“I’m a Bard” he told me when I asked him what he did for a living. I was on a reluctant first date at Fort Mason with a stranger who was wearing skin tight white jeans with ribbed knees and quite a few tears. His legs were twice as skinny as mine and when he walked ahead of me it looked like he had a wedgie.
It was only later when I snuck away into the bathroom to ask Google “what’s a bard” that I found out it was a Renaissance term for a poet who traditionally recites epics associated with a particular oral tradition. Shakespeare was the Bard of Avon.
I splashed water on my face and wondered how I’d managed to get a first date with a man that didn’t know it was 2018 and terms like “bard” were archaic and obsolete.
“I’m a storyteller, a writer, a videographer, a photographer, a musician and an artist. I teach too,” he told me with a straight face. I wanted to say “so you’re unemployed and have a trust fund?” but I was trying to be open minded, which was something new. My close girlfriend told me to remain cute and coy at all costs, because I never gave guys a fair chance. I was contrary and resistant, and probably reasonably so, because first dates with strangers who found you on Instagram usually don’t end well.
He was also wearing a tight floral patterned blouse tucked methodically into his white jeans, black suspenders (for aesthetic not for utility), and a man purse. He didn’t have a single stray eyebrow hair. I’m sure he was going for trendy and sartorially daring, and though he did look polished and dapper, he mostly looked contrived, like an ironic 2018 caricature of an Elizabethan poet. He had a generic white boy name, but he looked like his name was Cornelius or Bartholomew, or like he had multiple first names like Henry Edward James. I’m just going to call him Cornelius.
Normally I would have felt slightly uncomfortable in public with such an extravagantly groomed man with 8 job titles, but we were at West Coast Craft Fair, and everyone here seemed dressed to prove something. Like if they got noticed here by the right person they would be the next greatest thing too.
If you aren’t in the know, West Coast Craft Fair is a carefully curated exhibition of trendy artisans who sell high-end ceramics, textiles, jewelry, clothing, leather goods and other luxury wares. It always feels like a bunch of lifestyle bloggers have gathered to one-up each other with their vintage clothing and hyperactive children who are dressed better than I’ve ever looked a day in my life. And today wasn’t my best day, considering I had been out until 4am (sober) at a nightclub to see a house dj and to relive the “club girl” days of my youth. I hadn’t showered or given much thought to my appearance, feeling overly confident from the night before because the resident photographer had asked to take my photo and then immediately afterwards I was invited into the roped-off VIP section. My holey T-shirt had stains on it and I still had remnants of coral lipstick in the creases of my lips. I felt hungover from a lack of sleep, but self-assured that I was the most authentic version of myself.
To make matters worse, the second I arrived at West Coast Craft Fair I spotted my ex boyfriend. I hadn’t considered the possibility that he would be there. Two months had passed since he abruptly broke up with me with no explanation and walked out of my bedroom, never to speak to me again. It was like seeing a ghost.
Cornelius was late, so I spent 15 minutes casually dodging my ex boyfriend and his new girlfriend in between stalls of exquisite fabrics and fibers and furs. I drank an obnoxiously cold Topo Chico. I thought it’d feel easier to face my 6’6 ex boyfriend if I at least had a cool date with me.
But I wasn’t sure he’d be cool after I stalked his Instagram and saw that he posted videos of himself meditating. But at least he was exceptionally handsome. That’s all that matters at West Coast Craft Fair, right?
Now I paced through throngs of trendsetters with a millennial bard who tells me he plays “theatrical pop rock… think Queen meets Shakespeare”. He shared a lot of grandiose descriptions about what he does, but without giving me any meaningful information. You’d think we’d have connected on both being writers, but he clammed up about the topic as soon as I revealed I am a writer too. He didn’t even recite any poetry.
Eventually I told Cornelius I’d had enough of the craft fair, but on the inside I meant the date. I left with the uncomfortable feeling that I had no sense of who he really was, underneath his aesthetic: the bard. I felt no warmth, no impression of his values, what he actually cared about or how he actually lived his life. All I had was a laundry list of ostensible but vapid descriptions. He gave me an awkward side hug and I felt relieved I’d never have to see him again. I was exhausted.
Last week a friend told me, “you know what your problem is? You date hipsters”.
I couldn’t really argue, especially now that I’d gone on a date with a bard. In the past I’d have eaten this guy up, thinking he was oh so unique and mysterious. Then I would have chased him down in attempts to form the authentic emotional connection that was so clearly missing. Today I don’t have to do that. I can see how futile such a chase would be. It would go how it had always gone: they hide, I seek.
Cornelius is physically attractive. He’s got cute freckles across his nose and travels to countries like Estonia to teach children hippies and owns a hot tub in Marin. But all the self-defined titles and florid accoutrements of his craft fair performance couldn’t convince me that he had any genuine depth to offer me. People who are secure in themselves don’t need a brand to sell. Real substance lies in humility and the grace to show up as you truly are, to lay yourself bare. It’s the tough and tender moments that we experience through vulnerability that generate human connection.
I used to be attracted to the singer-songwriter, the self-proclaimed tortured artist, the beautiful face in beautiful clothes, the unique preferences. But having an obsession with Japanese paper or reproduced French workwear or fountain pens from the 1940’s doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about the person who has the obsession. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of preferences, self-centered and obscure. We all use them to bolster our sense of identity. But at the end of the day, preferences don’t mean shit, they are just another way to hide.
I used to want to date someone who could text me back, who didn’t only contact me after midnight on weekends. Later, I wanted someone who could talk about feelings without shutting down, someone who wouldn’t ghost me after saying I love you. The more hipsters I inadvertently date, the more I realize that what I am attracted to is evolving.
I just want a human with flaws. Flaws that don’t have to be hidden under carefully curated personalities. Now when I meet a mysterious man I don’t get excited to seek a good chase, I just think he’s hiding.
I always thought that the insecurities lay only in me, and not in the people I dated. That if I just tried harder and proved myself worthy, then I could win some sort of mutual affection and emotional wealth. I pursued men believing that underneath their hip exterior there was an ocean of depth waiting to be discovered, that it was my duty to discover it. That if I couldn’t see who they are then it was my fault, that I needed to be more cute and coy. I would always lay my cards on the table, get really vulnerable really fast, in the hopes that it would help them to be vulnerable too. But it always left me feeling unequally exposed.
Like Shakespeare said, all that glitters is not gold.
It’s not my job to uncover someone’s depth. We’ve all got weird mud bubbling underneath the surface that tells us we aren’t enough just as we are, without the clothes or the hobbies or the aesthetic or the job titles. I’m no longer willing to dig around in anyone else’s mud. It’s taken me long enough to trudge through my own, to reveal my own goldmines and gardens.
Yo Cornelius: Olly Olly Oxen Free–I’m done playing hide and seek.
READ: YOU’VE BEEN WARNED