How Do You Date When You Work with Death?
We asked eight people who work in the funeral and death industries about how their jobs affect their love lives.
Valentine's Day is the traditional time for couples to express how much they love each other and single people to look around and wonder why they're alone. Most of the time you can console yourself with a simple "I haven't found the right person yet," along with some ice cream and/or bourbon, but occasionally there really might be something getting in the way of your love life—being around corpses and formaldehyde all the time, for instance.
I've talked to a lot of people who work with death for the purposes of this column, and one thing I've wondered is how being a funeral director, an embalmer, or a forensic scientist affects one's ability to date. Is it hard finding a soulmate when your answer to a question as simple as "How was your day?" invariably involves dead bodies? With some generous assistance from the dating and networking site Dead Meet, I was able to recruit eight current and former death professionals for interviews. The following are lightly edited highlights from those conversations.
Colette Hill, 33, single
Funeral director and embalming intern
VICE: How does being in the funeral industry affect your dating life?
Colette Hill: It's really hard to date people. You don't have a normal thing of where you come home and get to talk about work. Like, I had a hard day and this happened. I dated someone for a while and he could come home and tell me stories from his day, and I couldn't really talk about my stuff because he'd get queased out, you know?
Like one time, a two-year-old had their funeral, I came back and had an 11-year-old, and the next day I had a two-month-old. You get days like that where it's really hard and you kinda want to talk about 'em, but you can't. It's hard to find someone who's not in the industry who will let you talk about it. Either they get grossed out or disturbed by it, or they don't want to listen to the gory details—and you need to talk about it. And the people who are in the industry are just crazy. I would never want to date a funeral director.
Is this from experience?
No, I've listened to everybody else's stories and wised up. Plus there's not too many guys in the industry—at least here—who are my age who are single. I'm 33, so a lot of people are married by now, or divorced with kids. And I've never been married or had kids, so that makes it tougher. You gotta find a person you can really talk to when you come home. And it's hard to find.
Madison Partida, 27, divorced
VICE: When you're on dates, how do people react when you tell them what you do?
Madison Partida: It seems to be one end of the spectrum or another. It's really hard to find people that are just OK with the profession.
On one date when we went to the conversation of "What do you do for a living?"—when I said I was a mortician—he was just like, "That's disgusting" and that was that. So it happens.
How about the other end of the spectrum? Any people who are a little too interested?
I think [it] was meeting a person who was a photographer and then once he found out that I worked in a mortuary, immediately the first question was, "Well, can I come in and photograph people?"
What is the oddest thing someone has told you?
I think the thing that sort of reoccurs is that immediately I get a story about the last funeral they went to. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just sort of like, "I didn't do that service. I'm sorry it wasn't great." I suppose it happens with any specialized profession, though. I'm OK with it; it's just not the kind of thing I want to be discussing on a dinner date.
Every now and then there's the awkward question of, "What's the grossest thing you've ever done?" Even though the stories might be titillating, it's not something I'm cool with discussing with a person who's mostly a stranger.
Are there other ways your profession affects your dating life?
If I'm meeting someone after work, the first question out of their mouth is, "Do you smell bad?" So I try not to go straight from work into a date because if I do smell like phenyl alcohol then it's obviously not the best thing... for you.
Was your chosen field a factor in your divorce?
Kind of. To be honest my ex-husband was just grossed out by what I did. It's not the profession that I had started on when we first met each other, so that put some distance between us. I wouldn't say it was a major contributing factor—the work that I do—it was just one of those things where if I did come home from a day of embalming I had to shower twice and sit on a different couch. Not the kind of homecoming you expect to receive when you come off of like a 12-hour shift.
Jayna Bryant, 31, married
Master's degree in forensic archaeology and former forensic unit intern
VICE: What was it like to date before you got married?
Jayna Bryant: This may come off as corny, but I honestly thought I was doomed to stay single. It was ridiculously difficult to find someone I was compatible with while on the dating scene who wasn't turned off by a female with an advanced degree in dead stuff and wasn't disgusted or confused by a dark sense of humor. Not to mention how they dealt with just how "weird" that is for a voluntary choice of career path and how strong preconceived notions can be. Somehow I managed to find someone who accepted it and actually stuck around.
Is there a particular negative reaction you've gotten about your field that stands out?
I definitely notice that some people, when they find out you're into dead stuff, [they think it means] that there are other freaky things about you. If that makes any sense? Like promiscuity...
You mean like necrophilia?
Yeah, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Just because someone's in pediatrics doesn't mean that they're a pedophile, you know? How did you jump to that conclusion?
