Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

To write off, or not to write off? That is the (dating) question

As co-hosts of a podcast about dating and relationships, Philippa and I sometimes receive messages from listeners seeking advice. To show that we take these questions seriously (a statement we can’t always make about the answer), I’ll address in this forum one we received recently. But first, a little background.

Our listener, “Lisa,” was visiting friends out of town when she met a Person Of Interest (“POI.”). Though they didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, Lisa and the POI really hit it off and agreed they wanted to see each other again. When Lisa returned home, she and the POI texted. During one of those exchanges, Lisa mentioned she’d found cheap airfare and could easily arrange a trip to the POI’s town. The POI said he’d like that but didn’t ask about dates or show other signs of enthusiasm. She volunteered a date. The texts began to decrease in both frequency and verbiage –he’d been busy, he wrote. He had not spoken of the proposed date. Then, a week or so after they’d last seen each other, he called her. It was a bold escalation in medium (or an act of aggression, if you ask Philippa). That date Lisa had suggested? Not good. He offered a vague excuse and, instead of proposing another date for her trip, said he’d figure out a time to come and see her.

Lisa is in her 40’s and not a dating novice, so she interpreted this to mean he’s seeing someone where he lives. The drop in text frequency and quality fit that theory, and she was ready to chalk it up as a loss. (I would have, too.)  Then, last Friday night at 9 or so, the POI sent her a “hey hot stuff” text. That might not have been weird if his other messages had been like that, but they hadn’t. In fact, there hadn’t been many other messages at all, so she figured “hot stuff” referred to someone else –I would have, too –and didn’t respond.

Two hours later, he texted again: “Nothing? I figured I’d at least get a laugh.”

A laugh? Why? Because she’s not hot stuff? Lisa scratched her head and responded that she was at dinner with a friend. Almost exactly 24 hours later, POI sent another erudite text: “hey hot stuff.” I suspect by then Lisa was hot. She didn’t respond. (I wouldn’t have, either.) He texted Sunday night to ask if she’d written him off.

She saw it when she woke up Monday morning and, before her caffeine had a chance to kick in, wrote, “No, just didn’t think those texts were meant for me.” She probably expected an explanation of some sort in response. (I would have.) Instead, she got: “How are you today?”

She wrote, “OK, *now* I’m writing you off.” Actually, she didn’t. That’s what I would have written. She’d already responded with a benign, “Fine, thanks” before she turned to us, so that golden opportunity was blown. Leaving that aside, the fact that Lisa came to the two of us for counsel -one of us a humorist and the other such a ghosting expert someone once referred to her as “Casper Hughes” –tells you a lot, namely: she came to the right place.

As a human being, I feel obligated to give her practical advice: I don’t think she owes the POI anything, not the benefit of the doubt or responses to future texts. They’ve spent little time together and don’t have the same level of interest in keeping something going, so it seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Let it die of natural causes.

But as a humorist, I say: KEEP THE TEXTS ALIVE! And respond only in haiku, releasing one line at a time, every few hours. Had she followed that advice, she’d have responded to “how are you?” like this:

Fine! How you doing?

Wait, I meant *who* you doing?

Wait, who are you, yo?

So, Lisa, thanks for asking. We wish you the best of luck in dating, and remember those three little words: hey hot stuff.

The audit that didn’t make me feel like I’d been taken to the cleaners

Sometimes the best way to deal with a healthy fear is to confront it, which is why I decided to volunteer to be audited a few months ago. The agents who paid me a visit came not from the IRS but from DC Style Factory, and they didn’t care if I had my financial house in order: they’d come to examine the state of my closet.

I’d met Rosana Vollmerhausen, the company’s founder, and Jennifer Barger, one of the stylists and a fashion journalist, months earlier when the two were guests on Women of Uncertain Age. After watching them give gentle, constructive advice to a dude on how to dress for a date, Philippa and I invited them to critique two of my first-date outfits. I learned during those episodes that their approach is not to change your style, but rather to help you present the best version of your style, whatever it might be. During that episode, they dispensed so much great advice (no square-toed flats! Or shrugs that make you look like a matador!), and so gently, that I knew I would be in good hands. The website offers this description of the audit process:

We help weed out items that are outdated, worn out, don’t fit, or simply don’t work in your life anymore. We talk about body type, silhouette and lifestyle, to properly organize your closet so you can put together outfits with more ease. We also compile a list of missing wardrobe essentials, which can be purchased on your own, or with our guidance.

I knew I needed all of that, yet I still dreaded it. Letting someone see everything in your closet can reveal a lot, and in my case I worried it would hint strongly that I’m not actually a sighted person. I also feared having to admit something many have long suspected: my mother still dresses me. (It’s true. Unlike me, Mom enjoys shopping and stays reasonably current with fashion.) I’d have felt less exposed handing these women a decade worth of tax records.

I decided to do a pre-appointment purge. Like a patient trying to erase years of neglect by going on a flossing spree two days before seeing the dentist, I knew I had little chance of fooling a trained eye, but it seemed worth a shot.

When Rosana and Jen came to my home, they kicked things off with a brief interview.

Jen asked what I viewed as my biggest fashion challenge and I said, “Apathy.”

They laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. Though I care about my appearance, I can’t muster up much excitement about clothes. If someone forced me to subject my closet to the Marie Kondo theory of decluttering –get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy” — I just might wind up a streaker.

