Smug ‘Together’

Are you two, um, friends? Together? Married? Asks the yoga instructor at 6:15am. She’s seen us arrive together. I can barely open my eyes but I’m thrilled by this question. Yip, we’re together, that hottie’s with me! We love each other soooo much we do couples yoga together. The next 90 minutes dripping in 100 degree heat should be hell but I get to look in the mirror and think, ‘oh yes ladies, step aside that body’s with me!’.

I’ve had the feeling for the past few months that I’m too happy. Too happy in love. Like if I’m not careful I’ll appear smug. Or more concerning, I am actually already smug but too smug to even realize it.

Why am I so happy and in danger of smugness? Well, because I’m with the most incredible man on the planet, obvi! I’m dumbfounded that he has managed to remain single for uncharacteristically long and has now attached himself to me. I’m sure everyone in love feels like they’ve met the best person in the world or the best person for them. But I actually believe that the American is vastly superior to any other man, in an absolute sense.

Supporting facts:

He’s handsome – people sometimes think he is Bradley Cooper

He’s sensitive – he gets an anguished look on his face in movies when there’s a scene depicting emotional hardship

He’s generous – he puts energy into creating surprise experiences for me and the ones I love. He also knows when to pay for things.

He’s competent – he can fix boat engines

He’s funny – he makes me laugh unexpectedly in a raucous unflattering way

So, yes, I get that my list isn’t unique – we are all looking for a handsome sensitive man with a sense of humour. But I think what makes me feel so lucky and borderline smug is that I can see that he really thinks he’s won the lottery. Not just thinks, he acts like it. He really behaves like he respects me and wants the best for me, instead of his first thought being ‘is this going to inconvenience my life?’ or ‘how can I prove that I’m superior to her?’. I think the best illustration of love is in the ways we don’t behave. He is NOT trying to compete with me, NOT overreacting about little things, NOT acting jealous, NOT holding me back, NOT judging. And it’s this behaviour that really stands out as exceptionally rare to me.

So why do I feel intermittently panicked?

Stop being so self-congratulatory, a little voice whispers inside, or you’re going to have that smile wiped off your face.

It feels too good to be true. But there are only two ways to respond to that – freak out and self sabotage or stay calm and be thankful. I’ve decided to let myself get swept away by it all. If it hurts later it will be worth it.

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Three things I learnt in my 3 single years

In my post about what I learnt from a 4 year break up I mentioned that I also learnt ‘lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with.’ This is true and here’s a breakdown of that journey.

Single Year 1: Learning about myself

In my first year of being single, amidst the initial trauma of a break up, the first thing I learnt is that I knew my own mind enough to have made the right decision. While I was stuck with some feelings of guilt, the focus shifted to what I really wanted in life. Where did I want to live? What kind of career did I want? I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be and anywhere in the world. I only had myself to consult. This was liberating but also overwhelming. Should I quit my job and work on yachts in the South of France? Or should I get a job in a cinema on a ski slope and learn to ski? I seriously investigated any kind of life that was nothing like my current.

I concluded that I didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was stagnating there and I wanted an adventure. And that’s how I got plotting to move to New York. I had a goal with a unique focus and it made me feel like my own person again.

What I also noticed about that year, on reflection, was that I sought male attention. I wasn’t used to being alone and made a string of bad dating decisions. I dated more than one person at a time, I hooked up with a friend, I had my first one night stand. All a disaster. I slowly realized that I was affected by the behavior of these men I supposedly didn’t care about. The common advice for singles is ‘make the most of it’ but I would be more selective if I had to do it over again.

Single Year 2: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be

Freshly arrived in New York for my adventurous new life, I adopted the ‘yes man’ approach. I said yes to everything. I didn’t necessarily stay friends with all those people I met in the early days but sometimes I met other people through them. I also did a lot of solo travel to locations I’d always wanted to go to, like Mexico and girls trips to party places like Ibiza. I even went on a mom daughter cruise around the Caribbean and discovered that my mom was a very cool person and travel buddy.

