Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why is it never the one you want?

After another very un-spectacular and borderline awkward date, I rather hoped I wouldn't hear from John again.

After strained conversation over dinner and beer at Boston Beer Works in which I blatantly criticized his taste in music (Him: "Well, what kind of music would you call Nickelback? Or Lifehouse?" Me: "Umm, bad?"), we finally (finally) made our way to Jillian's, where I won one game of pool, and every single game of ping pong, until I protested that that all of the winning I was doing was really tiring me out. Sadly, even alcohol and ping pong could not save this relationship. I turned down his offer of a ride home (and somewhat regretted it half an hour later, as I was still waiting for the bus), and thought, Well, at least that's over.

I wasn't sure what I would do if he wanted to go out again, and I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with it. A week went by, and I thought I was in the clear; I had actually rather forgotten about him. Then today I received an e-mail along the lines of:

Hey Rachel, I know you're getting ready to go back to school soon, but if you have some free time, let me know.

So, my faithful (and beautiful!) readers, my question is, do I:

a) not write back and assume he'll get the message
b) write back and say, "School hard, no free time, will, er, let you know..."
c) write back and say that while he's a very nice guy, I just don't think we have anything in common

Do you know which one I want to do? (Either of the passive-aggressive options work well for me, actually). But if the last one is truly the "right" thing to do, as I suspect deep down that it is, then why is it the one that makes me feel the bitchiest?

Advice, dearies? (Send help! and ice cream!)

Why I won't go out with the guy with the girl's name again

Because removing your gum from your mouth and placing it on the underside of your chair, mid-conversation, is a deal-breaker.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why the second time (or the eleventh) is the charm

There has to be something wrong if I'm already repeating dates. Not just generic dates either, but exactly the same dates.

"I have an idea," he said. "We should go to Spectacle Island. They have a cafe there, and you can rent boats. I read about it online." My heart sank just a little. But since we had already been around and around the question, and I didn't have any better ideas for a Saturday afternoon, I agreed. Besides, it wasn't exactly the same date. I had gone to George's Island before; and surely nothing could be worse than that date. There must be something to this island thing; why else is everyone so intent on going there?

Islands are a date killer, as you can probably imagine. You're on an island, with nothing to do but talk, and no way of escape, except the next ferry, if you're lucky. After waiting half an hour for a burger from the "cafe" (a window selling plastic-wrapped sandwiches, bags of chips and warm bottled water) and walking into the ocean up to our knees, there was nothing left to do. We headed back to the pier to catch the next ferry to the "mainland." Unfortunately, after smoke started pouring out the engine, they were short a boat, and the crowd gathered grew more and more restless, as we waited. And waited. And...waited. By the time we finally got back to Boston I was sunburnt, tired of making forced conversation, and I had to pee.

I honestly wasn't expecting to ever hear from John again, given recent events and the ironic non-spectacularness of our Spectacle Island date. But of course, he wants to see me again, of all people. Not the guy with whom I had a good date, good conversation, and a good kiss, who lives a mile down the street from me. No, it's the guy from the bad date, boring conversation, with whom I have little to nothing in common, who lives in the suburbs 45 minutes away, and me without a car, who wants to see me again. I'll give most anyone a second chance (except the guy from last night, but that's another story), so I'm meeting him again tomorrow night. We'll stay on dry land this time, and there will be alcohol involved. Possibly ping-pong. And if alcohol and ping-pong can't make a date a success, then it's truly not meant to be.


In yet another case of deja-vu, Saturday I found myself seated on the grass in front of Peet's Coffee in Harvard Square, sharing conversation and sipping an iced beverage, exactly as I had two months before. The similarity continued as we walked around the Square afterwards, ending at the Coop bookstore. Except...this time, it didn't end there. We made our way to the Border Cafe for an early dinner and a margarita, discussing favorite movies, music, and our travels. After we finished, he walked me home, even though I told him it was kind of far, and he would just have to walk all the way back afterwards. "It's ok," he said, "we can talk on the way." And we did.

Sometimes, while watching a re-run, or a movie I've seen dozens of times before, I can't help but wish that this once, it would turn out differently. Even though I know it's impossible, I can't help but wish that just this once, it would end well. And you know? Sometimes it actually does.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Why do bad profiles happen to good people?

