Love and Sex and Parents: Some Notes

My parents, as I’ve mentioned, read my blog. Also, as I’ve probably also mentioned, I talk to my parents. A good amount. We talk about our daily routines. The latest subway delays. The latest in family gossip. What meals we’ve eaten and cooked. We talk about the weather.

We do not talk about my blog.

Occasionally (and with diminishing frequency–though, to be fair, my posts have diminished in frequency, too), my mother will comment that she found something “funny” or “cute.” Also occasionally, my father will leave a cryptic comment using the pseudonym of one of their chocolate labradors’ names.

But besides that, the subject of my writing–or, more broadly, my dating life–does not really come up.

Now, I don’t blame my parents for this. No one wants to think their parents or children have sex at all, much less know the particulars.

And yet, I, and perhaps one, would think they’d have gotten used to it. It’s been about eight months since I’ve been writing this thing. Longer since I began publishing essays about love and sex. I would think, by now, they would have grown accustomed to the enterprise: that my dramatic openness with the virtual world about my romantic life would have–at least, a little bit–expanded the openness I can have with them on the subject.

It has not.

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Some Dignity: A Brief Rant

Friday night I went out with my friend A. Like me, A is single; and, like me, she comes across as someone with confidence, no small degree of poise, and a good amount of intelligence.

And yet–also, like me–she manages to forget these things in the company of certain men. She manages to behave like a person with comparatively little confidence or poise or sense or smarts.

In such moments, A told me the other night, certain words once spoken to her by a close female relative frequently ring in her head.

Those words would be: “A——, have some dignity.”

We both busted out laughing when she told me this. Both of us, in other words, are aware of how frequently we act without dignity.

I reported this to my NY S a few days later, expecting her to laugh along as heartily. She didn’t.

“What do you mean, dignity?” she asked. “What has that got to do with flakey guys?”

I struggled to explain.

Then, yesterday, my friend and professor and luminarious poet Dana Levin came to guest teach my creative writing class. In introducing and defining poetry, she talked about her practice of looking up the etymology of words as both a creative and analytical tool.

So, this morning (only after spending one hour alphebitizing my bookshelf and another curled up in a ball on the couch with Bonita–this, friends, is how useless I currently feel) I looked up the etymological roots of the word “dignity.”

What I found isn’t that revelatory: the word comes from the Latin “dignitas,” which means “worthiness.”

But that, as it turns out, is exactly it.

What A and I were laughing about is the fact that we know how “worthy” we are: we know we are smart, creative, attractive, worthy young women. We know we are worthy of someone who appreciates this: who treats us, in other words, with respect.

And yet, so often–for reasons too mundane, infuriating and typical for me to reckon with at this moment–we allow ourselves to become involved with men who don’t.

I was reminded of this several times this weekend, as I ran into approximately three men who I’ve been more or less interested in/involved with in the past few months–all of them evidently incapable of behaving like–and treating others as–a normal human being, much less a respectful one.

It would seem that these men don’t know how to make phone calls. That they don’t know how to apologize. Or how to make plans. Or how to acknowledge another person with whom they may or may not have recently had sex. How to make one feel, in other words, like a woman who is worthy of being called or apologized to or appropriately acknowledged.

“I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe of men who are completely socially dysfunctional,” I told S, sprawled on the couch the other night and attempting to read Lolita.

“I know,” she said. “I’m living right next door.”

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.┬áSecond 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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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┬áto 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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Bridging the Gap

For all my glib talk about how much I was going to make my parents squirm when I read a couple of my pieces with them in the audience the other night, I wasn’t all that surprised when they totally didn’t.

“We’ve been conditioned!” my dad smilingly explained to one of my professors, who commended them for getting through the evening without a blush.

“She’s gotten a little raunchier over the years,” he later joked to a group of friends. “But we can take it.”

They can take it. And they do. But, as it emerged over their weekend visit, it’s not always easy.

Nor would you expect it to be easy for the parents of a blogger who writes about her sexual life with a regularity and tone that often require some exaggeration. I’m not saying that what I write here isn’t true, but the extent to which I do so surely enhances the severity of the impressions I give off.

Which, as they finally confessed, can be tough for them to swallow. (Dad: “You just seem, kind of, insecure and obsessed with finding a man.” Mom: “You don’t need to date men who aren’t worthwhile, you should be picky!”)

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Masculine vs. Feminine, and the Laws of Attraction

When people act all incredulous that I have things to say on an almost-daily basis about dating and relationships, I’ve taken to gently reminding them how many of their conversations center on the topic.

Generally, the answer to this question is: most of them. I’d argue that basically all of us, to one degree or another, are obsessed with romantic love. We are consumed with it. Tell me I’m wrong.

I tend to think of women as being more open about this. Or, at least, engaging in more frequent discussion on the subject. The male friendships I know, on the other hand, run the gamut from constant, ongoing boys’ night chatter to waiting six months to tell one another they have a girlfriend.

The two guys I was out with last night definitely occupy the former end of this range. Especially, it would seem, when in the company of someone they suspect might post their thoughts online. Beer may have helped.

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Getting “Over” It

This morning, on a long (and collision-free!) bike ride with my friend E, she asked how long I took to get over the guy I dated last semester.

As often happens with direct, straight-forward questions about my love life, I wasn’t sure how to answer.

