BY JODI WALKER
Hi! My name is Jodi, and about eight months before the pandemic hit, I transitioned my life as a single, freelance journalist living far from home in New York City, to a single, freelance journalist living closer to home in Asheville.
I understand how local residents feel about outsiders coming in and swinging our big, girthy opinions around with little regard for how life went on before we moved our vintage hat collections down from Brooklyn. However, being single, lonely and simmering with surface-level horniness during a pandemic is a topic I feel uniquely qualified to comment on. It’s also a topic that, until recently, I had no idea could be perceived so differently by another Broolynite-cum (or not, as it were)-Ashevillean [“From a Distance: What I’ve Learned About Dating in Asheville During a Pandemic,” Jan. 6, Xpress]. And, frankly, I’m feeling a little defensive of my new town, my gender and humor at large.
Brooklyn to Asheville
In Brooklyn, I had two roommates and an apartment so tight that we had to store our suitcases on top of the refrigerator. In Asheville, I have a porch, a kitchen big enough to lay down a yoga mat and a newfound passion for bear sightings. So, I’d call that a net positive. Still, it was difficult going into lockdown in a new city where none of my casual cocktail dates had yet revealed themselves to be a suitable quarantine cuff. But I took solace in the fact that keeping myself socially distanced from others meant that I was keeping my new community safe.
Because over the last year and a half, Asheville has shared its mountain views, its wide sidewalks and its single men with me — and in return, I have tried not to berate its citizens for neglecting to offer me casual sex during a pandemic.
Don’t get me wrong, I would like to maintain casual relationships during quarantine. In a vulnerable moment, I recently admitted to some friends that I thought my house was being haunted by a very specific ghost who had thrice turned on a bedside gadget of mine in the middle of the night. I still have no explanation for that, but the way they laughed in my face makes me think that it’s at least proof that pandemic-related horniness can be funny.
Pandemic within a pandemic
Of course, the very first time I noticed this pandemic within a pandemic for the unlaid among us was as early as May when every single man I had ever exposed one collar bone to texted me in unison to see, and I quote, “What’s up?”
And what was up, reader? Why, our collective libidos, of course. Because I think all single Ashevilleans can at least agree that being alone during a pandemic isn’t easy. I’d say the mental strain of not seeing loved ones and bearing the constant oppressive weight of an unknowable deadly virus are the biggest challenges — but not getting laid is definitely the funniest part of it.
What’s not funny, however, is the suggestion that anyone has a right to sex, tangential to a partner who desires to have it with them, particularly during a pandemic. Declaring mistreatment because one’s own desires aren’t being met is called entitlement, and it’s unlikely to charm the pants off anyone, no matter the city in which you’re swiping right.
Apples to apples
From my own perspective as a cisgender straight white woman, the quality of dating in Asheville isn’t much different from anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Because being a straight woman on Bumble, Hinge or Tinder means consistently weeding through a small group of men who feel entitled to your time and attention simply because they saw your photo scroll across their screen. These guys seem sure that it’s my job — the job of a stranger! — to protect their egos from feeling rejected, ignored or undesired. But that’s where they’re wrong.
My job is to write jokes about The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, an altogether more bizarre task, and yet a more fun and tenable one than risking my health to offer strangers the suggestion of sex during a pandemic. Any rejection or lack of interest is not a personal attack but simply a reflection of my own needs and desires, which stand the potential to be different from someone else’s on account of me being an autonomous human. (Wild, if true.)
But once you’ve weeded that group out, you’re left with the many, many men who respect women as individuals right here in our special city. Men who, amid a pandemic, understand that someone else’s choice to put a pause on meeting in person has nothing to do with them; who understand that their mounting horniness is actually just a fun new character trope to explore, rather than the fault of someone else (women) or something else (Asheville).
I would never suggest that someone has to take the exact same COVID-19 precautions as I. But I would also request that they not take my precautions as a personal attack against their happiness, nor that they time travel to 2004 to call women “butterfaces getting away with murder” for protecting their community behind a face covering. That’s not being canceled; that’s asking for respect that should be offered freely.
A healthy outlook
For me, keeping a healthy outlook about dating during a pandemic — and more recently, not dating during a pandemic — has meant readjusting my expectations. Pandemic dating is never going to be as effortless as messaging someone “hey” at noon and taking them home by midnight. There’s nothing chill about asking someone for a detailed list of how many people they’ve recently gotten within 6 feet of before you grab a masked margarita together.
If there is a faultless pandemic dater, I’m not her. I admit to keeping my app accounts live, despite knowing that I’m not currently prepared to take on the physical risk of dating in Asheville while temperatures limit social distancing opportunities. So, what could occasionally lead me to fire up an app that shows me pretty pictures of men scaling nearby mountains, and more often than not, holding fish? I guess just that distinct brand of loneliness that mounts after logging off an energetic Zoom gathering only to find yourself instantly alone, not in the mood to watch Bridgerton and not quite ready to face the ghost haunting your bed.
Pandemic-related isolation is hard, and it’s only natural to want some sympathy for one’s hardships. If that sympathy isn’t granted, it’s completely reasonable to feel a little sorry for yourself. But once that’s done, well — the options are endless. You might get laid, you might write an insightful essay, or you might even manage to do both.
Who knows, maybe in four-14 months when I’m named The Last Person on Earth to Get Vaccinated, there could be a line of men at my door so aroused by my thinly veiled rage that they can’t wait to date me IRL. But probably not. So, until then, let’s keep hope alive, kiss entitlement goodbye and recognize that the thirst is very, very real right now.
Jodi Walker is a freelance pop culture journalist getting away with absolute murder behind her CDC-recommended mask. Unfortunately, she has no dogs, but like many single women, she does have a longform newsletter about The Bachelor franchise.