Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why the universe is definitely mocking me

In case anyone out there has ever considered online dating as an alternative to a lifetime of pain and loneliness, I would like to share this story with you.

The last week I've been mooning about, all giddy over some guy I was in ever-deepening e-mail correspondence with. This guy was weirdly like me, in so many ways. At first it was just that we liked the same things: This American Life, The Daily Show, movies starring a young Paul Newman. Then it was that we had both lived in Cambridge (though at different times). We both had scoliosis! And his spelling and grammar were impeccable. He sent me the link to his old Myspace profile (which should have been my first clue that something was amiss), and lo and behold, he was cute! Really cute! Maybe a little too short; ok, definitely a little too short, but the guy DVRd Jeopardy. He played Boggle. He was clever, funny, and writing a book. I was willing to make an exception. We exchanged epic e-mails that grew longer by the day. I was a level of giddy I hadn't felt about anyone since my hot Italian internet pen-pal, Jules, in high school. It was weird, because even though I hadn't met him, I sort of felt myself...falling for him. I was too old for this silliness, I knew, but for once, I felt alive. I let myself fall. 

Now we just had to meet in person. When I brought it up, he seemed hesitant. The fact that I am tall, thin, a student at Mythaca College, and probably talking to half a dozen different guys on a dating website brought to mind certain stereotypes that he just wasn't interested in, he said. He also said some of his Myspace pictures may have been fairly old, and he might not be as "pretty" anymore. He said he probably needed a haircut, preferred glasses to contacts, and had a beard and a bit of a gut. I, however, determined to disprove his image of me as a stereotypical "Mythaca College douchette," told him that none of that mattered. "Maybe I don't look exactly like my pictures either," I told him. "For instance, my hair is short now. You'll see."

When a guy from the internet tries to warn you about his appearance, Internet, heed his words. I did not. And so it was that I met up with someone I had hoped would be my soul mate, and instead found someone who bore almost no resemblance at all that the person I thought I knew. I quickly realized that the thin, smiling guy I fell for in the photos hadn't existed as such for at least ten years. But still, I am no shallow Mythaca College douchette. I decided to give him a chance. We sat down, and I asked him how long he had been in Mythaca, where he had lived before that, and what he had done there. At this last question, he immediately turned shy and mumbly, smiling down at his napkin and avoiding eye contact. Then he looked up and said something about a house painting business his friend had there, "and some other stuff, too." "Oh," I said, matter-of-factly. "Were you a drug dealer?" He turned mumbly again and blushed down at his napkin, which was all the answer I needed. "I can't believe you immediately jumped right to that," he said. "How did you know?" But it wasn't really such a mental leap--the guy looked exactly like a drug dealer. He said he was long done with that; he spends his days alone now, working on his book. When I inquired politely about his current means of income, his initial vague discourse on "investments" and "the stock market" turned out to mean "betting on sports." Apparently he never loses. And in full disclosure, he did pay for everything all night--movie, pizza, drinks-- all except for his cigarettes, which I bought for him because the store wouldn't accept cards or break his $50.

So, friends, when a guy from the Internet warns you that he might not be as "pretty" as his photos, heed his words, lest you be stuck with a short, unkempt gambler and former drug dealer who thinks that you just might be his soul mate.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why it was news to me, too

Well, let's move on from that last post, shall we? As it turns out, according to the e-mail I just received, I have some very happy news to share with you. The e-mail reads:

Hi Rachel,

 Claire gave me the happy news that you and your partner were celebrating marriage yesterday. I'm delighted to hear it. I never met her, but it was clear that you had fallen in love.

 I wish you both a wonderful life together!

Some Woman I Don't Know

So, there's that. I dunno, you ever feel like the universe is trying to fuck with you? Or is the universe trying to tell me that I should become a lesbian? So, so many questions.

