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“So, can you send me some full-body pics?”
We’d been chatting online for about 20 minutes, me and the ripped, sinewy body-builder. (I knew this because his profile photo on the dating site where we’d met focused squarely on his six-pack). Our conversation until that point had been ho-hum, if a little flirty: what we do for work, hobbies, favorite places to grab a cocktail. But once the preliminaries were done, his remarks took a turn for the sleazy.
“Come on,” he typed, with a winking smiley face. “Let’s see the rest of you!”
I was two days into my J-Date subscription and one week away from finding out that I’d committed a major faux pas -– one that shone a harsh spotlight on a lifelong source of shame. When it comes to sex slang, I’m chronically clueless. And little did I know, I’d just announced that fact to the online dating world in the most humiliating way possible: by naming my profile Tossed Salad.
Here are a few things I’d learn in the following week: First, a “tossed salad” can refer to more than a bowl of leafy greens. Second, anyone with a touch of modern linguistic savvy and access to UrbanDictionary.com can find that out. And third, I’d stumbled onto yet another euphemism that confirmed my worst fear -– that I’d be an irredeemable prude for the rest of my life.
I was never someone you’d call streetwise. In third grade, when a couple of kids I was kind of, sort of friends with asked me to join the Pen15 club, my heart swelled. They really like me! I thought, extending my arm so a grinning boy could draw my badge of belonging in marker. They nearly passed out laughing before I got the joke.
One summer at camp, a tribe of bullies got their kicks by going up to unsuspecting girls and asking if they were “P.T.” I took a gamble and said yes when a scrawny kid asked me on the bus ride home. “Ha ha, you’re a pregnant teenager!” he shrieked. The jeers and finger-pointing lasted three excruciating days.
Weekends spent with my youth group weren’t much better. I’d lie awake in the dark with my female peers, wrapped in my sleeping bag, listening with wide eyes as they traded gossip about couples who got to “second base” and started “dry humping.” What did they mean? I couldn’t keep up.
Even in college, when I finally started doing those activities myself, my repertoire of sex terminology remained slim. Bukkake? Biscuits and gravy? How did everyone but me seem to know what those were?
My friends could sling mysterious metaphors back and forth with ease, laughing on cue with each foreign-sounding syllable. Meanwhile, I’d fidget with the hem of my shirt silently, my cheeks burning red with embarrassment.
Still, I never expected to broadcast my erotic illiteracy to hundreds of potential mates, with one unwitting mouse click.
I signed up on a Saturday night and took my time creating a sleek, sophisticated profile. This was my chance at self-reinvention, after all. I crafted an opening statement that was coy, clever and not one bit lame. Prone to spontaneous fits of dancing? Check. Knowledge of secret hiking trails? Check.
Then it was time for the all-important sound-bite, that perfect encapsulation of my complexity and wit: the profile name. Hmm, where to start? Well, I like food –- no, I love food. Food-related, definitely. Specifically healthy food. Like salads –- I love salads! But not those paltry salads with two measly drops of dressing rolling around on the bottom –- no, give me a heaping, colorful salad with a generous drizzle of dressing tossed in. Mmm, yes!
And voila, my profile name: Tossed Salad. It was conservative, it was cute, and it advertised my penchant for health-conscious eating (never a bad thing!). I was ready to go.
But as the first few communications rolled in, it was hard to ignore that something was amiss. After the body-builder, there was the trumpet-player who emailed, “Really? You like tossed salad?” There was a slew of creepy instant messages asking where I lived that practically screamed date-rape. There was one guy who claimed he liked tossed salads too, because you get “good ingredient distribution” throughout the salad. (OK, he was probably on the same page as me.)
Then there was the smarmy 60-year-old who made my stomach churn by writing, “Tossed salads, huh? Funny, I like my dressing on the side!”
After a few days, I called my friend Amanda to tell her I’d signed up. She was excited for me, psyched that I’d finally decided to shake up my dating life. Then I told her the name of my profile. She fell silent.
“Rachel, I think that means something,” she said cautiously.
“Yeah… like, something bad. You should call Jason.”
My friend Jason is almost preternaturally fluent in sex slang. If a euphemistic phrase is uttered between the sheets in an ice house in Siberia, he knows about it the next day. So it was with a rising heart rate that I dialed his number. I tried to hide my anxiety as I asked him whether the term in question had an alternate definition.
“Hold on, let me grab a tissue for when I start laughing my ass off,” he said, as a light sweat broke out on my forehead. “Now, where did you use it?”
When we hung up, I slunk over to my laptop and logged into my account, my hand over my mouth. Suddenly, so many of the come-ons I’d received made sense. Men were bombarding me with lewd advances for a reason: I had told them all my butt was open for business.
By the time my snafu came to light, I’d already exchanged a few messages with a highly promising computer programmer. He didn’t say anything about it on our first date –- sushi and a moonlit stroll on the beach –- but on our second date, as we broached the topic of our online dating experiences, I steeled myself.
“Wasn’t your profile name something else at first?” he asked tentatively, on our slow amble back from dinner. I took a deep breath. This was it –- my chance to finally own up to my spotless mind. It was also, of course, a chance for him to think I was a total loser.
Mike drew his arm around me and laughed when I explained my mistake. “I think we’re going to get along just fine,” he said.
Three years later, we were checking our favorite blogs at our dining room table one morning when Mike looked up at me with furrowed brows. “What does ‘santorum’ mean?”