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Tools and Rules for Long Distance Lovers

There’s an old joke in the gay community:

What does a lesbian bring on a third date?
A moving van.

Despite never having been party to anything involving ladyparts, I found myself this past June, if there is a kernel of truth in this joke, in a very lesbianic situation. The difference being that the moving van I rolled up in to my third date with Boyfriend was one that would take me some 3,400 miles and an ocean away from him to London. Mind you, he wasn’t boyfriend at the time, and we had an agreement to live our own lives after I moved away (I mean, it had only been 3 dates to that point), but as time went by we realized, even across the miles, that we wanted to be together, even if we were apart. Ten years of dating in New York City and I meet the love of my life 30 days before I leave. Fuck you, irony.

People always ask me: Isn’t it hard? Once I’ve reigned in my desire to throttle them while screaming “OF COURSE IT IS, YOU HALFWIT! DO YOU THINK BEING 3,000 MILES AWAY FROM THE MAN I LOVE IS FUN?!” I tend to reply “We make it work.”

And we do. Modern technology has made life for the long distance couple much easier, and we take full advantage of every possible tool available to us.

These things make it easier, not easy, which is an important distinction. If you’re going to be wading into a long distance relationship, there’s one thing you have to ask yourself before committing to long periods of emotional and sexual frustration, spending your days wishing your significant other was there, holding your own hand at the movies and trying to coordinate phone calls across time zones: Would I rather have this person, thousands of miles away, knowing that they’re really the one for me and that I’m willing to face some really difficult stuff to have them, or would I rather look for someone who I can see every day and touch whenever I need/want.

If you can honestly say that you’d rather hear “I Love You” from this guy/gal over a long distance line than look for something else that lives in your major metropolitan area, then you’d best read on and familiarize yourself with your Long Distance Love Toolkit, Crosby, Stills & Nash be damned.

1) Skype: Reliable online chat and video chat between free Skype account holders, now also available on iPhones and other smartphones. Using Skype only allows you to chat for free with other Skype users who are online, and allows you to make calls to any phone number from your computer or using the app at rates dependent on where you’re calling. Using it on a smartphone will tear through your data, but you can’t beat Skype for online video chatting for when you need to see your honey’s face, stare at each other longingly, or have a little cyberscrump. Skype also allows you to purchase a US phone number which will ring to your computer/app no matter where you are in the world. Buying a Skype number has, however, pretty much been rendered obsolete by the free service offered by:

2) TextFree: Textfree, while not the most reliable app in the world (the “Sorry, our servers are down” message has made me curse at my phone in public on many occasions), is still a Godsend. The app assigns you a free dedicated US phone number that uses your data network to transmit text. So instead of each of us paying 25 to 50 cents per text, you can text all day long for free. Happily, in November, Textfree added voice service – anyone in the US can call your Textfree number as though they were calling a US mobile. It will eat through your data as quickly as Skype – so try to get to on a wireless network before taking the calls – but I found that calls on my Textfree number are easier to pick up (Textfree takes about 8 seconds to pick up; Skype takes about 20, and by then you’ve likely missed the call) and are of great quality. Calling out will cost you, but I don’t know how much, because I make all outgoing calls with:

3) 1899: 1899 is an indispensable service for anyone in Europe calling the States. I didn’t realize until I moved how much Sorkin-esque walk and talk made up my days, and being able to do it for 1p per minute while power-mincing around London is so much more time-efficient than waiting until I’m home every night. You register with the service and calls from your registered landline or mobile numbers are 1p per minute to any number in the States (cost of calls to other countries varies). This particularly useful for when there’s an emergency or a need to talk immediately and you can’t wait to get home to your computer or landline. This will use your mobile minutes (but saves your precious data) so be sure your plan has enough to account for your international calling.

