Nora Ephron describes the single’s life most aptly. “I thought of how awful it would be to be single again, hundred single women to every straight single man, packs of Amazons roaming the streets looking in vain for someone genuinely eligible and self-supporting who didn’t mind a little cellulite.”
If being single is a challenge for those who grew up with high school proms and try-out first kisses, it is nothing compared to that of finding yourself in the midst of the drooling, aggressive, hormone-crazed modern singles scene while coming right off the boat from a five-year arranged marriage and a sex-segregated youth. I fell to its date-lined shore so naïve, I made every ridiculous mistake in the book.
The first time I was thrust into the insanity of it all was a few years ago, when I visited Israel with Birthright. I was so excited to go; I planned to show off my Hebrew and cry at the Kotel and get impassioned about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I was just out of the anti-Zionist Hasidic community, and I wanted to see the Jewish State. It was an important trip. I didn’t have room in my mind for drama and boys and more. Apparently, I should have packed my mind better; left some room.
We first arrived in a small motel outside of Jerusalem, the group of us twenty or so young men and women carrying heavy luggage and tired from the long plane ride. After we unpacked some of the participants stayed up for some drinks in the bar. I pulled over a chair to the circle of people chatting, with my milk-brewed Israeli coffee in hand, and leaned in, slickly integrating myself into the conversation. Samantha, a broad chick from the South who told me she needed medicinal marijuana for her anxiety, was talking about a gater.
“What’s a gater?” I interjected. It sounds like a Middle Eastern weapon or something.
Samantha with her dark short hair turned to me and said “You don’t know what gater is?” Uh… maybe I do? I just wasn’t sure I remembered exactly.
After an eye-roll, a girl from Alaska – whom I couldn’t look at without thinking of Sarah Palin – explained. “It’s an internal radar to check who’s gay.”
Samantha: “I’ve got a spot on gater.” Later, when Samantha was walking down a narrow hall to her motel room, alone, I caught up with her. “Tell me” I said in a voice that belied secrecy. “Who is gay?”
“Why?” she whisked me away.
I wanted to know. Needed to know. If I didn’t have a gater I may at least hear of its miraculous findings.
“Nope” she taunted me.
“Eric” Samantha finally said. “So gay. One thousands percent gay”.
I got to know Eric the following morning when he sat at our table at breakfast. A small kid with Harry Potter glasses. He had studied linguistics in college. He had a little bit of a nerdy thing going, and he was a little strange. It didn’t take long for him to open up about his relationship with his parents (problematic) and the isolation in his life (severe). I patted gay Eric on the arm and said I was so so so sorry. I understood what he was experiencing about isolation and the struggle to stay true to yourself. The following few days of rushing across Israel Eric occasionally walked beside me. He was there when I was crying at Yad Vashem, not crying at the Kotel, crying from exhaustion on the bus. Increasingly he appeared near me – he materialized during my solitary walk in Tzfat or while taking a run around a gorgeous rural area near our kibbutz. I had a soft spot for Eric. I knew what it’s like to be a misfit.
But then Eric began appearing everywhere, like a little tail on my lead. He moved people around so he could sit in my bus seat and somehow was in my hotel room on Beth’s bed when I came in, waiting to get some of my women’s shampoo from me. I thought he needed the emotional comfort that radiated out of me like the sun, but I was getting pretty tired of his pirating it off of me. In fact, I was starting to feel less and less like I had grand sympathy for his gayness.
On the seventh night the bus took us out on the town for some partying in Tel Aviv. Eric somehow materialized in my seat, pulling pages of maps and guidebooks and explaining to me this and that, oblivious to my earbuds and growing annoyance. I pretended to sleep. Suddenly I felt Eric’s hand reach for mine – fingers twirling around slowly, then squeezing, then holding tightly. It was the weirdest thing gay men did.
Then I opened my eyes and wanted to kill him. Along with Samantha.
I looked at him for a moment, piercing looks. “Eric.” I said. “Holding my hand is very… not gay.”
Eric blinked inside his little kid Harry Potter glasses. “Gay?” he asked, ten times more startled than I’d been. “I’m not gay.”
He thought *I* was crazy.
I slipped off the bus in the city, and hid from Eric on the ride back. Late at night in the elevator back up to my room, Samantha was there, both of us with smudged mascara and elegant dresses. I leaned against the elevator bar and closed my eyes, tired.
“So” Samantha said to me coyly. “You and Eric, huh?” She made a little together sign.
Had I had a gater, I would have beaten the hell out of her with it. Instead, I didn’t say a word.