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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Love Me Well.

LOVE

You loved me both well and somehow not at all. In your arms, I wore both halos and horns, moved mountains and drowned under oceans. You pulled me to heaven and put me through hell. Yes, somehow you didn’t love me at all, but you still loved me well.

You loved me the way wind sashays through a hurricane–dangerous and unpredictable, destroying everything in its path. You loved me wildly and wholly, an exquisite natural disaster. After you loved me, the ground beneath my feet was never quite the same.

You loved me effortlessly, like knee-jerk reactions and 20 blinks per minute. You loved me warmly like oversized knit sweaters and hot chocolate during the blizzard. You loved me urgently, like it was both fresh off the rack, yet still going out of style. You loved me ravenously, like Sunday dinner after two church services or the first thing I’ve eaten all day.

You loved me recklessly, with venom off your tongue and blades under your eyes. You loved me carelessly, like forgetting to look both ways. We ended up one bloody mess after a head-on collision.

You loved me gradually, falling hard for the words before you even knew the writer. You loved me incompletely, like mansions with unfinished basements. I foolishly tried to make a home out of a heart still under construction.

You loved me in hushed tones and hidden passageways. You loved me like the sound of misgiving in Al Green’s Love and Happiness. Our story does not include neatly tied threads. The way you loved me is not fodder for sharing around the campfire.

But, this is the way that you loved me.

But, you. Sweet, complicated, and still unnamed you. You will love me the best. You will love me from my core to my rough edges, from my hairline to my heels. You will love me from my alpha to my omega, my Genesis to my Revelation. You will love me for the blood behind my bruises and the dirt underneath my burial ground.

Your love will take me to parts unknown and places unexamined. Your love is my pilot’s license to travel to the moon. Your love is rich and rare, golden and good, savory and sacred.

And, not yet knowing your love–still staring at the ceiling waiting for your love, still sending prayers to the sky to find your love–drills holes in my heart and makes messes of my sanity. Craving your love swells at the bottom of my belly and sucks up all the air. Wanting your love and not daring to say it has made an unsolved mystery out of me.

But, you. Sweet, complicated, and still unnamed you. You will love me through it all and you will still love me well.

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. Learn about the challenge here and share your work on social media using the hashtag #WYAOApril. 

 

Before The Sun Rises

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I’m going to leave before the sun rises and begins to tell you all of my secrets. I’m going to leave before light creeps through the blinds and writes the first line about the story behind my eyes. I don’t want you to read that story. Not now. Perhaps not ever. Instead I want you to remember the one you read last night in dark places through hushed tones, the memoir written in the dip of my back. It is OK if you know that story. It is likely you’ll forget it tomorrow. But the story behind my eyes–that story will take you years to read and lifetimes to let go. That story is 100 chapters with 500 ripped pages. That book is too heavy for most men to hold.

So I’m going to leave before the sun rises.

I’ll slip my boots back on and glance over at your wiry frame, wondering whether this is the start of something new or the end of something wickedly fun. I’ll kiss you on the cheek, whisper “Sleep well, love” and grab myself an Uber. I’ll only say “Good morning” to the driver when I climb in and “Yep, this is perfect” when we get close to the address where my car’s parked. For 18 minutes and 30 seconds, we’ll drive through the city in silence as I crave a shower and my own sheets. I’ll blast Purple Rain on the drive back to my apartment, greet a pissed off Roxy when I open the door, and smile at myself when I look in the bathroom mirror. “Who do you think you are, Tyece?” I’ll ask through a laugh.

This is what it’s like to leave before the sun rises.

Later that afternoon, Wale’s Sabotage Love will come on the radio, even though it’s five years old and wasn’t even ever that popular when it dropped. The lyrics instantly pull me back to a much more complicated and fragile time. At the three minute and 15 second mark, the words will sting with truth:

She the shit, she the one
She need now, she ain’t never needed love
Let her go, let her leave
This is something that could never, ever be
Said her heart’s in a cage, cause if you never love, you could never hate

Maybe that is why I always leave before the sun rises. Because once the sun shows up, the cat’s out of the bag and my heart’s out of its cage. After the sun rises, my secrets are yours and I’m forced to confess all of my sins. After the sun rises, all bets are off and that story behind my eyes sits on an empty shelf for you to read.

So, I’m going to leave now. Before the sun rises. Before the day starts. Before the bed’s made and the truth I left behind on your sheets starts to speak. Yes, I’m going to leave now. Because I’ve always been better at leaving than I have been at staying.

Xoxo,
Tyece

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)