Girl Time in Ibiza

                                                               Girl Time in Ibiza

Party Boat with Mom

                                                             Party Boat with Mom

While on this busy exploratory streak, I also learnt that I had some work to do on myself. There were things I was fearful of, things I was angry about and things I didn’t know what to feel about. I decided to self examine more. The easiest way to do this (if you live in the US and have health insurance) is to go to a therapist. I don’t say the best way, just the easiest. If you can’t afford a therapist, I would suggest setting a timer at home and talking to yourself as if there is a therapist listening on a chair opposite you. One hour of uninterrupted time with yourself will tell you everything you need to know.

With a little bit of probing I learnt that I could let go of certain emotions and stop fearing certain others. I felt much calmer about life in general, less like I was racing against a clock or competing against a sea of un-named faces. I spent more than a year away from my family that year, fighting against the balance of what was expected of me and what I wanted to give. By the end of that year, there was still lots to learn but I felt like I knew what I was striving for. I’d made enough mistakes to see what needed more work but I stopped self-flagellating.

Single Year 3: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be with

In my third year, I decided to reset. I was looking for discipline and rigour. I was tired of saying yes to everything, tired of eating out and staying out late. I moved into an apartment by myself, stopped drinking for a month and signed up for a cycling training program with New York Cycling Club, doing long distance rides in a group every Saturday for 10 weeks. I felt fit and strong and focused. I stopped dating (for a bit) and I don’t recall but I apparently told a friend at the time that I wanted to be in a real relationship. So I know that I knew what I wanted.

I spent the Summer with friends going to the beach, sailing, cooking at home. I didn’t realize that in amongst this group of friends was the person I would end up being with. We would talk about everything, including what we were looking for in a person. I recall citing a list of ’10 things I was looking for in a man’ to him on a car journey home.  Things like ‘quietly confident, ambitious, must think he’s won the lottery, good face’. I remember it fleetingly crossing my mind that the American fit the description of most things on my list other than thinking he’d won the lottery (he showed no interest at the time). I think it was this exercise of actively naming what I wanted and recognizing that there was someone in front of me who represented the majority of the criteria that prompted me to explore the option when it became available.

7-10 of The 10 things I look for in a man: Feed me, take me to the beach, take me on a boat (please):

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Don’t get me wrong, three single years is a long time to learn all these lessons and if I were to find myself single again, I hope I wouldn’t have to re-learn all of them. I was also 3 years away from 30, trying to make a life in a new country, hating my job and at one point adjusting to the idea of having a very sick father. But we all have things going on all the time and break-ups and being single probably won’t come at a good time. Whatever your circumstances, I guarantee it will be a great time to learn about yourself.

Four things I learnt from my 4 year break up

It will be four years ago this month that I ended a relationship of four years.

Here are the four most important things I learnt:

  1. Rip off the Band-Aid – if you’re thinking of breaking up with someone it’s the right thing to do, so do it, and quickly.

I don’t like to think that I regret being in the relationship I was in, but I do know that I thought about breaking up with him after two years and very seriously after three years. So why did it take four? Because I loved him and I wanted it to miraculously work out. I wanted to not want to break up with him. But in the end I was so anxious and annoyed every day that I had to do something. I psyched myself up (literally) by speaking to a clairvoyant tarot card reader. She told me I was standing alongside a gushing river, unsure whether to jump in or stand on the bank and watch it flow by me. So I jumped in. Well, first I dipped my toe in and moved out for a couple of weeks….then I escaped with my family on holiday to think about it some more…then I came back and told him what my decision was and we debriefed our four year relationship over a bottle of whiskey. I wish I hadn’t protracted things for so long. I wish I’d ripped off the band-aid sooner and suffered the pain. The sooner you make the decision, the quicker you’ll know whether it was the right one or not. If it was the wrong decision you’ll end up together again. If it was right, you can both start your quest to alternate happiness.