On asking where I shop, Jen and Rosana couldn’t have been surprised to learn that I tend to land at places like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. I realize those stores are often a year behind, trend-wise, but that’s never bothered me. We legal types are not exactly known for being fashion-forward. The most prominent members of our profession wear robes to work, for heaven’s sake. Black robes, yes, but robes nonetheless.

On wrapping up the interview, it was time to face the moment of truth and get into the closet. Unlike the hosts of What Not To Wear, DC Style Factory doesn’t wage a war on your wardrobe. They take more of a hearts-and-minds approach that involves pulling items from your closet, having you try them on, and asking, “What about this?”

Some of the things they saw in my closet probably made them want to ask, “What were you thinking?”, like the dress yoga pants I bought a few months ago, but they didn’t. (They probably know dress yoga pants are just the gateway garments to black robes.) They truly wanted to know what I liked about the things I wear.

If I said I’d kept an item for its sentimental value, they put it right back in the closet and never once did they seem to be fighting the impulse to say, “Wow! I haven’t seen anyone wear that since ‘Friends’ went into syndication!” They offered candid feedback but did so without snark and with such care that it didn’t feel personal.

I also learned “What about this?” wasn’t a rhetorical question whose only answer was, “It’ll look great at the bottom of a Hefty bag!” Sometimes they wanted me to keep something I was ready to toss, like a textured black suit Mom had bought me many years earlier.

“The skirt can go, but let’s take a look at that jacket,” Jen said. It never occurred to me to evaluate the two elements of a suit separately. Having grown up in the era of Garanimals, I viewed business suits as the fashion equivalent of Siamese twins, a package you can’t separate unless you really know what you’re doing. But sure enough, that jacket looked fantastic with some of the tops in my closet, and it definitely karen1 karen2classed up and modernized my skinny jeans. Never did I imagine my old clothes could somehow produce new outfits.

While Jen focused on the search-and-rescue mission, Rosana was busy re-folding clothes and otherwise organizing my closet, an invaluable service unto itself. Jen took the items I decided to discard and packaged them up for donation to Goodwill. A few days later, I received a memo summarizing my style and my challenges, as well as a shopping list recommending, among other things, that I consider owning more than three pair of non-athletic shoes.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad I turned myself in to the fashion police. Instead of judging me for my misdemeanors, they showed me that a few small changes could add up to meaningful reform. Now let’s see if I can avoid being a repeat offender.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a way to pitch, even when all you want to do is hurl

Last Saturday, I went to Books Alive!, the Washington Independent Book Review’s annual conference.

The conference featured an impressive lineup of panels with publishers and renowned authors, but what really got my attention was the opportunity to spend five minutes pitching to as many as four agents: the writing equivalent of speed dating. I decided to adopt an analogous mindset by having high hopes, low expectations, and a very thick skin.

Unfortunately, I woke up that Friday with vertigo, a new and incapacitating experience. I spent the day in bed, unable to work on my pitch and questioning whether I’d even be able to attend the conference.

While prone, I busted out the Google long enough to read about a home remedy called the Epley Maneuver.  I called my sister Lynne, who has experienced every nausea trigger known to man at least once and has had vertigo so many times she’s a verti-pro. Of course she knew about the maneuver. It involves lying on a flat surface with your head hanging over the edge and having someone take it, twist it to certain angles, and hold it there in an effort to shake something loose, literally. During our childhood, my sister and I were on the constant lookout for opportunities to do something like this to each other (and we needed no medical provocation whatsoever). But when I asked Lynne to Epley me, she didn’t sound excited in the least. Some would view this as a sign that our relationship has matured, but not me. I knew it meant the Epley must be God-awful.

She came over on Friday afternoon and maneuvered me right in my kitchen. After the five-minute protocol, I felt like a hostage at the Magic Kingdom Mad Tea Party. On regaining my bearings, I felt better, but it was short-lived.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, the room had stopped spinning but I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to pitch so much as hurl.  Yet I’d spent $250 on registration fees and didn’t want to squander that or my first chance to talk to an agent in person about my writing, so I decided to give it a shot. In an act of kindness, the Universe scheduled three of my pitches in the morning and a fourth after lunch. Before the first group session began, I met up with my friend and writing pal, Kathy, and she convinced me to power through for as long as I could. I made it through an informative panel about publishing, as well as a great session about conspiracy theory by Stephen Hunter. (In case you’re wondering, he speaks the way he writes– with simple, rich language and lots of great words like “imbue”–and he offered an important pointer to all the fiction writers out there: you get one coincidence per book. That’s it. No wonder I write nonfiction: I average at least two coincidences per story.)

For a few minutes out of each session, I left to pitch. I soon learned the speed-dating analogy fit, down to the tiny tables bearing number signs and a “time’s up!” bell.

Some view introducing your writing to an agent and yourself to a speed-dater as very personal encounters, but I’ve come to believe neither is. In both scenarios, the participants get a mere glimpse into the other person before making a go/no-go decision. That’s rarely long enough for anyone to take what happens too personally. And because most people have experienced rejection at some point in their lives, they usually try to be nice, no matter which seat they’re sitting in. Usually.

I pitched to three agents, whom I’ll call A1, A2, and A3, before handing Kathy my fourth slot and going home. I had prepared two separate pitches, one for Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing, and another for my book-in-progress.  The B-I-P is not in manuscript form yet, so I sought only feedback about whether I was on the right track, whereas I hoped to land Good Luck with an agent who’d want to re-launch it. I planned to choose my pitch based on the agent’s specialty.

