Considering “Speed” Dating

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.

In past generations, “walking out” with someone was a weekly occurrence, not a 3x a week event.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no Them, Only Us

The first thing I do when I walk into his apartment is take off my watch. Usually, I lay it on a coffee table, next to my phone, which is on silent. Sometimes, I put it in that mystery pocket in my purse so I don’t forget it like I did that one Saturday. I like my watch. It’s a classic silver and gold Raymond Weil that was a 21st birthday present. I take it off as a courtesy – I’m letting him know I’m not in a hurry to leave (and I wouldn’t want the clasp to get stuck on his belt buckle, if things go that way.) What happens next is still to be determined, but whatever it is, it starts with a refusal to acknowledge time.

Between now and when I put my watch back on, there are not minutes or hours.

There’s just us.

Time melts away when two people decide to melt together. Thanks, for this Dali.
Time melts away when two people decide to melt together. Thanks, for this Dali.

The world stops for two people in love, or lust, depending on how you want to look at it. A romantic concept, no? Did you know I was that much of an idealist? Clearly, you weren’t there when I cried during that scene in that movie…

“You’ve been going non-stop,” a boyfriend said to me as I plunked down on his couch. “Tonight, you’re here. I want you to pretend you’re on vacation. We’re going to do whatever makes you feel like we’re somewhere else.”

It was probably the last romantic gesture he made before becoming an ex-boyfriend, and it was probably one of the most meaningful. Part of what we look for in a significant other is someone who will share life’s challenges with us, but also someone who will help us escape from them. When the going gets tough, he helps soften the blow. It’s not simply  that we need someone to vent to. It’s that we need someone to distract us, to remind us everything is really very good, or that it’s about to be very good.

Tomorrow, I need to take my watch to Torneau for a new battery. The date has fallen behind by two weeks and the second hand only moves in increments of 7 seconds now. If I wait any longer it’ll stop all together. If I were a student on assignment, I’d probably try to make a metaphor here — say something like, maybe my watch is trying to tell me something about this new guy. I only just got the battery replaced, after all. Be thankful I’m not a student on assignment.

Playing by the Rules

The French, apparently, go from kiss to couple faster than a La Mans race car.
The French, apparently, go from kiss to couple faster than a La Mans race car.

“You Americans and your rules of dating!” He said teasingly, before kissing me.

Our conversation of cultural comparisons had revealed that the French don’t date and they don’t play games.  They go from zero to first kiss to bonafide couple in 60 seconds flat. Perhaps this is not surprising for a nation home to La Mans and “la langue de l’amour.”

“As far as rules go when it comes to love, I only have one…” I replied.

I’ll come back to that later.

A few days earlier, I dropped into my favorite department store to cash-in on (or drop cash on?) its annual spring make-up event. Double points. Free gift tote with samples. What do you mean I don’t need another red lipstick? Of course I do! Natasha, the facial-care brand representative who had introduced me to the benefits of toner and weekly exfoliation, was more keen to catch-up on life than sell me eye cream. I was happy for the free make-up application and girl chat.

Under the influence of pink ginger ale, I divulged that I had stumbled out of a relationship and immediately into a new fling with a foreign suitor. Her eyes opened wide and she put down her lipstick pencil.

“Just remember, you have a lot of things going for you. Above all you have the advantage of youth — after you turn 30, men will lose interest.”

Pause.

Context: Natasha is hot and exotic. She has a boyfriend who treats her like a queen. She refuses to get married. She is in her 50s and looks 25. Seriously. She is the best advertisement for $500 face cream in the world.

Resume.

The only games I'm interested in playing are ones like Monopoly
The only games I’m interested in playing are ones like Monopoly

“There are lots of rules out there to playing the game, but there are only a few that matter. Here they are:

1. Make him wait a month before you sleep with him. That’s just long enough to become friends so the sex is better. Any longer and he’ll go looking for it elsewhere.

2. Never let a man walk all over you. Be confident in who you are. A man should enhance your life. Not make it.

and 3. Don’t settle for anyone that doesn’t spoil you rotten. You’re wonderful. You’re a princess and deserve to be treated that way. A man that doesn’t pay at dinner will cheat you in other ways. And watch out for French men. They’re fantastic in bed, but they usually have a mistress. I work for the French. I’ve seen it all.”

Natasha’s words of wisdom blew my mind. And not because she had basically told me my prime only lasted two years. No, mostly because other than #1, her rules sounded less like rules and rather mottoes to date by.

We all acknowledge that dating is a game — this is an unfortunate reality that bothers the hell out of me. The only games I like are Monopoly and Scrabble (which I’m terrible at, but play with competitive enthusiasm/optimism). But I think we misuse the word ‘rules’ when we talk about dating. I prefer to think of these things — things like deciding when a couple takes certain steps — as guidelines, suggestions, a roadmap in finding what will make us happiest in the long run. It’s easy to find someone to go to bed with. Less easy to find someone that will make our whole lives better.

