Girlfriends, Dependence, Embarassing and Impolite Things

Recently, I reconnected with an old friend: a girl with whom I was extremely close–vacations together, all confidences (and some experimental drug use) shared–as teenagers. During and after college, both of us proved poor at maintaining contact across distance–we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in at least eight years.

I don’t know another way to say that ubiquitous cliche: “It felt like no time had passed.” But it did. Also: we giggled the way we had in high school. We raised our voices, the way we did then, in heated discussion of important books and films; we gushed, as we did then, about the latest indie bands we’d found. We glided quickly across Manhattan avenues, as we did then, both of us a bit perplexed about our place and precise destination.

All to express: neither of us had much changed. Also: certain friendships endure.

And, perhaps most significantly, for me, right now: friendships mean something different, now, than they used to. Throughout my life, they’ve taken shape in different ways:

In high school, like this: seeing each other during the day–passing (impressively prolific) notes to each other in physics class, sneaking out for cigarettes during gym, huddling together at diners during lunch and Upper West Side apartments after school–when apart, talking, endlessly, on the phone.

In college: preening, crashing, crying in each other’s dorm rooms, discovering sex together, and independence, and postmodern theoretical frameworks that none of us understood but made us feel significantly elevated; cycling through each other like seasons until we found ourselves, finally, nestled in families, fallen together.

After college: skeptically, slowly, we joined–at work, at parties around town; we navigated our newfound adulthood, catering it with dinner parties and solstice fetes and crowded concerts and sloppy happy hours. Slowly, we came to trust one another, until trust became love, and love a kind of mutual, grown-up dependence.

For me, that dependance is still there.  And what scares me, now, is not being single. What scares me is being single, alone.

One day last week, I met A for a work date in the afternoon; I had come from lunch with another close girlfriend (another whose initial is A–an issue I’ve yet to resolve); the night before I’d been with a new guy–emotions were seeping, raw and confused, from my pores–and I breathed deeply because of these wise, worldly women, right there to receive them.

“We have got to meet husbands at the exact same moment,” I said to A.

Exact same moment,” she repeated.

It’s a tricky thing: we want to urge each other on. We love each other fiercely, and we want to want the things you want for people you love that much–namely, happiness. We know that many of us want, and may be happier finding romantic love–something our friendships can approach, but not, quite, replace.

(I don’t mean to suggest there’s a hierarchy in which romantic relationships surpass friendships–they’re just different. You know, sex. Anyway.)

And yet, our livelihoods, our day-to-day sanity, our strength to resist the external pressures constantly bearing down–telling us we’re freakishly flawed because we don’t have perfectly toned triceps or hairless breasts or faithful boyfriends who look like Mark Ruffalo–depend on none of us finding it before another.

(One more sidenote: it’s recently come to my attention that many women think they are the only ones in the world with hairs on their nipples–I hereby venture the risk of never getting laid again for the sake of one less Inane Female Anxiety. You’re welcome.)

But back to jealousy, which isn’t cute. When a dear girlfriend tells you she’s into someone new, it is not polite to reply with, But what if you fall in love with him and then have to spend Saturday nights making dinner at his house instead of hopping around the Lower East Side with me? Or, Who will I have to commiserate with about condoms and OKCupid and impossibly cryptic flirtatious texts if you have a fucking boyfriend?

We are all known to sometimes think impolite things.

But most of us are well trained to avoid speaking them. We say, instead: That’s so great! and Tell me everything! and I’m so happy for you!

And, those aren’t lies: we do (mostly) think it’s great, we do (usually) want to know every minute detail, we do, (pretty much) genuinely, feel happy when our friends find love.

But we also can’t help but feel a little bit sad, and a little bit fearful, for ourselves–because being alone is a lot more fun when you’re not, really.

“No Expectations” Vs. “Be Positive”, and Other, Lesser Ambitions for 2013

As someone with a tragic tendency to view just about every situation–from first dates to avocados–with a lens of maximum complexity, the notion of living life according to a pithy few words holds no small appeal.

The New Year is a popular time for such phrases. So, they’ve been toggling around in my head.

Let’s start with the first.

“I’m just trying to have really low expectations,” I said to A recently, explaining how I was not going to get imprudently emotionally involved with some guy. (Right before, needless to say, I got imprudently emotionally involved with said guy.)

