The problem with “Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip”

Don’t you hate it when you’re just about to drift off to sweet slumberland, about to say “night night!” to social media, but then at the very last moment, you notice an infuriatingly gender-stereotyped post from an organization whose image is built on (some version of) feminism? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday’s good night’s sleep was ruined by this article from Bustle. If you don’t know Bustle, it’s a blog/website/”lifestyle brand” (because that’s a thing now) that describes itself as being “for & by women who are moving forward as fast as you are.” In the case of women rocking the outdoors, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be very fast.

When I first saw the headline – Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip – I did a little snort-laugh. I came across the link on Facebook; it was a sponsored ad from Bustle and Barefoot Refresh Spritzers, whatever the hell that combination of words is supposed to mean. Regardless, the guffaw was because since it was from Bustle, assumed that I’d click on it and arrive at a righteous, satirical blurb saying something along the lines of “whatever any human of any sex or gender needs for any camping trip.” You know, because feminism and all.

I should have known better.

While I like to think that the article was written with the best intentions, I was sorely disappointed to find it a staunch reinforcement of the rugged outdoorsman stereotype, and of its counterpart — the YOLO-pleading, eyeliner-slinging, but-I-might-break-a-nail whining, “I’ll just stay here at camp and play board games and make you guys some sandwiches for when you get back from your hike”… girl.

First of all, why do “girls” need to have our own, separate (and most assuredly not equal) guides to enjoying the outdoors? I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some things we need to do a little differently. For example, as an ACA-certified canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard instructor, I sought a lifejacket that was practical and rugged, but would snugly and safely fit my womanly curves. Let me tell you about the many color options. (And don’t even get me started on pockets.)

But living with a pink, floral lifejacket isn’t even the start of the deep and dangerous gender divide of outdoor recreation. This post is getting long enough as it is, and plenty of more articulate (and less frustrated) people have written plenty of worthy words about it. So read up:

I’ll stick to what I came here for: that bothersome headline from Bustle. In the comments section on Facebook, one reader defended the seemingly sexist clickbait, pointing out that the article really does contain some useful information for beginner campers who might be nervous about spending their first weekend away from civilization. And that’s absolutely true.

But here’s the question: why didn’t they call the article “Everything You Need For Your First Camping Trip” or “Everything A Beginner Needs for a Beginners’ Camping Trip”? Why do we have to jump to women — sorry, not even women, but girls?

By doing this, Bustle has directly marketed to women in the outdoors, and made two very dangerous assumptions about those women before even reaching the first word of the article: that women are (A) inexperienced and unable to use the internet machine to teach themselves how to tie a knot and (B) more interested in spritzers and Instagram than forging a genuine connection with nature and making meaningful memories.

So I’ll step down off my soapbox with one final thought. Should those of us who have a bit of outdoorsy experience under our Patagonia strap-style belts be writing smart, accessible, fun articles to help acquaint people with the outdoorsy lifestyle, and to help them have a comfortable, fun, stress-free first experience in the outdoors so that they don’t run away crying and never come back? Of course.

Should we be confusing that with “LOL camping 4 girlz”? Probably definitely not.

If you’ve read the articles linked above (and beyond!) and are ready to get outdoors yourself, here are some great resources for any beginner in the outdoors — girl, boy, woman, man, none of the above, all of the above, in between or around the above, whomever:

And if you’re as self-righteously pissed as I am about using “girls” interchangeably with “helpless n00bs”, here are some organizations that are doing great things to close that outdoors gender gap, and you should totes support them:

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‘swarm.

The temperature of the bath mom drew when I was a kid always seemed somewhat like the song of a Field Sparrow — first boldly wrong, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, finally converging with minuscule tweaks of the H and C knobs on some ethereal point of Just Right.

How’s that, baby?

That’s hot.

How’s that?

It’s cold.

How bout now?

‘s hot.

Okay, now?

‘s chilly.

What about this?

‘swarm.

Warm is good.

‘stoowarm.

…Okay, now?

‘scool.

Cool is fine.

‘stoocoo.

‘swarm.

Too warm?

No. ‘sgood.

The song of the Field Sparrow is commonly described this way: like dropping a basketball from a moderate height, it first makes a grand gesture of bouncing, but the next bounce is a little more modest, and the next is downright meek, and then it’s down by your ankles, really just vibrating against the floor until it converges on the ‘sgood of stillness.

