Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s advice on Tinder, bad boys, and the lesbian film canon

Photo by Megan Baker
Photo by Megan Baker
Illustration for article titled Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s advice on Tinder, bad boys, and the lesbian film canon

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher just get it. The comedian couple went from Chicago pals to Los Angeles fiancées, entwining their lives ever deeper along the way—both as producers of the Put Your Hands Together show/podcast and as romantically involved road dogs, with Butcher frequently opening for Esposito on tour. They’re friends, lovers, and business partners, and they’re still able to make each other laugh. That’s why it made perfect sense for The A.V. Club to go to them for the second of this year’s Valentine’s Day advice columns. (Here’s the first.) They’ve figured out a way to make their lives work together, so (hopefully) they’ll be able to navigate our readers’ emailed queries just as well.

Dear Cameron and Rhea,
In your column here at The A.V. Club, you (Cameron) have explained that you and Rhea started out as friends and slowly evolved into something more. What advice would you give someone who might have feelings for their best friend? Is there any way to lay your emotions on the line without jeopardizing your friendship if it doesn’t go your way?
With love, confusion, and angst,
Beatrix Kiddo 9000

Cameron Esposito: Ooh, that’s a good one. Well, see, the thing is that it happened naturally, and we weren’t best friends. So I’m not saying that to throw you off the scent of your preferred partner that I’m sure smells great, but I’ve had that happen—where my best friend confessed to having feelings for me and they were unrequited feelings—and it was genuinely weird. I feel like there’s almost a middle-ground area where you see if you can suss out any level of romantic feelings from them. Does that make sense? How do they talk to you? Do they talk to you really close to your body? Or do they talk to you in a really matter-of-fact way about other people that they’re dating? I think there are some ways of doing some sleuthing.

Rhea, what do you think?

Rhea Butcher: I think you could do some sleuthing. You could lay out a white board and make a bit of a chart, use some yarn—

CE: [Laughing.] Yeah, like a True Detective sort of thing.

RB: Like a Fargo or True Detective kind of a thing.

Then you’d figure out, did they invite me to Christmas dinner, or did they not? Did they sit next to me at that movie or did we have a space between us? All that kind of stuff.


I think one thing that’s really specific about having feelings for friends is that if that friend is always talking to you about their significant other, they probably don’t have feelings for you. That’s one sure way of knowing it’s probably mostly one-sided.

CE: Or if they’re currently in a very serious relationship. That’s another thing that I would say. Because when this happened to me, that’s what was happening. I was dating somebody pretty seriously and then a pal told me that she was into me, and it made me feel strange, not actually because she said that to me, but because of what that meant about what she thought about my relationship with my then-girlfriend. This was not Rhea, by the way. Obviously nobody would ever try to hit on me around Rhea, who is the hottest of all time.


I just mean—I think that’s where there can be a little bit of a stumbling block. But I also think a really good friendship could weather this storm. So if it’s a really close friend that you value and you want to—subtly and not in a trapping way—just say, “Hey, have you ever thought about this?” I think a really good friendship can weather that.

RB: When you are open and honest with that person, might I suggest that you do not get drunk before you do it? One glass of wine to make you feel comfortable, yes. Ten glasses of wine to feel comfortable, no.


CE: That’s right, because then they’ll never believe you anyway. That’s the power juice talking.

RB: You want to present your best self to that person, not a sloppy drunk mess. Because then that allows them to be more comfortable with you, if they don’t have the same feelings toward you. Then you’re not a drunk mess that they have to take care of. I’m not giving this advice from personal experience, by the way.


CE: She totally is.

RB: …It’s from personal experience.

AVC: Cameron, are you still friends with the girl who said she had feelings for you? How can you maintain a friendship once that bridge has been crossed?


