Modern Hate: The Chronicle of the Retreating Couch Surfer

Disclaimer: I did not attempt any type of romantic dalliance with a couch surfer. I have enough attachment issues as it is, to embark on a short and sordid affair with a traveler is something even my questionable judgment would not touch.

In my new house, (free of mushroom ceremonies and weaponry, I am happy to report) we collectively agreed to host couch surfers every few weeks or whenever is convenient.

A little over a month ago, we hosted a couch surfer whose name definitely started with M but beyond that I'm unsure between two choices, so we'll just go with Charlie. He arrived from Canada en route to Mexico with a dog in tow.

I have to devote a paragraph now to the glory of this dog.  I already live with a truly incredible dog, Samson, who is overall probably the greater specimen of canine, (imagine a full grown Border Collie mix lying across your chest as you read Bad Feminist who is also able to play catch in the yard without a leash and literally IGNORE any dog who walks by,) but Hector was just such a joyous surprise that I was smitten from minute one. He was an Australian Shepherd, so friendly, obsessed with me, glorious soft fur, welcomed himself into any area I was sitting from bed to couch immediately....I just wish Hector were mine.

Anyway, I don't really like strangers, so I try to be friendly to the couch surfers while not engaging in a great deal of BE-friending. I don't dislike strangers because of any specific strangers sucking, rather because strangers don't have enough time to 'get' me and I'd rather not waste my energy when I already have very little time to spare on someone who is inevitably going to be confused by my presence and perhaps end up being a little bit rude.

The first day or two, I did my own thing (I was v. busy preparing for new job at fabulous wonderful restaurant) and was cordial to Charlie in passing. The second night, he made us dinner (this is a common couch surfing thing, don't assume he was perfection) and we drank some beers he had offered to buy.

Bougie moment of the blog: he asked what beers to get, and I said 'Just grab a San Diego beer.' I should have known that this is not a statement to level to people who aren't from here, but I didn't think it was that hard. The liquor stores and even the 7-11 all carry a decent selection of really quality San Diego craft beers. He came back with...Karl Strauss. 

For those who don't live here, or aren't snobs, San Diego is basically America's craft beer capital, and we have tens – hundreds of breweries which make excellent original craft beers and have not corporatized. Karl Straus is probably the bottom rung of this ladder. The beer is weak, they try to come out with new flavors and are literally always off the mark, they're 100% corporatized....I'm sorry I'm just being a jerk.

Anyway, we obviously drank them anyway because we're not old enough to be so snobby as to turn down free beer, and then I opened a bottle of wine. Charlie started telling us about all his conspiracy theories, Natasha had to go home, Alexia (roommate) and I engaged in a lively intellectual debate with Charlie, which made me happy because my life is lacking these. Then, Alexia had to go to bed. Charlie however did not want to go to bed, and although I am usually the first to retire, I was ready to keep engaging in lively debate.

We went to Salt and Cleaver, which made a previous appearance in Modern Hate on my first date with a fellow who had shockingly not entirely retreated from my life. We had the same fabulous waiter, which I always have to point out because I am a waitress and truly great servers are rarer than a perfectly poached egg.

About an hour in, Charlie stopped mid conversation and said,

“Can I tell you something?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Yes?”

“And I don't want you to get offended...” I was suspicious, because this sounded quite familiar to the man who went on to correct my grammar.

“Sure, go for it.”

“I think you talk too much.  And I really don't mean that in the way you think. You just have so many interesting and smart things to say, but I think that they sometimes get obscured by all the...other things you're saying.”

I laughed and first quickly told him, “lol you think you're the first person in my twenty three years of life to bring this up,” and said I wasn't offended, that I'd heard this before, but then my side of the argument – which can be encapsulated here:

I get that I imbibe my stories with too many details. It's been a lot of years of living and talking the exact same way. So first we have the perk in this world of so many young idiots changing their personalities on the daily to suit what other people want from them, that I am just me regardless. Secondly, if my stories and discussions were all just the intelligent musings, I think they would really lose something. I'm not out here trying to be the smartest or the most observant person in the room. I'm just trying to be myself, with my odd view of the world, and that odd view includes a lot of superfluous details and not always seemingly necessary commentary. I think that it's this that makes me interesting, not that I use big words and am perceptive.

We could have gone on to argue about it, but it's really hard to say because by this time I was pretty drunk. My tolerance is alas not what it used to be. Still, he convinced me to go to another bar, where we got into an argument about Lorde and Iggy Azalea.

At some point during this lively argument, I turned to him, grabbed his arm, and said “We need to go home right now or I'm going to die. I'm sorry.”

We walked home, and once I was carefully ensconced in my bed I felt better (I'm usually not sick when I realize I need to go home, I haven't gotten sick from drinking since the time I puked the second I got out of a cab with Natasha in March, rather I just need to be in my bed immediately) and we were able to continue conversing.

See the scene: I'm curled up in bed, couch surfer is standing awkwardly next to my bed talking to me.

This is another reason why I don't like strangers. Because the second I get comfortable with people, I consider them a friend.

