Scrubbing a stranger: my twist on Tinder’s disposable dating culture

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Bathroom sign by Etsy seller S4StarSbySiSSy

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Comments on Scrubbing a stranger: my twist on Tinder’s disposable dating culture

  1. Thank you, Ariel, for sharing this.

    My boyfriend is in the in-between-lives stage that is waiting for your asylum decision in a Western European country.
    There are ever-present ghosts of his life in a war-torn country, of his flight, of leaving his family behind without getting to say goodbye. Sometimes, in spite of the energy that flows between us, the ghosts are more powerful than the missing each other… So that’s what we do. I hold him while he cries. I tell him, in equal measures, that I am here, to feel my arms around him, and that his family are there, and he needs to think about them and remember them.
    I think that scrubbing him might be a very, very good idea. Thank you.

  2. wow, this was so powerful and a good example of however much we want it to be, sometimes it just isn’t about us…. this may be my favorite post from you ever (ok, maybe second, I still enjoy the Alexa/”a boat?!!” post too)…. ummm, can you now do a post about the process of a good Korean spa/soak/scrub – how long do you soak, what products do you use, do you let the gunk just go down the drain? this sounds like something I would want to try for myself….

    • HA! Megan actually wanted me to write this post like that — 5 ways to do a Korean-style scrub on a naked stranger you met on Tinder because you’re trying to heal them — but I felt like it was just too many angles to try to tackle. I love how-to service writing, but I’m focusing a lot more on narrative nonfiction these days.

      That said, the best way to experience a Korean-style scrub, is to google “korean spa + your city” and go get one done! It’s really very simple (soak for an 45 min, scrub as hard as you can, rinse and enjoy) but they have pretty awesome techniques that I could never hope to duplicate.

      • *fangirling for a minute because Ariel responded to me*

        Im just glad you are writing… πŸ™‚

        thanks for the instructions…. not sure Im ready for someone else to do it for me yet! (introvert here)… also living in a small, suburban town in the deep south doesn’t lend itself too much to any kind of exotic/new experiences, so Ill have to look around and see what I can find… πŸ™‚

        • No fangirling! I’m just some nerdy middle-aged divorced white lady in Seattle tryna keep on keepin’ on. πŸ˜› That said, if you don’t have access to a Korean spa, really all you need to know is buy one of these scrubs, soak in a really hot bathtub for as long as you possibly can, and then start scrubbing your skin as hard as you can. It’ll hurt… but growth usually does. πŸ˜‰

          And as for the writing, I’m trying to stay focused on my second book right now… 70% done! But the book is all about the first year after the divorce, and I’m now in the second year and have new experiences to share, so you might see more stuff like this.

          (If you want to follow along more closely with me, follow @offbeatbride on Instagram and watch Insta Stories! It’s my favorite little playground.)

  3. This might be my favorite ever post here. Love this so much!! Can I come over for the same treatment? Kidding, but I’m pretty sure this is what I’m doing to myself this weekend. Never been to a Korean spa, but that sounds excellent too.
    I honestly can’t think of a time when I did something like this for someone, but I feel like it’s something I have/would do. I love that you gave to this person so compassionately. <3

  4. I love this story. It sounds like a real-life version of that scene in Spirited Away when Chihiro made a bath for the polluted river spirit. But instead of old bicycles, it was smoke left behind.

    What you did for him was such a gift. I was struck by how his grief/pain lingered even after he left and how deeply it affected you. That your friend needed to come by to help with round two of cleansing you and your home was so poignant.

    I’m curious about asking him to bring something he made. Was it part of the ritual?

    • Asking him to bring me a gift was my way of trying to balance things out, energetically. I knew I was going above and beyond with what I was offering (I’m weird, but even I was like “Ariel, who the fuck does this?!”), and while having a warm fuzzy sense of caretaking someone is certainly the main reward… I was also wanted something tangible to hold on after the fact to be like “That was a thing I did, and this is a symbol of what I got out it.”

      His gift sits on my altar now. πŸ™‚

      (And yes, my divorce has totally brought out all the buddhist/pagan/new age/west coast woo indoctrination my hippie parents raised me with. It took me until my 40s, but I am truly my parents’ child.)

