I’d moved down to Costa Rica with visions of a free-loving paradise dancing in my head, soaking up the simple life where the locals trade shiny beads for beachfront property and the exotic, eligible women line up outside my door for one-night marriage tryouts. After all, I was a gringo. I must be a prize, right?
Not even a little bit.
Hitting the Tamarindo social scene was a real wakeup call because I was cold product. I wasn’t in shape (though I was working hard to get there), I didn’t surf, and as far as anyone could tell, I didn’t have any money to throw around. Everyone else had cool hair—thick black curls or golden dreadlocks or mohawks—while I had a buzz cut with a bald spot. Furthermore, I didn’t go out and get wasted every night, the only real chance for a social life in Tama. Some of the locals, like Tania and Yazmin, just couldn’t understand this—they thought something was wrong with me.
Girls were into surfers and skinny dudes that had fun. And Frenchmen for some reason. Well oui oui all over you. Do you know how emasculating it is to lose a girl to a Frenchman, who carries a European handbag and can’t bench press a baguette? That shit hurts, man—there’s no bouncing back from that.
I realized early on that I didn’t fit in. It looked to me like everyone had loose, devil-may-care attitudes while I’m sure I appeared too serious. Of course they didn’t realize that I had some big things on my mind, like keeping my friend alive in jail, paying bills with no job, staying safe, and writing a book without knowing what the hell I was doing.
Most people in Tamarindo came and went, some in a week, some just long enough wait out the cold winters back home, so “long term” relationships were shorter than Hollywood marriages. The average age in town was around 22, so I was ancient, closer to everyone’s parents’ ages. When people asked and I told them, “Yo tengo cuaranta años,” soon, they assumed I had my Spanish numbers messed up and drew back in horror when they realized it was correct, checking me over for signs of a stroke and offering me a chair. Forty on my next birthday? Why the hell wasn’t I married with 2.3 kids and a minivan like the rest of the gringos my age?
Good question—I got that a lot in the States, too. When I was in my twenties and all of my friends were getting married, I was the outcast, the bachelor pariah. But then the wave of divorces hit in our thirties and suddenly I looked like a genius; I wasn’t stuck paying alimony and child support for the rest of my life. I had some friends who got married then divorced just in the year I was in Tamarindo. At a certain point you say, “Why even bother?”
In my twenties I was immature, so wild and emotionally turmoiled that I couldn’t commit to regularly watering a houseplant, let alone a relationship. I’m sure I’ve left a wake of broken hearts and hurt feelings in my past. Now, years later, my life choices had ripped me half a world away from the comfort of the normal dating life I’d know in California. The irony was not lost on me.
Deep down I’m still a romantic. People assume I want to be single because of my transitory lifestyle but I actually love being in a good com- mitted relationship. Unfortunately, the ones I’ve had just didn’t work out for different reasons, and I’ve also dodged a few bullets that would have turned into a “future ex-wife” situations.
I still consider it a 50/50 shot that I might get married in my life; it would be great if it happened, but if not, well, that’s okay too. But I wouldn’t settle for the wrong person or do it for the wrong reasons—I’d rather be single and happy than married and miserable, and unfortunately, with 60% divorce rates in the United States, that seems to be becoming the rule more than the exception. If I do get married I’d guess it’s to a woman from another country, or at least an immigrant who shares my more traditional values and idea of “family.” The same thing goes for children, and if I don’t end up having kids of my own then I feel deeply that my life calling will be to adopt a child who could really use the love, even if I’m a single dad.
Not that marriage is easy in any country; the Spanish word for “mar- ried” is “casado” and the word for “tired” is “cansado.” See the similarity? That’s because, obviously, you are very, very tired if you’re married. Don’t confuse those with the word “casada,” a typical Costa Rican dish. I often got it jumbled and ordered a plate of fish only to have the waitress think I just proposed to her and then tell me to go take a nap.
Then again, if I went out and had fun more, I’d be able to connect with more girls and date. But the only options were travelers or Bar Stars, as I called them, the same Tica party girls who were out every night. Most guys tried to shack up with the steady stream of girls there on vacation, but the twenty-year-old blonde spring break crowd wasn’t exactly my sweet spot. No way I could have a conversation with someone that young, and anyways they were always partying. I couldn’t even pronounce the drugs those kids were on, which all seem to be named after breakfast cereals like “Special K,” or a nondescript list of initials, like “GHP” or “MDMA” or some bullshit. Are we playing Scrabble or are we partying?! Whatever happened to good old-fashioned drugs like “weed” and “glue?”
