For a few years now, when romance manages to find its way to me through the muck and mire of my maligned stars, it always seems to happen in the late fall (with very few exceptions). Romance, of course, is a pretty broad term, and could be further expanded to denote “any happening which results in me having a story about a guy.” But we’ll go with it, and perhaps consider revising the use of the word “guy” there…

November 2010 has fallen right in line with the past few years, bringing with it something that could turn out to be a relationfling and/or relationthing and is certainly a much-needed distraction. But the planets must be aligning in amorous trajectories; take a look at the romantic opportunities that have come my way!

Exhibit #1:  “A Very Nice Man Of Love”

Yesterday, I received this email in my junk mail folder. How dare you, Spam Filter, censor this message and endeavor to deprive me of “true love Matter’s A Lot.”??

How Are you today? And How About your Health? I Hope you Are fine
Well, My Name Is Miss Lizy Weah, I am looking for A Very Nice Man Of Love,
Caring, Honest, Matured, Understanding, And Of Good Character, then
After Going to your Profile on google. I Pick Interest In you, So I Will Like
you to Write Me On My E-mail Address ( )
for Me to tell you More About My Self, And As Well Give you My Pictures
Because Am really Looking for A Serious Relationship With you.Remember
that Age,Distance,Color,language,or Religion Doesn’t Matter,but true
love Matter’s A Lot .My Address Is ( ).
Yours New Friend

Oh, my. Where to start? The grammar alone has provided a few hours’ worth of entertainment for a geek like me, as capitalization issues haven’t seen this much action since e.e. cummings unknowingly created beat-twee (a new coinage by yours truly. I think it could have some staying power… thoughts?). Then, of course, there’s the content itself: the random and blatant plea for love. She Pick Interest In me, based on the falsity that public profiles as such even exist on Google. What strikes me is the fact that unlike so many other messages that wind up in the junk mail folder, Lizy here hasn’t bothered to ask for money (not outright, anyway), nor is she pushing illegal pharmaceutical knock-offs. She just wants A Serious Relationship With me. There’s a commercial on the air lately that says that 1 in 5 relationships these days begin online. Perhaps if Lizy is flexible enough (and it seems she just might be) to include “gender” to her list of things that Don’t Matter, she can become more than just Mines New Friend. (Internet protocol might dictate that I should have deleted her email address from my copying-and-pasting of her message, but, let’s face it, spam is spam and love is cruel that way.)

Exhibit #2: But what percentage of relationships start on the subway?

After a laaaaaaaaate night last night with some new old friends who seemingly have bionic livers, I boarded the subway this morning rather bleary-eyed for my weekly head-shrinking session. The fastest way to the Upper West Side office is to hop 3 different trains (fastest, of course, only if they come in rapid succession, which maybe happens half the time). Having begun on the F local, I took the A express and transferred again to the C local for the last 3 stops of the journey. I took an end seat on the old hard plastic gray bench of the C train, next to a portly black woman, probably around 40 years old, very neatly dressed in a black wool coat and a scarf that had something sparkly on it. Being hungover and significantly sleep-deprived, I noted this, but needed to concentrate my attention on my iPhone sudoku game, in which I was embarrassing myself by needing an extra 4 minutes from my usual time to complete the puzzle. Ubiquitous little white earbuds fed soothing indie pop into my head and also functioned as anti-social attention-blockers.

“Excuse me,” the woman with the sparkly scarf said.

I turned to look at her, and considered removing my MTA-issued scowl the way some people might remove a hat upon walking inside. (I think I decided against it.) Still, I made eye contact as a response to her request for attention.

“Would you like to exchange phone numbers?” she quietly and rather politely inquired.

Confused, I immediately gave her the benefit of the doubt that the music I was listening to had obstructed what she had really said. I tried to run through a few alternates of what she could have spoken, but all I could come up with was “Maybe she said, ‘Do  you want to exchange phones?’ because she sees mine and it clearly has a fun sudoku game on it.” But I wanted to exchange phones even less than I wanted to exchange phone numbers.

