Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: San Luis Obispo, CA

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Tricia, 33

What do you do for a living?
I work for an accounting firm — I'm a C.P.A.

Have you ever dated anyone you met through work?
No. I've never met an accountant I thought was sexy. Not even a little bit.

That explains why the "Accountants Gone Wild" series was so short-lived. Are you in a relationship?
No, I'm single for the first time in ages. 

What's it like to be single in San Luis Obispo?
It's not a great place for it, especially if you're over twenty-five or so. It's a college town, and there aren't a lot of jobs outside of the university and the government, so you don't get a lot of young professionals coming into town. And I'm a lesbian, so that reduces the dating pool even further.

Have you ever considered moving to a bigger city, like San Francisco, that has more people and/or more of a lesbian culture?
I've thought of it, but this is a really nice place to live. There are a lot of drawbacks to big cities — they're expensive, polluted, all that. Here, it's pretty laid back, but there's still stuff to do. I love the outdoors — in San Luis, you're right by the ocean, and mountains, and there's good weather. So, I'll probably stay, and hope the right person will eventually show up.

How long was your last relationship?
About six and a half years. When same-sex marriage was legalized, we got married. Then, a little while after the law was overturned, we decided to part ways, so we got a divorce.

Wait. Your marriage was legally nullified, but you still had to get a divorce? Doesn't that seem like adding insult to injury?
Yeah, and it's expensive, too! We had to go through the divorce process just like any straight couple. You might say there's divorce equality, if not marriage equality.

What are some of the qualities you look for in a woman?
Athletic, smart, fun. Someone who likes to be home. Someone who's not looking to jump right into a relationship.

Has that happened to you before, that women want to move too fast?
Yes. In my previous relationships, we were pretty much a couple right off the bat. Next time, I'd like to take things a little more slowly.

Timothy, 47

Have you always lived in San Luis Obispo?
No, I moved here from Georgia about twenty years ago.

Are you in a relationship?
I'm legally separated from my wife, but it's very recent. We have a year to decide if we want to go through with the divorce or not.

How long were you together?
Eleven years, married for six. 

Have you started dating other people already?
Oh, no. No, no, no. I'm not there yet. The idea is pretty scary.

Do you feel like it'll be different being single, this time around?
Yes. Definitely. For one thing, I'm a lot older now. But mostly, you spend that much time with a person, and they change you. You're a different person when you're half of a couple.

Would you say marriage changed you for the better, for the worse, or neither?
For the better. She's a wonderful person. We have our differences, but I'll always care about her.

Do you think it'll be very different, being single here, versus in Georgia?
Not really. I was single for a long time when I first moved here, and I had a lot of fun. But it was a different phase in my life. I don't think it matters where you are so much as who you are, when it comes to relationships. Although, here, I do stand out more, because — I don't know if you've noticed — but I'm not white. 

Oh, really? But, seriously — do you feel like that's an advantage, or a disadvantage when it comes to dating?
It depends on who we're talking about. It's worked both ways. At any rate, it definitely makes me stand out. 

What line of work are you in?
I cook at a local restaurant. 

Have you ever dated anyone you met through work?
Yes. In fact, that's how I met my wife. I was working in a restaurant with an open kitchen, and she was a regular. I thought she was really beautiful. We would sometimes talk for a minute here and there, and finally, after a few months, I worked up the nerve to ask her out. The rest is history.

A man who can cook is a dream for a lot of women. Have you ever used your culinary skills to seduce the ladies?
Are you kidding? Of course I have! The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach. Food is very sensual, and I love a woman who truly enjoys her food. Also, I think most women aren't used to men who can cook, and who like to spoil them a little bit. I feel like they appreciate the effort, as much as the meal.

What's your idea of a romantic and/or sexy meal?
One of my favorites is a roasted pork loin wrapped in bacon and apple slices. It's delicious. Just the smell of it. There's something downright sexy about bacon. And I do the dishes, too.

Natalee, 22

What do you do for a living?
I'm a student, but I also work in an old folks' home. 

