129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)


A twist even I didn't see coming!

Since the inception of 129 Ways, I have made a point to be precious about what I include in the Substack of my actual personal life. Of course, readers following the project still now know a lot about me: I’ve shared every car wreck I’ve been in, that time I got married in Budapest, my foray into catfishing, feelings on failure, musings on art told from a clay room in the Village; and heck, I’ve even hidden my social security number in somewhere in the copy (kidding).

But I have been careful not to share the present details of my life involving other people – specifically regarding dating. Yes, romance was the impetus for this project, and yes, the inspiration came from a list titled “129 Ways to Get a Husband,” but as I’ve repetitiously stated, the point of 129 Ways is, and will always be, to turn each item on its head and see what can be learned about life. Sometimes those lessons include love, but not always. 

The last thing I want to do is How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days someone. So, unless the person is directly involved in or came about from a list item, there is no reason to include a present-day paramour in my essays. I don’t want a potential partner to feel that I am using them as a pawn in a writing project. My own stories and adventures are fair game, but to drag an unwitting subject into this a) feels manipulative and b) would ruin the potential of any real relationship.  

So I keep things quiet. 

And because the people I date inevitably find this Substack (one quick Google of “Emily Bice,” and it’s all over), I make it clear early on that they will not be characters in this story. 

Until now.

 (To the exes who subscribe, are you shaking in your boots?) 

Many will recall that several weeks ago, I posted flyers around New York City that proclaimed, “SEEKING CO-OWNER OF A BOAT.” If you don’t remember this, then you didn’t read the last essay, which—rude—you can find it here

The flyer was directed at single people in search of a boat and also love. The copy implored individuals to email mustloveboats24@gmail.com and share what they wanted in a boat, why, and what they were looking for in a partner. I planned to become the Yenta of Greenpoint and usurp Bumble’s business model by matchmaking nautical-inclined singles.  

I really, truly, had no intention of emailing anyone myself. 

And then in late May, a few days after the fliers went up, I was sitting in LGA eating airport ramen (note to all: no matter how sick you are, never get the airport ramen), waiting to board a flight to California when an email arrived in my inbox. 

My interest was immediately piqued. The email was funny, weird, and required an activity. Plus, the logic behind Boat Enquirer’s request was obvious – to determine if this was a normal person or just a serial killer, request a hand-drawn picture. 

I had thirty minutes to kill and too much lukewarm ramen to pick at, so I played along. 

I was proud of the picture, as was the genial businessman one table over who pretended not to watch as I painstakingly sketched my masterpiece. I sent my Picasso and headed to my gate. 

Forty minutes later, as the plane was taxiing, my heart stopped. Not because the aircraft engine was on fire – we were on an Airbus, thank God, but because my phone had buzzed. 

It’s funny. In the early aughts, the excitement of an email was accompanied by the now-iconic “You’ve got mail” jingle. Just the sound of that man’s semi-robotic voice could send a chill down the spine, bring a smile to the face, and elicit butterflies in the stomach as the receiver dialed up their computer to open their inbox. Anything could be waiting. For me, it was always a message that my Neopet Bruce the Duck needed food right now, but that’s because I was six.

In present day, unless you have a ringtone (@Moms everywhere), the excitement of a message comes in the form of a sharp, quick vibration. The notification’s possibilities are endless – a Hinge match, a spam text, a horrifying update from CNN, another spam text, or a message from the Neopets app saying that Bruce will perish if he doesn’t get an apple stat

In this case, it was an email. Boat Enquirer had replied. 

Now here is where I get into something of an ethical pickle. The email was… well, suffice to say, the rom-com was writing itself. But the problem is, this wasn’t a rom-com. This was real life. What’s worse, the real life that ensued was better and more satisfying than any movie I’ve seen in months (and I just watched Sing 2). 

So how do I tell the following without implicating someone who didn’t sign up to be a subject? Unfortunately, I think the only way to do this is to not. Completely, anyway. I can’t copy and paste a collection of emails for content. But I can tell a story. And I can redact! 

My email shot off into the internet and the plane shot off into the sky. I turned my phone on airplane mode and settled in for Moonstruck and plane wine, reveling in the bliss of a data-free evening. Despite free in-flight WiFi, I am always resistant to go online while up in the air. I like the little bit of peace that comes with being removed from reality; it’s a temporary reprieve from the pings and dings and incessant updates reminding me that my Neopet Bruce has sadly passed away. 

