He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Considering a Romantic’s Romantic Past

All it takes is a rose to answer the question: does he like me? It's more complicated than that...
All it takes is a rose to answer the question: does he like me? It’s more complicated than that…

Oh! How many flowers have lost their rosy petals in an attempt to answer a simple question: am I the apple of his eye?

He loves me.

(petal down)

He loves me not.

(another petal down)

You can learn a lot of things from the flowers, Alice taught us when she fell down the rabbit hole. So surely if the falling petals tell you so, he must love you.

Not so fast…

I used to cheat. My flowers always told me exactly what I wanted them to. Somehow, whether I’d count the decapitated stem or count the petals ahead so I could “accidentally” pull off two petals at once, I’d always land on “he loves me.”

Of course, he rarely did. But when you’re young and your eyes are blinded by infatuation, you’re always optimistic.

Staying an optimist when you’re older: Or, enter “It’s complicated”

As I was deadheading my rosebushes this afternoon, I flashbacked to playground crushes and flowers as  Magic 8 Balls shedding light onto my romantic fate. It occurred to me that whenever I respond with an “it’s complicated” to an  inquiry into my relationship status, I was employing the grown-up equivalent of cheating at the “he loves me/he loves me not” game.

Let me explain: saying “it’s complicated” is giving yourself a sense of hope that eventually it’ll all work out. “It’s complicated” is the optimist’s definition of an enigmatic, most likely dead-end relationship.

This realization occurred to me when “the one that got away” magically resurfaced after years of silence. For the first time since he was in my life, I was finally able to evaluate what we were without a biased heart.

For a long time, I defined our relationship to outsiders and even our friends as “complicated.” When I say complicated, what I really mean is that we were close friends, I liked him and wanted more from our relationship. We never talked about our fate or our feelings, in fact we avoided talking about those things even though everyone around us tried to instigate a happily ever after. For months, nay, years I believed we were teeter-tottering on the edge of “something.”

In my mind I had attached an “it’s complicated” status to us because it kept the possibility of an Us open. We weren’t complicated. We wanted different things. And while I waited for him to get on the same page (because, of course that was going to happen), I missed out on a few good, uncomplicated men.

Here is a basic truth: Relationships can be complicated, but feelings are not.

I’ll probably never really stop being an optimist when it comes to love — I’ll never stop cheating at the “he loves me/he loves me not” game. But hanging around in an “it’s complicated?” I think I’ve finally learned to keep it simple.

Yup, that's me.
Yup, that’s me.
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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.

 

 

 

 

Never Trust the Zodiac When You Want to Fall in Love

In my teen years, every crush was measured against the horoscope. I believed that the alignment of the planets dictated my soulmate and was quick to consult the stars. But when every so-called perfectly-paired Virgo, Taurus, and Scorpio I fell for in high school proved duds, I retired my astrology chart.

Then this past April I met Zev, a sensual Scorpio with a scorpion tattooed on his neck and his zodiac symbol stamped on his forearm, and I became 13 again.

“You know, Cancers and Scorpios are a perfect match,” he said as he took a long sip from his scotch and soda.

Cancers and Scorpios make love like it's an Olympic sport. Maybe, I'd make it to London afterall.

I rolled my eyes. He persisted and pulled out his smartphone to show off a website that proved his point.

“The Cancer-Scorpio match is a match made in heaven” it read. “The the two of you could literally see fireworks.”

He leaned over and pointed to the screen with a wink: “the two of you will make love like it’s an Olympic sport.”

I admit, I was intrigued and agreed to dinner a week later.

Dinner was where things with Zev ended.

So much for “this passionate connection can develop into the perfect marriage.” As I adjusted my skirt and stomped off into the pouring rain, I promised I would never trust the Zodiac again.

When the next boy came around and our connection was as deep as it was instantaneous, I couldn’t help but wonder: is this written in the stars?

Enter the “daily horoscope” app for my smartphone.

Water-sign + water-sign = deluge

Apparently, two crabby Cancers make a terrible match. Water-sign + water-sign = deluge. Forget bad romance. Think a Chernobyl romance, overwrought with “I feel…” and moon-phase-induced emotional mood-swing nuclear spills.

“You run the risk of mirroring each others weaknesses…A marriage would be work for this pair” — that’s the way the astrology site phrased it — a euphemistic way to say, you’ll need more than a pre-nup going into this, you’ll need an excellent lawyer, or hell, an army of lawyers…and a box of tissues…and a therapist.

Bummer.

I shrugged and considered the unfavorable forecast. True, we had quickly committed to sharing our feelings about, not only each other, but everything — from the challenges of our respective workplaces to our inner-deepest reflections on love.

This type of display was totally out of character for me. I refused to believe that our instant connection wasn’t endorsed by the celestial bodies.

I googled “astrological compatibility,” and read until I found a glimmer of hope to cling to. 4 result pages in, I found it: “On the whole, this is quite a good match…and the sexual chemistry with be high!”

Phew!