“No, you’re not,” A corrected. Sometimes A is uniquely capable of correcting my emotions. “You’re going to have no expectations.”

That’s, I think, when she started talking about Oprah or Stacy or some other pop culture maven whose wisdom she sometimes urges me, with requisite irony, to embrace–I was too preoccupied plotting how I’d later blog the distinction to listen too close.

“You’re not supposed to go in thinking things will work out badly. You’re supposed to go in without any expectations at all.”

“Right,” I said, as though that was what I had meant to say in the first place, and as though I thought what she said was as terribly easy and obvious as she made it sound, even though I’m pretty sure I knew, even in the moment, that it was neither.

For a minute, though, I went with it. I shrugged off the temptation to replace fantasies of long-term love with those matching projections of disappointment and hurt–the conviction that a guy would disappear because that’s what guys like him, in the past have done; the negative attitude, going into an online first date (a ritual I have come to think of, roughly, as our generation’s Smallpox) sans the assurance that he will be far less funny in person and have overtly thinning hair.

And then, lo and behold: another girlfriend, another conversation.

(Sidenote: sometimes I consider renaming this blog something like “Travels in Extreme Impressionability”–I could easily blame most angst on my ability to absorb other people’s wisdom with the extreme enthusiasm of stale sourdough.)

But anyhow. This conversation happened to take place on New Years Eve, at a table crowded with attractive young people and fattening dishes we were finally drunk enough to consume, and the gal–one I haven’t seen in a few years–and I were catching up.

“I really think it’s all about being positive,” she told me, by way of explaining how she’d been able, in the time since our last visit, to maintain vivid happiness amid a cascade of hardship. “I realized that I had a really negative attitude about things, and I just decided to change it. To be positive. And it made all the difference.”

I nodded emphatically, our eyes locked above three-cheese pasta and peels of gruyere. “That makes so much sense,” I said.

Champagne aside, her words did resonate: not that my life has changed course dramatically, as hers evidently had, as a result of such an internal switch. But the idea of thinking optimistically, of recognizing that everything comes and goes in waves, that things will get better, and some people might to, is certainly something that has helped me weather these tempestuous twenties.

She had such a glow (one complemented, festively, by her shimmering gold shirt), that I didn’t have the heart to present her with the conflict her words incited. Actually, maybe I did. Again, champagne.

But regardless, there it was, and here it is: how are you supposed to bridge the two? To Be Positive at the same time that you have No Expectations? How are you supposed to feel optimistic about things, about men and dating and the Knicks likelihood of ever winning a championship, while also not building up any expectation that a particular guy won’t be smelly or boring or that the whole escapade/smallpox will soon be over or that Carmelo will really, finally, come through?

If you know, please share. Otherwise, I am shaking off the annual urge to over-simplify, entering into the New Year with simpler ambitions: to brightly color my hair (done), to drink more whiskey (going great), to actually cross things off those lists I habitually, nocturnally write (working on it).

Perhaps 2014 will be the year of the Slick, Pithy Phrase. Til then, cheers.

On (Mostly) Comfortable Inter-Generational Living

My grandmother makes a really great roommate.

(Most moves to Manhattan involve some compromise–a shower in the kitchen, six flights of crooked stairs, a broker whose fee surpasses most annual middle class salaries; mine, is sharing my grandmother’s midtown apartment.)

There are many ways–besides the whole, brilliantly fortunate lack of rent thing– in which this goes well. We share politics, and pottymouth. (If I took a shot each time she described Republicans as “fucking fuckers,” I’d be always drunk.) We shop together, and even share clothes. (As I write this, I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt of hers. The other night I had on one of her long-sleeve shirts and a scarf. Okay, by “share clothes” I suppose I mean I wear hers…told you she was a great roommate!) We go to the gym, sometimes together. We have dinner and see movies. It’s like living with a girlfriend who always treats.

Of course–this being a blog, nominally, about dating–I can’t resist telling you that the most precious aspect of living together may be her singular insights into my love life. In fact, Susie–what I call her–is often more open to talking about dating than my parents, who, bless their non-confrontational hearts, have a habit of responding to my romantic reports with the kind of bracing expression most Democrats reserve for presidential debates.