An old folks' home? You mean, like, assisted living?
I prefer "old folks' home." It's more honest. I like to keep things real.

I'm guessing there's not much of a hook-up scene at work?
You'd be surprised. The last guy I dated is one of the cooks at the home where I work. 

What was it like to date a coworker?
It was okay, until we broke up. That's the problem with dating people you work with — or even just hooking up. Afterwards, you still have to see them and deal with them on a daily basis.  

Before the cook, were you seeing anybody?
I was in a long-term monogamous relationship for four years. But I've decided that monogamy is not for me. I don't want to get married, ever. I think marriage is a completely outdated institution.

You're still pretty young. Do you think you might change your mind about marriage as you get older?
[eye rollEveryone says that. "Just wait until you meet the right guy," blah, blah. It drives me crazy. And, no, I don't think I'll change my mind. The more people say that, the more determined it makes me.

Interesting. So, what would your ideal relationship — or, I guess, relationships — look like?
Well, I want to start my own non-profit, and it's going to have branches all over the country, so I'm going to have to travel a lot. And I'd like to have a guy in each city, so I'll never be alone. I won't have a lot of time for a relationship, but, obviously, I have needs. They would all know about each other, of course. I wouldn't be lying to anybody — it'll all be out in the open. 

Have you shared this idea with any guys you've dated — or would like to date? And, if so, how did they react?
Well, the last guy — the cook — didn't like it very much. It was one of the reasons things ended with us. I had a casual thing going on with a few other guys, and I didn't hide that. Besides, he was moving way too fast, and I wasn't ready to jump into another relationship. It's a cliché, but you might say I'm more like the stereotype of what a guy is supposed to be like. I don't want to settle down, and I want to have sex with a lot of different people. 

Do you think most women don't want to have sex with a lot of people? 
All of these things are socially constructed. Women have been programmed for hundreds, thousands of years to "need" men to be providers, for their identity, all that. Some women's need for absolute monogamy comes out of fears that are a holdover to another era, when women couldn't support themselves, and they would be destitute and/or socially ostracized if their husbands left them. I think it's time for women to take back their sexual power, in ways that aren't just in relation to men's fantasies.

How do you think men feel about sexually empowered women?
Whether or not they would admit it, I think most men feel very conflicted about authentically powerful women — even the most liberal, open-minded guys. Take the non-monogamy thing. On one hand, men are threatened by it. But at the same time, they find it sexy, even if they don't realize it.

They don't realize that they find it sexy?
Some guys get very turned on by the idea of "their" woman being with another man, even if this isn't socially acceptable. One night, one of the guys I was seeing knew that I had hooked up with this other guy the night before. He was all over me. The sex was incredible.

Do you have any dealbreakers?
Anyone who's married. Or who wants to get married, or be 100% monogamous. Also, kids. I don't want to have kids of my own. My non-profit is going to have branches in a lot of different cities, and I don't want to be an absentee mom. But, eventually, I'd like to adopt troubled teens. If a guy is bothered by that, that's a dealbreaker. 

Have you had any good — or bad — dates, recently?
That's the thing. I've done plenty of hooking up, but in my entire life, I don't think I've ever been on a proper "date." I'd like to start a nationwide movement to bring back the date. 

Is that what your non-profit will be about? "The Dating Foundation?"
Ha! Maybe it should be. But no, I'm going to start an arts-related afterschool program for disadvantaged kids — ceramics, photography, that sort of thing — all run on donations.

What are some of the qualities you look for in a guy?
I want to be treated like a lady, but also like a feminist. I want men who respect my values, even though they aren't very traditional.

Dom, 39

From your accent, I'm guessing you're not a native Californian.
No, I'm from England, originally. I was married to an American for ten years, and she was from this area. We've been divorced for about two and a half years.