  1. Find a friend with a sofa bed – while you might be starting your quest to future happiness, you will probably be doing it from a mate’s living room floor.

When I left my ex, I was homeless and displaced. I moved from friend to friend for about 10 weeks, before finding a new home of my own. Splitting a relationship in two brings practical challenges, like cutting financial ties and deciding ownership of shared things. If you’re the one who moved out, this can is a good excuse to revisit the place you lived together. Nobody understands what you are going through quite like the person whose heart you’ve just broke, so it feels good to seek solace in each other. Don’t! Gather your belongings and get out of there. Every trip I made back to our shared home left me an emotional wreck and my friends soon forbade it. I needed this stern advice and living with them after living with a man was also fun. We stayed up talking girl talk and planning our futures, we dressed up, we went out, I practiced flirting. It’s hard to be sad when you’re around people you love so I surrounded myself with them all the time by squatting with a new friend every week for 6 weeks. They fed me and dried my tears. I also cried less than I would’ve liked because, let’s face it, nobody wants to deal with a blubbering mess and  didn’t want to burden them with my emotional needs.  Surrounding myself with normal life was the quickest way back to my own normal.

  1. Fall in love with yourself again – when your relationship ends you will be left with only yourself so you better get to know who that is and what they like.

Once I had found a new home of my own and was starting to reconstruct my existence, I found it hard to know what I wanted to do with my time. Suddenly, I was the only decision maker and I didn’t know what I wanted – what I wanted to eat, whether I wanted to go to the beach for the day or to a movie, whether I wanted to quit my job and travel round the world, whether I wanted to be alone or start date. I was unsure of everything and it was disconcerting because the independent self-assured vision I had of myself didn’t seem to hold true anymore. So I fought against indecision. Every time I found myself deliberating over what to do with my Saturday, I forced myself to just do something and start to gauge how much I enjoyed it. I started dating myself. My favourite date with myself was, and still is, to the cinema. I found the Prince Charles in London and would go there on a Monday, because I could. Then I’d take myself to dim sum at Beijing Dumpling across the road. I also took myself to Highgate Cemetery because I like cemeteries and to the British Library because I like libraries. When I’d conquered such simple outings, I started taking myself cycling in the countryside and then off on holiday to Montenegro. I had the best time. The great thing about being alone is you are never really alone – you always meet new friends along the way but you can arrive and depart whenever you please.

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetary

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetery

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Private beach at Villa Milocer, Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

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Islet of Sveti Stefan, where Sofia Loren used to holiday.

  1. Allow enough time for a full recovery – the reconstruction process can be slower than you think and you need to protect your heart until its properly healed.

My path to reconstruction was probably more self-destructive than I realized. I thought I was doing all the right things – putting myself ‘back out there’, getting ‘back on the wagon’ and all the other post breakup clichés that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself and excited about the world. But I was in a fragile emotional state and should’ve been more selective about who I let in. The trouble with casual dating is that I’m just not that good at it. If you like someone enough to show them who you are then you will probably be sad when they go away, even if it is ‘casual’ and you are told you shouldn’t expect more. I was hurt by men I didn’t care about for a long time before I realized I needed to auto-protect. I remember leaving a Bikram yoga class one day, and getting soaked in the rain on the way home. Bikram always leaves me feeling exhausted and sometimes emotional if other things are going on and suddenly the raindrops had turned to floods of tears. I felt like nobody loved me and nobody cared about me and never would. The casual relationships I’d attempted had taken my confidence away instead of adding to it. The guys I’d dated didn’t mean any harm but I just didn’t have enough me-reserves at that time to risk losing them to anyone. So I started to guard them more closely. Instead of giving away little pieces of me – personal information, time, energy – I started to hold on to them, until I felt someone had really earned it. I think the full healing process took me two years. This isn’t to say that I was a broken human being for that entire period, but in retrospect I exhibited behaviour that showed I was still in recovery.

