The Right to Ask for Mr. Right

He looked at me with distaste, and slammed his beer down on the bar top. He began to chastise me:

“Don’t go looking to marry another Ivy-Leaguer. That’s douche-y. You want to be one of those couples in the Sunday Times? Don’t do that. The fancy diplomas, the championship ring — those are your things. Find someone who has his things. Find yourself a real MAN. I mean, a MAAAAN. Someone who thinks you’re fabulous, not ya know, fab-u-looooous, ’cause that’ll open a whole ‘nother door of problems for you.”

Jimmy swished his hand in a stereotyping display, and if I wasn’t offended I might have laughed.

I had been judged unfairly, by someone who knew me better than most.

I was being scolded for holding out for someone who could keep up. To him, that read as I was looking for a man with all the checks in the column — multiple top-tier degrees, a power job, an All-American past and cross-fit future, a golden retriever, and a perfect hairline. This wasn’t the case. He clustered me in with “the 800 other 20-something women I know in New York who are over educated, under paid, and who just can’t find a guy who can keep up.”

“I have a right, you know, to ask for Mr. Right, whoever that may be.”

Luckily, just then, the drunk male Red Sox fan standing next to us started a fight with a drunk female Yankees fan, and a bouncer intervened. His chastising of me was forced to a halt.

When I first finished my MA and ended years of traveling round the world as an aspiring athlete, people were quick to warn me that I’d have a problem finding a guy who was good enough — who was smart enough, who was successful enough, who was worldly enough, etc. It seemed important to the people who met me that I be worried about finding a Mr. Right. I wasn’t and people couldn’t understand that. Sure, I wanted competent companionship… but after I found a job with health insurance.

The job came, my career was finally on the move and people stopped being interested in my dating life… or at least, it wasn’t the first thing they asked about. People stopped prescribing a rich husband and started asking how much was too much to pay for an artwork. I become more than a single girl with an advanced degree in something people didn’t understand. It was a relief.

And then I had lunch with the Professor…

“It must be hard for you,” he said, after confessing that he’d googled me and found my blog.

“What must be hard for me?”

“Dating. I imagine the pool you have to choose from is very limited.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone with your education — there aren’t many men that can keep up, I bet.”

I suppose, I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t.  He was exactly 20 years older than me, I was unclear about why we were having lunch together (the encounter walked a fine line between networking and well, not networking), and he didn’t know me.

“An ivy league degree doesn’t guarantee intelligence, or intellect, or sensitivity,” I replied. “What makes my dating pool small is not that fewer men have graduate degrees than women. It’s that I have passions and ambitions. If all I wanted to do was settle and have 5 kids, I’d be married by now. But I want more than that. I am more than the sum of my degrees and I expect my partner to be as well.”

He could sense the irritation in my voice. We proceeded to talk philosophically about happiness and relationships, about being a Marine during the sexual revolution and the pitfalls of being a dating blogger.

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Out of the Bell Jar and into the Mason Jar: Considering a Literary Classic and my Teenage Years

“That’s the most depressing book.”

A tall, swim-suit sporting man shouted at me as he sauntered over to the pool’s towel stand. He clearly cross-fitted. #ThoseAbs. I paused and looked up from the book in question which was Syliva Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

“It is. I clearly have terrible taste in pool-side reads.”

This is one thing I love about California: you don’t need to have a “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit model body to get attention at the pool (that’s because, thanks to cross-fit, botox, and boob jobs, everyone has a SI swimsuit model body). No, to stand out at the pool, you just need some socially progressive modernist literature.

He winked. Suggested I switch to something like Cosmo, and was off before I had a chance to exchange room numbers (it’s entirely possible that the toddler toddling behind him was, in fact his, but then again, at hotel pools it’s so hard to tell which parent belongs to which child… oh, well.)

My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn't make light reading
My pool-side view in Silicon Valley. A little 20th century feminist lit didn’t make light reading

I had committed to reading such heavy literature at the pool side for two simple reasons: 1. I don’t do fluffy chick-lit, and 2. It was research for the gender-identity/femininity exhibition I’m in the process of curating.

For those that haven’t read Sylvia Plath’s one canonical novel, it was to the 1960s what Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was to the 1890s. If you’ve never read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and have no idea what I’m talking about, “The Bell Jar” reads a lot like “Catcher in the Rye.” If you’ve never read “Catcher in the Rye,” well, shame on you and your grade school English teacher.