I pitched the B-I-P to A1 and A3. They listened attentively, asked questions, and delivered honest, constructive feedback with kindness. It felt like a halfway decent speed-date, the writing equivalent of “I’ll call you.” If they thought I had wasted their time, they didn’t let it show.

The same could not be said of A2, to whom I intended to pitch Good Luck.

A2 dismissed that pitch with contempt and speed, asking after six seconds why I would waste our time together with that. I nearly asked A2 to pause so I could order a can of varnish, but I decided just to forge ahead with the B-I-P pitch. After all, I’d paid for this detonated bomb of a speed-date, so I wasn’t about to let anybody crawl out from under the wreckage until we’d both suffered for the full five minutes.

For four more minutes, A2 torched the B-I-P pitch, to which I responded with effusive, possibly aggressive, expressions of gratitude, like, “That’s fantastic feedback!” and “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this!”

I actually did appreciate it, even if the brand of rejection A2 served up was as appetizing as a dish my mother once made called “shipwreck.” I treated this heap of uninviting contents the way I did shipwreck: I mined it search of the good bits I knew lurked inside it. I’ve gathered those, added them to the other feedback I’ve accumulated, and am using it to improve my writing.

So, I’m glad I went to the conference and tossed out a few pitches. The experience reinforced my conviction that you can’t go into it, or speed-dating, with a fragile sense of self or in pursuit of validation. If you approach it instead with confidence in who you are and the humility that comes from knowing not everyone will love you, then a bit of rejection won’t send you staggering. That’s what your vertigo is for.

Wish I could've had Dad pinch-hit for me in the afternoon. He'd have loved this lineup!

Wish I could’ve had Dad pinch-hit for me in the afternoon. He’d have loved this lineup!

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing a boyfriend to Mom is a piece of cake, especially when it’s not your boyfriend…or your mom

My dear friend Philippa invited me to lunch at the Eden Center in Falls Church yesterday. The restaurants there generate some of the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, so we go there somewhat regularly. Yesterday’s trip was not, however, one of our routine pho runs. Philippa’s mom had come to town for Thanksgiving, presenting an opportunity for her to meet my pal’s boyfriend. Philippa and I talk about “Fella” on our podcast all the time, but having him meet her mom was taking the relationship to a whole new level.

I adore Fella. He is smart, funny, thoughtful, engaging, humble, and exceptionally kind. I have yet to have a conversation with him that I didn’t enjoy, and I look forward to opportunities to spend time with him. Oh, and he’s tall, which is important because that’s how my friend rolls.

I feel just as warmly towards Philippa’s mother, whom I jokingly call “Mom.” The two of us bonded deeply in October of 2013, when Philippa was recovering from a double mastectomy. Mom, who’s Vietnamese, is one of the most resourceful, resilient, determined people I’ve ever met. She managed to get her family out of war-torn Vietnam in the 1970’s, but Philippa’s cancer diagnosis left Mom feeling terrified and helpless. I could relate. While Philippa rested, Mom and I talked candidly about our fears, she in heavily accented English that broke from time to time and I with the fluency of someone who knows the language and my friend very well. I knew Mom wasn’t given to emotional outpourings, so the fact that she talked to me about it told me just how scared she was and also that she trusted me. In the two years that have passed, we see each other mainly at family celebrations and other happy occasions. We now delight in chatting about lighthearted things, like my love life, but even when our conversation stays on the surface, that deep bond remains.

So when Philippa handed me an opportunity arose to experience Mom, Fella and outstanding Vietnamese food all at once, I couldn’t pass it up. Because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, I understood I was also there as a buffer. Philippa, Fella and Mom all knew that, if need be, I could help avert conversational disaster by swooping in with a well-timed dating story. (We all have our skills.)

At first the conversation lurched forward like a stick shift car in the hands of a novice. Then it took a comical turn as the waiter and Mom tried to get through to each other in broken English even though both speak Vietnamese. But after that, it found the right gear and started humming along. I was glad because, even when you’re just along for the ride, you don’t want the proverbial car to go careening into a utility pole.

Deep down, I had known it would go well because Philippa, Mom and Fella wanted it to, and sometimes that’s all that matters. I was honored to be there, watching Mom and Fella making huge efforts to connect because they both love my friend.

And just so my talents as a buffer wouldn’t be entirely wasted, I decided to give Mom a tour of the two dating apps I’m currently using. After a brief demo, I let her take a swipe at Hinge. Within moments iet became clear to me she’s just as discerning about my potential suitors as she is Philippa’s. In fact, had I not plucked the phone out of her hands, she might still be sitting at that table at the Eden Center, swiping left with abandon.

Watching her cracked me up but it also moved me, because I know my heart’s always in good hands with Mom.

Mom, on the verge of becoming un-Hinged.

Mom, on the verge of becoming un-Hinged.

At long last, the follow-up to “Date Expectations”

Several attentive readers pointed out that nearly a month passed and I still hadn’t written a follow-up to my post about a much-anticipated first date with “T2.” My love life skews so heavily towards comedy that I thought you might find a cliffhanger a nice change of pace, but apparently not, so here goes.

A lot of people wanted to know if I was nervous. No, I wasn’t. I don’t really get nervous about these things, though I have ample reason to, based on my behavior on one particular date two summers ago. I was just looking forward to it, the best possible mindset to have before a date.

T2 had made a reservation at Georgia Brown’s, a downtown restaurant that serves upscale southern fare. He offered to pick me up and I accepted. I don’t usually do that, but I had a good feeling about T2, and my gut is rarely wrong, whether or not I listen to it.