Some samples:

  • Over dinner at an apartment on Lexington, when one date texted–to my utter horror–a photo of his cat: “Back in my day, men didn’t even like cats or dogs!”
  • In line at Home Depot, when told one guy was on the heavier side: “That’s okay, we can put him on a diet.”
  • Various places, numerous times: “Who cares if he lives in Philadelphia/is twenty-four/hasn’t heard of NPR. Is he tall?”  (This, despite her infamous remark from several years’ past: “I hope you didn’t just dismiss him because he’s short. Some short men are terrific.”)
  • On occasion, most recently while walking down 59th, a choice Dorothy Parker quote: “Remember, Liz, ‘Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!’”

Some old-fashioned principles notwithstanding, Susie has always been remarkably open-minded: back when I was a starry-eyed nineteen-year old in love with a man who was thirty-five, she lent us her apartment while out of town.

All to say, for the most part, I manage her role in my love life, as with my life generally, with good humor and a large degree of comfort.

(Mostly; I’m too old not to answer honestly when the answer to “What are you up to tonight?” is, “Going on a date,” but am pretty sure the age does not exist at which I can comfortably respond to, “Where did you sleep last night?” with the (rarely, honest) answer, “With a man who’s not my boyfriend.” Compromise.)

Anyhow. The main reason I moved was convenience–Susie’s apartment is much more centrally located. But certainly, the psychological trauma of living with my parents weighed in.

There’s a way in which it can be easier to lean on the people around us with whom we have looser ties. In the same way that it’s sometimes less stressful to call up an old friend with whom you were never that close (you don’t have to catch them up on every hookup, every trip, every emotional turn), living with Susie–versus those blessed parents–is some relief.

It’s not that she isn’t interested in my life–we check in regularly, update one another on meetings and dog walks and nights out. But those updates are a choice, a convenience (if I didn’t live here, they wouldn’t happen)–not loaded with the obligation and the frantically urgent dynamics that charge parental relationships.

As I muddle through this murky, transitional, those pressures were too much.

Living with a grandparent may sound like a compromise. But it’s also a privilege. And, often, totally fun.

 

 

On–Trying to–Turn Back on The Switch

It is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its’ truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew goes out with a bang when you try and call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch. (Lucy Grealy, from a letter to Ann Patchett, quoted in Truth and Beauty)

“Wait, so why aren’t you straight forward with guys about what you want?”

I looked up at my hairstylist,: hovering above me with some potent combination of chemicals and heat.

She slid a strand of my hair through steaming hot metal plates: “I don’t get it.”

I had been listening, rapt, as my stylist listed the numerous demands she routinely imposes upon men she dates.

A couple of examples: They must call her. Nightly. They must be tall. Stylish. They best not even think about letting her get the check. (“Yeah, I’d pay for drinks. And then I’d walk the hell out.” ) Did I mention she expects them to call her every night?

“I mean, there are millions of other guys out there,” she said.” Why should I waste my time with someone who’s not serious?”

She said this as though reporting her astrological sign, or which club she went to the previous night: as a plain, and rather obvious, statement of fact.

But the expression on my face, when asked to explain why I don’t do the same–don’t, that is, dispense straight away with men who fall short of my immediate expectations–made clear that her conviction, however confidently delivered, was not one to which I truly bought in.

“I guess I don’t really believe that,” I said. “That there are lots of guys out there.”

She looked at me the way she might were I to admit that I never use a comb. “Wait, how many dates did you say you have this week?”

“Yeah, but…” The thin vinyl cape around my shoulders enhanced feelings of hapless vulnerability.

(Also, confession: I took a hiatus from Life to actually, briefly, date. I’m exhausted.)

“There are lots of men out there. It’s a matter of quality, not quantity.”

The next day I reported her comment to a friend: “So wait, why aren’t we more demanding?” I asked her. “It’s cause we don’t really think there are a lot of guys to date, right?”

“Duh,” she said with her face. “I mean, I really don’t think there are.”

I reminded her of the length of time since her last involvement: somewhere, we negotiated, between one week and two. It seemed, she said, longer.