    • Also, it’s worth noting that the vibe of the evening definitely wasn’t ceremonial… we were drinking whiskey from jam jars and cracking jokes half the time. There wasn’t a tone of like, “AND NOW YOU LAY YOUR GIFT UPONST MY ALTAR.” Everyone’s got their own thang, and I have a real knee-jerk reaction against Overly Serious Ceremonies… it just feels too contrived for me, and like it’s more about “prayerformance” than just having the experience.

      I mean, I’m all for taking a deep breath and getting quiet for a minute, but the tone of the evening was FAR from “let’s do a ritual, here let’s get very spiritual and serious and holy and stuff.”

      • I just want to thank you for the word “prayerformance.” Growing up Christian, the way some people would pray out loud always rubbed me the wrong way, and this is exactly the right word for it.

        • DUDE. I love how supposedly-opposite edges of culture loop back and become a circle!

          Here’s what I mean: the term “Prayerformance” was one I was introduced to through the West Coast hippie/raver underground music scene 20 years ago. At hippie raves and music festivals here in my corner of the world, it was not uncommon for the dance floor to be cleared around midnight so that a group of people (almost always slender, beautifully-dressed young women) could come out and do “Prayerformances” involving lighting candles, wiggling fire fingers, holding geodes, etc while everyone else stood around and watched.

          The goal was to create a sense of focus and intention for what were essentially dance parties… and that sentiment here is lovely! But the whole idea of forcing everyone to stop dancing so that people (…and not just people, but pretty people) can come out and do a performance to demonstrate/enforce their Extreme Spirituality(tm) on everyone else? BLEAH. It always rubbed me the wrong way. If you’re spiritual, you don’t need to show it off. If you need to show it off, the motivation might not be spiritual. (No shame on social validation as a primary motivator!! Just own it and don’t try to pretend it’s something else.)

          Where it loops back around and gets interesting is when this very west coast/new age/opposite-of-mainstream-American-Christian-Culture behavior is so remarkably similar to, say, folks praying loudly to Jesus for all to hear. In both cases, it feels like someone being like, “Lookit how spiritual I am! JUST LOOK! I AM SO ENLIGHTENED!”

          Home schooling is another place where far-Christian and far-Hippie overlaps. Totally fascinating.

          • Yes! Isn’t that totally fascinating. There are aspects of my hippie upbringing that are so similar to the ultra-christian world- not just homeschooling.

          • so true–reminds me of the comparisons in this video (about halfway through, though the whole thing is pretty great!)

          • “No shame on social validation as a primary motivator!! Just own it and don’t try to pretend it’s something else.” = YES. Do what you will but be honest about what it is, especially with yourself.

  5. Being a willing tool of the universe, a catalyst in the life of a stranger, is (to me) the most sacred and holy experience one can have. It comes from a place of instinct and intuition, transcends personal agenda, and reminds everyone about the ductile threads joining us all. It’s, yes, also fucking exhausting (and usually unexpectedly healing). Sleep, drink water, eat grounding foods, indulge in self-care (hair brushing and massage are my two favs), and know that you just made a beacon of pure positivity in the universe. And thank you.

    • Thank you so much for this compliment. This is the kind of writing I’m doing a LOT of right now, y’all just have to wait for a bit to read it…

      But this means a ton to me. THANK YOU.


  6. Yep, done that a couple of times. My agenda was wanting to get laid, but theirs ended up not matching mine. In one experience, on our second date he told me he missed his ex and suddenly our time was spent discussing what went wrong, life lessons, and making plans to get them back together. They did get back together and he thanked me for the honest conversation that night a while later.

  7. Ariel, as shocking as your divorce was to longtime readers like me, I have to say that reading this was so inspiring. I’ve never read anything like this before, and I feel like we’re getting to see a side of you and hear a voice that we never would have otherwise, and it’s pretty fucking cool. I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been going through, and I hope you’re doing okay. But if you’re able to give your readers a story like this in your new journey, I for one am really grateful and really fucking impressed.