Every blue moon there would be a single gringa closer to my age sit- ting at the bar, but even if she was attractive I avoided making eye contact with her—too much of a backstory. But at some point she’d end up moving over and sitting near me and, sure enough, I’d have to listen to her drone on about her messy divorce back in North Carolina and her career aspirations to become something that started with “assistant.” She was there on vacation by herself and I did feel for her, so I donated 3.7% of my attention to her cause.
“...and then, after I’m a Junior Medical Assistant, I’m going to go back to school to be an orthopedist!” she said.
“Oh that’s great—I just LOVE old people.”
She looked confused, but just took a sip of her fishbowl-sized neon blue drink and smacked her gum.
“I really like you. I mean...you’re so nice. You’re such a good listener,” she said.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said that you’re a good listener!”
It was difficult to date for other reasons, as well. The good girls left Tama for Villareal once their shifts at the banks or the stores were over in the evening. Out of the remains there were surprisingly few good-looking women there. I’m not just being a hater, if you drove through any other small town in the countryside in Costa Rica you saw more beautiful girls than there were in Tamarindo. There were probably two guys to every girl when you went out at night, and if you factored the healthy population of hookers into the equation, it was more like three to one. That’s a whole lot of sausage for a veggie omelet.
Once the sun went down it was hardest to battle my solitude. I didn’t want to party so all I could do was go to the gym and then watch a movie by myself. I went out to eat to the same place every night, sitting alone and reading. I woke up before dawn and exhausted myself during the day so I could go to sleep early.
I was lonely, but for the first time in my life it didn’t matter. In some way I thought that it was the price I had to pay for my new evolved life. Screw it, I thought, if this is the sacrifice then I’ll make it. I became more steadfast in my quest to write the book. For the first time in my life I had a higher purpose and each step brought me closer to that, no matter how painful. It was my legacy. As long as I got it out into the world I could be at peace, no matter what happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I did have suitors, like Tania, who kept trying to sneak into my room at night, though I wasn’t sure if her motives were to try and get in my wallet or strictly for free beer. I started locking my bedroom door at night. Lena still messaged me, always saying that she needed to meet. I made excuses to postpone or tried to let her down easy because I was con- cerned what she might do if I flat out said no.
She wanted me to come by her office and insinuated that we could “dance” right there on her desk. One thousand pardons, I typed back, but I’ve contacted Legionnaires Disease on my cheeky biscuits and the doctor says it’s contagious. But maybe in eighteen to twenty-two months, when I’m fully healed? That’s okay, she wrote back, she would nurse me back to health. What? What’s that? I can’t hear you...my Internet. Lena? Can’t. Wait, Lena? Going through a tunnel...I can’t hear...and I’d shut my computer and not turn it on for an hour.
My God, did these women have no shame? There’s no force more powerful on the planet than a Latin women’s horniness; that’s why they name hurricanes after them (that’s a medical fact). If they hooked up generators to their little Latina vajayjays, they could power whole cities and solve the energy crisis. But instead they just recruit them to dance in bikinis in bad music videos on Univision, grinding on a dude who looks like a 5’1” Edward James Omos with white sunglasses who’s named after a breed of dog. I don’t know about you, but I love the Earth, so I say let’s solve the energy crisis, together.
So don’t feel sorry for me—it’s not like I was a social leper. I was just comparing my social life to my time in Sacramento. Word to Rodger Lodge Chuck Woolery, that little city with an inferiority complex is a dating goldmine. If you were a guy under 541⁄2 years old with at least a part-time job, no visible STDs, and who went to the gym at least six times a year, you were considered a prize. When I grew up on the east coast, I was considered a crazy man, but on the west side I was some sort of prude nuevo-puritan. I couldn’t believe the dating scene out there; people treated each other like barnyard animals (and not even the cute little fuzzy ones they kept in the front of the farm for the visitors to pet). Meeting female women of the opposite sex was easy: at charity events, at happy hour, and those six times a year I went to the gym.
There was even a steady stream of introductions through Facebook. It’s easy to figure out if a girl is interested; if she “likes” one of your posts out of the blue, then it means she considers you a future reproductive partner, and if she’s ever so bold as to “like” one of your photos...wow, she’s basically already consented to unspeakable acts involving whipped cream on the first date. In Sacramento, people texted pictures of their body parts around like resumes at a job fair. But of course not me—I just wanted to watch The Notebook and cuddle.
Yeah, it was like that. I guess we can blame it on daddy issues? Right now I’d like to send a sincere “thank you” to all of the horrible fathers out there— keep on doing a bad job. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to hurt.