Moments before T2 pulled up in front of my house, a torrential rain let loose. He came to the door with an umbrella big enough to shelter a family of 6, which meant there might even be room for my hair. We arrived at the restaurant and were shown to our table, one of a series of two-tops with chairs on one side and a long, cushioned banquette on the other.

T2 asked, “Where would you like to sit?”

It looked to me like the person who sat in the chair might be more in traffic, so I said, “I’ll take the chair.” The hostess pulled out the chair for me and I sat down. I should note that T2 and I are pretty much the same height, or at least we were until he took a seat on the banquette and immediately lost four inches.

I tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t, and neither could T2.

“Could I get a booster seat over here?” he said, just one of dozens of lines that kept me laughing all night.

By the time we finished dinner, the rain had abated so we walked around the monuments. DC is a picturesque city under any circumstances, but like most of us, it looks just a little better in the moonlight. Our conversation wandered happily, too.

I could hardly have imagined an evening going any better, which is why I went ahead and told T2 I thought we should move in together.

Oh, relax, people, I did no such thing. I didn’t even invite him to Thanksgiving. But things had gone well enough to make a second date a very good idea. This was fortunate because, in a slight breach of sequencing protocol, T2 had actually invited me on a second date –a Sunday spent admiring the foliage on Skyline Drive –before the first occurred. He had acknowledged the departure from convention but, based on how much time we’d spent texting, he figured he was standing on pretty solid ground. I agreed.

T2 again kept me in stitches that day. He’s one of the wittiest, funniest people I’ve met in ages, and he continued to impress me with his thoughtfulness.

After that date I went off to Texas for the TWA Conference and we had plans to get together once I returned. T2 had known I was a bit nervous about giving my workshop, so he checked in to send encouraging (and hilarious) thoughts.

Safety note: Before I continue with my story, I must ask that you first back away slowly from your cast iron skillet, hammer and any other blunt object within easy reach. In fact, now may be a good time to encase yourself in a protective layer of Nerf.

So I got back from Plano and texted T2. But instead of making plans to get together, I told him I had some misgivings and didn’t think we were a fit romantically.

See? Aren’t you glad you put on the Nerf? I’m the one you want to hit over the head, anyway.

Here’s the thing: I like T2 very, very much. He has qualities that I prize–kindness, thoughtfulness, curiosity, intelligence—and he cares about his family the way I do mine. He’s funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously. But we lacked combustibility, an essential ingredient for me. Some of you will think I rushed to judgment, that friendship offers the best possible base upon which to build a relationship. You may have a point, but it’s never worked that way for me, and I thought too highly of T2 to go on if I couldn’t be All There.

We had a long text exchange and I did my best to explain my inexplicable nature. T2 accepted it with incredible grace and thanked me for my honesty. Then I did something I’ve not done since I started dating again after my divorce: I asked if he would want to be friends. Though I struggle to find time to nurture the friendships I have, T2s don’t come along every day, and I didn’t want to lose him. He politely declined, and I could hardly blame him.

A week later he made my day when he said he’d thought about it and wanted to try to be friends.

We went to a Halloween party together last weekend. He dressed up in disco garb, including a spectacular wig, and it would have been perfect if only we didn’t discover the theme of this particular costume party was sci-fi and superheroes. Oopsie. Then again, I’m pretty sure he could have survived nuclear war in that polyester suit he was wearing, so maybe he had some superpowers after all.

Anyway, maybe, just maybe, I didn’t entirely screw this one up. Whether or not T2 and I had chemistry, we have plenty of warmth, and I’m glad we decided not to let the whole thing go up in smoke.

Date Expectations

Regular listeners of Women of Uncertain Age know that I recently joined Tinder, the swipe-right-for-yes dating app. I wanted to be more open to meeting eligible dudes, and it seemed worth a try since my normal activities –playing tennis with the Smash Hits, swimming with married people, participating in a critique circle comprised entirely of women –rarely aid that pursuit.

My co-host, Philippa, had endorsed the idea, saying it would be “for the good of the podcast.” She really meant, “Pretty pretty please? I need the entertainment!” but she didn’t want to sound mercenary. I freely admit the potential for comedy runs high, considering that Tinder is regarded as an app for young people and/or people wanting to hook up, and I don’t fit either category.

So why did I join? I decided to try it with the hope that: 1) we old farts could add Tinder to the long list of sites and apps we’ve ruined for the kids; and 2) maybe the older crowd is on there not for hookups but for efficiency: instead of going through the whole process of writing a profile, volleying messages, and then being disappointed to find no connection on meeting in person, they want to skip the profile/message prelude and go straight to the disappointment.

With those twin hopes resting at sea level, I set my expectations at the same height. The only thing I expected Tinder to do was offer an avenue for meeting allegedly single, age-appropriate men. Note that I did not say only single, age-appropriate men, because I knew Tinder couldn’t handle that and I’d have to do that filtering myself.

After a month, I don’t know whether I’ve made any progress on Hope #1 but I have found some support for Hope #2. I’ve met exactly two Tinderers in person, whom I’ll call T1 and T2. It took some time and effort to coordinate each meeting, but that didn’t bother T1 or T2. I found T1 to be kind, smart, interesting, thoughtful and respectful. We didn’t have a romantic connection, but I was glad to have met him. The same adjectives describe how I perceived T2 when I met him, and I would add “hilarious” to the list. That addition makes a gigantic difference to me. After meeting in-person, a text exchange began and T2 and I agreed that we should go out again (or possibly for the first time, since I don’t view the first in-person encounter as a real date). That exchange, which could have involved nothing more than calendar coordination, grew into a long, funny, substantive conversation. As soon as we found a night when we were both free, T2 came up with a plan involving good food at a place where we won’t have to shout to be heard. I gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up and he executed by making an actual reservation. Whoa. In short, he’s made it clear that this is a Real Date. Call me old-school, old-fashioned or just plain old, but I find this rare and refreshing.