Are there any people who have displayed an unpleasant level of interest in you do?
I have had people who've said, "Oh, tell me more, tell me more," but then for some reason when you cross that line you're no longer "dating material." You're "friend zone." So it's fascinating but not a turn-on.
What is the most unexpected reaction you've gotten?
As a positive, there's been a few times that I'll say what I do, what I'm interested in, and some people can actually relate. You brace yourself waiting for the reaction and they respond with something like, "Oh, I like to photograph old cemeteries," or like my husband: "My sister did her thesis on grave statuaries in Italy." And it always catches you off-guard. Wow, maybe I'm not such a freak.
Sounds like you lucked out with your husband then.
Yeah, I lucked out. I really did. As I got older I watched my friends one by one get married, and it was like, Oh, it's because they do normal lines of work.
When you're attracted to this field, chances are you see the world just a little differently. It does make it just a little bit more difficult to see eye-to-eye with a lot of people.
David Campbell, 27, single
Funeral director and embalmer
VICE: Are there any negative comments you get when you tell prospective partners what you do?
David Campbell: [Sometimes] I'll get a message from someone on a dating site that's like, "Do you ever see a body that's really hot?" or something. And I just won't touch it. I'll just let it be.
Have you ever had any odd requests from a love interest?
I was in a [polyamorous] relationship, and one of my girlfriend's good friends asked with this kind of twinkle in her eye if I would ever have sex in the back of the mortuary van or in the back of the hearse. I was like, "No, I would never do that." God, that's gross. Sorry.
What are the main changes to your dating life after you were licensed as a funeral director?
It's important to have a friend vouch for me now that I'm a fully licensed funeral director. [So] people realize that I'm not just some weird loser who likes to stay home and jack off to horror movies or something. I went out on a date with this girl while I was still in school for this. So she called her brother and told him and he said, "Oh my God, he could kill you." When I was in school, mortuary work didn't always come up right away in conversation, because it wasn't my job. "What do you do?" wasn't answered with "I'm a mortician." Now, it is.
So your friends need to have your back now.
Yes. I find that this sometimes creates a wariness in people, but when they meet my friends, they tend to relax. When I was with my ex, we were in a polyamorous relationship so occasionally we would have flings with other people and it was much easier. Because my girlfriend was basically vouching for me. Like, "This is my boyfriend, he's a good guy. Go out on a date with him, have a good time. Have a fling, have a tryst, whatever." I asked my boss about this and he said straight up: "Look, you meet women, you tell them that. They're either scared, or turned on—that's it."
Daniella Marcantoni, 30, single
Former funeral director and embalmer
VICE: How would you describe the challenge of finding a partner when you're in the funeral industry?
Daniella Marcantoni: It's just about trying to strike a healthy balance between finding someone who genuinely shares an interest and not necessarily the same job as you. There's certain people you can talk to about things and they get it, and some people who just don't. If I use too many medical terms or too many science terms and they don't know what they are, they just don't get it. It's hard.
So you don't feel like it's something you can just tell someone in a matter of fact way.
Absolutely. If I'm with somebody else it's like, oh, I don't know how they'll react. It's definitely been a challenge. I don't think I've ever been in a relationship where I've really been able to just unload about work and talk about like what's going on, other than with colleagues.
What are some odd or inappropriate comments you've gotten?
There are the people who are like, "Oh, do you ever deal with boners? Do you ever get turned on when you're embalming people? What's the biggest penis you've ever seen?" And I'm just like, What the hell is wrong with you? "Oh, do you know people who are necrophiliacs?" Are you that ignorant? I mean first of all, for a woman it's harder—it's almost impossible for a woman to be a necrophiliac.
Is there something that occurred that made you feel you had to be more cautious?
I was in a situation where a lot of people knew what I did, and there was kind of a platform for me to make a joke about it and I was like, "You know I'm an embalmer, right?" And it just got really uncomfortable and I felt really stupid. The person I was with said, "Please never say that in front of my friends ever again. Don't tell people what you do." What am I supposed to do? This is my life. That was a really hurtful situation. I bust my ass for 12-hour days and you tell me that I'm not allowed to tell people because it made one of your friends uncomfortable? I think since then I've been really, really cautious. It's a bit easier now because it's not part of my day-to-day. But it's hard because it's something I felt really connected to and [was] very good at it.
Andrew Danielsen, 28, single
Funeral counselor and embalmer
VICE: How do you tell people the line of work you are in?
