So, Let’s Hang Out? Considering “The End of Courtship”

“Ok. Let’s do this! Let’s hang out!”

I confess, I was caught completely off-guard. It wasn’t exactly the declaration of affection or attraction or, hell, even interest that I had hoped for from a guy I considered “most likely to be cast as leading man in the movie that is my life.”

"Let's do this!" was more game-time cheer than romance. I wanted romance.
“Let’s do this!” was more game-time cheer than romance. I wanted romance.

“Let’s do this!” was less romance and more pre-game pep-rally.

Were we going to jump off a cliff together? Maybe metaphorically. But if his “I want to hang out with you” was the 21st century equivalent of Mr. Darcy’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” then we were certainly in for a bumpy ride.

But such are the times we live in….

In all likelihood, you or someone you know shared that NYTimes Sunday Styles piece about dating in the age of texting and social media. About how traditional courtship has been replaced with the flippant one-offs of the hook-up generation.

For the most part, I thought the essay was a gross generalization that painted a bleak picture favoring an ever-increasing divorce rate.

But Alex Williams was on to something — “hanging out” has exited the realm of friendship and infiltrated the realm of courtship, leaving singles (particularly, single women) hoping to make the jump from “gone fishing!” to “got him!” in a perpetual state of confusion.

“Let’s hang out.”

When I was a college student with more male than female friends, this was something I heard fairly often. In those days, it’s meaning was crystal clear: we’re going to keep it casual, keep it low-key, throw on a movie or pull out a deck of cards, open a bottle, maybe some people will join us, and by the way, we’re going to keep it platonic.

Oh! How fast things change!

Imagine my surprise when, a half decade later, a “let’s hang out” has translated into everything from “I’d like to take you to dinner” to “let’s hook-up” to “I’d like this to be serious.”

“Hanging out” as a colloquialism is the new “hooking up” — an appropriately non-committal term that keeps your options open and your morning-after stories vague.

Saying "let's hang out" is like putting on a suit of armor to protect yourself from harm
Saying “let’s hang out” is like putting on a suit of armor to protect yourself from harm

It’s a sort of self-protective statement, one that doesn’t put your heart on the line while still implying an interest in spending time with the other person. A sort of “let’s see if we click as friends” is partially implied — and isn’t the fundamental base of a successful relationship a strong friendship? Isn’t it a good idea to see if you can be friends as well as lovers?

What’s the problem?

More of my 20-something friends are married or in domestic partnerships or engaged than are single. Is Williams’ point, that this behavior might be fostering the kind commitment-phobia that makes it more difficult for people to really develop worthwhile relationships, accurate?

Maybe it is and I just cultivate romantically stable people? (unlikely…. you’ve never met some of the guys I dated…)

Let’s be honest, if you’re an urban singleton, getting a foothold in the industry of your choosing, filling-up your time with friends and social groups, drinking up all your environment has to offer, the notion of keeping it casual when it comes to dating is your best laid plan (pun intended.)

Here’s the problem — it’s the phrase itself.

Instead of "hanging out" consult the thesaurus. Let's phase out that phrase
Instead of “hanging out” consult the thesaurus. Let’s phase out that phrase

“Hang out.” It’s still flippant, casual, an afterthought. If  saying “I want to see you” carries implications of  serious commitment and so you shy away, say you want to “get together” or say you want to do something specific.

We don’t need the guy that says “I want to spend every waking minute with you” (though, when faced with a choice between him and Mr. Let’s Hang Out, Mr. Let’s Hang Out is shown wanting). But it’s nice to feel like we’re more than an addition to a plan.

“Hanging out” leaves lots of things hanging in the air. And frankly, hanging out gets old quick. Before you know it, she/he will be hanging up the towel on this casual courtship and moving on.

 

 

 

 

When It’s Time to Ask Yourself: Do I want to Try to “Have it All”

About a month ago, my closest male friend from college married the woman that became his better half. They’re a lovely couple, best friends really. They’re also both smart, funny, and driven career people. I admire them.

Marriage is an interesting thing. It changes everything. About a week ago, my friend’s new wife launched a call for help on facebook:

“To my ladies: do you think it is possible to have it all, amazing career and family life? Cause I really don’t see how one or both won’t suffer. Send some tips my way if u have any.”