How has it been, returning to single life after all those years?
Great! I've been enjoying myself immensely. After the crushing agony of being divorced by my wife, it was great to realize that I'm not entirely unattractive to the opposite sex. For a while during and after my divorce, I was a bit worried that no other woman would ever want anything to do with me, ever again. It wreaks havoc on your self-esteem, being left like that. But since the divorce, I've been dating surprisingly attractive women. I'm not in the market for a serious relationship at the moment, but I've been enjoying the fruits of San Luis Obispo.

To run with the "women as fruits" metaphor, do you find it's "easy pickings?"
Much more so than I'd anticipated. Dating seems much easier now than it did when I was in my twenties. I thought it would be much harder to get back in the swing of things. 

Do you find that California girls are more approachable than English "roses," or "birds," or "persimmons," or whatever it is you call women?
Honestly, it's been so long since I've dated in England, it's hard to remember. But all the songs about California girls, they sing them for a reason. Women here tend to be nice-looking, but also very nice and outgoing. Maybe it has to do with the weather. All that sun, no rain — how can you not be in a good mood most of the time? 

How would you describe your ideal woman?
Open, warm, outdoorsy, sporty. Most of all, very independent. I don't like it when things get too comfortable, because that's when it starts to get boring. I like a woman who will keep me guessing. Who's a bit of a butterfly. Like, if I'm not 100% sure she's really into me. 

The idea that "she's just not that into you" is a turn-on?
It's one way to look at it. I love the thrill of the chase, all that. For instance, I was dating a girl a while back, and she was always available every time I called. And even if she wasn't, she'd cancel other plans. I guess I don't want or need to be the center of anyone's life. But the girl I'm thinking of was in her mid-twenties, so maybe that was part of it.

Do you prefer dating younger women?
No, not necessarily.  I'm attracted to plenty of women my own age or even older, but in this town, most of the single women are in their twenties. I've gone out with a few girls my age who I really liked, but they immediately wanted to know, "Where is this going?" A lot of women in their thirties will break things off they don't see relationship potential after a few dates, whereas younger women are more willing to keep things casual. After having a girlfriend-then-wife for most of my adult life, I'm not anxious to rush into that sort of thing any time soon.

Steve, 30-"ish"

Do you live in San Luis Obispo?
I grew up in this area, but now I live in Japan, in Osaka. I teach English at a university. 

Have you ever dated a student?
Not at the university where I work! That would be totally inappropriate. But I have dated students who go to other universities in the area. 

Are you in a relationship?
You could say that. I've been seeing this one guy for about six months, but we're not exclusive. Also, there's something of a language barrier. He's Japanese, and his English isn't entirely fluent, and neither is my Japanese.

Are you looking for a serious relationship now?
Not really. I like having more than one person in my life. I realized long ago that monogamy isn't very realistic for me personally. 

Has that ever been a problem for any of the guys you've dated?
Yes, but more so in America than in Japan. I know there's the stereotype that gay men don't "do" monogamy, but there are plenty who want nothing more than to settle down, and have kids and a dog and a picket fence, or whatever. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just not for me.

Is being "out" as a gay man very different in Japan?
So many aspects of the culture are so incredibly different, but yes. For one thing, being gay is pretty much a non-issue. The Japanese are very private people. There are certain things you just don't discuss, whether you're straight, gay, whatever. At work, for instance, you wouldn't discuss your personal relationships. Nobody has ever asked if I'm gay, and it's not something you bring up. It's hard for Americans to understand that this isn't the same as being closeted, which I'm not.

If you don't tell people you're gay, you feel like they're missing some important information about you?
No. People probably realize that I'm gay — it's just not a topic of conversation, because they don't really care if you are or not. In the U.S., you have to be "out and loud and proud" in every aspect of your life, at every moment. Straight people don't realize it, but that can be exhausting. Besides, my sexuality is just one aspect of who I am. I'm not ashamed of it in any way, but I don't need it to be my defining characteristic.

Does this culture of subtlety and/or the language barrier make it harder to find sex partners?
No. At least, I haven't had any problem. Most cues of attraction are non-verbal, and pretty universal. When it comes to meeting people, being an American helps. Everyone wants to practice their English, which is a great icebreaker.

