Wednesday
Jun082011

The Pros and Perils of Online Dating

Yesterday I had a blissful day in the country, the first day that really spelled summer for me, and I was crazy prolific...

My newest HuffPo piece:

When I got divorced at age 37, I'd never really dated. I'd met my husband at age 20, and in the five years before that I was basically serially monogamous with various men/boys I met through school. I'd never been set up, never gone home with a guy from a bar, never been asked out really, or been in the position of wondering if he'd call, wondering if I should make a move.

All that stuff was foreign to me, so I was pretty pysched to experience it. The idea of going to restaurants with handsome, interesting men, of flirting, of liking someone new. All very exciting! I spread the word, sent emails to friends and acquaintances I thought might know interesting men to pair me with, and started exploring the myriad online options.

What I found is that while set-ups were objectively more successful (over a two year period, of the 5 set-ups I went out on, we had a 100% success rate in terms of one date leading to two or three, maybe even sex), and the online dates were usually a categorical failure (maybe 5 of the 30 men I met during that same period, I saw more than once), overall I thought online was maybe the better course. At least for certain reasons:

With set-ups you have the tricky issue of dealing with the person who set you up after it all goes to shit. The poor well-intentioned friend inevitably gets caught in the middle. Either you've disappointed someone or behaved badly, or he has. Either way, there's usually some collateral damage, and it's awkward.

While it's true that the people you meet through set-ups are more likely to share your educational and socio-economic background, or be from "your world," and that can be an initial relief, I found that it still doesn't mean you'll connect, or ultimately even like the person. Think of all those dads you know at your kids' school -- how many of them do you want to sleep with? Not many, I'm sure. Connection's a mysterious thing.

So I'm a big fan of going online to troll for romance. Here's why, and this is what I tell all my recently single friends:

1. It's great practice. If you haven't been out there in awhile, or if like me, you've never dated, there's a huge learning curve. Having a dozen coffee or drink dates with selected strangers gets you into the groove of it, helps you develop some ideas about how you want to present, makes you work on your conversational skills, helps you perfect the quick and graceful exit. We should all be adroit at these things.

2. It's pretty good for your self-esteem. Sure, there are the winks (Match.com's way of flirting) that go ignored, the men you email who don't email you back (I was sure that many of my failures had to have been the fact that I had to come clean in my profile about having four children -- that's got to be a turn-off for lots of guys, right? Or maybe some men ignored me because I'm half Black?), but cest'la vie -- the fact is, you gets tons of email, more winks than you know what to do with, and a regular stream of men you can go out with if you're so inclined. That's a confidence booster, or at least it was for me.

3. If you're open to it, you hear a lot of interesting life stories, meet people from all walks of life, and that's stimulating. No matter how many loving and fabulous friends you may have, when you're single it gets tiring going out either in gaggles of women or with your couple friends. It's nice to get some fresh blood, to see the bigger picture.

People worry they might meet freaks, or have a nightmare experience. All I can say to that is that I didn't have a single one. The absolute worst encounter I had was with a manager of a five star New York hotel, who, half-way though our glasses of Pinot Noir, leaned over to ram his tongue down my throat. Ewww! But big deal, I just got up and left. And there were the funny dates, like the guy whose profile said he was an actor, but who confessed over sake that he was a professional clown for children's birthday parties. I just couldn't see myself dating Bozo, but he was super nice. There was a former alcoholic manic depressive drummer I found sexy for a couple of months, but then realized he had rage issues. A motorcycle-riding lawyer I just didn't click with. An opera singer into S & M. The list goes on, and it was often trying, but also funny, and great fodder for girlfriend conversations. Also, as I said, a great way to learn about what I did and didn't want.

At one point when I was crying to my therapist about the latest insult or failed mini-relationship, she said to me "dating is hard until it's not." Banal perhaps, but later I realized truer words could not have been spoken. You date and date, and get hurt, and hurt someone, and have bad sex, good sex, no sex, and then boom! one week you're on a third and then a fourth and then a fifth date with someone who seems to be kind and sane and sexy and maybe all the things you've been looking for.

