Captain Marvel

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…”

i can resist anything but temptation
If you had seen his arms, you would have understood.

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?”

“Nope.”

“You should. I’ve seen it like, 3 times already. I’ll take you.”

“Are you one of those Comic Con guys?”

“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.

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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.”

 

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Writer’s Note:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inception: The Relationship Edition

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just not properly equipped to be in this relationship.”

Frank Hampshire had sent me  a text message asking if he could catch the next train to come see me.

No, I said. He could call me.

I knew what was coming even though there had been no preemptive discussion. I have a 6th sense — I see dead relationships. I always know when we’re over, even when all signs say otherwise.  In retrospect, I probably should have made him pay the $20 in transportation fees…

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What exactly Frank Hampshire meant by “not properly equipped,” it’s hard to say, but he was right. We were fundamentally ill-equipped for each other, despite a Thanksgiving-dinner-grocery-shopping list of reasons why we had been great plus-1s over the last six months.

We had hit that perfect grove of a stable relationship — game nights with his friends, concerts and outings, Seamless or Blue Apron and pirated movies at his place, a holiday with my parents, my toothbrush in his medicine cabinet and my shirt in his closet. There wasn’t anything glaringly out of place. But then one cold January morning, after a perfect night of laughter out with friends, I woke up in his apartment, looked around, and knew I had better take my toothbrush.

Frank was still asleep. From his bed I had a perfect panorama of his apartment. Through the bay windows in front of me I could see the whole of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I loved that view. Dawn was breaking but the sky ached with the weight of late winter grey clouds. On the windowsill, I could see the sombrero ashtray his mother brought him from Mexico — the ashtray he swore he never used, even thought I caught him leaning his head out of the window dragging long puffs on a cig from his secret stash more than once. And I could see his elliptical machine — the one he definitely never used because it was thick with dust and  which had become symbolic of our divergent lifestyles. If I turned my head to the left, I could see into his closet where the purple dress shirt I gave him for Christmas because it made his blue eyes pop hung in a sea of white and solid blue.

And I could see him.

For all the things that had been good about us, the things that had gone unsaid were becoming palpable.

It’s like inception — once that idea “this is over” creeps into your head, you can’t get rid of it. You can say you’re being silly. But it bores away at you. And before you know it, you’re trapped inside a collapsing deep daydream. No matter how much you try to reason your heart into believing you’re in love, you just know — it’s over.

leonardo-dicaprio-in-the-water-in-inception
Like Leo, we’re in a dream that was about to collapse, and for us there was no way out

 

 

 

 

Ghostbusting: Considering The Disappearing Boo

Dating these days is like something out of a made-for-TV Halloween special. When we’re coupled off, we have our “boo.” And when we want to extricate ourselves from something perhaps in need of an exorcist, we ghost.

casper
As a tween, I had a crush on Casper (well, on Devon Sawa.) But as a grown-up, being Caspered isn’t so friendly.

Over the summer and again in November, the New York Times committed a good amount of print space to the act of ghosting, or the childish act adopted by grown-ups of giving someone the silent treatment… permanently. But as any Millennial and older knows, if by the time you’re 30 you haven’t been ghosted by someone you’re dating and/or ghosted someone you’re dating, then you haven’t really dated.

The November New York Times Modern Love piece on ghosting followed the progressing mental stages of a woman who had just been ghosted by a guy she had been seeing for two weeks. I couldn’t entirely tell to what degree the piece was satirical (two weeks? And she’s flipping out? I don’t even add a guy into my contacts until week four, let alone make an emotional investment at two… especially in this age of the disappearing boo…. jeeeez). But her piece made the point that the silence forced on us by the ghoster is a trigger. We look in the mirror and ask, “What’s wrong with me?” And then we find 1,005 answers (some valid, some hogwash) to that question.

When I was a tween, I had a crush on Casper the Friendly Ghost (well, I had a crush on Devon Sawa, to be clear.) But as an “adult,” being Caspered isn’t so friendly. Being ghosted is just like any other kind of break-up — it can lead us to believe we are unloveable.

Being ghosted by someone we’ve just started dating is highly insulting and yet, when there’s no relationship to break-up from, sometimes it really is the most humane way to end it. Like ripping off the band aid, or a single shot to the head.

When he or she just isn’t that into you, sometimes silence is the clearest and kindest message. Sometimes there just isn’t much to explain — this thing just doesn’t feel right.