 

via Daily Prompt: Swarm

Chronos and kairos

A good friend taught me something earlier today. She taught me about the concept of there being two sorts of time: chronos and kairos. (If you already knew this, you may skip ahead.)

The universe is a pretty impressive metronome, when you think about it. For something so big, it’s remarkably consistent in its comings and goings and loop-de-loopings. We measure years this way, and days, and in between we’ve portioned out hours and months and all manner of organizational units. Our sundials told us, and our watches tell us, and I’m sure someday our surgically-implanted brain microchips will quietly remind us of this: chronos time.

The other sort of time, though, is not so easy to pin down and wrangle into boxes and hang numbers around. Kairos is more about the natural timing of things… or maybe, more accurately, about the happening of things. Things happen as they will, sometimes, with very little regard for our chronos-keeping devices. Certain things don’t keep a schedule… or maybe, more accurately, they sure do keep a schedule, but it’s not one that our silly little human brains could possibly hope to decode. It’s more, like, the time of the universe, man.

Maybe there’s never really a “perfect moment” to do anything. But if there is, kairos knows when it will be, and where it will be, and how it will happen, and it won’t allow you to do anything to rush it any closer, no matter how hard you try.

This is part of the problem I have with writing. Like many people, and perhaps especially artists, I have a lot of ideas rattling around in my head. This would make a good novel, maybe. Or this would be a cool idea for a podcast series. That there is interesting, but not for a novel, maybe more for a short story. And all the rest, well, pretty much anything can pass as poetry, right?

I get overwhelmed by all these ideas, all these startings. I desperately want to organize them, to make chronos out of them; to make sure they each have their own proper folder on my Google Drive and their own special notebook for jotting ideas and their own structure and medium fully decided upon and committed to well in advance of actually making any progress.

All those startings stack up and form an intimidating wall. I see the wall, and I kick my toe in the dirt and say “aw, shucks, I must not really be a writer.” And that’s why there are no finishings.

My friend – the one who told me about chronos and kairos – said that she has another friend who is a writer, and that one of the most important things that writer has done is to commit to just writing, for some set amount of time, every day. No matter what. Just pick one of the many startings and run with it. After all, when you’re poised at the start of a marathon, you can’t see the finish line – but you run like hell when the gun goes off, trusting that you’ll see it eventually.

This is a definitively kairos approach to writing. You can’t wave a stopwatch in the face of creativity, menacing your unwritten words with the threat of a time limit.

So here I am, just writing. There’s not really a finish line. Or, oh, wait, I guess, this is it, huh?  So I found it after all. Huh. How ’bout that.

A list of things I bought on December 31st, 2016:

  1. This domain name, again, somewhat reluctantly.
  2. A beautiful new journal from the Art Supply Depo, pages lined on one side and unlined on the opposite side, all empty so far.
  3. A heavily used, well-loved drum set, found on craigslist and haggled over via awkward text messages.

I know that typing “it’s been a particularly tough year” has become more or less a cliche by now, but it’s as true for me as it is for anyone. Even though I’m more of a solstice gal myself, the 31st of December is as good a time as any to reflect on the challenges and changes life has thrown my way over the past 365 days.

Early this year, I got an exciting job opportunity. Without thinking twice, I packed it in, left my home, my family, my friends, and my job with the Metroparks to join Taylor Studios in Illinois. Winter was beautifully splayed across 432 miles of the Midwest.

Then, one day, I broke.

I spent the spring season grappling with panic disorder, major depression, inadvertent addiction to medication that was inappropriately prescribed to me, and ultimately having to make the toughest decision of my life so far: that I needed to hit the “pause” button on everything, so that I could focus on my mental health.

In April, for the second time in 2016, I left a job, a house, a city, a state. But this time, there was nothing exciting or brag-worthy on the other side of the leap — just my old bedroom in my parents’ basement, and a whole lot of time to heal.

And that’s how summer passed. I took many tiny steps forward, and plenty of tumbles back. I learned to cope with unprovoked panic, energy-sapping melancholy, and even some symptoms of PTSD from my tough time in Illinois. I was humbled by the incredible support offered by my parents, my sister, my romantic partner, and countless other close friends. Just as I appreciated the extra couple minutes of light every day, I gradually learned to once again appreciate what life and the universe gave me.