Here’s the thing: there are many, many men in the world. In New York City, there are, actually, millions of them. It’s one nice thing–along with Sephora and fruit stands on the sidewalk– about moving here from the desert: a few times a day, you can walk down the street and make lingering eye contact and feel briefly reminded that mutual attraction is possible.

And yet, for reasons that range from the absurd (body image) to the practical (dating sucks), concrete options often feel limited. And when they do, it can be easy to treat the men in one’s path with proverbial kid gloves: not asking for too much, putting up with, essentially, dumb shit.

Unlike my stylist (who, to her credit, is presently seeing someone short), I don’t walk around with a Pocket Guide to my Perfect Man: I’ve often mused on my confused-but-encouraged ability to find connection with a wide range of types. But there’s a difference between being open to many personalities and expecting certain behaviors.

And, yes, at this point, there are certain behaviors I’m pretty sure I should expect. Certain traits–curiousity, compassion, the potential, at least, to provide (to be wildly vague about things)–that in my, ahem, Extremely Late Twenties (yes–prepare yourself for wild overuse of this phrase), I should probably not compromise. Certain things that, when I venture outside my standard hole of hibernation, I would be well served to keep in mind.

It’s hard.

What, you know all this? What, you understand that this is why people stay in bad relationships–cause even though theoretical possibilities are infinite, it’s virtually impossible to put faith in those you can’t see?

Yeah, I guess I know all that too. Sometimes the batteries fade, and you have to turn on, again, the switch.

 

 

On Downton Abbey, Obligation, and Awkward Tiny Nerdy Men From the Internet

“So, looking back, are you sure there was no way to know that he was going to be tiny and nerdy and awkward? You know, from his profile?”

Back from my first online date in New York, I had called my friend Ashley to complain. More specifically, I had called to tell her that my date was tiny and nerdy and awkward. (And, on top of all that, had not paid for dinner.)

“Also,” she said. “Didn’t I tell you never to commit to dinner?”

I sat at the dining room table in my parents’ house and hung my head in shame.

“I know,” I said. “And yeah…I mean…probably, I could have figured it out. That he was tiny. And nerdy. And probably awkward.”

So, why had I agreed to go out with this man? Obviously, had a I met him at a bar or a party I would never have given him a second look. (In my defense, bars/parties–even those with helpfully dim lighting–reveal far more about size and personality than online profiles ever will. Fuck.)

And yet, as I confessed to Ashley, there was some part of me that knew what I was getting into. That knew this guy wasn’t my equal, in more ways than one, and that it wasn’t going to go anywhere.

There was some part of me, in other words, that went out with him because I felt like I had to. Like it was the right thing to do. Like I was obligated.

There is something about the whole enterprise of online dating, it seems to me, that feels quite bound up in obligation. As though one has given up on the whole project of meeting someone through “natural” means–whatever those may be, more on that momentarily–and has resorted to a forced, two-dimensional form of interaction because one has accepted that this is what one is supposed to do.

What is the “this”? Meeting people of the opposite (or whatever) sex. Checking them out for those eminent markers of potential partnernship: will they make a good lover? A good parent? A reasonable provider and/or respectable cook?

The same thing that women have long felt obligated to do–except, usually, with the more generous cover of artifice.

Lately, I’ve been re-watching episodes of Downtown Abbey. If you haven’t seen it, a) we aren’t friends and b) what the fuck. It’s set in early 20th century England, on an estate that makes Versailles look meh.

One of the main projects of the show is, of course, the marriage of the family’s four daughters–most importantly the eldest, whose match will have much to do with Downton’s future.

Thus, a recurring plot includes the parade of potential suitors: men who strike up via handwritten letters, who arrive via elaborate entourage, who take their tea on horseback and are swept from dining room to drawing room to study with the officious aid of stone-faced men in tuxedos.

The objective is the same: to check each other out. But instead of scoping one another’s online photos and responses to cheeky questions like, “your perfect Sunday” or “obscure knowledge you posess,” these women move through drafty, high-ceilinged rooms being served various kinds of puddings while wearing beaded, floor-length gowns.

Glamorous, yes. But awkward? Totally. How could there not be something a bit forced about having a potential partner sit down to eat ham and smoke cigars with your entire family?

