Dana Sukontarak Revives Dating/Relationships Writing With Debut Collection “Men”

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“Though I take full responsibility for my life, the men I’ve shared parts of it with have had a huge impact on the way I think, the way I love, and especially the way I write.” –Dana Sukontarak

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find fresh and nuanced writing about dating, relationships, and love. There are writers like La of Liquor, Loans, and Love who inhabit quiet corners of the Internet and do the genre justice. However, for the most part, the dating and relationships writing niche is dull at best and dead at worst, relegated to half-baked listicles and essays that reek of more righteousness than reality.

But, then, there’s Dana Sukontarak.

In her debut collection of essays entitled Men, Dana chronicles her coming-of-age love stories, filled with jagged edges, uncut footage, and the kind of candor that’s too quickly becoming extinct. Her voice is equal parts enchanting and irreverent as she writes her way through both the splendor and stupor of true human connection. In a new age that sums up love through filtered Instagram photos and #relationshipgoals hashtags, Dana challenges the notion that such an emotion is so clear-cut and candy-coated. Instead, her narrative reflects that of most twenty-something women I know, self included. In short, sometimes we dig for love in all of the wrong places, but end up with answers about ourselves to questions we never even thought to ask.

Meet Dana and get a glimpse into her world of Men.

TU: What is one thing you believed about human connection in your early twenties that has since changed?

Dana: I used to think that the end of a connection was the end of the world. In a way, it is the end of a certain world you’ve built with somebody, but it’s never really gone. Life happens in cycles, and a lot of it is repetitive. The people you have actual meaningful connections with will never go anywhere.

TU: In the intro of the book, you write something I’m sure many other writers can identify with: “I often feel as though I have no choice as a writer other than to selflessly divulge every detail of my personal life.” Despite how forthright you are in the collection, is there anything you left on the cutting room floor? If so, why?

Dana: Sure, there are details I left out for different reasons. I wanted to tell my story without coming too close to trying to hijack someone else’s story. It’s hard, because the stories do intersect, but to a certain extent I tried to be mindful of other people’s privacy. I am a really open book, but I understand everyone else isn’t that way. I didn’t want anyone I wrote about to feel embarrassed when they read their chapter, unless they should feel embarrassed. Then it doesn’t really matter.

I also published this book at a time when I’d been dating someone new for only a few months. I wanted to write so much about him and our connection, but I also wanted to preserve the sanctity of our blossoming relationship, and not interfere too much with my probing, writerly ways. So, I wrote about him, but certainly not to the extent that I really wanted to or could have. That story is still developing, so it would have felt wrong to try to capture it prematurely. Or maybe he’ll be the one person I never really write too much about. I’m not sure.

TU: One of my favorite pieces in the book is the first essay, “February Seventeenth,” in which you depict the push and pull of falling both in and out of love, simultaneously. How do you believe this piece potentially challenges a reader’s assumptions about infidelity?

Dana: I’ve read that piece over and over, trying to imagine how someone might perceive me after that story, if they didn’t know me very well, or at all. There are a lot of different answers. I think it’s apparent that I am a smart person who doesn’t always do smart things. People tend to look at infidelity in such a black and white way. It’s usually either “fuck it, cheat” or “fuck all cheaters.” There is a story behind each seemingly heinous love crime, and this was mine. I feel bad about how things happened, but I’m happy for even the slight chance of someone reading this and realizing either that they’re unhappy where they are and need to make moves, or that they should quit fucking around before they fuck up a good thing.

My intention wasn’t to fuel the inane debate over whether men or women are bigger cheaters. Everyone is imperfect in their own ways. Some of the most loyal lovers are as boring as boulders. Some promiscuous people really are kindhearted and well-intentioned. Most people will cheat or be cheated on at least once. Even Beyoncé.

danaTU: In “February Seventeenth” you also address love as an artist, referencing the “idea of a whirlwind creative passionate romance that would propel me leaps and bounds as a human and a lover and a writer.” Why do you believe artists are drawn to this kind of romance, and is it ever sustainable for us?