I’d be lying if I said that in between shots of a hunky Nicholas Cage sweeping Cher off her feet at the Met, I wasn’t itching to check my email. It was all I could think about, all I wanted to do. But I didn’t. And that’s called restraint! Or an avoidant tendency. 

Either way, I waited until the moment the wheels jolted down on the tarmac and the captain mumbled, “Welcome to LAX,” to swipe my anxious fingers across the little orange airplane icon. Moments passed as the messages populated. Lo and behold, I had mail. 


Over the next week, visits with friends and meetings with folks and hazy sunset walks were punctuated by emails from a stranger who had quickly become anything but. The power of a name, a few details, and the Google search engine (women ARE FBI agents) provided online confirmation of Boat Enquirer’s existence, making the magic of the mail even more fun. Stories of our past were interwoven with the present while we corresponded from our various weekend adventures. As I emailed from a golf course, a pool, an antique shop in Temecula, I imagined the other end of the inbox. What was he thinking as he typed from Prospect Park, or a cabin in Kingston, or some bar in Bed Stuy? I wondered how he was feeling about the whole encounter; who he dreamed up when writing to Boat Girl. 

It’s astonishing the ideas you can craft of someone before you really know who they are. Given even the glimmer of possibility, the mind runs wild, creating fantastical fictions of people both known and unknown. Rarely does the reverie become reality. And even if it does – especially if it does – there is the chance of getting hurt. It’s easy to dream; it’s easier to be disappointed. 

So, despite the rush of the responses, despite the promise of a premise coming to fruition, I kept waiting for the emails to stop, for the conversation to dry up, for it to be over. But deeper in my brain, past the part protected behind walls and words, I cautiously wondered… What happens if this doesn’t end? What comes next? I had no idea. 

What I did know was that we were working against a deadline. My pen pal was no resident of Brooklyn but rather a Brit on the tail end of a holiday with a return to England set for the day I flew back from LA. Timing’s a bitch, huh?  

Or… timing is everything. 

With two days left on my trip, I began to write the movie version of our meeting. What if we were flying in and out of the same airport, mere hours apart? What if I could take the day off work and meet Boat Enquirer for a lunch date in JFK? What if we went to the TWA terminal and reveled in the sweeping glamour of Pan Am-era air travel? What if this was something real? 

Of course, I had reservations. I wondered if I was crazy to be messaging a stranger who found my fake email via a flyer pasted on a wall in East Williamsburg. I worried what kind of person would respond to a flyer pasted on a wall in East Williamsburg. But then… what’s the difference, really, between this and chatting with some random person you match with on a dating app? I’ve known people who’ve exchanged three sentences with a stranger on Hinge before agreeing to meet at a bar. Why are six photos and a few quippy prompts safer than 20 emails with a British boat lover who took a chance on a silly poster? At the end of the day, there’s a significant risk in both situations. That’s the world we live in. 

So I resolved to do it. I would suggest we get lunch in my next reply. But before I could… 









At 8:30 am, puffy-eyed and grungy from a long flight home, I anxiously approached Pan Pan Vino Vino, the combination wine bar/bakery in my neighborhood. Even if not for the red eye, I wouldn’t have slept a wink. My mind was racing with a thousand thoughts in anticipation of the morning. What if his voice is weird? What if this is all a big prank? What if this is a trap? What if he’s creepy, what if he smells, what if he doesn’t have any teeth?! 

Excuse my language, but I was scared shitless. Who wouldn’t be? 

Fears put aside, I walked in and found myself face-to-face with… just a guy. Boat Enquirer. A normal, nice, fully-toothed, real person. We hugged awkwardly and stood, unsure of what to do next, but our dual nervous energy could be felt coursing through the air.   

“You’re not an old man!” he proclaimed. And just like that, the tension was cut as we broke into easy laughter. 

Outside, coffees in hand, we sat across from each other in relative disbelief that the entire situation had transpired the way it did. Our conversation flowed as freely in person as it had over email. I fessed up to the list, explaining how the boat flyer came about and the motivation behind the message. Lately, I’ve been trying to lay my cards on the table and be more of an open book, and the coffee date with Boat Enquirer was no exception. There was no holding back. 

And then it was over. He had a plane to catch, and I had a meeting to make. We said goodbye, which was an even stranger experience than the hello. How do you end something like this? The whole encounter was a mess of contradictions: simultaneously heavy and weightless, one chapter closed yet left open-ended, finite and full of possibility.  

I passed one of my fliers on the way home and beamed. It was a beautiful morning.


129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
A series in which a 20-something exclusively follows the advice of a dating column published in 1958 to explore modern love and life.