And in a certain way, now, things aren’t much different. Still, we’re coming up with clumsy, seemingly contrived ways to pair ourselves off. Still, we feel obligated to perform certain distinct and uncomfortable rites in order to find romantic love. (Or, you know, an appropriate heir to our grand estates. Whatever.)

Ugh. At least they had cucumber sandwiches.

On Avoiding the Internet, with Middling Success

So, here are my two past experiences with online dating:

(Please excuse me if I’ve shared these before–hibernation in one’s parents’ house can be, among other things, a not-so-minor obstacle to fresh material.)

There was the time, in 2007, when I went on JDate in Washington and met a guy who, after two meetings, I told my mother might be my future husband–mainly because he was nerdy and Jewish and not a musician and I still wanted to kiss him. One year later, a former college roommate–much more like him than me–sent a gchat that began with “funny story!” and ended with the information that she and he were going to get married. (My ego is still recovering.)

Not to be deterred, I went online a second time in Albuquerque, circa 2010. This led to a couple of months dating a divorced father with whom I could hardly hold a conversation, but who very much enjoyed making me posole and truffles whilst I lie on his couch grading papers. (Sidenote: this guy may well hold the title of Man I Dated the Longest Who I Liked the Least–which, more than anything, reflects the Power of Food over Me.)

There was also the incident, I should mention, involving OkCupid, a Trekkie with elastic waist jeans, a Flying Star bathroom and a fake-emergency call from my roommate.

And the fact that the guy I only joined JDate in order to ask out turned out to look nothing like his photo and drank too many margaritas to care.

All to say, if my history with online dating were a politician, you would call it’s record spotty at best: marred by constant flip-flopping, poor calculations, and a repeatedly disgruntled constituency. (Which, I guess, would be me–awkward analogy, sorry.)

But still: when I planned on moving, single, back to New York, there was little question in my mind that I would give it another go. New York is a big place, I reasoned. Besides: it’s 2012–you can’t bring up online dating without hearing a recitation of how many Match or eHarmony weddings someone who knows someone has attended since March.

(It must have somehow slipped my consciousness that I did go to high school here, a massive high school, and that therefore have a risk of awkward sidewalk as well as online encounters that runs somewhere in the low thousands. And that, for whatever reason, New York’s enormous population makes your odds of running into people-you-don’t-wan’t-to-run-into about one hundred and three percent. I don’t know why this is true, but it is.)

All sorts of deception emerge to talk oneself into the internet.

For a while, though, I put it off. And then: “Elizabeth, you write a dating blog. I think you kinda have to online date.”

A comment from a friend that would perhaps not have cut so deep were it the case that I was doing any other sort of dating. (You know, the non internet-enabled kind.)

Alas, that was, and is, not the case. Friends, the closest thing I have to a love life right now is an email penpal who lives two thousand miles away and an on-again off-again romance that takes place primarily over text. (If nothing else, I’m consistent.)

And so, I find myself: with an online profile I’m sure I didn’t make as clever as I should, with an inbox of messages from undersized or over-eager men, (including, already, one from a guy who tried and failed to hit on me at a coffee shop this summer–I told you this town was small) and newfound insecurity about whether my smattering of photos make me more or less attractive than I actually am.

And, with a lot of questions: which site am I actually supposed to use? How long do you interact with someone before you meet them, knowing that no matter your virtual chemistry you may instantly conclude there’s no in-person potential? Why are there so many short and South Asian men online dating in New York? Am I really going to find a husband this way?

Stay tuned.

 

 

On Trying More, Or Less, And The Women on My Shoulders

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “You want me to try harder.”

There are numerous ways in which the context of this remark was peculiar. Let’s just say that for the forty five minutes prior, the speaker (a guy I was, and am now distinctly not, seeing) and I engaged a kind of odd, certainly premature, and mostly unexpected discussion of what little physical contact may or may not have already occurred between us. (I’m not being coy–I mean each of those words literally.) We were trying to understand one another. And, for a moment, we seemed to be moving onto the same page.

Until, suddenly, we weren’t.

Which is what prompted his observation: “I’m not trying hard enough for you. That’s it!”