Dana: It’s tricky, for sure. We’re drawn to that kind of love because we see ourselves in it, and people really are narcissistic creatures like that. I’ve been in relationships where the guy just wasn’t interested in what I do. It’s not a deal breaker to me. Everything isn’t for everybody. You find other things to share and bond over. But it’s so much more beautiful when you can share your passion completely, and have someone genuinely excited and interested in your art.

Artists are crazy, though, so the question of sustainability really just depends. I think it’s possible to find a likeminded creative individual that is willing to love and adore and commit to you. But most likely, they’ll be weird and panic when they start to feel like you’re stifling their art. You’re never really stifling their art, though. Artists are just weird like that. You’ll always be sort of secondary to their craft.

 TU: In your essay “Too Much Magic” you write, “I must partake of you in moderation because you fuck with my head, my heart, and my soul.” Why do you believe it’s in our nature to gravitate toward dysfunction and chaos?

Dana: I’ve found that a lot of people would rather feel something than nothing at all. So, that means that many people may accept sadness and drama and turmoil because it is exciting. That includes me, too. We welcome problematic situations when we don’t know, or don’t try to know any better. Not many people are protective of their peace. It’s a hard road of acceptance. Even when I look back at that chapter, I wonder how I let somebody dictate my emotions and actions in that way. I was a willing participant, the aggressor even. It’s weird to think about.

TU: What are three things you would you tell 22-year-old Dana Sukontarak about men?

Dana: The first thing is that not all men are worth all of you, so ration yourself accordingly. The second thing is that men are usually threatened by outspoken or otherwise bold women. They might not say so, but they’ll show you so. The third thing is that men cannot be forced to change. Whatever change you think you’re enforcing is only temporary, a load-bearing band-aid over a deep, deep crack.

TU: The book alternates between personal narrative and pieces that are more poetic and conceptual. How did balancing writing styles help you better tell your story?

Dana: I think the different writing styles not only kept it interesting, but were also indicative of a real-time shift in my identity as a writer. I’m big on variety. So, if I experimented with poetry, or maybe writing in a more nebulous than specific way, it was just based on how I felt at the time. I think it’s all worth sharing, and the diversity of styles shows the reader that I’m unfinished. I’m still growing as a writer. There are lots of different ways to tell a story, and for a book like ‘Men’ that’s really like an early mixtape in my rap career, I think it’d be unfair to just showcase one.

TU: Define love.

Dana: Love is farting really loud, unflinchingly, in front of each other. We do it every morning. No, really, love is acceptance. Love is a willingness to please someone through and through, because their mere existence pleases you.

Dana Sukontarak is a 27-year-old Washington, D.C.-based writer, editor and author. She likes snail mail, Moleskine notebooks, Murakami novels and fresh produce. ‘Men’ is her first book available for purchase here. Follow her on Twitter @peachesjordan and connect with her further at www.danasukontarak.com

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Too Much For You

I am too many walls to break down, too many questions to answers, too many tightropes to traverse, too many risks for the average man to take

When I meet him, I let my fingers rest on his back for two seconds too long. He’s leaning over the bar, trying to wave the bartender down. But once I arrive, the allegiance of his attention shifts. 

He introduces himself, offers up his seat, and orders me something I’ve never drank before but would like to have again. And then the night begins to unwind the way most nights like this do, with a pair of hands that find themselves lower on my spine as one hour bleeds into the next. We laugh. Exchange stories. Say yes to the shots even though in some creek of our judgment, we know it’s not the best idea. I joke with him that he’s dangerous because I’ve never matched up well with fellow libras. He retorts that libra women possess an intoxicating kind of charm, one that he keeps referring to as The Inveigle. 

When he kisses me, he does it slowly and with intention, an art I’ve found most men never learn. And when we part ways, two dim bars and one late night pizza later, I decide that I like him and want to see him again.

It’s the kind of evening I want to collect and save in a bottle for some 25 degree night next winter. But this little thing unraveled, the way most little things like this do. Something he said only an hour into our conversation that sweet spring night kept sending an unpleasant electric shock through my memory.

