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?
“How do you feel at weddings? Because I feel pretty fucking awful at them.”
Oliver was hungover and sitting in a Midwest airport, a few days after his 30-something birthday and the morning after a close friend’s wedding. He continued before I could answer, drawing a comparison to being 30 and single at a friend’s wedding to being 80 at a friend’s funeral. Suddenly you’re aware that you’re the one left behind — the loneliness is palpable.
“I love weddings. And I love flying solo at them,” I chirped in when he done with his melodramatic imagery. But then again, I had accepted the possibility of a life lived sans co-pilot. He was a chronic monogamist, who for as long as we had been friends (now more than a decade) was always pining for a wife.
Our conversation brought up a few memories…
Memory 1: When my best girl got engaged, I was terrified about how I would feel at her wedding. I expected to feel a mixture of sadness and jealously — both selfish responses to your best friend finding a happily ever after. I was present when she met her now husband, and as we all joke, I get to take some credit for their meeting (it was my idea to go to that bar, after all.) But there’s another way to tell the story: two girls walk into a bar. One walks out with a husband, the other with a hangover. I never think of it this way, but I was afraid that come her wedding day, I would. I was the only unattached bridesmaid, and wasn’t offered a plus-1. Would I feel all alone?
When the day arrived, I was relieved that all I felt was happiness — happy that I was there, happy that I got to be a part of the day, and happy that the friend who was like a sister to me was happy. (If I was starting to feel low, it helped that one of the groomsmen asked if he could take me to dinner one day…even if he was nearly 20 years older than me, and was rocking a soul patch… soul patches are unforgivable facial hair decisions.)
Memory 2: It was the middle of October and I was milling about the first floor of one of Amsterdam’s most luxurious department stores, stocking up on Christmas cards with yuletide greetings written in Dutch (because, of course.) A text message came through — my Ex with a capital E wanted to know what I was doing on Saturday.
Kat: Flying home from Amsterdam.
Ex: What time will you be back?
Kat: Why, what’s up?
Ex: I wanted to know if you were free to be my plus-1 at my sister’s wedding.
Kat: That’s rather short notice! Suddenly feel like you need moral support?
Ex: Don’t need moral support. Just want someone at my side who I would want at my side at these kind of important things…
I didn’t make it back in time to be his plus-1, but if he had asked me sooner, I would have been willing to book an earlier flight. Not because I wanted to fall back into the role of girlfriend, but because I understood.
When you’re single, other people’s weddings trigger complex emotions. We get a front seat in a real-life fairy tale, and that can inspire in us everything from hope to despair, happiness to loneliness. We can revel joyfully in the moment of the party, or wander aimlessly down memory lane, reliving all the relationships that could have made it to the alter. The ones that got away are specters that hang behind centerpieces and under place cards. For some singletons, all they need to weather that whirlwind of feels is a strong drink (or an open bar) and the right song to dance to (all hail the Wedding Singer!) Others meanwhile need a companion. My Ex and Oliver are of the latter. I’m in the group that hands them a drink and makes them join me in the macarena/hokey-pokey/electric slide. At least, that’s where I am for now.
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.
“Can I just get rid of these?” My mother turned around to show me a pair of scissors in a neon-green sheath.
They’re herb scissors, which are really just adapted ribbon cutters and sold to culinary tool junkies at a premium. They were a Christmas gift last year from my then boyfriend and were put to use at exactly one family gathering before being promptly relegated to a bottom drawer.
“They’re stupid. You can use a knife.”
Like the knock-off Pop Phone he had also given me, I decided these were fated for an afterlife courtesy of the Good Will.
This time last year, I was in a not so unserious relationship with Frank Hampshire, a nonathletic but good-humoured project manager. In early November, he started fussing over what to get me for Christmas. He was an online shopper — I mean, he bought EVERYTHING online, from pots and pans to couches, to dinner, to dry cleaning — and wanted to get his orders in early enough, in time to use any “frequent shopper” coupons he had earned since Black Friday the previous year (seriously, I’m pretty sure the guy will never have to pay for another dumpling again on Seamless.)