Here’s the mega abbreviated cliff’s notes run down: Esther Greenwood is a successful and attractive 19 year old college girl who lands a great summer internship at a mega lady’s magazine in New York City. But just when the future looks bright and full of possibilities, Esther hits a wall. She breaks down, crashes, and bottoms out.

The story is dark. The writing, superb.

But as much as I was engrossed in and enjoying such wonderfully, honestly crafted prose, I’m glad I didn’t read it was I was 19. I think it would have felt too familiar… even more familiar than it already does…

Digging around my bedroom this weekend, I found a notebook with the jottings of a frustrated young story writer. Most of the scribbling came from ages 16-20, and they all raged with a kind of loneliness and angst. I think I felt that stories about breakdowns and being misunderstood where what you were supposed to be writing about if you wanted to be considered a good writer. Melodrama seemed to be a prerequisite for the Pulitzer or for making the American English classroom curricula. I don’t think any of what I was writing was reflective of what I felt or of my mental state because I never got very far with them (try like, 3 pages, max.) But then again, I don’t really remember how I felt about life or school at 16. I was just kind of doing rather than feeling. Feeling came in college.

But I did find one piece of writing that was troubling to me, because it was the one piece that wasn’t an attempt at fiction. It was an attempted personal essay and the only thing in the book that was typed, with blue-ink edits.

In it, I rattled off my string of accomplishments, concluding with “I was considered mature and well-round, well cultured and intellectual. Yet something was missing.”

The punchline, of course, because I was 18, was that I needed a boyfriend. Reading it, while I admired her self-awareness and vulnerability, I hated that teenage version of myself for defining happiness in terms of being attached to someone else. I couldn’t go to college without being someone’s girlfriend! I wrote. “The fact I had never been kissed seemed small in comparison.”

Flash to Esther:

“Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t, and this seemed the only really significant difference between one person and another.

I thought a spectacular change would come over me the day I crossed the boundary line.” 

This was how I saw the world — a simple division between lovers and loners. Reading on, I saw that 18 year old me hated me for feeling that way too. What a relief. As I got older, while the idea of a companion was and is always intoxicatingly appealing, there was another feeling I had — a fear of being tied down.

Flash back to Esther:

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored around from a fourth of July rocket. “

There’s a lot of vignettes in the “Bell Jar” I could relate to at 19 and even now. Ones that are in many ways more meaningful to me than the ones about men, about the double standards for the sexes, about marriage. Esther has a moment when she compares her moment in life to standing under a fig tree. Each fig represents a possible path — marriage and a family, Olympics, famous writer, famous editor, and so on. But she can only pick one, and once she does, all the other will fall, spoiled. The tree of possibility can get you down — knowing you have so many options but can’t really have them all. I remember sitting alone on my university quad one cold late autumn night while I was grad student, feeling overwhelmed by possibilities and crying a bit at a fear of achieving non of them, of mucking it all up. But unlike Esther, I didn’t let the fear of failure or indecision win. I learned that with a little cunning, and fast feet, you can grab as many fruit as you can before they all go rotten. Maybe you won’t get them all, but you’ll get enough to make a decent pie… sharing optional.

In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.
In life, you can have your pies and eat them too.

You Can Have Spin Class, I’ll take the TRX: Collateral Damage of Dating at the Gym

In all my years in the weight room, I’ve only nearly killed somebody once with gym equipment. It was a kettle bell, and it wasn’t officially in use yet — so, I’m going to go ahead and say it was mostly his fault. I was taking the bell off the rack, and as I turned, nearly swung it into the chest of a tall, burly, inked, innocent bystander.

I took an ear bud out to apologize.

With a chest like that, how could I not say hello?

He seemed unfazed — didn’t he realize I had nearly crushed his rib cage? Then again, with those pectoral muscles, the kettle bell probably would have bounced off him and knocked my teeth out instead. That’s one way to have your insurance pay for your invisalign

“Well, now I have to introduce myself,” he said. “I’ve noticed you here before and meant to say hi. You do some pretty intense workouts.”

[Note: Best pick-up line to use on me, ever.]

We introduced ourselves more formally, and chatted a minute or two before we went on our merry ways.

“See you by the TRX tomorrow?” he said.

“Tomorrow’s spin day, but maybe Thursday.”

