The Surprising Pleasure Of Dating In A City Where You Know No One

Welcome to “I’ve Got This” — Refinery29 and Plan B One-Step's exploration of the pivotal, transformative life moments in which we’re reminded of our strength. Ahead, hear from one woman about the ways dating helped her to feel confident and empowered in a new city.
When I moved to Austin to begin my MFA program, I was immediately overwhelmed by the new scale of my social universe. Not because the prospect of bonding with my cohort was so daunting (as far as writers go, I’m terminally extroverted), but because I had come from a world that felt much smaller.
In Los Angeles, I had a cozy little group of friends, most of whom I’d known since childhood, and a wonderful, supportive boyfriend whom I’d been with for almost as long. But I knew if I wasn’t careful, I could jump from one bubble to another, never truly pushing the limits of my comfort zone — I’d never lived alone, explored a new city, or truly experienced adult single life. It was easy to stay where I was — but I told myself that if I didn’t take the opportunity to go out into the world on my own, beyond the confines of California, and focus on my writing, I’d always regret it.
So I moved to Austin, ended my relationship, enrolled in school, and began dating with a vengeance, determined to get out of my bubble and discover a brand new city for myself.

Dating was bringing me to new corners of the city — showing me that even the most familiar places have their secrets.

As a total newcomer to the dating world, I quelled my anxieties by downloading “the apps” — a far less terrifying approach than attempting to meet romantic prospects out in the real world. Much to my delight, I quickly matched with a quippy woman with an undercut. She invited me to meet her at a neighborhood bar not too far from my apartment — but neglected to mention that one Sunday a month, this familiar sleepy haunt transformed into a meeting place for a cohort of female bikers, who used it as a starting point before beginning their weekly expeditions into the hill country. My date was a member of this crew.
I hesitated when she suggested we prolong our time together by hopping on the back of her bike — the idea of riding through the busy streets of Austin on the back of a motorcycle made me uneasy. But it was clear she was a pro — with an extra helmet and everything — and she promised to go slow. So, quieting my inhibitions, I hopped on. Together, we whipped through the rolling hills to a nearby lake, where crowds of grackle birds chattered in the sunlit grass — a whole region I hadn’t known about, in spite of its proximity to my apartment. Already, dating had pulled me out of my comfort zone. It was bringing me to new corners of the city — showing me that even the most familiar places have their secrets. This was precisely the sort of motivation I needed to begin exploring, with a new fervor, on my own.
Later, I began to correspond through an app with a playwright — who, contrary to his profession, seemed to communicate primarily in GIFs. He suggested that we meet at the brewery where he worked — a normal enough offer. Unfortunately, within our first few minutes together, I discovered why he was so fond of GIF-based communication: He had little to say, he didn’t ask questions, and he didn’t seem particularly interested in conversing to begin with. That said, the date was not a complete loss.
By chance, the brewery was hosting a WWE-style luchador wrestling match in its courtyard.
As I stood beside the somewhat uncommunicative playwright, the two of us pumping our fists in the air and chanting our support for our chosen wrestler, I realized that even sub-par dates can teach us about ourselves. I had never seen myself as someone who might enjoy masked wrestling, but here I was, leaning in. While I didn’t invite the playwright the next time I returned to the ring, I was still grateful that he’d introduced me to a niche of the Austin community I never would have found myself — one that went on to become a center point of my experience there. Here was yet another way Austin was becoming more familiar to me — more my own.
There were, of course, the truly terrible dates, as well. I once found myself out with a man who invited me to play croquet at what turned out to be his grandfather’s house — with his entire family. The family, a buttoned-up, martini-clutching assemblage, seemed as nonplussed by my presence as I was by theirs (in my experience, the whole family does not typically come with the first date package).
My date took me out to the croquet setup and explained that he was looking to get married within the year, so it was important to him that his parents approved of any future spouse before he bothered to take things further. Unprompted, he bragged about how much money he made, without pausing to ask me anything about my own career aspirations. He then showed me pictures of the downtown condo he’d bought, where, he said, I could stay home with our future kids (yes, this is an actual claim he made out loud).

I was doing the right thing by choosing to live independently — by taking the time to span out what I wanted, rather than molding myself to fit the demands of a relationship.

While I was definitely not ready to commit myself to raising this quasi-stranger’s children, this date also didn't end up feeling like wasted time. If nothing else, it was a confirmation that I was doing the right thing by choosing to live independently — by taking the time to figure out what I wanted, rather than molding myself to fit the demands of a relationship.
After the croquet guy, there was the accidental visit to a rehearsal of Shakespeare In The Park, where my date and I were the only people in the audience. There was the late-night trip to one guy's aunt’s luxury apartment complex, where we waded silently into an enormous moonlit pool. Then there was the standup comedy night, where it turned out my date was performing, and I had to sit and listen as he made awkward jokes about his love life. But for every adventurous, outlandish, or just plain strange rendezvous I agreed to, I found that Austin opened itself up to me just a little more. And that I, too, grew more comfortable in my own right.
In August, I finished my MFA program and moved back to L.A. I ended up getting back together with that previously mentioned wonderful and supportive boyfriend — who is now my wonderful and supportive fiancé. And those childhood friends are still around too — but that’s not to say everything feels the same as it did when I left. Dating in Austin helped me learn to trust my instincts — to push past what’s comfortable in order to explore new places, new communities, unfamiliar niches. It helped me swallow my fear of rejection — a practice that made submitting my first novel to agents and publishers just a little less daunting.

Dating in Austin taught me that there are so many different ways to love a city.

When I left Los Angeles, I would have told you that I knew the city like the back of my hand. But dating in Austin taught me that there are so many different ways to love a city — that there will always be new secrets to explore, communities to learn from, and people to meet. Even after returning home, my time in Austin inspires me to find ways to rediscover the city that raised me. Oh, and I’m considering purchasing a motorcycle.

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