We’re all her contemporaries, women in our late 20s, so most shrugged but praised their own mothers for somehow managing both a career and motherhood. Someone shared the famously talked about article in the Atlantic. Appropriate. I shared some advice I had heard a few days earlier from the keynote speaker at a luncheon…

Cut to the buffet spread in an upper crust Westchester suburban yacht club. Enter Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Judge Judy had some advice for the young women in the room about “having it all”

Yea, that’s right. THE Judge Judy.

I was at the Her Honor Mentoring 2012 kick-off luncheon. I had just re-met my mentee, a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for all things art and aspirations to travel in adulthood. My fellow Mentors were the county’s leading businesswomen and government leaders. What was I doing there?

No matter. On to the speech:

“You may hear that you can’t have it all – a career and a family. But I’m living proof that you can have it all… if you learn how to negotiate…

In my day, you only left the house in either a white dress or a pine box. But I’m telling you that you don’t have to get married as a high school senior. Or as a freshman. Or as a sophomore or junior. Maybe, by the time you’re a senior you can start to look around to see if there’s anyone you find appealing. But just remember: you may have your act together when you’re 22, but they, well, they may not have their act together at 55.

So have your career. Set the bar for your career high and go out and achieve it. And then, and then start to look to have that family.”

It was a message I was surprised Judge Judy would share with a room full of college seniors yet to make their way and professional women who had all pursued unique paths in their lifetime. On the subject of “having it all,” it was surprisingly pragmatic. As I chuckled and applauded (I was the soul “ain’t that the truth, sister!” shouter in the room), it occurred to me that I was the youngest mentor.

I’m just starting in my career. Sometimes I feel like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes…

Unlike the other “dynamic,” successful career women in the room, I was really just starting out.

My mother married my father when she was 17 and he was 21. Two weeks ago they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. If you do the math, that means they were married some 24 years before I was born. Over that quarter century, my mother made a career for herself, allowing her to retire as a top banking executive when I was starting high school.

Since the Atlantic article came out, there seems to have been another resurgence of feminist talk — or maybe it’s more of another re-evaluation of feminism.

Did you catch this Sunday NYTime’s Opinion piece by Alissa Quart? The one about women hiding their pregnancies in the professional world?

What about the brief speech by a new character on the Good Wife?

What about that other op-ed piece about the “Myth of Masculine Decline” in the work place?

I guess I never questioned the idea of “having it all.” I grew up with Judge Judy’s advice as my own game plan because it was a successful path I had watched unfold.

But then my own life began to happen.

I don’t have an answer for my Californian friend. Or for any young woman in our position. Frankly, no one really does.

Here’s what I can say…

The women of our generation are lucky because we have choices. We can choose to be career women. We can choose to be career mothers. We can choose to be both careerwomen and mothers. None of the above paths are easy — none are achieved without sacrificing or without negotiations.

As for me, well, the question of “having it all” isn’t as relevant now as it will be later. But I will say Nicole Sheindlin’s words from that luncheon have stayed with me.

A career is a woman’s insurance policy for independence and self-confidence.

True that, sister.

When You’re Having a Bad Dating Week Just Don’t Read “He’s Just Not that into You”

Jack Berger was my favorite S&TC boyfriend... even if he was insecure and emotionally handicapped

I’ll never forget the first time I saw that episode of Sex & the City where Jack Berger (incidentally, my favorite of Carrie’s emotionally inadequate boyfriends) bursts Miranda’s bubble with the simple phrase “He’s just not that into you.” The scene struck a chord as I had recently tired to tell a good girlfriend exactly the same thing:

“Listen, Jess, he took the evil red-headed stick figure actress to his office party. And the book signing. And dinner. He’s not dating you. He just d0esn’t, ya know, like you.”

Albeit, my phrasing was perhaps a big meaner. But frankly, we had consumed so many bottles of sake that she didn’t pay much attention to my solo shake-up in a chorus of “He’s totally waiting for the right moment to tell you he loves you.”

Gag me with a spoon.

Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy claims: A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” I’ve never been one of those girls. But that doesn’t mean that once in a rare, rare while, I haven’t found myself face-to-face with a man who ignites daydreams of the possible. Once in a rare, rare while, this pragmatic romantic loses the pragmatic and becomes a full-fledged romantic.

I think the post-it notes say it all...

And it was one of these rare, rare moments that sent me running to the book that came out of that Sex & the City episode, that book “He’s Just Not That Into You.” I had bought it to give to my aforementioned friend. I kept it instead. She clearly had no intentions to read it anyway.

The writers confirmed my intuitions — his lack of follow-up to our enjoyable early dates were sign that he wasn’t interested enough. The reasons were irrelevant, all that mattered was he didn’t like me as much as I had liked him. Ouch.