Andrew Danielsen: It's not gonna be the first thing that I say to them. I'm not going to introduce myself with my career. There have been times when I kind of passed the subject of what I do for a living. I say, "I don't want to talk about work." By the end of a first date I'll tell them what I do for a living.
Is there a euphemism you use in case you can't completely dodge the question early on?
When it comes to first explaining what I do I'll say that I do a lot of paperwork. And I sit at a computer a lot. Because that's true. That gives me room to kind of get going with the date an kind of get along with the person and get to know them. But I'm not going to hide what I do because I love my job. If I'm going to get along with someone and date them, I want them to be aware of what I do for a living and kind of let them ask me the questions and go from there. It's only fair that I let them know what I do, because if I hide it they're going to think that I'm a drug dealer.
Are there any odd requests you've gotten when you told people your profession?
Sometimes I'll have people ask if they can watch me embalm or if they can watch me do a cremation, because I'm a crematory operator too. They want to know if they can participate in some of my job. And that's a no.
Do you have any anecdotes to share that exemplify the challenges of dating as a funeral director?
There were times when I'd have to be on dispatch—on call for the night—and I would have to get up in the middle of the night and go on removals. The phone would be ringing all the time or we'd be out to dinner and I'd get a call and we'd have to end dinner right then. Because, being in the funeral business, you're on even when you're off the clock.
Audrey Hoffman, 32, single
Business development for a company that manufactures burial vaults and urns
VICE: Are there any negative perceptions you've had to deal with?
Audrey Hoffman: Some people have a misconception that I play with dead bodies. They just assume that we all do. And it's like, "No, I don't really do that. I work with people who do that." But they automatically think I do the most gross and disgusting work. They never get past that I'm not. There is some of that, but I would say it's about 50/50. But sometimes they'll say, "Oh, that sounds interesting, tell me about that." There's no gray area, which is weird.
Are there other misconceptions people have?
People think you make a ton of money or you're doing something really gross. The reality is you're doing a job and you're just making a living.
What are your thoughts on dating someone in the funeral industry?
I go back and forth with that. A lot of times I don't want to go there. But sometimes I'm like, Well, they get it. The hours would be really similar so there's some convenience with that. It's not everybody, but there is a decent bit of drinking in the funeral industry. I wouldn't say it's on the scale of attorneys, but it's kind of high. Maybe it's just that there's a roughness to it. But that's not everybody.
Taylor Sheahan-Stahl, 23, single
VICE: Have you ever gotten negative reactions when you told prospective partners what you do?
Taylor Sheahan-Stahl: Oh, for sure. I'm in a college town, so I meet a lot of people who are definitely still in school and the bars and nightlife are full of younger crowds. There have been times when girls have literally been like, "Nope, just can't deal with that." Just me going to a removal some girls don't even like. They'll ask me, "Did you touch them?" Well, of course. I'll wear gloves, but there have been women who say, "Don't touch me."
Are there things about the profession that make it hard to maintain a relationship?
You want to talk about work. And push comes to shove you start bring it up and the girls are like, "Oh, I'm actually not OK with this. It's creepy and you're weird."
This happened to me two days ago. I was with a girl and we were hanging out and I told her that I had been forewarned that I'd be on call. She seemed very fine with it until the time came. It was like ten o'clock at night, I got the call, and we were in the middle of a movie and she was not a fan.
And that's why I thought dating one of my classmates at school might be a good idea, but turns out dating a mortician when you're one is weird too. When you're dating somebody in the industry you're never really out of work. That's all the conversations you usually have. It's nice to have someone who's got a different perspective, and it's nice to have someone who's had a different day than you. At least that's my opinion. I do best with women that are in medical fields themselves or going toward that. They don't get squeamish.
Do you feel comfortable telling people up front what you do?
I don't beat around the bush anymore. I used to kind of drag it out and not tell them what I do. Now I'm like it's not worth wasting my time. I tell them exactly what I do and if they're not into that then that's fine.
Are there any odd or inappropriate requests you've gotten?
I've had people ask for tours of the prep room on a first date. And I'm like "No, I don't feel comfortable with that at all."
I was seeing this one nurse and I'd only been talking to her for a short period of time and she had asked to sit in on an embalming. When I first got that request it was obviously a no. And then later on I got a similar request from someone else. It just surprised me that multiple people have this thought.
From a dating point of view, are there any benefits to being a mortician?
My friends, they love it. They kind of use it to their advantage. by using me as a wingman. It sounds funny because I'm the shock appeal. I draw in the crowd when we talk, but then nobody really wants to go home with the shock appeal. They want to go home with the friend. So that's kind of funny.
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