For now I remain ever faithfully yours, Internet,
Rachel, straight and single  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I never was Homecoming Queen

A couple Fridays ago I met Jimmy James and his roommate Al out at a bar. I never have a particularly good time when I go out with them, but it generally beats sitting at home alone on the slit-your-wrists scale of entertainment value. That Friday night, however, though it started out fine, quickly devolved into an abrupt retreat and a bout of the kind of heart-rending sobbing and emotional self-flagellation I used to reserve for the bathroom of every middle school dance I ever attended. And, actually, for much the same reasons. Back then it was because boys didn't like me and I never got asked to slow dance, and thus necessarily would die old and gawky and alone. And oh, how little things change. This time it was because I felt lost and alone and no one would talk to me, or even look me in the eye, or acknowledge my existence. Jimmy James and Al were friendly but half-drunk and distracted by friends and assorted acquaintances that they had also invited out, and my attempts at engaging newcomers in conversation were quickly shot down. One guy, Jimmy James' coworker, politely responded to my introductory questions and then firmly and deliberately stated, "I am going to order a drink now," and buried his nose in the (not overly long) beer menu for the next twenty minutes. And no, he was not socially awkward, and he had no trouble later striking up a much more enthusiastic conversation with the fresh-faced and bubbly young brunette who joined our group. That was the most social interaction I had that night, as everyone else present seemed similarly determined not to engage with me. I sat on my bar stool alone trying to quell the rising panic of feeling not just ignored, but worse--invisible. I felt a brief surge of relief as someone I recognized walked in the door. I had met him out with these guys before on several occasions and knew him to be fun and friendly. Lately I had even been in contact with him at the high school where I tutor and he teaches, observed his class, even, and occasionally chatted with him in the hallway. He didn't immediately acknowledge me, but greeted his friends and launched right into a story, which I thought only fair, and so I waited. After about half an hour, however, and after he had looked directly through me about five different times and I had never been able to catch his eye even long enough to say hi, I realized that it wasn't that he didn't know I was there, it was that he didn't care. No one did. And so I left without a word to anyone (who would I tell?) and slipped out the door and into the cool night air. And so I arrived back at home a mere hour after I had left, though how could all of that have taken place in one hour when it all felt somehow so monumental and life-changing? (Forgive me the dramatics, but one cannot make an allusion to middle school angst without a bit of theater.) Usually I am very good about rationalizing a situation like this and turning it to my advantage: Oh, I wouldn't want to be friends with those people, anyway. They're not my kind of people. (And no, I am not at all interested in your sweet grapes when these sour ones suit me just fine, thankyouverymuch.) But that night was different. I couldn't rationalize it away. Because suddenly it was becoming very clear to me that, contrary to what I had once suspected in middle school, boys not liking me was not actually the very worst thing that would ever happen to me. Not boys, no. People. People don't like me. A realization at once preposterous in scope and yet horrifyingly clear. And for once I am not being overly dramatic. Just hear me out.

I ran through the events of the evening, in condensed and emotionally distanced form, on the phone with my friend Pete. Not out of any plea for pity, but because he asked me how my weekend was. It is, however, a well known fact that of all people, Pete is the last to offer blind encouragement and moral support, and so it came as no surprise that he would respond with a pseudo-naive, "But why, Rachel? Why do you think people don't want to talk to you?" A simple I don't know wouldn't satisfy his need to hear me say it out loud, but just as determined as he, still I stuck to it like a scratched record, I don't know I don't know I don't know. The words themselves mere signs, their meaning twisted, because though I said I don't know what I was trying to say was leave me alone leave me alone leave me alone. Leave me with my pretenses, leave me my dignity, let us both pretend together that I am something other than what I am, please, leave me just this. But as Pete's help button is perpetually stuck on the 'tough love' setting, he was not willing to leave it at that, and instead offered encouragement in the form of inspirational tales of people who have managed to transform their entire personality, or even their bone structure, so you see (head pat), all is not lost. "Now really, Rachel...why do you think people don't want to talk to you?" Internet, if you haven't figured it out by now, I don't respond particularly well to the tough love approach, and so with this final inquest I dissolved into a mass of tears for the second time in twenty-four hours, and out came all my demons. "Because I'm ugly and boring and people don't like me," I sobbed. "Why? Why do you want me to say that? It's all I think about all the time so why would you make me say it out loud?" In his defense, with this he became genuinely contrite. He didn't mean to hurt me, and I knew that. He was merely holding up the mirror.

This story is an onion. Let me peel back the layers.

