At the age of 33, I went on my first date.
I met the Brazilian at a nightclub a month before I was set to leave New York City indefinitely. The fact that he danced well and wore a scarf while doing so gave him away instantly as a foreigner.
After grinding together to techno music until four in the morning, we grabbed a cab back to his apartment in Queens and swung by my place on our way. I wasn’t sure what I might need, so I packed a toothbrush, a water bottle, my cell phone charger, an Edward Abbey book in case I couldn’t sleep, a headlamp to read it by, and some trail mix. I hadn’t ever slept over at a guy’s place in New York City before, so I wanted to be prepared.
I was moving away soon, so of course I slept with him — there was no point in playing hard to get. Taking on a lover before leaving New York seemed like the perfect way to end that chapter in my life, especially since I didn’t go on a single date in the four-and-a-half years I lived there. I always wondered what it would be like to participate in one of those classic New York moments between couples — the ones where they hold hands before jumping over a puddle, feed each other Indian food in a restaurant window, and fall asleep on one another’s shoulders on the subway. I told myself I was too busy to date, that working in the film industry by day and performing in comedy clubs by night didn’t allow for such luxuries.
But the truth was, I’d never gone on dates. Ever. Maybe that’s because I’d spent a good deal of my adult life living in a truck. Having worked as a raft guide, ski instructor, and backpacking guide all over the country for years, I’d rarely lived anywhere long enough to actually have a relationship, even if I’d wanted one. Besides, nomadic men were just as hard to pin down as I was. Sure, I’d witnessed a few successful relationships in my world, but they usually involved a scenario like this: boy meets girl, boy sleeps in girl’s truck to stay warm one night when it’s exceptionally cold out, boy and girl’s innocent cuddling session in truck goes too far, boy and girl have one week to decide if they’re a good match before leaving for their respective rafting jobs in different states. When you’re a gypsy, there are no first dates, no waiting three days to call, no goodnight kisses on the porch, no porches to speak of at all, and no taking things slow. You either move into a truck with someone who could be The One, or you do what I did and settle for the occasional fling.
So, when I got a phone call the next morning from the Brazilian, I wasn’t sure what he wanted, and I let it go to voicemail, where he left the following request: “I want to take you special dinner tonight, Melanie.”
I texted him back several hours later, “Sure.” Not really wanting to deal with this whole dinner-date nonsense, I packed a sandwich and ate it on the subway on my way to meet him. Later at the restaurant, when I ordered a soda water with lemon for dinner, he threw a hissy-fit. “What? Why you no eat?”
“Nah, it’s okay. You eat! Menu looks great.”
“But I bring you here for special dinner. You no like?”
“I like. I just no hungry.”
The Brazilian was visibly upset and said nothing for most of the night, just sawing off slabs of steak and looking around. I finally gave in and ate a few bites of his mashed potatoes, just to make him happy. Maybe food is really important in Brazil, I thought. Either way, I wanted to leave. After dinner, we went back to his place, where we could finally stop wasting time with such silliness and have us some fun.
I started sleeping over at the Brazilian’s place more often. Every morning he left for his job as a professional dog walker around six a.m. Then, like clockwork, he’d send me some sappy text from a park bench.
“Good morning dear Mel. We see each other tonight? I wish I hugging you like pillow. :-( ”
Four or five hours later I would text him back, “sure. I’ll be there at 11.”
Other than his annoying texts — which I suspected most women would find romantic — he was a lot of fun. Way more fun, actually, than any American dude I’d been with. For starters, he was obsessed with my butt, a butt I’d always assumed was too big for white guys in the States. He couldn’t seem to keep his hands off it, sometimes grabbing it like a pile of dough and shaking it wildly while murmuring sounds of approval.
