Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Washington, DC

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Michael, 20

Are you from here?
I'm from New York actually, but I go to school in DC. I've been here about a year.

What's your experience with dating in DC been thus far?
Well, coming from New York, this is a smaller city, but it still has a great city vibe. Since I'm in school — I go to Howard University — I've met a lot of people from a lot of different places: people from the South, East Coast, West Coast. Different calibers of individuals, different kinds of mentalities. In New York, you have a lot of people who have stayed there all their lives and are ignorant to anything besides New York City, because they view it as the mecca of all cities. I see that as close-minded. People I've met here seem to think differently.

Interesting. Can you tell us any specific positive experiences you've had?
I went to the movies recently with a young lady. And I was brought up to be a gentleman, so I asked her what she wanted and told her it was on me. And instead, she said, "It's cool," and she paid for her ticket, and she opened my door for me. And I was like, "Wow, this is a new experience!" It was so so nice and so so cool. I'm not really used to that. It felt weird at first, because of the way that I was brought up to be a provider. If I ask her out on a date, I don't mind that it's my treat. But for her to go half and half with me, I respected her a lot more — she's her own individual, she's her own woman, she's not hyped up over my image or something, she can hold her own. She just wants me — she doesn't need me. That was the biggest turn-on right there.

Have you seen her again since?
Yes, I have. And that's been really cool. She bought me some shoes — she helped a dude out when he was in need. And I respect her a whole lot for that. Had to take her out for a nice little dinner in return.

I wouldn't mind somebody buying me some shoes. Have you had any negative experiences with dating?
Once I was trying to get an override into this class — the class was full. This young lady was asking me some questions, and I was trying to engage in conversation with her, but finally I said, "Excuse me, love, I'm really trying to get into this class, I need these four credits, so I really need to focus right now," and she went off on me. "Oh, you're from New York — you New Yorkers are bougie," and so on, all because I didn't want to give her my number because I was trying to be diligent and focus on this class. And I thought she was just playing with me, but the next day she walked in, looked at me, and sat on the other side of the classroom.

That seems a bit excessive.
I just was like "It's not that serious!" I've had a few cases at work — I'm a very nice guy, I smile, I converse — where I sell shirts and ties, and I talk to people a lot. And I had a few females come in and want my information, and I was like, "I'm on the job, I don't really do that. I can't, but thanks for the compliment," and they copped an attitude with me! "Oh, you think you're better than us?" But really, I just didn't want to get fired!

What are you looking for in another person?
Honestly, like I stated before, I want a woman who doesn't need me. I'm attracted to power. I am. A woman who can hold her own, I really respect that. Because I know I'm a handful and I'm a lot of work — I can't lie. I'm a Virgo, I'm very analytical, I'm very diligent, but I have a tendency to always have to be right. Even if I'm right eighty-five percent of the time, that other fifteen percent I'll debate it.

Do you have any crazy exes?
I have a few crazy exes, indeed. But it's cool. I know I'm a lot to handle, but love kept me in check. She was crazy, but she kept me in check.

So you were in love?
I was. It's just, you know, being twenty, my experience was at sixteen or seventeen. I knew what the feeling was, but at the same time maturity and experience is the greatest teacher. I lacked some of the experience that she had, so we kind of clashed from time to time, but it worked. I was getting ready to go to school, and she was staying in New York, so we had to break it off. But she was still calling me. I had a new girlfriend and she was upset about that. The breakup didn't end too well for her. It was a big deal. She got violent — I don't put my hands on a female, but I had to hold her off while she was throwing pots and pans at me. I promised my mother and grandma that I would never lay hands forcibly on a woman. I'm not going to swing at you, but I am going to restrain you.

Erikson, 28


How long have you been in DC?
Four years. I'm originally from Manila, grew up in Texas, went to school in the Northeast, and now I'm here.

And what do you do here?
I do education research.

So, in your time here, what has your experience with dating been like?
It was difficult at the beginning. I'm not necessarily an extrovert, I'm friendly, but I'm not a networking type or aggressive. But I randomly moved in with a friend of a friend, and he was extremely aggressive, so he would help me out.

Be your wingman. That's important.
Very important. Except my first night moving into my apartment. I had moved in all my stuff and was taking a nap. I woke up to grunting noises coming through the vents. And I was like, "What have I gotten myself into?" So, I waited until it was finished, but that was an interesting welcome. But those first couple years were not so successful in meeting people at clubs or parties or anything. It was mostly on the internet.

And how do you meet people now?
Well, I actually have been dating someone for almost two years. Our two-year anniversary is next week!

Congrats! How did you meet?
We met through common friends. It was very DC — they were throwing a fundraiser for the Maine gay-marriage referendum and since he's involved in gay rights, he was a speaker there. So, we first met there, and then he started coming to our "Glee nights" when Glee first came out. How gay is that? And we became friends and then eventually started dating after a little bit of a courtship.

How did you go from being friends to being in a relationship? Was it a smooth ride?
Um, no, not really. He had a boyfriend at the time. So, there was no funny business for a while. But there was always chemistry and attraction, so we waited until that ended and then started dating.

It's nice though, because you get to know the person without the romantic aspect or any messy sexual components and move forward from there, and later add all that in. I wish I could be like that. I'm almost never attracted to my friends.
Well, I have a question for you. What is the early heterosexual courtship like? Do you have the "meet, hook up, get awkward, then figure out where to go from there" scenario?

