Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Portland, OR

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.


Rocket, 26 

What do you do for a living?
I'm a hair, makeup and wardrobe stylist. I'm also a… dancer.

When you say "dancer," you mean, like, a stripper?
Yeah. But in Portland, it's different. Strip clubs here aren't like in other places. It's a totally different vibe.

I've heard that. How are the clubs in Portland different?
A lot of what we call "strip clubs" are basically like regular bars, only with dancers. It's not just a bunch of creepy old dudes, or frat boys or whatever. Where I work, we get a lot of couples — men and women who come in together. And the girls look like normal people. Most of us don't have fake boobs, or big blonde hair, or, you know, the stereotypical "stripper" look. Not at all. Lots of girls who are covered in tattoos, piercings, that sort of thing. It's very pro-women.

That sounds like a fun job. Do you enjoy working as a dancer?
I do. I find it really empowering. It's funny, because I never used to think of myself as sexy until I started dancing. 

Seriously? 
Never. Not at all. Once I started dancing, I was shocked that people saw me that way.

How did you get up the courage to be a dancer, if you didn't think of yourself as sexy?
It was sort of a fluke. I had a friend who was a dancer, and she made a lot of money. The owner of the bar asked me if I wanted to give it a shot, and I thought he was joking. But then I tried it, and it turned out it was a lot of fun. Not what I expected. And the customers seem to like me, especially the couples. Where I work, I'm the girl who's the most popular with couples. 

Why do you think that is?
I always talk to the woman first. It puts her at ease. I pick out something I think is beautiful or sexy about the woman — nice boobs, pretty eyes, whatever, then I compliment her on it. I tell the man that he's lucky to have a woman like her. But I'm not faking it — I like to make the man realize what a treasure he has. Sometimes men forget how to look at their wives or girlfriends — it's like they don't even see them anymore, you know what I mean?

I can see why you're so popular with couples!
It's win-win. The women feel good about themselves, and the men see their partners in a new light. Then they can both take that energy, that excitement, back into their relationship.

Have you ever dated someone you met through the club?
Never. Most of the clients are really chill, nice people. A lot of them are attractive and young, too. I genuinely enjoy talking with them. I'm no good at pretending to like people if I don't like them. But when I'm working, I'm not in the mindset of looking for someone to go out with.

Do many of the guys hit on you?
It happens sometimes, but mostly, they're there for the same reason you go to a music show, or you go to see a play, or something like that. For the entertainment. When you're a dancer, you're basically a performer, even when you're talking to the clients offstage. If you were to go out with a guy outside the club, it would ruin the whole mystique. 

Kind of like "breaking the fourth wall," as they say in the theater?
Exactly. 

Are you in a relationship?
Not right now. I'm not a big on serious relationships. I was mostly a lesbian for a while, but lately I've been dating mostly men. I was seeing this guy for about six months, until recently. I consider myself bisexual. I don't like labels, though.

Female sexuality is pretty fluid, don't you think?
It is. But people don't realize that. They act like you're not being real or honest if at one point you're attracted to women, then later, you like men, or vice-versa. It's not like I'm faking with either one. For me, it's more about the person than the gender. 

Do you have any crazy hookup stories?
I was out at this club with a guy who was in a band that was playing. He spent the whole time talking to other girls, and he didn't even talk to me the whole night. So I met this guy I'll call Thor. He was really tall, and good-looking. At the end of the night, I went up to him and said, "You're taking me home with you!"

How did he react?
He took me home. We had sex for one-and-a-half hours. High five! In the morning, Thor asked, "How will I get hold of you?" I said, "You won't," and I left.

So there was no second date?
Actually, he's the guy I was sort of seeing for six months. We ran into each other another night, and then we had sex again, and it just sort of kept happening. We were very compatible sexually, but not in any other ways. We kind of clashed, personality-wise. 

Have you ever dated anyone who was bothered by the fact that you're a dancer? 
Not so much. People know it's a job, and a performance, like being an actor. And it's not like I'm having sex with the people I meet at the club.

Do you have any dealbreakers?
Married people. Or anyone who's in a serious relationship. And liars. Especially people who are lying about being married!


Austin, 23

What do you do for a living?
I work in a restaurant in a big hotel, downtown.