The book may have been right on some points, but it was wrong to tell me not to chase a little. Years later, when he was on to someone else, he confessed:

“I didn’t think you were that interested. If you had called, I absolutely would have seen you again.”

Some women are barracudas -- flashy fighters worthy of a trophy mount

New York is a man’s world when it comes to dating — this was a conclusion a male friend and I came to not so long ago over coffee. In NYC, an accomplished man with taste and half-way decent looks is the fisherman that doesn’t have to drop a line into the water to catch a fish. The fish just jump into the boat.

In a sea full of well-educated, well-dressed, good-looking fish, a man has options. Some of those women are barracuda — flashy fighters worthy of a wall mount. Which means sometimes, if you don’t want to lose out on a happily ever after, you have to get in the game and hop into that boat.

I’m Sorry, Friend, I love You, But I Don’t Care About Your Boyfriend

I have an aversion to telephones, just like I have an aversion to another story about your boyfriend.

I have an strong aversion to telephones. It might even be classified as a phobia. Someone asks me to make a phone call, and I start to have a panic attack. I’ve learned to control it to a degree over the years, but still, it’s something of a handicap.

I blame Erin for my problem. When we were 12, she used to call me every day after dinner to talk about Dan — the boy she was “dating.” We were 12. It was the conservative 1990s. We listened to the Backstreet Boys and wore our hair in braided pigtails. We really had nothing to talk about when it came to relationships, but somehow she found a way to spend 2 hours a day gushing over how cute his hair was, or how he waited for her at her locker, or how jealous Libby was.

The novelty of a friend with a boyfriend wore off. I quickly stopped giving a sh*t.

There’s a great scene in an episode of Sex & the City when Miranda, in a fit of frustration, scolds her gal pals — we’re 4 smart women with careers and lives, she says (I’m paraphrasing, here), why is it that all we talk about is men? Surely, there’s more to us than that!?!

Crushes, first dates, budding romances, heart aches, and their aftermath are all things our friends help us navigate through. When it comes to matters related to love, we seek the approval, advice, and empathy of our friends, hoping they’ll knock the sense into us or share our joy — whatever the situation requires.

sometimes we have to remember, our girlfriends are there because they love us, not because they love our boyfriends.

But even when friends are willing listeners, it’s important to remember, your friends are friends with you because you’ve got more going on in your life than your boyfriend.

Eventually, the novelty of your relationship wears off. For your friends far sooner than it does for you.

Not every conversation is a door opener to another reason why you and your boyfriend are so cute. Puppies are cute. Once that guy is your boyfriend, he’s not cute. He’s someone else we’re competing with for your time. So when you’re with your friends, we want you with us. We’re not an alternative to his company. For better or for worst, we were there first. It’s you we’re interested in, honey, not your boyfriend.

Odds that the Next Guy I date Will…

Have a tattooed sleeve: 1 in 2

David, did you borrow my lace top again? Oh wait, those are your tats!

From the chef with the butcher’s map of a pig tattooed from this wrist to elbow to the Frye Boots specialist with the Man Ray photograph etched into his left forearm, it seems every man I share a drink or afternoon with is a painted gentleman.

According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center in 2008, 4 in 10 Millennials (the young adults of the early 2000’s) sport tattoos. Within this group, more men have tattoos than women.

Sometimes, I find the tattooed sleeve disarming — what’s he doing wearing my Zara lace top? But on the whole, I don’t mind it. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve always found a lil ink to be very sexy.

Live with his mother: 1 in 4

The most recent census revealed that nearly 6 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 lived at their parents’ homes last year. I was one of them. But on the whole, young men are nearly twice as likely as women to live with their parents. Of the last 5 guys I’ve met in this age group, 3 have lived with their parents.

These days, if he lives with his mother, it's not a strike against... it all depends on when he decides to tell you

Statistics and personal experience show, if I’m dating in my age group, a romantic night in, cooking dinner for him at his place, might entail cooking dinner for his mother (and father? and sister?).

So, in 2011, is it a strike against if a guy lives with his parents? I guess it all depends on a number of factors. But in this day and age, if all other signs of adulthood are neatly intact, it’s hard to call him anything but sensible.

Have traveled outside the US: 1 in 3

For the 2008/9 academic year, 260,327 students studied abroad, according to the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. With NYU as the leading sending school in the US, this means odds are pretty good that a Manhattanite has traveled and even spent a significant time outside his homeland.