My one rule in dating is simple: Follow my instincts. Not just when it feels right, but also when it feels wrong.

Before I sign off, Natasha gave me one more morsel of wisdom and it’s the insight I might just love the most:

“A good relationship is like a good pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes don’t need breaking in. They fit you right and feel comfortable from the first step. That’s what you’re looking for. You don’t need life blisters.”

A good relationship shouldn't remind you of this Marilyn Minter painting... #artnerd
A good relationship shouldn’t remind you of this Marilyn Minter painting… #artnerd

It’s Not about the End. It’s about the What’s Next

exactly.
exactly.

“You’re going to cry again,” my mother said.

She, like everyone else I’ve seen in the last week, doesn’t believe that I really mean it when I say I’m okay.

No, I’m not okay. I’m great.

They keep waiting for the waterworks to start again, the way they did last Thursday when every inquiry into what was wrong started a lip quiver. Like all good things, a relationship that seemed to be going in a good direction ended. Perhaps, more abruptly than we would have liked, but sometimes, when it isn’t love, you just have to rip the bandaid off and get it over with.

Break-ups suck, even the good ones. Each has its own recovery path and time. Sometimes, there’s the shock of the loss to overcome. Every one is has its mourning period where you remember the good times and come to terms with the fact there won’t be any more. Then there comes the anger – at the ex, at the “system.” Next, you press the restart button and begin your make-over as you prepare yourself for the road ahead.

Sometimes you need a scotch to help things along. Scotch always tastes good after a break-up.

Being emotional after a breakup gets you pity drinks from friends. Being rational gets you nothing but a "thata girl!"
Being emotional after a breakup gets you pity drinks from friends. Being rational gets you nothing but a “thata girl!”

Sometimes I wish I was more emotional and less rational. Being emotional gets you out of work early and earns you pity drinks from friends. Rational gets you to the restart period faster — 3 days later and I’m already several ab workouts, a manicure, and a date with my stylist in. I don’t think I’m going to cry again.

This break-up came with an unusual stroke of clarity. I’ve decided that the hurt or pain following the end of relationship is the less daunting challenge to overcome – harder to conquer is the fear of the “what’s next.”

For every end of a significant relationship, a significant question lingers.

After the one that got away: Will I ever love someone that much again? So far, No.

After the one I left behind: Will someone ever love me as much as he did? So far, No.

After this last one: Will I ever be as comfortable being myself as I was with him? So far, TBD.

The path to finding love ever lasting is an uphill marathon
The path to finding love ever lasting is an uphill marathon

The feeling that something’s missing, or that something you had can’t be replicated with someone new — that’s what gets ya down and keeps you there for a while. Makes you swear off falling again. Or lowers your bar for the next person. Or adds another layer of bricks and mortar to the wall around your heart.

Endings are supposed to be new beginnings, but the truth is, new beginnings are hard. First dates are fun and easy. But getting to 4th, 5th and 6th dates — when you start the uphill slog towards trust and a committed relationship — that’s the most testing part of the cross-country marathon that is finding everlasting love.

For now, I’m on the bench for a while. It’s time to treat the wounds and seek the trainer. The  course ahead is a long and tricky one. I need to be ready before I get back in the race.

A Boy’s Weekend in Bulgaria

When it comes to bars, I have one simple rule: if its featured drinks are rainbow colored-shot flights, find another bar.

I'd come looking for a drink. I found rainbow shots...
I’d come looking for a drink. I found rainbow shots…

Sitting in the hookah-scented Graffiti Cafe, I saw a list of drinks I hadn’t seen since that college spring break on Playa del Carmen. I folded the menu and walked into a hotel lobby, scanned the scene and wandered into a restaurant. I ordered a bowl of cucumber-yogurt soup and a glass of rakia and made some notes.

I’m in Bulgaria.

Varna, Bulgaria, to be exact — a city perched on the Black Sea with a history older (and more complicated) than any other in the world.

No, seriously. It’s mad old.

Varna is know for it's spot on the Black Sea, and its 4km-long beach party
Varna is know for it’s spot on the Black Sea, and its 4km-long beach party

But that’s not the point — my interest, for the purpose of this post is in Varna today. Namely, in Varna as the party city of the Black Sea. Where dance clubs and open-air bars stretch for 4 kilometers across the beach, creeping up to the water’s very edge. It’s a city you go to to misbehave — a summer long spring break town where the drinks come in fanciful (unnatural) colors and the music blasts from every door opening (you never really know what euro-pop techno tune is playing in your club; it could just as easily be coming from next door.)

My first morning in Varna started lazily — I rolled out of bed at 9:15 and stumbled to get dressed, still “hungover” from the 2 days of travel it took me to get here. By the time I had my shoelaces properly (and safely) secured, I had 20 minutes left to grab my free Bulgarian breakfast.

Varna is a colorful city, to be sure
Varna is a colorful city, to be sure

I scurried down the hall, trying to ignore the South African-sounding man standing in nothing but his skivvies seeking direction on how to work his TV remote from the poor receptionist who had obviously accepted his demand for help unaware of what was awaiting him.