I got stronger. I moved back to Toledo, lucky enough to be taken in by the sweetest little family anyone could ever ask to be a part of. Craving a purpose and needing money, but still afraid to commit to a “real job,” I started freelance writing — and surprised myself when I found modest success. I picked up a couple shifts a week at the Black Kite, a bright oasis of love (and coffee) in the middle of our neighborhood.

Autumn reminded me not to get comfortable or attached. When I awoke to a different world on November 9th, I was gripped by shock, disappointment, fear, grief, and despair. A lot of the things I had struggled with all year were triggered all over again. The election prompted conversations with my partner that ultimately led us to realize that our romantic relationship wasn’t working. There was a breakup. There was loss. There was change.

But I rolled with the punches; I knew that I had no choice but to. I loved and cared for myself well. I surrounded myself with friends and supportive communities. I got back to therapy, like every human being probably should. I steadily picked up more shifts and responsibilities at the Black Kite.

Before I knew it, the snow was snowing yet again. I worked my ass off because I wanted to have enough money to buy a few small Christmas gifts for my friends and family. Even though materialism isn’t the true spirit of Christmas etc. etc., it felt really wonderful to be able to do so. I finally got brave and started applying to some more jobs in my field of ecology and conservation, as well as spending quite a bit of time volunteering. Finally, just a couple weeks ago, a dear friend and mentor invited me to join her in doing whatever we can to help birds — you know, those tiny sky-dinosaurs who constantly remind me that we all have battles to fight, and that we can all still be beautiful despite that fact.

And now the year is done.

In 365 days, I’ve experienced a cushy salary, unemployment, under-employment, re-employment, moving out, moving in, moving home, 2 states, countless panic attacks with no discernible trigger, 3 mental illness diagnoses, trying and rejecting 4 different medications to help control them, camping, backpacking, skinny dipping, yoga, love, heartbreak, long-distance cycling, a 5-month battle with addiction to a medicine I took exactly as prescribed, making coffee with friends, dating again, birds and the geeks who love them, breaking and putting myself back together, falling and getting back up… in short, I’ve been human.


 

So back to the three things I purchased today.

Spending a lot of time writing for others — while very rewarding and oddly exhilarating — has unfortunately sapped some of my enthusiasm for writing for myself. I spent most of my working time in 2016 click-clacking away behind a computer screen, so I wasn’t going to spend my dawn and dusk hours doing the same.

But that’s not what I want. I miss my little blog. Even though I’ve never won, entering short fiction contests brought me joy. And I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a silly limerick.

So that’s what brought me to New Year’s Eve Purchase #1. I was planning to let this domain expire, but I figured I’d give it another year before pulling the plug. We’ll see what comes out of it.

The second New Year’s Eve Purchase goes along with the first. It’s about writing for myself, for reflection and peace, for goal-setting and gratituding.

And the third and final purchase? Well, I’ve just had this strangely specific feeling lately like I’d really like to be able to beat the shit out of something and call it self-care. I wavered between drums and punching bag, but the loud option finally won out. As it does.

Here’s to a 2017 full of writing, reflecting, and making terrible, terrible sounds in the basement until my roommate throws me out.

Summer Solstice

And now I will attempt to describe a terrible darkness in terms of great light.

Like grains in an hourglass regularly turned,
the units of light readily apparent in any given spot wax and wane:
from a crisp autumnal sunset on a day when the globes are perfectly matched,
slowly draining through a long, dark winter,
until a day comes when there is scarcely any light remaining,
and the tender hand of the universe slowly and methodically turns the glass again.
Here the osmosis gently reverses.
The grains of luminescence gradually accumulate
until once again the scales sit unwavering,
the hourglass balanced precisely on a cool spring morning.
But only for a moment.
Because the sunlight doesn’t stop;
it accelerates as the spring races to meet the summer,
passing the solar baton in a spectacular fashion,
the grains rapidly piling up and up and up,
culminating in a tremendous crescendo of brilliant light

on this day:
June 20th.
(Or thereabouts.)
When the opposite end of the sun’s hourglass hangs heavy
as a plump peach, ripe for the picking.

It is this very day that children live for.
For this marvelous day when
“you can play outside until dark”
feels like getting away with murder.
This fantastic solstice and its surrounding cushion
are where sweet summer memories are made.
The concentration of sunlight in these days is almost violent:
with firecrackers popping
and bomb pops melting
and cannon balls exploding into cool, clear neighborhood pools
— all on what feels like “bonus time.”

