I’m Sorry, but He’s Not What You Expected

Warning. He might be a rock fall….

When I told my friends I was dating a European gymnast with a PhD, no one was particularly surprised. Foreign, athletic, and smart has been my type since my jungle gym days. He never lasted long enough to meet the friends, so I never felt the need to warn them that the only things he could talk about was “How I Met Your Mother” and Absolute Zero. But then again, I wasn’t dating him for the conversation. #boytoy

“Look, he’s not what you’re expecting.” This, on the other hand, is how I prefaced meeting Euro-Flips-Phd’s predecessor, who had survived long enough to meet my parents and most of my close friends. After that introductory phrase, came a list of reasons why you’d be surprised at me or put-off by him. On paper, “Big Red” was my best match to-date, but in person, there were about half a dozen reasons why he wasn’t what I, or the peanut gallery, had in mind for my Prince Charming. Our divergent lifestyles were visible in his appearance and demeanor.

Later, after he’d won everyone over with the quick sense of humor and general intelligence that I fell so quickly for, I felt bad.  Why did I feel the need to put him down before anyone had the chance to judge for themselves? Was I afraid of how he might reflect back on me? Or did my warning really reflect the concerns I had about us as a match?

You say he only said 5 sentences to you all night? Why are you surprised? I told you he was shy.

Yes, he wore a braided belt with a suit. I told you he was fashionably-challenged. 

My preemptive warnings headed off your criticisms at the pass. I’ve pointed out his most obvious shortfalls, so you’re going to have to work hard to tell me something I don’t know. Oh? You think the’s wonderful? You don’t understand what I was worried about? His beer belly is totally unnoticeable? And you think he’s funny? Awesome.

I was simultaneously setting him up for failure  and apologizing for him in case he crashed and burned on his own. But more significantly, I was revealing my doubts and granting my friends and family permission to disapprove of him… for a finite set of reasons.

In many cases, these warnings I gave my friends and family were some how at the core of why my fella and I didn’t make it to a happily ever after. Most of the time, they weren’t.

“I like him. A lot,” my mother said after she met Big Red. “But I’m going to pretend I don’t like him, so you keep your options open.”

I guess that when I warned her about this thing or that, I was doing the same thing — letting her know I was keeping my options open. I’m reasonably certain that, even though I know it’s not entirely fair to him, I will always preempt first meetings between a boyfriend and my loved ones with some kind of warning. Most likely because I don’t want to jinx anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Learning to Wear Eyeliner and Life’s Other Little Road Markers

There are some nights I'm pretty sure I've gone out looking like this...
There are some nights I’m pretty sure I’ve gone out looking like this…

I am notoriously dangerous with eye-liner. Don’t hand me anything in liquid form because I’m likely to end up with a comma shaped black blob that transverses an entire side of my face. Despite an otherwise steady hand, pencils have been known to temporarily blind me.  I’ll confess, thanks to a single brush and some guidance from the professionals at Laura Mercier, I’ve come a long way over the last two years. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been nights were I everybody calls me “Left-Eye.”

“No, I didn’t get socked by an artist at a studio visit. I just had a fight with my eye-liner… it won.”

I started wearing makeup in the 8th grade. Like most adolescent females, hormones were kicking in and wreaking havoc with my complexion. Boys no longer had cooties. We had graduated out of training bras (this is where I’m clearly dating myself, because I’m pretty sure Pink makes padded bras for 10 year-olds nowadays).  We were finding our identities and expressing them in outlandish nail polish shades while learning the subtle benefits of foundation and mascara.

This a caboodle, the girl's equivalent of a tacklebox
This a caboodle, the girl’s equivalent of a tacklebox

It was the 90s, and the caboodle was the girl’s equivalent of a tackle box — a feminine-toned, and often glittered, plastic case with little trays that folded out and mirrors that popped up. We filled it with all the tools of our trade: foundation, loose powder, eyeliner in every shade under the rainbow, eye shadow tones that complimented or clashed with our eye color, Tinkerbell brand blush, and lip glosses that tasted like cotton candy. We’d tote the box to sleep overs. A mini version lived in our lockers.

A few make-up consultations later and armed with lessons gleamed from manuals by Bobbie Brown and Kevyn Aucoin, I reconsidered my approach to “putting on my face.”  I gave the caboodle the boot.

Here’s where I begin to make a leap into life’s more significant realizations…

There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style.
There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style. I’m a black eye line and bold lipstick kind of gal

If in our teen years, we’re finding ourselves, in part through colorful experimentation, then eventually, there comes a time when we stop experimenting. Like learning to edit down word counts for papers and grants, we learn what we really need to make an impression. We find our perfect shade, our go-to routine and that’s who we are.