How to Date When You Live in a Van
Plus, why first dates are scary (even for falconers), and how to overcome your nerves
Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m hitting the road for van life and hopefully to up my climbing game. How am I supposed to meet a girl while living a dirtbag life, particularly options other than Tinder?
Congrats on your adventure! I don’t think meeting girls will be your problem; you’ll be climbing and exploring and running into all sorts of like-minded folks. Your bigger challenge will be expressing your interest. A guy traveling in a van, though fun and sexy and exciting, doesn’t exactly scream “potential romantic partner.” After all, wouldn’t he rather be hitting the road? How would he commit to someone, anyway? Would he need to get, like, a permanent parking space? You may find that women, even single women who think you’re totally cute, are reluctant to see you as a potential boyfriend.
The good news is that people gossip. Let’s say you make some new climbing buddies and they ask if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend (which they will, because relationship status is the Age/Sex/Location of in-person encounters). Your answer? “Nope, but I’m looking.” Boom! Suddenly they’re thinking of single friends to set you up with. And if someone’s interested, they’ll hear through the grapevine that you might be, too.
The challenge will come if you and your new beloved start to fall in love: that stage where you’re daydreaming about a future but not sharing those dreams aloud; where you want to be together all the time but feel self-conscious about canceling travel plans for that purpose. The more serious a relationship gets, the less compatible it will be with your lifestyle. Know your priorities. Know what you’re getting into. That way, if the time and opportunity come, you’ll be ready to choose a very different kind of adventure.
I have a first date coming up, and I’m excited, but it’s shortly after an accident where I got a quick talon in the lip from the hawk I hunt with. (I’m a falconer.) It’s not gruesome, but it is a big ol’ fresh cut on my mouth covered up with a waterproof bandage. Sexy, right?
Part of me is glad I have an icebreaker—and part of me is worried a bandage on the lip will look like I’m trying to cover up a herpes outbreak or a zit, or just make it impossible to tell if it’s eye contact of disgust/distraction. We post the best pics of ourselves online. Meeting in person can’t live up to Instagram filters and perfect angles. So when you’re meeting someone for the first time with a random outdoors injury and aren’t looking like the most glamorous versions of ourselves, how do you not scare her away?
Let’s be straight here: This is the opposite of a problem. You are the envy (and the secret hope) of every person to ever go on a first date. You are a falconer. You have a talon hole in your lip. You are infinitely, undeniably cool.
Of course, the issue here isn’t your talon piercing. It’s that you’re meeting someone new, and maybe they’ve stalked you on Instagram, but this date is in real life, which means that instead of seeing the “best” photos that show your nose only from the precise angle that makes it look best, or that one group selfie from a night out that happened to be the only night you went out all summer, they’re going to see your unfiltered face and body and skin. They’re going to hear your loud voice, or your stutter, or the fact that you squeak when you sneeze. The parts of yourself that would never make the Instagram cut, that you’d delete from your deleted files rather than risk posting by accident.
It’s all extra-terrifying because the person on Instagram, the person your date has glimpsed, is the precise person you wish you were. All your private shames? Gone. Your so-called flaws? Cropped from the frame. Here you are, wanting to be seen and cherished and loved—and you’re about to introduce your date to the precise parts of yourself that, on your worst days, make you fear you are unlovable.
Your date feels exactly the same way. And you’re both going to be absolutely fine. Because you know what else Instagram photos don’t capture? The way your cheek twitches when you’re trying not to smile. Your dead-on comedic timing. The fact that you never leave dishes in the sink and always remember your friends’ birthdays. The smell of your neck.
That’s not the bad stuff. It’s the real stuff. It’s the stuff that makes us fall in love.
And hey, if your sore were herpes? A nondangerous medical condition that affects one in six American adults? Honesty and vulnerability go a long way. A light “I can’t believe I’m meeting someone so pretty and I have this stupid cold sore” (emphasis on pretty, not cold sore) will suffice. And at the end of the date, with a laugh and a smile: “Can I take you out next Friday so I can kiss you?” Respectful, interested, and the promise of a kiss hanging over the week? Sexy AF.