We all know the saying, "A good man is hard to find." This especially rings true in the online dating world, where in order to find a good man, you first have to find a good profile. However, I am quickly discovering that this, to use another cliché, is "easier said than done." I went through the same process, so I know how hard it is to create a catchy, interesting and informative snapshot that represents the various facets of your personality. I know the temptation to rush through this process to get to the part where you can start checking out potential dates. But trust me, you should not rush this part. There is nothing so off-putting as pulling up a guy's profile only to read: "I'm not really good at describing myself so anything you want to know just ask." Well, call up the circus people and put this guy in a tent! It's the Man With No Personality! (Not to mention the disturbing lack of commas. Perhaps he experienced some kind of comma trauma in his youth? [If I had a band it would totally be named Comma Trauma]). Click. Next.

Besides lack of verbosity, there are so many other common pitfalls that I see appearing again and again. The thing is, for the most part they are completely avoidable. I'd like to take it upon myself as a kind of public service to point out these pitfalls to the many, well-intentioned men out there who, like so many of us, are looking for love, or maybe just a date on Saturday night. So, let's get started, shall we?

Ok, I'm not going to lie; the first thing a girl is going to look at is your picture. It's the first impression she is going to form of you, and this is where the trouble starts. Let me say, and I cannot overstress the importance of this: I want to see pictures of you. That's pictures, plural. One picture tells me nothing by itself; I need others to form a basis of comparison and create a general idea of what you look like. Specifically, I want to see pictures of your face. As many as possible, close up, with no shadows, hats, sunglasses or other obstructions. Now that we have that cleared up, let me be a bit more specific.
  • One more time: I want to see pictures of you; not your dog, not your car, not your sister.
  • I'll reiterate: I want to see pictures of your face. It's great that you love to scuba dive/mountain climb/jump out of planes, but that guy wearing the scuba mask/small smudge on a rock face/spandex-clad figure hurtling through the air could be anyone; just show me your face.
  • I don't want to see pictures of mountains/flowers/buildings. I know you're an aspiring photographer, but please, just show me your face.
  • I know you have friends. Please, no group shots of you with all your buddies. If I can't tell which one you are, it doesn't help me at all.
  • This should go without saying, but I see it all too often. Please, guys, no pictures of you with other girls; I don't care who they are.
  • And another thing; keep your shirt on. And you, there, with your shirt off and your arm around that woman...wait, is that your mother? Just, ew.
  • Oh, and posting a picture of that guy from the OC and trying to pass it off as yourself is not cool. Trust me, I know you're not him. And I'm laughing at you.
Now that we have the picture pitfalls out of the way we can move on to the profile blunders. And while pictures may be the first impression I form of you, the profile is just as important, if not more so. To that end, here are some things to watch out for.
  • About 75% of guys' profile names contain the word Boston in them; there's BostonRob, bostontom75, Bostonguy23, and my personal creative favorite, bostonresident. If you add in different permutations of "Red Sox fan" that percentage jumps to about 85%. Maybe because you're not looking at your competition, you don't realize that every other guy out there had the same bright idea as you. But when I'm scrolling through page after page of Boston Robs and Toms and Guys, they all start to blend together. I know it's hard, but please, use a little bit of creativity.
  • Certain phrases are an automatic turn-off for me. Among them, that you're looking for a "natural beauty," or, "no makeup required." First of all, good luck with that. Even Penelope Cruz needs a little help in the morning (or Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, or Julia Roberts, take your pick - and can I just say, yikes?). Why don't you just stick to fixing cars, or computers, or scuba diving/mountain climbing/jumping out of planes, or whatever it is that you do, and let me worry about my makeup, mmmkay?
  • Another turn-off phrase: You want a woman who is "sexually aware." Look, everyone wants to end up with someone who's good in bed, but you're going to have to play the lotto just like the rest of us. I'm deducing you're a sleazy nymphomaniac who will go out with me and then never call again.
  • I feel like this should go without saying as well, but if you can't write a coherent sentence in English, I'm not interested. I'm talking to the born and bred American guys here; I'll cut a little slack for foreigners, who, in most cases, have a far superior grasp of spelling and grammar than some of you local boys, who seem to think that spelling and punctuation can be bent to your personal whim.
  • Please don't explain why you're here, and especially don't talk about how it's "so weird" that you're online. I know why I'm here, I know why you're here; we're all in the same boat. If you feel awkward about it, maybe you should deal with your own insecurities before you dive into the dating world, online or otherwise.
Ok! So that about does it for this edition of When Bad Profiles Happen to Good People. How about you? What are your profile pet peeves? Or, to put a positive spin on things, what are some good things you've noticed in people's profiles?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Why if this keeps up, I may have to buy stock in Haagen-Dazs