CE: So this is a tough situation, like I say, because I was in a really serious relationship at the time and she was also friends with my then-partner. And so that was just a no-go. It really did create a gulf between us, just because I felt like I had to tell my then-girlfriend because I didn’t want her to not know something. It creates this weird triangle that I just didn’t ask for. I’m not pissed at this person for it, but I was in the relationship I was in at the time because I chose to be with that person. I know in movies it’s like the person shows up at the last minute, and they’re like, “But we should be together!” But I think in reality, that can actually create a little bit of a problem.

Here’s the other thing I would say. That friendship didn’t stick around as a lifelong friendship for me, but maybe it was important enough for her to risk that. I think if you’re like, “This is the person that I’m going to be with, and they just need to know, and if we can’t be friends afterwards, then that’s fine,” it’s on you to be able to deal with whatever happens if you’re the person that’s saying what your feelings are. It’s not on the other person to then suddenly feel comfortable with that. If you make somebody uncomfortable and they don’t want to be your best friend anymore, then okay. You still got to say what you needed to say.

Dear Cameron and Rhea,
I’m interested in someone I work and am friends with, but I’m wondering what the dynamics will be like if we actually get together. Do you guys ever struggle with being together so often? Or need alone time?
Struggling In Seattle


RB: I never dated anybody—before Cameron—that I also worked with. Because before Cameron, I worked in an office environment, and I knew people that did date in that environment and, from the outside, I honestly did not know how the heck they did that. Work was a terrible environment to be in, and so I couldn’t imagine being with somebody that I love in a terrible environment every single day. But in this environment of stand-up, it’s actually pretty great, because we get to do something that we both love separately together. And we also get to do something that we love together equally, which is perform. And we get to see each other do it and change, and that part of it is really exciting and fun. We also get to travel together and meet new people together and all that stuff, but it is hard to find alone time, especially when we’re traveling together, because planes are really small these days.

CE: I used to work in education and I dated a co-worker then, and I think the similarity to being with Rhea is that both were times in my life that I felt extremely passionate about my work. The idea that I could share that passion with somebody was great. You can talk about something that really matters to you with someone that really matters to you.


I think what’s great about finding somebody in this creative field is that also, like Rhea was saying, our job is really non-traditional in terms of the hours we work or where we physically do them, so it’s really nice to have somebody around that understands that. I never thought that I’d end up with a comic, but now that I will, I don’t know how people explain to their partners where they were all night, or what it’s like to be alone in a hotel in Nashville. I think it’s important to me that Rhea understands where I’m coming from.

In terms of, “Do we ever get sick of each other?” Only when we’re screaming at each other every day. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship, because we’re business partners as well as partners. And there’s a lot to that.


RB: I would also say that the other side of that—that we’re business partners—is that really, any relationship is a sort of business partnership, because you’re working together. Even if you’re not working in the same field, like one of you is a lawyer and the other one is as doctor, you’re working together on—at the very least—your relationship together. So you’re always working. And then after that you’re working on your home together. And then you’re working on your dog or your cat or your hamster or your ferret or whatever you have. Or you’re working on having kids. So it’s always work, but in a great way. But we just get to do our out-of-the-home work together.

CE: The opposite side of that is that when your co-worker makes you mad, it’s also the person you have to go home with. The person I spend the most time working with is Rhea, and so it’s really hard to bitch about Rhea’s bad behavior to Rhea. And by the way, I’m never badly behaved.


RB: Right. Yep.

CE: Which is one of the keys to our dynamic.

RB: I’m the bad boy.

CE: Yeah, Rhea’s the bad boy. Actually I’m surprised you can hear her over the sound of her motorcycle.

