I’m at Insomnia Cafe on Melrose having a great first date with Carla. (Obviously not her real name; I’m doing that change-their-name-to-protect-their-identity thing). Carla is nerdy, spunky, and has that sharp, geeky wit that gets the jokes no one in my life laughs at anymore. She’s also gorgeous. A perfect mix of charmingly cute and regal elegance. Then I mention something about smoking pot.
I don’t know how or why I said it. I don't remember what anecdote I shared that required I disclose that detail. All I can remember is feeling a tangible energy drop. A green light turns red.
I’m a clean-cut guy. I recently got more religious. So my style tends to attract more straight-edge girls. Girls who maybe never met anyone who has their life together and regularly consumes cannabis — or at least, the girls didn't know that some of these together types also smoke weed. When I go on dates, those girls are often surprised to find out I smoke. Very surprised. Why do they have a problem with it? It goes against their schema? They don’t understand it? Maybe something more traumatic?
But I also think a big part of the issue is stigma. And I’ve been combating that stigma since the beginning of my dating life.
My first girlfriend was Rebecca. We had gone to the same Jewish day camp throughout elementary school, but it took taking the SATs on a Saturday to get us to meet as semi-adults. Also nerdy, Rebecca was the quintessential Jewish girl next door. The type of homebody who glues her 1,000 word puzzles and hangs them on her wall. Being with her was the refreshing affection and attention the lonely teenage me was starved for.
At that point, I had just gotten into smoking weed. Getting weed in Texas, where I grew up, immediately after 9/11, meant that smoking at my friend Sean’s apartment was a rare treat. Rebecca made clear early on that she wasn’t comfortable with it and didn’t even want to hear about it. Her older brother had had a serious problem. The parents-pull-you-out-of-school-and-send-you-to-rehab type of problem. Clearly a touchy subject. But sooner or later I’d somehow let it slip, and there’d be that intangible divide. I remember her once pleading, ”Just don’t say it. Whenever you go to Sean’s, I’ll know what it means.” We broke up when I left for college.
After Rebecca, there was Jennifer, the carefree freshman I dated as a junior. The very thought of dating a pot smoker was a hard no. The first thing I did when she broke things off was borrow a fresh bowl from my roommate. Then there was Sarah, an Israeli actress I met in Jerusalem on Tuba B’Av, the Jewish Valentines Day. Similar to Rebecca, the mere mention of pot would send us into a fight. Not that big yelling type of fight. But the tense, prolonged, endless explaining type of fight. The kind that makes you think it’s over and the dust has settled, only to see tears seconds later. After that, there was Kaylee, the first religiously observant girl I dated. Though she had smoked a little weed in college, she didn’t like the idea of having something in the house that we’d have to keep secret from the children, should we get married.
But don’t get me wrong. I’ve dated women I could share my cannabis hobby with, too. Great girls at that. But the ones who felt like there was a potential for something real, they were the anti-smokers.
However, there was one girl who was willing to look past the stigma — in fact, smoking weed didn't make me look bad, but rather, I might have helped her change the way she thought of cannabis. Back in college, I met Elenna while running tech for the play Mother Teresa is Dead. Elenna was a devout Christian. At the time I’d be willing to date a non-practicing Christian, but I couldn't see myself with someone who had a strong religious perspective (kind of ironic that I'm pretty observant now, myself). We became friends and decided to see a production of The Rocky Horror Show (yes, the play version has a slightly different name than the film) my classmates had staged. It was selling out every show and was supposed to be amazing. Knowing Elenna’s background, I tried to sell the play as a liberating piece on self-expression. I genuinely thought she’d see it and have an enlightening breath of fresh air.
Instead, she was mortified. I particularly realized I had made a mistake during the silhouetted oral sex scene. But that’s not the only thing that didn’t go to plan that night.
You see I wasn’t trying to pursue a relationship with Elenna. My expectations for that night were to watch the play with her, say goodbye, go home, smoke a brand new eighth (which I had bought off a friend in one of the drama building's classrooms while Elenna was upstairs holding our seats), and then play video games for the rest of the night.
Elenna lived in the city of Bothell, over an hour away from campus, so she was supposed to spend the night with a friend. But when she told me that for some reason she couldn’t stay there, I offered my roommate Krista’s bed. (Trust me Krista was cool with it, she was at her girlfriend’s.) Okay plan adjustment: Chill with Elenna for like an hour, she goes to bed, I go down, get high, and play video games. All should be good, I thought.
Except I forgot about Donavan.
How to describe Donavan. He wore goth clothes, had spiky hair, dropped cynical witticisms, and was 40. He was staying with us in our apartment rent-free because Krista was trying to help him out and promised he’d only be there for a month. We were now in the middle of month number three. Of course when Elenna and I walk in the door, Donavan is waiting there with a long look of, “Who’s this bitch?”
I try to telepathically plead with him to not mention the pot, but Donavan isn’t one for subtlety. “Where’s the weed?” Donavan demands. Between Elenna’s confused expression and Donavan’s perturbed one, I pull out the bag from my cargo shorts and for the second time that night Elenna is mortified. I give Donavan the bag and take Elenna upstairs. Between the show, my roommate, and the fact that I had been carrying a bag of what Elenna thought was the most dangerous thing since uranium 235, I knew I had turned her world a bit upside down.
I didn’t come down to smoke. Elenna and I ended up having a very honest, comforting, and intimate conversation for much of the night about cannabis, religion, school, family, stuff like that. I feel like I came away feeling like her perspective had changed. Like she still saw me as the smart, driven, passionate, artist and friend she knew before tonight's debacle. Someone of value. Maybe it was because we knew we didn't have any interest in dating each other that it took some of the pressure off to see each other for who we really were.
Why can’t things be like how they were with Elenna? Maybe it was just that carefree, consequence-free time of your life that is college. Or maybe Elenna was just more open-minded than most of the other girls I've dated. Or maybe it was just the perfect set of circumstances for her to see past the societally ingrained stigma. Impossible to say. But hopefully in this new era of legal weed, cannabis companies will be successful in their efforts to associate pot-smokers with success, mindfulness, and a productive lifestyle. Had they been able to do it sooner, maybe I wouldn’t have had so much heartache.