A (Rare) Resolution for 2015 (and Possibly Life)

“Hallelujah!”

A folded her torso toward the bar. “You have no idea how many years I have been waiting for you to say this.” She lifted her hand for a high five, then motioned to clink her hot toddy glass against mine. “Amen!”

She and D and I were absorbed in the regular ritual my New York visits provoke: a day decadent with long city walks, afternoon drinks and bursts of group therapy. We’d meandered from Union Square to an empty, wood-paneled restaurant on the Western edge of the Village, and after hours discussing how we would do better at steering ourselves toward respective Life Purposes, I had asked permission to re-orient the conversation.

“I feel silly talking about boys after all this Big Talk…” I said, dipping my head and offering an overt wince.

“No, no,” they both replied, quick. “We are done with anything meaningful! Boy talk, go.”

I went on to tell them about a recent shift in attitude about my approach to dating–still hypothetical, but one that I hope will lead to, well, an actual New Approach.

Historically, I have tended to go about romance in the same fashion as I go about most aspects of life–from writing to general health maintenance: somewhat recklessly, without a lot of guidelines or restrictive parameters.

Put another way, in pretty much the opposite fashion from a young man I met recently who, upon hearing that I write a blog about relationships, announced that (before settling down with his current girlfriend) he used to date “very seriously.”

Pressed to explain, he described the vast constellation of rules that organized his ways with women: the two Los Angeles restaurants to which he’d alternately escort first dates, the number of questions with which he’d always come prepared, the drinks and dishes he’d suggest, that he’d never end the night with a kiss, but if he was interested in a second, would always suggest cooking at his place.

This guy was terribly charismatic–which made me find the whole narrative charming, too. But I also found it completely baffling, as I’ve always found anything like a rulebook around romantic relationships.

We know where this attitude gets me: if I don’t feel an immediate spark, I bail. And if I do, I open myself up with such freedom and force that I allow the guy to forget he’s actually not looking for a relationship, or still getting over his divorce, or has a girlfriend…until he remembers–leaving me lurching back atop my net of supportive pals, to whom I moan embarassing things like: “I did it again…” and “I know there’s nothing wrong with me, but what the fuck is wrong with me?”

I never say: “I’m not doing this again.”

Historically, I have dismissed my dangerously open tendencies as just another endearing quirk, no different than my fear of night driving or savvy with salad dressing or inability to whistle. It’s just who I am! I say. I have thick Jewish hair and hate purple and am really shitty at protecting myself! Cheers! 

To this line of defense I add that I appreciate being open: I wouldn’t want to be shut down. That being someone who easily connects means also being someone whose heart is often sore.

I don’t think that’s untrue.

But I also think, after a pair of weeks in which I’ve felt pummeled, grasping for the remnants of what had (for a minute) been feeling like a sturdy base of self-confidence and grit, there’s got to be a balance.

I may not have to protect myself, but at this point, I want to.

(Which is what I told A and D, which is what made A fall forward in relief. Friends, people.)

The question remains, though, of how. It’s not as though I’ve been leaping into bed with every first date (and the problem of intimacy isn’t, of course, only a physical one), but the fact is that, like a lot of my peers, I don’t put off physical intimacy as long as I could. And, think now: should.

Here’s something else. In the last months that I’ve been single, I’ve done some reflecting about past relationships. One thing that keeps coming up is that I want to wind up with someone I value beyond as a romantic partner; I want to fall for someone not only as a lover, but as a person. That’s something that’s easier to know through friendship, before other stuff entangles.

Suggestions have varied: from A (female, straight, southern)’s idea of putting off intimacy for a month, to D (dude, gay)’s concern about going past three dates without “checking out the goods.”

But based on early findings of my Informal Friend Poll, pals are less concerned with how I go about protecting myself than the fact that I, in some way, do. Like most things, it’ll be considerably more difficult in practice than in theory. Physical touch is compelling, especially when it’s cold enough to freeze your fingers and minivan doors. I’m already anxious about how I’ll resist kissing my next crush.

