Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Pitchfork Edition

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Braxton, 24

What do you do for a living?
I'm a photographer.

Relationship status?
In an on-and-off relationship for about six years.

When people say "on-and-off" what do they really mean?
I spent a lot of my early twenties trying to figure out who I was, and I wasn't sure if that included the person I was with. And I just really cared about her, so we worked things out and we're together.

How did you make that decision?
By screwing up a lot.

What attracts you to her?
We're kind of the exact same person. We're both kind of assholes and both have the same goals and morals, so it adds up in the right way.

So you're not one of those people who go for an "opposites attract" kind of situation?
I never set out to find anybody that was one way or the other. I was just looking for who was the best fit.

What were your moves like in high school?
My moves, as an eighteen-year-old boy, revolved around getting girls lots and lots of Smirnoff Ice, taking them for drunk drives, going to movies, and making them a lot of mix tapes. Pretty standard shit that you do in Indiana.

What music was on the mixtapes?
It was a hodgepodge. There was a lot of Tom Petty but a lot of old punk. It was really eclectic. I don't know why it made sense at the time. Cursive one second and Pet Sounds another.

Any funny or embarrassing hookup stories?
In high school, I was dating a girl and we were both at my best friend's parents' house. Things were getting a little heavy, so we wanted to leave. It was in the middle of winter and we were across the street from a Catholic church and a Catholic school. We went into the parking lot of the school and kicked open the door of one of the school buses and took care of business. The seats were really cold. And then we couldn't get out of the bus.

You couldn't get out of the bus? There are like, six emergency exits in each school bus. 
I know, right? I trapped myself in a Catholic school bus after sinning. Quite the punishment.

Is that the craziest place you've had sex?
Unfortunately, I've had sex in a lot of other weird places out of necessity and a lot of other weird stuff. I had a really religious mom, so I've hooked up in a lot of random public places. Let's see… the school bus, a Navy Pier bathroom, and a golf course. I felt very yuppie and proper.

What would you change about the opposite sex?
I wish that women weren't so apologetic about their sexuality. It feels like it's really easy to be called a whore or a prude and no one's really able to be comfortable with themselves or their body. There's a lot of puritanical hang-ups, especially in the Midwest. It's not their fault, but it's definitely something I'd like to change.

How important was it to find someone with similar music taste to yours?
Hugely important. Music and art are so important to me. So much of my own emotional connection to the world takes place within music and photography that I don't have a lot of room for someone I can't share that part of my life with.

What are real dealbreakers in relationships?
I can respect religion and spirituality, but if someone's really religious to the point where it infringes on our sex life, that's definitely a dealbreaker.

So you're moving in with your girlfriend. What are you expecting?
A mixture of bliss and horror. I'm looking forward to not commuting and having privacy. It's so hard to have a sex life with roommates, nearly impossible. I feel like you have to take a lot of time out of your day to hang out with your girlfriend, but if you live together, it's more relaxed. I'm looking forward to getting that intimacy and getting my identity and more of my time back.

Do you think of it as the "next step?" 
Yeah, but I'm not one of those people that thinks you have to get married.

So this isn't a test for something further?
Potentially. I mean, I've been with her for six years. I feel at this point, it's like shit or get off the pot. I would be sort of a bastard if I took up any more of her time and ducked out, you know?

Will you go back to your high-school reunion and be like, "Yeah, we're still together!"
Fuck, no. I am not going back to my high-school reunion! A couple of my friends actually got married to their high-school sweethearts, and they're divorced already.


Shalewa, 38

Who are you here to see?
tUnE-yArDs, James Blake. Maybe Das Racist. I guess I want to see this Odd Future get-a-long gang, or whatever the kids are calling it now. Just tryin' to catch up with my hip bands.

What do you do for a living?
I work for an online media measuring company in Atlanta, and I do standup on the side.

What's dating in Atlanta like?
The women-to-men ratio is ridiculous. I've read that there are like, twelve women to every man. It's probably closer to nine, but it's still really bad. The word on the street is that a third of those men are gay anyway. So the dudes in Atlanta are really chill and the women are really frantic. It's like those terrible articles in Cosmo that are like, "How to Win Your Man!" It's like that brought to life. I just try to opt out of that.