I had a fairly simply list. In fact, it included only one item: gold hoop earrings. I had mourned the loss of half a pair at a dance party at MoMA a year earlier, and missed having such a staple in my jewelry box. They didn’t have to be real gold, I said. I was sensitive also to budget, (even if his salary was exactly twice the size of mine), and to ease of access. So I gave him a list of 4 pair all that clocked in under $100 and all available at stores within walking distance from his apartment.
“I haven’t bought a girl a pair of earrings since high school,” he told me. “It turned out she didn’t even have pierced ears.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. My ears are pierced. Remember that time my earring got caught on your scarf?”
“Yea. No. Isn’t there anything else you want?”
So instead of earrings, I got a stocking full of nick-nacks — the sum of which totaled to well over the $50 of those Middle Kingdom Cylindrical Bead earrings I saw at the Met. A red Pop-Phone knock-off, a case of my favorite pens (Pilot Percise, fine), the aforementioned herb scissors, ear buds, a “fairy bottle” jump drive loaded with 2 pirated movies, Molton Brown Bath Gel in Pink Pepperpod, Kheil’s body lotion, and another item or two I can’t recall. 85% of the items were put to good use, and I suppose that meant I had won, even if I didn’t get my earrings. The herb scissors and the pens were supposed to be the thoughtful gifts — he knew I liked to cook, and sometimes we cooked together, and he knew I wasn’t allowed to buy those pens on my office account (too expensive for a not-for-profit pen.)
Gold (plated) hoop earrings were also thoughtful. But I suppose, that was too much of a meaningful commitment.
There’s a gigantic, golden hard-cover book on my nightstand, and it’s been sitting there for two years now. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present” was a 2012 Christmas present from my already-ex-boyfriend. We had broken up not even a month earlier and the gift exchange had been unplanned. We met for a fancy dinner as a way to usher in our new era as “just friends.” We split the bill. And then we surprised one another with “a little something.”
I knew he traveled and got painfully dry skin in the winter, so he got a bar lotion (with a manly scent) from Lush. I got the academic art-history meets sociology tome by a Columbia professor. His gift was absurdly thoughtful and meaningful. On our first date, he compared me to a Klimt painting, and when I opened the paper to see the cover, the significance of the subject didn’t escape me.
“You can read it so I don’t have to,” he said when I hugged him. “It’s too many pages.”
“There aren’t enough pictures.”
I made my way through the first 50 pages — there’s underlining and a note or two in the margins. Unlike the Pop Phone and the pens that have been lost or have run out of ink, it’s a less disposable gift. A metaphor perhaps for these two relationships past.
As a rule, I generally mistrust people who just meet me and decide they like me. You say you want to get drinks sometime? That we should go here or visit there? Why? What do you think I can do for you?
This is, of course, an unhealthy reaction, but it’s also the by-product of being in a position in life where people generally DO want something from you — like my economics problem set or a solo exhibition or access to myroladex or a no-pants dance party.
So, not surprisingly, when a date expresses interest to see me again tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, I balk. But unlike professional relationships, there’s more to it than a skepticism in the sincerity or intentions behind his enthusiasm.
Cut to scene:
I’m sitting on a corner stool at the counter at Diner, a vintage diner done slightly upscale in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, munching on northern-style southern-style fried green tomatoes, recovering from 3 hours of over exposure to glaring sun, swapping life and dating updates with JC, the requisite “big brother” figure every girl needs to have in her Little Black Book.
(Aside — if you’re a single female in Williamsburg, you have exactly 4 dating options: Mr. Tattooed sleeves, Mr. Bearded, Mr. Tattooed Sleeves and Bearded, or stay single. Apparently, diversity is not counter-culture’s strong point.)
His flame of less than a month was proving a challenge for a number of reasons.
“We’re seeing each other once a week, at best.” He started. “She’s going away. I’m going away. She wants to spend the long weekend with her mother. We live 4 miles apart but that 4 miles is an hour and a half commute.We’re dancing around the issue that we’re just not hanging out. I’m sorry, but I want that big, all-in romance. Where you see each other 2, 3 times a week.”
I wasn’t sure if the scowl I felt forming on my face was visible yet, but I’m pretty sure my “that’s just silly!” made my point.