And of course, the epitome of all things summer evening:
fireflies.
Like the last little bits of sun,
protesting the eventual onset of darkness,
easing its arrival with a reassuring reminder that light’s still there,
winking knowingly as you try desperately to hold them in your hand
and keep them forever.

Catching fireflies was always my favorite summer thing.

I hope this resonates with you.
I hope you have your own memories of wringing the last drop of sunlight out of those summer evenings,
tap-tap-tapping on the hourglass to make sure you got your June’s worth of adventure.
I hope that you closed your eyes and smiled softly inward as you recalled them.

Because if you, too, passed the other 3 inferior seasons eagerly anticipating the abundance of sunlight that summer affords,
waiting with bated breath for that hourglass to flip and fill,
then maybe you’ll understand

when I explain to you that depression is waiting for the sun to hurry up and set so that you can rightly go to bed.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up on June 20th and realize that you haven’t seen a single lightning bug this year–
not because they’re not there,
but because you aren’t.
Because for a couple seasons, now,
after waking up already tired,
and passing the day in a sad, uncomfortable haze,
unable or unwilling or both to do much at all outside of your bed,
you just sit nightly by your window
and wait in agony for the sun to set,
cursing those extra minutes and seconds of daylight
that you once treasured.

Because all you want to do
is go back to sleep.

That which once brought you such pure, unadulturated joy,
now brings you a mocking, tormented sort of pain.

This is depression.

But thankfully, just like minutes of sunlight,
the weight of depression waxes and wanes,
and with time,
and hard work,
and courage,
and patience,
the desire for bedtime to arrive
gradually eases.

Just like the falling of night,
the longing for sleep comes a minute or so later
every night
until one night
when you find yourself sitting around a backyard with friends,
in still-damp swimsuit,
smiling and laughing,
and just as the thought strikes you
that you haven’t done any of those things in a very long time,

you notice the knowing wink of a firefly.

 

This post is about getting rid of plantar warts!

Yup. For real. This post is not about love, or birding, or self-discovery, or mental illness, or playing outside (wait, it is a little bit about playing outside), or Lake Erie, or my tragic relationship stories. It’s about warts. I’m serious. You probably don’t want to read this. Turn back now.

But there are some people out there who need to hear my words about warts! This post is for them.

Really, this is your last chance to turn back if you don’t care about warts.

Okay, you’ve been… WARTned… ok that didn’t really work.

Basically, I have had been plagued by the cursed little beasties known as plantar (or plantar’s, or Plantar’s, I don’t really care) warts for years and years now. They first appeared in high school. I remember sitting in the bathroom with my first girlfriend nervously opening one of those Dr. Scholl’s freeze-a-way kits and trying to… well… freeze them away. Spoiler alert: warts (or my warts, at least) are not afraid of the cold.

Ever since then, I’ve tried everything to get rid of these angry harbingers of ugliness and slight discomfort. I’ve tried everything over the counter. I’ve tried duct tape and other means of “suffocating” them. I’ve been taking vitamins A and D for a couple years to try to kill the virus itself. I’ve tried castor oil, garlic, vinegar, the rest of the kitchen cabinet. I’ve tried manually removing them at home (ouch) and at a podiatrist’s office (double ouch). I’ve tried everything short of surgery. And they always come back. Always. I finally gave up and decided that the universe just wants me to have warty feet.

So imagine my utter surprise when I noticed a couple weeks ago that my foot was actually looking better. Yesterday I looked again, and lo and behold, each wart is slowly getting smaller and less ugly. What the heck?! What’s changed in the past couple months?

The seasons, that’s what! Pete Seeger was right: there’s a season for everything, and apparently summer is not the season for warts.I put two and two together and realized that I’ve been walking around barefoot for the past couple months.

Now, I go around barefoot every summer, but never as much as I have been this summer. (I’ve been at my parents’ house in the suburbs where there are fewer shattered liquor bottles decorating the sidewalk.) My warts have been getting intimate with concrete, dirt, and rocks–and they don’t get along well.

And as any good wild child knows, going around barefoot makes your feet a little Mowgli-ish. My soles have gotten a little thicker and rougher, with some callouses. But I can definitely tell that it’s not just callouses covering up the warts. The warts themselves are absolutely getting smaller. I’d say they’re about half the size they were a month ago.

So that’s it! Dr. Lauren’s* prescription for banishing plantar warts for good: go around barefoot. Go play in the forest. Go walk in the river. Go climb a tree. And don’t wear shoes! You’ll thank me.

