When people ask me how I met my current boyfriend, I often tell them we met on Craigslist…which is, in part, the truth.
I responded to an ad he posted there looking for "amateur" strippers to work at monthly parties he and his partners were hosting in the city. We started dating over half a year after I began "dancing.” A few months into our relationship, I quit the job. A few months after that, it became a problem in our relationship.
When I answered that ad on Craigslist looking for “amateur strippers,” the last thing I thought I would find was love. I expected some easy rent money, a handful of stories, and an occasion to purchase new underwear. I got more than I had bargained for on all fronts (plenty of spending money, hoards of stories, and, yes, I went a little wild with the underwear) plus an introduction to the man I ended up dating for over a year.
Let me skip back to when I answered the ad. I’d had little experience in the industry, albeit just enough to know the difference between a very sketchy Craigslist ad and an okay, I’ll check this out kind of Craigslist ad. This one was the latter -- brief and to the point, but specific enough to indicate real work and not some sleazy old man who wanted a “massage.”
I’m not much of a dancer, so when the anonymous Craigslist reply to my initial query ("Must we be seasoned dancers to apply?") came back as “No,” I was all in.
I could tell by the reply that the writer meant business. He didn’t want to waste his time, but he said something friendly when I mentioned my (fake) degree in graphic design. For whatever reason (I like to tell myself good instincts), I felt comfortable enough to go meet him at his “space” to talk about the job.
When I arrived five minutes late the day of, a man wearing mostly black and standing well over six feet greeted me at the door. He didn’t set off my personal sketch alarm, but he definitely didn’t strike me as someone I’d want to spend any of my free time with. He held out his hand and introduced himself as Dan, who I'd been corresponding with by email for the past couple of weeks. He went over how the events would work -- more like large bachelor parties than a strip club. I considered, nodded, and eventually told Dan I would show up for work the following week.
That week, clad in lingerie and heels I could barely stumble in, I glimpsed Dan only briefly at the “party.” I smiled and tipped my hand in a wave before sidling up to a man in a suit who looked like he had some money to spend.
As the months went on, I kept working at these parties, exchanging pleasantries with Dan every once in a while (he had partners who largely presided over the events, so he didn’t have to show up to every one).
Each time I saw Dan, I felt a wave of relief. It was pleasant to have someone to talk to who wasn’t there to size me up like a piece of meat and with whom I could relax that plastered-on smile. The more Dan and I talked during my down time between faux flirting and giving lap dances, the more I got the sense that he didn’t enjoy these events at all and was, in fact, rather disgusted by them.
Eventually, we started hanging out outside of work. We just drank together and gossiped about our colleagues, but we got to know each other pretty well in the process. One thing led to another, and without truly realizing it, we had begun to, for lack of a better word, date.
As we started getting closer, I would forsake money-making when I saw Dan at the parties. I found myself greatly preferring his company to that of sweaty strangers who wanted to grope me. I’d also started to need the money less, as I’d gotten a more lucrative day job. Oftentimes, Dan’s friends would show up at the parties, and he would make a point of introducing me as his girlfriend.
Only once in the time we started dating did Dan express any discomfort about my job -- when he and I had been talking at an event and I disappeared for over an hour to dance for someone. (I was just doing the job he’d hired me for -- but I understand letting your emotions get the better of you.) Otherwise, he and I made jokes about how he was the X number person to see my boobs that night when we wound up in bed after work.
A couple months after Dan and I got together, I quit dancing. This had nothing to do with our relationship, and Dan had never requested I stop. I just didn’t want to do it anymore and, more importantly, didn’t need to do it anymore. Having guys drool over your tits while offering you money for sex after you've said no countless times can certainly get old, and my new job just furthered the incentive to leave the world of thongs, heels, and in-the-pants erections behind.
About another month after I stopped, Dan and I had a long conversation about my experiences at the parties. I felt comfortable with Dan, so I told him all about what I had done (and not done), whom I had danced for (some had been his friends before we got close and I’d learned they were his friends), how I felt about it (excited at first, then bored and slightly disgusted but thankful for the money). Dan had told me plenty of so-called incriminating tidbits about his past, so telling my stories didn’t seem like such a big deal.
Then, Dan’s attitude slowly started to shift. He would bring up certain stories I had told him and hold them against me in arguments, or challenge my actions and question why I hadn’t done something more…prim. I would try to remind him that he had hired me to work at these parties to begin with, and that he had more than encouraged these behaviors at the time of my “employment.” But now that I was his girlfriend, Dan didn’t want to date a stripper, not even a former one.
I spent a lot of time crying at Dan, begging him to remember how we started our romance and to understand how his new attitude about my old job was seriously hurting me.
Unfortunately, he seemed to embrace an opposite view -- that I was seriously hurting him by having engaged in “sexual behavior” (i.e., lap dances) with hoards of other men for money. Did it matter to him that he, by running these events, had set the stage for every one of these encounters? How about the fact that I assured him I got zero sexual pleasure from performing my job, because I treated it like a job?
Nope. What mattered to him was that he was dating an ex-stripper, and he didn’t like the sound of that. What could he possibly tell his parents, if we met? Not, it seemed, that he had found a kind, intelligent woman with complex thoughts and passions whom he happened to adore. I felt like I had become one thing to him and only one thing: someone who used to take her clothes off for money.
As such, I never met Dan’s parents. I make a practice of only meeting the parents of boyfriends who don’t betray my trust and honesty, who aren’t totally hypocritical, and who can conceive of me as a complete person, not just as one job I had.
Do I miss Dan? Absolutely. Do I believe he was a bad person? Definitely not. I just think he was ensnared in certain stereotypes and ideals that precluded him dating any type of sex worker. Will I tell future significant others about my time spent on laps and in lingerie? Well, I would certainly like to. After this experience, I hope I have the courage.