When the text exchanged touched on music and the importance of having the right company at certain concerts, I mentioned the Lyle Lovett experience I wrote about here. T2 wanted to read it and when he promised to read only that post, I agreed to send the link.

A few minutes later he texted, “You deserve enthusiasm.” And you know what? He’s right: I do. He does, too, and I feel enthusiastic about the outing. When I texted something about looking forward to it, he sent a link to a hilarious piece from the Onion with the headline “Horrified Man Looks On Powerlessly As He Ruins Date,” and said he hoped that wouldn’t be him.

I doubt it will, but first dates have earned such a bad rap that the prospect of a good one can cause hopes to rise unrealistically. It’s not hard to envision writing a companion piece:

First Date Collapses Under Crushing Weight of Expectations

A 44 year-old man willing to be identified only as “T2″ confirmed that his first date with a woman of the same age collapsed under the pressure of the woman’s expectations in front of dozens of patrons at a popular Italian restaurant in D.C.

“It was so weird,” said a 29 year-old man who witnessed the devastation. “The guy was on fire. Every time he said the right thing, I heard a ‘ding,’ like he was on a game show or something. He was racking up points so fast, maybe she mistook all that dinging for wedding bells.”

Whether prompted by sound effects or the sheer force of desperation, the woman apparently suggested bringing T2 home to meet her family for the holidays.

A 32 year-old woman dining two tables away with her boyfriend overheard the comment and recalled being aghast.

“Everyone knows that’s tenth date material, ninth date at the earliest,” she said. “A first date can’t have that kind of pressure heaped on it and live to tell about it. The minute she mentioned Thanksgiving, it started sagging. Then I heard the word ‘kids,’ and, well, I just had to look away.”

Religion and politics do not appear to have contributed to the implosion.

The 44 year-old woman was being treated on the scene for shock.

“All I did was say I bet he’d love Thanksgiving with my family and all the kids,” she said. “It’s not like I suggested we do a couples Halloween costume. Let’s be honest: it’s already October 9, so there’s no way I could pull together bacon-and-eggs outfits in time, even if I spend all day on Pinterest. Thanksgiving had seemed like a safer bet. I had everything riding on this, it’s beyond devastating.”

Here’s to an evening that manages to carry its own weight.

 

 

The road not taken

In April my book brought me to Elizabeth City, home of Page After Page Books and a long-ago ex-boyfriend whose friendship I regained last August.

I’ll refer to the former beau as “FB” here because I referred to him as “TB” (for “then-boyfriend”) in an earlier post and he didn’t love that. He claimed people would immediately think of tuberculosis, something that doesn’t produce positive associations in your average person. I decided to humor him by coming up with a reference that sounded less like an infectious disease, though when FB and I parted in 2001, I had far warmer feelings towards tuberculosis than him.

Breakups are never easy (or if they are, you probably didn’t care all that much), and that split set a high watermark that only my divorce from the Lawnmower could surpass. FB and I had met in Northern Virginia in 1995 and dated on-and-off from 1996 through early 1999. Shortly thereafter, FB decided to seek out calmer pastures and moved to Elizabeth City. We got back together in the fall of 1999 and dated seriously, albeit long-distance, for the next two years. I liked living near the water, loved coastal North Carolina, and was very committed to FB, so I was giving serious thought to making his small town my permanent home. To that end, in May of 2001 I landed a job as a summer associate with a law firm in Norfolk and made plans to live with FB for the summer.

I headed south and so did my plans.

FB and I fought on a near-daily basis, which surprised and confused me because, romance aside, we had always enjoyed an easy friendship. That summer, almost nothing had been enjoyable or easy. The whole mess came to a head one day in my final week at the firm when FB sent me a brief email whose last line was: “I think this should be the end.” I couldn’t believe it: not only was the boyfriend I lived with breaking up with me, he was doing it via email. (It could have been worse. Had we split in the Twitter era, I might have gotten a 140-character message that ended with #kaput.)

Even if I couldn’t disagree with FB’s email summation of the summer or his conclusion, his poor choice of medium made all of that irrelevant to me. In one of my less mature moves, I called to tell him –by which I mean his voicemail — what I thought of his cowardice. And then I decided to give him the end he wanted. I resolved to vacate the premises when he wasn’t home, something I could accomplish only by

The first floor of this joint is, to quote the chorus from the Bare Naked Ladies song, where we used to live. At least I managed to avoid the "broke into the old apartment" lead-in.

The first floor of this joint is, to quote the chorus from the Bare Naked Ladies song, where we used to live. At least I managed to avoid the “broke into the old apartment” lead-in.

using his sister as in intermediary (another of my not-so-mature moves).

I spent the night before my last day with the law firm at the home of my sister Lynne’s in-laws, who lived in Virginia Beach. Though they barely knew me, they greeted me with two things I was in dire need of: hugs and wine.

The next day, my parents met me at FB’s house at the appointed hour. We packed up my things and my cat, and I headed back north. I didn’t know where FB was and I didn’t care.

