This was the text message exchange that got me to Flatbush, Brooklyn on a rainy Sunday night when I should have been tucked away at home with a pot of tea, a bottle of gin, and a grant application due three days later.
I had been invited out by a German data privacy lawyer I had right-swiped on and who I will hereby refer to as Konig. We were going to travel together to Flatbush, Brooklyn and the absolutely gorgeous Kings Theatre to a screening of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” followed by a Q&A with John Cleese.
We had moved pretty fast from swipe to date, but my right-swipe had not been immediate. Konig was a dead ringer for the Admiral, my Ex (with a capital E), and that made me uncomfortable.
At some point in my early days studying French, a teacher forced my class to sit through an adaptation of “Les Miserables” which implied that the stories in Hugo’s novel were the only stories that existed and ever would exist in the history of mankind. It was very French. However, that idea stuck with me and I’ve sort of translated it into a dating theory: if you’ve been single long enough, you will have two, maybe three “great” romances that play on repeat, in mild variation over and over again over the course of your unattached life. The Admiral and Frank Hampshire are absolutely those for me.
Besides the physical similarities between Konig and the Admiral, there were other similarities that amused me. Their shared interest in film was one, but isn’t everyone into film? They shared the same birth order with the same number of siblings, with the same genders in the same order. They both earned their first Masters degrees from the same uni in London, only a couple of years apart. They belonged to the same young museum patron program. They both took suiting seriously, though this is where Konig had the upper hand — he was the most beautifully dressed man I had ever met. There were perhaps other similarities, but this is enough… you get the picture. Before I’d even met Konig, I was afraid I repeating history and would once again receive a flunking mark.
Prior to meeting him, in the hopes of settling some of my nerve I did a little social media due diligence. MISTAKE. I stumbled on a relationship past that made an eyebrow raise — a blue-eyed Ex named Cat who was also a fencer. That’s where, as far as I can tell, the similarities between myself and his Ex with a capital E end (she’s a 5’11 runway model.) Every picture I saw of them, he looked madly in love. I wondered, would this be an issue?
It was a treacherously rainy Sunday night. The kind of rain that not only soaks you to the bone, but renders street lines completely invisible. I got pulled over on the drive home for trying to drive straight from a left turn lane. Konig and I said good night after a couple of hours of lively conversation that book-ended the screening. He was the first person I’d met who got as excited as I did about the Seagram’s building… We made plans to see each other the night before he was set to leave for a month in Europe.
And then he cancelled. It was complicated, he said. He could explain more if I wanted, but he didn’t think it was wise for us to move forward.
In a nod to Carrie Bradshaw… I couldn’t help but wonder:
While the similarities we find between new prospects and loves past may only be surface deep, does our awareness of them affect the way we allow the relationship to develop? Had I been superimposing the less admirable traits about the Admiral onto Konig because of a shared surface level biography? Was he doing the same with me? Were we both looking for better variations on a theme, only to find it was better to explore an entirely new tune?
We were standing on the corner of Houston and Allen Streets. We had covered the entire west side and a good portion of the lower east side. My feet didn’t hurt, my hair still had a few good hours left in it, but the mist was beginning to turn to rain — a signal perhaps that it was time to call it a night.
Should we lyft, subway, or splurge on a yellow cab? Red asked.
I looked around. Houston was uncharacteristically jammed with “ready to hire” cabs. I answered the question by hailing one and said the fare was on me.
Red and I had talked freely all night, and continued to swap stories, each of us sitting as close to the windows and away from each other as possible. Like two kindergartners who were afraid of catching cooties.
As was my luck, I had picked a cab with one of those drivers who decides to pop-in on your conversation, then shares his life story, then offers you advice. He was wearing a powdered blue suit. He had class.
Are you two married?
Ha! No! We both replied.
Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Nope. Again, in unison.
Then Red: We’re friends.
We both remained silent and looked out the window. Our hazy night was reflected back to me in the silhouettes of NYC’s buildings zipping past.
Your date is so seeeeexxxxy! Red’s friend Leanna drunkenly announced when we dropped in on her Cinco de Mayo party. Keeeep herrrrrr!
Marry her! Another random party-goer said to Red when I sourced ladles as shot glasses.
We looked the part of couple, but were d-level actors at it.