I bookmarked that astrology page and decided it would be the only one I’d consult…at least, until the deluge.

How Complimentary

“I just don’t understand how you could want to be with someone who’s always telling you how beautiful and wonderful you are. Doesn’t that get tiresome?”

I admit, when a guy gives me a compliment, my response is very Miranda Hobbes -- skeptical.

This was my mother’s response when I told her the guy I was dating had a way of stopping mid-conversation to tell me he thought I was “gorgeous” or that “no other woman in the room came close.”

I looked at her in a way that suggested she should be put in a straight jacket and sent to Bedlam. Last I checked, it was nice for a boy to call a girl pretty every once in a while.

But, I’ll confess: when a guy tells me I’m beautiful, my response is very Hobbesian… Miranda Hobbes that is. The “Sex and the City” starlet always took Steve’s outpouring of niceties with a grain of salt — her inner cynic couldn’t help it.

Talking to Annie a few days after another absurdly perfect date, we realized  that modern women have been ruined — we’ve been raised to be Mirandas, distrusting of compliments, skeptical about sincerity. When I hear “you’re beautiful,” an internal eyebrow raises and the compliment is met with a tidal wave of skepticism. Why’s he saying that? What’s his deal? Is there really spinach on my face and he’s trying to tell me there’s spinach on my face without directly saying “there’s spinach on your face?”

It's hard for my inner cynic to shut-up... but slowly, it's learning

It doesn’t help that I matured in the company of men — compliments were frequently followed by a request for my economics homework.

Eventually, Miranda wised up — Steve really did just like her that much…and as it turned out, she really liked him that much.

As for me? Well, I think my inner cynic is starting to shut up and accept this for what it is — something nice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be good at taking compliments, or that the voice in my head will ever totally stop saying “you’re lying” when he says “you look wonderful,” but if there’s one thing I have decided, it’s that hearing “you’re beautiful” and “I like you” will never get tiresome.

The Online Dating Match Approval Matrix: Or, a Road Map to Choosing Mr. (Almost) Right Online

Online dating is a challenge. As websites bombard you with supposedly viable matches and your inbox fills with messages and winks from men who think you’re “a cutie” or “reeeeeally cool,”  you think: it would be nice if there was a road map to help me weed out the guys I could walk arm in arm with from the ones I may need a restraining order against.

After months of scanning, surveying, replying, blocking, and first-dating, here it is, to your rescue:

The Online Dating Match Approval Matrix.

(in the style of New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix)

The Online Dating Approval Matrix -- Your Guide to Finding Mr. (Almost) Right Online


Trying to Remember It’s Not Hallmark’s Fault. It’s Tony and Katie’s.

Every year, I I try not to blame Hallmark for the excessive quantities of pink hearts floating around retail stores come February. I try not to label St. Valentine’s Day a holiday institutionalized by older married women in order to make younger single women feel inadequate. I try not to reduce February 14th to an excuse to eat excessive quantities of dark chocolate and caramel.

I "accidentally" knock Sweethearts off the shelf and "accidentally" step on them. I try not to, but I can't help it.

Most years I fail — I eat thousands of calories worth of heart-shaped truffles, I shoot bitter stares at older couples, and I “accidentally” knock bags of Sweethearts off the drug store shelf and “accidentally” step on them.

I blame Katie and a boy named Tony for my general animosity towards the holiday.

In the 6th grade, a single carnation-gram arrived on my homeroom desk with a note “Love, your secret admirer.” I was appropriately tickled pink. I moved from social studies to earth science on a cloud — what joy!  At dismissal, Katie confessed she had bough carnation-grams for all our girl friends. My little 11 year old balloon was burst.

Many, many, many years later, Tony would burst yet another heart-shaped bubble.

When Tony suggested we spend Valentine's Day together, this is what I envisioned... not a bar on All You Can Eat Wings! night

Of all our friends, we were the only two still single, and I confess that I was somewhat “in love” with him. When he suggested that we spend Valentine’s Day together, I took it as a sign he wanted to be more than friends. We agreed on casual, but when we ended up in a sports bar on “All You Can Eat Wing Night,” I wished I had worn my sports bra instead of the lacy push-up restricting the blood supply to my extremities. Midway through the evening, my toes were numb and a chunk of some frat-boy’s wayward vomit landed on my pink satin motorcycle jacket.

As Tony walked me home, we conversed by screaming, our ears still not adjusted to normal noise levels. We stopped on the stoop of my building and moved close together, our eyes full of  intention and confusion. I don’t know how much time passed, but I’m sure we reached a world record for longest awkward pause.  I eventually broke the stand-off with a kiss on the cheek and a g’night.

My bra had broken a rib, my jacket reeked of regurgitated chicken wings, and my “date” and I had loss our sense of hearing —  it was the most romantic Valentine’s Day I had ever had.

I’m sure one day I’ll be over my February the 14th phobia and once again become lover of Valentine’s Day. But I doubt carnations and men named Tony will have anything to do with my recovery.

I ask you...