FB and I had no contact until the fall of 2014, when we mended the fence with ease. That friendship I used to love is not only intact but improved, because now we can laugh about the breakup that caused us both to cringe for more than a decade.

While visiting FB recently, I decided to ask him what he’d been doing on that day in 2001 while my parents were helping me vacate the premises.

“Driving,” said FB. Evidently he left his office that afternoon, turned on to a road he didn’t know all that well, and just followed it without thinking. Several twists and miles later, that same road brought him right back to where he’d begun. “I had no idea it was a loop,” he said. He made a few loops that day before deciding it was safe to go back home.

I felt a sudden need to travel that road, the one I had not taken in 2001 when FB and I reached the point where our paths had to diverge.

“Will you take me there?” I asked. FB laughed but didn’t hesitate to oblige.

The road took us past field after field of soybeans, twisted us through a tiny town, and led us to a blimp hangar before we returned to our starting point. We hadn’t exchanged many words on the drive, but I felt relaxed and content the whole time. I think FB did, too, because he spent most of the ride singing along to the stereo.where we used to live

As we pulled into the driveway, I thanked FB. The trip we’d taken was remarkable not for the sights but for the distance we’d traveled. Had you asked me fourteen years ago, I’d have sworn I’d never return to that fork in the road, much less with the person who’d let go of my hand when it forked. But I’m glad I did, because I know that each of us followed exactly the right route.

I wasn't kidding about the blimp hangar. Or the blimp.

I wasn’t kidding about the blimp hangar. Or the blimp.

 

 

 

If you can’t say something nice, just make sure you’re anonymous

Last Friday my friend Philippa and I co-wrote a piece for the Washington Post’s Solo-ish feature about the pursuit of love in your 40s. The article presented an excerpt of a much longer email conversation the two of us had about how our perspective on finding a partner has evolved with age.

In case you didn’t read it, the article noted that I’m happy with my life and am fortunate to have a loving family and wonderful friends, but I’ve always wanted a partner, someone to share the proverbial foxhole with me. I mentioned a “companionship clock” whose tick I’ve been hearing since my 20s. I also observed that it seems to be gaining volume as I age, not because I fear being alone or aging alone but because I’ve been around long enough to know three things:

  1. I enjoy my favorite experiences just a tiny bit more in the company of the right partner;
  2. the presence of a great partner can ease some of the burdens of aging, like ailing parents and failing health; and
  3. the partnership pool shrinks with age, no matter who you are and no matter whether you, like me, cut a wide age swath when it comes to dating. On that last point, I admitted being concerned about hanging on to my appearance, I acknowledged the possibility that I’ve become invisible to younger men, and I joked about chest wrinkles.

Overall, I offered serious thoughts laced with a dose of obvious humor. Or possibly not so obvious.

When you write an article for an online publication, you hope people will read it. With the fulfillment of that hope, however, comes the possibility that readers will comment on the article and the likelihood that some of the commentary will be nasty. After all, gutless cruelty thrives where anonymity and the internet intersect.

By Friday afternoon, our hopes had been fulfilled and Philippa and I found ourselves awash in possibility and likelihood.

I grouped reader responses into four categories. I’ve given each category a descriptive title in bold that I think summarizes the contents of the comments, followed by a sample of the most popular comments in italics (based on number of “likes” generated) and my response to those comments:

  1. My sentiments exactly!

Interesting read. I’m a single guy in that same boat. Basically happy with my life, but concerned about facing older age alone. The thing is, who wants to buy a used car and have all the hard repair work without getting the good years out of that car, and hence having the GRATITUDE? I’m still in decent shape, but I’m not what I was at 30. If I find a wonderful woman when I’m 55, she’s taking quite a chance partnering with me, and me with her. What if I have cancer or a stroke at 60? If she had 30 good years with me….raised children….saw the good times and bad times through with me, then I’d expect that although it would be tough, she’d do right by me with a heart full of love and compassion. If she’d only been with me for 5 years and I begin really falling apart, there is no “gratitude glue” there to make her want to stay and help me through those difficult times. Gratitude builds over time, and time to generate a history of love and gratitude in the heart of someone else is the very thing I’m running out of. You may say “What kind of shallow women are you dating?” Well….I’m just going on what I’ve seen going on around me in my life. Often, without a very strong bond developed over time, when the going gets tough, the “not so deeply committed” bug-out. Sad to say, but true. (5 likes)

People like this got it. They laughed at the chest wrinkles. They understood we might be happily single but still want companionship and they didn’t read the piece as being about solely about women. (Men certainly don’t fret about their appearance as they age. They use Rogaine purely recreationally.) Perhaps those readers realized that Pips and I wrote from the perspective of two women because, well, we’re women. Cat’s out of the bag, folks.

  1. You two are a disgrace to women. And possibly also feminism. (Assuming there’s a difference, because if I’m being honest, I’ve never really been sure.)
  • This is shameful (7 likes).

I don’t quite know what to say to this one, except to give it an Achievements in Vagueness Award. Not that this person would show up to accept it.