Last week I was talking with one of my former language department colleagues and now my professor in the grad program, a woman not unlike Julia Child in voice and in stature. Imposing, grandmotherly, stylish, always laughing, and impossible not to like. She's always been a supporter of mine; I had my phone interview with her when I applied for my teaching job, and she was just as supportive when she found out that I would be entering the grad program in teaching. "I think you're doing the right thing," she told me. Though in my case it would be more of a formality, she said, since she already knew that I could teach. Just something I would have to get through to get my certification. Today she asked how it was going, if I was enjoying the program or if I still saw it as something I had to "get through." I tried to be as diplomatic as possible in my response. Well, I told her, I never expected to particularly enjoy it. I knew it would be a lot of work, and it is, and so yes, my ultimate goal is to get through it and get certified. Well, yes, she said, a furrow appearing on her brow, but at the same time, we do only have this one life, and so we might as well try to enjoy the experiences we have, didn't I agree? I said yes, I supposed so, but my confusion grew palpable about me. Then, in a very caring but straight forward manner she told me that she was concerned about me, that she didn't know if I was aware, but I could often come across as quite "prickly" in class. Alarm bells started ringing. Flashbacks to another conversation with a different colleague-turned-professor this summer. Different words, but the same message. His manner in telling me had seemed more forced, less caring, grated on me, and so I had dismissed it as a fundamental clash of personalities. He gave me a grade in the course that I wasn't completely happy with, and I deemed it unfair, decided that he was holding me to different standards than the other students in the class (three of us, in total) because of my background; that he just didn't like me. I was bored in class, sure. He said he had the feeling that I didn't want to be there, which was true, though I didn't tell him that. I didn't say that my love-hate relationship with French literature had run its course years ago and I was none too pleased to find myself back in its sticky, ink-smeared grasp, however temporarily. I sucked it up and I went to class and I did my work, and who was he to accuse me of not being enthusiastic enough? I participated no more or no less than the two other students in the class, and with no more or less energy or insight. I tried to blend in. His accusations, though under the guise of caring, felt like an attack on me personally, on my character, and so rather than explain, I kept my responses monosyllabic in an attempt to stave off the tears, but they still came. Yes. No. It's just...nothing. May I go now? I cried in front of him and he saw it and I detested my own weakness, my vanity, my failure to accept criticism. I retreated to my safety zone, I took in his words, rattled them around the empty corners of my mind, and finding no way to assimilate them, no safe place to put them, threw them out again, and thought no more about it. Until now.

She continued. "I try not to take it personally," she said, "I'm sure it's not something you save up just for my class." No, of course not, I assured her. "I know, I'm sure you don't, but it can make me feel quite uncomfortable." I really don't think I act any differently than any of the other students in the class, I told her, my discomfort and my confusion growing, but before I could even finish my sentence, "Oh yes, you do," she assured me. "But at the same time you can also be quite friendly and smiling. It's like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, really." And then, the nail in the coffin, "And I don't think it's just something you do in the program, either, I think it's in general." Warning bells. Tears pricking, but I allowed them no outlet. A million thoughts, the entirety of my life, its failures. "And I like you," she continued in her burbly British accent, "I really do. I genuinely like you. It's just something I've been thinking about lately, and I wanted to let you know how you come across to people. Alright, then?" "Well, it's just..." I said, throat tight, every word threatening to unleash the flood, "it's just...I'm not sure how to change when I don't really know what it is that I'm doing." An unspoken plea. "Yes, well, I see..." she mused, thinking. "Well in that case," she decided brightly, "I guess just try to smile a bit more!" She beamed. I barked out a short laugh beyond my control, and then took hold of myself and offered her a weak and apologetic grin. "Yes, yes," I murmured, "of course. Thank you."

A million thoughts, a million memories, emotions. My mother, telling me that boys didn't ask me to dance because they were intimidated by me. She said it was because I was tall. But it wasn't. A twisted sort of vindication, because I was right, all along. People don't like me, and not because I'm tall, and not because I don't smile; it's not because of something I do, but because of something I am. Something that repulses, it oozes out like a slow poison. All my life I have called myself ugly and awkward because I lacked a better word for it. I've blamed it on the physical to protect myself from the worse thought--that it was something else, something even less changeable. That it was me.

The truth is, if you met me, you probably wouldn't like me. This is my reality. This is what I have to accept. And before you get started, I do not believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. You know why? Because once I believed that I would be happy.

I've sat on this post for a week now, daring myself, flirting with the possibility of it, the push of a button. This is me, calling my own bluff. But honestly, don't worry about me, I'll be fine. All I have to do is smile a bit more, after all. Maybe it's just that easy.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I would rather go out with a talking dog than either of these guys

Hey future readers. Though it may be Thursday for you, it's still last Saturday for me, as I am writing this post in advance in anticipation of my trip to New York City. See, now that's planning. I may not have packed so much as a solitary sock yet, but dammit, my blog will be ready to go! 