Dear Cameron and Rhea,
I’m 18 and have never been in love. Right now I think I’m close but I don’t like making out with my boyfriend. He’s the best and I’m attracted to him and all, but I don’t feel anything and it seems more like a chore than something that would eventually lead to something not PG-13, if you know what I mean. ;)


Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with him? Do I not love him? Is there a rule that I have to love making out with my boyfriend? I always thought that if I was in love, it would be magical in a sense and that I would have those two-hour make-out sessions like my other friends, but it’s not the same. Is this normal? Will it become enjoyable?
Making Out To Be In Confusion

CE: So many things to say to this young spirit. Number one, you’re doing everything okay. You’re doing all right, you’re okay. You’re 18, and that is younger than you realize. I know 18-year-olds can vote and can also go to war, but it is very young. There is a lot of pressure to feel comfortable with your body and there’s a lot of pressure to invite other people into your body, and there’s a lot of pressure to want to make out, and sometimes that happens at different times for people. So number one, please try and understand that, in the grand scheme of things, being 18 and not having been in real love, that’s probably like 99 percent of 18-year-olds. You don’t maybe really know what love is yet. And that’s what being a person is, the journey of figuring that out.


RB: That’s the whole point of being 18.

CE: Yeah! That, and eating tons of sugar, because later you’re not going to be able to eat that.


There are other things I would say to this, too. As you grow up, different people have a different relationship to their sexuality. So maybe you’re somebody who doesn’t like making out. Or maybe somebody who is asexual. Or maybe you’re somebody who isn’t supposed to end up with a partner. Or maybe you are gay. Because I had a boyfriend that I really loved and respected that I was attracted to that I did not like making out with because I was gay.

I think there’re a lot of different reasons this could be happening to you, and I don’t think you need to rush to figure any of it out. I think over time it will probably become clear to you.


RB: That’s what college is for! Or the time frame of college.

Actually, I couldn’t know it at the time, but when I was 18, I didn’t know what the heck I wanted and I thought I was supposed to know everything. The whole point of your 20s is just figuring out what you’re into. Whether it’s food or clothes or sexuality or hobbies or what kind of workout you do at the gym.


CE: Right. The whole thing.

RB: All of it, that’s exactly what your 20s are for. You’re not supposed to figure it out specifically, you’re just supposed to try it all.


CE: This person doesn’t seem sad, from what they’re writing. They seem like they are having an okay time in their life but they’re worried that they’re abnormal, and I would just try to focus on the fact that you’re having an okay time in your life.

RB: And I guarantee you that not all of those friends are making out for two hours. They are lying to you.


CE: Yes. That’s absolutely right. Or, they’re making out for two hours and it is not good.

AVC: And 18-year-old women, especially, don’t always know what feels good on their bodies. Or they think, “Well, he’s doing this to me and that’s what making out is,” and that’s not really what it is, or what works for them.


CE: Absolutely. A hundred percent. And I do think that you guys are both right that anybody who’s 18 that’s saying that they’re having amazing sexual experiences… they’re not. There’s just no way. It takes a lifetime of knowing yourself and trusting yourself and trusting the other person. You’re not supposed to be good at it at 18!

Dear Cameron and Rhea,
I’m 30 going on 31. Each year I tell myself this will be the year I break the cycle. This will be the year I find somebody, even if just for a short while.


You see, I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never made love, and I’ve never been on more than three dates with the same person. How I yearn to love to someone, and to be loved. How I want to be found desirable, sexy even. How I want to be wanted. I see my co-workers who are in relationships, and I’m always amazed when they get a phone call from their significant other for no reason, just because. How amazing, that someone is thinking of them!

I feel like such damaged goods. I’m mildly autistic and always trying to hide this fact, for fear if I tell someone too quickly they won’t understand and will run away. Yet if they don’t know, I just come off as weird and awkward and I feel like no matter what I do, people will sense that I’m so inexperienced with love, they’ll stay away.


Yet I know, deep down, that I’m good, that I have worth, that I have so much love to give. And it breaks my heart that I can’t find anyone who wants to accept it. And I feel like my life is so empty because there is no one to share it with. How I yearn to travel and see the sights with someone, or just stay at home and cuddle and watch a movie. Yet the prospect of being alone, of coming home to an empty place day after day, sometimes makes me think of dire thoughts. I wonder if I can go on for much longer this way.