So I shook my head “no.”

She gave a slight nod, then said “OK.”

She turned her gaze to straight ahead, and I returned to the game I was losing to myself.

Was she, like Lizy, simply looking for Love wherever she might find it? Could she have had any other motivation in asking for my phone number? Is it that she simply wanted a new friend to play sudoku with? Is there a vacancy for puffy-eyed, scowl-wearing brunettes in her life that she’s trying to fill? Does my very aura seem so interesting and attractive that she simply needed to see me again? Was she conducting a social experiment, and I’m going to read about my response in “New York” Magazine next month? Did she like the way I smelled? (Thank you, cloak of body spray, for obscuring last night’s debauchery.) Should I have exchanged numbers just because that was the most random thing that might happen to me for a while? (Last time I embraced something because it was entirely random, I wound up on a nationally syndicated TV talkshow. No, irony of that happening to this blogger is not lost.) Should I have agreed to it because now I’ll never know what she really wanted with me? I hope I didn’t just throw away the winning lottery ticket.

Exhibit #3: A low-key 1st-and-a-half date in which, thankfully, no declarations of love were made.

I wonder if I should tell this new-guy-of-note that he is facing major competition for my affection, but the fact that he at least belongs to the gender that I am attracted to is situating as the forerunner of this race. Last night, we sat through a ridiculously bad-but-free movie that was filled with unnecessary nudity and sex scenes – plenty awkward for a 1st-and-a-half date, as you can’t help but wonder if you’ll ever know that kind of intimacy with the fellow sitting next to you, and what it might be like. Still, it was nice that we thought the same snarky and cynical thoughts about the action on screen, freely commenting on them to each other, and whispering “Me too!” throughout the film. Sarcasm is often the best riposte to sexiness.

To protect against second-rate piracy of the second-rate film, the people who organized the screening held everyone’s cell phone for the movie, which was rather totalitarian and useless, seeing as how lame the movie was (there’s nothing one could get from the two-hour movie that they couldn’t have gotten from watching the two-minute trailer). But the cell phone requisition made meeting up with my date in the crowded theater a bit of a to-do, as I sent no less than four text messages instructing him on how to find me, then revising that plan, then revising the revision, then changing the plan altogether. That was before I realized I could hand over my cell phone, get seats and then just wait for him in the lobby – we ultimately met up without a hitch.

The highlight of the movie-going experience was when someone in the audience shouted “Get her a doctor!” We thought that she had somehow managed to get really into the movie, and was shouting to the apathetic characters on screen – but it quickly became apparent that there was someone in the audience who required urgent medical attention. A theater full of would-be do-gooder New Yorkers, myself and my date included, jumped to their feet and reached into their purses and pockets… but since everyone’s cell phone had been confiscated, no one was able to call for help.

Cell phones: They’re not just for sub-par film piracy anymore.

They’re for receiving email love propositions, exchanging phone numbers with random women on the subway, and, yes, legitimate and necessary communication – such as making calls to 911.  Cell phones now seem as integral to my love life as the falling leaves and imminent winter.



Summer Reading

8 June, 2010

What literary trends are filling the minds of young women in New York?   As recently seen clutched in the hands of City denizens, there’s more to the library than “Twilight” and Dragon Tattoos…

  • On the subway this past weekend, a woman walked on reading a paperback of “Homo Thugs.”  At last!  I’ve finally found someone who’s just starting the series… I’ve seen two people reading “Homo Thugs II” in the past few months, and was disappointed that I had never seen the original.  My fellow subway rider was seemingly engrossed in the rather thick book, so I could only sneak surreptitious glances at the awkward cover image.
    • As I wrote the above bit, I decided to Google “Homo Thugs II” to see if there was a subtitle that I was missing, something along the lines of “Homo Thugs II: Thugz in Tha Citay” or, of course, “Homo Thugs II: Electric Boogaloo.”  While I found no such subtitle, I did come across a mind-bending definition of the phrase, courtesy of UrbanDictionary:  “Homo Thug:  someone who is both gay and a thug.”  Wonderful.  Just in case you didn’t know what “homo” meant.  This is why the masses should not be responsible for research material.
      • In performing my Google search, a gotta-love-’em Google “smart” banner ad popped up along side my search results:

        My prayers have been answered.