  • I’m sorry, but this is disgusting. You have totally bought into this idea that women over a certain age are likely to lose out in the relationship market. Why would you peddle that crap to your readers? I am a 50-something woman (that’s right! 50-something!) who is extremely happily re-partnered and I met him in my 50s. So have many of my friends – several of whom have remarried or are happily cohabitating well after their 50th birthdays. Some of us look young for our age, some not so much. But is that really what leads to lasting love and companionship and, ugh, your “person”? Because if you’re worried that no-one “hot” will love you when your (seriously?) Asian skin starts to age a bit, you have bigger problems than a lacking love life. Be single, date, look for love, enjoy hot guys, fine. But get a grip! What you need for a successful relationship comes from within, ladies. (7 likes)

First, I am delighted to hear that someone over 50 is still alive. Who knew? Philippa and I thought life ended at 40, possibly sooner. But what is this “from within” place she speaks of? Philippa and I only care about without. As in, we are without a fine-looking dude and that, my friends, is a full-blown crisis. This commenter implies we might encounter a hot men shortage after we’re 50, in which case I just don’t know if we’ll be able to go on. But overall, I really appreciate this commenter’s concern for us, as evidenced by her hope that we get a grip. I’m concerned about her, too, because if the number of exclamation points is any indicator, her grip just might need a little relaxing.

  • You both sound ridiculously superficial. Like your entire chance of finding a partner is based on whether or not you have wrinkles. We live in such an ageist society and drivel like this just perpetuates the idea that it’s all about the superficial (6 likes).

Why would I care what this person thinks? Obviously s/he is ugly.

  • [More from the same person, whom I picture raising a finger and saying, “And ANOTHER thing!”:] I’m glad I’m not dating either one of you, but you wouldn’t be interested in me anyway, what with me being a 51 year old with some gray hair and wrinkles. I guess we can both count our blessings. (6 likes)

He’s right. I would never date someone who’s 51. That’s only 7 years older than I am, and history says my interest isn’t piqued unless you’re 12-18 years my senior, at which point there’s a good chance I’ll marry you. Count your blessings, indeed.

  1. Suck it up and get a dog.

Why does it have to be what all the men want? Can you just live your life & try Match.com or other dating venues? I’m 60, though I have a boyfriend. If I were single, I would not care about finding a partner, I am too busy with my life. I don’t care who is looking at my wrinkles. I do go to the gym regularly so I’m in shape. I’ve met some really nice men at the gym. Get a rescue pet. They are more likely to love you unconditionally than some man. (4 likes)

I love everything about this comment, beginning with “though I have a boyfriend,” (translation: whatever you do, don’t dump me into that bucket of losers who don’t have a significant other!) and ending with “Get a rescue pet.” Though, based on what Philippa wrote in the article about intimacy, I’m a little worried about what kind of relationship this person wants me to have with my pet.

  1. Huh?

Dumbest article I ever read. Actually, I only got half way through. Can I please get my 40 seconds wasted on this back? (1 like) Okay, I admit this was nowhere near the most popular comment based on likes, but it’s my favorite by miles. Sure, pal, contact the Post to get a refund on those 40 seconds. But the ones you spent writing this comment? Those are on you.

I’ve written this whole post with tongue planted firmly in cheek, in part to make the point that some people seemed to take not just me and Philippa but themselves far too seriously. If I could, I’d invite these people to join me for a beer and to say to my face, the face of someone they don’t know at all but purport to, the things they wrote. I don’t mind that they made those comments, I just doubt they would say them to my face. Whereas, if I were sitting opposite them holding a beer, I know I would respond exactly as I did here and laugh, because that’s how you’re supposed to respond to jokes.

And then maybe we would all take ourselves a little less seriously.

The headshot that appeared with the article. Wait a minute, are those crows' feet?!?!?!

The headshot that appeared with the article. Wait a minute, are those crows’ feet?!?!?!

 

If you want to find out what someone’s really like, just take her to the dentist

If you want to cut to the chase and find out what a potential mate is really like, the advice industry tells you to do things like take a vacation together, co-host a dinner party, or assemble an item from Ikea’s popular “Guantanamo” collection.

I say ignore all of that and go to the dentist with your sweetie instead, because you can find out everything you really need to know about someone by watching how he handles dental duress. I say this based on my own behavior when I go to the dentist, which I did today to get a crown.

I’ve been a patient of Dr. C’s for over nine years. Thanks to weak teeth, I’ve spent so much time there, when I walk through the door the staff greets me like Norm on “Cheers.” Yet even though I know exactly what to expect when I go for a crown, and even though Dr. C and his staff are unfailingly, impossibly kind, those visits bring out the worst in me every way, every time.

It starts with my appearance. I looked fine as I sat down in the chair today, but that lasted only seconds. The moment the technician stuck the Silly Putty in my mouth to take impressions–they call it “alginate” but we all know it’s Silly Putty — I began to drool. (When you’re a seasoned pro like I am, you know there’s no need to wait for the actual procedure to start.) And then I began to perspire. This wasn’t confined to my armpits, it was a full-body sweat perfumed with the scent of panic.

To stem the tidal sweat and my panic, I requested nitrous oxide. Nitrous and I adore each other. In fact, our trysts, which are always too brief for my taste because Dr. C refuses to sell to-go tanks, are what allow me to get through these visits. Nitrous doesn’t make me unaware of what’s going on, it just makes me not care about anything, including the fact that, to inhale the nitrous, I had to strap on to my face what appeared to be a green pig snout.

My appearance took another hit when the technician had me don a pair of sunglasses. Not the Ray-Ban kind the kids wear but the CVS kind old people wear, the ones that are so big they look like a tinted windshield. Not that I cared, of course. I also didn’t care that my mouth had to be propped open with a bite block, giving me the appearance of a beached bass. When I’m on nitrous I don’t even care enough to stay awake, so it’s safe to assume I snored.