4) Apple’s iMovie: This is a handy way to see each other in spite of time zone issues. When Boyfriend and I know we’re not going to get a chance to Skype (or when we just want to be overly sweet), we’ll make short iMovies and email them to each other. A lot of the time he’ll make one for me before he goes to bed, so it’s waiting for me when I wake up, and I volley one to him before I leave for work, so he wakes up to me. This can be done in total from an iPhone 4 as well, which is great for mid-day messaging. It’s a nice alternative to email, and it’s equally good for being a little dirty when you want.

5) YouTube: A nice way to make emails a bit more interesting. Google “Long Distance Love Songs” and send a video along with any given email. I recommend starting with Snow Patrol’s “Set the Fire to the Third Bar”. You’re welcome.

6) Hand-Written Love Letters: All this technology is great, but old school romanticism is the stuff that melts me like a Cadbury Creme Egg in a cast iron skillet. Emails and videos can’t hold a candle to finding a hand-written love letter waiting for you after a long day. And it doesn’t have to just be letters – for extra adorableness (seriously, I fucking love this man), Boyfriend takes and prints photos of Hearts he sees graffiti’d around New York and writes love letters on the back of them, like personalized postcards. *Swoon*

More important than how you’re able to keep in touch with your Sweetie is setting some guidelines to keep you both from going insane. Obviously these will be different for each couple, but here are the rules Boyfriend and I have to make sure we both keep our heads on straight:

Never part without having plans for the next time you will see each other. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but removes the uncertainty that can destroy a long distance relationship. Setting a maximum for time apart (we don’t go longer than 8 weeks, no matter what) helps as well, though may not be realistic depending on your finances and the cost of getting to each other.

Have a Long Term Plan. No one can carry on like this forever. As much as I love him, I couldn’t see myself living 3,000 miles away from him forever and being happy with that. The “with” is the most important part of “Spending your life with someone”. Even if it’s a few years off, talk about where and when you will ultimately be together. It will remove some of the futility you might start to feel creeping in.

Get Comfortable With ______ Sex. Phone, Cyber, text, video… you name it, you’ll soon be engaging in it. When you’re monogamous and the object of your affection is far away, getting off with each other means taking to the spoken word, the webcam, the digital cam… essentially utilizing any and all of the tools above to get dirty with each other. AT&T’s now-defunct instruction to “Reach out and Touch Someone” will take on new meaning. Embrace it. It only feels weird the first few times.

Talk to Each Other About Your Frustrations. You’re in it together. You’re both going to get upset. You’re both going to be tempted. You’re both going to question it. Be honest. Be supportive. Talking about your frustrations will help you find a way to deal with them together. This includes airing your jealousy and insecurity – passive aggressive behaviour and jealousy are relationship killers when can read each other’s moods in person; when you’re separated by distance they lead to resentment, infidelity and misery.

Enjoy Your Time Together. We are not allowed to fight when we’re in the same city. We have limited time together, so we enjoy every second. No arguing. If one of us is angry, we put it out there immediately and calmly deal with it. Don’t waste your precious time together with bullshit. Have as much sex as possible, hold hands as much as possible, appreciate that the person you’re sitting with has worked as hard as you at this and must really love you to put up with the same obstacles that you have.

Good luck to my fellow long distance lovers out there (particularly our newly-minted long distance Crasstalk couple). And if anyone asks you “Isn’t that hard?” I hope this helps you be able to truthfully respond “We make it work.”

Fake Girlfriends for Social Networks Are Now a Reality

Do you wish you had a girlfriend to impress all your “friends” on those social networking sites, but all those online dating horror stories have driven you from finding a real girlfriend?  Well, now you can have the online girlfriend experience without all the trouble of dating and interacting with humans. will pretend to be your significant other on social networking sites for a small, but as yet undetermined fee.

The people behind the site claim your fake girlfriend will not be an automated love-bot but will be a real person.  Who knows, it might even be a girl.  She will write on your Facebook wall, tweet you sweet nothings and proclaim her love for you from the highest Tumblr.