I also learnt lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with, but I’m saving that for another list.

What did you learn when you went through a big break up?

Love 101

I sat next to a colleague today who moved to NY it feels like just a minute ago. He’s been here a year and a half, max. And in the city where people only date, he met someone and proposed a year later. I just learnt about the proposal today and what I said to him was ‘OOOOOH, I love love!’. I do, I love everything about it. How people meet, why they’re attracted to each other, why they sometimes run away together and sometimes throw knives at each other. The giddy irrationality, the heartbreak and what we learn from it. As my mom says: Love is the elixir of life. More choice quotes from my mom in my last post.

My friend Leigh and I were inseparable at varsity (that’s uni in the UK and college in the States). We we studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics but couldn’t understand why there were no Politics of Love, Philosophy of Love or Economics of Love courses available. These would’ve been so much more applicable to our lives. To make up for the lack of quality courses available we frequented Love 101 lectures, held by and attended by, ourselves. As neither of us had boyfriends or went on dates the course material was totally fantastical. I also don’t think that at the time people were as academically interested in the subject as they are now. Many years on (Leigh and I have thankfully acquired more personal material) and there are lots of legitimately clever people talking about love.

I’ve selected some of my favourite reads and resources to share with you as the foundation of my Love 101 curriculum

The brain in love:

When to watch it: when you know you’re acting crazy and need some reassurance that you’re just behaving the way you were programmed to.

The secret to desire in a long term relationship:

When to watch it: Uh, if you’re in a long term relationship  – obvi. And also if you’re not, for the pure sexiness of this woman’s voice. It’s a great conversation starter for couples but also just fascinating.

How to Think more About Sex, Alain de Botton: 

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When to read it: Today. Whether you’re in a relationship or not. This book demystifies all the crap you’ve heard about sex from the world and teaches you to think intelligently about it, for yourself.

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje:

eng patient

When to read it/watch it: Literally on a journey or when you feel like taking one. If you’re a reader, read it first. If you’re a film lover, see the movie.  Both are slow and beautiful.

OK, lovers of love, I’m excited for you to go forth and feast on this Love 101 course work, whatever stage your heart is in.

Let me know what you learnt and what you loved please.

Falling in Love Again

When I was in my all girls high school and boyfriend and boy friend-less, I wasn’t so worried. Worst case scenario, I could invite one of my well-mannered Afrikaans tennis pals to the school dance with me. All the normal people end up with another normal person eventually, I thought. And I am definitely normal compared to some of the freaks out there who have had relationships and even babies. School is now a distant memory (thank goodness) but outside of a few panicked pre-30 moments, I’ve continued to cling to my belief that normal people find other normal people, even if it hasn’t always worked for me.

The first time I fell in love, I think I got swept away by charm. Wait, it was 8 years ago, so I actually can’t remember why I fell in love. That’s why we keep diaries. I recorded the following: ‘It was just so comfortable being around him and fun…I was so excited, like on a breezy cloud.’ Followed by this DH Lawrence quote: “Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration.”

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The blossoming and withering of love.

YUCK, that’s also why I no longer write a diary.

So for round 2 I was prepared, there would be no declarations of love in week 3, no premature wading into that murky pool of infatuation. And just as well, because it took the American I now love almost a year to ask me to be his date. And by that I mean accompany him as his date somewhere, not actually go on a date. We’d been cycling friends in the run up to this (Nov 2012-Aug 2013) and spent w ends with friends at the beach over the Summer but he’d never thrown so much as a special glance my way up until this point. Before the ‘date’, there had been some mini signals of interest, like an awkwardly long hand linger when passing me his cell phone in a car and an equally awkward bum tap in a kitchen, but otherwise zero. To this day, I have no idea if he was slowly psyching himself up to make a non-move by inviting me as his date to this event or if we could just as easily still not be together if we hadn’t been forced to squish up very tight in the car on the ride home. Anyway, in his case slow and steady wins the race.  It’s also the air of certainty he has about him (like, no rush, I got this) that makes him especially attractive. Once we’d navigated the first kiss, the calm approach also translated into regular, stable dating patterns that I welcomed compared to prior New Yorker experiences. Being friends, we already had a foundation of trust and respect but it took some time to figure out how not to just be friends. Luckily, his angst free spirit rubbed off on me and I managed to silence all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’ swimming around in my head  and follow his carefree lead.

