On The Real Me

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.”

Whoa.

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.

Wherein I question my own indulgence of my guilty conscience.

In light of recent events that have more to do with proving other people wrong (my parents, no less) than actually garnering up some cojones and embracing my bold femininity, I’ve found myself rather aggressively (for me, anyway… baby-steps) pursuing romantic leads.   Of course, I’m well aware of the fact that success in proving-wrong will also result in success in my love life, and so it’s not exactly a chore.  But it certainly ain’t easy.

Two recent instances of pursuit created some internal conflict, because my desire to be daring and devastating (I am not opposed to the adjective “saucy”) was met with doubt regarding my approach, all because of some ill-defined notions of formalities and etiquette.

In one case, I met a feller in my professional realm.  I felt the spark of a crush nearly the moment I saw him, and 15 minutes later, had convinced myself we were meant to be together.  The fact that he lives in another country (albeit one I consider my second home, bonus!) and was leaving town the next day I considered to be only temporary hurdles, easily overcome by the power of our yet-to-be-discovered love.  Since we work in the same industry, and I opted to approach him as such.  I donned my proverbial Producer’s Hat and set out to “exploit my professional prowess.”  My initial congratulations and adulation towards his work was genuine, but … I did not jump through hoops to reach him just to talk about movies.  I wanted to talk about the adorable children we might have one day (yes, the crush hit me hard).

Thus far, my “exploitation” has been a relative-success, because I’ve managed not only to get in touch with him, but a handful of emails have exchanged with little time lost in between.  When it is my turn to write, however, I become completely caught up in the formality of the “professional” email.  How do I go from “I really enjoyed the complexity of your film” to “I think we’d make beautiful music together”? Or, from “tell me about the projects you’re working on” to “tell me about what you’re looking for in a relationship”?  I live in fear of the day there’s really nothing else for me to write other than “I like you.  I think you’re real cute.  Are you keen on a, erm, long-distance producing partner?”

Is there any way to naturally segue from the formal, professional email to the friendly and flirtatious?  How do I move from the kind of email that’s signed “Best regards” to kind that’s SWAKed?  Is there a way to do it without compromising myself, professionally?  Or, upon giving myself away as a crush-monger, must I abandon all sense of professionalism and risk losing the connection all together?

I hate risking losing the connection altogether, she whined.  Alas – sigh – such is boldness.

Not one to limit myself to just one possibility (for “when it drizzles, it sometimes rains” – the my-life equivalent to the popular rain/pour idiom), I decided last week to approach a new flirty friend with whom I get along really well (and who is almost obnoxiously good-looking) for a number exchange.  My decision do to so alone prompted much support from my friends, most of whom know me best as being shy to a frustrating and fruitless fault.

Once at the bar where, indeed, my hottie was also spending his evening, I proceeded to fortify myself with a few doses of liquid courage while reading into each and every interaction with him.  I was feeling positive about it, too, and decided to get an outsider’s take on things to test my confidence – a newly befriended fellow bar patron, who knew the object of my interest seemed like the perfect source.  “So listen,” I began to him.  “I’m kinda keen on that guy.  I think he’s been flirting with me.  I was going to ask him for his number.  Have you noticed any… vibes?”  My new friend shook his head, almost sadly.  “He has a girlfriend,” he leaked.

“Oh.  Poo,” I replied.  That put a kink in my plans.

I assumed, right then, that I’d take the route I normally do when disappointed about guys – sulk home and drown my sorrows in low-fat crackers and copious amounts of cheese.  (How two delicious things like cheese & crackers became my romantically un-satisfied go-to snack is somewhat beyond me.  It makes me a little sad.)  This night, however, I chose not to get bogged down in what I’d normally do, and in a very, very un-me-like moment, I approached my crush.  I told him of my plan to ask him for his number, and then of my newly-gleaned intel that he was taken.  “Is it true?” I ventured to ask.  He admitted this with a slow nod.  “That’s a shame,” I said.  “For me.”

The next day, I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to put that out there to him – after all, for as much as I’ve previously been a party to infidelity (although never knowingly), I feel like it’s not my place to actively entice you out of your relationship.  (If you just so happen to be enticed, well, then, that’s another story.)  I’m still not sure if that’s even what I did.  I let him know I was interested.  That’s a positive thing for me.  He let me know that he was off the market… a positive thing for him, I suppose.  Yet every now and then, a pang of guilty-conscience surfaces, as though I’d violated some single person –> not single person protocol.  I ease my concerns by harping on the enormous feat I felt I overcame by being honest with him.  There was, actually, a sense of maturity to our little moment, accompanied by a kind of mild intimacy.  It felt good… but would have felt better if I’d actually gotten his number.  As it was, he commented on how well we got along, how nice our conversations always are, and that we pretty much know where to find each other.  I leave the idea of “So should he ever find himself single…” purposefully unfinished in my head.