Only 30% of Americans have a passport, but odds that my next date will have traveled abroad are still pretty good.

But what about non-NYC educated folks? Or what about the possibility of meeting someone who’s seen the world without the help of academic programs? The numbers suggest my next date will have at least a willingness to journey in a foreign land.

Of the 308 million-plus citizens in the United States, 30% have passports. Owning a passport, of course, doesn’t guarantee that it’s been put to use. CNN posted some interesting stats: There were 61.5 million trips outside the United States in 2009 and about 50% of those trips were to either Mexico or Canada.

And yes, Canada is a foreign country, eh.

Have a graduate degree: 1 in 9

On eharmony, you can limit your dating pool according to education. If it’s a priority that your mate have at least as many degrees as you, then check a box, and the logarithm will take care of the rest.

As of 2003, approximately 25% of all Americans could boast a bachelor’s degree or higher. In a region like the North East, odds of landing a date who’s graduated from college is probably closer to 1 in 2. But a graduate degree? Well that gets tougher.

Only 9% of Americans have a masters degree, but New York is not America.

Only 9% of Americans can say they have an MA or MS or MBA. But again, New York isn’t America. New York City has the most post-graduate life sciences degrees awarded annually in the United States while Columbia University alone currently has approximately 17,833 students enrolled in various graduate programs.

Looking at these regional statistics, along with the contemporary reality that an increasing number of people are turning to graduate school as an alternative to a sucky job market, it seems the odds of finding a guy with “at least my level of education” would be in my favor… eventually.

There's nothing classy about a Red Sox fan.

Be a Red Sox Fan: 0

The Red Sox nation has a surprisingly strong representation in New York. It’s uncomfortable, and I won’t deny, I have a terrible habit of falling for fans of my team’s arch-nemesis.

But the chances I’ll actually allow myself to date one? Not a shot in hell.

They Warned Me I’d Find Love, the Summer 2011 Edition

The mating rituals of Banana Slugs give new meaning to the term "cock-blocking"

The Ariolimax columbianus, more commonly known as the Banana Slug, is ubiquitous in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. The Banana Slug is a hermaphrodite. When mating time rolls around, Banana Slugs engage in an act called “penis jousting.” Somehow, the slugs fight until one slug’s penis gets knocked off. The winner gets to be “the man.” The loser has to carry the eggs.

“Banana Slug mating rituals sound a lot like a Friday night in a Manhattan bar,” I told my guide as we sloshed through the green squishy stuff that covers the floor of the rainforest on Meares Island, a small island off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Cock-blocking had suddenly taken on a new, more serious meaning.

My guide chuckled and, lost in the mental comparison I was drawing between slug life on Vancouver Island and the NYC dating scene, I slipped on a cedar plank.

Whoosh, slap, squish, thud <– Those are the sounds an eco-tourist makes as she falls in the forest.

There's a lot of green squooshy stuff in the rainforest. Where's my mountain man to help me up when I fall?

Down the trail, a fiance hoisted his fallen fiancee back to her feet —  another victim of the squooshy green stuff — while I flopped around, clumsily trying to make it onto all fours without eating anymore lichen in the process.

Where was my mountain man in shining plaid when I needed him?

A few days earlier, I arrived in the great Canadian City of Vancouver ready for 10 days in the woods, away from work, domestic duties, and dating in the city. Or so I thought.

As soon as my rental car drove across Vancouver’s city limits, my phone started beeping relentlessly. The little blue light that illuminates whenever I have an OkCupid message was flashing like a lighthouse beacon in a hurricane. When they warned me I’d find love on this Canadian adventure, they weren’t kidding.

Hello, Mr. Vancouver. I knew I had a lot to look forward to on this vacation...

Warning! New matches ahead! Warning! New messages!

I opened the alerts icon in disbelief. I had been in Vancouver not more than 30 minutes, and already my inbox was overflowing.  There were notable similarities between the Vancouver men and the Brooklyn men OKCupid frequently found for me (why are they always in Brooklyn?!) — beards and plaid, in all their incarnations, were the standard uniform and a commitment to “sustainable living” was high on lists of interest. That’s where the similarities ended.

Good-bye hipster. Hello mountain man.

Good-bye bike-riding, semi-unemployed, struggling artist. Hello banker-turned-kayak-instructor who plays in two hockey leagues, sails on weekend and skis in the winter.

I knew I had a lot to look forward to on this vacation. And apparently, it wasn’t just the sea-kayaking.