He told me he was ready to settle down. Have a wife. Make some babies.

I knew I wasn’t ready for any of that, but I kissed him anyway. I also wondered if the same men who unwaveringly say they are looking for a wife are just as sure they’re ready to be a husband.

The tightly knotted coils of that night disentangled rather quickly, folding into a blur of text messages that made me scoff more than they made me smile. And it was the last thing he said that has been singing a miserable love ballad in the back of my head ever since.

I understand if I’m too much for you, Tyece. 

There are things we never get the chance to say, so we write them instead.

He was not too much for me. But, perhaps I may have been too much for him, with my unruly spirit and mess of a self. I may have been too much with my unwillingness to quietly nod yes and fit into his mold. I may have been too much when I did not fall into praise dances at his urgency to start a family. I may have been too much because the reality is that most days, I am far too much. Most days, my heart is ten sizes too big for my body. Most days, I lose hours traipsing through the broken boulevards of my mind. Most days, I don’t have the tolerance for the dead end road of “What’s up?” text messages or interactions that insult the depth of human connection. Most days, I am too many colors and too many lights and too many sounds. I am too many walls to break down, too many questions to answers, too many tightropes to traverse, too many risks for the average man to take.

Funny how this life works. Because most days I’m the one forced to reconcile the reality that I’m far too much for you.

Xoxo,
Tyece

I Burn Buildings, I Wreck Promises.

COMPLICATE-2

I like to burn buildings before the blueprint’s even finished. A friend of mine tells me that I “kill shit before it’s even had a chance to breathe.” And by shit he means the prospect of romantic love. He means mild flirtations and swelling possibilities and school girl crushes and pitter patters of the heart. I like to cradle these fledglings of love in my hand and then crush them before they reach adolescence.

I don’t trust men’s emotions just as much as I don’t trust my own. I don’t trust the woman I melt and mold myself into when someone captures my attention and I cling on for dear life. I don’t trust the woman I become when that all or nothing side of me very quickly snaps into “all.” She is such a diluted and second-rate version of the woman I’m trying to be. She makes me roll my eyes and suck my teeth. That woman gets imprisoned in her own fragility and becomes a puppet to someone else’s evanescence. She makes lifelines out of mixed signs and laughs at jokes that aren’t funny. She bites her tongue for fear of seeming too brash. Too insecure. Too boisterous. Too much.

She is why I burn buildings before the blueprint is finished. She is why my mind does not weigh any of the possibilities, but instead demolishes them all. One by one. I sit behind the wheel of a bulldozer, shift the gear into drive, and wreck all of the promises love wants to let blossom.

That woman I melt and mold myself into is why I have a litany of jokes bundled in my back pocket about how I will be single forever with 40 cats or how “You know I always crush on one artsy guy every year and it doesn’t go anywhere; it’s just par for the course.” She is why I brush off my sister when the potential of me with someone else dances off her tongue in dead seriousness. This woman is the reason why swelling romantic possibilities always only seem to suffocate me. So, instead, I shrink myself into a ball of cynicism and declare that things won’t ever work. I’m being silly. He “definitely does not like me like that.” Because there is some sort of sweet and sick satisfaction in letting my skepticism call the shots.

See, it’s not the men who frighten me. It’s the woman I’ve witnessed myself become when I’m with them.

But, maybe I am only fooling myself. Because that woman, flooded by her own insecurities, is still present. She is the punchline in my cynical jokes and the period in my doubtful declarations. That woman has only undressed herself, replacing her former veil of hypersensitivity with an armor of sarcasm and suspicion. But, that woman is still very much here–unsure of how to love and even more unsure of who to love in this new courageous, confident, and purpose-centric skin she’s in. She is afraid that she’ll mess it all up and fight to bounce back. She is afraid it will become 2010 all over again, and she will sob when a man berates her and walks out the door with his suitcase behind him. That woman is still somewhere inside of me, scared to death to let it all go and trust someone wholly to hold her heart.