I had noticed him before too. With a red beard, a half-arm sleeve tattoo depicting a praying angel, and an upper body buff enough to compete with a young Governator, he was hard to miss at the gym — even at my gym, where you trip over a beard, ink, and strapping upper body with every step on your stairmaster.

Thursday rolled around, as did my bosus ball workout by the TRX frame. We made eye contact across the gym, and he swaggered over. He was at school down the block, working on his doctorate of physiotherapy. Being relatively fresh out of nearly a year of physio for a damaged ligament in my knee, I had reason enough to give him my number. A few days later we had plans to meet for drinks.

There’s a lot of statistics and articles about how doing Cross Fit as a singleton leads to more dates. That might be true, but none of these pieces warn you about one simple fact: if things don’t work out with the someone you met while working-out, someone will have to change their gym routine.

This didn’t occur to me till nearly a month in, when I realized there were exactly zero chemistry between us. I wasn’t sure how our mornings would look when chatting on the stretching mat was no longer a kind of foreplay. Would we avoid all eye contact? Wave awkwardly? Would he throw a medicine ball at my head?

“So, like, if things don’t work out, which one of us is going to switch to an after work workout? The only morning you can’t have is spin morning” I asked only half-jokingly, with a kiss as we watched the sunset over the Long Island Sound.

Romance isn’t always my strong point.

In my head, this is what I look like when I'm on the bosus ball...
In my head, this is what I look like when I’m on the bosus ball…

“I’ll just use the gym closer to where I live. I was only coming to this one to watch you on the bosus ball.”

When we broke up, he played the part of the gentleman and kept to his word. We haven’t crossed dumbells or medicine balls at the gym since.

Pre-nups, apparently, are not just for property and bank accounts — they should include all your investments, including the ones you make in yourself… like your fitness routine.

Blogging in the Post Carrie Bradshaw Era

“Your friends must be really boring if you’re contacting me after all this time,” I typed into a gchat box that emerged without warning from a user I had long ago hidden from my chat list.

“Not the case here. All of a sudden I remembered your blog and wondered how you were doing.”

A little over 2 years ago, I had parked my car in an upper west side garage, a stone’s throw from the American Museum of Natural History (read: a neighborhood with premium parking rates) and met a 30-something lawyer for lunch. It was my second date of the day, having already breakfasted with an artist/industrial designer turned tech-recycler (is that a thing? Maybe his official title was Project Manager…). I had been seeing the Designer for about a month by this time, but it was going nowhere about as fast as a black hole. The Lawyer had potential, and he had been appropriately (maybe inappropriately, depending on your degree of conservatism) aggressive in his pursuit. I’d met them both online. I knew to temper my expectations.

After our date, which was a challenge, I went home and ranted on my blog. It was the first time I had ever railed against a guy, and I grouped him in with a string of unsuccessful online dates, belittling him and some guys who were, at the core, decent guys but just a bit oblivious. The Lawyer called me out, and I retracted the post and replaced it with an apology and philosophical definition of what this blog is all about. We didn’t speak again, until this week when he felt the need to apologize (!?!?! Wasn’t I the one who behaved badly?)

It happens with surprising frequency that I go out on a date and for some reason, mostly because he’s done his due diligence and researched me prior to our rendez-vous, my blog comes up. Most never read past the title or the “About Me” section, and so they proceed under particular assumptions.

The Professor, who is 20 years my senior and was a lunch companion earlier this summer: “Now, I don’t want to see our conversation end up in a blog post!”

A guy I think I briefly dated in 2011: “Feel free to write about me all you want. Just make sure you let everyone know how awesome I am.”

My Ex, who is the only ex to get a capital E (I think he actually read the blog, and might still): “I want to make sure you won’t have anything to write about any more.”

What they all assume is that this blog is “tell-all” dating blog. But here’s the thing: if I write about how terrible a date was, or how stupid a guy might be, then to do it fairly, to make it a post that says anything, then I need to turn the lens back on myself. Most single-girl blogs read like this: I went on this bad blind date, I had this one-night stand, this is my hook-up buddy, Why can’t my best guy friend figure out that he should be in love with me.

Writing a typical single-girl dating blog is relatively easy. But I’ve never been a fan of what’s easy.

I want you to read something of substance. Not everything that happens on a date or in the bedroom has substance. And, the simple truth is, some things need to stay inside a relationship.