That's what happened to me. I'd broken up with one of the set-ups and was feeling discouraged, not sure I could face Match.com again. I took a vacation alone to Miami and there on the beach read a self help book called "Meeting Your Half Orange" by Amy Spencer. Ms. Spencer's thesis, not totally original, but exactly what I was ready to digest, is that you can't meet the right person until you know exactly what you want and you believe that you deserve it. Basically another look at that oldie but goodie: "no one can love you til you love yourself."

I started to really think about that, not just my own list of must-haves -- a big reader, emotionally engaged, not a pothead, an interesting career, someone who would sleep in a treehouse with me if asked -- but how would the right person make me feel, how would we feel together? Imagine that, visualize it, and then believe that it will come, that you deserve it.

I met the man I now love, Joe, on Match.com, two weeks after I got back from Miami. Our first date was pleasant, but lackluster, in a local bar in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I remember thinking, "This guy's okay, smart and easy to talk to, but if he walks me home and sticks his tongue down my throat I will just die." Joe must have picked on my vibe, because he walked me about two blocks, gave me a chaste peck on the cheek, and took leave for his car. He didn't even walk me home! Not sure what to make of that, I didn't give him much thought that night, or even the next day, til he emailed suggesting we go out again. Two dates later we had our first real kiss sitting inside a Richard Serra torqued ellipse at DIA Beacon. That was over a year ago.

So give it a try, be adventurous, get out there

Tuesday
May312011

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The other day I had lunch with a long married girlfriend who was bemoaning the fact that, for fifteen years, she and her husband hardly ever fought, and now, in the last five, they frequently do, which she mostly attributes to the strain of having young children. I've always thought of Miranda and Felix as one of the very few, truly happily married couples I know, so I was pretty surprised when she came out and asked "is the best part of being divorced that you get to stop endlessly contemplating gettingdivorced?" She was sort of joking, but not really. Even though she thinks her marriage is still pretty solid, the possibility of divorce occurs to Miranda with increasing frequency these days, and she wonders what it might take to get them to the breaking point.

To answer her question, yes, that is one of the best parts of being divorced! Our conversation brought me back to those days (years, actually) when I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about leaving, wondering if I could muster the strength, if it would kill my children, if I was a fool to do it, and mostly, more often than not, if I was justified. Did I have enough of a reason?

My husband didn't drink too much or have a gambling addiction. He was faithful, I think. He worked hard, paid the bills, came home most nights in time for dinner with me and the kids. He was (and still is) a loving and devoted father. Regular sex was definitely not a problem. He didn't even smoke pot obsessively the way so many middle-aged men do.

But even without any of the conditions under which most people would be forgiven, or at least understood, for leaving a marriage, I can assure you that we were very unhappy. We fought frequently (and what's worse, it was always the same fight), and we each felt lonely, unloved, unappreciated, and disconnected.

At some point I went out and bought a helpful book with the brilliant title "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay," by Mira Kirshenbaum, and it was while reading this book that I came up with the germs of my personal measurements, or maxims, nurtured over the years since, about why one might have to leave a marriage that, while it might appear otherwise to the outside, just isn't working. So here they are, a few reliable, if not hard and fast, rules about how to figure out if you should stay or if you should go:

On one of the days that I now think of as a breaking point moment, I was sitting in a Brooklyn Starbucks nursing a soy decaf latte and it dawned on me that if I stayed married to X, I could easily predict what the rest of my life would be like. Not the events of my life as they might play out, which no one of us knows, but the emotional tenor. I knew what was in store -- how I would feel day in and day out, because I'd been feeling it for years -- and it wasn't pretty. But I didn't know, couldn't possibly know, what might happen if I left, and I realized that if I left, at the very least I'd have the possibility of something better, the hope that I could feel happier, feel loved, actually like myself again. This I think of as The Dare to Hope For a Better Life Rule. If you already like your life enough, this jumping off a cliff notion won't appeal to you, and perhaps you should stay.