He seemed, finally, to have nailed it. All these verbal volleys about what we were each looking for and why he made me feel insecure, how I wasn’t used to dating someone at such a slow (read: normal) pace, accustomed, instead, to moving quickly and recklessly into romance, and how I knew that was a pattern worth breaking but how, still, that didn’t change my (apparently, mis)-reading his signs as lack of interest.

In other words, he was right. I did, basically, want him to try harder. So, I told him: he was right.

To which he replied: “You know, you weren’t trying very hard either.”

My first instinct was to contradict him, but I hesitated, glimpses of our (brief) liason shooting through my mind like a cascade of postcards: how I’d waited two days to respond after he first asked me out; how I’d let him initiate our every date since; how, when he sent me an abrupt text one Sunday morning, my brother advised me not to respond until Tuesday and I compromised by waiting a couple of hours. I had been trying to keep his interest–but not in the way I expected him to keep mine.

“But you asked me out!” I said. “You were pursing me!”

“So?” he replied. “That was just how it started.”

That’s when I felt the words coming up through my stomach and chest and throat, snaking out like a quick hose. I stopped them just in time: they would have sounded, I knew, terrible; antiquated; un-PC; un-feminist; un-all the values with which I was supposed to have been raised.

What I wanted to say, of course, was this: “But you’re the guy.”

I am not proud that I wanted to say this. (Otherwise, I suppose, I would have said it.)

But I want to confess it now (as, I suppose, I wind up wanting to admit most of my minorly shameful acts), because I think the small internal tension I felt in that moment–between my reflexive desire to say those words and my simultaneous horror at the fact–reflects a bigger conflict, a larger, underlying tension that I suspect pervades many of our modern-day romantic endeavors.

Imagine, perched, in contrasting attire, on each of my shoulders: the modest, wizened grandmother, (or, if you prefer, southerner) in me, insisting that it his job to try, to make me feel desired, to show the greater degree of interest, to pursue; on the other, the wised-up, educated, and perhaps provocatively dressed feminist who demands that such ideas are out of date. It’s 2012: get over it. We’re all equal.

I’d like to side with the latter: to believe we’ve moved past traditional, archetypal gender roles, that, when I’m interested in someone, I can be as aggressive as any guy.

But then there’s my brother, telling me to wait until Tuesday–and I know he’s right. And there’s my friend A, from Alabama, reminding me that if he hasn’t called, he’s just not that…and I think she’s onto something, too. And, most significantly, there’s me: feeling like I want to be with a guy who shows me how much he wants to be with me.

Not because I like playing hard to get. (As you may know, I fucking hate it and am generally incapable.) But because aggression–tempered, of course, by a sincere kindness and generosity–is a masculine trait. And, like many straight women I know, I find masculine traits attractive. Just as straight guys are attracted to the reverse, the quiet shyness that we’ve constructed as feminine.

I really don’t want to go all theoretical on you. I guess, what I want to say, basically, is this: those old-school gender roles are obnoxious and frustrating and kind of stink. But short of anything else to replace them with, it seems to me, we’re kind of stuck.

 

What My Gut Does and Doesn’t Know

“I’m just going with my gut!”

Either I am surrounded by yes-men, or everyone to whom I have casually explained my haphazard approach to revision honestly thought this was as sound an idea as me.

“What’s your strategy?” They’d ask, all earnest, having heard that my project for the summer is work on a book manuscript.

I’d mumble something incoherent about the necessity of starting over completely, make ample use of the words “craft” and “process,” and then state, with an attempted air of what my stockbroker brother likes to call Supreme Confidence, “You know, I just think it makes sense to go with my gut.

Right,” they’d say, narrowing their eyes and nodding vigorously. “That totally makes sense.”

I’m beginning to have doubts.

Said doubt was sparked, yesterday, by a conversation that had nothing to do with writing. It had to do, instead, with my love life: you know, that thing I’m trying to neglect for the sake of writing about how desperately I want one.

I’m not doing all so well. Yesterday, on one of our regular walks around Prospect Park, I told my brother about my latest interest.

“It’s just that, you know, it’s really rare for me to meet someone I even like.”

He didn’t miss a beat: “No it’s not.”

“What are you talking about?” I snapped back, incredulous. “I, like, never meet guys I’m that into.”

“I could name seven guys from the past two years,” he said, trying his best not to laugh.

I paused. “Maybe! But it didn’t work out with any of them!”