*I am very obviously not a doctor. This blog post is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have severe warts or whatever, go to a real doctor. I cannot be held liable for any unfortunate thing that happens to you while you are walking around barefoot. Shit happens.

Love: No Lighter Fluid Needed

I originally published this post on my Medium page. But I can’t decide whether I actually like Medium. So now I’m putting it here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve had a handful of enjoyable yet ultimately inconsequential relationships. These were largely about sex, about buying each other lunch, about having another warm body around. They were nice and full of caring and, best of all, uncomplicated. And there’s nothing wrong with having relationships like these.

I’ve also had two relationships that each changed the course of my proceeding life. Two decidedly un-un-complicated relationships. Two “real” relationships, “grown up” relationships. Relationships where saying “I love you” was never even flinched at, and words like “our” and “future,” and “when we” and “buy a house” were smashed together without a second thought, like particles colliding and creating big booms of emotion. You know. Those relationships.

Both of those two relationships were wild straight out of the gate. They were each like a campfire started with a healthy dose of lighter fluid and newspaper: the meekest match-flame rapidly expanded with a flash of blinding light and a wave of overwhelming heat. Yes, with those two women, love went from a schoolgirl crush to a roaring fire in what seems in retrospect like the blink of an eye.

But then in both of those relationships, eventually — just like fires founded on lighter fluid and newspaper and other such shortcuts — love quietly sputtered. It happened so suddenly that we were still dancing around the fire before we realized it had gone out. We were left quite unexpectedly in the cold, dark night, each blinking blankly at the space where we had just moments ago seen the other standing beside us.

As most heartbroken exes have, I’ve spent many long, weepy nights struggling to figure out what went wrong in each of these cases. Where could I have done something different to create a different outcome? Why didn’t this work? How did this happen? There’s some gasoline in the shed, I think– should I go get it?

Eventually I learned that those questions don’t necessarily have answers, and if they do, they’re unhelpful at best (and mentally anguishing at worst). I realized that in both those cases, beneath the violently passionate flame of new love, we didn’t have much to support us. It was like we’d gone out and bought all these fancy lights and bells and whistles and accessories for a bicycle that was missing its drivetrain and back wheel.

I’ve learned that if you want a relationship to burn steadily for a long time, it must be built upon a solid foundation. Whether you like your campfires teepee-style or log cabin-style, it doesn’t matter, take your pick — as long as there’s something underneath you for support. No lighter fluid needed.

That brings me to my second — and perhaps harder to swallow — point. When you’re building a campfire for the long haul, one that will burn steadily and keep you warm for a very long time, it means that you might not necessarily see a great rising pyre at the outset. Love doesn’t always start with a wild roar. Sometimes it starts with a whisper that slowly, methodically increases in urgency. Don’t assume that because a person didn’t radiate a sort of heavenly light the very first time you clapped eyes on her, she’s not “the one.”

Maybe we have to grow our love from seed. Maybe we don’t always have a jump-start, a dramatic reaction, a quick ignition. Maybe we have to build love the old-fashioned way: with tinder and kindling and fuel to burn on. We have to provide the spark ourselves, then fan it tenderly, giving it plenty of room to breathe. No lighter fluid needed.

I guess what I’m asking you to do is to not ignore the one who seems like a great partner but ahh there’s just no chemistry, ya know? No spark. You might be surprised to figure out that you are capable of making your own spark, with a little patience and effort. And the fire you make by your own hand will be brighter and warmer for a much longer time.

On Purpose

Here’s my response to WordPress’ daily prompt: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/purpose/

Purpose is something I’ve struggled a lot with lately. It’s queer how such an abstract noun can affect such concrete consequences in one’s life.

We speak often about our lives “having Purpose.” What does this actually mean? Is Purpose a little slip of paper with a short checklist of tasks to be accomplished, passed out by someone on your first day of adulthood? Did I miss that day?

Is Purpose a vocation — firefighter, accountant, kayak guide — that I was supposed to choose based upon that multiple-choice test they had us take in high school? I think I was under the bleachers kissing my first girlfriend when they went over the results.

Is Purpose finding a thing that you love to do, and doing it all the time? I’ve seen written: “do what you love and the money will follow.” So I spend an afternoon birdwatching, and when I return to my car and go to put my binoculars back in their case, I am shocked to find that no currency of any sort has materialized in there.

