There are few things I love more than a good pun. And a sly piece of word play? I like to think that I deploy them often. I am all about analogies, and probably use them more often than a “Real Housewife” gets Botox. I, Dater X, am a word nerd. I’ve known this about myself for years, and generally it’s something I like potential suitors to match.
But in the the past week while exchanging emails with Petr, the Czech sculptor I met in Prague 10 years ago, I’m finding that many of my usual rhetorical rhythms simply don’t work.
Long sentences with complicated clauses confuse him. And forget about pop culture references. In an email the other day, I described my extended family as “a degree away from ‘Jersey Shore.’” This was greeted with the response: “I not understand.” With Petr, I can’t do the whole look-how-cultured-I-am go-to conversation, “Did you hear that story on RadioLab yesterday?”
See, English is Petr’s fourth language. (In addition to Czech, the dude speaks German and French which, hello, is sexy.) Considering that my knowledge of his native language is limited to two phrases (“Where is the bathroom?” and “Do you speak English?”), I give him a lot of credit for how adept his English is. But still, I’m noticing that in writing Petr, I have to watch what I say and boil each thought down into its simplest parts. And surprisingly, I really like it. Without my usual devices, what we’re left to talk about is who we are and what we want for ourselves in life. Could it be that all the witty banter I’ve engaged in with men of the years is my way of being a good conversationalist without actually saying that much?
As a recovering looks-ist, having a pen pal is an interesting enterprise. I had no idea what Petr looked like until, oh, yesterday when we finally did the picture exchange. In real life, I might have been turned off by the mandals rather than focusing on things like how kind his smile looks.
I’ve also noticed something else in the past week. Having a romantic pen pal is making me so much more relaxed in interacting with the men who live here. On Saturday night at friend’s party, I ended up in the kitchen chatting the kind of tall, dark, and handsome guy I would normally feel a little nervous around. As we talked about the first concerts we went to and how we’re both writers, I definitely found myself thinking, “Please ask me out, or at least try to kiss me tonight.” At the end of the evening, when he didn’t ask for my number, chasing-her-green-zebra Dater X would have felt a bit disappointed. I probably would have Facebook friended him the next day just to make sure he had a way to contact me. Instead I figured, “We have a good friend in common. If he’s available and interested, he’ll get in touch with me.” Low and behold, this morning, I had an email from him in my inbox sharing a link to a video he’d told me about. It was just a few short sentences, but still, it could be something.
And when I got a random call from Scruffy Beard over the weekend, asking if I’d like to go out with him again, it was easy to tell him that I’m only interested in being friends. When you’re in a dating wasteland, like I often feel, you put pressure on yourself to take every guy a chance. But now, having someone on the backburner who makes me feel highly valued, I’m listening to my instinct more and only putting energy into the ones that actually feel like they have potential.
Who knows where things with Petr will go. I very much recognize that there is only the remotest of chances that this could turn into anything more than a fun exchange of emails. But I like that it’s getting me to show more of myself, and less of my defense mechanisms—words, intellect, and television references—in conversation. I feel like this penpalship is allowing me to be the girl relaxed in the driver’s seat singing along to her favorite song rather than the uptight girl hunched over the steering wheel, gripping it for dear life at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, scanning for hazards in such a frenzied way that she’d probably never notice them anyway.
I finally started a Twitter account, @iamdaterx. Follow me to read new columns, and to get my random dating and sex thoughts on a daily basis. And if you ever want to email me, hit me up at email@example.com. Dating is hard, so let’s help each other through it, mkay?