I know what you’re thinking, wouldn’t your friends in real life wonder who this mystery woman is?  Yes, and you’ll have to lie to them.  But girls you barely know in your online social circle will think you have a girlfriend and then they’ll want to be your girlfriend too.  The science behind this is solid and you shouldn’t question it.

Source and image CNet.

Five Lessons I Learned from OKCupid

It’s that time again.  Another day, another fizzled out semi-relationship with a guy who smelled delightfully of cigars and sweetly came up with clever nicknames for me.  And so I reactivated my OKCupid profile last week.  This got me to thinking about my previous forays into online dating, and I have provided a few select ones here so that you might laugh at me from the comfort of your strong, enduring marriages and partnerships or your basement apartments filled with cats.

I have been on many terrible dates.  Punishing dates.  But every bad one is an opportunity to learn and do better next time, no?  For the Marrieds and Coupled Ups here and various others who have managed to avoid the Seventh Circle of Hell known as, I have provided a list of things that should make you feel infinitely better about yourselves.  And for the rest of you who suffer through endless OKCupid emails about your Quiver Matches (isn’t that some kind of Christian superbaby cult?) and messages from people who were never taught about the sanctity of the shift key, I want to give you some pointers and let you to know that you are not alone.  Except–wait, you are!  Otherwise you would not be online dating.

In any case, here is what I learned from a year of perpetual bad dates:

1.  A sex shop is not an acceptable venue for a first date.  This gentleman seemed quite promising!  He charmed me with his jokes and his South Side Irish strawberry-blond hair.  We could have ginger babies! This is my mother’s fondest wish—that I someday produce spawn that will be inevitably haunted by comments from evil 7th grade girls about how oh my God I can’t believe you don’t tan! and drunken twentysomething dudes desperate to know if the curtains match the drapes.

We got along swimmingly.  In any case, the subject turned to online dating.  If there is one thing I have learned from online dating, it is that men love to talk about the other men that women meet through online dating.  I cannot explain this, but virtually every man I have been on a date with has desperately wanted to know what other men who do online dating are like.  In any case, I mentioned that one of the first messages I received when I signed up was from a guy who described his love for his Fleshlight in his profile.  And this South Side Irish man claimed to have no knowledge of what this “Fleshlight” thing could be, so, being the teacher that I am, I kindly explained it to him.  Somehow this explanation led to the mention of a nearby sex toy emporium, which led to joking about visiting this sinful haven of carnal pleasure, which, two very large beers later, turned into an actual trip.  Shockingly, this relationship did not work out.  If there is one thing that Cosmo didn’t warn me about, it’s that dates that begin in a sex shop rarely end in a meaningful, satisfying relationship.

2.  Do not date men who think it is sexy to tell you that they would like to tie you up and rape you in front of your family.  It took me far longer than it should have to figure out that this fellow was an unmedicated psychopath.  Luckily, after the family-rape comment, I told him that he should perhaps never speak to me again or ever try to contact me or I would report his freaky ass to the police, and he listened.  This is also true: he had a tally next to his bed.  You know, a tally. On the wall.  In Sharpie.  He also drank all of the alcohol I had in my apartment–including the mysterious bottle that a friend brought back from China that no one else would touch.  Looking back, there were a lot of red flags with this one.

3.  Do not judge unless this person totally merits judgment.  Get out your gavels, because you are all going to judge me for this.  (I am also listening to Coldplay right now.  Judge away!)  This fellow and I did not speak on the phone before our date, but we exchanged many flirtatious emails.  He seemed so nice!  Worked in education!  We met for a drink, which became two drinks when I realized that he was unable to finish a sentence because of his severe stutter.  It seemed terribly unfair to judge someone because of a speech impediment, so I tried my best to ignore it and just focus on what he was saying.  This is where this story could take a heartwarming turn, where I learned that it was what was on the inside that counted, not the speech impediment!  But this was no after school special.  I soon realized that he worked in a part-time job, lived with his parents, and spoke with an inexplicable Jersey accent.  And not in a funny/ironic way.  In a bad way.  A very bad way.