Are either of your jobs good for your love life?
No, neither. The day job is a bunch of computer guys who are fairly set in their computer ways. And in comedy, I think guys are intimidated by girls who are funny. If guys approach me after a show, the first thing they'll say is "I don't normally like woman comics."

Is that annoying?
If they're cute, it is. If they're not cute, it's like, "Of course you don't." Guys seem to think that a sense of humor is something they need to have to attract women, so if a woman has a sense of humor, they're like, "Hey, that's my thing."

What's your comedic style?
I'm more of a storyteller instead of a bunch of quick jokes. It's kind of laid back.

Women do say they want someone to make them laugh. Are you looking for that, too?
Now, I look for a guy who… I don't know anymore. It's been a minute since I've looked for a guy. I've been kind of discouraged, but not in a big way. I was in one of those two-year-long booty-call situations where it never got deeper than that. Now I don't even know what I'm looking for.

Sometimes you just get to a stage where you don't have a type anymore.
Yeah. If you say that, people think that you'll take whatever comes your way. That's not the case. I guess I would like it if a guy wasn't scared of heights, someone who's kind of handy. I usually like it if they like me back. Sometimes I've been willing to let that go.

If you don't find guys through your job, how do you impress the gentlemen?
I don't know. I'm not a drinker, so I don't go to bars. I'm not able to do that thing that drinkers do where they can drink to a certain level and then act a certain way to attract people. I don't know how to do that, so I'm usually really goofy.

Yeah, I guess you always meet people when you're least expecting it.
That's certainly the case. But even though you say that out loud, you have to get past secretly expecting it in your head. You have to truly not see it coming.

So true. Do you have any funny or embarrassing hookup stories?
I met a guy at a club and I think I had hooked up with him once before. We took it to my car — a Honda Prelude — in the parking lot of a grocery store. The car has bucket seats which are not comfortable. And he got depressed halfway through because he didn't think his penis was big enough. I was like, "We're in bucket seats; things aren't going the way they're supposed to."

That's an awkward time to get depressed!
Yeah, it was just… "Why?" Then I just drove him back to the club, which was across the street. Later I heard from a friend that when he got back to the club, he was with a girl looking for her I.D. The next day, when I was vigorously cleaning out my car, I found some girl's I.D. in the seats. I guess he had it in his pocket and it just fell out? Anyway, I kept it. It was a nice souvenir.

You should hang it on your car mirror to ward off depressed guys.
Yeah, never again. A lesson for everyone involved.

What's one thing you would change about the opposite sex?
Well, they're all right overall, I guess. I wish the ones who liked bigger girls were a bit more vocal. I'm tired of hearing about skinny girls all the time. I wish guys would let it be known that they're okay with the female form. Girls tend to think that guys won't like their body. But if you hook up with a guy, he's just happy to see boobies.

Anything you would change about guys in comedy?
It's hard to say; I don't even know those guys. It's probably best for a comic to be with a non-comic because comics are weird. I mean, there's a place where all that funny is coming from and usually it's a place of weirdness. You have to be able to deal with that. That's ultimately what I'm looking for in a dude, too. Someone who can look at all my weirdness and say, "I can handle that."

Ever been offended in the bedroom?
Guys have tried things where I wish they warned me first. Like choke holds. It's like, I understand what they're doing, but we probably should've discussed it and come up with a safe word or something. I'm down with anything — all I want is a heads-up. No surprise attacks.


George, 24

What do you do for a living?
I'm a financial analyst.

Does that get you any dates?
No it doesn't. At least my fiancée wouldn't want it to.

How did you propose?
We were in Dallas visiting my parents for Christmas, and one of our favorite museums is the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas. Our favorite kind of tree is a weeping willow, so we were sitting under one, and when we got up, she turned around and I was on one knee. I gave a little shpiel.

How long were you dating before you got engaged?
A year and a half, but a part of it was long distance, when she was overseas teaching English in Korea.