        My prayers have been answered.

      • I’m forced to wonder if stipulating “Gay Homo” implies something of a double-negative, and thus would those just be straight thugs (although I know they’re not)… or is it more of an exponential concept, wherein a Gay Homo is doubly Gay, as compared to either just “gay” or just “homo.”  Perhaps this ad is for people who have not read the Urban Dictionary definition, and do not know that homo (in this context, of course) actually ‘means’ gay.
        • Sorry to disappoint, but no, I did not click on the link, for fear of what would come up while I’m at work.  But please… feel free.  Godspeed, Gay Homo Thugs.
  • While walking back to my office today after my customary Diet Coke Break (found a crappy bodega selling it at $1.25 for a 20 oz. bottle in Chelsea!  Hallelujah!), I passed a woman clutching a book, and tried to glimpse the title.  I saw the first part of the title “Why Men Love…” but couldn’t make out the rest.  I quickened my pace to try to figure out what pearls of wisdom this woman was learning about the gender from Mars.  While the first three words of the title were written in a black serif font (very Times New Roman), the following word was obscured by her hand, but I could see was done in what looked like a fairly standard (read = ugly) handwriting font, in bright red.  I made out a “t” in the center of the word, and what looked like an “h.”  The word ended in an “s.”  Yes!  I had figured it out.  Of course.

    They have mommy-issues?

    What I really wanted to know was:  was this avid reader trying to figure out why men didn’t love her (assuming she is not a bitch), or learning how to be a bitch, so that she can find a man to love her?   Was she a Doormat or a Dreamgirl?

    • Needless to remind you, dear readers, that I have a whole host of issues with this book, based on, for starters, the ridiculous cover design and subtitle.  And that’s before I get started on the content.  (… of which I do not know, but I don’t have to stretch my imagination too far to figure out.)  Seems to me like this should just be combined into one Mega-Volume of Bullshit and Idiocy entitled: “He’s Just Not That Into You, You Crazy Bitch.”  Or perhaps it’d be more accurate as “He’s Just Not That Into You Because You’re Not A Bitch.”
    • I wonder if there’s an equivalent volume out there for men, called “Why Some Crazy Ladies Love Jackasses… and why that still doesn’t make it OK for you to act like one.”
    • I think the same advice goes for either gender and any number of orientations and preferences:  You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.  And while we can argue about the desirability of attracting flies, at least you’ve attracted something.  Yes, I know that Nice Guys (and Gals) tend to Finish Last.  But that, to me, seems hardly like an excuse to act like a Jerk in hopes of Finishing First.
      • Revision:  I take that back.  Yes, go act like a Jerk.  The Jerks and “Bitches” can partner up right away, thus making it infinitely easier for us Nice Gals and Guys to find one another, resting in the safety that the Vinegar-types are off the market.
    • Back to the book:  I do hope the young woman who was reading it finds what she’s looking for.  I just highly doubt that she’ll find it in such a tome.  And if that doesn’t work out…

I suppose it just makes a stronger case for becoming a Homo Thug.


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.

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.

On Loneliness

4 December, 2009

A few weeks ago, while having a casual conversation about the nature of confused yet platonic relationships, a friend remarked “Everybody’s lonely.” He offered this without irony, without sadness, simply assuming that this is a fact, an integral part of the human condition, as natural and non-negotiable as needing oxygen to breathe, as certain as death and taxes. Our conversation twisted and turned from there, as conversations in bars tend to do, but later that night, at home alone in bed, those two words floated back into my head. “Everybody’s lonely.”

Of course, this is nothing new to me. I’ve held hands with loneliness long enough that, at times, I view the world in degrees of disconnect rather than love, connection, partnership or camaraderie. But something about how my friend had said it – was it his tone? his off-handedness? his confidence? – rang in my ears. Perhaps, too, that phrase resonated with me because this friend, in describing “everybody,” was really allowing me a small glimpse into his own emotional core… and it looked a lot like mine. I fell asleep thinking that try as we might, loneliness never truly leaves us.