Finally, he cracked up. “That isn’t the point!”

Mildly enraged, I turned my head down to watch my Birkenstocks pound the pavement and ponder that, fuck, my brother was right.

It seemed impossible: my gut feeling, whenever I get smote, is to convince myself of how precious the connection is, how extraordinary and rare, how practically impossible to find.

But, as my brother pointed out, that conviction is, to be straight-forward about things, false: hard won through a tangle of amplified longings, projected emotions and adolescent patterns.

Which, twenty-four hours later, as I pieced together an outline of the manuscript I’ve spent the last few weeks taking painstaking effort to completely rewrite–fistfuls of problems becoming quickly apparent–seemed totally, abundantly clear.

Just as I delude myself about whoever it is I’m dating, I’m also pretty good, turns out, at convincing myself that whatever approach to writing feels right is the best way to go.

With artistic pursuits, that kind of BS is expected: for all I’ve been indoctrinated the past three years about how creative success is more about hard work and discipline and those ten thousand hours, no one can dispute that artists’ work is shrouded in some degree of mystique, an ingredient that can’t be shaped or named. But my instinct, I’m realizing, isn’t so much a matter of sacred creative instinct: it’s about what’s familiar.

The problem, unfortunately, is that what’s familiar isn’t, often, the best idea.

I haven’t, actually, written a book before: perhaps it’s necessary to train-wreck your way through the gambit at least once. Perhaps it’s a learning experience. You know, like getting disappointed by flakey-but-creative men very many times.

But a lot of people have advised me on the process. A lot of people suggested I write an outline: one of my dearest professors in grad school spoke frequently about getting your writing “off the page”–making charts and summaries and lists. Over a year ago, a dear and very accomplished writer lectured me, repeatedly, on the value of making maps.

Organization, though, does not come naturally to me. I make lists and lose them. I buy folders and then collect papers in distinctly uncomposed piles. Still, I didn’t think of my approach as a negative decision, to avoid the tools offered: I thought of it–”it” being rewriting a 300 page manuscript without any clue how the thing should be shaped–
as doing what felt right.

Which might be how an alcoholic feels about an occasional pint, or a sex addict about getting laid a lot of times.

My tendencies–disorganization and dating habits–aren’t quite so toxic. But the same principle applies. Sure, maybe I need to make mistakes for myself, learn the hard way. But at a certain point, too, I have to remember that there are often better alternatives: ones my gut can’t necessarily see.

On Putting It Off. Mostly.

When you start running into family friends and the first thing out of their mouths is, “Last time I saw you, you were about to write an expose about my son!”, it’s hard not to ask yourself some questions.

Questions such as: was said son even more horrified than previously thought? Are his parents more horrified than, three years ago, I ever knew? And: am I just as oblivious to my perception among young and creative New York men as I am to middle-aged, intellectual Jews in suburban New Jersey?

Such questions–in addition to their unsavoriness–are, I suspect, not very interesting: so far as I can tell, most of you don’t publish your love lives online, and therefore have likely limited interest in the ramifications thereof. Well, fine.

The subject you may be interested in, though–my dating life–is, these days, an unusual commodity. Today, I thought to encourage my neighbors to collect points when they spot me with a single straight man–the way (I hear) one does for an especially rare species of bird. (Perhaps, too, I thought, such activity may aid in my–still embryonic–Campaign for Brooklynites to Say Hi on the Street.)

So, sorry about that. I would like to have a boyfriend. I just seem to find myself rather conflicted about, um, finding one.

“Whatever you do, don’t get yourself into any romantic entanglements.”

I was having drinks with a former public radio colleague, one who–like most of my former public radio colleagues–dispenses pithy wisdom with the ease and humor of a multitasking Sorkin character. He took a sip of Cabernet. “Bad idea.”

“I know,” I said, emphatically, as though in full agreement. We’d just been talking about the fact that I’m trying to work on my book this summer, that I’m not working in order to work on my book this summer.

And then, oddity of oddities, I hopped on the F train to meet someone for vaguely romantic drinks: someone who I assured myself I wouldn’t really like–it had been ten years since we last saw one another–but, of course, did.