The way I see it, in addition to the attempt to prove my parents wrong about the activity of my romantic life, these experiences are part of the uphill battle of learning how to know who I am exactly, and know what it means to challenge myself.  Is it worth it to adhere to formalities for the sake of comfort, but not productivity?  If so, why don’t we just reintroduce bows and curtsies?  Can abiding by those formalities ever eliminate this creeping self-doubt that wafts in to your psyche and plants itself somewhere between your head and your heart – or would it only aggravate it?

Maybe it’s just like waiting on your bike for the light to turn green before making that left on to a traffic-less street.  It may be the right thing to do – but perhaps it’s just delaying getting you from point A to point B.

Fight Test

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.

More The Flaming Lips music on iLike

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:
• chemistry
• compatibility

That’s all.

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.

A few weeks ago, a regular customer at the bakery, more distracted than usual, asked me if I agreed that there is something seriously messed up with the New York dating scene.  Indeed, I agreed, wholeheartedly.  He inquired further – what irked me most about it?  Eeeek.  Where to start?  I immediately spewed out words and sentence fragments that I hoped began to communicate my feelings – “Casual” “Too picky” “Not picky enough.”  “Emotionally unavailable” “Expectations” “Too many people” “No one worthwhile” “Double standards” “He never even asked for my number!” “$*&@^÷¡*(@)!!!!!!!”

I mused on the topic for weeks, until a frustrating blip of an incident last week brought the true number one answer of that question to light:  These days, there is absolutely no precedence for closure.

No matter if the relationship lasts for one night or four months, not only do we covet that strange, innocuous zone of “seeing each other,” (which is singles-speak for “not serious enough that we ever have to discuss what we’re doing together”), but we also rely on the safety of the widespread societal acceptance that when we want things to end, we’ll just disappear and hope the other party gets the hint.  There is no explanation, no faux-apology, no “it’s not you, it’s me” – it’s just a slow death of a flame that had barely grown up from a spark.

I’ll be the first one to admit that – as early as 7th grade and as recently as six months ago – I’ve been guilty of occasionally avoiding closure at any and all costs.  By ending something, we’re forced to address that there was something there to end, and, sometimes, it’s just easier to instead treat our indiscretions as bygones… In fact, it may just be simpler to rename this part of dating “The Ellipsis Phase,” as it’s only a fragment of a relationship that ends without any definitive punctuation.

More often than not, The Ellipsis Phase can only be defined as such once it’s lost beyond repair.  Prior to that, if we’re on the losing side, we hold out hope that what’s a ‘casual relationship’ now actually may turn into something more significant, something more real. Then… nothing.  Then… the slow realization that although the story has seemingly ended, the book is filled with endless blank pages, waiting and waiting and waiting for The End which will never come.

I like to tell myself that this is some kind of Urban Devolution – that the dating game used to be more respectable, even One Night Stands bore more integrity than they do now.  But earlier this week, I watched the movie “John and Mary,” a film from 1969 starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, as strangers who spend the day after their one night stand together.  Back then, it was touted as “Not Your Mother’s Love Story!…,” a scandalous must-see.  In 2009, I watched it with a nostalgic eye, envious of the days when a relationship with real, live feelings could actually evolve from a casual encounter.  (Not that I have proof this ever happened – but between the movie and my own romantic imagination, I like to think it did, once…)  In the film, the pair is headed for the wishy-washy “let’s pretend this never happened” fate that often befalls random one-night encounters, but (spoiler alert!) neither party is content to let their oh-so-short-lived relationship fizzle out.  But it’s the frantic, panicked racing through the streets of New York that Dustin Hoffman’s character John goes through, regretting that he let Mia’s character walk out the door without so much as getting her name, that tells me, here on my couch today, that for decades, men and women have been driven to such frustration because we’re practically conditioned to let these indiscretions fall by the wayside without a second thought.

More difficult than pinpointing this lack of closure as a problematic issue is trying to figure out why it happens, why we allow it to happen, and any possible solutions.  Is it cowardice that keeps us from talking to one another?  Is it shame?  Or is it some twisted form of kindness, wherein we fool ourselves that rather than risk hurting the other person’s feelings, we’ll just let this thing run its course… Of course, that’s just our own veiled fear that it sucks to break it to someone “thanks, but no thanks,” and so we return to ‘cowardice.’  We hide behind that ellipsis, as the relationship trails off into love story never-never-land; banished into romantic purgatory.