Did you do the traditional meet-up with her dad and ask for her hand in marriage?
We had said we were engaged on Facebook, actually, but in the way that people are engaged to their dogs or their gay best friends, and no one ever takes it seriously. Of course, this is right when people's parents are getting on Facebook, so they found out online. We had to tell them that we didn't really mean it like that. Then we came back to them a couple months later and said, "Um, now we mean it. Is that okay?"

What was your first impression of her?
The first time we met, she was visiting a mutual friend in Austin and I met them at his house. They had been drinking all day, getting ready to go out for karaoke. She was so drunk she shattered a bottle of whiskey. But she was completely unembarrassed, uninhibited. A very hot mess.

Were you a hot mess too?
No, at first I thought I'd have to babysit and take care of everyone, but they had really infectious energy and I just got caught up in that and had a great time. Everyone was sharing and singing.

[George's fiancée: "When I first met him, I thought he was so shy and overly polite."]

So you thought she was a hot mess and she thought you were shy. Did that turn out to be true?

[Fiancée: "He's the hot mess and I'm the shy one."]

How long did it take before you realized that about each other?
She was only in Austin for a couple weeks, so I asked her out to a Dirty Projectors concert, and on that date, we had a really candid conversation about our pasts, our sexual histories, and the kinds of things we were into. And her notion of me as shy and reserved evaporated pretty rapidly.

Do you normally share your sexual history with someone on the first date?
No, but it seemed completely natural. It seemed like we had known each other. I don't even know how it started. Took a little liquid courage, I guess.

Did you find that telling everything on the first date made it easier?
I think it made it easier in the long run having no inhibitions about sharing things. Especially when she was in Korea and I was in Texas.

Any funny or embarrassing hookup stories?
Uh, there was this one time we went skiing at a resort in Korea. It was a group of foreigners. We had several pitchers of beer at this bowling alley at the resort. Alcohol does funny things to you at high altitudes. There was a big, communal dorm room with bunk beds. Girls and guys were split up, so we double bunked in a bed smaller than a twin. Around four in the morning, we wanted a little privacy, so we must have gone to the communal restroom to have sex, but I blacked out so I don't remember if we actually did or not. When I came to, a guy was trying to punch me in the face. I pushed him off and was just like, "What's going on? What did I do?" And he was like, "You just peed on me." And I'm just like, "Of course I didn't pee on you. I've never peed on anyone in my entire life. You are a stranger. That doesn't sound like me." He's like, "No, I saw you pee on me. I'm not gonna fight you, but you have to switch bunks with me." I grab my stuff, throw it in the pee-soaked bunk and realized my girlfriend's missing. I find her passed out in the bathroom, passed out underneath the sink with her pants unzipped, curled in a ball sleeping very peacefully.

That's excellent. When you were doing it long distance, how did you keep things romantic?

[Fiancée: "Toys and Skype."]

Yeah, that's about it.

What's been the biggest challenge to your relationship?
Korea. That distance was really, really hard. At the beginning of any relationship, there's always that honeymoon phase. And our honeymoon phase was spent thousands of miles apart. So we were really, really into each other and really wanted to make it work.

How do you decide when a long distance relationship is worth it?
My moment of clarity was when we were on separate continents but decided to have an open relationship. It was fine if I wanted to date someone, but when I tried to put myself in that situation, I felt no desire to at all. Before that, I thought we were great together but it was still pretty casual. When I realized I didn't want to be with anybody else, I decided it was something I wanted to make work.


Piper, 20

What do you do for a living?
I'm a photographer.

Is that a good way to meet guys?
Yeah, that's how I met my first boyfriend. We were at a party and we both showed up with the same camera, and that started the conversation.

What do you look for in a dude?
I look for something different. I don't like to date the same person over and over. I've been with your typical musicians, artists, photographers, but the guy I'm dating with now is in the Army. I really enjoy being with him, though. I never thought I'd date a military man.

Do you find that you learn something new with each kind of guy?
Yeah. People will say, "Oh, date a bunch of different people. Date around." But those same people often date the same type of person over and over again. I'm glad that I've tried somebody new.

