Why dating is a lot like this animal guidebook I bought at a thrift store


Being single as a 35-year-old woman in the tech age is an interesting science experiment. There’s a lot that’s cool about it, like your time is all your own, you actually feel pretty good in your skin and you have some solid sense of what you want. You also get to tinker with tools of modern romance that your peers missed out on entirely, like Tinder.

If you don’t know what Tinder is, because you live under a rock (forgivable in these times, as it’s surely safer there), it’s a phone dating app that basically works like this: You set your age and gender preferences, set the mileage of your search radius, and then parse through hundreds of short profiles that the app pulls up for you, each with five or six pictures and a terse little bio, swiping left to reject and right to match.

My married friends and friends with children, who are legion in my social circles at this point, always seem to want to TRY my Tinder app. To them it’s both exotic and vaguely nostalgic, like a game on a Game Boy, if Nintendo had made a game where you were a rat trained to press a paddle over and over again expecting some reward, but then simply began pressing the paddle because there was ALWAYS MORE PRESSING TO DO.

Well, now I’ve discovered something that will truly illuminate the experience for the happily-attached-yet-curious. The other day I was buying, of all things, a baggie full of vintage wooden buttons, when I came across a battered 1972 paperback called READING the OUTDOORS at NIGHT: A complete guide to the sounds, sights, and smells of the wilderness after dark.

The book opens with what could be construed as an excellent explanation of what it’s like to when you first become single: “Many people find themselves in the dark, in the outdoors at night, for some reason or another. Some have gone for a walk and found the dark coming quicker than they imagined. Others may have a car break down and so be on a dark road for a while. Some, such as woodsmen and messengers, have to go through dark areas as a part of their work. … Some people go on hikes and get lost in the dark; they usually become thoroughly frightened.”

But don’t worry, the book goes on, because singleness is celebration. And part of the reason for that celebration is DATING ON TINDER: “How few of these people realize what a grand and still safe adventure the dark can be, and how filled with interest and wonder! One of the rewards of exploring the outdoors at night is the chance to meet many interesting nocturnal creatures.”

Among these creatures are:

-Men who inexplicably take unsmiling selfies seatbelted into the driver’s seat of a car while alone (swipe left!)

-Men with pectorals bigger than their heads who post gym-mirror selfies (swipe left!)

-Men with pectorals AND biceps bigger than their heads who crouch naked in artificially purple-lit waterfalls surrounded by artificially-verdant pools (Swipe right! Cries my friend Willi, before I wrestle the phone away and swipe left!)

-Men who REEEEEAAAAAALLY like cats (swipe dependent on other factors, such as evidence of shared interests)

-A guy with his pants pulled down and his butt pointed skyward, so it looks like a rainbow is shooting out (OK, yeah, swipe right).

-A guy who’s shaved off JUST the left half of his beard (OK, yeah, swipe right on that one, too)

-Portland’s naked roller-skating superhero (DEFINITELY, yes … this guy for real naked tackled someone who was stomping on a rainbow flag last year at Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride. HERO.)

Then, if you are lucky enough to get through the awkward Tinder texting phase, the book explains, you will enter the “night world,” which is “to be surrounded with the least-known area of all life’s activity outside of the deep sea.”

But you must be careful here, for “your attitude while walking or sitting in the outdoors may well help or hinder the chances of seeing creatures, particularly the mammals, who are extremely sensitive to smells or sights that may convey emotions to them. If one is afraid or nervous, many animals can smell this, or can see nervous motions, which can cause them to become upset and move quickly away or hide. Become instead calm and collected, moving, when necessary, very deliberately and without any hasty motions.”

It may help, the book suggests, to wear one of these attractive outfits:

Makeup doesn’t hurt, either, so you may also consider “smudging the face with charcoal, and rubbing exposed skin and clothes with a strong-smelling plant that hides the human smell.”

Then of course, the challenge is identifying just which kind of nocturnal creature you are encountering. This may not be the same kind of creature you thought you had swiped right on. “Note particularly the length of the tail and ears,” the book cautions “and the shape of the head and body.”

If he’s wearing a suitcoat with no tie, an open-collared button down and a dissatisfied expression, he may turn out to be a tech-industry refugee who talks for thirty minutes about intellectual property while you drink two beers in complete silence.

If he’s riding a fixie and wearing tight black pants, he may be a bike messenger who plays in a somnambulant rock band. This will actually be a pleasant date, because you will learn all about bike messenging and drink wine, eat cookies and watch the Disney version of Cinderella on an outdoor screen while he chainsmokes.

If he’s really into climbing and for some reason insists on sometimes wearing a belly shirt, he may work in outdoor retail, and you will accidentally get locked in a park with him at night and have to sleep under a blanket covered in dog hair in the back of your truck. He will buy you donuts.

If he’s got an undercut and a lot of tattoos, he may be a grumpy but charming artist who likes extinct megafauna, and you may walk through a graveyard in pouring rain and later eat pie with crust made from chestnuts salvaged from same graveyard. You may end up dating that guy for a long while.

If he’s a boy-next-doorish former park ranger who seems suspiciously innocuous at first, he may start texting to try to get you to send him dirty pictures of yourself. You will instead send him photos of 1) dirty socks, 2) a doorknob and, 3) a whale that’s been dead for three weeks.

And if he’s a naked roller-skating superhero, you may simply just go eat some pho, and learn a new conspiracy theory or two.

After that, if you’re still not having any luck? Well, then it’s time to get creative:

Text and illustrations filched from Reading the Outdoors at Night, written charmingly by Vinson Brown, and illustrated charmingly by Phyllis Thompson. Potentially available at a thrift store near you, sandwiched between a book on tatting doilies and a compendium of research on fellatio.

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Categorized in: Animals, Behavior, Curiosities, Miscellaneous, Sarah, Sex