If single-girl/dating blogs are a by-product of the Sex and the City era, most of us do Carrie Bradshaw a great injustice. When Carrie wrote about the men that breezed through her life, she tried to reason through a moral – didn’t every episode start with a “philosophical” question? What we saw play out in each episode where not only Big’s flaws, but Carrie’s… and in turn, the flaws in romantic relationships and even friendships.

Writing to ridicule men is boring, or at least it’s one tone. And if part of your impetus for blogging is a general frustration with men, perhaps getting hung up on all the ways men fail you is part of why we’re single. The way I see it is: it’s more interesting when you look at why YOU were hurt or disappointed, and what that says about you, your expectations, and your relationship goals. He’s only ½ the problem.

My Lawyer is case in point – he was a decent guy who felt bad sparks didn’t fly. I never gave him a chance, I just attacked him on the internet. “You are entertaining,” he wrote last week, 2.5 years after our infamous lunch. “We should have stayed friendly.”

When Vanity Bites Back, or Life with Invisialign

My OKCupid user name back in the day was SheLIkesToSmile. Now, I can do that with straighter teeth... and by now, I mean a year from now.
My OKCupid user name back in the day was SheLIkesToSmile. Now, I can do that with straighter teeth… and by now, I mean a year from now.

I have this one tooth. It’s the lateral incisor on my right. It sits back behind my canine and my central incisor — a punishment for abandoning my retainer too soon. In the wrong light, I can look like a hockey player who lost a fight with a puck to my mouth. In the best light, I look like the kid whose teeth just grew in and whose parents still haven’t booked her appointment with the orthodontist.

I see it in every photo and every time I go to smile, I’m aware of it. But the tooth that make me look like a kindergartner doesn’t stop me from smiling. Life’s too short not to smile… but it does mean that I usually fight to stand on the left of any portrait (a fight I always inevitably loose.)

In the summer of 2012, an upper wisdom tooth abscessed, and before I could say “ouch” I was under anesthesia and undergoing a double tooth extraction. I woke up in a dentist office overlooking Central Park and stumbled a few blocks south east to the Brasserie, where I complimented some mild pain killers with a martini before passing out again at home. I was lucky — my face was barely puffy and when I went out the next day to celebrate the return of a few friends from the London Olympics, no one could tell I had just survived an oral surgery that seems to knock people off their feet for days.

Sometimes, with the wrong angle, I can look like this….

The trouble came a year later when my teeth started to shift again. Jaw and tooth pain compounded with my misplaced incisor inspired me to look into the full orthodontic works. I could handle braces again, I thought. I mean, I already look like I’m 16, why not? It might be nice to be carded more often again.

When it turned out I was a candidate for invisialign, I was pretty stoked. I could handle having braces in my social life, but being ol’ metal mouth again in a professional one was less appealing. It was even better when my quote for the treatment came in under my no-go threshold.

So on December 28th, my dentist attached some pretty sexy anchors to my teeth and sent me home with my first trial.

It was like wearing a mouth guard. Within the first hour, I was kicking myself. My lower jaw was jutting out, I couldn’t figure out how to keep my mouth closed, and saliva was pouring down my chin in the most unattractive way. I lisped and talking for more than 30 seconds was exhausting. Was this sheer act of vanity destined to be my downfall? That $7,000 could have been put to good use elsewhere… like on clothes. Would lipo have been less expensive?

“There goes your sex life,” my mother said as she passed me a tissue.

It was family movie night, and as we sat in the theater watching the coming attractions, a large drop of drool fell out of the corner of my mouth and onto my shirt.

It was something I hadn’t considered. Between tooth brushes and birth control, there were already enough accessories to pack on an adult sleep over, adding an invisalign kit into the mix definitely exed the possibilities of a casual overnight. Plus, “honey, just excuse me while I put my teeth back in,” is not the sexiest phrase for the under octogenarian set.

Being ready for anything just got complicated.

My new life as a single girl with dental appliances was put to the test faster than I expected. In another display of my talent for Bad Timing, I had scheduled a first date with a dreamy commercial pilot turned lawyer within the first 24 hours of beginning invisialign.

For the most part, it all went off without a hitch, largely because I left the device at home. However, my teeth hurt so much I couldn’t chew anything more solid than mashed potatoes and everything we ordered seemed to be made of bricks. As our date moved into its 6 hour (and my third, maybe fourth? drink) I started getting anxious — I had passed my 4 hour invisialign-free limit. And I was hungry. Like, really hungry.

