Less Than Butterflies, No. 1
“Some people are settling down; some people are settling; and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”
Generally speaking, dating can be fun. Dating in Houston, on the other hand, can often feel . . . obligatory. In a city of over five million people, one might think that the options available are vast and perennial. After all, all our friends are doing it. Right? If they aren’t, they’ve probably already settled down or have at least settled for someone because they were tired of mining through the endless herds of undatable people.
For gay men in Houston, it’s usually always the same sort. There’s lives-with-his-parents guy, has-too-many-roommates guy, just-wants-to-hook-up guy, wants-to-fall-in-love-immediately guy, and often even gay-republican guy—the worst of them all. And the dates? Well, they all seem repetitive, too. Dinner at Cyclone Anaya’s in Midtown; $10 bottles of wine at Barnaby’s (an option I don’t particularly hate); ice skating at Discovery Green in the wintertime; dancing and doing coke at South Beach (FYI: not a date, gentlemen).
Inevitably, there comes the postcoital wave of regret—looking over at a stranger who is just as ready for you to leave as you are to leave; sneaking out of some shitty Montrose hellhole apartment in the wee hours of the morning, just as the sprinklers of the neighbors—whose luxurious townhome you’d hoped to be hooking up in—power on; forgetting you Ubered to your hook-up.
For we Millennials, a subtle escape from this trap has been air-dropped into our phones. Several, actually. Tinder, Scruff, J-Date, Farmer’s Only, Grindr—I’m still waiting on the lesbian hookup app called Lickr. Still, there’s a certain conceit behind dating in queer culture—especially so following the introduction of these dating apps. They’ve stepped in and started minimizing the once boastful, giddy romance of meeting the right person. There are no meet-cutes anymore. There are no accidental run-ins at the bookshop or a coffee house. Romance has left the building, now replaced by right swipes and recognizable pings coming from cell phones when someone attractive is nearby.
I, personally, have never taken Tinder seriously. Still, every now and again a conversation might spark between me and no one in particular that would ultimately lead down a rabbit hole of realizations that we had nothing in common and that the person on the opposite side was only looking for sex. Neither suited my fancy; and I never even entertained the idea of meeting any of these men.
There was, however, one occasion in which I was able to hold a decent conversation with a man, and we kept it going sporadically for a couple months to follow. Our interests were quite similar: musicals, books, etc. Once or twice I even thought maybe I should ask this boy—we’ll call him Ezra Rochester—for a date. Still, I found myself at a loss of nerves and never made the leap to do so. I knew little about him, other than the fact that he loved musicals as much as I did and that he had an adorable dog I was probably more interested in meeting than I was him.
As the time passed, I found myself in a relationship with a boy I’d met at The Room Bar in North Houston. We dated briefly before I realized he was dumber than a hot bag of stones, but it was just long enough for me to have rid myself of my Tinder app. When the guy from the bar and I broke up, I didn’t think about Ezra. He was just a picture and a conversation in an app I’d deleted. It never occurred to me that in a city of over five million people, chance might bring us together.
Ezra turned out to be much cuter in person than he was in photos. Not to say that he wasn’t attractive in his pictures. After all, I’d swiped right for some reason. He was shorter than me, but not terribly so. He had forsaken his glasses in the name of Lasik. He was clean-shaven; and he didn’t have terrible teeth. It was enough for me.
We met like any other two people who had once upon a time matched on Tinder. I, the volunteer chair for Pride Houston, was hosting an orientation a few weeks out from the parade and festival. He was there to learn the ins-and-outs of being a volunteer. I didn’t recognize him at first. If I had to remember the face of every man I’ve ever seen on Tinder, I’d be in a great deal of trouble. It wasn’t until he was gone and I had already been doing a great deal of flirting (as pointed out by my friend Alice) that I took it upon myself to Facebook-stalk him.
“Omigod,” I muttered to Alice. “We matched on Tinder like in the fall of last year. Christ. I was just shamelessly flirting with him.”
“You really were,” Alice muttered.
“Was he flirting back?” I asked.
Alice looked thoughtful for a moment—a common look that crosses her face but often remains stuck to it once the thought has passed or imploded. “I don’t know. I think maybe a little. It’s hard to tell.”
I made up my mind then. I had for the first time met someone from Tinder—even if unintentionally. I wasn’t sure whether or not I believed in coincidence, but I knew that in a city as large, as spread-out, and as heavily populated as Houston, two people didn’t just happen upon each other in this way very often. It could have meant nothing. In fact, it probably didn’t mean a thing at all. Still, I wasn’t going to find out if I didn’t see it through.
The day of the Houston LGBT Pride Celebration 2017, Ezra spent nearly the entire day volunteering and was even the last of my volunteers to leave. To say things wouldn’t have gotten done without him—at least not as quickly as they did—would be an understatement. And at the end of it all, as he, Alice, and I watched the last U-Haul drive off carrying supplies, looking back up at Houston’s City Hall, Ezra turned his attention back us both, gave an awkward smile, and said, “Well . . . see you next year.”
“Next year?!” I shrieked as soon as he was out of earshot. “I don’t even know if I like him yet or not and I have to wait until next year to find out?”
“You could just go over there and ask him out,” Alice suggested.
Not an option.
I didn’t then nor do I feel it’s fair to ask someone out after a 12-hour volunteer shift in the splintering sun. No rational decisions could be made. Still, there was something compelling about him that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He was cute, and completely awkward and nerdy (my default type). It could have been the way that he had a playfully combative response to each and every witty thing that I said. It could have even been the dryness of his humor. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that a boy put a smile on my face while I was altogether sober that I hadn’t met in a bar like so many before him.