“Thanks for your voice message,” Chris said to me in a text. “Most people don’t show that kind of courtesy. Maybe we can be friends?”

Chris is a guy I had a handful of working day midday dates with. I was just out of a long term relationship. He worked in a building a 5 minute jaunt from my office and lived in a rented house 15 minutes from where I lived. He liked outdoor things and to read books, real books as opposed to a Kindle. Sometimes, we ran into each other in the Wednesday Farmers Market. When we sat down to lunch or a coffee break, it was a pleasant hour or so. But when we parted ways, I just didn’t feel it. He sent me a text to plan a second “real” date. I called him to say, thanks, but I wasn’t ready to start dating again. A partial lie — had he been a little different, had things felt a little different, I would have been ready to date again.

“Yes. You can never have a shortage of good friends!”

“Great. How about friends who make-out. You have gorgeous lips.”

“Don’t push your luck, buddy.”

Chris and I never hung out again. But not because someone pulled a disappearing act. We wanted different things and paid each other the courtesy of sharing that fact.

But had I ghosted him, would he have been surprised or hurt? Probably not. It wasn’t a relationship. It was a few public sightings, exchanges, and some dates.

Now, Ghosting a longer-term partner? That’s just cowardly.

Ghosting a friend? That should be a one-way ticket straight to hell.

Because here’s the thing: Once you have a measurable past with someone, they deserve to know that you don’t want to have a present or future with them. 

You can leave out The Why, because The Why is only important if you want to try to fix things. But tell them good-bye. Friends and girlfriends/boyfriends have earned certain rights, and one of them is the courtesy of a break-up.

Even a post-it note break-up is better than a ghosting.

post it break up

 

 

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.

The Online Date that Wasn’t

Remember friendster?

I’m not much of a techie or apster or webie (are those last two things? Let’s pretend they are…), so I wouldn’t have known friendster, the pre-cursor to facebook, is now one of Asia’s largest gaming sites. In my day, where MySpace was for budding bands and arts-types to gain a following, friendster was the way for the Everyman to reconnect, to connect, and to meet. I was 19 and a sophomore in college when I made my frienster account. Prompted, I’m sure by one of my guy friends in the engineering/comp sci program who told me “social media is going to be huuuuge.”

I was old enough to remember AOL chatrooms and AIM profile pages (both of which got me into a fair amount of trouble), and so was just the right amount of skeptical about such public access to my avatar identity (I’m not sure privacy settings were really de rigeur yet.) But I also acknowledged that this “social media,” whateverthehellthatwas, could be a useful tool to expand my network of friends beyond my dormitory and lecture room walls.

I carefully curated my profile page, selecting pictures that played down more of my youthful features (those chubby cheeks and that slightly crocked front tooth), and emphasized an urban co-ed persona. An interest in arts and culture meant that it wasn’t long before I had new connections across NYC… who were mostly male, and reasonably eager for companionship.

And this is the point where I note that friendster was also the pre-cursor to OkCupid.

Jon friended me fairly soon after my profile went life. He was a 29 year old graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School, studying composition. Already, he had scored a musical adaptation of a play by Moliere that was having an off-Broadway debut. This seemed promising. Older, creative, and on his way. We began a short exchange that lead to sharing phone numbers. He lived on the Upper Westside, in fact, in an apartment on 96th and Amsterdam, not far from my college neighborhood of Morningside Heights.

He called me to make plans.

If you’re new to online dating, a valuable piece of advice I can share is: make sure you speak on the phone before you meet. The phone is the most awkward medium of communication — if you two can find a way to swap ideas without facial cues, you’re off to a good start. Also, if he has any irregularities in speech, a lisp or a stutter, perhaps, it’s better to know about it before you’re face to face.

Jon had a soft, effeminate voice that border-lined on creepy. But he took the lead — for our first date, we’d have coffee at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a Columbia mainstay that was a stone’s throw from my dorm but also convenient for him — and that was appealing.

Confession: This date with Jon was not only my first internet-assisted date (even if it wasn’t a dating site that introduced us), it probably also qualified as my first real date. Like, as in, we’re not just friends or classmates going out and seeing what happens, but as in, here’s a guy promising to pay for my coffee because he’s shopping for a girlfriend.

I don’t know what was more intimidating — the fact that I had never actually seen this person in the flesh, or that I was going on my first first date.

To be on the safe side, I enlisted my then best friend and roommate Suki and our mutual friend Joanne. Their mission, which they chose to accept, was to be already stationed at the pastry shop. They were recon and undercover chaperons in case he was an ax murderer. We agreed on set hand signals that would relay “get me out!” or “I’m getting married!”