After about 3 months of mutual appreciation, I recall my sister asking me if I was in love and I was like ‘whooaaa, no way’ but I think she planted the seed. Shortly after that, I had friends staying with me and being Franco-German, they wanted to make us a quick Quiche before going out. I clearly don’t use the oven much and had left a plastic utensil in there that proceeded to start a real fire in my kitchen. The German, being a responsible surgeon, screamed for us gentile ladies to evacuate but a minute later as I was sneaking back in to rescue my passport, I saw that the American had calmly put out the fire and saved all my worldly possessions. That was the moment I started to fall in love.

It took another 3 months for the falling, falling, fallen process to complete. By then I was so starry-eyed it was burdensome to hold it in. I could feel the love coming from him too so I thought that in the same way he opens doors and carries bags for me, he would just be the man and say it first. He was definitely moving steadily in that direction when he came out with ‘I really like you’ as part of a bigger appreciation speech one lazy afternoon in February. Whilst I was drinking in every word about how he’s so happy with me and has always wanted a relationship like this, blah blah, blah, I was mainly thinking that if it’s taken him 6 months to conclude he really likes me then he’s probably at least another 3 off from the big L. There was no way I could match such stoicism so I decided I’d have to get it off my chest that day. After multiple attempts at finding the right moment and stilling the queasy feeling in my tummy, I finally confessed. His face lit up in a way that placated my nausea. Apparently he loved me too but had been looking for the right words (for male readers, the right words are I love you). We both breathed a sigh of relief.

Now that the words are out there we say them when we really mean them, a special treat and a reminder not to take them for granted. Sometimes when I hear the words unexpectedly my heart is still momentarily arrested. Because, as DH pointed out, love is that rare flower that must be treasured for the potentially brief hour of its duration.

 

 

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Online dating is a bit like steak tartare these days – love it or hate it, it’s on the menu. For some it’s the main dish, for others, something they return to in times of famine. And then there are those like me, who view it as a once off taste test, just to say we’ve had the experience. Most people I know have tried it at least once, with varying degrees of success. The spectrum ranges from dating horror stories, to happy couples who are still a bit loath to admit they met this way, to the proselytizing extremists, who insist it is the way, the truth and the life.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the virtual approach to meeting a mate. It’s partly the taboo and stereotype that only losers and freaks who can’t cut it in real life encounters need to resort to web interactions but it’s also due to my belief that the intangible essence of someone can only be represented in real life. My initial attraction to someone is often sparked by the way they move or speak or carry themselves in a room. ‘Strong presence’ or ‘twinkle in eye’ are not things that can be conveyed in an online resume. While an online profile can be a good initial screening process, people come to life in motion, not on paper and I’d rather not go about looking for love in the same way I’d conduct job interviews. Having had a few profiles set up for me in the past, I was curious about the experience but had never followed through with the recruitment process. Now I found myself in a bit of a dry spell and was prompted by this e mail from a male friend:

Have you ever done on-line dating? You HAVE to let me set you up a profile. I will do everything, pick your photos, write the ad, etc. but I am SUPER curious to see the messages you get. So we will do it for research.