It was a second date that should have been a home run given the success of our first and a long list of shared interests. I hadn’t been this excited about someone since Clark Kent, the museum exhibition manager with the kryptonite touch from the summer before. This one felt written in the stars. And yet, everything fell entirely flat. We were having a good time, but we would have been having a good time whether or not we were with each other. We were out together, but not really together.
The man should chase the woman, our dapper taxi driver said at one point.
It was perhaps his wisest remark of our northbound drive. I had quasi chased Red, and while I don’t believe in following all the standard rules of engagement in love and lust, experience had taught me to let the man take the lead.
Outside his apartment he gave me a firm hug.
I like you. I had a great time. You’re really sweet, but I don’t think we have much in the way of chemistry.
No. It seems we don’t.
We have a lot in common, and we should totally keep in touch.
Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
As I walked to my car, I remembered I had a two-bite brownie in a hidden pocket of my purse. I sat in the driver’s seat. Cranked up some Beyonce. Ate the brownie in four bites, then drove off into the rain.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a sucker for a well-formed bicep. Some will try to convince you it’s for tattoos or beards, floppy hair or gingham, nerdy bespectacled types or architects. And while they may be right (depending on the season), show me a good set of arms (ideally attached to broad shoulders) and I’ll pass along my card… every time.
But then again, I’m just like most women, who according to a survey run by the oh-so-expert “journalists” over at Muscle & Fitness ranked arms and shoulders among a man’s 10 sexiest body parts (I think the only body parts omitted from this list were ears and toes.)
M&F writes on behalf of women everywhere: “Strong arms signify a man’s ability to protect a woman—and, inadvertently, his ability to lift her up…”
Captain Marvel picked me up then lifted me up at a wine bar in my neighborhood.
I had just hosted a career panel for teenage girls, moderated by a politician and decided my Gallery Assistant, LoHo and I needed a drink. With my male coworker at my side and dressed in a blazer, button down shirt, and skinny black tie, I looked more like a missing Beatle than a girl looking for a date, but what I learned that night was that some men really do love a woman in a power suit.
Captain Marvel sauntered into the bar. He was hard to miss — besides his physique, he a veritable Clark Kent transformed into his superhero alter ego, with jet black hair, and black plastic-rimmed glasses tucked into the neckline of a Superman t-shirt. He shimmied onto a bar stool and was joined by two more broad shouldered “bros.”
LoHo disappeared to the little boy’s room, and then Captain Marvel made his move.
“So, yo, is that your boyfriend?” (imagine a voice very much like Sylvester Stallone’s.)
“That’s a little forward, don’t you think?… No. He’s my coworker.”
His arms were the size of my head.
“Good, cuz ya know, I wouldn’t want to move in on another guy’s girl. I mean I figured he was gay, but ya know, ya never know.”
“He’s not gay.”
“Has he hit on you? Cuz if he hasn’t, he’s gay.”
“I’m his boss. That would be inappropriate.”
“Nah, I’d still make a go for it. What do you do, Boss Lady?”
I told him about the gallery and about why I’d been working late.
“So you like art?”
“Yea. So you like to work out?”
“Yea. Do you?”
“I do. You can clearly out bench-press me, but I can probably out squat you.”
He scanned me up and down, gave my bar stool a spin and then gave me an approving head nod.
“Have you seen Batman vs. Superman yet?”
“You should. I’ve seen it like, 3 times already. I’ll take you.”
“I mean, like, I get a 4-day pass every year, but I don’t, ya know, dress up or anything. I go for the costumes other people wear. Man, they’re art. I mean, real art. You’d totally dig it.”
Somewhere in this exchange, LoHo returned from the bathroom, allowed me to pay for his Peroni, and then left me to my own devices.
Captain Marvel proceeded to clarify the difference between DC Comic fans and Marvel Comic fans. At the time I’m pretty sure I was playing close attention, but I was probably mostly paying attention to the way his forearm bulged every time he went to raise his glass. I found him endearing and completely different than the guys who typically saunter into my life — ones who preferred philosophy and politics to pop culture. He was refreshing.
“I bet you think I’m stupid. Well, I’m not stupid. And I’m not just a bunch of muscles. I like museums and shit. In fact, I’ve been to like, every museum on the east coast. My favorite is the Museum of Natural History. Man, I go there like, once a month. I fucking love science.”