I’ve often wondered if there is some kind of karmic balance to the number of times I’ve noncommittally left the door to a relationship open, hoping it will disappear and waste away sooner rather than later versus the number of times I’ve been left, frustrated, wondering “Why, why, what the hell happened there?!  I thought things were going great!” versus then the number of times I’ve sighed with relief that, clearly, neither of us were that willing to put forth the effort to keep the fledgling ‘relationship’ alive.  We are each capable of hurting someone to the same degree that we’ve been hurt, but this seemingly wide-spread acceptance of “who needs closure?” manages to take the sting out of hurting someone else while pouring some nice kosher salt on the wound caused by the disinterested party.

I’d love to bring closure to this entry to embarking on some kind of campaign to make communication acceptable again, to take the stigma out of conversation.  Realistically, though, the best I can hope for is that I’ll be more mindful of whoever I’m trying to let down “easy,” and maybe even go so far as to tell them the truth (gasp!) and end things properly.  And perhaps in cosmic return, there will be men out there who will let me close, once and for all, the stories and chapters of Them + Me.  Or, maybe, there will be  that one story that does not close, but, rather than ending in a hurt and confused …? grows into a profound and lovely !

Shades of Gray

24 March, 2009

They all start the same way; hesitantly, almost sheepishly:

“I know you didn’t like the movie, but…”

Invariably, I know immediately where this is headed.  My girlfriends are speaking of the Supreme-o Sack of Shit Sorry Excuse For A Motion Picture Waste of Money and Celluloid “He’s Just Not That Into You.” (Which is true only wherein “he” is actually “me” and “you” is actually “the movie.”  And for the record, I chose to go only to a free screening, for the purpose of better knowing thine enemy.)

“But,” my friends continue, their voices undulating with caring trepidation.  “I do think it is true that if a guy really wants to be with you, he’ll make sure that you know it; he’ll find a way to be with you; he’ll pursue you until he’s with you…”

For every girlfriend that has quoted me this admittedly well-intentioned piece of advice (the count is now nearing 5), that sentence trails off with slight variations.  No matter how you slice it, though, what they’re telling me is clear: Why bother fretting about if he’ll call, when he’ll call, when we might see each other next, what will happen when we do – when the fact that these questions exist in the first place indicate that he {gasp!} may… just …not… be… in …to …me.

First of all, I think that’s all bullshit.  But that’s another rant for another blog.

Second of all, I do happen to agree that if a guy has fallen head-over-heels for a gal, of course he’s going to go out of his way to make sure she is keenly aware of that; in that case, there will be no second guessing on what the next move may be.

But I pose that that makes the issue awfully black-and-white: either he loves you or he couldn’t care less about you.  What about the middle, all the shades of gray that exist betwixt those two?  I’m at a point in my life where I’m certainly not, in any way, opposed to the John-Cusack-In-Say-Anything type of out-and-out adoration (sing it with me: In Your Eyes…), but I’ve also found a way to be happy with relationships that (often times thankfully) fall short of that lurve.  With these less-intense relation-flings, I don’t expect a guy to shower me with the fairy tale, or go to any great lengths to secure my attention and affection.  With some of the men I’ve seen lately, there is absolutely no expectation to fall in love.  And that is fine by me.

I am a Libra, and a middle-child to boot.  I see both extremes at all times, and I can embrace them if I so choose.  But I tend to exist most often in the rather hazy and tormented middle ground, straddling the two sides of every issue.  If I’m having fun with someone, and we care enough to see each other again but are cautious about where any more-involved future may lie, then why can’t the relationship remain in the ill-defined gray area?  If whatever we’re engaging in is more than random but less than serious, isn’t all that matters whether or not we’re enjoying ourselves (and, of course, the consensus that we both agree on that)?

Naturally, this then opens the door – or leaves it open – for the above line of ineffective interrogation (although less frantically than the lame-ass characters in the Load-of-Crap  aforementioned movie): When will he call?  When will I see him again?  Why haven’t I heard from him?

It’s a process and a half, and I curse it more often than I accept it, but I am trying to teach myself to enjoy the ride without forcing questions that have no answer.  Would it be nice if someone took the guesswork out of it for me?  Of course.  Do I sometimes impatiently wait for the day when the man that I wan to be knocking down my door is actually knocking down my door?  You betcha.  Will all those nagging questions ever truly disappear?  Without a doubt, no.  Am I willing to give up on all the fun I’m having bouncing around the wide spectrum of ambiguous grays, from the darkest charcoal to the faintest silver?  Not a chance.

It sounds dramatic, I know.  Bear with me.

Most of the time, life follows the following equation:

ATTEMPT + NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES = DON’T TRY AGAIN.