The hotel, an art nouveau gem, was reportedly full the night before, but joining us for yogurt and coffee were only a group of 50-something-ish British gents. Mr. Boxer Briefs joined them a few moments later.

“They’re Americans,” I heard one of them say, when they noticed I was laughing at their request for “brown bread” (meaning properly-toasted white toast).

“Yes, we are. I’m sorry.”

I learned the group of 10 burly British gents were on a weekend-long holiday. A sort of “let’s pick somewhere in the world to go and go” adventure.

They had go-karting in their future. I suggested the archaeological museum.

The exchange was short. I immediately began to fill in the missing pieces and write the screenplay…

I imagine it to be a sort of Hangover, Britainized, with a cast that includs Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Ciarán Hinds (expected, I know, but easy sell).  They come to Varna hoping for a taste of the Orient and the semi debauched, only to find they’ve hit it at the start of the off-season.  Very few people understand any English. The only open bar on the beach is an underground gay dance club. The city that doesn’t have a wet season is all of a sudden hit with a weekend long monsoon. They go go-karting and discover the go-karts are decommissioned Cold War era military vehicles you push.

Hilarity ensues. They rediscover themselves. etc.

In short, it’s kinda like a Hangover meets Saw, but without the blood and sudden toddler cast member.

Obviously, I still need to flush this whole thing out, but if there’s one thing I have figured out it’s that Varna is a perfect backdrop for a Hugh Grant movie. Trust me. I’ll see you at the Golden Globes…

The rooftops of Varna as the monsoon approaches...
The rooftops of Varna as the monsoon approaches…

40 Days of Dating, When Harry Met Sally, and Plato, or: Let’s Talk about Platonic Relationships

40 Days of Dating is my new blog obsession. Get hooked.
40 Days of Dating is my new blog obsession. Get hooked.

If you haven’t caught whiff of 40 Days of Dating, then you’re probably living under a rock. It’s more addictive than Pringles. This is largely thanks to well-stylized type treatments, a highly readable format, and its extreme relatability — we’ve all been there, we’ve all had that friend we sometimes wonder if we should be dating.

A quick summary for those of you living under a rock: two designer friends, Jess and Tim, decide that their romantic lives have been an utter failure. They embark on an experiment. They’ll see each other every day for 40 days, as if they’re in a relationship, and see what happens. They keep a kind of diary. That diary gets shared with us.

What become apparent quickly to readers is that despite their compatibility as friends, and their genuine affection for each other, is that they really are like oil and water when it comes to love. Being in a relationship is hard. The things you can ignore when you’re just friends become deal breakers when you’re lovers. In short, at about the mid way point Tim decides that being in a relationship is killing their relationship.

Considering the Platonic “Problem”

For anyone that’s had a friend of the opposite sex (or same sex — yay death to DOMA!) this is what we fear most — taking a great friendship and killing it in the name of happily ever after.

Where's Bacchus when you need him?
Where’s Bacchus when you need him?

The stakes are higher when you get involved with friends… but of course, when the stakes are higher, so is the potential payback.

Shortly after discovering 40 Days, I picked up my copy of Plato’s Symposium — the slim book that’s supposed to define a Platonic relationship — wondering if I could find anything in it that applied to Jess and Tim.

“‘Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” 

This is from a speech by Aristophanes, and if you read the speech in his entirety, that sense of wholeness comes from a relationship that transcends physical intimacy. The bond is greater.

The Mirror Has Two Faces

“You know what we need to do? Go back to my place and watch that scene in When Harry Met Sally. The one where he explains to her that men and women CAN’T be friends because of the sex problem. We’ll get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.”

When you're talking about Plato, some how, Greek froyo seems the best side dish
When you’re talking about Plato, some how, Greek froyo seems the best side dish

Nothing beats best girlfriends. After they ask the tough questions you need to be asked, they always find a way to keep you smiling.

Pause. Rewind.

I had been talking about 40 Days of Dating with my favorite girl over meze and wine when she flipped Jess and Tim’s situation back on me.

“I just don’t get you two,” she had said earlier that night, part way into our bottle of wine. “You go out on dates, but you’re not dating. You wonder why you’re both single, and it’s never occurred to you that it might be because you’re not dating each other. Which one of you is scared to like the other?”

As someone whose relationship history is made up mostly of Platonic relationships, which always seem to inspire confusion, I was armed for this.

“The stuff he and I do together isn’t any different than what you and I do together. The only reason you think it’s a date when I see him is because he’s attractive. We work because there’s no pressure and no expectations.”

“That makes sense. I just don’t want you waking up one morning wanting more than he does. I don’t want you getting hurt… but I think he’s missing out.”

She might be on to something — one of us might get hurt and maybe he is missing out. But if he’s missing out, then so am I. I guess that’s why I applaud Jess and Tim for having the balls to make the leap to see if their friendship will lead to that wholeness. They’re braver than the rest of us. My fingers are crossed for them.