He always wanted me to strip for him too, but only so he could stare at my butt longer. I’d usually get a dollar. “I dance for you now!” he’d say, then lock his fingers behind his head and do that helicopter thing. His goofiness was strangely hot. One night he ripped off his shirt and showed me that he’d shaved his entire chest “for me.” The next night it was his crotch. “Now I soft like baby for you.” Everything about this relationship was weird and hilarious and amazing and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Well, all except the nagging. He just wouldn’t drop the whole “date” thing. I couldn’t figure out why on earth he felt the need to go on dates. Wasn’t getting laid the whole point of guys spending money on women? If you own a house, it doesn’t make sense to also pay a mortgage, does it? I usually lied and promised we would go out soon, just to get him to shut up.
On one of my last nights in town, I showed up at his place close to midnight and broke the terrible news that it was “that” time of the month.
“That’s okay! I have special sheet!”
“Uh, I don’t know what this period sheet is, but I want nothing to do with it.”
For a few seconds, he laid there, splayed out on his bed, looking confused.
“So, I guess you’re just going to have to be okay with cuddling,” I said.
He lit up, clapped his hands, lifted the covers, and patted the bed for me to join him, like I was a puppy. I ate a handful of almonds from my backpack then crawled into bed, where he just stared at me with a smirk.
“I surprised you come over,” he whispered, then took the position of the big spoon and buried his head into my neck.
“I no think you come over if we no have sex.”
“What? That’s crazy,” I said. As I lay there, though, letting him fiddle with my hair, I started to wonder why I had come over. It wasn’t like me to only cuddle with a guy I’m sleeping with. Wait a second, I thought. Am I the dude in this relationship?
I started thinking back to all my past love affairs. They hardly resembled the ones you’d see in movies. In fact, to call any of them a love affair was an exaggeration — in truth, they were nothing more than glorified booty-calls.
To think, all these years I assumed these non-committal terms were dictated by my lifestyle or the guys. I’d blamed being single my whole life on the fact that I always ended up with emotionally unavailable men. But really, I was the one who only texted, who never let guys set foot in or even see the inside of my truck (or, now, apartment), and who never went out in public with them. They were like dirty little secrets that I only saw between the hours of ten p.m. and six a.m. Anonymous guys I referred to by code names like “The Former Mormon” or “Yo Diggidy” or, now, “The Brazilian.”
At the age of thirty-three, I thought dating was like a soccer match and guys, especially Brazilian ones, wanted nothing more than to kick the ball through my net. But perhaps it was boring for them to just shoot goal after goal after goal. I was always just so happy that handsome guys wanted to play with me at all that it never occurred to me that maybe grown men are different than teenage boys and could be interested in more than just scoring.
After our cuddling session, the Brazilian and I gabbed for hours about what it was like for me to grow up in Tennessee and for him to grow up in Brazil. It was like traveling to South America, but on a mattress! It turned out that getting to know one another was something people did when they’re sleeping together, and it was super-interesting!
The next morning he texted me.
“Our last night together.”
This time, I called him back.
“Let’s get dressed up and go on a date tonight.”
I let him pick me up, take a tour of my apartment, and hold my hand on the subway. (A first!) We ate falafel together at a restaurant, and I even let him pay. And at the nightclub later on, when guys came up from behind and tried ramming their junk in my back, I shooed them away, saying, “Stop! My boyfriend‘s in the bathroom.” Who would have thought clubs could be more fun with a dance partner (and a cock block)? And for once, it was kind of nice being spoken for.
We rode home from the club in a 1980s dented stretch limo. Our driver was missing three teeth, wore sweatpants with holes, smoked a cheap cigar, and blared Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” at full blast. Mind you, that’s all the Brazilian could afford on a dog-walker’s salary. But still! I felt like a princess. I even had the driver take a photo of us together. It’s the only photo I have of me with one of my lovers.
The next morning, as I drove away from NYC, I texted the Brazilian a picture of me blowing him a kiss, in which he replied:
“I think straws just drop from my eyes.”
Sure, we still had a few language barriers, but at least I was talking to my lover — a lover I now refer to by his real name. It’s Luiz.