Last week I promised you more e-mails from the bottom of the online dating barrel, and Internet, I found you some doozies.

First up we have a 33 year-old male from Miami, FL. It wasn't his e-mail that caught my eye so much as his self-description on his profile page, which reads: 

Im a cruise ship photo manager but in the past I've been a soldier, graphic designer, TV commercial director, prisoner, taxi driver, teacher and want to add a few more before I go including a husband and father.

Here on I would like to find someone significant to continue to shape my time and life on this earth. PS Im willing to relocate if need be.

One of these things is not like the other (soldier), one of these things just isn't the same (graphic designer), one of these things is not like the other (tv commercial director), thank you for playing our ga-- Wait, prisoner? Seriously? Thought you'd just slip that one in there? And you'd like to "add a few more" to your list? Like what? Con man? Meth addict? Date rapist? The world is your oyster, man.

Next we have a 39 year-old man from Woburn, MA (Wooburn!) who writes: 

I like work out at the gym. I like to hangout watch TV at night. What I wont is a girl that likes going away at spearmint on the weekends or going long rides or walks. Would like meet women that likes joke. Likes scary movies and a woman likes have fun. Women that can open up to me, like me for who I am. I’m very normal guy wants same as all other guys.  

Now, I almost feel bad for posting this one, because clearly the guy is not a native English speaker, right? I mean, the poor man probably moved here from India, or Ecuador, or the Philippines or somewhere for more opportunities and a better life, wouldn't you think? Except that this (poor?) man goes out of his way to state in his profile that he was born and raised in Medford, MA. Now, I really hate to make fun of the borderline illiterate, but...well, no, apparently I don't really have a problem with it. Because, seriously? SERIOUSLY?! "Likes going away at spearmint on the weekends?" Dude, I don't even know what that means. "Would like meet woman likes going long rides or walks." This is what I imagine my dog would talk like, if my dog could talk. And if I had a dog. In fact, I'm not altogether convinced that this wasn't written by a really smart (and particularly dexterous) talking dog. Like the one in the Bush's baked beans commercials. For some reason I find this more believable than the idea that the above was written by an actual adult human being.

Well, that's it for this week's episode of Most Ridiculously Unsuitable Guys (aka MR. UG). But don't worry, there's more where those came from. (There's always more.) We'll see you next time, and remember--making fun of people isn't wrong if they never find out.

(I'm going to hell, aren't I?) 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why country mouse is going to the city

It's actually Saturday evening right now. (I know, but go with me for a minute.) It's actually Saturday right now, but by the time you read this I will be in the city, working with school children in Harlem on an extended working field trip. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, I posted these pictures in advance to amuse you during my absence. (You're welcome!) I will be back on Friday, but don't expect any wild stories about my time in the Big Apple, as I will have to be in bed by about 10 p.m. every night in order to be up at the crack of dawn every morning. The life of a teacher (in training), it is not glamorous. So while I am breathing in New York's rank subway air and trying to avoid being hit by yellow cabs, errant bike messengers, and collapsing scaffolding structures, please enjoy these pictures from a simpler time and place.

First, my favorite four-legged friend. I call her Jane Doe. She likes to stand in front of my bedroom window and look at me, like this:

Her little one seems to be less concerned with me, and more with the all-you-can-eat garden buffet growing in my front yard.

A fall day in Mythaca:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why the only joy in my life is my dish soap

Things are no more exciting around here, nor has the latest foray into online dating improved much. Every once in a while I get an e-mail that provokes a chuckle, but I tell you, nothing compares to the messages I would get when I was living in France. I was going through my draft folder today and found some gems that I had been holding on to. I don't know why I haven't posted these already, because these are gold, people. I think I'll just post them a couple at a time for now, because the grammar and punctuation mistakes and overblown sense of optimism can be a bit much to take in large quantities.

So without further ado, here we have our first e-mail from George, in Cairo: 

Subject: I'm interested

Hello my belove cute, How are you? hope you are fine and in perfect condition of health.My name is George ,i am a footballer, base in cairo.I am loving,romantic,fun and kind,i come online to serch for a mature lady that understand what true-love and marriage is all about. And I like your profile and will like to establishe a serious relationship with you because after going through your profile i pick interest in you out of billions of people in this world but i hope you will not turn me down by my request.