I haven't been feeling a lot like writing lately. I've been in a funk, unable to convince myself to do anything other than sit in front of the t.v. and eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars. And while I know doing something - cooking, going for a run, writing something, anything - would make me feel better, more energized, productive, I just can't. Because that would be doing something, which would ruin the nothing I have so effectively cultivated.

Internet, I'm bummed. And it's not that I don't have things to look forward to; tomorrow is my last day at the hated summer temp job, my parents are coming to visit, and then I'm going home for a week and will hopefully reconnect with some lovely old friends. And yet, I'm bummed. I'll tell you, Internet. This dating thing is not all it's cracked up to be.

When you start dating again after three years, at first it seems overwhelming, and then it seems exciting, like a world of endless possibilities. Hundreds of six foot plus guys, all within a 5 mile radius, there for the taking! A veritable cornucopia of potential boyfriends; do you prefer biologist, chemist, or engineer? Brown hair or blond? Classic and refined or free spirit? They're all there, and they're all looking for someone too. But what you don't think about in the midst of this whirlwind of excitement, of winks, and e-mails and first date planning, is what happens after. No big deal, you think. Either we'll both hit it off, or we won't. If it doesn't work out, you just move on to the next one.

I have been on, at last count, nine first dates in the last two months. That must set some sort of record. It's almost like a part-time job at this point. Nine first dates. Two second dates. Zero third dates. The numbers by themselves don't mean much. My issue here is not with numbers, my issue is what no one tells you about when you start dating again, and I'm talking about Rejection. Capital R Rejection.

It started with my third first date; Ryan. He seemed to have it all; a chemistry post-doc in his last year at Harvard, and he was even cute. His only fault was his vegetarianism, but hey, idealism can be sexy. We seemed to hit it off right away; we made easy conversation, and soon discovered a shared love of quoting the Simpsons. At the end of the first date there was no beating around the bush; "I had a good time," he said. "Should we do it again?" Definitely, I said. "Ok, how's Thursday?" he said. Though the goodbye was businesslike (no hug, not even a handshake), he sent me an e-mail that same night apologizing for his seeming "standoffishness," explaning that it takes him a little while to warm up to new people. That was fine with me, and his e-mail confession only made him more adorable in my eyes. The second date was, as the first, full of good food, wine, and conversation. And this time, at the end of the night, I got a hug. He's warming up! I congratulated myself. A very good sign. He right away proposed another date; this time he didn't know what day yet, but he would e-mail me. In the week and a half or so since we had first met online, we had been exchanging e-mails multiple times each day, back and forth conversations that provided a nice respite from the humdrum cubicle world for me, and I suppose the lab for him. They were interesting, colorful snippets of insight into the personality of someone I was just getting to know. I liked him a lot. We planned a date for Monday. On Sunday, I sent him an e-mail. Two hours later, I hadn't received a response, which seemed strange, considering the usual rapid-fire nature of our electronic conversations. All day long I kept refreshing my e-mail, only to find my inbox still empty. Damn you, Yahoo! I cursed. I know this is your fault. I was so sure that the problem was a glitch, evil technology conspiring to keep us apart. It was the only explanation. And now he probably thinks I'm not replying to him, I thought. I raged and gnashed my teeth, and waited. Monday morning I woke up and got ready to go to work. Normally I wait until I get to the office to check my e-mail in the morning, but this time I couldn't wait. I fired up my computer, and there, finally, was the long-awaited e-mail. For some reason, I got an uneasy feeling as soon as I saw it. There was no subject heading. It didn't bode well. It started out: I don't know how to say this, but...I blinked. There was no good way this sentence could end. I kept reading. ...I just don't think "it" is going to work. I don't know whether it's a timing thing or due to my fragile mental state, but you deserve someone who's as nice as yourself. And then, I burst into tears. Horrible, rending sobs of disappointment and anger. I threw myself onto my bed. I couldn't believe this. And to top it all, the greatest indignity was that not only had I been dumped via e-mail, by a guy I really liked, hours before what should have been our third date, but I had to go to stinkin' work?! I indulged myself in tears for a few minutes longer, dragged myself up, dripped in some eye drops, and went to stinkin' work, where I proceeded to mope and feel sorry for myself for the next eight and a half hours in the non-privacy of my cube. And that's what I mean by Capital R Rejection.