Are you getting enough of what you need? A subjective, but effective, measurement that always seems to work. Marriage and relationships are never perfect and rarely easy, but in the good ones you generally should feel like the trade-offs are worth it. He hates your mother, but he makes you laugh like no one ever has. He has revolting table manners, but you love his three sisters as if they were your own. The sex may have been hotter with your last boyfriend, but this one offers up the perfect amount of affection and always just when you need it. And so on. Trouble comes when the list of what's wrong starts to noticeably outweigh the list of what's right.

The Joy Issue. My last and final test. How much joy do you experience together? Or are you at least capable of experiencing together? When you go away alone, just the two of you, is it fun? Do you try new tricks in bed and laugh a lot? Can you talk about interesting things other than your children? Do you appreciate beauty in the same way, or want to ride bikes together, or ski, all without the kids? Or do you wind up using the romantic weekend at an inn to rehash the same old fight, precious babysitting hours gobbled up by age-old resentments? My theory is, that if you can still genuinely enjoy each other, there's still a lot of possibility between you. But if you can't, if that ability to see each other like you once did is gone, it may well be too late.

The truth is, my conversation with Miranda was not the first one like that I've had. It's not even the tenth, or the fifteenth. Marriage is a tough business and the old saw remains: that no one outside a marriage can ever really understand what goes on between the two people inside one, and everyone has issues. Whether it works or doesn't work, whether one is better off jumping ship, who knows? But these measures make sense to me and I hope they offer some guidance.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
May242011

Bravery & Erica Jong

This month I'm having my first experience being published in a national magazine (see link under Articles & Essays).  Because the piece is so intensely personal,  I had braced myself for reader backlash, and it's been head-over-heels rewarding to feel instead like I've moved some people, or made them think about domestic intimacy and female rage from a new perspective. The word of praise I keep hearing is "brave," and I love that, but it also makes me a teeny bit sad, because I have had to be brave at times, more often than I would have liked, and it's been hard. It also makes me think about all the female authors and artists I adore, other women who have been brave and whose stories have completely formed me. 

Recently I was in Austin, Texas, looking at UT with my rising senior (as they say) daughter, and we spent a part of Sunday browsing through antique shops. I came across an old book of poetry, Loveroot, by Erica Jong, originally published in 1968, the year before I was born.  I knew instantly  that I had to have it. Now, let's be clear:  I know NOTHING about poetry. I've never taken a poetry class, never memorized a poem, never carried a poem in my pocket. The extent of my poetry knowledge is the biographies I've read of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. But I adore Erica Jong and always have. I think I've read every prose book she's ever written, starting of course with Fear of Flying when I was 12 or 13. Talk about brave!

I read through the book on the flight home and so many of the poems spoke to me, but this one in particular. It reminds me of myself when I was young, and of my daughters.

She Leaps

She leaps into the alien heart
of the passerby, the drunk
the girl who spouts Freudian talk
over Szechuan food.

She is part herself,
part everyone.
"Thank you for writing the story of my life,"
her mash notes read.
& "Can you tell me how to leave my husband?"
& "Can you tell me how to find a husband?"
& "Can you tell me how to write,
or how to feel,
or how to save my life?"

She knows nothing
but how to leap.
She has no answers for herself
or anyone.

One foot after another,
she flies through the air....

She leaps over cracks
& breaks
her father's back.

 

and this is Erica's gorgeous photo on the back of the book:

Friday
May202011

getting started

I created this site as a place to store the bits of writing I've been doing, and in setting it up I've discovered that it's sort of like having a new toy, or a new house to decorate. My friend Eric Liftin of MESH Architectures designed it for me, and in tossing around ideas for the banner, I told him at one point that I wished I could convey the feeling of being inside a Richard Serra torqued ellipse. We laughed, and moved on, and then wound up using this Mark Sheinkman drawing. Last night, while fiddling with the site, I realized that we had sort of conveyed the feeling of being inside a Richard Serra torqued ellipse! Cool.

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