    • Thanks for this, Bee. I have like 20 things I want to say at once, and the first thing is just: thank you. This means a ton to me. Then, in no particular order:

      * I am doing ok! I have an almost unfair amount of support in my life (friends, family, extended community, therapist, etc), so I really am doing fine. I mean, I still cry almost daily (but it’s good for me!) and am surprised by flashes of violent rage and existential despondence (which I we sorta all should be!) but generally speaking, I’m pretty good. Especially compared to a year ago, I’m pretty solid!

      * Longtime readers will know that part of my backstory is five years of infertility. Before divorce, infertility was the worst thing I’d ever been through — and let’s just pause and say wow, what a life of privilege I’ve had that “can’t make baby” and “marriage ending” are the worst things that have ever happened to me. I was finally able to make my baby (Tavi is 7 now! He’s awesome!), but I’ve joked that I’m the infertile lady who breeds stories. My body could barrrrely make that one baby, but I have an almost overwhelming amount of creative energy, and so stories have always been my babies. Then, some of those stories grow up and become websites and books and businesses.

      * A different and slightly darker way of looking at all this is that I’m a business woman of demands a solid return on investment from all my experiences. If I invest time in something or someone, I need to have a sense of getting SOMETHING out of it. If I go on a date, and it’s not going to result in what I was originally looking for, I’m compelled to find a value-add to get out of it anyway. (This might make me an emotional entrepreneur?) I could have just written the first date off, but a decade of hustling to grow a small business means that my brain is always looking for a way to get an ROI… and if I can’t get what *I* want out of it, then maybe I can make it valuable in a different way.

      * This obsessive optimization is true of my divorce, too: If I’m going to go through years of emotional anguish and ego death, then I might as well optimize the fuck out of it and turn the experience into an opportunity for growth, health, maturation, and self-improvement. The alternative is just being completely crushed by grief and betrayal and anger and sadness and… THAT IS NOT A SOLID ROI. As an added bonus, if sharing my story helps other people? I feel like I win all the trophies. Helpy selfy, helpy world? That’s my mission and my purpose.


  8. this is beautiful, as everyone else has said. and i wanted to mention that specifically, because the straw that tipped this camel to reply was noticing that the url for this article is “/scrubbing” and for some reason that just made me cackle

    so, from a cold-meds-induced haze here on the east coast, thank you as always for being a grounding and excellent voice <3

  9. What an amazing gift you have him. I too am sorry to hear of your divorce. I am a long time reader as well. When my relationship ended I felt like it broke a piece of my soul off. I am so glad you have support. I often felt alone and misunderstood like I had worn out my welcome to cry and process with friends . Sending you so much love and getting laid by someone super hot!

    • Same here! The end of my relationship felt like a part of my body was physically ripped from me, and brought the end of many friendships i thought were big and important.
      So I know what feeling alone means, and how hard it is.
      I have a cat now. Single! More 40 than 30! No children! And a cat? As stereotypical as it sounds, I think that’s part of my “go back to being a witch” path.
      Plus, she’s fluffy and sweet, and useless humans can seriously go fuck themselves.

    • Nope, but we keep in touch and I’m sure we’ll see each other again at some point. In fact, look: he totally just left a comment on this thread!

  10. What it was like to get scrubbed by a stranger

    After being in such a dark place for so long the “disposable dating culture” of Tinder was just the thing. Just matching with someone on the app lifted my spirits. Especially when that match is a successful, intelligent and very intuitive person.

    She was a fox! Strong features quick wit, I told her my secrets and was rewarded with that warm flood of relief when someone accepts you for who you are. Of course I wanted to see her again!

    When I found out that this second Tinder date was actually a surprise spa day I was impressed. I’m all for challenging situations and enjoy a good tub. Technically I wasn’t really naked, I had a glass of whiskey in my hand the whole time.

    Her plan worked. She scrubbed right up against my intimacy, vulnerability, and scarcity issues. She exfoliated my grief, betrayal, and addictions. She revealed a new layer in my healing process. A layer I had yet put words to. She correctly identified this feeling I was experiencing as shame.