And oh, Internet, I wish it ended there. But it goes on and on like this. While I haven't let myself become quite as attached to any of the new guys I've met (I've stopped imagining our weddings, although that is a hard one to break), the ending is generally the same. In fact, what happened with Ryan was actually one of the better scenarios. He led me on, but at least he had the decency to tell me that it was over. Dan, the groper? Four days went by and I heard nothing from him, so I sent him a casual e-mail, telling him I still sported a bug bite on my foot as a reminder of our evening together. He wrote back and said that his sister and her three kids were in town, and he was entertaining them. A decent enough excuse, I thought. He said he would like to go out again sometime. He'd bring the bug spray. I said great, give me a call. That was over a week ago. He's not going to call.

Oh, and Ben of the amazing good night kiss? I know, he seemed so promising, right? I, stupidly, let myself get really excited about him. Great conversation! He walked me home! He told me to call him! He asked me for a good night kiss! He asked me! There's no mistaking that situation, right? I mean I can't possibly be reading this one wrong, can I? I agonized three days before I called. (I know, we all hate when guys pull that three day thing. I mean, who came up with that rule? And now I'm doing it myself. But I didn't want to look too pushy). I was ridiculously nervous as I dialed. It rang. No answer. But it was ok, I had prepared for that. I left what I hoped was a cool, casual yet interested message. I went to a bar to meet some friends, and became the obsessive compulsive phone checker that I hate. Nothing. Still nothing. It put a cloud over what should have been a great night.
The next day I looked up his profile and saw to my dismay that he was online at that very moment. And definitely not e-mailing me. So much for him being out of town, or stranded on a desert island. To make a long story short...he didn't call back.

It's only making matters worse that I e-mailed an old friend recently, telling him I would be in town, and I'd love to meet up, meet his girlfriend, his dog. He wrote back describing the hectic nature of his life at the moment; between balancing work, the girlfriend, the dog, he didn't have any time left at all. So while of course he wanted to see me, the reality is he probably wouldn't. Considering the fact that I haven't seen him in years, that I would be in town a solid week, and that I gave him a good two weeks of warning, I read his response more as "Sorry, I'll be washing my hair...No, every night." Just one more rejection. Maybe not capital R, but more than I could take at the moment. I sent him a rather snippy response and retreated inward, licking my emotional wounds. Remembering how we had planned to see each other a couple days after Christmas last year. Then, that day, he cancelled, saying he couldn't come because his dad had "moved Christmas," something about a present not arriving in time. He sounded very blasé about it. I was fairly outraged over the notion of "moving Christmas," and why couldn't he just tell his dad he already had plans?

It's hard admitting to yourself that a relationship is over, whether it's after many years, or only a few days. It's hard to deal with the loss of what was, or of what will never be. And it's particularly hard for those of us with an already delicate sense of self to reach out to someone else, only to be left reaching, again and again and again. It makes each new date a new potential for disaster, each fraught with a new level of anxiety. It makes me want to curl up with a remote control and a box of ice cream bars and watch What Not to Wear until my eyeballs sizzle. It makes me want to give up.

But first I have a date on Saturday with John. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Why Aretha Franklin was right

Friends, today I'd like to talk about something very important. To the young and uninitiated, what I'm going to talk about could be deemed obscene, indecent, or even gross. Those of us who are older and more refined in our tastes know, however, that it can be a bewildering, breathtaking, even transcendent experience. Yes friends, today I'd like to talk about...kissing. We'll cut through the pesky details of who said what and, perhaps to the dismay of some, focus nearly exclusively on the kissing parts. And now, I present you with...A Tale of Two Kisses.