Is there any hope? Is there any chance for love for me? Or at 30, and being so inexperienced, am I beyond hope? Please, give me advice. I need it.


CE: I’m so sorry that this person feels this way. I did have a thought, and that is that if you’re waiting for somebody to come along that you can take trips with or develop hobbies with or learn how to cook some great dish with, that might be a long wait. There are people that don’t end up finding someone. And that’s a terrible thing to say to you, because I know that’s not what you want. But I think in waiting, you make yourself a slightly less desirable version of yourself. If you take some ownership and develop the life that you would want to lead with another person for yourself, you also make yourself more desirable to other people. I’m not trying to pass too much judgment, I don’t know what this person’s life is, but saying things like, “I wish I could travel”—you know, you can travel. You can go somewhere and you can get out in the world and you can find things that you really love to do. And, in doing so, you might find other people who love to do those same things. That’s how people end up meeting each other, usually—through shared interests, through being out in the world. I’m not promising you’ll find that person, but I think that waiting is how you definitely won’t.

RB: I also think, in line with what Cameron is saying, that you mentioned that you are sort of autistic and that you’re afraid to tell people. People always say that well-worn phrase, “Honesty is the best policy,” but I think that when you open up with people, and you’re willing to be vulnerable with people, even if it’s on the first date, talking about your personality and things about yourself that you might see as negative, you might meet somebody that that is a positive for. And that would be a great person to be with. And they can’t know that about you unless you tell them.


CE: I agree with what you’re saying, but I actually disagree with the first-date scenario.

I think what you’re saying is totally right—that there are people that maybe had a similar experience to you, or maybe they like the part of your brain and the way that your brain works that you think would be off-putting. But say you are really into Magic: The Gathering. I don’t know. And you go to a bunch of Magic: The Gathering meetings and then try to hone some relationships, even if they’re friendships, and then try and speak to those people about it.


I hear what you’re saying, though. I think you’re making a good point. And definitely with something like online dating, you can go meet a stranger for coffee. So it’s not like you’re always going on dates with people you already know. But I just think somebody like this is talking about their inexperience in dating, and some of the things that they’re talking about are things you could do with friends. I wonder if adding some life experience might cushion…

Like, for instance, when we were coming out—when you and I were coming out, Rhea—we felt like we had to come out all the time, because nobody knew us as gay yet. And then after a while you just build this whole network of people around you and they all know you’re gay so you don’t have to tell them you’re gay.


AVC: Or if he goes on a date with someone, and he has friends to tell about the date—let’s assume this is a he—he has friends to tell about the date. If the date doesn’t go well, at least he still has those friends. It’s not the end of the world.

RB: Also, having those friends then exponentially grows your friend group of people that know more people, that then could be like, “Hey, I have this friend that I think you would really like,” and then you meet that person. You’re meeting them through somebody else, you have that experience. It’s just like growing a tree, basically.


Speaking from my own experience, the way that I met Cameron was by doing what she just said, which is I started doing comedy in Chicago through improv. I met a bunch of friends there that made me feel great. It was a huge risk, and I was terrified of doing it for a really long time. I did improv, met a bunch of people, had a teacher that pushed me toward stand-up—which was something I wanted to do for a really long time—and then I started doing stand-up. I found myself and met Cameron through stand-up. So it does actually work. Just doing these things and finding the things that you like. When you find the things that you like, you find the other people that like the things that you like.

Dear Cameron and Rhea,
I’m a female in her mid-30s and because the dating pool has thinned out a bit, I’ve started doing quite a bit more online dating. I think I have relatively reasonable grasp on what I’m looking for in someone when trying to figure out what people to look for on a dating site, but am I being too particular?