But then again, I’m usually anxious about something. And, for the moment at least, I’m looking forward to being anxiously cautious instead of anxiously reckless.

It’s 2015. I’m thirty-one. Why not?

 

 

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.

 

When, And If, The “Game” Ever Ends

Last weekend, when I was catching up with E, I told her about the guy I’ve been seeing. (You remember, the one I’m not blogging about.)

I mentioned something, it must have been a little hesitant, about the pattern of our correspondence.

“Huh,” she responded. “How long do you think that’s gonna last?”

“What?”

“You know, the whole game-playing thing.”

Now might be a good time to note that in a few weeks E and her boyfriend will celebrate four years of being together.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this for two reasons:

1) I hadn’t really considered whatever anxiety I expressed to be part of any sort of “game.” To me it just felt a natural aspect of the regular early courtship routine. You know, my life.

2) Assuming that it could be construed as “game-playing”–whatever that means–I have no idea when, or even whether, it does end.

The feeling that it might not probably comes from something I recently read: specifically, a nonfiction essay by Brian Doyle that is one of the best pieces I’ve come across in a while. (Not surprisingly, I read it in this year’s Best American Essays.) It’s called, “Irreconcilable Dissonance,” it’s about divorce, it’s about 1000 words, and each sentence is around 100.

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On Casual Sex, “Mad Men” and Expectations

I haven’t written much about casual sex.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, I don’t have it very often. For another, I have parents.

But my feeling is that many of you who read this blog do so because, most times, I try my best to be honest. And if we’re going to be honest about the life of a single twenty-something woman, sooner or later we’ve got to talk about sleeping with someone who is not your boyfriend. Because, when you don’t have a boyfriend–let’s be honest–that is who you sleep with.

Also, lately I’ve been watching “Mad Men.” (I have a habit of coming to cultural trends–TV shows, Gladiator sandals, quinoa–enthusiastically but several years late.)

I can see a number of reasons why the show has grown so popular: the clothes, the writing, Jon Hamm’s bone structure, Christina Hendricks’ physique.

But the thing that keeps coming into my mind is that there is a sort of illicit pleasure we may take in entering a world before we knew any better: before the phrase “politically correct” entered the lexicon, before we knew it was unhealthy to smoke and bad to litter and inappropriate to pinch your secretary’s waist.

Obviously most of us are extremely glad these things have changed. But I do think there’s a kind of perverse nostalgia for a time before we knew to be conscientious about, well, everything.

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On Haircuts, Confidence and Compliments

Among the numerous readers of my blog to whom I am related by blood or marriage, my sister-in-law, F, is not one.

So when we spoke on the phone earlier this week for the first time in about a month, she asked how my love life was going.

“Not great,” I sighed–informing her about my recent spate of rejection.

“Huh,” she responded, contemplative. “How’s your hair?”

“Kinda bad,” I told her. “It needs a cut.” I was tired, and possibly distracted by some blanket-laden homeless person on Central Avenue; I at first did not absorb her question’s implication. But then I did.

“Are you suggesting that men are rejecting me because of my hair?”

“I’m just asking,” she said. “I mean, I saw you recently so I know you’re not fat. Maybe you’re having a bad hair year.”

Let’s put aside for a moment any questions about the likelihood of bad hair lasting for an entire year, and allow me to provide some context. First of all, F and I have similar hair: she’s Italian and I’m Jewish and both of us have seriously thick, coarse and texturally schizophrenic manes to show for our respective ethnicities. Second of all, having dated my brother since I was five years old, F is the closest thing I’ve got to a sister and has therefore earned permission to tell me things no one else can.

But back to completely inane perceptions of what makes us more or less attractive.