Amadeus Mozart, when he wasn’t in a wig, was pretty sexy with all that crazy hair

In person, Jon was as creepy as our phone conversation suggested. With nails longer and pointier than mine, and hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week, he more closely resembled a bearded vampire than a future great composer (Amadeus was pretty sexy with that lion’s mane.) Conversation moved smoothly, but it wasn’t long before I was send my MAYDAY! signals across the room to my girls — the signal telling them to call me and fake an emergency.

There was a pillar. They never saw me.

2 hours later, he paid for my coffee and I bid him farewell…

When he called me the next day to offer to take me to dinner, I politely declined. A few hours later, I closed my friendster account… and my MySpace account. I was done with social media for a while (a few months later, Facebook spread to all the Ivy League schools and I was quick to hop on the bandwagon), and it would be years later before I trusted the internet to play matchmaker.

I never joined a social media site to meet a lover just as I never started blogging to find a (rich) husband. And while Jon might have been an overall fail, I owe him and that whole experience a certain degree of gratitude. It dared me to take a risk with my social life… and always have back-up in plain sight.

Out or In? Acknowledging What We Really Want

As he placed the bowl of strawberries and a plate of fresh mozzarella in front of me, I thought: we’re a total cliche.

The plan had been to meet at his place for a rooftop drink, then grab dinner and the new Woody Allen flick. 45 minutes to get all dressed up, and we didn’t even make it to the club… Instead of dinner and a movie, we were sitting in his kitchen snacking on bits of things he’d picked up earlier that day at the family-owned Italian market around the corner from his one bedroom flat on the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone. I was in a gray undershirt he’d pulled from a pile of recently washed leisure cloths. He sported a pair of boxer briefs. It was the summer after all, and central air is a luxury not found in pre-war residences.

“You should come back next weekend,” he said. “During the daytime. We’ll shop the corridor of old family businesses my grandmother used to frequent, and then we’ll cook dinner.”

Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together...
Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together…

A week later, we did just that. Standing in his small kitchen, chopping tomatoes and swapping family sauce secrets, and pausing from the chore of cooking every so often to dance to the silence between tracks on the playlist, we were completely apart from the world. We were neatly  and romantically tucked away into a bubble of domestic bliss. As he cracked open a mediocre bottle of wine (a gift from his landlord) and as we shared the most tasteless bowl of rigatoni I’d ever concocted, I thought: we may not cook well together, but this feels good. This is what I want.

It turned out it was what he wanted too. As we put away the dishes, he told me he couldn’t see an ending for us. Perhaps, we’d found the one?

(Spoiler alert: we broke up 6 months later.)

These are the kind of tender moments from relationships past that I bury in the recesses of my memory as I move further away from them, both chronologically and emotionally.

Two years later, and a few hours after diner at a friend’s flat, these vignettes, and ones like them, resurfaced. Over a home-cooked meal of a different nature we had talked about what constituted a “grown-up” relationship, and what he wanted/was ready for now — he painted a rather domestic scene of shared nights in, conversation exchanged over a bottle of wine, etc.

This didn’t surprise me. In my experience, most of the men I dated moved from going out to staying in as soon as I gave his apartment a passing mark. For me, this turn inward was often a point of contention.

cold weather coupleI am almost stubbornly independent. Personal space and alone time are precious, not commodities, but necessities for me. In a similar vein, while I fully embody the home-maker sign of the zodiac, my romantic search has been motivated by finding an activity partner. I’m an adventurer, and when asked when I’m looking for, I usually choose “someone to go out with” rather than “someone to come home to.” Spending our nights together on the couch didn’t seem domestic, it seemed lazy. Expecting I would spend my weekends at his place, on his couch, didn’t seem domestic, it seemed invasive and possessive.

Opening up my mind’s vault to those scenes was revealing. That my most treasured memories from broken romances revolved around a pseudo home life was at first disturbing. I was forced to admit to myself that my favorite stage in a relationship is the part when we’re okay with looking inward, when we’re okay being more home-centric than out and about. I haven’t decided if I have any profound take away from this realization yet — perhaps I have a more focused idea of what I want for myself? Maybe. I know I want to strike a balance between being a nesting pair and a social duo. And what I also know is that I haven’t made finding Mr. Right any easier through this confession — it’s far easier to find someone you can run with than to find someone you want to sit still beside.