Is Purpose a prize you stumble across while sweeping the sand of some great beach with a device designed to detect destiny? Am I to simply keep walking, plotting a methodical course, waving my arms steadily back and forth in front of me, waiting to hear a beep? How do I know I’m even on the right beach?

A couple months ago, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as an Interpretive Planner with Taylor Studios, Inc., one of the nation’s premiere exhibit design firms. I was over the moon. I pulled myself up by my roots and found myself trying to replant them in Champaign, IL.

Obviously, this opportunity was a Big Deal for my Life Purpose. A full-time job! A salary! Moving On Up! Finding My Way! Lots of capital letters, and all.

And it was, sure. It was a great job, working with great people, doing important things. TSI is an incredible company. I loved it there.

But things happened. Things I didn’t expect and couldn’t have foreseen even with the best pair of optics on the market. A latent depression that, cicada-like, returns to stretch its legs and see what’s new. Anxiety that I’ve always carried around abruptly getting much heavier, and commencing a curious ticking sound. A longing for my family and friends and homeland so profound that it must surely be some evolutionary remnant of a migratory urge.

I had found Great Purpose in my Great Move and Great Job and Great Growing Up. So why was I suffering to the tune of unbearable?

I think it’s largely because I thought I knew more about Purpose than I really did. I find this is a great causer of problems in many different arenas, this gap between what we think we know and what we really do, and then between those two and what we can ever actually really know.

So here I am, just giving you a gentle reminder that maybe you don’t know all that much about your Purpose, even if you think you do. Don’t be surprised if Things Happen and quietly, almost tenderly tear your theory to shreds. Don’t be surprised, and don’t despair. You’re on the same beach I’m on. You can keep searching frantically for Purpose if you want, but I’ve decided to just sit back and watch the tide for awhile, and I’m doing just fine.

New things!

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this rainy (or not, depending on your particular sky’s mood) Sunday as much as I am. I just wanted to share some upcoming ch-ch-changes to this blog.

This may come as a shock, but I can be wordy. My feverish love affair with language sometimes bogs me down. But I know that brevity is (usually) good for blogging, and (always) good for my job.

So in an effort to hone my skills of concision, I’m going to try to start posting some “micro” content, a la the great Seth Godin (and many others). I’ve never written this way before. I may be utterly miserable at it. Hopefully I won’t scare too many people away.

The second tidbit of newness is that I’m going to start porting my content over to Medium. I’ve enjoyed the platform passively for awhile, and I’d like to try it out. For the time being, I’ll post to both locations. If Medium seems like a nice place to settle down and raise a family, Love and Birding might end up living there permanently.

For now, you can follow me on Medium! You’ll find last week’s post there soon, followed closely by my first “micro-post.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this bathroom wall quote that made me wrinkle my face in a not unpleasant way:

 

A quote on the wall of Caffe Paradiso in Champaign, IL:

“The fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of futurism.”

 

As gay as a four-leafed clover

A couple weeks ago, I got a kick out of a great Autostraddle post called “The Impossible Math of Gay Soul Mates.” It examines a great episode of This American Life through the lesbian lens. If you haven’t yet read it, please go do so. I’ll be here when you get back.

Are you properly dejected yet? If not, don’t worry! Just keep reading. We’ll get you there.

Jokes aside, I found myself nodding along as Erin slogged through the tragic equation that I knew from the start would only spit out a coefficient of hopelessness. I appreciated her insight, because it’s something I’ve tried to explain many, many times. More on that later.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, though, when I saw that Erin lived in Portland. Ah, Portland. The mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of queerness. The Eden about which we all whisper in hushed, reverent tones. More or less Narnia.

I decided to try out Erin’s math on my new home of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It’s a city (okay, two cities, but not really) that’s far smaller than Portland, and probably less gay. Oh, and if you’re double-checking my math, I’m rounding down. Because I’m a horribly jaded pessimist when it comes to love. Horribly jaded pessimists always round down.

125,176 — The number of people living in Champaign or Urbana.

62,588 — Half of those people have ladyparts.

31,294 — We’ll assume that half of the ladies are single. Aaaaall the single ladies.

5,476 — I used Erin’s age range factor, assuming 17.5% of CU’s bachelorettes are within my age range.

1,369 — The attraction scale. Maybe it’s naive, but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to physical attraction. Instead of the 20% taken by Erin and Kestenbaum, I used a round 25%.

