I've been going on a number of first and second dates lately, by way of the Internet (OK Cupid, Match, Hinge, Tinder, JDate, ChirstianMingle, FarmersOnly, etc., etc.). It's been an altogether interesting experience and has taught me a great deal about courtship in the 21st century, but nothing stands out more for me personally than the hiccupping moment of how I choose to answer the standard first-date question of, "so what do you do?"
"Well, I work as a legal assistant," I say, "and it's a perfectly perfunctory day job. Kind co-workers, good benefits, things of this nature. But what I really do" -- and sometimes I lean in when I say this part, and take a deep inhaling breath -- "is write poetry."
Silence often ensues.
"I'm a poet," I'll say again, lest there exist any confusion.
I've come to regard this as the Unicorn Moment, and I call it that because the first few times I made the big reveal, it felt as though I had just said, "I'm a unicorn! Now come, let us ride to the magical land of pixie dust and make-believe!"
The trouble I seem to be experiencing is that, by identifying as a poet, I'm basically declaring that money and/or financial security are not my primary life pursuits. This can be a challenging conversational exchange to have on a date, depending on the goals and interests of the person sitting across from you.
"All women are looking for a man to take care of them," advised a male co-worker of mine during our lunch break a few months ago. This seemed to me a particularly misogynistic assessment of half the world's population, but I let him continue. "They want someone who is going to make them feel protected, and safe, and secure."
"And how do women feel about clouds that look like lightning bugs, or honeypots?" I replied, averting my attention away from this inane conversation and towards the cumulus-crowded sky.
We haven't had lunch since.
Of course I can't fully agree with my co-worker's assessment. But there may be some truth to his hypothesis, if only he'd have shelved the part where he puts the claim on women alone. After all, isn't everyone looking for someone to take care of them, man and woman alike? To make them feel safe, and secure? Hell, isn't that why idiots buy guns?!
Sometimes the dates work out well. Painters seem to like me, as do other women with artistic interests (actresses, choreographers, that one girl who made cat videos). I live in New York -- Brooklyn, actually (sorry) -- and thus, there's no shortage of interesting, artistically-inclined women to meet, greet, and with whom to exchange pleasantries, witticisms, and possibly late-night (or early-morning) farewell subway kisses.
Sometimes, though, it's less successful. I had a date recently ask me what my five-year-plan was, which made me feel like I was on a job interview (which, I suppose, all dating is -- except instead of gunning for the corner office, you're trying to land a spot in her bed... and/or heart).
"My five year plan?" I said. "I don't really have one." We walked a little further through the park, the energy between us fading to a freeze, when my eyes fell upon a nearby toad, leaping through the grass.
"My life's like that toad," I opined, freewheeling and spit-balling as quickly as I could. "I don't know where it's all going... but for now, I just want to hold it to the light, and count its many spots."
"I don't understand," she said, face scrunched up, arms crossed.
"Karen," I said, "you don't have to understand."
"My name's Jennifer," she replied, and I knew there would be no second date.
It would be better if I, too, didn't care about money as a defining characteristic when it comes to the idea of success, but unfortunately that is not (yet) entirely the case. I was born and raised in the wealthy suburbs of metro Detroit, and so to pursue one's artistic life, full-throttle, in a medium where financial gains seem an absolute impossibility can appear dubious and downright wrong. It often feels as though I am in a tiny canoe, paddling furiously against the stream of parental and community expectations. It has been many years since I left the world of manicured lawns and two-car garages, and yet those values and ideals seem to have burrowed themselves into my skin. It will, I often believe, take a lifetime to unpack myself of such suburban burdens.
"I don't know why you're so neurotic," said one particular date, Bronx-born, of Dominican descent. "You have a job, it pays your bills, and then you have a passion. What's the big problem?"
I liked that girl. We saw each other five times.
But of course, if I am being honest, I know that no woman (or man, or any gender variation therein) will be able to solve my own internal conundrums of what it means to be a poet against a backdrop of a culture that long ago deemed wealth and prestige as the most important factors to determining "success."
The work is mine to do, and mine alone. It may seem obvious to you reading this, but it has taken me a few months of new dating -- and 33 years of living -- to finally recognize that no woman will be able to love and/or accept me unless I am willing to love and/or accept myself, and the entirety of what I am, and what I do, in the world, and for the world.
So that's what I'm working on.
I seem to like myself best when I regularly read, write, and publish poems.
So that's what I'm working on.
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