Mutual catfishing: LARPing my Valentine’s date

I broke up with someone a couple weeks ago. He had just come off of two years of wild shenanigans and was ready to be serious with someone. I was coming off the first meaningful relationship I’d had in years, and all I wanted was wild shenanigans.

We talked for a while after I told him we should stop dating, and he told me he had been broken up with around the same time last year too. I was surprised at first, and sad for him, but it makes sense; it’s the end of cuffing season. People stop needing a consistent warm body to make it through those bitter sixty-degree L.A. winters.

I wasn’t worried about how this would change Valentine’s Day for me — Palentine’s Day had always been more my speed. Even when I was dating someone come the middle of February, I usually opted to do something with friends instead. Valentine’s Day dates were too heavy, too loaded – even with someone I liked a lot.

But I had a wild idea that I couldn’t quite shake — what if I went out this year? Obviously, I hadn’t built that kind of relationship with anyone, but that wasn’t the point. What if I went out with a complete stranger? What if we acted like we had a long history together? What if we LARPed it?

People generally think of Live Action Role Playing as anemic nerds running around parks in costumes throwing bags of birdseed at each other, but in the early 2000s, performance artists started using it too. They LARPed self-help conferences — learning how to self-actualize as someone else. Word on the street was that exploring the depths of a fake person really opened people up to themselves.

My idea was that making up a persona and a joint history with this person might teach me something about romantic scenarios, how I remember romance. It also played on dating app fears of being catfished, being played or being abducted by some suave psycho. If we both knew we were LARPing, if we were both lying but never trying to gauge the other’s honesty, how would that change the dating experience? How does that change me?

I wasn’t confident I’d be able to pull it off — who would agree to go out with some girl they’d never met on Valentine’s Day, let alone do it all as some elaborate game? I had a Tinder boy in mind, but when I asked him he said he had just started seeing someone. I thought about taking a friend but that didn’t seem like it fit the concept. So I gave up on it, left it for another year.

I’ll spare you the formulaic “but then” statement and just say I figured it out; I found someone mostly by accident, a contact from an old art project. He was excited about the idea and wanted to go to the Museum of Jurassic Technology to have a fake historic backdrop for our blossoming fake history. I was excited to have such an enthusiastic partner and he didn’t let me down. He was prompt and intelligent, witty and lighthearted. We shared a lot of the same interests, or what interests were readily apparent through the whimsical and exaggerated twists our stories took.

But for whatever reason, sitting in a small theater at the museum, I found myself missing the last guy instead. I’m not sure if I’m idealizing my last flame — he was a terrible museum date — but I was definitely more immediately taken with him than my LARP partner. We had gotten very intimate very quickly. I do wonder if the LARP prevented me from feeling close to this new person or if it’s just not as easy to find a suitable partner as I thought.

Either way, it was hard not to call the former flame — he would have been an incredible LARP partner. Valentine’s Day was the only thing holding me back — it was too loaded a day to call someone whose fatal flaw was seriousness. It’s funny how it’s so much harder to let go of someone you broke up with, knowing you’re the one who changed everything, rather than accepting a change someone else made. I was done with the last guy that broke up with me in a couple weeks and I had been really attached to him for six months. I never missed him like this. I don’t know, maybe I just liked this last guy more than I thought. That I didn’t realize that until now, I think that’s what hurts more than anything.

Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.