On Saturday I had wine with Dan, a 6'1" 34 year-old biologist. We sat outside on the patio of Noir. (I think of it just like that, in italics - Noir. A definite step up from the sitting on the grass, drinking iced coffee dates I'm used to). He seemed nice enough, and in spite of his age he had a certain boyish charm. After a couple glasses of shiraz, discussing our jobs and our travels, we left Noir and walked around a bit, ending up on a bench in Cambridge Common.

"This is nice," he said, reaching for my hand.

"What is?" I said, thinking, My hand? My hand is nice? My watch? My ring?

"This park," he said.

"Oh, yes, yes it is," I agreed.

And then, as if scripted, he put his arm around me, leaned in, and kissed me. And it was...not good. At first it was too hesitant, his lips barely making contact, and then, more disturbingly, it just would not end. It's hard to say how a kiss could be both hesitant and insistent at the same time, but as much as I would have liked for our first kiss to be short and sweet, I just couldn't break free. And then the groping started. His hands seemed to be everywhere all at once, squeezing and pawing, but they seemed most particularly intent on determining whether my bra was a front-hook (it was). I couldn't believe it; within seconds of our first kiss, this guy was going for my boob, in a public park. At 34, shouldn't he know better? After I finally extricated myself, he mentioned the possibility of "heading over to Porter Square," (where he just so happened to live) but I politely excused myself and went home.

First kisses mean nothing, I tried to tell myself. I reminded myself that with a certain ex-boyfriend, an awkward (and coffee and cigarette-tinged) and quite frankly unpleasant first kiss developed into a three year relationship, wherein we frequently congratulated each other on what awesome kissers we were. And it was true; as much as it pains me to reminisce about it now, the kissing really was damn good. It just takes time, I tried to tell myself. But the groping...well, something will have to be done about that. Maybe if I hold his hands while kissing...But yes, I would go out with him again, I decided. There was potential there. But first things first...

Two days later, cut to Christina's ice cream shop with Ben, a 25 year-old, 6'3" grad student/engineer. While at first he seemed not entirely my type, he was tall, interesting, and had a great, deep voice (I'm a sucker for a deep voice). We talked for hours, until we were the only people left at Christina's, and once we looked up we realized that the employees were mopping the floors around us. We left and went for a walk, in the general direction of my house. We started out walking at a normal pace, but it seemed like Ben was walking gradually slower and slower. Is it because he doesn't want this to end? I wondered. I found myself thinking that, while he was younger, and not exactly my type, I could really see myself liking him. He was so full of energy, and ideas, and youthful enthusiasm. Plus, he paid for my ice cream, and he actually said, "I don't think chivalry is dead." Well...ok! We reached my house, and I made some joke about how you can always tell who the renters are, because the yard is full of weeds (seriously, so embarassing, I could barely get to the front door through the overgrown bushes). After a confusing discussion regarding who would call who (he said I should call "if I was interested." Does that mean he's not interested?), he said, "So, do I get a good night kiss?"

"What?" I said. (I was pretty sure that was what he said, but that is one thing you do not want to misunderstand). He repeated the question, but I was flustered by the seemingly inordinate number of cars going by on my normally quiet street, and the headlights in my eyes and the overwhelming possibility of the moment. I must have hesitated because he took me hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed it. "Ok, have a good night," he said. "Well, let me give you a hug," I said, and I did. Not one to let the moment get away, I lingered, our lips drew close and...we kissed. And it was amazing. It was slow, it was soft, it was not too short and not too long. "Have a really good night," I said. And I swear, I went inside, closed the door, and giggled. Seriously! I giggled. I floated upstairs. "How was it?" my roommate asked. And I giggled again, I couldn't even help it. "It was gooood." I said. "We kissed! And he wasn't even gropey!"

That night it took me hours to fall asleep; I kept replaying the kiss over and over again in my head. And again the next day, while sitting in front of the computer at work, and the next day too; it was that good. Every time I thought about it, my stomach would flutter, and the only way I can describe it is like throwing up, if throwing up was fun. Kind of...pleasantly nauseous.

All I can say is, oh, what a difference a kiss makes.