I’m not religious and have no strong feelings either for or against religion, but if I see a guy say he’s Christian or something on his profile, I feel generally not interested. I’m also generally interested in men within five years of my age—is that something I should be more open with? Should I be seeking out younger or older men even if the idea doesn’t make me that comfortable?

I was talking to a bunch of paired-up friends and it surprised me to learn a lot of them didn’t share hobbies or interests with each other and didn’t see it as being important for the happiness of their relationships, which they are all very happy in. It feels important to me to share some hobbies but I second-guess myself. When I’ve followed my instincts as to the kind of people I think I would want in the past six years, nothing has ever panned out—they didn’t work for me or I didn’t work for them, even though I’ve met some amazing people in that time. Maybe my approach is somehow not working. Despite trying to look inside myself to find something I’m doing incorrectly, I just can’t figure out what it is.


It seems so incredibly easy for most other people my age to have found love. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Outside of my written-in-cement deal breakers (i.e., being violent, non-sex positive, racist/sexist, etc.), how much more open should I be?
All Values Could Leave Us Behind

RB: I don’t know what I’m going to say here. The thing is—this is going to sound terrible probably—but I missed out on online dating.


CE: I did, too.

RB: Just because of my time frame and my serial monogamy and when I met Cameron, I just haven’t been a part of that scene, so it’s a totally new thing to me. But I guess, just in general, thinking about dating as a thing, I tend to think that opening your horizons and widening your scope is always going to be a good thing. You might meet somebody that you’re like, “Well, we don’t get along well,” and then you just don’t date them. And I know plenty of people that have Christian backgrounds that are decent, good human beings.


CE: God, I love that we’re at a time in history and that this is a website on which we will have to say that Christians can be decent people. That just made me so happy.

I think everything that Rhea said is right on the money. And I would add that if you’re eliminating people based on buzzwords, I don’t know that that’s a great idea. I don’t know that you should eliminate somebody because they say that they don’t like a particular TV show or that they do, or that they are Christian or they aren’t, or that they’re 34 and you want somebody that’s 31. Or something like that. I think if it’s very specific little things that you’re pulling out—I don’t know if that’s a great idea. But I do also think that if you’re reading somebody’s profile and you hate everything that they say, you don’t have to go on a date with that person.


It’s not easy for everybody to find love. If it was easy for everybody to find love, online dating wouldn’t be a thing. eHarmony wouldn’t be competing with Farmers Only. There are so many sites and so many different directions to swipe these days, and I just think that part of what stands out to me here is your perception that it’s easy for everybody. It’s not easy. People have relationships that end, and those can still be great relationships, but, you know, they end.

I think maybe just try being a little less hard on yourself, and then try not to worry about compromising for people whose personalities seem off-putting, but maybe be open to people whose descriptors seem outside of what you usually would date.


AVC: What about their pictures? Say there’s a guy who’s bald and you just write him off because you don’t like bald guys.

CE: Again, it’s kind of the same thing where I don’t think anybody wants to have their time wasted. If you see somebody and you’re like, “Everything about this picture is not something I would be into,” I think it’s okay. I mean, because attraction is a part of dating.


RB: But the problem I see about online dating, specifically in what we’re talking about right now, is that it sort of eliminates the possibility for accidentally dating somebody that you normally wouldn’t.

CE: Yeah, that’s totally true. God, you’re right.

RB: You’re seeing a bald guy and going, swipe!—whichever way is negative, like swiping away. And saying, “Nope, I don’t want that guy.” Whereas in a bar situation or something, if a bald guy bought you a drink and you were like, “I’m not into bald guys,” and then he came over and was like, “Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself,” and then you hit it off, you can’t swipe that guy away in real life.


CE: You’re right.

RB: So that’s why I was saying, open it up a little bit, give it a shot, and then if it’s like, “Well, this is not the road I want to go down,” then change it again. It’s all just an algorithm.