You only need to stick your hand into a fire once to realize that you shouldn’t really do that anymore.  Lessons that I have taken to heart via this “learning the hard way” method include:

  • Don’t forget your wallet when you are driving to your very first job interview ever and have to pay a toll, and your parents haven’t gotten EZPass yet.  You will not be able to pay the toll, and you will sit on the side of the road crying, and then you will find out that they just give you  form to fill out so you can mail in the $2.85, and apparently, it’s not the hugest deal.  I’ve never again forgotten my wallet en route to a job interview.
  • Don’t forget your wallet when you are traveling to Paris for the weekend.  Especially if you’re with a few friends that you haven’t known for more than a month.  Take a good look around your flat in London – including underneath your bag – before you pick it up and walk out of the room without a second glance.  I’ve never again forgotten my wallet before an international trip.
  • Don’t ask someone out if you’re so nervous that your hand shakes as you try to write down their phone number, then try to pass off the shaking as the side effect of a new medication you’re taking.  Bad news all around.
  • Don’t get drunk and tell the guy that you’ve been hooking up with that, while you were on vacation, you let another dude kiss you, and it was awful, and then demonstrate to this guy just how bad a kisser the other dude was.  Whatever you do, do not let it slip that Bad Kisser Boy tried to kiss your ear and it almost made you vomit.

Seriously, it only takes one godforsaken slip to learn to never do that – any of that – again.

How is all of this relevant?  I believe that I have discovered perhaps the only instance where intelligent and socially adept women (I’m putting myself this category now, even if the previous examples should exempt me from it) continually try try try without learning learning learning.  It is the Trifecta of Seduction… and it will be attempted, and it will fail, every time.

1)  Shaving Your Legs (and Everything Else) In Anticipation of Someone Being Close Enough To Appreciate It

Perhaps the most common insurer of Failure of Seduction for any woman who is not a compulsive, daily, full-leg-and-then-some shaver.  I swear, that teensy bit of stubble behind your knee is the easiest way to tip the scales in favor of getting your pants off.  And most guys that I know, glad to be getting the pants off in the first place, are wise enough to not give a shit – or at least not mention it – in the event that they even notice.  And let’s call a spade a spade, it’s not like he waxed his backhair for you.

2)  Cleaning Your Place In Anticipation Of Someone Being Over (and Sober Enough To Appreciate It)

With every stitch of clothing put away, with every desktop paper tidied, you are taking that guy you want one step further away from ever seeing those clothes or that desktop paper.  I’m not encouraging living in a pig-pen here, and I think its always wise to at least make sure that dirty socks and underwear go in the hamper faster than other dirty laundry.  Even for those perpetually-neat people (who probably shave their legs-and-then-some every day), hiding that picture of your ex-boyfriend will probably keep the newer one further at bay.  Whereas, say, that book you have called “How to Have Spectacular Sex” being left on the floor after some solo bedtime reading the night before will almost ensure that someone ends up there to help test it out.

3)  Wearing Sexy/Cute/Your Favorite/No Underwear In Anticipation Of Someone Seeing Them (or Decidedly Not Seeing Them)

Do you see where this is going yet?  I hearken back to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and the rather clever (if only slightly exaggerated) bit about the granny-panties being discovered in the most awkward of ways.  But for all the awkwardness, we cannot forget that, indeed, the granny-panties were discovered.  Which meant dear old Bridget got luckier than the rest of the chicas out there who oh-so-carefully selected the lacy thongy thing so she could look sex-x-xy for the 3.2 seconds in between layer-removal where they might be seen at all.  Another reason to keep this lesson in mind is that, if you are wearing your favorite undies, or ones that are impossibly sexy, and you still wind up getting some, and your beau fails to notice just how amazing they are, you may be inclined to point them out to him.  And nothing, no, nothing is worse than saying “No, wait!  Look!  They glow-in-the-dark!”  You will get laughed at.  Really, the transition of pants, on → pants, off, should be a fairly seamless and relatively silent one.  And if you’ve chosen to do away with the panties all together, you’re likely just going to enjoy the nice breeze on your solitary walk home.  Nothing makes the universe laugh more than being a little presumptuous, honey.

Ladies, take note: if you have chosen to defy the Laws of the Universe that I have just laid out, and you have schemed and shaved and straightened and seduced, and he is touching the smooth legs, seeing the neat apartment, noticing the fancy undies (as they get tossed to the floor), bear this in mind:

There’s a good chance you’ll realize in the morning that you didn’t want him there in the first place.  Plus, he’s probably married.

Disclaimer: These rules, of course, do not apply to those of you in happy relationships or contented, regular hook-ups, or even those able to boast the certainty of a real date.  But they are indeed for those of us existing somewhere in that relationship-nether-region of “What exactly is going on here? When will I see you again?,” those of us who don’t have the balls to  just say “I like you!”, those of us who instead just continue to haunt the places that we know/hope/feel/think we may see the man who we’d like to appreciate the legs/apartment/undies, prepared for any eventuality – except for the one in which we go home alone.  We’ve all been there at least once.  And if you haven’t , you probably won’t be too enthralled by the rest of this blog.

Visual tools are necessary for learning:

Trifecta of Seduction

Trifecta of Seduction