Have you ever hooked up with any of the guests?
No, but I've had some offers. Sometimes you get the flirty "cougar" types who want to have a fling when they're in Portland. Some of them are pretty hot, but you never know what kind of can of worms you're opening with that sort of thing, so…

Are you in a relationship?
Nah. I feel like I need to be more independent before I get involved in anything too serious. I want to be on a track towards following my dreams. 

What dreams do you want to follow?
That's the thing. I don't really know yet. I'm certified to teach English as a foreign language, and I'd like to live abroad at some point. Also, I'm studying to be a massage therapist.

A massage therapist? Have you ever used the "would you like a massage" trick to get women into bed?
Not since I've been in school for it, strangely enough. But whenever I tell girls that, they always want a free massage.

What's the dating scene like in Portland?
I've lived here pretty much all my life, so I can't really compare it to other places. But the women here are very free, sexually. Very liberated. They're not afraid to seek guys out, and they're not afraid to ask for what they want in bed. 

Is that a good thing, in your opinion?
For sure. If you're a guy, it makes it a lot easier. You don't have to have to put out too much effort, looking for girls. They just kind of… show up. And I like it when a woman tells you what she wants. We're not psychic, you know?

If you had to describe your ideal woman, what would she be like?
Someone who knows who she is. Someone with goals and aspirations, who's on a track to reaching them. In Portland, you find a lot of people who are kind of just coasting through life, with no direction whatsoever.

Do you have any crazy hookup stories?
One time, I was at a party at my friend D.'s house. I met this hot girl, and we had this crazy, instant chemistry, so we went to D.'s room to have sex. So we're doing it, and halfway through, it started to feel really good — like, too good. It didn't occur to me right away, but the condom came off. So I stopped, and when I pulled out, the condom had just disappeared. Vanished. We tore the place apart looking, but — nothing. We were in my friend's bedroom, so I didn't want to just leave it there for him to come across later.

What did you do?
Okay, so, my friend D. happened to have this pair of forceps that he got at The Salvation Army.

Because that's the best place to get semi-used gynecological equipment…
In Portland, anyway. So, D. used to go out with the girl I was having sex with, who was still a good friend of his. So she asked D. to look around inside her for the condom, using the forceps.

Why weren't you recruited for the job, instead of D.?
I'd never used forceps before, and I didn't want to, you know, do any damage. D. used to be an EMT.

So he had basic training in emergency condom removal?
More than I did!

What happened next?
I went down in the courtyard of the house to chill out. After a few minutes, D. came out on the balcony and waved the forceps, which were holding the condom. He yelled out, "I found it!"

In other words, a latter-day version of the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet.
Pretty much. Anyway, the condom had gotten stuck up in her fallopian tubes, but he managed to pull it out.

Hmm, I'm not a gynecologist — amateur or otherwise — but I'm pretty sure you can't get a condom stuck in your fallopian tubes.
Okay, one of those other tubes. Or areas, or whatever. But at least they found the condom. It was a huge relief.


Stacey, 41

Are you a Portland native?
No, I moved here from Austin, Texas about three months ago. 

Do you find much of a difference in the dating scene here, versus Austin?
In both places, there isn't much of one for women who are looking for other women.

That's surprising. Portland and Austin both seem like such open, progressive places.
Oh, they are. It's fine to be out, all that. It's just that there's not much of a lesbian "scene," so to speak. There are tons of gay bars in both cities, but mostly they cater to men.

Are you in a relationship?
No. I haven't had a lot of long-term relationships. I'm what you might call a "free spirit."

What do you do for a living?
I work as a caregiver. 

I take it that's not a great way to get dates?
That would be an understatement. But before I moved here, I was a bartender. I'm very social, so meeting people isn't usually a problem. I'm such an Aries. We're very charming. 

Do you believe in astrology, then?
I'm an astrologer, so yes. I'm also very intuitive. I can read people.

When you meet someone you're attracted to, is your first question, "What's your sign?"
No. I can usually guess someone's sign before they tell me. Usually within a few minutes. Like I said, I'm very intuitive.

Have you found that there's one sign that you gravitate to more than others?
I get along well with Aquariuses. They're fun. I've butted heads with a few Leos. But it's not just about your sun sign. There's a lot more to it than that. There's the moon sign, and the rising sign, all that.