But that wasn’t Tamarindo, where I went dateless. I lowered my standards significantly but still got rejected. I was just too serious, too old, too boring. Hell, I wouldn’t even date myself if I were one of those girls; one time I wanted to masturbate but even my hand gave me a thumbs down.
It didn’t matter for me in the big picture, but I felt bad for some of the local guys who didn’t stand a chance of getting a girlfriend there. Even if they could get a girl interested, where would they bring her? In most other countries young people still live with their families, three generations under one roof in cramped, humble conditions, so the beach was their go-to love motel. Any time of night a couple could sneak onto the beach and get it on. It sure sounds romantic—making passionate love under the moonlight on the beach in the tropics—but I imagine it wasn’t as fun as it seems. First off, I’m not a doctor, but I do know that sand is not a lubricant. Ouch. And you never were really alone—there were plenty of troublemakers and robbers on the beach that would be happy to crash the party, so you had to be careful. At night the dividing line between the pavement and the sand was the exact line where all sorts of bad things happened.
The previous New Year’s Eve I was hanging out with a Tica and we stepped out onto the beach to sit there and talk a little. Yes, I do mean talk. Normally we wouldn’t do that, but because of the holiday the beach was packed with people partying around bonfires and lighting fireworks. We were at the end of the beach, where we thought it would be deserted, so we sat down and chatted. Our eyes began adjusting to the darkness and over the sound of the waves we heard noises. I looked around and in every direction there were people having sex, couples screwing right there in the sand only meters away. Right behind us a guy stood up against a palm tree with a girl on her knees in front of him, expressing her feelings orally. The more we looked the more we saw—it was “sexy time” on the playa.
Remember that I also had to overcome the language barrier. Let’s say I saw an attractive Tica on the street. She’s fine as wine, coco skin and brown eyes, in a yellow sundress. I really want to meet her. She could be the one and we’re destined to make babies. Okay, here we go. My game would look approximately like this:
“Hola!” I wave to her. It sounds campy and extremely uncool, like Gilbert Gottfried reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
She doesn’t see me, or assumes I’m a tourist looking for monkeys.
“Hola, amiga!” I step out in front of her. She’s a little startled. “Como estas?” I ask—how are you?
“Bien,” she says. She’s good. It’s going stellar so far, right?
“Ummm...Okay. Donde vives?” I ask, where does she live? I’m just try- ing to make conversation, here—I don’t need an actual address or anything.
“Tamarindo.” That makes perfect sense, since, after all, we are standing right there in Tamarindo. She notices me sweating like a hostage. Jesus, it’s hot out. Why isn’t anyone else sweating out here?
“Ummm...estas bien?” I ask, you are good? She shakes her head yes. We’ve established that she’s good. And that we’re standing in the same town. Please move on, Norm. She remains silent, wondering why I stopped her. Now what? I want to ask her how the surf was that morning, or if she’s going to reggae night at Pacifico’s, or if she’d like to rent jet skis and power out to a remote beach, get naked, and rub lotion on each other’s backs as we drink fruity rum concoctions out of coconuts, but that isn’t even in my vocabulary. I don’t even know the past tense. Or the future tense. And I bet that anything to do with riding jet skis has a tense of its own; yo jetski-o, tu jetski-es, usted...etc. In my mind I’m trying to conjugate verbs and desper- ately reaching for some useful phrases. The weather? Weak. Where is the bathroom? I know that one. She’s just looking at me. I panic.
“Todo bien?” I ask, all good? Sweet Jesus we KNOW she is good! STOP ASKING IF SHE’S GOOD! She’s never been fucking BETTER! By this point I’m thinking about sprinting into the jungle to get away.
“Cool!” I say, and let out a nervous laugh. Wow, I’m even creeping myself out.
She stands there with her hand on her hip, waiting for permission to walk away. Why the hell isn’t she sweating?
“Okay, ciao, chica!” Good bye. I try to sound upbeat, saving one last thread of social grace by gathering up my trampled cool points and retreating. At least I didn’t get maced or anything. It’s going to bother me all day. Dam- mit, why couldn’t I speak the f ’ing language? Mierde! Hijo de Puta! Easy, big fella—you’ve still got your mojo, no need to jump off a cliff just yet. It’s just the language barrier. If she spoke English then for sure you guys would be chatting and laughing like old friends by now. She’d be vexed by your suave to the point where she would run home and call her momma and tell her to put out one more plate for Thanksgiving. Or whatever Costa Rican holiday has the equivalent of pilgrims and turkey—you know what I mean. Instead I just bite my tongue and look down at the ground, give one last wave, and walk on. Sigh.
“Yeah, see ya later,” she says, and walks away.
Well that couldn’t have gone worse.