Published on July 12th, 2018 | by Carley Moore2
The Frame: An Excerpt from 16 PILLS
I went on what I then swore would be my last first internet date during winter storm Jonas. He spoke Spanish, was a 50-year-old photographer, a native New Yorker, and seemed like he wouldn’t try to murder me.
That morning, I Facetimed with my kid, who was at her dad’s apartment and had just made a foot-high snowman out of wet snow, twigs, and carrots. I texted some of my married friends, who were snuggled up with their partners, watching Netflix and eating the fancy cheeses they had the foresight to buy before the storm. After that, I stared out the window of my seventh-floor apartment, watched the snow fall sideways and panicked. The radio announced the subways would be closing at 4 pm. The sad single lady voice, which lived in certain parts of my head said, You are totally alone. You are a shitty cook, who longs for someone to make you a good hot meal. Soon, you will be trapped in your apartment, where you will surely die of boredom and a lack of cheese.
Hers was a voice I’d come to know well in the last three years since I separated from my husband. She loved to wake me up at 4 am with the whisper-question-hiss, Where will you live when you get kicked out of your apartment? When I gave a hungry homeless woman my peanut butter frosted brownie on the F platform at the West 4th Street station, she shouted in my ear, That’s you someday if you don’t come up with a plan. In the waiting room of my therapist’s office, she convinced me to read Suze Orman’s financial advice column in Oprah and then berated me for not having done even one of the things Orman advises. You’re determined to live in New York City. Do you have to be a writer and a teacher? Couldn’t you at least try to save for a down payment on something?
“Meet at Corner Bistro at 2?” my phone chirped. It was the photographer.
“Yes!” I texted back instantly just to shut up that voice on my head.
As my boot hit the first snow pile, something child-like came over me, and I broke into a little run, dance, jig that lasted a full block. I took pictures of New Yorkers carrying cases of beer down the middle of Seventh Avenue and kids playing hockey on Jane Street and posted them to Facebook. I waited for the likes to roll in. My face and phone were wet with snow. As I approached the bar, I had the rom-com-like thought that accompanies even the most jaded of single women—that if I like the guy, this would be a cool, funny story about how we first met. We braved the blizzard! I just had a feeling!
When I got there, he was busy looking at a woman about fifteen years younger than me who fit my description of having a punk, pixie haircut. He recovered from that disappointment and we found a booth in the back. We ordered cheeseburgers and whiskey and settled into the stop and start that is the hallmark of internet first date conversations. He told me about living in Japan for five years. He asked me questions about my life. He had a smattering of freckles along his nose that I decided were cute. I liked his wavy hair.
“This is nice,” I said and meant it. I was happy to be out of my apartment and to have some company.
He ordered us a second round of whiskeys.
“Are you worried about the trains?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. “Governor Cuomo said that it’s your citizen’s duty to give shelter to anyone stranded in the storm.”
I laughed nervously. He downed the second whiskey and ordered a beer and another whiskey. I finished my burger and dipped my fries into the mayonnaise—my hot meal for the day.
The date spiraled into badness the way many first dates do. Nothing terrible, just the grim realities of New York lives. He raised his fists in triumph when I told him I had a Ph.D. and shouted, “I’m moving up the world!” After that, he admitted he’d been sleeping on his sister’s couch for the last five years and had no plans for finding his own place or even a share. He told me he didn’t work much anymore and how hard it was to be an artist. I agreed and ordered myself another shot. I had great sympathy for him, and still I knew this was not a guy I could date again. I’d taken care of plenty of men. It my twenties and in my marriage, I’d too often turned into the mom, the one in charge, who had all the ideas about the future and who was no fun compared to my cool, in-the-moment-partner. This role got old.
I’m interested in partnership, sure, but I want the guys I date to at least have beds. He wants a mommy, I thought and then his phone rang.
“Hold on,” he said raising his finger at me. “It’s my mother.”
He took the call. I downed my shot. When he hung up, I thanked him for meeting, gave him a limp hug, and darted back out into the snow. On the walk back to my apartment, I watched young couples help each other through the snow banks and I felt a little sorry for myself. Still, when I made it back to my apartment, I felt happy to be alone, instead of making awkward small talk with a stranger in a bar.