What are some of the qualities you look for in a woman?
Kindness. Passion. I love women who like to be the center of attention. 

Are you saying you like women who are divas? Usually, that falls in the "dealbreaker" category.
I know, I know. I'm strange like that. I'm very nurturing, so those over-the-top personalities are a good match for me. My thing is that I don't like to be bored. 

When I think of people who constantly need to be the center of attention, well, I think of someone who's… what's the word?
Crazy? Yeah. I'm attracted to nuts. But, on the up side, I'm never bored. 

If crazy people and divas are your turn-ons, what, pray tell, are your dealbreakers?
Mean people. Don't like anyone who's even a little bit mean. I also can't stand people who are disrespectful, or critical, or nit-picking.

Okay, you mentioned earlier that you can usually guess someone's sign within a few minutes. Can you tell what sign I am?
You're a Libra. But you've probably got some Virgo in your chart.

Wow! That's dead-on. But, what's interesting is that you didn't even stop to think about it.
It's obvious. You're such a Libra. Like I said, I'm very intuitive.


J.J., 26 

Are you a Portland native?
Yes, but I lived in Pittsburgh for about six years, until four months ago. 

What brought you to Pittsburgh.
My girlfriend at the time was going to Carnegie-Mellon, so I followed her out there. Then I went to another school that was nearby. Then, when that ended, I decided to come back to Portland.

Are you and your ex still on good terms?
We're on really good terms. I think we'll always be friends. It's just that neither of us was really ready to settle down yet. 

It sounds like, until recently, you've been in a serious relationship for most of your adult life. What's it been like to be single again?
You could say I'm making up for lost time. It's very freeing. I'm trying to make up for my un-dogly ways.

Un-dogly? 
As in, the opposite of ungodly? I'm trying to get in touch with my inner player. But it doesn't come easily for me. At heart, I'm too much of a nice guy to be a real dog.

What line of work are you in?
I'm a graphic designer.

Is that a good way to meet women?
Not really. I work for a small firm, mostly a bunch of guys sitting around an office. But for a while, I had a part-time job working at a restaurant that's also a strip club. That was a much better place to meet girls.

Strip clubs are big thing in Portland, aren't they?
Yeah, but the strip clubs here aren't like in other places. A lot of them are kind of like family dining places, but with naked girls. And no kids. 

"Moons Over My Hammy" takes on a whole new meaning in that context…
Huh?

Never mind. Did you go out with any of the strippers you worked with?
No, unfortunately. But I did hook up with a really cute pedi-cab driver I met through the restaurant. 

Was she a customer?
No. See, we would tip the pedi-cab drivers who brought tourists to the place. We'd also give them free bottles of water. So, this one girl driver came by all the time when I was working at the door, and sometimes we talked for a while. She kept saying she'd be glad to give me a free ride home from work, any time. I had no clue that she was flirting with me — probably as a result of being in a relationship for so long, I'm sort of clueless when it comes to picking up on cues. 

If that's the case, how did you ever manage to hook up with Pedi-Cab Girl?
One night, I was getting off work when she came by. She totally took charge — she said, "Want to come home with me?" I thought, why not? 

"Pedi-Cab For Cutie?" Sorry, please go on.
So, we went back to "her place," which turned out to be the garage of the pedi-cab company. We had a bunch of drinks, and talked, and then we had sex. In the morning, I woke up naked on this mattress on the floor of a pedi-cab garage. At first, I had no idea where I was. It was pretty surreal. Then the pedi-cab drivers started to come in to start their daily shift. Nobody seemed to notice, or care, that there was a naked guy on a mattress in the corner.

Unrelated note: the word "pedi-cab" sounds a little bit perverted, don't you think?
After that experience, I totally think so. But not necessarily in a bad way.


Melissa, 31

Are in a relationship?
Not at the moment. I wouldn't say no to a relationship if I met the right guy, but at this point in my life, I'm not ready to compromise when it comes to finding what I'm looking for.

Can you describe the kind of guy you're looking for?
Most of all, someone who's family-oriented. Someone who remembers his mother's birthday, and is close with his own family. If he has nieces and nephews but he doesn't know anything about their lives, that bothers me. He can't be "metro" — I like manly men, so if he uses more hair products than I do… no, thank you. He should care about his appearance, but without going overboard about it. He has to like the way I look when I'm dressed to go horseback riding as much when I'm all dressed up to go out on the town. Oh, and a plus if he likes horses. Also, I like men who are tall, with dark hair and light eyes. 