1,026 — Now the trickier ones. Like Erin, I’m not gonna make a lady furnish her diploma, but I do value education, self-improvement, career development, motivation, and a solid lady pantsuit. I’ll stick with Erin’s assumption that 75% of lesbos feel the same way.

853 — Here’s something Erin and Kestenbaum both left out: non-smokers. In 2014, that was 83.2%.

419 — You got to move it, move it. According to the CDC, 49.2% of adults met the official Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity in 2014. Those guidelines seem pretty reasonable to me, so I factored in 49.2%.

139 — Now, of course, there are a host of factors that are impossible to quantify. Sense of humor. Sensitivity factor. Common interests. I think a good way to judge this is to reflect on dates I’ve had in the past. Of all the women who have ever piqued my interest, what portion did I ultimately end up really attracted to? If I had to guess, I’d say about a third of the women who I’ve gone on a first date with really captivated me, enough to request a second date and seek a relationship.

92 — And finally, the factor that Erin brought up: are the feelings mutual? Again, I’ll base this on my past experiences in the dating world. I think I’ve been pretty lucky (or perceptive?) in not getting rejected too terribly often. Of all the ladies I have sought to build a relationship with, I’d say about two-thirds of them reciprocate, and agree to go steady with me.

So there you go: at this point in my life, in the city I live in, about 92 single ladies who meet a lot of my important standards are maybe interested in me too. Hey, that’s not bad!

Oh, wait. Did you forget why we were here?

That’s right! IT’S TIME FOR THE DRAMATIC EFFECT!! I haven’t yet added in the queer factor. And while I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the LGBT rate in Champaign-Urbana, I think it’s safe to assume it’s on par with the Illinois average. 3.8% it is.

Drum roll, please…

Three.

I’ve moved to a hip and happening new city, single and ready to mingle, thrilled to see what my new home has to offer. I plan to stay here for at least a couple years–say, till I’m 27 or so. I know that it’s silly to get attached to plans, and I’m not, but I’ll admit that part of my Grand Life Vision for the celebratory milestone of Age 30 includes settling in to start a family. So I think it’s reasonable to hope to have met the other half of that family equation by age 27.

All this to say: in a perfect world, this is the city where I’ll find my Person. And I’ve only got three options.

But of course, it’s not a perfect world. I might not find my Person by the date I’ve marked with cute little pink stars in my Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.

Photo of notorious trapper-keeper artist Lisa Frank

Sidebar: Have you seen Lisa Frank?

In fact, I might never find my Person at all–or I might find three of them. (This isn’t the time for me to digress about soul mates vs. life partners, but here’s an article I highly recommend.) And it’s obviously kinda goofy to try to fit anything as rich and complex and mercurial as love into a mathematical equation.

But on the other hand… it’s real. This is reality for lesbians, and for anyone else whose dating pool is constrained for any reason. It’s real, and it’s frightening, and it brings me to my Soapbox Moment for this post: it’s a really good reason to stop judging lesbians (or anyone) for “U-Hauling.”

Some time ago, I was talking to a friend after a particularly hard breakup. Conversation rolled around to the classic lesbian stereotype of moving in together way too soon, and she asked why I had done it (again). As Erin points out, it’s this impossible math. It’s the fact that as a queer person, the odds of love are stacked so against you from the outset that if you find someone who seems even the littlest bit like Life Partner Material, it’s only natural to want to plant your flag and set up shop. Because if that person gets away, you never know when or where another match might be found.

It’s also why we settle. It’s why my last relationship ended not long after a painful conversation in which it was revealed that my partner had never felt the same way about me as I did about her–and had never actually felt that strongly for anyone she had ever been with. Even if we find a person who we like a lot or maybe even love, but we know that it’s not that crazy-in-love that we’ve always been told to wait for… we settle. Because we’re afraid that it might be the closest we ever get, and we don’t want to pass up a “pretty great” because we’re waiting for a “truly incredible” that we might never bump into.

So sure, keep kidding about what a lesbian brings on the second date. But when you hear that your queer friend is looking for a new apartment again, don’t immediately jump to eye-rolls and tsk-tsks and “shouldn’t she know better by now?”s. First, pull out your trusty TI-83+ and crunch some numbers for yourself. Think about how it must feel to be single in a world where finding a match is like finding a four-leafed clover. And save your judgment. And offer to help your lesbian friend move because she’ll probably provide some really good snacks.

Photo of root beer and ice cream

Seriously, such good snacks.