CE: Rhea, you have totally changed my mind. Because now that I hear you say that, I realize that like, I love bald men, specifically Bruce Willis. And I’m so glad that I would allow myself to date him. But also, before Rhea was in my life, I had typically dated more feminine women—that’s a coded way of saying women without short hair—and I love the way that Rhea looks. And I also don’t know that I would have thought pictures of you would be attractive. I mean, do you think we would have ended up together?

RB: If we were online dating?

CE: Yeah.

RB: No. That’s a hard no.

CE: [Laughing.] No, you’re right!

AVC: Why?

CE: When you were saying that, I just realized that both of us are outside of each other’s—correct me if I’m wrong, Rhea—type. You know how everybody has a type that slays them? There’s a type of woman that just slays me.


RB: And my type is Lady Mary from Downton Abbey.

CE: Yeah! Rhea’s type is Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, and my type is more of a Hackers-era Angelina Jolie.


RB: And neither of us is either of those things.

CE: Right. Exactly.

The other thing is that I had dated people that were more similar to the type that I am naturally drawn to, and I think some of those things worked for me at those moments in my life, but I evolved into a different person, and I couldn’t see a future with them. And I see a future with Rhea. It’s pretty obvious to me how things will go for us. I mean, I don’t know the specifics, but just I can imagine us sitting on a—are we going to have rocking chairs?


RB: Oh yeah.

CE: And a porch?

RB: Absolutely.

CE: Arnold Palmers?

RB: Arnold Palmers.

CE: I can just see that. And that’s the first time that’s ever really been true.

So I guess to this person I would say, yeah, you might end up with a tall, skinny drink of water from Akron, Ohio. You don’t know.


Dear Cameron and Rhea,
How do I enjoy Valentine’s Day as a single lesbian in college?


CE: Oh, man. I’ve got an answer to this. Here’s what I would say: Movie marathon. Either by yourself or if you have pals. Here’s the movies you should watch: High Art. You do one, Rhea.

RB: Season two of The L Word.

CE: Season two of The L Word is a great movie. Desert Hearts.

RB: Yes, Desert Hearts.

Why am I blanking on romantic lesbian movies? Imagine Me & You? I like that one.

CE: That’s a good one. All Over Me.

RB: Oh, good one. That’s an old one. I would also say But I’m A Cheerleader.

CE: Right, exactly. Blue Is The Warmest Color, but skip the end.

RB: And then By Hook Or By Crook, because it’s a good friendship, buddy movie.

CE: Right. And… a final one? How could I have forgotten it? Bound.

RB: Yes.

CE: So, listen, you’re in college and maybe you’re not connected to our history. But as lesbians, those are our movies. That’s our heritage, and those are the movies that women for decades have been watching to try and find representations of themselves when we weren’t on any TV shows at all. Pre-L Word, we were a little bit on Queer As Folk, and then before that Mariel Hemingway was in that TV movie that one time, but other than that…


RB: And The Children’s Hour, and that was about it.

CE: Yeah. And in The Children’s Hour, everybody dies, and it’s sad.

RB: Hey, let’s get some diversity in there and add Set It Off!

CE: Great idea. Set It Off is brilliant, and I’m so sad I missed it.

RB: We don’t want to give only white lesbian history, because that’s pretty unfair.


CE: You’re right. You’re exactly right. And also maybe we toss in a great gay male movie. Sometimes I like to mix it up and watch two men together.

RB: Kissing Jessica Stein. That’s got some great gay men in it.

CE: The amazing thing is that, Marah, right now, neither you or your readers are going to understand or know the names of any of these movies, except probably Blue Is The Warmest Color, because of all of the scissoring that made so much news last year. But really, this is our heritage.


AVC: I know a lot of them.

CE: You do?

AVC: My best friend from college is a lesbian, so I’ve seen a lot of these.

CE: That’s when she would have watched them. In college.

But yeah. Those are the movies. Rent ’em, pop a frozen pizza in the oven—or several—and live your life.