It almost sounds like you're talking about a specific person. Do you have someone in particular in mind?
No, I really don't. But I guess you could say I have a "type."

Does that make it more difficult, or less difficult to find the right guy? 
A little of each. My problem is that I still believe in the whole idea of the fairytale prince who'll sweep you off your feet, even though I know that's completely unrealistic. As women, it's almost like we're programmed to believe that stuff from an early age. So we keep on looking for Prince Charming, even if experience has shown us that "happily ever after" is just a big lie.

Do you think there's one person out there for everyone?
I'd like to think so. I went through a pretty unpleasant divorce back in 2006, so I'm more skeptical about the idea of "The One." But I haven't lost hope! 

What's the dating scene like in Portland?
I think we have a pretty amazing dating scene. There's such a mixture of people, from all different backgrounds and cultures and nationalities. It's no wonder so many single people are drawn to Portland from all over the world. Everyone's pretty friendly and laid back, so it's easy to meet people. Making it stick — well, that's harder. 

What line of work are you in?
I'm a health-care administrator, but until recently I was a preschool teacher.

Have you ever gotten any dates through your work?
No, not really. When you're a teacher, there are always the single dads who hit on you, but I always found that kind of creepy.

How do you meet guys, then?
The usual — through friends, online, going out. 

Do you have any dealbreakers?
I'm very independent, so I can't stand men who are too clingy. 

How do you define "clingy?"
For example — until recently, I was going out with this French guy. He was richer than God, and really good looking. And he was an incredible lover. But he constantly wanted to know where I was, who I was with. He would call me, like, a zillion times a day. He wanted to us to spend every free moment together. It just got to be a bit much.

Was he the jealous type?
It wasn't even about jealousy. He was just one of those all-or-nothing people. Not a bad guy, but after a while, it started to feel oppressive. A guy has to respect my space, and give me room to breathe.


Tony, 42

Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Barnabas from Dark Shadows?
Is that a good thing?

If you like vampire soap operas from the 1960s, it's a great thing.
Okay. I'll take that as a compliment. 

Are you, in fact, a vampire? Readers want to know.
Not technically. But I am a night person. I'm one of the owners of this bar.

It's a nice place. Has being a bar owner ever gotten you any dates?
Not lately. I have a girlfriend. 

Do you have any wild and crazy stories from when you were single?
Oh, believe me. I do. The best stories are from when I was still drinking. But those are stories I don't tell, because I don't like to think about the person I was back then. I've been sober for the past twelve years.

Wow. A recovering alcoholic who owns in a bar. That must take a lot of strength and courage on your part. 
And a lot of A.A.

If you had to write a book about your love life, what would you call it?
How to Blow it After Two Years. Things always go really well for the first year or so, but then somehow I manage to screw things up.

Why do you think that is?
Well, after a certain point the excitement and newness goes away. You know everything about someone, and things get a bit monotonous for both people, and that's when things tend to fall apart. 

Do you think that has anything to do with monogamy?
Sure. Monogamy isn't easy. But open relationships tend to get messy. So it seems easier to just move on.

Do you have any dealbreakers?
For one, if a woman has previously dated someone I don't like or respect, it's hard for me to like or respect her. Guilt by association, you might say. Portland is a small town, and sometimes it feels like everyone knows everyone. And it seems like it's getting smaller all the time. 

What's the dating scene like in Portland?
Like the music scene, it tends to change every few years. People are always moving in and out of Portland, so the character of the place is constantly changing. Over the past five years, we've had a real influx of people moving here from places like New York, San Francisco, L.A., wherever, and they bring the culture of those places with them. It's a mixed bag. On the one hand, you get new bands, new music. New blood.

Are you sure you're not a vampire?
[laughs] …on the other hand, people from bigger cities drive the rents up, and there's more of a tendency for the culture to get homogenized. I'm sure you've seen those "Keep Portland Weird" signs. That's kind of how I feel. I don't mind if the demographics change. I just hope Portland will always keep its unique character.

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