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Jen Doll

Edible Complex

Getty, Alberto E. Tamargo / AP, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Jen Doll | Longreads | April 2019 | 18 minutes (4,598 words)

According to those jaded but constant belief systems that keep the worst romantic comedies in business, the third date is the make-or-break one. In these busy times, the idea goes, by date three you’ve spent enough time together to determine if either of you is a serial killer, or hiding something very bad in your closet (metaphorical or otherwise), or has the tendency to type “hehehe” when laughing by text. And if the relationship by date three veers toward make rather than break, well, finally the “rules” have lifted: It is THE MOMENT to get naked (not at the restaurant, please). The thinking is based in some combination of propriety and sexual policing and also sheer time management: You haven’t put so much energy or effort into this budding romance that uncovering an in-the-sheets incompatibility ruins your entire life — but it’s also not so soon it’s considered “rushing in,” which, when applied to women, of course, means “being too slutty.”

No matter that “slutty” is an outmoded, sexist concept and that you should sleep with a person if and when you feel like it (and if and when they consent), I grew up with “the third date’s the sex date!” pressed upon me as, if not law, then at least a kind of informed ideology: Do it then to uncover any latent micropenises or irrecoverable technique problems; do it then to get it over with because would you look at that elephant in the room?; do it then to get the rest of your relationship started; do it then because by the third date, what else is there to do?

So, when it came time for the third date with a man I’d been seeing — a guy who lived in upstate New York, which meant our third date would be more of a weekend visit; did each night count as a date, I wondered, or was it the whole package, a kind of Club Med situation with dinners and entertainment included? — there was a certain amount of buried internal stress and anticipation related to the event. Not that I was going to go get a Brazilian, or anything. I was in my 40s. Those days of paying a stranger to rip large swathes of hair from my nether regions had blessedly gone by the by. (Yes, I said “nether regions.”) But in my brain, a place far more difficult for strangers to reach, my thoughts were going a little bit wild. I’d been dumped earlier in the year, I’d gotten back up and shaken myself off, I’d tried again, and I’d actually met someone. But how many rounds of the dating game was I prepared to endure? If things went in the direction of “break” — what next, not only for me and this guy, but maybe for me and anyone? This is what rom-coms never really tackle: What happens when you get so tired of dating, so disappointed by all the prospects, you just give up?

In the absence of answers, I sought to occupy myself. I took a train to Beacon, New York, a town about an hour away from where my date lived — he’d pick me up there the next day, and our third date would begin — and met some friends I was just getting to know. We watched a poet read from her impressive collection in a garden, surrounded by trees and flowers and sunshine. I wasn’t even so sure how I felt about poetry readings, but I liked this version of me, trying new things, with different people. I bought several of the poet’s books, and had her sign one, even though I’d not known much of her work until that moment.
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Age Appropriate

igorr1 / Getty, James Woodson / Getty, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Jen Doll | Longreads | September 2018 | 20 minutes (4941 words)

In the summer of 2017, when I was 41 years old, I temporarily lost my parents. This is both less and more dramatic than it sounds. On August 1st, the start of the Long Island beach house rental I’d arranged for the month, I got into a car with my mom and dad, who’d helpfully flown up from Florida to join me for the initial stage of this retreat after I realized I hadn’t driven since I was a teenager, and I wasn’t going to start trying again on the Long Island Expressway.

After we loaded the rental car and I dutifully fastened my seatbelt in the backseat, assuming the position of so many family road trips past, I realized I hadn’t mailed my maintenance for my Brooklyn apartment. “Hang on — I’ll be right back!” I yelled, grabbing the envelope with the check in it and dashing across the street toward a mailbox. My dad waited at the side of the road, but then came a surge of traffic, and then a cop, and he had to drive on. “Noooooooo!” I yelled, chasing after the rental car (what kind was it anyway? I had no idea!) in the heat, knowing even as I did my perfunctory sad jog that there was no way I’d catch up.

I had no phone, no purse, no keys, no way to communicate with them other than to send mental signals: I will be right here waiting for you, a Richard Marx song on repeat. When you lose someone, stay put!, I remembered, a lesson imparted at various times during my childhood. So I waited. And waited. Finally, I saw the rental car heading back in my direction. No need to know the make or model when Mom was leaning out of the passenger side window, waving in the wind, shouting my name at the top of her lungs. They’d found me.

It was not the most auspicious beginning to our trip, and I felt relief and embarrassment in equal measures. I was, by all accounts, an adult. Yet I was never really a grown-up, particularly not when my parents were around.
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Flying Solo

Illustration by Katie Kosma

Jen Doll | Longreads | July 2017 | 24 minutes (6,048 words)


The day after my boyfriend of nearly a year broke up with me because I wasn’t an evangelical Christian also happened to be the day before a trip we’d planned together: five days and four nights in beautiful, sunny, USA-tropical Miami. It was supposed to be a romantic escape from January New York, gray in the best of instances but ever drearier on account of the swirling political anxiety and despair that followed Donald Trump’s election and inauguration. It was like the weather was in on everything that had turned us all upside down, too; it rained like the skies were weeping. (They had good reason, what with climate change.) Since November, politics was all anyone was talking about, all anyone could talk about. We’d been looking at each other with dazed, pained expressions while attempting to gird ourselves for what was next, and the nexts kept coming, faster and more furious. Talking about politics was increasingly exhausting, even when you did it with people you agreed with. But with my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else.

It turned out that he had been living something of a double life, unknown to me upon perusal of his Tinder profile and most of the numerous dates we’d been on since. From May to fall he appeared as your typical liberal “coastal elite,” or at least my conception of one, which is to say, he wore plaid shirts and hipster sneakers, he enjoyed drinking and good food and Brooklyn bars and indie bands; he was sophisticated and smart and funny and sweet and quirky. He worked in the arts. He was, like me, writing a book. I never once saw him read a Bible.

Except. As we grew closer, this valuable information began to flow out, in fits and starts. He’d grown up evangelical, and even though I believed he’d moved on from what I considered a repressive childhood — after all, he was dating me, a person whose secularity very nearly dripped from her Twitter page; he was enough of a progressive to wrestle with the views of his Trump-voting parents and even criticize them (though not to their faces) — what appeared to be vestiges of those beliefs would pop up now and again in our conversations, emotional bombs that led to explosions.

After I participated in the Women’s March in New York City, he confessed he’d once been in a march, too. But, um, a pro-life one. “Ages ago, though, and it was pretty lame,” he said.

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