I met Brian*, on OKCupid. He was a handsome blonde with fantastic taste in clothes. Heliked to cook, had a stable, admirable job, and played the ukulele on the side. It was all very cute. And so was he.
I imagined myself dating him for a long time, setting up a little homestead and writing songs together that we would perform and post on YouTube. He thought I was adorable and liked the way I fluttered around his apartment, all energy and smiles. I appreciated his gentle, almost Koala-like nature. It seemed like I had finally, after months of fruitless internet dating, found someone who I could really be serious about.
After about three weeks of drinks and dinners, we decided to do a Saturday night out together. I invited some of my friends to meet us at a local spot that plays decent, reliable pop songs. My friends showed up and immediately hit the floor for Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know.” Brian just stood there, shyly smiling. I felt some nerves rise up in my chest.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, kind of worried that my kooky friends were too over the top for his conservative, desert-booted, J. Crew milieu.
“Nothing, you go have fun, I’ll just watch.”
At first I was mildly creeped out at the idea of him staring at me from a couch 20 feet away, and then it dawned on me: Brian might be the kind of guy who doesn’t dance.
“Dance with me?” I tugged his hand and tried to pull him forward, hoping I was wrong.
“No, it’s okay – this isn’t really my song …”
“Well, what is your song?” I pushed.
“I just don’t like to dance!” He finally blurted out.
“Okay,” I said, disappointed, “I’ll sit with you.”
I watched my friends throw down sick moves, krump, laugh, and twirl each other around. We had spent our college years bonding this way, and now, in our 20s, we should be embracing every night out that we still had. I longed to be on that floor with them, flailing my arms.
I began to panic about what the future would look like if I stayed with Brian. We would sit out so many dances together, including my friends’ weddings and New Year’s Eve. Then we would stop going out at all. Our butts would become one with the couch and our relationship would be one sad ukulele song after another. Soon enough we would grow old and at long last, be physically unable to dance. The thought horrified me, and I knew one thing in that moment: I didn’t want to have to sit out another song ever, in my entire life. But maybe Brian could change and learn to love dance. Maybe I could help him.
We sat out the rest of the songs that evening in relative silence. It was too loud in the bar to actually have a conversation, so I drank a vodka tonic out of boredom and we left before midnight. My friends were just getting started.
I tried to coax it out of him the next morning over brunch. I wanted to know what it was about dancing that he didn’t like. Maybe he felt he wasn’t good at it, or he felt awkward doing it in front of my friends the first time he met them? I gave him plenty of options as to what his excuse could be, and also let him know that dancing was very important to me.
“What about prom?” I asked, “Did you dance at prom?”
His answer was a resounding no. He pushed his eggs around on his plate and let out a long, frustrated sigh.
“Look, I feel silly dancing, and I am self-conscious doing it. It’s just not a very manly thing to do,” he explained.
My blood began to simmer. I wasn’t about to list off all the manly men who are great dancers — Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, Barack Obama — but I knew right then that no matter how wonderful Brian was, it wasn’t going to work out between us. I mean, if he was going to let his un-evolved preconceived notion of gender limit his joy, he wasn’t going to be doing it with me by his side. I need to be with a guy who loves to dance, and also doesn’t think one activity can determine how “manly” you are. For millions of years, humans of all sexes having been using dance to express themselves – it has nothing to do with genitals, or how cool you look. It just makes you feel good. And frankly, it is one of my favorite things to do EVER. If a guy ain’t down to boogie, he ain’t getting down with me.
As this crazy universe would have it, two years later I stumbled across a YouTube video of Brian. And he wasn’t playing his ukelele, he was performing at a swing dance competition. It turns out that a few months after we broke up, he started taking an interest in the old box step. I like to think that I might have inspired him – or maybe his inner dancer just responded to Big Band music better, but either way, I am just happy he learned that an appreciation of dance has absolutely nothing to do with what what makes you a man.
* Name has been changed.