Xoxo,
Tyece

WYAO April general promoThis post is part of Write Your Ass Off April, a 10-day writing challenge to create your most naked, brave, and no holds barred writing. Ready to do this thing? Learn about the challenge here and share your work on social media using the hashtag #WYAOApril. 

The Male Think Tank: Has Tinder Ruined Dating? Pt. 2

Check out part 1 of this post here.

Have you ever met anyone with long-term potential from Tinder?

 

Guy 8: No. I probably don’t take most of the women seriously because I feel like they don’t take the guys seriously either.

Guy 9: No. I personally have never used the app. My knowledge of Tinder leads me to believe that it is very superficial at best. I’m probably not going to spend much time reading a bio, but tend to focus on what someone appears to look like. Swipe left or swipe right. Hopefully we hook-up. The app does not provide a platform that enables users looking for substance much to anticipate or look forward to.

Guy 11: I’ve never used Tinder but I don’t see why you couldn’t find a potential partner using it. We’re primed to seek out visual cues of attractive traits in potential mates. There’s definitely some truth to the trope of love at first sight. But physical attractiveness is subjective and unpredictable. It’s a mingling of biology and history and you can’t be sure if your attraction towards someone is requited until you engage with them. There’s a lot of insecurity in dating / relationships and knowing that the other person has an innate attraction to you can build confidence and provide the freedom to be yourself. Tinder mitigates that initial anxiety by getting you past the superficial to the real work of determining compatibility.

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The million dollar question: has Tinder ruined dating? Why/why not? Is it still possible to form genuine connections? If so, how?

 

Guy 7: Tinder hasn’t ruined dating completely, but it removes two key components from the process: courtship and chivalry. The app enables a larger problem of male laziness and superficiality. A guy no longer has to even get off the couch to find a date. And his pre-requisites for a match are now based off geographic proximity and facial symmetry rather than personality and intellect. I feel like many single women activate Tinder accounts in an effort to keep with the trends and expand their opportunities. I don’t totally discredit the app because I do think true connections can occur and it helps people meet that otherwise might not have the chance. The sad part, however, is those real connections often have to wade through a sea of dick pics in order to happen.

Guy 8: I don’t think it’s ruined dating. I do know some people who are/have been in meaningful relationships because of dating apps (including Tinder). You just have to know what you’re getting yourself into. You can’t form a genuine/authentic connection through Tinder. The best you can do is break down SOME of the initial awkwardness before you meet up in person. From there, it’s just like going on a normal date. And once you’ve met up in person, you still have to hit it off to continue going on dates. Tinder just makes it easier to say “I like you, do you like me back?” or “you’re hot, I want to bang, shall we?” without the person knowing you’re asking. You can just swipe right and if they swipe right back you know they’re already into you. If they don’t, there’s no shame or embarrassment. It eliminates the fear of rejection. I do think dating apps have made people more picky. Not because something better is on a dating app but because the idea that there COULD be something better is in the back of your mind. So it hasn’t ruined dating but maybe ruined the likelihood to commit or be happy with what you have.

Guy 9: Tinder hasn’t ruined dating. It serves as a platform for those looking for something quick, easy an fun. Which I believe was and still is the intention. If substance and a long term relationship is something an individual seeks, Tinder would never serve as the appropriate medium for such. It’s a bit naive. You can’t turn water into wine. Forming genuine and authentic connections still take place. Once everyone decides to drop their guard a little, take a chance and step out of their norm, they might see potential in someone. We prohibit ourselves from enjoying these fleeting moments because of our pre-requisites and long list of requirements we attach to everything. How can something be genuine or authentic when in essence we are attempting to control and mold the situation almost from the very first time we interact with someone? Do something new, be a bit vulnerable and lose the laundry list of shit that truly doesn’t matter. That is the meat and potatoes of forming not just genuine and authentic but liberating.

Guy 11: No. If anyone has ruined dating it’s the immature guys referenced in the Vanity Fair article that aren’t ready for a serious relationship anyway. They remind me of the cast of Jersey Shore and I hope they aren’t representative of most Tinder users, for women’s sake. Although I’ve never used it and can only go by what I’ve read, Tinder sounds like a great tool for meeting people who are attracted to you. If you want to use it for hooking up, I’m sure it’s great for that too. But how can an app with the sole purpose of introducing two people who find each other attractive keep them from forming a genuine and authentic connection? It’s up to them to determine if there’s going to be a connection or not.