“You can sleep in my bed if you want,” I told him.

“Really??” Charlie seemed genuinely shocked that I would offer this.

“Uh, yes, duh. Platonic bed sharing is a very big thing in my culture.” Notice that I threw out platonic right away, because I'm not stupid.

“I have been sleeping on couches for a while...” he said, still bemused at the prospect of platonic bed sharing.

“Yeah, dude, it's fine. I have a queen size bed. They're meant for sharing.”

So he slept in my bed and didn't hook up thank the lord, and it was really nice. In college, I slept in beds with other people probably at least half of any given week if not more. I'd forgotten how much I miss it. It's comforting to have a fellow human body next to you as you sleep.

So in the morning, I felt great. I spend a lot of time alone, so I sometimes forget how nice it is to be around another person for a long time. The upside of this is that I get a lot more done, which at this point in my life is probably more important than sharing my bed with people who aren't as comfortable with non-sexual intimacy as I am.

I had some kind of thing to do that morning, yoga, training at new job, whatever. I got back and the dogs and the Charlie were in the house. I said,

“Let's dog park now yeah?” Which anyone who knows me would understand as 'hey we're friends now, let's take the dogs to the park.' I assumed that after five hours of talking and sleeping in bed together that Charlie was at this level.

Charlie gave me a blank stare. “You....want me to take the dogs to the dog park?”

“No....I am going to take Samson to the dog park and I assumed you might want to take your also active dog. And if we are both going to do this activity we may as well do it together.”

He still was giving me a weird look. “Uh...sure. Let me get him ready.”

We did go to the dog park, but we were no longer in a lively intellectual debate. I had to resort to occasionally asking him what his favorite things were or commentating on my knowledge of the route to the dog park. My anxiety levels rose. Then he was really into getting pizza, but didn't want to drop off the dogs first, so I was very confused, and had to take the dogs into a luckily very friendly pizza shop while he conversed with a stranger at the bus stop for longer than he had with me on the entire dog walk. By the time we got home, I was so stressed out that I had to retreat to my room under the guise of studying new restaurants menu, when in actuality I probably panic-googled Emily Gould and tried to figure out why I felt so strange.

One of the amazing things about being single and devoid of many commitments in your early twenties is that it gives you the chance to really examine how you relate to the world not as a function of a particular community. You realize what parts of you are you and which parts of you were based in the place you were at the time. 

I didn't figure out why I felt so strange until a couple of weeks later. I was high with the fellow whom I first visited Salt and Cleaver with. Me getting high with people I don't know well is a very dangerous game because I start spouting off all these theories that I now have the time and space to develop. I started telling this fellow the story of the couch surfer, and as I told it I began to realize what had happened and how it relates to the greater arc of my life.

I am not comfortable around strangers. “But Becca, your job is to talk to them all day!” True. I'm very comfortable with those strangers, because when I'm with customers I'm acting. I'm “Nameless chipper and witty waitress who makes you feel comfortable and laugh all at once.” I'm not really being weird me. So around strangers I don't really act like myself until...

I start to feel comfortable around them, which is what tends to happen when you drink with someone for five hours and let them sleep in your bed.

I don't notice when I'm getting comfortable. It just happens, and suddenly I'm real me. This is usually a great moment because people tend to love real me. But, there is a potential problem.

Sometimes, people initially love real me, and then the next day or week or whenever we see each other next they don't know how to navigate that they have suddenly had a non-sexually intimate conversation with someone. I'm big on intimacy. Real me is all about intimacy - I think it's the only way to be when I am sharing with them the very unique way that I interact with the world. Most people can get used to non-sexual intimacy because they've had it at some point before.

Other people just don't know how the fuck to react. So they retreat, and they don't know what I'm saying when I say 'We go dog park now, yes?' They don't want to continue engaging with the world or another person at such a close level.

This is why I have a hard time with strangers. When people are going to be in my life for a long time – roommates, coworkers, potential friends – they're going to figure it out eventually. Couch surfers, strangers when I was traveling, anyone who there's a probability that I won't continue to see on a regular basis – they probably aren't going to figure it out.

And now you see how this all relates to dating. It makes it really fucking difficult. Because in this modern world of the millions of options of tinder, bars, people, humans everywhere, when people don't know how to react to someone, they think 'Ah, I shall move on to another human, in the infinite sea of possibilities.' Most people don't think that this is possibly a thing that would be interesting and fun to get used to in the future, and that my way of thinking and interacting with the world is a grand adventure, which the people who I'm close with already know.

 There was a time when I was just so upset by people, romantic interests or possible friendships or strangers I met while traveling, not getting me and retreating. Now, in the words (title) of Emily Gould: "And the heart says whatever." Figuring it out was great because it enabled me to analyze these patterns and see that the people who stick around are the ones I want in my life anyway. Certain situations (work being a weird but good example) are great because these people are forced to be around me for so long that they will inevitably find joy in my odd way of interacting with the world. And to the strangers, the potential suitors, the couch surfers, the sad old artistic men – I wish you the best, see you in another life.