The next day I shut down my OkCupid account. I said Uncle. That date was the last one is a series of bad ones. People who lied about their ages and where they lived. A man who made fun of me for not having tenure, and then admitted he was currently unemployed. Another photographer who misrepresented himself so wildly in his profile pictures that I couldn’t find him at the bar where we met. A guy who didn’t have much to say, except, “You’re pretty.” One who talked for an hour straight without asking me a single question about myself and then wondered why I left. A man I never met but messaged for a month who I began to suspect was pretending he lived in New York but was really in London. Nothing shocking. Nothing that different from what most of my single friends have experienced. I’ve had good experiences, too. A man I fell in love with and dated for a year, who is now one of my closest friends. Sweet, divorced dads who were fun to commiserate with about kid barf and our exes’ antics. Some hot flings. Another man I loved.
I didn’t miss the anxiety of Internet dating—the obsessive checking of my messages to see who has responded or not, the messages from people in other countries or from soldiers at faraway military bases that read only ever, “Hi, wanna chat?”, the couples who wrote to me because they wanted a unicorn—a single woman who is open to swingers—and see in me something butch and femme, and the constant back and forth that may or may not lead to a supremely mediocre experience.
I wonder how many of us feel addicted to these sites? OkCupid, Tinder, and Happn can heighten the sense of free-floating anxiety and distraction we already feel from texting and social media because of the added promise of romantic and sexual connection. My two months on Tinder resulted in just two dates. I spent hours swiping and trying to get more matches. It was addictive, and fun, and not at all real. The GPS of Happn sent me scurrying to different far-flung neighborhoods to up my potential crushes. OkCupid allows you to see who visits you, heightening the feeling of always being surveilled.
The withdrawal was intense. I trained myself to accept that there is nothing romantic going on in the world of my phone. My life without Internet dating was calmer, yes, but also a bit dull. As Valentine’s Day came and went, I wondered how many of us were using these apps to assuage the anxiety and sadness that comes from being single on a holiday steeped in the ideology of coupledom.
On weekends, I was tempted to reactivate my OkCupid account. I like love and I’m interested in partnership. I was also increasingly happy on my own. Would I choose boredom or anxiety? Celibacy or dating? Do I always have to make everything so black and white? What about the women I’d had crushes on for years? Should I search for women? That would come later.
One Saturday morning, I woke up and walked outside to get a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich from the corner bodega. My breakfast treat for the week. I texted a guy I’d dated a couple of months ago to say hello. He texted back that he’d moved back in with his girlfriend of nine years but that he’d been thinking about me. It was a nice exchange. He’d been kind and fun, but we hadn’t really connected. I wished him luck. He told me to text if I ever wanted to get coffee. I wasn’t sure why I reached out. Boredom. Longing. The sky was blue and it was 50 degrees. Warmth. Possibility. Sun on my animal face. My kid was with her father and I missed her.
I came back into my apartment to write. I took a break to read an essay on female friendship by Sophie Lucido Johnson, “A More Perfect Love,” which was punctuated by Johnson’s own beautiful blue and black watercolors. Johnson charts the complicated romantic friendships women sometimes have with other women and her deep love for her best friend Hannah. She wonders, too, about the idea of the soul mate and our cultural belief that our spouse will become our “best friend,” thereby replacing all the best friends that came before. She eventually moved away from Hannah, explored various configurations of polyamory, and then moved in with a boyfriend. She admits, “No one was everything to me all at once, and it took me years to realize that that was okay,” and then wonders, “Aren’t there relationships that fall somewhere between platonic and non-platonic? Isn’t there love that exists beyond “friendship” and outside of “lover” and paradoxically both inside and outside of “family?”
I found the essay deeply comforting. It kept me from re-activating my OkCupid account and for that alone I was grateful, not because I won’t at some point. I just needed to settle into that break and to explore the ways in which my friendships and my relationship with myself (as cheesy as that might sound) could be platonic, romantic, and sustaining.
