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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I have never been much of a dater, preferring to meet people during the course of my various activities and travels, of which there are many. I’m not averse to trolling online dating sites, when I am ready to become more proactive in my search for a companion.
But on the whole I find the process more fatiguing than rewarding.
However, during the worst of the bed bug ordeal I felt even less up to the task of approaching anyone who might turn out to be someone I’d bring back to my apartment. I sort of bagged the entire issue, so to speak, along with most of my possessions.
I had started dating a guy when I first moved back from Mexico, and was still seeing him sporadically when the bed bugs appeared. He didn’t stay over very often, and once I realized my apartment was infested, I didn’t really want him to, for his sake.
Besides, after the first week or two of finding the infestation, I had no furniture and my house was a wreck—not exactly conducive to hosting (wanted) guests.
For reasons wholly unrelated to bed bugs, that alliance did not work out. But along the way some issues surfaced that would apply in the average dating scenario. As with traveling, they hinge on protecting the person from infestation rather than from bites.
Of course, to get to the point of protecting someone, you have to make it beyond the first date. That can be tough when you are (a) consumed with your fight and have nothing else to talk about and/or (b) the person you’re dating may be too skittish to listen to you past the “I’m battling bed bugs” when it comes to bringing them over.
And one should tell them, just as you’d tell them about an STD. You are building trust, after all.
“I’m fighting a bed bug infestation” does not make the best impression on a first date. But for those months, I had little else going on, especially as a freelancer during the recession. And this happens with many people. It’s an emotional ordeal, and one that can take over one’s life.
Then there is the stigma. That is born of ignorance, but there is no question that bed bugs can be a real buzz kill.
A September 2010 survey on a Facebook app asked people whether they would avoid dating or break up with someone who was battling an infestation. An astonishing 56 percent of responders surveyed said they would leave their date if they noticed bed bug bites on his or her skin, and 45 percent said they’d cancel a date with someone who admitted they had a bed bug infestation, according to a press release from AreYouInterested.com, a Facebook dating platform with 20 million users at the time.
Besides the obvious (to us bed bug–savvy folks, anyway) fact that only about 40 percent of the dates with bed bugs would manifest bites—making that method of detection extremely unreliable—it raises the question of why knowledge of a bed bug infestation would keep potential lovebirds apart.
Bed bugs may crawl onto your backpack or hide in a pant cuff and thereby inadvertently hitch a ride, but they do not reside on someone’s person.
Meeting a date elsewhere, as 35 percent said they had done, makes a little more sense, although here again, that behavior wouldn’t just apply to dating.
If, say, one wants to avoid bed bugs by staying out of movie theaters (a delusional tactic, as I’ve often said), then it stands to reason that you would stay away from the same whether you were on a date or not.
When it comes to anyone entering your abode, be it yourself or a guest of any sort, you need to be able to protect their things so that they don’t bring them home. Just as when you’re traveling and protecting yourself from potential infestation in a hotel, so must you, or a guest, protect oneself from picking up a hitchhiker in an infested abode.
The few times I had someone over, my apartment was sort of out of the woods in terms of infestation. That is, the place had been treated, so the bed bugs were largely gone, and it was in the period of time during which one had to be careful.
But the bed was not overrun as it had been during the worst of it.
“Strip!” I would command the guy I’d been seeing awhile, as he stood at the threshold of my apartment. He had no trouble obliging. I was only half-kidding.
Where does one put the clothes? They have to be kept safe. The solution was in my kitchen, in a Ziploc baggie.
This approach probably works better for women bringing home men than vice versa; how many women would obligingly rip their clothes off at the door, or even believe the line?
My own quasi-boyfriend was reassured by my precautions and not terribly phased.
Another friend, a platonic buddy who crashed with me months after my infestation because he couldn’t afford cab fare home after a night out drinking, got neurotic.
My house, with all my stuff piled around in plastic bags covering the floor as I packed and purged, looked straight out of Hoarders. Having no furniture to speak of besides the bed I had bought after the first infestation, I had just one place for him to sleep.
I had him take all but his underwear off as soon as he came in. I then sealed everything in a Ziploc and perched it atop the other Ziplocs piled on my kitchen counter. He could not get the thought of bed bugs out of his head.
“We’re taking precautions, nothing more,” I told him over and over.
“Are there bed bugs in my hair?” he kept asking. “Are they going to come with me in my hair when I leave?”
“No,” I told him. “That’s lice.”
So add bed bugs to the list of stressors that dating is fraught with here in New York City and, I suspect, most everywhere else. But don’t stop dating because of it.
If you’re battling bed bugs, the right person will see beyond them. And with anyone who doesn’t: Was it really meant to work out?
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.