Tinder is going to make your life easier by casting a net to bring you in contact with people you might not otherwise, but it’s not going to form a lasting connection with someone for you. There’s not an app for that. I think many young people today struggle with the mentality that there is always something or someone better. We’ve grown up in an age of great technological advancement and we’re used to having the latest and greatest neatly pre-packaged for our

 

 

The Male Think Tank: Has Tinder Ruined Dating? Pt. 1

The Twenties Unscripted Male Think Tank is a select group of men (aka my friends) who anonymously provide their thoughts on select topics, specifically related to dating and relationships. The group has been on a bit of a hiatus, but the men have returned today to share their thoughts about everyone’s favorite subject…Tinder. Today’s post includes five of the guys responses. Check in tomorrow to hear from the rest of the guys.

The September issue of Vanity Fair includes an article entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” I finished the article all too convinced that when it comes to dating, my generation is doomed. But, having never actually used Tinder myself, I figured it was time to get The Male Think Tank involved. Has Tinder ruined dating? What’s the fastest any of these guys have hooked up with a girl after meeting her on Tinder? Is it still possible to form genuine and authentic connections in today’s world? The Male Think Tank sounds off on these questions and more in this month’s post.

Have you ever met anyone with long-term potential from Tinder?

Guy 1: No, but that’s because I didn’t use Tinder long enough to really meet people on it. Also, when I was using Tinder I wasn’t using it to find a long-term partner.

Guy 3: I personally have not. It’s not to say that those people don’t exist, it’s just that the ones on Tinder I match with are generally not as attractive as I’d like. It’s usually the ones you think to yourself “Well, I’d at least beat” that you match with. From there it’s a few bland messages, maybe a phone number, some dry texting then ghost. I’ve been on one date resulting from Tinder (she was actually attractive) and she ended up being crazy.

Guy 4: I haven’t met anyone through Tinder. Most of the instances where I get a match, it’s usually just a robot who wants me to click on a mysterious website link, and I always decline.

Guy 5: No, because I haven’t tried. I just don’t think the odds are favorable for finding the right type of woman on a site like that.

Guy 6: No, neither one of us were looking for long-term commitment, just the connection we had right there. We had an understanding, however, the vibe was there.

When online dating, what are some things you look for in a woman’s bio? What are some red flags?

Guy 1: What I look for: 1. She’s attractive 2. We don’t have mutual friends (it would suck to go on a date with each other, it suck, and then have to see her at some event with friends) 3. She’s not looking for a serious relationship Red flags: 1. She comes off crazy/erratic just based on her profile 2. She’s looking for a soulmate online.

Guy 3: I look for a clear understanding of the English language. I also look for subject-verb agreement, spelling, grammar, syntax and to see if you could possibly read above a third grade level. In all seriousness, I just look to see if you’re showing a persona or just being honest. Red flags include using the same vowel several times within 10-20 characters e.g “ii love miii”, talking about any exes negatively, or at all (let that hurt go). I’d also say that if you put some shit like “only looking for friends”…go the fuck outside and make friends. We’re here for a reason.

Less is more. People are more complex than a few words can say in a bio – so don’t sell yourself short. Include enough to get you to the next step, whatever that may be. If you’re looking for a relationship, you should say so. If you just want to hook up, you should be up front about that too.

Guy 4: I always fancy a good pun or quip in a woman’s bio. It lets me know that she has a good sense of humor. Anything alluding to her musical tastes can also act as a positive. When it comes to red flags, it’s all relative. Personally, I find that if she is in school, works a lot, or is really active with groups or stuff like that, it can be a flag. Not in the sense that women shouldn’t do stuff, because they can of course. I just know that I would be busy with what I got going on on my end, and maybe our schedules wouldn’t be able to line up right to spend time with each other on a consistent basis. I am not one to get in the way of anyone’s personal endeavors.