I guess it depends how you meet the person. I went on a date about a week ago that I didn't know was a date, but it turned into spending the whole day together and eventually kissing. I didn't go into it thinking it was a date, so it felt more comfortable. But I've met people who ask you out for a particular, pre-set date and there's more pressure. I feel like the dating world is often based around the lead-up to sex.
I agree. I find that, after the first date with someone, you can tell that they see you as a serious prospect if you don't have sex.

What attracted you to your significant other? What are you looking for in a partner?
To start off, he's active in public life, pursuing a career, and passionate about gay rights and other causes. That's very attractive to me. I can tell that when he speaks he really believes what he's saying. Ambitious, not in terms of personal fame but for a larger social purpose.

Do you have any dating dealbreakers? Anything you just could not put up with?
I'll give you two characteristics, one superficial and one less so. Superficial: I can't do smelly.

I don't think that's superficial. Hygiene is important.
Exactly. And I also can't do casually mean. When you can't tell whether someone is joking or being hurtful. And you also have to be nice to my friends.

When you were dating, how did you find the DC gay scene?
Well, being a person of color, being Asian, I found that people saw me more as friend material. People didn't seem to see me as attractive, except the guys who have that fetish. Which was strange. But I think it's improved overall since I've been here. I don't know whether people's definitions of gay men are changing — from the tall, built white guy as the archetype, to something more diverse — but I don't think I've changed, so there seems to be a shift towards being more open.

Do you find that DC is a gay-friendly city?
Oh yes. What's really interesting is that sometimes days go by where I primarily interact with gay people. I don't know which other city has the same volume, size, and concentration. And it seems like I'm seeing more of a community take root. People who move here who haven't been welcomed in their past environments find that they're absolutely welcome here.

Shuyinthia, 34

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in DC.

You mentioned that you're married. How'd you meet your husband?
We both attended the same Baptist church when we were young that we still attend today. We had Bible school every day of the week during the summer, and the van driver would take us to 7-Eleven to get slushies some days. One day, my cousin decided to match up the boys and girls on the van. So, she told me to sit next to him and he said to me, "You look nice today." He still remembers to this day what I had on. I can't remember that! But, we started talking and we didn't exchange numbers initially because I was so young.

How old were you exactly?
I was ten and he was thirteen.

Holy moly!
Yeah! You know, his friends used to joke with him about robbing the cradle. He even tried to set me up with his cousin who was a year older than me. But we would talk all the time. And one day I found out that the church kept tithing envelopes in the basement and listed your address and phone number, so I looked up his phone number and called him. I told his dad that I liked him — I guess I was bold then. My grandmother and grandfather were deacon and deaconness in the church and so were his mother and father, so they allowed him to go out with me. We dated for a while. And when I was a freshman in high school and he was in his freshman year of college, he called me and said, "Shuy, I don't want to hurt you, but I think we should just be friends." I thought it was the end of the world. My dad told me, "Shuy, there'll be other Kevins in your life," but I went a whole year without anybody because I just couldn't handle it. But then my junior year of college, Kevin called out of the blue and said, "Do you know who this is?" So we started to talk regularly and he told me he was moving back to DC. I told him to come back and find a job, but we weren't going to be in a relationship. But he came back here and as much as I resisted, it was just like magnets. Although I fought it as much as I could at first, I couldn't resist. We started going together again in 2001 and he proposed to me in 2002. We were supposed to get married that year in June, but his dad passed two days before our wedding day, so we put the wedding off for two years. And now we just celebrated our eighth year of marriage!

That's fantastic! How do you go about keeping the love and attraction alive after all these years?
Last year, we tried something new. Trying to be more romantic, we moved into… what do you call it? Role-playing! For our anniversary.

How'd that work out?
Well, we went to a resort last year — on the odd years I plan our anniversary celebration, and on the even years he does — and he didn't know where I was taking him. So, he was running a bath for me and I slipped out while he was in the bathroom. And I went to the lobby to change into real high heels and such. And I went back upstairs and asked if he had ordered room service and pretended to be a prostitute. He pulled me inside and was like, "Where have you been? And what do you have on?!" It was so funny. I've never done anything like that before. Ever since then, he wants me to wear those shoes. You have to add spice to whatever you're doing. Sometimes you have to provide the fantasy. I'm a firm believer that you should be the mate you want. So, if I want romance, I have to give it! Another thing we've started doing is dating a lot more—we go out salsa dancing, out to eat, we sit in the park. As long as we're together, we make it fun for one another.

Was it love at first sight?
When we first started going together, when I was much younger, I did think it was love at first sight. He had the most beautiful teeth in the world and I was fascinated. But also, he was so helpful to people, and I really liked that. And he was always a comedian. He loves for people to laugh. He would make me laugh when I wanted to cry. But to be honest, I wasn't ready to marry him until the April before we were set to get married. I wanted to be sure that it was the right thing to do. Because sometimes you can become complacent, and I didn't want a marriage of convenience. I wanted it to be about love and friendship and respect. I wanted to still have a spark with him. And so I put it off, but in April 2004, I decided it was the right thing and we planned the whole thing in two months. It's amazing when you take the time to realize it's what you really want versus, "Oh, everybody says we should get married, so I guess we should."

Do you have any advice for people who are looking for love?
I would say that sometimes love comes when you're not looking. For me, I wasn't looking. I wouldn't put all my efforts into the looking process versus being who I am and letting that person see me. I think it's really important to let it happen naturally.