A week or two later, I enjoyed the type of evening where being with someone made me feel safe – if only temporarily – from the long arms and tight grasp of the immeasurable beast called loneliness. I spent the next few days thinking that, even if we are destined to each be lonely, the relatively small moments of connection really do make the rest of the ride more palatable. Feeling confident about my prospects for a more tenable future, then, loneliness seemed like a harmless yet permanent mark that maybe we’re all just born to wear, but not endure.

Sandwiched in between then and now, I saw the new film “A Single Man,” a visual delicacy directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, exercising his right to the American dream. I won’t weigh this blog down with a review, but the movie can essentially be broken down as follows:
Act I: We all die alone.
Act II: We may not necessarily go through life alone, but we still all die alone.
Act III: We all die alo – wait – wait, do we? Maybe not! Maybe there’s hope after a – oh, no, no, we do still all die alone.

My initial reaction, as I’d seen the movie through confident and relatively sanguine eyes, was “Well, no need to be so depressing!” I would’ve gladly endured an ounce of Hollywood’s conventional optimism to not have the ending of the film so absolute, so final in its commentary on the solitude of death.

As hours passed and I digested the film and what it had to say, my friend’s small comment floated back into my conscious mind, and the past few weeks came full circle and secured by something that felt like a rock solid truth: Everybody’s lonely.

My friends in confused yet platonic relationships are lonely. Hell, all of my friends are lonely. My coworkers and customers are lonely. Bar-stool philosophers are lonely. Tom Ford is lonely. I’m lonely, too.

Sometimes, we cling to this – there is an odd safety in holding on to loneliness – it crushes you slowly, which is often preferable to the acute pinch of heartache. Most of the time, we search for a distraction, or we try to cope together – something akin to huddling together to stave off the cold, rather than giving up and lying prostrate, waiting to be consumed by that thing we’re all afraid of.

I don’t write strictly of the Single Condition. There are hundreds of social and emotional units by which to measure loneliness and/or its more positive sibling, satisfaction. And while I don’t believe we can ever fulfill all of those measures, I also don’t believe that loneliness is something we’re all destined to suffer with. Like aging, indeed, like death and taxes, it’s true that loneliness will eternally ride with us through life. But I see a virtue in that, a kind of reassurance that no matter what we are or who we’re with, we’ll always be searching for something more, not to replace what we’ve got, but to add to and enhance it.

Many years ago, I discovered the difference between being lonely and being alone. To me, it’s similar to the relationship between being alive and living. Being lonely, being alive – these are the permanent conditions. Being alone, like living, is not guaranteed, but exists in moments that come and go, come and go. Just as we are not always really living, we are not always alone.

I’m still learning to understand how everyone deals with their own loneliness. What do my sisters’ boyfriends offer them that my sisters have chosen them as their partners? Why does an old flame seemingly derive so much pleasure from being alone? What safety does a friend find in setting impossible criteria for her potential mate? Does having more options, more lovers, more stories result in being less lonely? What type of relationship do I need to find in order to keep my own loneliness-demons at bay?

So is the best we can hope for to trudge towards that lonely death hand-in-hand, to share the awkward journey? Maybe. But if we endeavor to fill our lives with happy things – people we like, fulfilling hobbies, pursuit of a satisfying career, faith in something – anything, good books, real cinema, every now and then an indulgent movie, polka-dot dresses and matching shoes, music in its myriad shapes and sounds, someone who makes us feel wanted, someone who makes us feel loved, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, George Clooney – we may come to understand that to tame the loneliness monster is not to fight it, but to live with it.

PS: Another cute new movie recently out, “Up In The Air,” has Mr. Clooney reminding us, again, that everyone dies alone – except, he offers cheekily – for “the people in the cult, with the sneakers and the Kool-Aid. They didn’t die alone.” Food for thought. Thanks, George.

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.