The following afternoon, as I sat at my coffee shop, trying to write, but instead pondering the likelihood that I would see this guy again, grasping for an adolescent memory he swore I’d suppressed, my friend’s comment rung in my ears.

“Shit,” I thought. “This is exactly what he was talking about. Boys are fucking distracting.”

So distracting. Especially when the “job” you’ve got is not one anyone is paying you to do, but rather, one that, should it never get done, zero people will actually care and a few may experience genuine relief.

And yet: boyfriends are nice! They go on walks with you and your dog! They help with your computer problems! They provide attention–physical and otherwise! I like walks. I like technological assistance. I like (!) attention.

The problem, as you know, is getting there: all those nights of leaving your house, staying out too late and drinking too much beer so that you sleep half the next day and by the time you’ve gone for a walk (alone) and eaten breakfast (also) and sweated your way to the cafe, you only have a few hours until it closes, at which point you tell yourself you should go someplace else and keep writing but then talk yourself out of it because, really, there isn’t any spot around where the staff are so nice and the coffee so tasty and all requisite conditions are assured for you to get your work done.

Which is simply no good.

And so, I seek a middle ground: a place of being social enough so I don’t drive myself crazy and become an overweight spinster, and yet not so social that I sacrifice productivity because then I feel like a real ass.

And I tell myself that I can have some control over meeting someone, that I can plan it, swear off “entanglements” for a season, or a year, or a few–whatever it takes–and that for all my longing to be have a relationship, ultimately, intimately, in a reliable-and-relatively-soon fashion, I can put it off if I want to.

And I try, mostly, to want to.

On Shrinking Mr. Big. Or, Not.

“I don’t want to hear his name ever again,” A announced, sitting across pair of laptops and another of peppermint iced teas from me at an air conditioned coffee shop on the Lower East Side.

“Really?” I said, startled. “Have I ever said that to you?”

She shook her head and turned back to her work, while I turned back to mine–miffed.

Later, A acknowledged that she is presently trying to summon her own will to cut off an Unreliable, On-Again, Off-Again guy who has been in (and out) of her life for years.”I’m trying to walk my talk,” she said.

I understood. But, too, I had to explain: I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to do the same.

So, we’ve both got em: these sort of Long-Distance Mr. Bigs, guys who appear and disappear, who make promises they don’t keep, who you know, for whom, whenever they threaten to show up, you ought to have at least two backup plans–but for whom, you also know, you will be hard pressed not to drop just about anything to see. They’ve got that something: that charisma, that sex appeal, that semi-glamorous lifestyle that you find intimidating as well as a wild turn-on, and you find yourself, often, despite your better judgment, helpless in the face of their charms.

Mine hasn’t been around as long: only six months, most of which were spent on opposite coasts. His communication is so wildly erratic I often thought I might never hear from him again; but the intensity of what intimacy we had made me unsurprised when, each time, he turned up.

And, as I told A, I thought I’d found a pretty successful place of managing what I expect from him. I told her, in fact, that I had “zero” expectations:

“I enjoy the flirtation and whatever it is, for now,” I told her, assuring us both that I’d long since let go of any ideas about it being something deeper, more lasting, more committed.

“I just don’t think there’s anything toxic about it,” I said. “I’m doing what I want to do.”

“That’s great,” she replied, resuming a supportive stance. “I’m happy for you.”

But I wondered, even as I said the words, whether I was full of it: is it, really, ever possible for me to keep a romantic connection separate from the longing I do–undeniably–have for something more “real”? Am I capable of approaching something, really, with “zero expectations”?

The jury’s out.

I know, rationally, that there is basically no chance this guy will ever be as reliable and present as I need a partner to be. (Or, at least, not before the time it takes to produce a successful HBO franchise and subsequent set of extravagant, minorly racist Hollywood films. What, life doesn’t imitate art? Nevermind.)

I also know that, in the immediate aftermath of our most recent rendezvous, I found myself texting him unnecessary photos of my potato salad; digging through a stack of papers in pursuit of an essay he wanted to read; looking online for yoga poses to help soothe his minor breed of back pain.

In other words: thinking about him way too much for someone about whom, supposedly, I expect nothing.

In other words: I know, by now, that I shouldn’t have expectations. But that doesn’t mean, still, that I can always stop myself from wanting to.