Ninety minutes later the procedure ended, the nitrous stopped and I made my way to the front of the office. As always, Dr. C and the technician were all smiles and compliments. They shook my hand and told me I did great. A normal person, in the face of such kindness, would have said, “Thank you,” or at least tried to smile.

I knew I should try to put on a good face, or fraction of a face–Dr. C and his peeps aren’t to blame for the unpleasantness and expense of crowns — but I just couldn’t. Nor could I get anything nice to come out of my mouth.

“I hate these things,” was what I said. I spoke with neither rudeness nor warmth, but with absolute sincerity. I may not be my best self when I’m at the dentist, but at least I’m honest.

So the moment your squeeze tells you he has to go to the dentist for a root canal or something similarly major, expensive and miserable, be sure to go. Not with him, as a moral supporter, but from a comfortable distance so you can shadow him like the dental equivalent of a secret shopper. Then take up a post in an adjacent bay, put on a tinted windshield, and wait for the true colors to run, along with a little drool.

 

Dating stories: the perfect gift for any occasion

My sister Lynne’s birthday was yesterday. The local Yanks—my parents, my brother-in-law, the Roommates and I –usually mark such occasions by having dinner at the restaurant of the birthday person’s choice, but this time, the birthday girl said she wanted to have dinner at home.

That didn’t bother the Roommates, because their only requirement for a successful birthday celebration is ice cream cake and that’s always consumed at home. Nor did it faze my parents, whose car could drive itself to Lynne’s house by now. And I certainly didn’t mind the change of venue, since dinner at someone else’s home (even a relative’s) doesn’t demand much more from me than a restaurant dinner does. In fact, my only job was to show up and bring a salad. Though not asked to, I opted to bring a bottle of wine, too. I find it compensates for a lot, lest I screw up the dish assigned to me or, more likely, forget it altogether.

While I got down to the important business of slicing avocados and undoing the screwtop on the wine, not necessarily in that order, my brother-in-law Paul fired up kebabs on the grill. After a tasty, relaxing dinner topped off with ice cream cake, when we’d have been paying the tab at a restaurant, we instead lingered at the table. And that’s when dinner really started to get good.

When you’re the family’s only single person, they look at you almost as they do a hyena at the zoo: they’re fascinated by this creature that thrives in the eat-what-you-kill world, but they don’t necessarily want to experience it firsthand. This means my family loves to hear dating stories, even if just to make them glad they don’t live on the Serengeti of romance.

So that’s how I found myself telling a story about why I didn’t buy tickets to this Friday night’s Lyle Lovett concert, even though I really wanted to go. It’s not that tickets weren’t available, it’s that I didn’t have a suitable date.

I don’t usually care whether I have a date. I’m perfectly happy, often outright thrilled, to go to the movies, dinner, and even weddings solo. But a concert at Wolf Trap by one of my favorite showmen? It’s an experience that’s meant to be shared, and with the right company, which for me means someone who would appreciate both Lyle and me. Two of my go-to concert guys had conflicts, but I thought my friend “Brian,” an attractive, nice, and recently divorced guy, might fit the bill.

On July 27 I texted him the following:

By chance are you free August 14? There’s a concert I really want to go to and I was hoping to convince you to join me. 🙂

Brian, though a great guy, is not the most punctual responder, so I hardly noticed that it took him 5 hours to write back. After thanking me for the invitation, he promised to check his calendar and get back to me “tomorrow.”

I let two tomorrows go by before I sent a breezy, “Hi there! How are things looking for August 14?” He texted two hours later to say that he was free and to ask what the event was.

I responded immediately, thinking we might be on the verge of actually making plans:

Cool! If you’re up for it, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band (that’s really what they call themselves) are at Wolf Trap. I got dragged to see him years ago, expecting nothing, and they wowed me so I see them every chance I get. If it’s not your thing, feel free to pass, of course.

Thanks to the wonders of iPhones, I knew Brian had read my text right away, yet he didn’t respond. I let a tomorrow pass and then another one, and then I took out a Mob hit on him. I’m kidding, of course. As far as you know.

At this point in the story, my sister, who met Brian at a book event and declared him both nice and good-looking, could no longer contain herself. She embarked on a three-minute rant loaded with righteous, if vicarious, indignation that ended when she pounded the table and said, “He’s a FLAKE! But this isn’t about me.”

Without missing a beat, my brother-in-law deadpanned, “Are you sure?”

My parents had said nothing but their facial expressions spoke volumes (comprised entirely of four-letter words). I feared I was about to lose control of the room. The last thing the hyena wants is a bunch of non-prey littering the landscape, so I jumped back in and said I’d handled it my own way.

I explained my conclusion that, even if Brian responded eventually, eventually wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted, and deserved, enthusiasm, and not about Lyle Lovett, but about me. I’ve been alive long enough to know that even flakes know how to show enthusiasm when they really want to.

Out of some bizarre and misplaced sense of etiquette, which I blame entirely on my mother, I told them I’d felt compelled to close the loop with Brian, so I texted, “I ended up not getting tickets after all, so you’re off the hook.” Never mind that he and the hook hadn’t even been in the same ocean as far as I could tell.

Dad stood up, out of disgust, butt fatigue, or some combination of the two, and we started to gather up the cake plates. As my mother and father made their way out the door, we all agreed we wouldn’t have stuck around at a restaurant long enough to have had that conversation.

Mom said, “We should do this every few weeks,” and Lynne seconded the motion.

Guess I’d better get back out on the plains.

[Here’s one of the songs I won’t be hearing Friday night…]