Guy 5: I would look for similar interests, but not generic “long walks on the beach” things. What a person chooses to do with their spare time says a lot about them. It would also be smart to pay attention to just how much detail someone freely puts out there for the public eye. In the age of social media, it seems few things are held sacred and private. A good woman usually plays things closer to the chest.

Guy 6: Location obviously, but that’s not a deal breaker though. I like to see if she’s open minded to certain things, or if she dismissive to anything aside from what she likes. Those things matter to me, I’m not don’t have standards, but if you require house/car/job, and I have a house, and job…working on the car…does she work with dude? Or she completely downing him. In all I just love open-minded women.

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The million dollar question: has Tinder ruined dating? Why/why not? Is it still possible to form genuine connections? If so, how?

Guy 1: I don’t think Tinder (or any online service) has ruined dating. I think it has created its own niche for people who want to find fuck buddies though. Personally, I don’t take online dating seriously (though others may) because I feel like profiles don’t do a person justice. I can’t know someone/whether I’ll like them just because we have similar interests that I read off of a page. This is why I’d be way more likely to sleep with someone from Tinder than take them seriously as a significant other.

I want the person who I start dating seriously and I to have a fun backstory about how we met. I don’t want have to tell my friends that “Yeah, I met my girlfriend on Tinder.” I think it’s possible to form a genuine connection with someone off of Tinder. Maybe it’s my pride, but I think there’s something to be said where you can go up to someone (before you know that they’re attracted to you) and build the connection from the ground up without having to read who they are from a webpage.

Guy 3: I have formed genuine connections over the length of my singlehood. Tinder hasn’t ruined anything. It’s a tool, nothing more. To say Tinder ruined dating would be like saying Twitter ruined all personal social interaction. It’s a tool.

Guy 4: I don’t believe Tinder will ruin a person’s dating experience, just as long as they don’t use Tinder as their only method of dating. In conjunction with a lot of activities, Tinder can be of great use. So if you use it, continue to do so, but still hit some speed dating events, go to a meet up, talk to somebody you find attractive in a club, even ask you friends if they have someone they can hook you up with. To me, genuine and authentic connections are still very much alive. But in this day and age where instant gratification and social ADHD run rampant, getting to those connections is an extremely difficult task. There isn’t a universal rule or tip I can give anyone to foster connections with others because everyone is different. I can say though, if you get to know yourself better and truly understand what resonates with you, you should try to lead everything you do with that connection. I feel like in doing that, the things that do strike you will be more noticeable and recognizable to you.

Guy 5: Believe it or not, I think Tinder might be helpful for the overall dating scene. The thots can stay online, and find all the hookups they want, which in turn makes it easier to find the serious daters. I do believe there is a place for online dating, and authentic, long-term connections can be formed from those interactions. Hell, I met my ex on Twitter. It just makes it a lot harder to find what you’re looking for, which is the opposite of what these sites are selling. It’s tough to fake a conversation for an extended period of time, and truly keep someone interested even though you’re not their type. Online, however, I can be who, or whatever I want to be. To me, that’s a scary proposition.

Guy 6: 1). No, it hasn’t ruined it. People ruin things. There are pros and cons, the same way there are pros and cons with meeting in person. Tinder expands your options and can cut the awkward phase if you’re a person who is hesitant or nervous to approach. For example, I’ve chatted with a woman for a week, we exchanged contacts and when we finally had our first date it wasn’t shaky. We felt like we were connected, the initial physical meet up was like “Whoa, this is really happening,” but overall the mental/verbal ice breaker was over…but I feel genuine connections can still be formed, rather it’s online or in person. The person you meet online would be the same one you met at the bar or grocery store; the only difference is they’re behind a screen, as we all are often times, you know? I believe it’s just all up to you, and your preference. 2). Con: catfish is real. So safety concerns are definitely something to take into consideration, however that’s why I advise meeting in public places…

Check in tomorrow to hear from the second half of the Male Think Tank.

Xoxo,
Tyece (and the men)