Among gay men, is there a big hookup culture in Japan?
Sure, like anywhere else. One big difference is that there are a lot more straight men who occasionally have sex with other men. In the States, this almost never happens, at least not without an awful lot of hand-wringing on the part of the straight men. American guys seem to think that if they get or give a blowjob, their "straight card" will be revoked for life. There's none of that anxiety in Japan.

Sort of in the way that, in the U.S., women don't worry too much about sleeping with other women from time to time?
Yeah, that's a good analogy.

Why you think Japanese men are more open to same-sex experiences?
It's the culture. Maybe it's the lack of religion, and all the shame and guilt that comes out of it. And here, there's even the fear of actual violence if you're perceived as less than 100% straight. Even in liberal California, I've been physically threatened by random straight guys who realized I was gay. Guys I wasn't even talking to. Gay-bashing is almost nonexistent in Japan.

Do you think everyone's a little bit bisexual, and it's just culture that keeps us from acting on it?
Not really. But I don't think the occasional same-sex experience makes you automatically or authentically bisexual. At one point in my life, I was having sex with a lot more women than men, but in my case, being bisexual was just a stepping stone on my way towards realizing I was gay. 

Was that hard for you to come to terms with?
When I was much younger, it was. Even growing up in liberal California, in a fairly open-minded family, it wasn't easy — I can't imagine what it would be like for kids in a more repressive environment. As a teenager, I had this sense that being gay was weird and strange, and it didn't fit with my image of myself as this normal, all-American guy. Of course, I've long since gotten over all that.

What kinds of guys are you attracted to?
That changes. Right now, I'm mostly attracted to skinny Asian guys. 

I hear you can find those in Japan. Is that why you moved there?
Not at all. But it's a nice bonus.

Amy, 28

Where are you from?
I grew up here in San Luis Obispo, but now I live in Hawaii, in Honolulu. 

Are you in a relationship?
Actually, I just broke up with my boyfriend of almost four years.

I'm sorry to hear that.
Nah, don't be. It was time. We were both ready to move on. No hard feelings.

What's the dating scene like in Honolulu?
I really don't know, but I'm about to find out! I moved there with my boyfriend, so I've never been single there before. I'm excited, though — it'll be an adventure. 

How do you think you'll meet guys, now that you're single?
I play kickball and softball, and other intramural team sports, which is a great way to met guys. And I'm very outgoing, so I'm not afraid to put myself out there. 

Does anyone actually like kickball, or is it just a pretext for hooking up? I get the impression that those leagues are all, "You like ironic sports? Hey, me too! Let's fuck!"
There is a bit of that, but, also, it's a lot of fun. It's more interesting than just meeting people in bars. Although, you do go to bars, afterwards.

Do you think being single in Honolulu is very different from being single in San Luis?
Definitely. For one thing, it's a bigger, and more international; very diverse. Hawaii attracts a lot of young, fun people who come from all over the world. People with a sense of adventure, and a lot of hot, outdoorsy types. Also, it's a bit more mature, there. In San Luis, people don't seem to date, per se. You just go out, and meet people, and at some point, you find yourself in a relationship.

I've heard that from a lot of people here. Is there some sort of city ordinance against dating in this town?
I swear, you'd think there was! Well… that's not exactly true. People date, but it's not like what you think of with a traditional, "dinner, movie, back to your place" kind of thing. I have to say, the best so-called "date" I ever went only cost $3.50.

The collective daters of New York just died a little inside. Explain.
I met this really cool guy, but neither of us had a lot of money at the time. So, we just walked around Wal-Mart for about three hours, and looked at stuff, and laughed at the absurdity of it all. And, I needed some coat hangers, because I'd just moved. So he bought me some. We also bought some whipped cream.  

Whipped cream and coat hangers. The people who read this are going to wildly speculate about what you did with them.
With the coat hangers, anyway, I used them to… hang up clothes.

Pretty kinky. What about the whipped cream?
Let's leave your readers with something to wonder about.

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