Captain Marvel walked me out of the bar. As a good-bye, he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder.
“Ok. I’m in. I’ll be your Lois Lane. You can call me,” I said, the blood rushing to my head as I dangled over his delts.
Captain Marvel and I met for a date a week later. At an All-American diner. He wore a Captain America t-shirt. He spoke plainly about being the youngest of 10 (“I mean, I’m the youngest as far as I know. My father was a jazz musician who traveled all over the world. Who knows. I may have like, 20 half-siblings.”) He asked me about where I went to school (“Someplace fancy, I bet”) but evaded similar inquiries into his education or his state of employment. He revealed his failed attempts at acting and modeling (“I was like, too immature for grown-up parts, and got suckered into some schemes”) but shared an instagram account that looked like he hadn’t given up hope of getting discovered (and that the only t-shirts he had were superhero t-shirts.) He told the story of the scar on his bicep (“I fell off my bike. It was no big deal, but then I started picking it”) and defended the patchy goatee he insisted on growing.
Again in the parking lot, he showed me the benefit of dating a man with giant arms and an incredible Hulk chest. He wan’t my usual cup of tea, but I’d see him again…
Not un-ironically a few days later I met Clark, a mild-mannered, side-parted, Warby Parker bespectacled museum administrator who shared my language of loan agreements and non-profit budgets. He listened to podcasts and was a former swimmer and soccer player turned cross-fitter. His touch could take me to another planet and his kyrptonite was a gin martini with a twist. He seemed like the superhero I didn’t know I needed.
Captain Marvel: “So babe, when am I seeing you again?”
“I’m sorry, I met someone else.”
“Can we at least hook up before you guys get serious?”
“Not that kind of girl.”
“Well, remember me for when you get tired of him and need some rescuing.”
After publishing this, I learned that Captain Marvel is in fact, a Marvel Comics character, and also a WOMAN (and will be played by Brie Larson in a movie set to premier in 2019.) Whoops. See, this was never going to work out between us.
There are a few things I’m used to hearing in a fitness group class. Bounce like you’re riding your favorite man is not necessarily one of them. In comparison, my spin instructor Dave tells me not to fear my best… now crank up that resistance!
Lasha, my pole dance class instructor, told me to slap my ass.
It was a Thursday night at fencing when I casually mentioned that I wanted to take pole dancing classes. My friend Madge was in ear shot.
“I’ve been taking classes at S-Factor,” she chirped. “For 10 years. I’ll take you one day and then when you’re hooked, we’ll have to get you a ‘naughty drawer’!”
It’s amazing what you’ll learn about your friends when you think you know everything.
If you’ve been a long-time reader, or if you’re a real-life friend, then you know my mother and you know she’s not your typical buttoned-up, “now, Kathleen, behave yourself,” kind of mother. On my 21st birthday, she bought me my first legal Gray Goose Cosmopolitan (and my second legal Gray Goose Cosmopolitan). Her recent relationship advice sounds like this: don’t go to his place on the 3rd date… show some restraint! Be a Lady. Wait till your 4th…and then make it worth it.
Madge was my designated chaperon, and after a flurry of email exchanges, we had settled on a Sunday afternoon.
I rode down to Chelsea, a neighborhood in the city I had watched transition over the years from shady, to “Gay town,” to “familyville,” to home of the High Line and tourist destination. Ambling down 23rd street, with the S-Factor address in my hand, I wasn’t sure what to look for. I’d made my way down this stretch of block before, but couldn’t recall ever seeing what looked like a pole dancing studio. The address brought me to a banal building entrance, sandwiched between a cupcake shop (YUM!) and a bodega/smoke shop. There was no real directory inside the lobby. Was I lost? Could this be any sketchier? This didn’t scream fitness. It screamed house of ill repute.
A pair of other twenty something with long straightened blonde hair and equally confused expressions slipped into the lobby.
“S-Factor-bound?” I asked.
“Yeap!” they replied, and together we figured out what floor and made our way to the elevator and up to the 3rd floor.
The minute the doors parted, a chorus of happy “hellos!” greeted us… along with a mannequin dressed in a g-string with neon pink fringe and light-up, 5-in stilettos.
This probably wasn’t what I was expecting but it was going to be awesome.
