I start most first dates by asking, “Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur?”
Being the suave and charming dating savant that I am, I have the starter Pokemon talk very early in the proceedings because I want to get a sense of how my potential partner views relationships. The answers I get are always interesting:
“Aren’t you like 30? You’re still playing Pokemon?”
“Pokemon? Is that still a thing?”
“Hey, it’s been great talking to you but we’re on different paths.”
“This is terrible. I hate you. Digimon was better.”
I often think about the last person because she was right, Digimon is better. But as I perseverate on how she might have been the one, and I reflect on all these ships that have passed in the night, I’ve noticed many things. Most, that I never lasted long with people who answered “Bulbasaur.”
People who choose Bulbasaur — aka Bulbaphiles — do so because of the immediate tactical advantage it endows them. Bulbasaur can trounce Brock and Misty’s Pokemon, can defend against Lt. Surge’s electric squad, often stalemate Erica and Koga’s similarly typed troops, and even provides a late-game edge over Giovanni’s ground type army. It is, unarguably, the most pragmatic starter considering it can negate six of the eight gym leaders — albeit that advantage comes at cost. That tactical advantage, if utilized to its fullest effect, leaves Bulbaphiles with Venusaur, a hideous, regretful, monstrosity that no one can love.
Venusaur is a lumbering, pimpled, dinosaur-plant-abomination. It is notoriously slow, has a litany of type-based weaknesses, and its strongest move, Solar Beam, requires a power-up turn before it can be launched. Any initial advantages that Bulbasaur presents are countered by Venusaur’s late stage vulnerabilities that The Elite Four mercilessly expose and players are forced to deemphasize the role Venusaur has on their roster or remove that aesthetic tragedy from their principle squad all together. All of this is known to Bulbaphiles, but they persist with and defend their decision nonetheless. Why? Because, Bulbasaur is the ever-exalted “smart choice.”
Bulbaphiles choose the “smart choice” despite the grim inevitability of Venusaur, because it is the most efficient path through the game. They refuse to entertain alternative, less Venusaur intensive, paths in choosing Squirtle or Charmander as their potential promise holds no merit in the face of immediate assurance of the “smart choice.” And, quite alarmingly, Bulbaphiles will regret nothing on the day they turn to their Gameboy, look upon that putrid blue-green Venusaur, and say to themselves, “This is not my beautiful Bulbasaur,” because they earned the logistical merit badge of choosing the “smart choice.”
Make no mistake, I am grateful for any time I got to spend with a Bulbaphile. They were all lovely, wonderful people who, frankly, deserve better than me considering that I’m currently trying to explain complicated dating nuances by means of a video game I played when I was nine. GQ, shockingly, has yet to reach out to me for a profile, but I was disqualified by any Bulbaphile I came across the second I admitted that, “I don’t like brunch,” “I work weekends and avoid Brooklyn because its far and terrible,” “I live in New Jersey,” or could not meet one of several “checklist” items. It’s a perfectly justifiable dating strategy and, c’mon, they likely also ejected upon realizing I’d break the whole vibe of their Instagram, but it stands to reason that people who choose Bulbasaur are fixated on finding the “smart choice.” They often, commendably, know what they want, have a list of what they want, and you will send you to the nether-realm of their phone if you cannot satisfy all of those wants.
I had better luck with Chary’s. People who chose Charmander, such as myself, typically pursued their passions despite knowing that rewards were far in the horizon. Charmander is the least tactically suited for the early stages of the game and players will struggle with Brock, Misty, and the Mt. Moon interlude between the two gym leaders. The promise of a Charizard and the versatility of moves it can learn, however, is enough to enable players to choose Charmander despite the initial dangers and Viridian Forest is a haven for trainers to train their Charmander to avoid these aforementioned struggles. Personally, I refused to leave the forest till my Charmander evolved into Charmeleon, and I’d take out Brock’s Geodude and Onyx with scratch to assert my dominance. This was a common strategy I found among the Chary’s I dated and all enjoyed the comfort of having a highly leveled ace they could constantly rely on during the course of the game.
However, the struggles never end for those who chose Charmander. Chary’s constantly have to ensure their Charmander is highly leveled to avoid constant typed-based disadvantages, never more apparent than when facing the Elite Four themselves. It takes constant dedication to appropriately train a Charmander into its greatest potential, constant patience as it will not learn its workhorse move, Flamethrower, till level 38, and constant strategizing to avoid the pitfalls that come with choosing Charmander. Chary’s will constantly be frustrated with their Charmander’s seemingly endless disadvantages and will be tempted to place heavy-hitters like Nidoking, Zapdos, Gyarados, and Alakazam at the forefront of their roster but, there are rarely players who are more satisfied as those who stay the course with their Charmander.