What's the difference between dating an artist and dating a military guy?
Well, he's a lot more responsible. The whole starving artist thing — broke-ass losers with no money, maybe a job, maybe not — that kind of gets old after a while. In high school, nobody cares, but when you grow up, it doesn't work long-term. I can't marry somebody like that. Those people are fun to hang out with, but it can't be for anything serious. It's not like everything is like "What do you have to offer me?" But in the end, that's what it comes down to.

At least you know what you want, right? How do you impress guys?
I'm not good with that at all. I hide behind my camera sometimes.

Have you ever used your camera to flirt with someone?

Have you ever asked someone to pose nude for you?
Yeah, it actually worked out. We were outside in a field, and a girl I was with was like, "Why not?"

What the craziest thing you've done to get with a guy?
I'm not that crazy. But once I went out with a guy to try to see if I could hook him up with a girlfriend of mine. And after we went out and talked, I didn't want to hook him up with my friend, wanted to hook up with him! So I ended up dating him for a while. She never knew.

How long have you been with your current boyfriend?
About a year and a half. Right now, he's stationed where I live, but he leaves in six months for either Seattle or Texas. We'll see what happens.

Okay, you've been in several relationships in the past, but you're a virgin. Is sex something you're saving for marriage?
Yeah, my parents were super conservative. That was the rule of the house. It wasn't a big deal for me because my boyfriend at the time lived far away. Recently, it's something that I reevaluated on my own and I decided it was important to me. I think a lot of people don't see sex as something that's important in that way. That's personal. My boyfriend has slept with a lot of people and he doesn't see sex that way. But it's important to me, so it's important to him. I think it's cool to think that if we do get married, he'd be the first guy I've been with. That's special.

In your relationship, is there something you do instead of sex to be intimate?
Yeah, no sex has forced me to find other ways to be emotionally connected to someone. I just like to do life with them. Little things like grocery shopping help me find beauty in ways other people don't.

Was it hard to find a guy who understood you?
Yeah, it's ended a lot of relationships.

How do you break the news to a guy that you don't have sex?
It's kind of hit-or-miss. There are some people that I feel comfortable with right away. I guess I don't really go for the guys that I know just want to have sex. A lot of the guys I've dated were friends with me before, so they already knew and it wasn't a confrontational issue.

Do you ever get tempted?
Yeah, especially with this guy. We live on our own in the same city, so we just have to make boundaries. Like, we won't go over to each other's places late at night when no one else is around. He used to invite me over to his apartment and I used to feel like I had to. But now I don't and he understands and doesn't try to undermine it.

So how far is too far?
There have been a couple guys who use oral sex as a replacement, but I never wanted to draw a firm line. It's been hard with this guy because we were going right up to this line and we just had to stop. Now, I don't even kiss him. It's not something we need to talk about anymore. Even when we do kiss, which is very rare, like on a birthday, it's really special. It was never special before, but now it's great. It's not like, "Oh, I deserve to kiss you because you're my boyfriend." I've had friends who have saved their first kiss for their wedding day. That's inspiring to me. That's definitely not something I'd want to do, but I give them a lot of credit. It's what they wanted to do and they stuck with it.

Are you still saving sex for religious reasons?
Not really, but I am a Christian and what the Bible says about respecting marriage is pretty clear. That was my parents' view, but I'm doing it more for personal reasons because I want it to be special. I don't want to get into the routine of cheapening what's meant to be really important.

There are a lot of rules in the Bible about personal conduct. How did you prioritize abstinence?
I grew up in a really controlling, legalistic Baptist church. Even at a young age, I just didn't agree with them. The basic rules, though, are love God and love your neighbor. I just try to take that and apply it to everything. Some people are like, "Well, what does loving your neighbor have to do with sex?" But it actually covers a lot. I love and respect my boyfriend and I love and respect myself and so I think it falls under the realm of sex. It's a lot about where your heart's at. Even my tattoos were a big deal. My parents said it was wrong, but I didn't think I was hating anybody by doing it or destroying my temple or anything.


Dave, 32

What do you do for a living?
I work in marketing in Minneapolis.

Does that get you any dates? 
It shouldn't! I have a partner.

Has it in the past?
Nope. As long as I've been doing my job, I've been with him.

How long have you two been together?
Five and a half years.

What did you look for in a guy before you met your partner?
Um, anyone who would pay attention to me. I tend to ramble and go on tangents and he's, like, the only guy who would put up with my BS.

When you guys met, what about him turned you on?
Well, we met at a bar, so it was obviously a physical thing at first. But we didn't go home with each other the first night. We ended up exchanging numbers and going on dates and he's never left my side 'cause I'm so amazing! We were both new to Minneapolis, so we were kind of standing around and looking standoffish and started talking. We didn't have any moves, but we could tell neither of us knew anyone.

Who did you guys come to see?
What's that guy's name? James Blake. And Cut Copy. And we're here to listen to new music too.

How important was it to find someone who had similar music taste to yours?
Well, I have bad music taste, so this is more his gig.

How do you feel about the stereotype that Pitchfork fans are music snobs?
I came here as a music-snob supporter. I'm along for the ride.

Has he introduced you to any cool bands?
Well, he used to always take me to concerts and then he started to see that I wasn't really enjoying his really indie stuff so now he goes to concerts by himself.

What do you do when you're not at a concert then?
I just hang out.

What does he like that you don't?
Shit, pretty much everything. I'm a top-forty guy. We're very different in music tastes.

What's your top-forty jam?
Right now, it's Katy Perry. I know.

What's a dealbreaker for you?
Um, freaky shit? Just… pee, scat, and all that stuff. I'm not gonna go there. Things like outdoor sex or voyeurism that's not that big a deal, though.

Outdoor sex — is that how you sustained your arm injury?
No, that was from falling down a window well.

Do you believe in true love?
Yes. I found him. Absolutely.

Does he know you feel that way?
Yeah. It's funny because he's like my um, 140th boyfriend or something and I'm his first. I don't think he feels the need to search for anyone else, and I've sowed my wild oats everywhere I want, and now, I have it.


Alice, 22

What do you do?
I'm a student.

Does that get you any dates?
Not really, I guess. I've been with the same person since I was fifteen.

Lots of long-term lovin' at Pitchfork! What's it like to still be with someone you went to high school with?
It's interesting. We had to take some breaks from each other to grow a bit, but it's working out. He's really cool. He's a really talented musician. Really funny, articulate, and kind.

There's a stereotype that musicians are shallow or vain. Is any of that true?
He's not an artist, and artists can be really self-centered. But we work in different areas so we can talk about similar interests.

How did you impress him?
We were in a band together. I kind of had to force myself on him. I was a hard flirter.

How's the band now?
We broke up. I think that happened because we started dating. Apparently the bassist was in love with me and I didn't get the picture.

Any funny or embarrassing hookup stories?
In high school, we would go to this one street. We called it "Orgasm Boulevard."

Ever been offended in bed?
Once he didn't want to go down on me because we had been biking around. I thought that was offensive. We had been together for a long time, so it was like, "Really?"

Did he expect you to go down on him?
I think maybe. But I didn't!

What's the most desperate thing you've done to get laid?
One of the times we were on a break, we were at a party. It was actually my birthday party, and I told him I wanted to fuck him. And he said, "No, I'm tired," and he left. I was like, "Oh, cool." I tried to make something else happen and that thing didn't work either. So I just went home and was like… "Fuck."

But you pulled the birthday card and everything! I need to have a talk with this guy. What's one thing you would change about the opposite sex?
The forced aloofness thing. Just be straight with me — with anyone! Into me, not into me it's not that hard! I'm not saying I'd like it if someone came up to me and was like, "Not into you. At all." But I don't like the avoidance. Or when it's a one-time thing and they don't call and pretend it never happened.

What were you two like in high school and what are you guys like now?
I was quieter and relied on him a lot more. He took that role and was more aloof. Since then, I've gotten more independent and he's realized that we need each other. There's a nice balance.

Interviews and photography by Ruth Tam. Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email