an attitude around here of, "Why would I get with someone and make it permanent when I could have anyone I want any day?"
Do you have any dating dealbreakers?
K: Immediately clingy people.
D: We all know that everybody is attracted to the way somebody looks at first, and then you get to know the person. That's just the way it is, whether we admit it or not. If you're not attracted to the person physically, then you're probably not going to want to get to know them. So, aesthetically, the way someone dresses: the backwards hats just look stupid. Tight pink muscle shirts...
K: That's not even something that I ever even think about possibly existing.
What do you find that people are coming into the sex shop looking for?
D: I won't say his name, but a leading player for a WVU team came in here and bought some freaky stuff one time. He bought a sex swing to hang off of the ceiling, some cups, and a huge anal plug. I recognized him, and he was like "You won't say anything, will you?" I haven't told his name, and I never will. But definitely if you saw him, you would know him.
So, do you think West Virginians are a kinky bunch?
D: West Virginians are definitely a kinky bunch.
K: Morgantown and the surrounding area have a gigantic fetish scene, like you would never believe. They have get-togethers and do absolutely outlandish crazy things. Like girls getting volunteered to be gang-banged by a bunch of whatever males are there. It's an underground society but it's thriving.
Do you think there are stereotypes about West Virginia that you encounter?
D: Of course. Like that somewhere along the line someone in our family was inbred.
K: Yeah, that one of us has slept with one of our cousins at some point. I don't even have cousins in West Virginia.
D: Definitely that we're racist, homophobic hicks.
K: Yeah, homophobic especially.
D: I personally don't know anyone who's homophobic.
K: A lot of the guys who come in here for the booths are from more rural sections of West Virginia, and they've told me horror stories about why they come all the way here, because if anyone at home found out they were gay, they'd be lynched or beaten up.
D: It's an older crowd that goes back there, and a lot of them are married. And they just don't have any other outlets for gay activity.
K: And a lot of people from more rural areas come here, which shows that a good percentage of the population actually is gay but it's so unacceptable there that even if you knew someone who was gay, you couldn't approach them or there'd be really big trouble with your neighbors and town. It's really sad, in my opinion. I'm a theater major and I have lots of transsexual friends, gay friends, bi friends, friends who don't even choose to identify. But there's huge misunderstanding of West Virginia from outside the state.
D: But I think Morgantown has a really healthy dating environment. Other parts, people want to push "saving yourself for marriage," and here that's not necessarily encouraged. And I think not saving yourself until marriage is probably a good thing. That way you don't end up getting married to somebody you have absolutely no chemistry with.
K: And then your marriage is likely to fail. The saddest is the people who are waiting to kiss!
D: But we could name at least six or seven people from our high-school class who are already getting divorced. And some of them have kids.
K: One of our friends has already been divorced and been through two other engagements, and he's twenty-four. It's amazing what sexual frustration can do to a relationship.
Do you know people who save themselves? Is it really highly promoted?
D: It's not that abstinence until marriage was promoted where we were from, but there was a stereotype associated with girls who didn't abstain. They were automatically considered sluts, whores, whatever.
K: But there were so many girls, especially in middle school and high school, who were pregnant when we were teenagers! Thirteen or fourteen!
D: Well, West Virginia has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country. But not around here. In Charleston, they're not giving out free condoms or encouraging teenagers to go to the clinic. But in Morgantown, they are, and they're open about it. The more educated you are about it, the more likely you are to be safe about it.
K: And the younger kids here have the college kids to look up to. Whereas in Charleston, you only see your parents and dropouts and your teenage classmates, so there's no example to look up to.
Any last words about West Virginia?
K: We're not inbred hicks. We're not as close-minded as everyone thinks. We're not a particularly conservative state. We're really open-minded. Everyone here knows multiple people who are into things that are completely taboo.
Say, are you a stranger? And would you like to talk to someone? We're plotting some Talking to Strangers segments with Nerve readers. Send a picture of yourself and a few lines about why you think you'd be a fun interview to firstname.lastname@example.org with the header "Let's talk!"