I walked into Studio B with Madge as my guide. It was like no other fitness studio I’d been in — there were no mirrors and the only lighting was a single dim spot light in the center of the room and a handful of lamps, draped with red cloths a la your stereotypical bordello. Three poles extended from ceiling to floor and in each corner was a large leather “lap dance” chair.
Clearly, more than my core was going to get a workout.
The class was one of the most liberating and physically challenging 90 minutes I’ve ever been through. Liberating, not because I was free to “feel my curves” or swirl my hips or “do whatever feels good,” but rather, because I had to trust my body to be strong enough to keep me in the air. Like most women, I have a difficult relationship with my body. There’s nothing more terrifying than wearing a bikini in public or taking off my shirt for the first time with Mr. New. But in the low light, with no glass to reflect back on me, and with an acrobatic task at hand, I had to let go of fears of judgement, of self-consciousness, and throw my feet off the floor, and twirl like the pretty, pretty (seductive) princess I wanted to be when I was 5.
I looked as hot as Demi Moore in “Striptease,” and there was no person or mirror to tell me otherwise.
The next morning, I ached all over, with bruises on my shins the size of bananas, self-inflicted from overly-aggressive approaches to the pole. Few workouts these days inflict any lingering pain. I was sold.
There are reasons to be skeptical about pole dancing your way to fitness. It’s not for everyone, even though I think every woman should try it at least once. Pole dancing is a “feminine movement” movement, not a feminist movement, per say. Taking to the pole is not about upended any power structure between the gaze and the subject of the gaze. There are no men allowed and no one is going to be stuffing dollar bills in my g-string in the near or distant future (even if the extra disposable income would be welcome… #alternativejobskillz.) It’s not about learning tricks you can bring home to the boudoir, or even about sculpting better abs — though, those are absolutely excellent perks that makes yoga seem soooo 2005.
It’s about not fearing your best, most beautiful, strongest self. I can’t imagine a better post-workout feeling than that. Now, make it bounce!
I’m not much of a techie or apster or webie (are those last two things? Let’s pretend they are…), so I wouldn’t have known friendster, the pre-cursor to facebook, is now one of Asia’s largest gaming sites. In my day, where MySpace was for budding bands and arts-types to gain a following, friendster was the way for the Everyman to reconnect, to connect, and to meet. I was 19 and a sophomore in college when I made my frienster account. Prompted, I’m sure by one of my guy friends in the engineering/comp sci program who told me “social media is going to be huuuuge.”
I was old enough to remember AOL chatrooms and AIM profile pages (both of which got me into a fair amount of trouble), and so was just the right amount of skeptical about such public access to my avatar identity (I’m not sure privacy settings were really de rigeur yet.) But I also acknowledged that this “social media,” whateverthehellthatwas, could be a useful tool to expand my network of friends beyond my dormitory and lecture room walls.
I carefully curated my profile page, selecting pictures that played down more of my youthful features (those chubby cheeks and that slightly crocked front tooth), and emphasized an urban co-ed persona. An interest in arts and culture meant that it wasn’t long before I had new connections across NYC… who were mostly male, and reasonably eager for companionship.
And this is the point where I note that friendster was also the pre-cursor to OkCupid.
Jon friended me fairly soon after my profile went life. He was a 29 year old graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School, studying composition. Already, he had scored a musical adaptation of a play by Moliere that was having an off-Broadway debut. This seemed promising. Older, creative, and on his way. We began a short exchange that lead to sharing phone numbers. He lived on the Upper Westside, in fact, in an apartment on 96th and Amsterdam, not far from my college neighborhood of Morningside Heights.
He called me to make plans.
If you’re new to online dating, a valuable piece of advice I can share is: make sure you speak on the phone before you meet. The phone is the most awkward medium of communication — if you two can find a way to swap ideas without facial cues, you’re off to a good start. Also, if he has any irregularities in speech, a lisp or a stutter, perhaps, it’s better to know about it before you’re face to face.
Jon had a soft, effeminate voice that border-lined on creepy. But he took the lead — for our first date, we’d have coffee at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a Columbia mainstay that was a stone’s throw from my dorm but also convenient for him — and that was appealing.