4.  Do not be fooled by sexy accents.  This sexy British guy had such a sexy British accent!  He insisted on adding me as a Facebook friend after a couple of dates, which seemed weird at the time but, hello!  Sexy accents cover a multitude of sins!  And we discovered that we had the same birthday.  It was fate!  Except that he was screwing some other girl the whole time he was seeing me.  I discovered this when he posted photos from a trip they took together on Facebook.  Some people think that a British accent makes you sound smarter.  But do not be mistaken: a British accent does not actually make you any smarter. Especially when it comes to things like hiding your ladyfriends from one another on Facebook.  In a moment of near-instant karma, a couple of days later, his other girlfriend went snooping through his phone, found text messages from me and dumped his cheating ass.

5.  Last but not least, do not meet a man at his apartment on the second date.  This guy did improv and (because I was trying very hard not to judge– not all improv actors are self-important and insufferable!) seemed nice at first.  We had ice cream.  It was okay!  He was not too creepy, though his bug eyes did sort of weird me out.  I agreed to a second date, and I met him at his place.  He answered the door in nothing but a towel.  I could not get out of there fast enough.

I have learned a lot of lessons through online dating.  Don’t be blinded by accents or the promise of ginger babies!  Avoid improv actors at all costs!  Don’t go to sex shops on the first date!  Wait until at least the third date for that.

I’m sure I missed a few things here.  What lessons have you learned from online dating?

Dating horror stories

I never posted my horror story in the dating threads on Gawker because it was too long.  Even though the date happened in the 80’s, the horror is still fresh today.

Gather round, kids, and let me tell you about the worst date in the history of the world.  Grab a drink and maybe a snack.  Maybe a pillow for biting if you’re reading this late at night and don’t want to wake up the people you live with.

The year is 1988.  It’s my favorite time of year, early November.  I had moved into boystown in Chicago early that year, in hopes of finding friends, a man, and a new life.  In fact, I was really following my suburban friends into the city.  They all had groovy studio or one bedroom apartments and I wanted me one of them too.  They didn’t live with their parents any more and they were independent.  I wanted this for myself as well.  I am 22 and about as savvy as Sarah Palin.

Since it’s 1988, the Chicago gay bars have finally broken free of mafia ownership, but have not improved their decor or sanitation.  Being used to frou-frou suburban establishments, I am less than impressed by walls, ceiling, floor painted matte black with a 19-inch magnavox in one corner showing some porn loop or maybe a paula abdul video.  I don’t feel comfortable in the bars like I did when I was a teenager, maybe because I am a little older and now have zero self-confidence.

So, week after week of not fitting in at any of the bars in the neighborhood wears down.  I’m not meeting anyone at the grocery store, the flower shop, friends’ parties, the post office, the coffee shop, the book stores, the bicycle stores, the video rental place, the various local restaurants I visit.  Just… no luck.  Nothing.

So, I look in The Reader at the personals ads.  Most of them are very specific as to what’s desired and what’s expected and I am either not interested or frightened, depending on the ad.

Then I find an ad from a “normal Joe, except my name is Larry”.  The guy sounds normal and not psychotic.  Sweet, even.  This is before the Internets were invented so I write him a letter and he writes me back.  I send a picture and he sends a picture.  His letter with his picture is very enthusiastic.  His picture shows someone who’s not ugly but definitely not a “looker”.  He’s kinda short, but I like short guys.  Why isn’t Larry the man I saw on Broadway a week before wearing the gray cotton lycra tights that showed his beautiful muscular legs and ass?  Ah well, we go with what’s in front of us.

In our next round of letters, Larry and I exchange phone numbers.  We talk a few times, and we each decide that the other is not a lunatic.  We learn that we work not far from each other downtown, so we plan an after work cocktail.  All very safe and sensible for this early AIDS era get-together.  He looks just like his picture, which is not bad but he’s not winning Miss Junior Come And Get It Boys, that’s for sure.  We decide to ride the bus home together and Larry is very flirtatious.  Very.  Like scaring the straight people very.  I ask him to tone it down because hello you don’t know me like that and so he does.  Satisfied he’s not like some of the crazies I’ve met in the past few years, I decide we can see each other again.