“It’s kind of difficult to quantify,” I said, explaining that it was initially devastating because I’d met him within forty-eight hours of moving to New Mexico, but that I felt “over” it rather quickly since I had known basically all along that he wasn’t someone things were likely to work out with in a serious way.

Also, I told her, I’m not entirely sure I know what that statement means: it’s not as though you wake up one day and realize that you are “over” someone.

E–who, by the way, is in one of the happier and more functional relationships I know–went on to tell me a story in which that was, actually, the case. She described someone she dated in college who was similar to my last-semester guy in that she recognized he wasn’t good boyfriend material, but still felt uncontrollably attracted. After a few months of dating, things ended abruptly and for a long time later she felt angry and hurt.

Until, she explained, they slept together again.

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Thoughts on Believability and “The Male Brain”

Usually, when I think something is too good to be true, it is.

For example, when a guy tells me he wants me to be his future wife having met me within the last thirty-six hours, I usually tell at least one friend that I’m sure it’s “too good to be true” before eagerly reciprocating the sentiment and finding myself devastated two-to-three days later when his undatability surfaces. (See? I may exercise poor judgment–but at least I do it self-consciously.)

Similarly, I got really excited when I first read about this new book, “The Male Brain” by Louann Brizendine.

According to that CNN exerpt, at least, it basically reinforces everything anyone’s ever thought about the differences between male and female behavior: men think more about sex, are visually driven and less sensitive to the nonverbal cues that make women receptive to other people’s emotions. Also, Brizendine cites evidence that, despite their perpetually wandering eyes, men are even more prone to commit deeply to a partner than women are–which reinforces my observations about friends’ long-term relationships in which the guys are sure and the women aren’t.

I’d like to claim that I’m always right, but I’m not. Often, I readily believe things–bad research as well as pre-emptive claims of affection–that a more skeptically minded person wouldn’t.

And I was really happy to readily believe everything that Dr. Brizendine wrote. Until, to my dismay, I had to go and stumble on this Salon piece tearing it apart–and now I feel obligated to readily believe that instead.

Basically the Salon hit piece claims that most of her data is based on 30-odd couples in Newfoundland studied, dubiously, more than ten years ago. It also brings up that certain facts included in the author’s previous book, “The Female Brain,” were so erroneous as to have to be removed from later editions.

Which is too bad. Because I know the “male brain” science stuff can be seen as excusing behavior that’s not ever excusable (aka, as the Salon piece suggests, Tiger Woods couldn’t help but sleep with every pair of breasts on which he laid eyes). But it is also kind of comforting to think that guys’ preoccupation with sex and inability to read emotions isn’t just the female imagination at work.

And I don’t think it is. I don’t think it’s random or false that men are more visual: just think about how many couples you see in which the woman is good-looking and the man isn’t, and how many you see in which it’s the opposite. To think that there’s science behind that phenomenon doesn’t make it any less annoying.

I also think there might be something to this other notion Brezendine writes about that men do actually experience intense emotional responses–even more intense than women–despite the fact that they generally don’t show them. I’ve always been wary of mistaking the male inability to express feelings for an inability to have them.

I’m not sure Brezendine’s research is completely reliable, but on this one I think it’s prudent to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The Stench

Since I last wrote, I have acquired two new pieces of evidence–in case anyone needed it–that the universe is conspiring to keep me eternally celibate.

First, the other night I was walking to meet to friends for dinner when I passed a cute young Brit standing outside an Irish Pub and looking rather lost. As I walked by, he stopped me and asked if I knew of a good local dive bar; I directed him, he said “thanks” and went on his way. Readers, he barely even waved.

Then, yesterday–conveniently, on the same day I post that HuffPost blog linking to my Twitter page–my Twitter account is hacked so profoundly that all day I was inadvertently sending “direct messages” to my Twitter followers announcing that I am 24 and horny and would like to continue the, presumably illicit, conversation on IM. I’m not even exaggerating.

It’s in moments like these that I recall the sage words of a good friend in Washington, after reporting that she had, again, slept with an ex-boyfriend who both of us knew was about as dateable as John Edwards.

“I know, I know,” she said, in good-humored anticipation of my scolding. “But at least,” she went on, “I’ve gotten rid of the Desperation Stench.”

She did not need to explain. But, for you more well-adjusted monogamist readers, I will. This scent as something like a dog whistle: perceptible only to members of the opposite sex (and, apparently, certain social media networks) and occurring in men and women who have gone several months without intimacy.

We all know how it works: you’re in a relationship, unavailable and therefore desirable. When you’re actually single and looking to date, no one wants to talk to you. If you’ve been single for more than a few years, forget about it: I don’t care if you look like Blake Lively and dress like Tara Reid–nobody is interested. It is the cruel Catch-22 of dating: if you’re available, you might as well smell horrible.

So what are us single folk to do about this, short of resigning ourselves to a lifetime of pets, baking and chastity? Go around sleeping with slutty ex-boyfriends?

This is not something I would like to condone on the Internet–or, as a matter of fact, do. But really, I don’t know the alternative. If I did, I would be enjoying this beautiful morning by going on a run with my boyfriend and medium-sized mutt instead of standing in my kitchen, drinking bad coffee and writing this blog in my pajamas.

Suggestions welcome.