Our good night kiss was brief. Like Cinderella I had to get home before the clock struck “too late!” and my tooth shifted back into its crocked place. Orthodontics are at least as expensive and irreplaceable as glass slippers…

The Dragon at the Table

It’s official. I am Bridget Jones. (without Mark Darcy or Daniel Cleaver)

It was a quiet Saturday night, I had just spent the day with nearly 200 high school students at a multi-school fencing meet and my body ached with the kind of fatigue that can only comes from being the surrogate sport parent (err… coach) to some 40 kids. All I wanted was a gin and tonic, some Chicken Tikka Masala — because, you know, I’m a child of the Commonwealth, and that’s our version of comfort food — and a mindless Rom-Com.

I was in luck. I had timed my take-out TV dinner and booze just right so I could catch the last half-an-hour of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

Mark Bloody Darcy.

Swoooooon.

I was 13 when I first read Helen Fielding’s cheery, timeless adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In the back of my mind, I knew I was at least a tad more Bridget Jones than Lizzy Bennett, but I was too young to really relate to all the emotional ups and downs Bridget traveled along as she tried to make her way through work, family, and love.

Enter age 29. 

You know your 20s are basically over when 22-24 year-olds attempt to pick you up with the following lines:

– How do you feel about being hit on by a younger man?

– While you’re searching for Mr. Right, how about having some fun with a younger guy?

– I know I’m probably too young for you, but can I buy you that next drink?

I’ve officially moved out of the age bracket that qualifies me as the “young play thing” — the desirable, elusive object of affection from professional men in their 30s to mid-40s. This is not inherently a problem. I am on the verge of entering their age bracket, which makes me more of a peer and less of a fresh-off-the-collegiate-boat co-ed. I am no longer doe-eyed and naive. I am savvy. I know better.

You can’t pull a blindfold over my eyes… well you can, but you have to ask nicely. 

Readying myself to move on to a new decade doesn’t really require much prep-work, but I admit that there are a few things I need to acknowledge now that I could previously ignore — both realities and absurdities of life.

family-party-bridget-jonesI’ve reached an age where most of my friends are comfortably domesticated — if they’re not married and making plans for baby, they’re in the kind of relationships that seem destined for the altar. As you move further away from college, you move further away from the all-nighter, 4 parties a week (a night?) lifestyle. You lose one kind of social endurance and replace it with another. 10 PM seems a perfect bedtime and laundry is a perfectly acceptable weekend activity. You haven’t grown boring. You’ve grown more selective. Your friends grow more selective too, and as more of them find themselves in couples, your find your social life naturally changing.

The challenge with being the last single girl at the party is that everyone finds a way to let you know you’re the last single girl at the party.

Cut back to Bridget Jones. 

“Wednesday 1 February
11:45PM … “Yes, why aren’t you married yet, Bridget?” sneered Woney (babytalk for Fiona, married to Jeremy’s friend Coasmo) with a think veneer of concern whilst stroking her pregnant stomach.

Because I don’t want to end up like you, you fat, boring, Sloaney milch cow was what I should have said, or … Because actually, Woney, underneath my clothes, my entire body is covered in scales.”

Bridget asks her reader, why? Why is it that married/coupled-off people feel the need to corner us single folk about our love lives?

“Tell me all about your men and dating adventures! I feel like you have a new boy toy every time we meet!”

“Thank god I’m done with all that dating stuff I mean, how DO you DO IT? I mean, how DO you meet people!?”

“We have to find you someone. You’re so great! I’d set you up with one of Bob/Phil/Rich/insert-generic-male-name-here’s friends… but they’re all married too!”

“Mary/John is away Friday, so I’m free. Entertain me! Let’s go out like we used to… I’ll be your wingperson!”

Sigh.

“Maybe Smug Marrieds only mix with other Smug Marrieds and don’t know how to relate to individuals anymore. Maybe they really do want to patronize us and make us feel like failed human beings. Or maybe they are in such a sexual rut they’re thinking: “There’s a whole other world out there,” and hoping for vicarious thrills by getting us to tell them the roller-coaster details of our sex lives”

The truth is, us single girls approaching and in our 30s are the dragons at the dinner table — beautiful to look at, exotic, but no one’s sure when we’ll start spitting fire. We aren’t covered in green scales. But as we’ve watched our friends move on into happiness, and as we’ve trained ourselves to answer the inevitable “is there someone special?” we have had to develop a pretty thick skin.