by: Adam Guerino
Note: “Serial Dater” is a series that came in response from a magazine asking Adam Guerino to write a dating column. He realized the irony that anyone would ask him for dating advice and decided to write a dating column based upon the theory that no one should ever ask his advice about dating.
I’m from a small town in Iowa. When I was growing up, it had about 4,000 people and it took about 45 minutes to drive into the nearest city, Des Moines. For the holidays, I went back to visit. Every time I visit, I feel like a documentarian or a historian. But lately, I’ve just felt like I didn’t belong. The distance between home and me has grown greater even though I’ve moved no further.
On this most recent trip, I went to a mall so I could get some work done. I sat down at the cafe of a bookstore and began writing something snarky and superior about soccer dads decked out in hunting gear cluelessly hunting for gifts for their wives and kids. As I wrote, a man sat down next to me with his four-year-old daughter. He had no hunting gear, just a big sweater I would describe as dad-chic.
At first, I just thought it was interesting how the daughter was being bribed with baked goods to behave. I brainstormed another story about how Iowa’s obesity problem is based upon indoctrinating kids into thinking fattening foods were a reward for good behavior. However, before I got to writing it, I realized that I recognized the dad. We went to high school together. And my life cycled before me under a harsh light. Nothing so grand as It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol – more like that one episode of every 90s sitcom where a main character hit their head and they replayed clips from previous episodes like flashbacks.
Kids. Marriage. Family. These were things I grew up wanting. But as I came to understand I was gay, I thought I had to move away to achieve any of them. My dreams of courting someone and starting a family were replaced with the reality of picket signs and petitions. This really wasn’t a pity party, honest. I simply looked at my childhood, and Iowa, as something that was temporary and not a good fit.
So, I moved to Chicago. But I got sidetracked by the big city. Maybe it was harder to find love there or perhaps it was easier to find other things? I took all of the energy to find a partner and start a family, which was so strong it propelled me from my small town to the big city, and I put it into my career. I wrote all the time, eight hours in one sitting, each year a new book or screenplay, and it still didn’t fill the void left from my desire to start a family. So I started new careers. Careers within careers. I became a comedian, producer, cartoonist and publicist. Now, I’m considered one of the best comedy producers in the city, and whether or not I agree with that, all my success is a plan B.
I looked away from memory lane and back at the passing friend from high school. He was always nice enough but didn’t seem like he knew what he wanted in life, nor care. I was envious and a part of me resented him for it. Without leaving our small town, he achieved everything I haven’t. I treated my ambition like it was a pissing contest. But now, I wonder if I was only ever compensating for what I couldn’t find. If I could have found a partner and started a family in Iowa, would I have ever moved? The choices behind me are made that much pettier by the fact that Iowa legalized gay marriage. Perhaps all the problems I saw before me were put there by me.
What was it about the sight of this guy and his kid at the mall that made me doubt myself? My friend didn’t notice me, or didn’t recognize me. Which is ironic because he’s the one who had changed most from high school. (Insert cliched joke here about how he has a lot less hair and a lot more gut.)
He lowered his chin down until it was resting on his folded arms, mimicking his daughter who leaned her cheek onto the table. She was looking at the cookie, mostly. But she was also daydreaming. The cookie was half eaten and I wondered if she were full, taking a break or simply considering the cookie. Was she wondering if what she started was something she wanted to finish?
Adam Guerino is a writer in Chicago who works nationally as a stand-up comedian event producer. Guerino is the creator of OutLoud Chicago a production effort bringing queer entertainment to the mainstream with rotating venues including Queer Comedy at Zanies and Barefoot Ballad at The Hideout. His benefit series We Are Halsted seeks to get the queer community to support the queer community by raising funds and awareness for queer homeless youth. For more information and a calendar of upcoming events,www.adamguerino.com.