Not long ago, I accepted an invitation out for drinks with a guy I’d recently been introduced to via a mutual friend. He was unfamiliar with Brooklyn, so I suggested a spot midway between our two starting points.
One round in, having made a move for the second, he took out his wallet, apparently to show me what he was packing. It clearly wasn’t enough to cover his portion of our modest happy hour tab, and I hadn’t even seen the bill. To add to his own insult, he couldn’t use a card, because as he proceeded to tell me, “it’s been giving me trouble lately.”
I did what any self-respecting, jaded single would do: guzzled my full pint of beautiful brown Stout, smacked down a twenty and a tip and gestured toward the door, mumbling some nonsense about it being nice chatting with him. As I turned, I heard him say those three words every girl hopes to hear while sprinting toward her exit: “What, no kiss?”
In my grandma’s days, it would have been easy to spot the freewheeling, free-riding kind. She employed a two-point checklist on the matter: A Good Man need only present himself with a well-tailored suit, and a college degree. In her repression-era days, both signified dollar signs. But these are modern days. And this is Brooklyn! This is a modern place where modern people spend money on looking poorer than they actually are. Less repression, more recession means that Grandma’s two-point checklist is no longer a barometer for approximating wealth.
Brooklyn’s blurred status symbols have some definite perks—everyone looks broke! We’re all so cute in cutoffs! But as my grandma would surely want me to point out, it makes it damn near impossible to find a suitable companion for Friday night dinner. (By suitable, I mean someone who’s not trying to get into my pants and take them with him the next morning. If you don’t believe me, ask Google. It happens.)
Unlike the comfy ‘burbs or some other magical universe where unicorn meat is sustainable and cheap, the broke-ass dude is a fixture in a city like New York, where the pinch of our pockets serves as a common denominator, rallying cry, and subject of so many trendy New York Times think-pieces. You’ve heard the one about the guy who “forgets” his wallet or can’t pay his way due to a vague strain of “bad luck.” Then there’s the guy who never invites you back to his place, not because he’s polite or housing an embarrassingly large ant farm, but because he literally doesn’t have a home to bring you back to. Neither, apparently, does he have access to towels or Oreo’s because that is exactly what turns up missing from your place after he disappears.
Guys like this survive—better even, they succeed—at dating for lots of reasons. And I hate to say it, but I’m one of them. Probably not the only one either. Like some weird seven-eyed spider, these guys have proudly spun their haplessness into shamelessness; because even as an explicitly broke jerk, they’ve still managed to get a date. And by date, of course I mean sex.
Remember TLC’s “No Scrubs?” The late-90s pop song-cum-PSA which immortalized the type and provided tags for identifying one? In case you don’t, here’s a reminder: a scrub is someone who hangs out of his best friend’s ride, lives with his momma, and most importantly, “can’t get no love from me.” No love! So I ask: What happened to this zero-tolerance policy? Instead of left-eying Mr. Scrub, many women seem to have grown extra sympathetic to his plight. Because, crappy as it is, it’s a lot like our own.
I’m not here to explain broke-ass dude, or to tell him to get his act together. That’d be boring and reeking of something old and jaundiced. Plus, like I said, I’m not doing that much better. No, this one goes out to the women; the ones who go out with him. And not just once or twice. But three or four times. For an entire season of Walking Dead. For the time it takes you to read Infinite Jest in tandem. The women who cover his tabs and excuse him never being able to cover his own. The women who, in whatever way, contribute to his romantic success with other women. While it doesn’t make you responsible for his behavior, it’s not helping either. Like it or not.
For the record, I don’t like it. I’ve never been a fan of The Rules (just acknowledging “The Rules” makes me feel like an asshole named NEEDS-A-MAN-TO-MARRY-MARY). I have to admit that this broke bit works for a reason, and it’s not because women like me are too lazy to find a registered 501(c)3 to throw money at. It’s charming. Romantic, even. What youngish single woman with semi-creative sensibilities doesn’t get a tiny boner at the idea of a starving artist, even if they’d never admit it in front of a panel of peers? These guys are nothing if not intriguing. Because, let’s face it, before they met you, they’d had no idea where they’d be sleeping tonight. All I’m saying is that we need to get a little more honest with ourselves. A 30-something drifter with vague employment history and an Olympian ability to volley the tab on a date does not equal material for your future memoirs, just like it doesn’t ensure transnormative sex, or a glimpse into the psyche of Jackson Pollack the Second. It’s something else. Maybe no less interesting. But something else.
If by this point, you’re thinking your grandma has hacked this piece, it’s because I now believe in what my own grandma had (somewhat subversively) tried to tell me. Below all that smart style, there must be substance. And that doesn’t make me a Stepford shrew or a gold-digger. I’m just barely holding out for bronze.
So many of us are a bit addled by our penniless pathos right now. We’re got broken lights or no furniture to sit on, a bill or two that’s a day closer to being overdue. Most of us have better things to spend our petty cash on besides bitter cocktails with someone we’re not even sure we like. But that’s okay, as long as the burden of being cheap can be shared. Your broke act might be cute, but it’s not special, it’s not compensation for the two beers you just ordered, and it’s definitely not the way to get your damn kiss.