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Boys and Bands and Airplanes

I would like to tell you–because I can–that as I write this I am sitting at the cafe on the top floor of the Tate Modern in London: overlooking the Thames river, a decaf espresso and three quarters of an apricot danish. For all of my frustrations with life these days, there are occasional moments that remind me how much I am extraordinarily blessed. This is one of them. I hope you have one like it soon.

Anyhow. So I will get off of the whole “rule” preoccupation soon, I promise. But first, allow me to report one aberration. It took place on the flight here from New York, and frankly was the one good thing American Airlines managed to do for me in the whole ordeal. (Actually the trip was totally painless, but good grief is their service unpleasant! If I could afford to boycott them I would.)

We all know the rule that whoever it is you spot while boarding a plane that looks somewhat interesting or attractive, you will not be sitting next to them. You will be sitting next to a young Orthodox mother or a priest. It is a law of life.

Of course, I’m here to tell you that such laws do get broken, and that by some miracle S and I were in fact seated next to not one but two interesting and somewhat attractive guys our age on the flight. They were together as well, and turned out to be members of a band about to begin a European tour. (For some reason they immediately reminded me of the guys from MGMT; they weren’t, but ended up not being all that different–physically or musically.)

This is all to explain how it is that, the other night, S and I wound up schlepping via commuter train to some remote corner of up-and-coming (emphasis on coming) hipster London to see a rock show featuring three Brooklyn bands. We may as well have been vacationing in Bushwick.

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The Question of Opposites

I just finished reading an incredible book called “Truth and Beauty”:  a memoir by the novelist Ann Patchett about her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy. Lucy, who had cancer in her jaw since childhood and was perpetually undergoing reconstructive surgeries, was probably best known for her own memoir called “Autobiography of a Face.”

Lucy also had an extremely extroverted, gregarious and difficult personality–unlike Patchett, who represents herself as being quiet, shy and conventional by contrast.

As the woman who recommended the book to me observed, it is basically a love story: theirs was not a sexual relationship, but it was every bit as intimate. She also remarked, rather insightfully, that Ann and Lucy’s friendship worked because they were such opposites: someone with more personality than Ann, she said, probably couldn’t tolerate–much less embrace–someone with quite so much personality as Lucy.

I thought of this today as I talked with my NY best friend S–who is, in many ways, my opposite. (Also, with whom I am now quite fortunate to be on vacation with in London for a week.) We have endless things to talk about–literally, she is probably the person in the world to whom I can, and do, talk on the phone most endlessly–but we have contrasting personalities. Namely, I am more of an extrovert and she is more introverted.

This came up during a conversation about the fact that every single man she has dated has been an extrovert, and almost every guy in my history is an introverted type.

“Maybe that’s why we get along,” she remarked.

We laughed. But it’s made me wonder: is it? Why is it that outgoing people do so often pair off with those who are more outgoing, both in friendship and romance?

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Breaking the Rules

I have a confession. For the record, it’s one that I may or may not have already made. I’m on vacation now (three weeks until summer session!)– relishing the comforts, cable and pantry of my parents home–and can’t be bothered to check.

Anyhow, it’s this: I started this blog impulsively. Spontaneously. I didn’t think through what I was doing, what I wanted it to be or not be. Basically I’ve been figuring it out as I go along.

One thing I’ve more or less decided that I don’t want it to be is a vengeful soapbox for calling out men who I date.

Well, on most days I don’t want it to be that.

Today, however, I am not feeling so generous.

The irony is that I’ve actually been feeling really good lately. Like, totally happy and content being single and appreciative of the many wonderful people I have in my life.

At least, that is what I wrote in an email to S and R, my two best NY girls–before pounding out several hundred words in which I vented about the guy who I would now like to vent about to you.

So here’s the thing: I know that technology has complicated traditional notions of dating etiquette–or whatever traditional notions of dating etiquette still existed by the time we all started texting.

And yet, I think there are certain basic courtesies that transcend modern developments in mobile devices and romantic courtship.

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