Chary’s date the same way they train. They start out dating scenarios open, honest, and eager to see where the things take them. They tend to be more laissez faire in regards to logistical underpinnings of a relationship, in direct contrast to Bulbaphiles, as their wants and needs are presented in the context of earnest conversation as opposed to stipulations for a merger. Most importantly, Chary’s are patient enough to invest and wait for returns. Modern dating currently suffers from a poverty of wealth as new suitors, and prospects are never more than a swipe away. Chary’s though, elect to, simply, give people a chance and generously give their time to get to know people past their basic dating demographics.
Be cautious, though. Relationships with Chary’s will often burn bright but, one must always be wary of tempering that flame. Chary’s, such as myself, are driven by their emotions, which typically dictate proceedings. This can be of great advantage as these intuitions can carry the relationship through obstacles and fuel the highs on the other side of these dangers, but emotional volatility during inopportune times can be a source of stress. Furthermore, while they have enough perspective to know that bad times don’t last, and are patient and loyal enough to trust their partner to wait out the storm with them, they face danger should that storm never pass. Chary’s may cling to relationships and place the needs of the union above their personal ones, which can be very damaging. Both partners in the relationship would do well to be mindful of this and put out the fire before it burns them both.
I don’t have much experience with the Squirtle Squad because people who chose Squirtle, in my age group, tend to either be married, engaged, or in a long-term relationship. Squirtle is the most well-balanced of the three starter Pokemon. It gives trainers an early game advantage against Brock, defends against Misty, and does well in late game against Blaine and Giovanni without any threats of Venusaur type complications nor does it force its trainers through the rigors needed to train a Charmander to Charizard. Squirtle very quickly learns bubble, water gun, and bite, which allows trainers to truck through much of the game with little incident. It’s only real weaknesses are against electric and grass types, which are readily countered by a wide variety of readily catchable Pokemon, and people who chose Squirtle typically enjoy the game at a healthy, leisurely pace with little incident. Kind of like your friend, Sam.
Sam met their partner at some point between junior prom in high school and freshman seminar in college, and you’ve been nauseated ever since. You vomited at their Jim and Pam costumes at Halloween. You cringed at their yearly anniversary posts on Facebook. You’ve shouted at their Instagram every time they posted that stupid pic of them holding hands as one marches onto like a beach, or a cornfield, or a Whole Foods. And you were furious, defeated, and held back tears as they exchanged vows that mentioned how they both picked Squirtle at their achingly beautiful wedding. Damn it Sam, your life is perfect.
If you’ve ever gone to Sam for relationship advice, you rarely get more than a platitude. They’ll never tell you more than, “listen to your heart,” “do what you think is right,” or “tell them you love them,” because Sam’s never really had trouble in that department. Sam will tell you about that one time they had a fight at spring fling in senior year but they made up when the both admitted they wanted to go to the same college. Sam’s life, like a Squirtle trainer’s, rarely presents with any complications in the love department. My one piece of advice is that if you ever date someone from the Squirtle Squad, always avoid talking about past relationships. You’ll trigger a conversation about their prior partner they dated for 12 years and they won’t be able to concentrate on anything you have to offer.
Relationships are forged on a balance of passion and pragmatism. This balance is very difficult to find, and even harder to maintain, and is why so many of the conversations you have with someone at the beginning of courtship are meant to probe if that balance is possible. Why else would a Bulbaphile feel the need to assure my future availability for brunch during date one? The answers to these questions may appear trivial and banal in a grand view of a potential relationship, but they’re of tantamount importance in an early stage if you are truly seeking that balance.
That is why I always ask, “Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur?” I chose Charmander so I’m wary of people who chose Bulbasaur, because my emphasis on emotionality will clash with their need to ensure a constant logistical viability of a relationship. I do poorly whenever I date someone who chose Squirtle, because they often have found that balance with previous partners and get frustrated as it does take me some time to get there. Of course, I get along great with those who chose Charmander, and I’ll likely end up with someone who chose Charmander, but right now I am not in a place where I can build a fire and I fear I may never be.
Your answers to these such questions, and the reciprocal answers you seek in others, are yours and yours alone. They likely have nothing to do with Pokemon, but if you want some relationship advice from a single man that has preached the dangers of choosing Bulbasaur to a third of the dating population in Manhattan and Northern New Jersey, never ignore the questions that are important to you. You are asking those questions for a reason and the answers will tell much about yourself, your potential partner, and may give you some insight into the future.
Now, go, catch your Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur.