27 June, 2011
I used to be a fan of requiring an IQ test before allowing people to have children. True, it will cut the amount of reality programming on television by at least half, but I think that the world will be a more drama-free place for it. It’s the greater good.
But then this afternoon, walking up 7th Avenue, I saw a couple pushing a stroller and I decided to revise my Breeding Prerequisites. I devised this simple questionnaire to determine how fit people are for parenthood.
FearOfSyndication Presents The Greater Good Parental Screening Test
1. Do you currently own a pair of shorts whose pockets extend below the “hem” of the shorts?
a. If yes, did you make them yourself or buy them that way?
b. If no, do you wish you did?
2. How long is your belly-button-bling?
a. .5″ – 1″
b. 1″ – 3″
c. 3″ +
3. Do you plan on wearing tube tops after your baby is born?
a. If yes, do you plan on wearing them before you’ve lost the baby weight?
b. If yes, do you acknowledge that you know how gross that looks?
4. For the health of the baby, are you willing to use less than 3 oz. of hair gel each day?
5. Will you continue to wear those enormous earrings, even though they’re so big that they could physically harm your baby?
6. Do you currently buy your clothes in the kid’s department because
a. they fit better?
b. they’re cuter?
c. they’re skankier?
d. you yourself are a child?
7. Do you plan on continuing to wear the top strap of your thong above the waist of your shorts, a la “the whale tail”?
For the Baby-Daddys
1. Do you wear more chains around your neck than the number of your age?
a. Do any of them have sports teams pendants on them?
2. For the health of the baby, are you willing to use less than 3 oz. of hair gel each day?
3. Where do you currently wear the waist of your jeans?
a. Around my waist
b. Around my butt
c. Around my thighs
d. Around my knees.
4. FOLLOW-UP: Do you realize that “busting a sag” went out in 1997?
5. Will you try to discourage your child from getting the same hideous tattoos that you have?
6. Have you completed puberty yet?
The responses to each questionnaire will be evaluated by a jury of me. Note that this questionnaire applies to hetero and homosexual couples, as bad taste, apparently, is universal.
6 May, 2011
On my 27th birthday, I made one of the most important discoveries to my adult life:
the sheer, uncompromising power of the perfect red lipstick.
It was a revelation. I felt like I had truly entered womanhood (a mere 14 years after my Bat Mitzvah).
I quickly learned what the red lipstick was capable of. At once, it was a spotlight and a mask. I could draw in people’s attention then ensure that they could not get past the shield of pigmented wax on my smackers. It was the best of both worlds. I flaunted a new-found and legitimate confidence, proud of my bravery to embrace the deep scarlet, and did my best to keep other, bare-lipped versions of myself at bay. The security of the lipstick as a veil meant I could be virtually anyone I longed to be. Sirens wore red lipstick. Movie stars wore red lipstick. Femme fatales wore red lipstick. Women wore red lipstick—not girls. Beyond that, women who demanded something wore red lipstick. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to demand, but I felt the need for change, and demanding it seemed like as good a way as any to achieve it. If nothing else, I wanted to demand to be seen as a woman.
Quickly, red lipstick became my signature. Friends delighted in my new trademark, my teeth gleamed like Chiclets, outfits were chosen based on how well they complimented my lip color and the little caterpillar emerged a social and stylish butterfly. But the dizzying dichotomy of who I really was continued to spin. Red-lipsticked me still felt like a projection of who au natural me wanted to truly become, but was not yet. Au natural me was not simply un-made up. She was larvae. She wore sweatpants and PJs and didn’t brush her hair. She looked like a high schooler who’s just woken up at 2pm on a Saturday. She felt perpetually 16 years old, and that was neither a good nor pretty nor confident thing.
You can see why I was so desperate for the red lipstick.
As years passed, the two mes did merge. What’s remained constant is that the red lipstick, it’s blatant veneer, is an easy façade. “No, I don’t always look like this,” it says. “But that hardly concerns you right now.” Knowing that I am putting forth a face I don’t always call my own feels like method acting. It is inherently part of who I am but still a role nonetheless.
All this to point out my surprise when I received an email from a man my father’s age who was (until recently put in his place) relentlessly trying to date me, addressed to: “mandy – as you are – the real you + red lips.”
OK, first of all: creepy. This guy’s about to become a grandfather. He has a son my sister’s age. Second of all: does he really believe that how he last saw me–dolled up at a party with crimson on my lips–is “the real” me? Paint an inch thick, Hamlet scolded Ophelia. Paint is right. It’s a cover-up. And what came full circle for me the moment I read this email, and what I realized from this ill-placed attention, is that it’s not because of you that I hide myself, dear Grandpa-To-Be. It’s because of me. Yessir, I could show you the real me, the woman behind the brightly-hued mouth. But you don’t deserve that, you will never get that close.
Still: Gramps and I know each other through work, and in not wanting to jeopardize a professional contact, I agreed to have dinner with him on a rainy Sunday night. Just before leaving my apartment, I received a text from him, urging me to “be hungry and bring red lips.”
Hold up there, geezer.
Clearly, he does not realize that the one thing a woman with red lips has most is power. I decide when the lipstick goes on, and on whom or what it may wear off (usually, it’s a wine glass, not a whom). But this brought about a bit of a mini-crisis. He did not deserve to get nearer to me than the red-lipped mask would allow, but the last thing I wanted to do now was indulge him in his request. The result of this predicament was that he’d made me feel like a tart. And the distaste that I bore for him multiplied. I resented him before I ever arrived at dinner.
I made a narrow escape after dinner, to avoid his intentions, and the very next morning went out to make a new purchase: a lovely new lipstick called Vintage Pink. I think it looks fabulous.
15 March, 2011
A Never-Ending Play in Three Acts. Eat your heart out, Tom Stoppard.
Cast of Characters
MacMillan – a thrice-married woman, 45 year-old single mom, a premium cable television writer living in New York.
Ravitz – a once-engaged, never-married 41 year-old writer/blogger living in Atlanta.
Me – a never-engaged, never-married, 30 year-old woman living in Brooklyn, who cannot tell how many relationships she’s had because there’s no easy way to define “relationship.” She thinks it might be two, but on a good day could be as high as five.
ct I: MacMillan, who is equally as misguided as her single friends, tires of hearing those single friends complain about their singledom. She embraces her unwarranted High & Mightiness and writes a fairly offensive piece on the Huffington Post about how singledom is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Single ladies, she argues, want marriage, they want it more than anything they are willing to admit to. But we—she’s thrown Ravitz and Me into the mix, though she does not know us—are self-destructive creatures, we are petrified of our own happiness. And we’ll stoop to grievous lows (bitchiness, shallowness, sluttiness, dishonesty, selfishness and low self-esteem are MacMillan’s Six Self-Sabotaging Sins of Single Sisters) to ensure our safety within that realm of ceaseless singlehood.
Needless to say, Me and my friends—between us we can boast a history of every type of relationship imaginable—erupt in a collective cry of disagreement. As a 5’10” friend pointed out, the article assumes a huge double-standard, in that it chides women as being shallow for having physical preferences (such as, I hope I get a guy who’s taller than me, but if my soulmate is 5’7″, I’ll happily deal), when a guy having loads of physical ‘standards’ is just seen as par for the course. No one’s writing blogs telling those dudes to give it up. The same tall, astute friend also took issue because “the implication in the article is that to find a husband you must be sweet and never angry. I know plenty of super angry bitches who have husbands.” It seems that’s MacMillan MO—why is she disproving her own point? Does she want to keep all the guys who are willing to be with angry women to herself?
Another friend commented that MacMillan “doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for marrying 3 times, (like she’s some kind of expert man-catcher), she deserves a dunce cap for not being smart enough to run away from what obviously turned out to be bad ideas.” She warned of MacMillan’s safety in her Glass House…
ct II: Ravitz, a better-intentioned writer/blogger at CNN is one of the thousands for whom MacMillan’s pointed diatribe pinched a very tender nerve. She offers a publicized counter-argument, in which she claims that it is not for our own self-hatred that we are unmarried. It is not lack of opportunity—but lack of the right opportunity (a swipe at MacMillan’s perhaps too-easy approach to wedded bliss). Ravitz tells of her own romantic history, one littered with oases and boulders, love and disappointment, self-admitted commitment issues, too much truthfulness and bad timing. Ravitz argues that sometimes, life wants you to be single, and it “just works out that way.”
Me and my friends are glad for the clever rebuttal, one in which we single ladies are not lambasted for the choices we have made. However, there is still a sense among us of something unfinished, of a still as-yet untold point of view.
ct III: In steps Me and My big, unmarried mouth.
I do not believe in, and cannot subscribe to, boiling down relationships to singular factors–whether you’re in them, or trying to find out why you’re not in them. If some TV writer were to finally define that one reason why relationships don’t work (the point MacMillan’s subtext was attempting to make), then no one would ever bother with relationships at all—hello, Children of Men-esque future. There’s a reason romantic partners are not interchangeable, and why we can’t just pick anyone and happily spend the rest of our lives with them (so long as we follow the rules). Firstly, that would be tediously boring. Secondly, and more importantly, people and relationships are nothing if not nuanced—which is a Very Good Thing. We cannot be reduced to 6 defining misdeeds, nor should we count our virtues and bemoan a plot by the universe to keep us loveless (even though I am often guilty of that myself). A million infinitesimal, incomprehensible factors are responsible for everything in our lives, from where we live to what television shows we watch, from what we eat to who we choose or reject to spend the rest of our lives with.
At the heart of both women’s arguments is that the key factor in relationship-finding is opportunity. Angry Slut Lady (guess who) says JUMP, don’t hop, at opportunity, at any opportunity, no matter how bleak it may seem, because at the heart of it, you’re rather unlikeable, and good opportunities don’t come along often, if ever, especially for the likes of you. She clearly believes that it’s better to be once, twice, three times a bride, than never married at all. Personal Drama Lady (Ravitz, naturally) says it’s not lack of opportunity, it’s lack of accepting the opportunities because you’re able to recognize that they’re not right for you… so calm your hormones, Angry Slut Bitch.
Yes, these are two points of view… and one of them might even be valid. But Grounded Romantic Lady (that would be Me) has to say what, seemingly, no one else has:
Any single woman knows that on certain bad days, we look inside ourselves (or into the mirror) and see all the reasons why we’re single. And on other days, sometimes good days, we know that our inside is stupendous, and we look outside ourselves to see that it’s not our problem that we’re single—it’s everyone else’s because they’re not with us. But unless you’re obsessed/crazy/desperate (like Angry Slut Lady thinks you should be), no one spends 100% of their time dwelling on either eventuality. We can’t. Because on most days, we know that there’s something else to it—something that’s not about our inside or outside, but about chance, and about how it can create a connection to someone else’s inside and outside. Some of my friends call it the X-Factor, others call it “clicking,” I call it Chemistry. Most importantly, we know what’s right when we see it—it’s not availability, it’s not looking good on paper, it’s feeling good from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet, feeling good not only about the person, but about the situation. It’s thinking about someone who gives you butterflies in your toes, makes your whole body tingle with not only the sense of “This Is Right,” but also: “This is Right, for Me, Right Now.”
The beauty of this thing, this chemistry (my blog, my term), is that it is a giant heap of je ne sais quoi. It is undefinable, unquantifiable, and inarticulatable. Which means it doesn’t fit into the six designations of what you’re doing wrong, it can’t be counted like opportunities missed, canceled or aborted for any reason. I think of it like salt. It’s certainly not imperative in every dish. But most dishes—from brownies to curries to salads to margaritas—benefit from having some of it. You don’t need this to have a lasting relationship. But it often tastes better with it. For some people, just a hint is enough. For others, the more the better. (If you’re concerned about high-sodium risk in the metaphor—CC, I’m talking to you, too—we can just as easily substitute ‘spices’ in for salt. But I was afraid to complicate things with that one.) Everyone’s tastes are different, and yes, there are those bland people out there (Angry Slut Lady) who stay away entirely, claiming that just having food in front of you is good enough, you’re being greedy if you want it to taste good, too. I live in Brooklyn—I simply cannot submit to that philosophy (or metaphor).
There are some other crucial points that MacMillan needs to be reminded of in the search for why, why, why.
One: For many single people, being unmarried does not mean you are incomplete. Marriage need not to be an end goal, or a goal at all. The fact is, we are all real people by ourselves. Partners may enhance us, but they do not define us, at least not at the outset. I’ve met people (Angry Slut Lady, looking at you) who believe otherwise; they seem clingy, their urgent sense of finding someone—anyone—blurring all other priorities. They find vulnerable partners and wear them down until they get that ultimately dissatisfying ring on it. I know loads of people who have eschewed a balls-out search for a mate in favor of the rest of our lives, and have happily lived to tell about it. While we’re almost always open to the idea of meeting someone, and hope to do so sooner rather than later, we’re proud of who we are otherwise. We’re not just waiting on a wing and a prayer, but we’re living. So many friends caught on to Ravitz’s acute observation: “Maybe you’re a searcher with a healthy dose of wanderlust, someone who needed time to commit to furniture, let alone a man, because there was so much you needed to see, do and become.”
I honestly can’t think of anything better than to be a woman in her 30s with healthy wanderlust, single or partnered. Life would be terribly boring otherwise!
Two: Being single is not the same as being desperate. Angry Slut Lady certainly can’t grasp this one—she’s too busy being petrified that no one will ever love her. The few patronizing married friends I have can’t quite understand it either. But ask most any man or woman who’s spent a significant portion of their 20s or 30s single, and you’ll find that they know themselves well, well enough to be confident in the things they want and the things that they don’t. And why wait this long only to compromise when you’re 30? 35? 40? Wanting the affection, company, love of a relationship is not the same as being desperate for one. It’s something on the To-Do list, and we all go about checking that box off in our own unique ways. But the moment you give in to desperation, the moment you believe any of the BS that Angry Slut Lady is feeding you, that’s when you’ve got a big, big problem. In fact, my initial response to these blogs was:
Nope, no one’s ever asked me to marry them, no one’s ever fallen in love with me (that I know of), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to fucking slum it just because I consider myself desperate. Because the catch is that I *don’t* consider myself desperate, much to Angry Slut Lady’s dismay (and disagreement).
ll that said, here is what I believe:
It’s not about men being crazy or women being crazy. Everybody is crazy. And if you’re lucky, you end up with someone who complements and supports your kind of crazy.
Where to go from here? One friend suggested, upon reading MacMillan’s piece, “introducing a new question on OK Cupid: ‘Is Kim Kardashian your ideal woman?'”
Would love to add that MacMillian, who wrote the Huffington Post piece, is a television writer for Mad Men and The United States of Tara. Fascinating to note that the woman who has had three marriages writes for a show that boasts misogynistic lotharios and one wherein the female protagonist has a dissociative identity disorder—a less severe version of which, you could argue, could lead to three distinct and doomed-to-fail marriages. Just sayin’…
7 March, 2011
20 February, 2011
‘m convinced more than ever that the more you complain, the less you actually have to complain about. The correlation is uncanny.
This morning, I actually heard someone bemoan the fact that “Everyone thinks I get 3 months of vacation. But I don’t. I only get six weeks of vacation.*”
Six weeks? Is that all? Pobrecita. (NB: no, she was not being ironic in the least. She was actually self-piteous.)
This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this relationship, mind you. It’s just the most succinctly I’ve been able to articulate it — and maybe the most egregious abuse of people’s capacity for empathy.
Perhaps it’s also striking a chord because I could paint a pretty vivid sob-story of recent events in my life lately, if I wanted to. But not only do I have no desire to make my life that public, I do not want to ask for pity that you may or may not think I deserve. Sympathy is relative. I may not get six weeks’ vacation, but it could always be worse. Let’s not lose sight of that.
I’ve decided I’d much rather rely on the sincerity of a few close friends than the faux-concern of whoever happens to be in earshot when I feel like opening up my pie-hole.
I’m thinking of spearheading a public awareness campaign to rid the world of whining, one whinger at a time. Won’t you join me?
* – So yeah, this woman is a teacher. And I know how incredibly hard most teachers work. I appreciate it thoroughly. But I don’t know any other teachers who would, while lazily eating brunch, bother complaining to a bunch of non-teachers and people who were working on a Saturday that six weeks’ worth of vacation is insufficient. Maybe she should move to Sweden and look for compassion there.
8 February, 2011
hat a funny face! Are you a woman, really? Or an artichoke?
Last year, I forged a rather unexpected friendship with an older guy who comes into the bakery where I moonlight a few shifts each week. He’s easily over twice my age, with a head of spiky white hair and a gravely voice that is as textured as the weathered grooves on his face. Currently retired, he ran a comedy club or two in the 70s and 80s, wherein he discovered the likes of Larry David. He has a sharp wit and decisive views on entertainment—he has no qualms letting anyone know that he thinks the top-rated, Emmy award winning sitcom that his nephew produces is really not all that funny.
I see him around once or twice a month, and my coworkers know that when he comes in, I will be wholly engaged in conversation with him, discussing, most often, the latest arthouse movies at BAM, the Angelika, the Film Forum. We don’t aim to sound snobby, but we probably do.
About a year ago, he mentioned to me that he had recently transformed a room in his house into a real home theater, complete with projection system, full-size screen, blackout curtains and about ten comfy chairs. He told me that he wanted to begin a film club for a small group of friends, and cordially invited me to be a part of this elite club. I was flattered. Various set-backs pushed our first meeting from September all the way to January, and the first official screening was held a few weeks ago, on a bitterly cold Friday night.
Once I arrived to his well-appointed townhouse, I was warmly greeted by a small group of middle-aged men and women, and introduced as “the only one who works in the film industry and thus legitimizes our group.” I didn’t quite know what to say in response; I likely just blushed. I then learned that this was not just any old film club. The plan was to exclusively explore Italian cinema from the 1960’s, that rich blend of story and style, ripe with fantasy and metaphors. Our host distributed lists upon lists of Italian films made in the 60s, and told us each to select one that we wanted to see. We’d all chip in about $5 per movie, and gather to watch them. The lists were exhaustive, and I was embarrassed to say that only a small percentage of the films sounded familiar to me.
Finally, after deferring my film choice to be sent via email the next day, we sat down to watch our premiere film: Fellini’s La Strada, his 1954 road-movie of sorts, and only his 4th feature film as director. I mumbled that I thought I had seen selected scenes from the movie in college, but I doubted myself – could it be that I had never seen this classic?
The film began, and I was soon forced to acknowledge that no, I had never seen this classic. Moments into the film, I was bewitched by Giulietta Masina’s elastic and expressive face, the way one move of her eyebrows spoke volumes more than the entirety of some present-day films. I quickly overcame the distraction of the dialogue we heard and the movement of the actors’ mouths never quite lining up, and indulged myself in poor Gelsomina’s tale as the ball to Anthony Quinn’s Zampanó’s chain.
We wrapped up the movie, each of us entranced, with a conversation about the film, how we interpreted it, and what we took away from it. Is it the ultimate love story, or the ultimate hate story? Did Zampanó love Gelsomina? If so, did he know it? Just how many screws did Gelsomina have loose in her head?
To me, the film provided ample food-for-thought, such that my long walk home through the frigid Brooklyn streets seemed to pass rather quickly. How many relationships do we engage in that manage to blur the line between healthy and unhealthy, clingy or repugnant, codependent or destructive? And even if the cracks within our relationships are more subtle, does that make them any more excusable? How do we define abuse, and how do we define delusional? I can think of loved ones in long-term relationships that have plenty of commitment but no affection—is that excusable? Does this year’s powerful film Blue Valentine recall some of the same struggles to survive in a loveless marriage that La Strada does?
I think any one who has seen La Strada will remember fondly Richard Basehart’s il “Matto,” The Fool, and his bumbling courtship of Gelsomina, his earnestness starkly contrasted against Zampanó’s indifference, and the delight that Gelsomina’s face betrays when she sees him. I also remember the smile he’s forced to slap on when Gelsomina makes her choice between the two men, and how bravely he saves face by facilitating her decision. At that point, we are as understanding and confused by Gelsomina’s loyalty to Zampanó as we’ll ever be. For me, The Fool’s fate was not forgotten; I knew the catlike tightrope walker would land on his feet. I couldn’t say the same about our main duo.
The Fool represents the opportunities that we are afraid to take, the ones that sometimes whoosh by us in a car, sometimes stop to talk to us, and on the rarest of occasions, extend us a hand to go with. I’ve certainly come to understand that those opportunities, the ones that seem so appealing but are equally as terrifying, are intoxicating and rare. We can acknowledge the opportunity, say “thanks, but no thanks,” and live forever speculating, or we can, with necessary trepidation, take that step forward because to know is sometimes better than to wonder.
The Fool is the curious cat. Gelsomina, by denying him, settled back into the comfortable misery she had come to rely on for survival. Yet, once The Fool meets his destiny, thanks to Gelsomina’s wayward “beloved,” three lives are irrevocably changed. And so fate manages to find a way to quell our curiosity, one tragic way or another.
Right now, I feel a bit like Gelsomina—when I recently tried to seize an opportunity, my plan was squelched. Was it providence, or good luck? Or bad luck? It’s plain to see that my intentions meant little to whatever, or whoever, was really dealing my cards that night. Thus, I can’t help but wonder if waiting around the corner is chance, again, just like The Fool changing his tire. What to do at that moment? Extend a hand, wait for a hand to be extended to me, or simply continue walking? Like Gelsomina, I have no interest in second chances. But I hope that I haven’t jinxed circumstance, and, unlike the pertinacious Gelsomina, can ultimately walk away from that one-day encounter with an appreciation for closure and the pride of knowing that the decisions I’ve made have made me stronger for them, no matter which strada I had to take to get to this place.
Next week’s film: Divorce, Italian Style. My blogging senses are tingling in anticipation.
7 December, 2010
18 October, 2010
Dear Jon Favreau-ish type that tried to pick me up – and take me home – tonight at that bar in DUMBO:
Chatting me up ‘politely’ for ten minutes before telling me that my lips are so nice, I *must* be a good kisser (yes, it’s true, but that is neither here nor there), and then trying to delve deep into personal romantic & sexual histories does NOT give you the right to f’ing mope when I repeatedly but politely turn down your rather disgusting “I would just need an hour to show you the reckoning” proposition.
Further, if I tell you I’m not going to engage in any such reckoning, do you not realize that:
a) the more you use your “one hour” line, the more you destroy your chances of said encounter ever (in a million years) happening?!
b) it would have behooved you to leave it alone after, say, the 4th time you brought it up and the 4th time I turned you down.
c) girls do not lie about just up and going to Abu Dhabi for a week. Mostly because it’s too outrageous. If I tell you that I need to go home and pack for my flight that’s in less than 20 hours, you’d best respect and believe that.
So quit yer whining and forlorn cigarette-suckage, and, may I put this mildly: go take yourself home.
25 March, 2010
The Test Begins…. NOW.
I thought I was smart, I thought I was right, I thought it better not to fight…
It’s as though the Flaming Lips were writing of the Modern Woman when good ol’ Mr. Coyne sang that he thought there was a virtue to always being cool.
See, in the course of the day-to-day, my interactions and involvement with events, people, and happenings fall into one of three categories:
1) I Care
2) I Don’t care
3) I Care, but don’t want to seem like I do.
Category #3 is reserved for a very specific kind of happenstance, such as getting really angry at Kyle MacLachlan when he took the last of the soup I wanted at Whole Foods, or when the one-legged bum who hangs out at the Carroll Street subway station told me that he likes my hat, and that actually made me smile for a while.
#3 is also often linked to my Independent Single Woman Sense of Magical Aloofness. Movies like the god-awful “Blah Blah Blah Not That Into You” make my skin crawl because of their depictions of single ladies as these clingy, desperate, parasitic creatures who actually seem to thrive off of repelling men by their oppressive neediness. This phenomena is not only reserved for the movies (unfortunately), as I’ve known many women who have sabotaged their potential relationships because it’s Too Much, All The Time.
Like so many other instances in my life, I’ve tried to look upon these leeches as a way to define myself by defining what I’m not. Do guys get under my skin sometimes? Of course. Have I had relation-flings so potent that I’ll never forget them? Indeedy-do. But somewhere in the Games of Dating & Courtship (which I hate so very much), I find myself subscribing to the “Never Let ‘Em See You Cry” tactic of maintaining a cooler-than-cool outward attitude towards dissolved relationships. This isn’t always a challenge; there are plenty of times where the distinct lack of feelings both facilitates the dissolution as well as rids the person and his story from my mind.
For to lose, I could accept, but to surrender, I just wept and regretted this moment…
Still, there are times, few as they may be, where just letting things slide begins to feel not slyly smug, but instead slightly stupid. Moments like these, tormented by a sort of self-betrayal, I question the rules that I’ve imposed on myself, those of letting sleeping dogs lie, not opening old wounds, and equating keeping my mouth shut with a Last-Word-Dignity. Then a nagging righteousness creeps in, and the desire to address the emotional injustice I’ve managed to aggravate with my just-move-on attitude. But the chasm between Aloof and Offended can be deep, and breaching it is no small task.
First, there’s the Hamlet-esque decision to take action – which itself is often wrought with the dissonance of the fact that it goes against my Standard Operating Procedure. Once that decision to do something has finally been made, an even larger problem looms ahead: what to do. This has always proven to be enormously frustrating because the most obvious and satisfying action to take usually seems to be shouting “WHY DID YOU F*@K THAT UP?!?!?,” followed by something of a mumbled “…don’t you know how awesome I am?” Since more often than not, getting all uppity in someone’s face is not a viable approach, this is the part where most well-intentioned plans die, and eventually, my sense of indignation does too.
Oh, to fight is to defend, if it’s not now then, tell me when.
But every once in a while, a practical-seeming idea pops up, and, after sleeping on it for a few nights, still remains. In a terrible mess of self-doubt, I construct an impossibly intricate flow-chart (sometimes in my head, sometimes on my trusty dry-erase board) of possible approaches, outcomes, reactions, consequences and eventual regrets. Should the “Bad Idea” sign still miraculously remain dark, then the real fear arises: the fear of actually doing something.
Fast-forward through consultations with trusted friends and mild agonizing still over if it is the right thing to do. The idea grows and turns in my head, taunting me as I lay awake each passing night. I am an expert procrastinator (just ask my snooze button) and can put off things I don’t want to deal with for an impressively long time.
And there are things you can’t avoid, you have to face them, when you’re not prepared to face them.
Inevitably, I’ll get annoyed at myself for being so damn ceremonial about everything. I’ll be looking at the words I want to say – a letter, or an email, or the script for a phone call I’m willing myself to make. The words stare back at me, challenging me to exercise them, to execute them. And then, I just do it. Letter in the mail, ‘sent’ button pressed, telephone dialed – and there it is. Out there in the universe, out of my hands. Done.
And suddenly – I find the angst is gone. I’ve done my part. I’ve stood up for myself and communicated. I did the right thing. Invariably, the recipient of my brand of righteousness has become the furthest thing from my mind, as I’ve become so preoccupied with the process of deciding and preparing, and the anxiety of what I’m doing, that the anger, or frustration, or disappointment – or whatever drove me to this in the first place – has become utterly muted.
Theoretically, this should mean that with every confrontation, I grow to be more bold, more confident. And maybe one day, it will. For now, though, my strong sense of pride, and awkward sense of empathy towards others – even those who’ve done wrong by me – will continue to do battle every time something is seemingly over without my consent. I will still cling to the airs of Cool, Calm, Collected as often as I can. But when time fails to prove you the fool, well, then, I suppose that’s where I must come in.
I don’t know where the sunbeams end and where the starlight begins… It’s all a mystery.
The Test Is Over.
27 February, 2010
A somewhat defeatist cafe patron who often recounts to me his tales of woe as a 40 year old man trying to navigate the dicey waters of New York City dating recently mentioned the New York Times Book Review of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” by Lori Gottlieb. Together, he and I cringed at the review’s listing of the author’s impossible standards as she endeavored to find “The One,” the perfect man, the one with whom she would fall hopelessly and devastatingly in love the moment they met. Ms. Gottlieb, on her quest for lasting love and happiness, wanted someone who was “creative but not an artist,” someone “talented but humble,” someone not too short (must be taller than 5’10”) but not too tall (must be shorter than 6’0″). According to the review (I haven’t read the book, and most likely won’t), the book recounts the plight of many a picky urban, single woman and then encourages them/us to do what I would call “expand your horizons” and what the book calls “settle.” Lower your standards, the book seems to tout, without offering even the courtesy to shroud that idea in euphemisms like “deviate from your checklist.” You may not find Mr. Perfect, but maybe you’ll find his second-cousin, Mr. Convenient and Willing. Because, let’s face it, you’re not getting any younger. In an article Ms. Gottlieb wrote for The Atlantic in March 2008 (setting the stage for this book), she poses what she believes is “… one of the most complicated, painful, and pervasive dilemmas many single women are forced to grapple with nowadays: Is it better to be alone, or to settle?”
I’m sure you’re all answering this question for yourselves right now. And I doubt that your response matches that of Ms. Gottlieb: “My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”
As the four or five loyal readers of this blog may have already guessed, this argument and book nauseate me. On the one hand, it offends the romantic in me, on the other, it offends the pragmatist in me. How can women ever expect to find any sort of happiness or love when their attitude towards their mate begins as – and remains – settling? How damaging to your own self-esteem! How hugely unfair to the man for whom you’ve settled! What a waste of time, effort, affection and emotion! And how is marrying based on “great expectations” suddenly the best-case scenario?
Is it better to swap the lament of the Single Woman for the boredom of the Settled Woman? The book seems to argue “Absolutely yes!” whereas I reply with a resounding “HELL, NO!”
Perhaps anticipating reactions like mine, the Times’ review closes by offering that Gottlieb didn’t “lower” her standards – she changed them. That, readers, is a load of bullcrap. When you’ve lived with your list, your standards for as long as Ms. Gottlieb did, use whatever nomenclature you’d like, but the very nature of “settling” automatically implies that standards have been lowered, that you’ve opted to no longer pursue your ideal, that you’ve essentially given up on the things you wanted. Even when those things are ludicrous and pretentious, at least they’re yours. And – it’s clear from the demographic of the subjects in the book, as well as Ms. Gottlieb herself – the standards are not being ‘changed’ so that empty-handed painters are now in the running as potential mates; they’re being ‘changed’ so that the 5’6″ investment banker now has a chance whereas previously he’d have been written off as too short. And this is all predicated on the notion that settling has precious little to do with love – it’s only about marriage, the holy matrimony of social rank and shared benefits. In her piece in “The Atlantic Monthly,” Ms. Gottlieb lists marriage as the end-goal, the place we all strive to get to, the status that we all want, that defines us and will make us happy. Gottlieb tries to cleverly reveal the fact that she believes most single women know, deep-down, but deny: that we’re closing ourselves in by being too demanding of what we want out of partnership, and that this finickiness is mostly an excuse to ourselves for why we’re not married yet.
I reject that completely.
My inner-romantic (certainly my more substantial side) hates what this book preaches because, frankly, I feel I can easily debunk it as malarkey: I know that I am an incredibly picky woman, yet my list of “musts” has little to do with height, profession or astronomical sign. In fact, my checklist consists of exactly two things, my Two Cs:
I’ve engaged with men whom I haven’t felt the slightest presence of either of those two elements, and it wasn’t hard to let those embryonic relationships fizzle away to nothing. I’ve met several people with whom I’ve felt a strong pull of compatibility, which wakes me, helps remind me how it feels to be alive. (I’m not so nearsighted as to claim that I’m willing to give-it-shot with anyone, for the sake of seeing what develops. I’m well aware that part of the compatibility I’m seeking most likely entails some kind of like-mindedness in demographic or lifestyle, but I’ve seen that there’s leeway for a healthy amount of diversity there, as well.) As for chemistry, in my experience, it has never existed on its own; the very presence of chemistry indicates a huge potential for compatibility. I know it’s not always that way, but I’ve been lucky enough, I suppose to have met a few men – two? three? – with whom I feel the real magnetism of both compatibility and chemistry. These experiences have given me faith that it’s absolutely worth it to wait for the person who meets both ‘requirements’ on my ‘checklist.’ And I refuse to accept that my long-lived singleness is due to ‘impossibly’ high standards; nor do I accept that for my own happiness, it’d ever be worth it to change them.
I say this because there have been a few people with whom there really was/is a profound compatibility, and a strong potential in wait for what (could have) lay in store for a future relationship. We were both aware of it, the undeniable attraction that made our encounters fun, exciting and invigorating. A few times (more so recently, I hate to admit – perhaps because it feels like I’m ceding something to the aforementioned book), I’ve really tried to convince myself that it’s possible for a great compatibility to blossom into chemistry. But, as I’ve been reminded each time, no amount of wishing or hoping can create what’s not there. Attraction grows, compatibility intensifies, the ‘fit’ of two people becomes increasingly comfortable – but trying to generate chemistry is like trying to make a dollar out of ninety-nine cents.
Still, all that trying feels worth it, sometimes, because that chemistry that I hope we do all strive for produces an indescribable high, so good and warm it cannot be rivaled. The last time I felt it, a single kiss made my heartbeat radiate from head to toe, as the room spun around us and I was aware of everything and nothing all at once. What bliss – I can only imagine – to have access to such intensity every day! Why would any one want to lower their standards to deviate from that ideal?
Beginning with my first real relation-whatever-you-want-to-call it, I started getting more specific in what I wanted (the phrase “rock star” popped up on my list at the tender age of 20). Some years passed and I got what I thought I wanted. It took almost no time to see that the relationship was thoroughly dysfunctional and my rock star bore the emotional maturity of a 14 year old. I amended my list. A little while later, I thought I’d serve myself well by articulating the things that I most certainly didn’t want (based on experiences ranging from not-so-good to downright very bad). I narrowed down these “off limits” to actors and bartenders. A few years later, that came back to bite me in the ass like a bad joke, more than once in the form of an actor/bartender (inevitable in New York City; I was only fooling myself). But their stories, while hardly great romances, weren’t anything like the ones that had prompted my “off limits” list, and so, again, the list was revised. It’s now returned its original form: the Two Cs.
Frankly, I’ve invested too much time in holding fast to my ideals to abandon them. To settle, as Ms. Gottlieb is encouraging me to do, would cheapen and discredit the self-discovery and self-realization that I’ve lived through during my very single 20s. Given that, you can understand my rage at Gottlieb’s sentiment that the woes of being single in your late 30s & 40s can be avoided by settling earlier, rather than later. Wretched middle-aged dating, she argues “…supports my argument to do it young, when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger—as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods.”
Good lord. How could anyone take her case seriously when she essentially warns that if you don’t settle “early” (thus ruling out the slightest potential for a greater connection, but increasing regret exponentially), you’re signing yourself up for, at best, a half-assed matching of weary baggage? I feel that she’s actually made a rather strong case for staying single – when the alternative entails trading your battered emotional soul for someone else’s equally miserable company. And while I’m not against marriage, I certainly hope that I’ll never jump into it (with someone I’ve ‘settled’ for, no less) just because it seems like the time to do so.
In the “Atlantic Monthly” article as well as the Times’ book review, there is acknowledgment that settling can seem like a rejection of the feminist values that so many before us fought for: the freedom to choose fulfillment from work and other pursuits as opposed to just motherhood. Gottlieb claims that her stance is aligned with the new post-modern feminist, that it is an active choice to select who we want to ‘settle’ with. After choking on a “WTF?!,” I must point out that there is still this huge assumption that marriage is not a choice, but rather an imperative, or worse, an absolute. Gottlieb argues that marriage is the definite, but the spouse does not have to be; that for those of us who are single past our early 20s, marriage is the necessity, love is the luxury. This notion makes me throw up in my mouth a bit. Marriage is a luxury that the government provides to certain pairs of people who file for it; last I checked, love didn’t require paperwork. How did our ideals get so utterly and horrifically confused?
I’m sure someone could argue that my two “requirements” are too broad, that they’re impossible to ever have to renege on because they’re too vague and abstract. I don’t mind saying that when it comes to compatibility and chemistry, either on their own or together, I know it when I see it, and that’s good enough for me. These two things are so personal, so unique that finding the person who meets both requisites is just as rare as, say, finding that 5’11” creative, talented, humble, financially comfortable and emotionally stable professional who lives within a four-subway-stop radius and/or a $10 cab ride.
To that end, I’ve got some advice for Ms. Gottlieb’s readers, the women whom, I’m guessing, endeavor to have their romantic lives mimic “Sex and The City” and then wind up unhappy with the real-life results. Reject settling. And don’t “lower” your standards so as to simply broaden the pool of potentials you’re willing to consider, as the book seems to advocate.
Instead, overhaul your standards completely: trash the notion that Mr. Right lives in a certain zip code and rakes in a certain salary each year. Do away with the limitations of height and shoe size. Starting with a fresh piece of paper, create your list to reflect how your Mr. Right should make you feel. We can acknowledge together that this list may change as time passes, it may change on a daily basis. But as long as it’s aligned with the truth, it will reflect the person that you are, and the person that you want to be with. Don’t ever compromise on that.
I have faith, and have seen proof, that, even if it takes time, the happiness you seek will find you, without having to begrudgingly redefine your notion of happiness. I believe that we can find a way to feel good about being single and that will engender – should the opportunity arise – feeling even better when we’re not.