Expect to hear from you.....


Oh, George. You had me at hello...and then lost me again immediately thereafter. Hopefully you got a response from one of your billion other prospects.

Next up we have Andrea. (Seriously? Andrea? Even for a European that seems like a weird name for a guy.) Well, let's see what he has to say:

Hi dear,
I checked out your profile, guess what i discover.
A resplendent woman with bewitching face
With eyes like yours you must bring down the men one by one to your feet ... you are so sensual that I could help you! I wish more than anything get in touch with you ... do not leave me without reply!

well, what to say. You have a very miser profile, but in the same time these few words (and your first photo) have been able to intrigue me.

I have been very impressed by your vitality.
You seem to have a GREAT amount of joy inside yourself, and it seems to be hard for you to try to stop it.
And i have to admit i am very, very, very envious of you. Really.
You eat EVERYTHING and you remain thin and lithe as a gazelle. I am on the opposite side of the spectrum: for me it's enogh to pass IN FRONT OF a bakery and i suddenly am 200 gr. heavier.. :-D
(I wonder what i have to smile, thinking about it.. )

I really don't know. You are "new in town", so maybe you'd prefere to meet people closer to you. And maybe a little younger.
So i would like to know a little more about you.

Hope to meet you again, and forgive my rotten english.


Wow, Andrea, you're right. I do have joy. It's like, I have so much joy that all I can do every day is try to stop the joy, and you know? It is hard. You're the only person who really understands me, Andrea.

But seriously though, I think we may have encountered a bit of a language barrier, here. See, Andrea, you chose the word "joy" when I think what you meant to say was "bitter hate seething out of every pore." It's an easy mistake to make. Maybe next time use a dictionary. 

Bitterly yours,

More of these to come. In the meantime, check out some of the crazier missives certain gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) have sent me in the past here and here.   

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why some posts are deep and philosophical and this is not one of them

For my friend Alan's wedding last weekend my dress choices were either the dress I wore to my class reunion in 2008 or the dress I wore to my friend Mike's wedding in 2004. I decided to go with the LBD from 2004 and hope nobody remembered it.

Here I am wearing the dress in 2004 with my friend Gavin:  

And here I am in 2004 with the future groom-to-be, Al, completely unaware that six-and-a-half years later my dress and I would reunite at his wedding. Had I known, I might have said something like, "Geez, can't you afford a new dress?" Well, self, the answer to that is no, and also it's still a perfectly nice dress and it's Betsey Johnson and you've only worn it once so shut up.

And here I am again during the same wedding weekend in 2004, for no other reason than it makes me laugh, and because I am 24, fresh-faced, slack-jawed, and blissfully unaware that one day I will actually be 30:  

And here I am wearing the dress last weekend:

This is the only picture I have of me in the dress. It looks...pretty much the same as it did in 2004. (With added awkward arm angle--Hold wine, but be casual! Don't drop sweater! Elbows in! Now you're perfect!) I did accessorize a bit differently this time. And I debuted the gold shoes! They were everything I had hoped they would be. I was going to wear the gold necklace I picked up at the same time, but then I went back to the same antique and vintage store and found an even better gold necklace: 
It's a little owl. Also, this is what happens when you have a pre-event freak out and decide that you must! get your hair cut that very second! Because you can't be seen like this! And you ask the stylist not to cut your bangs too short or your hair too short and she swears she won't, then snip snip and suddenly you're feeling like a pre-pubescent medieval prince or maybe his whipping boy. Your hair's awkward phase captured in photographic evidence for all time. Sigh.

This is the night before the wedding and I love this picture for the range of emotions it captures, and how everyone sort of has their own agenda. Also, hi butt!

There was an even buttier picture that I didn't post, if you can believe it. Two whole cheeks and my torso, all facing the camera at the same time. "How is that even possible?" someone asked, looking at the camera after. "I do yoga," I said proudly.

One last picture. Here I am sharing something profound. I'm pretty sure we were talking about Mrs. R.D. Vandertrampp verbs. For real. 
Rester! That's the one I missed! How could I miss rester?! 

All in all, I drove more hours than I slept last weekend, and it was totally and completely worth it. It was a beautiful wedding and I saw lots of my best high school friends and some people I hadn't seen in years. Best of luck and much love to Alan and Vanessa. Mazel tov!