In the next week, Larry sends me letters.  Every day.  With pictures.  Explicit pictures of Larry.  Again, not bad, but it seems a little … like we’re rushing things here.  We do live on opposite sides of the same neighborhood, for gossakes, already.

We talk on the phone and decide to do dinner and dancing.  I will come to his place to pick him up and meet his room mates, and then we will go over to my dyke friend’s place and the three of us will hit the town.

I arrive at his building and go up to his apartment.  Cue the ominous music.  He lets me in his apartment and his two male room mates are entangled on the couch, not completely undressed but mostly undressed, and obviously in the way of getting busy.  Look away, Dixieland.  They ask if I want to join them.  I declare, then I decline.  Seems rude to do this in front of Larry, no?  They are muy bonito, but no, I’m a good boy, so let’s bundle Larry up and get moving.  While he’s getting ready, the boys on the couch ask me when Larry is moving in with me.  Turn up the ominous music a few notches, will you?

Walking over to my friend’s building, Larry tells me he has a surprise for me.  I tell him I’ve already had my surprise quota for the night, thanks.  He laughs and says, “you’ll see…”  Note that this is pre-“Silence of the Lambs” so I did not think he was thinking about making a skin suit or anything.

We get to my friend’s place, and go upstairs for a drink and to give her the required eight million hours that lipstick lesbians require to prepare when leaving their apartments.  She immediately does not like Larry.  This is not a good sign.  Ominous music gets louder.

We go to dinner at a Chinese place I’ve never tried because it’s outside the neighborhood.  The food is good and Chinesey.  Ominous music gets quieter here, what with the pre-dinner drink and food calming jittery nerves.

After dinner, we head over to a for gosh sakes real live discotheque.  You know, the kind where you have to pay at the door and then go up about 40 stairs and then there’s a coat check and then you’re allowed entry into the actual space?  Yeah, that kind.

Oh my.  Disco balls and a huge dance floor and varilights or whatever they had back then and smoke and So. Many. People.  We get drinks at the bar and survey the room.  We can’t talk because the music is being propulsed out of speakers the size of my 1976 Chevy Vega.  So far the songs are early 80’s dance music fare, a little New Order, a little Jody Watley, that new Rick Astley song, and some unknowable Madonna twelve-inch remix that no one could move to.  Oh, I hate it when DJ’s get all esoteric with their songs.

And then —

PUMP UP THE VOLUME, PUMP UP THE VOLUME, PUMP UP THE VOLUME, DANCE DANCE hits us as if a wall of well-cemented bricks moved sideways across the floor.  Larry seems super-excited to hear this song.  I was not a fan.  At all.  Something about this song just didn’t sound right, and I never got into it.  But mister Larry, oh my, this was his raison de etre, yes indeedy.  He flung his drink on the bar and ran to the dancefloor.  My lesbian ladyfriend and I exchanged glances.

Larry began doing a jig on the floor.  An Irish jig.  On the dance floor.  My heart bottomed out like a 73 Impala going over a speedbump.  He had a huge grin on his elfin face as he segued into some sort of hoedown jiggery pokery knee-slapping hee-haw chassée which caused the dance floor to become ghost town.  No one wanted to be on the dance floor at the same time as this spectacle of Elaine Marie Benes dance supremacy.

By now we’re at the point where PUT THE NEEDLE ON THE RECORD AND THE DRUM BEAT GOES LIKE THIS hits us and some random singer’s glossolalia wails out of the compact car speakers and attempts to shatter the barware.