Confession: This date with Jon was not only my first internet-assisted date (even if it wasn’t a dating site that introduced us), it probably also qualified as my first real date. Like, as in, we’re not just friends or classmates going out and seeing what happens, but as in, here’s a guy promising to pay for my coffee because he’s shopping for a girlfriend.
I don’t know what was more intimidating — the fact that I had never actually seen this person in the flesh, or that I was going on my first first date.
To be on the safe side, I enlisted my then best friend and roommate Suki and our mutual friend Joanne. Their mission, which they chose to accept, was to be already stationed at the pastry shop. They were recon and undercover chaperons in case he was an ax murderer. We agreed on set hand signals that would relay “get me out!” or “I’m getting married!”
In person, Jon was as creepy as our phone conversation suggested. With nails longer and pointier than mine, and hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week, he more closely resembled a bearded vampire than a future great composer (Amadeus was pretty sexy with that lion’s mane.) Conversation moved smoothly, but it wasn’t long before I was send my MAYDAY! signals across the room to my girls — the signal telling them to call me and fake an emergency.
There was a pillar. They never saw me.
2 hours later, he paid for my coffee and I bid him farewell…
When he called me the next day to offer to take me to dinner, I politely declined. A few hours later, I closed my friendster account… and my MySpace account. I was done with social media for a while (a few months later, Facebook spread to all the Ivy League schools and I was quick to hop on the bandwagon), and it would be years later before I trusted the internet to play matchmaker.
I never joined a social media site to meet a lover just as I never started blogging to find a (rich) husband. And while Jon might have been an overall fail, I owe him and that whole experience a certain degree of gratitude. It dared me to take a risk with my social life… and always have back-up in plain sight.
Once upon a time, I impulsively dropped $75 on tarot card readings.
That’s right, in an 18 hour period, 2 different psychics had their way with me and the entire contents of my wallet. What, in God’s name, was I thinking?
At the time, I was broke, uninsured, verging on broken-hearted, and in serious need of a disinterested 3rd party’s reassurance that “Everything will be alright.”
I just didn’t plan to lose $75 for that reassurance. Luckily, neither psychic really told me what I wanted to hear.
The first reading happened at night, in the back of a French restaurant on red leather couches outside the restrooms. The psychic, (a man!), didn’t want to waste any time on assessing my career. After a flash reading, he determined there were no uncertainties there. I knew what I wanted, and it was only a matter of “when,” not if I ‘d get it. He looked at me sideways. “Tell me about the guy… he’s been around a while hasn’t he?”
I quickly related the story of the guy I met as a freshman in college, became best friends with, and accidentally and mistakenly fell madly in love with. After 7 years and dozens of close encounters, we were toying with the idea of becoming something more.
My psychic dealt the cards and though he slowly deciphered their placement and relation, he quickly painted an accurate portrait of the relationship between me and HIM. The slow build up. The intellectual underpinnings. The unbalanced emotions (“he’s the one that has all the feeling”). The punchline? Drop him. “You’ll have a long and stable romance, but you’ll lose something of yourself,” the psychic said. “If you leave him behind, as in drop him entirely from your life, you’ll get everything you really want.”
While I was less than satisfied the less than specific assurance about my career, I was devastated by the suggestion to drop the love of my life (up until then.) So of course, I sought a second opinion…
The next day I met my girl AB for lunch at Crema, a nouveau Mexican place on 17th street in the heart of Chelsea. In those days, Chelsea was still the original Hell’s Kitchen, home to the most beautiful beef-cake gay men and flamboyant drag queens. Crossing the street was the equivalent of perusing a visual candy store… but it was not the place to pick-up straight men making it the perfect neighborhood for a girls-only girl date.
It only took one bite of our flautas and 2 margaritas for me to convince her that we needed to have our palms read across the street, under the neon glow of a giant sign that screamed PHSYSIC. That day Madame was offering a deal: free palm reading with tarot.
I honestly can’t remember what she told me — she may have promised I’d meet my soul mate before the end of the summer or that I’d have a job offer tomorrow — but I do remember AB and I sitting in City Bakery an hour later, sharing chocolate chip cookie and wondering if we’d just been had.
We pooled our remaining cash (#brokegradstudents) and bought another cookie — for when in doubt of life’s next step, chocolate usually solves the problem more certainly than a foggy crystal ball.