What I found less anxiety inducing than dating was the notion of a network of friends. A community. A net that catches me, but that doesn’t trap me. I don’t want one best friend, but I am lucky enough to have many deep friendships that at times can feel romantic. The friend who cooks for me. The friend who gets me high and makes me laugh so hard that I feel joy. The friend who takes me dancing and screams the lyrics to Miley Cyrus songs with me. The friend who understands when I’m depressed and can’t leave the house. The friend who loves my daughter as much as she loves me. The new friends, who were once my students. The friend I’ve known since we were sixteen.
Some of my fantasies for the future involve shared housing with close friends—a brownstone we somehow carve up into apartments, a cabin in the woods where we meet on the weekends, or a writer’s colony-like campground where we each have our own little bungalow and meet for communal meals. A few years ago, I watched a documentary called Happy and I learned about co-housing, which is new to the U.S., but has a long tradition in Denmark and Sweden. My fantasies fit with the idealism of co-housing movements—bonds that are not about marriage and monogamy, but about community and collaboration.
Around the same time I was on my internet dating break, Rebecca Traister published an essay “The Single American Woman” in New York magazine about the voting power and history of single women in America. Not surprisingly, there’s more than us than ever, and we’re making our demands more clear—a livable minimum wage, paid family and sick leave, and access to reproductive services to name a few. Her statistics are particularly illuminating:
In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent. In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women. Perhaps even more strikingly, the number of adults younger than 34 who had never married was up to 46 percent, rising 12 percentage points in less than a decade. For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans are wed by age 29, compared to the nearly 60 percent in 1960.
I wondered why if unmarried women outnumber married women, I often feel surrounded by couples? If there’s so many of us, where are we all hiding? Why aren’t we hanging out more? And why is it so hard for me to conjure up an image of solitary, strong, single women from my childhood archive of T.V. shows, literary figures, and cartoon characters?
I squint really hard as I type and tried to call one forth. I see Georgia O’Keefe standing in the desert underneath a blue dome of sky. Wonder Woman pops up to block some bullets with her magical silver bracelet cuff shields. I flash on Angela Davis, fist in the air as she stepped into a California courtroom to face the phony charges leveled against her by the state of California. I am happy to see these women.
Still I want more for myself and for my daughter. I’m tired of rom coms and marriage plots. I want more stories about women who go it alone, who have sex and love in their lives, but are not consumed by the quest for a husband. I want movies about “alternative kinship structures,” as my friend, the playwright Madeleine George wrote in her play, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England. I want essays, novels, and poems about sex-positive queer and straight women, who do it their own way, and give way less fucks about married people. I want people to stop asking me if I’m seeing anyone and to quit reassuring me when I say I’m not. I want a plot that meanders and a protagonist who has no idea where she’s going and doesn’t really care. I don’t believe in saviors, princes, or heroes.
I like it when the sun is so bright on my face I have to squint. It was the end of February. Soon, it would be spring, and then summer.
I’ll wade around in a fountain filled with children and homeless teenagers and I’ll remember that I’m not just a brain in a jar, a writer and a teacher, who, like all of us, has too many jobs. I’m an animal, too. I’ll sweat in my cut-off shorts and tank top and my sunglasses will slide down my nose. I will be mistaken for other kinds of women or I will be invisible. A tourist will accidentally include me in the frame of her picture. My daughter will splash me and I will splash back. Later, the tourist will wonder who I am, and then she will crop me out of her nearly perfect photo of the Washington Square Park arch.
No matter. I exist. Regardless of whether I’m in the frame or outside of it.
Excerpted from 16 Pills by Carley Moore—available at bookstores and online (get yours at your local indie!)
“16 Pills is everything I want in an essay collection – rawness and humor, intimacy, problems, solutions, and a searing, radical intellect holding us in her brilliance. I devoured this jam-packed, revelatory book, and you will too.”
—Michelle Tea, author of Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions, and Criticisms
“Like sitting with a super keen and deeply forthright friend, 16 Pills confronts childhood, parenting, disability, patriarchy, books, ideas, dating, and sex with an unflinching eye and generous heart; Moore bravely reveals her successes, flaws, and failings as a mirror to our own. A must-read on femaleness and feminism and 21st-century middle age, 16 Pills in an alarmingly honest, crucially timely book.”
—Lynn Melnick, author of Landscape with Sex and Violence