Larry is now combining the jig and the hee-haw square dance moves with absolutely no regard to the rhythm of the song.  I begin to suspect he is experiencing an epileptic seizure and wonder if everyone saw me walk in the door with him.  They did.  They’re looking and pointing at him and then they’re looking at me and my sapphic ladyfriend.  I realize the jig is up (literally) when the song ends.  I go on the dance floor, collect him, and we leave.  Much to his bemusement.

My tribadic friend ditches us at the door and goes to her gurls-only bar.  I walk Larry home.  Ominous music is deafening at this point.

On the way home — on a busy main thoroughfare full of cars and people — at 11 pm on a Saturday in Boystown — Larry drops to one knee and opens a small red velvet box.  Inside I see two gold stud earrings.  Managing to contain my horror, I tell him I cannot accept his gift, because I don’t wear gold (true).  He says he wants me to keep the earrings anyway.  I tell him I cannot.  He wants me to come back to his place for nookie.  I tell him I cannot.  He offers his room mates to me (“ooh they really thought you were hot”) and he will watch from the sidelines.

I have finally had enough.  Using all the powers of invective at my disposal, and trust me they are many and legion, I tell Larry in no uncertain terms that his performance this evening, and the performance of his room mates, has convinced me that I would like to never see him again ever, and that would be too soon.

Larry doesn’t believe me.  He thinks I am playing hard to get.  I inform him that it’s not hard to get, it’s impossible to get, so forget we ever met and just move along.

Before this becomes street theater (more than it already has) I bid him good night and walk quickly away.  Larry is left on his knees, crying.  End scene.

They’re all gonna laugh at me

Earlier this week, I wrote about my somewhat random decision to reactivate one of my dating profiles.

Am I currently one of the featured profiles on the site? Yes.

Am I receiving so many responses that I haven’t had time to reply to them all? No.

Have the messages/flirts I’ve sent been responded to with hot n’ heavy promises of a good time? No.

Thus, my results are pretty much mirroring the experiences I’ve encountered previously. That made me sad, but then thanks to the fabulous Miss Anita Manbadly, I shrugged off the negative feelings and decided to have fun.

What came out of that? Why, this funtastic video that I’ve added to my profile!

Who is Planteater?!? from Random Citizen on Vimeo.

Also, I now laugh at profiles. Not in a bitter way, but more in a “Wow, you really think you’re better than me?” sort of way. Here I am contacting you to chat you up, but I’m not good enough? Fool, you’re on a dating site!

My favorites are the ones by older guys who are on a site where most of the females are a good decade or two younger. Oh yeah, Daddy, you go ahead and ignore someone who’s actually interested in older men for those 20-somethings who don’t want to deal with your saggy balls.

So, I may not have boys beating down my door anytime soon, I’m choosing to see this as another learning experience instead of feeling completely sorry for myself.

I’ll still scowl at those fucking lucky trolls in love, though.

Chasing the Unicorn

Earlier this week, I reactivated one of my dating profiles after several months of being off the dating grid. In the hopes of having a fresh start, I created a new username, uploaded new photos, wrote some new “witty” copy, and put together a quick video with additional information on yours truly.

So far, I’ve not received any flirts/winks/happy-smiley-faces. I’ve sent a couple of flirts to a few guys, but didn’t hear back. After seeing some cuties on the site, I sent brief e-mails asking the guys about something mentioned in their profile. No response.

In the back of my mind, I know this is a test of my patience, yet it kills me. Having my e-mail open in a tab for most of the day, I admit I get a little excited at the hopes that when I click over, it will be an e-mail from someone on the site. I figure I have another week before that optimism wears off.

Recently, one of my gay friends went through my roster of talents and asked why I wasn’t married. I simply shrugged my shoulders. It’s not as if I haven’t asked myself that internally. And I don’t even necessarily want to get married.

This is why I can't have nice thingsI’ll readily admit that I’m not hot, nor am I everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I can’t help but get angry when I see two trolls in love while I’m commuting to/from work. Fucking lucky trolls in love.

But I digress…

Anyone else out there playing around in the dating puddle? What tips can you offer in maintaining one’s sanity?