By “that” I mean the sentiment that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect someone you’ve just started seeing to give you three days in the same week.
When our parents generation was dating, couples saw each other once a week, on weekends. That was sufficient. We seem to need someone’s constant availability to feel like we’re in a new relationship.
To me, that’s jumping the gun.
We live in an age of over sharing and hyper exposure. We move fast. We sign one year leases. We put in 18 months at one firm before we start searching for an opportunity at the next firm. Problems are solved with the swipe of our index finger and the aid of a logarithm. We live in a city that never sleeps and offers endless opportunities for the next best thing. We strive for bigger paychecks. We clamor to build ever-expanding networks. We believe relationships of all forms can be forged on social media or at a cocktail party, and forget that real meaning builds over time.
As someone who has dated guys who have absolutely no out-of-work interests, I wonder about a person whose calendar is so void of commitments — work, family, social, community service, whatever — that they can just squeeze me, a relative stranger, in at beep of a text message. I have things to do, why don’t you?
More over, I’m skeptical about someone who is so fickle that they can make me the single most important thing in his life and toss out everything to make time for me. I haven’t earned a listing on your “favorites,” so why are you bumping drinks with someone else to meet me for dinner? What does this mean for an “us” in the long run? When will I get bumped for a better offer?
It seems to me, we date like we’re hyped up on amphetamines –we date on Speed. It’s all hot and passionate for a brief while and then it fades. We’re on to the next, and it’s the same. There’s no building smolder. It’s just on, at full intensity. And then it’s off.
While I’m flattered by your enthusiasm, and yes, I want to see you 10 minutes after we say good-night too, I just can’t believe this is a healthy way to get to know someone.
When I look at the most successful couples I know, they began slow and steady. Their approach to dating was “old school.” Some didn’t even like one another when they first met. It took the prodding of mutual friends and gradually spending time one on one to make the relationship blossom. In one case, it was a long distance affair for months, and when the two were finally sharing the same zip code, it was months before they started seeing each other 2 or more times in the same week.
I’ve survived both the slow build and the intense fire. While so far neither approach has got me to a happily ever after, it was the relationships that developed over time that were more satisfying while I was in them, and more painful to lose.
To wrap it all up, I think you need to earn your place in someone’s life. Yes, there comes a time when it’s reasonable to expect spending a whole weekend together, or several nights a week, but not at the start.
We expect Platinum privileges when we haven’t even earned Gold Status.
Take it slow is old advice, but perhaps there are reasons why it’s endured so many generations. Balance and restraint are surprisingly sexy.
The men with the best profiles are 5’8 or shorter.
It’s not okay to give that guy you lived with in college or the guy you kinda had a crush on in high school 4 stars or to “like” him. Just pretend you never saw him. You’re not doing yourself any favours. If you want to see him, send him an email.
Every guy is a laid back kind of guy who likes to cook and travel and wants a true partner in crime.
If he says he’s 5’9, he’s really 5’7. If he says he’s 6’2, he’s really 6’4.
The last time anyone read “The Great Gatsby” was when they were 14. It is also everyone’s favorite book. Listing it as a favorite is a waste of characters.
Every guy has been either Indiana Jones or Maverick at least once for (and possibly every) Halloween.
Your match percentage is entirely based on sex-play preferences and religious views. You are as likely to be incompatible socially with someone who is a 90% match as someone who is a 90% enemy.
No one is really comfortable with being on a dating site. A ridiculous truth because no one should be comfortable meeting drunk strangers at a bar. Your odds of meeting a serial killer or an organ harvester at either venue is entirely equal.
It’s a bad idea to lead with a selfie.
Speaking of profile photos… The ideal photo selection includes: one full body, one smiling, one of you doing an activity you really enjoy. Limit yourself. No one needs to see your instagram feed.
Brevity is the source of wit. Long-winded folks that feel the need to list every book they’ve ever read, or every movie they really, really love have more than a few reasons why they’re single.
There are some great people out there and online. If online dating hasn’t worked out yet, that’s okay. It may not. But if you’re not having fun while you’re doing it, then you’ve only got you to blame.