    I spent the following day rather dazed, quietly processing the evenings events. I wanted to contact her and tell her everything! I wanted to be near the person who accepted me, cared for me and scrubbed the fuck out of me. But it was clear these feelings are my feelings and part of my process.

    The shame is there. The realization that my supportive community was low key judging me and my questionable decisions.

    This experience was a brave gift from a stranger who risked her home to my demons and created a healing space for me. I don’t know why she did it, it was really special. – Naked Stranger

  11. Ariel, thank you for sharing this. There’s something about it that was exactly what I needed to read in this moment.

    I echo the comments here. The positivity and support in this amazing online community is why I keep coming back, and I look forward to reading more of your own writing.

    • It’s being really interesting to hear what emotions this post is evoking for folks. My lit agent was like, “Ug, I was nervous and scared for you the whole time reading this,” which was interesting because the experience had zero elements of danger or fear for me. (And those are emotions I’m pretty sensitive to.)

      Tired and emo, however, are exactly how I felt after the experience… so I’m with you there.

      Edited to add: and it’s EXTRA interesting to see the comments coming on this thread:

      Several commenters there voiced that they found my behavior in this situation to be “creepy” and “unsafe,” and that it was an abuse of power on my part. Fascinating food for thought for me.

      • I read the comments on the other site and it was fascinating that people read things very differently. Maybe because I’m a long time reader (and former OBB Tribesmaid), I read this knowing 100% you had only positive intent. As I was reading the piece, I kept thinking “this is such an Ariel thing to do – how beautiful.” And of course, wishing I was the Naked Stranger because we all could use a good healing ritual once in a while.

        • Yeah, there were a lot of misunderstandings in that thread, which is a big indicator to me as a writer that there were some critical pieces of information I left out of this piece. (And also a few things I would do differently, if I were to do something like this again, which I don’t plan to.)

          Based on some of the comments in that thread, I had a former Offbeat Empire editor who’s into BDSM read this post, and she was like “Yeah, for folks who are in that culture, this account is full of red flags.” I didn’t really think of the experience as sexual/BDSM at all, but when you read the post through that lens, I get why people would be concerned.

          The main thing that’s not conveyed is that the guy and I talked extensively before and during the experience about trust, expectations, therapy, healing, new age bullshit, etc etc etc. It’s not like he was some Bro who had no therapeutic context for what we were doing. I held the container, but we were both very active participants.

          Anyway, mostly the feedback on that thread is really interesting for me as a writer. I know how the experience FELT, and if it didn’t read that way to some people, then that’s a failure of my writing.

  12. I LOOOOVE the Olympus Spa. This story reminds me about those shared journals at the spa. I have met the best naked strangers there, but I can’t say I’ve ever scrubbed any of them. (Is that even permitted?)

  13. Awesome instinct, and well narrated. Life generally IS weirder than fiction (sci-fi excluded). Reminds me slightly of Bukowski, but more life-affirming and funny. Keep it up Ariel – that’s both the writing and the living …

  14. Oh how i love it when the universe lets such things happen. Thanks for sharing, it was truly beautiful.
    I felt warm and fuzzy and excited the whole time. How lucky can people get, if only for a tinder date.

    • HA! The book I’m currently working on only covers last year… but rest assured that this story is tame compared to some of the ones that are in there. Last year was a fucking doozy, in just about every way.

  15. You are a kind and tender human, lady. Good on you for helping another human through their pain, and I hope a little more of yours was purged away as well.

  16. I had originally read this in email and didn’t come online to respond because I had nothing to add except “This is beautiful!” which I thought would be a common response. When I found out otherwise I just had to come on board and say you are a beautiful, giving person, who gave somebody an incredible gift when you could’ve just walked away so easily, and it was daring and unconventional and pure and it moved me to tears. Just so you know.

  17. YOU GUYS! I have to post an update! I just checked in with our beloved Naked Stranger… and he’s totally blissed out, dating a gorgeous Seattle starlet, and is generally loved up and kicking ass. HEARTWARMING PLOT TWIST! Seriously, it was the warmest fuzziest conversation. So much love!

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