His theory was that there are loads of great guys (notably his friends) on these websites but not as many great girls because the type of skepticism I felt coupled with a general technology bias. He wanted to see if we could establish a repeatable filtering mechanism to help fine females like myself flush out the weirdos. He was going to self style my profile and be my personal spam guard. I couldn’t refuse. Although, I was hoping the experiment would be wrapped up quickly and we would resort to lining up all his eligible friends in his apartment for me to select from. With the enthusiasm of a Southern cheerleader, he invented my OKCupid user name (BikesCream – because I like bikes and guys like images that conjure up licking) and selecting my ‘fittest’ pics from Facebook. For the requisite blurb he threw in a few hooks about me having an accent, being sporty and enjoying gardening. Nothing too crazy. I let me pick the response to the question about the six things I could never do without. A tough question when you are up against the 1 million plus other females active on the site also trying to strike that balance between low maintenance and cool. I settled with original things like family, dancing and the beach. As an aside, OKCupid, having been founded by maths nerds, has done some very amusing analysis on millions of users to interpret how responses to such banal questions and other demographic factors impact your desirability or what you can infer from them. One such insight points to the sad reality that as I approach the undesirable age of 30, my answers to silly questions like the six things I can’t live without start to matter way more than when I was in my internet dating prime at age 21. Men have until age 36 to reach prime eligibility, which practically speaking means it’s a real hen fight for those of us women willing to brave the the online scene.

As it turned out, I had no shortage of responses from men in their prime. And my friend was right, there is a HUGE need for an additional human filter. Here are some of the more quality responses I received :

ron1000: I would be happy to get to know you better 🙂

SecoNY: So You really look adorable.Also you’re seem like you have a great fashion sense.Are u a personal stylist ? 🙂

baconplayboy: Your hair is fuc*ing adorable! when are you going to ask me out?!!!?

frenchkiss: salut, ca va?

john646: looking for someone to spoil, interested?

smitten24: this may be a bit premature but i think i love you

JD101:We all scream for Bike Scream i guess. Oh my you are lovely, I just had to say hello.

And just when I was losing hope, I got this winning message:

fireworks85: You are adorable, so adorable in fact that I’ve decided im going to adopt you as my new little sister. Don’t worry, we’ll spend all our time together climbing trees and drinking kool-aid. Actually you seem like a pretty cool person, I’d love to get together sometime and let you cook for me haha. Wait! You’re not crazy are you?

With this prize sample reflecting the general calibre of communications and my human filter having rapidly lost interest, I decided to adopt a more proactive strategy. I was determined to meet one of these freaks face to face. So I did some trawling of my own and sent out some messages to hot, sporty, sensitive types over 36 (to increase my chances as they get more desperate) and some under 36 (because they’re in their prime after all).

It didn’t take long for me to strike up a normal conversation with a seemingly normal person with a normal name like John. He liked mangos and whiskey so at least I knew we had things in common. He also had lots of pics of him in exotic global locations with small children and animals, which was his way of saying he’d traveled a lot and was sensitive. So at least if we had nothing else to talk about we could exchange backpacking stories, which, let’s face it, are never very interesting unless you were there but can be good gap fillers in awkward date situations. John agreed to meet in person on a ubiquitous night of the week at a ubiquitous bar. And its a good thing I’d read the OKCupid blog, because he was a classic case of ‘I look nothing like my pics anymore’:

“Here’s a recent pic.”

REALITY: The more attractive the picture, the more likely it is to be out-of-date.

In John’s case he had turned grey and picked up a few pounds since being stuck out in the jungles of Cambodia, surviving off Tom Yum soup. Nevertheless, he was pleasant enough company and we managed to turn drinks into dinner. We talked about how he could turn his experience teaching English into a real world job and some of the good ideas he had for starting his own business, like supplying color coded cardboard boxes to large businesses or families during a move. Apparently old boxes from the bodega and a magic marker just won’t do the trick when you have lots and lots of stuff.
As I sat through this and some other nascent start-up ideas I pictured a future of dates where I’d be picking up the check for my rotisserie chicken and pinpointing holes in his latest hair-brain scheme. I was bored and I wanted to go home. Because it hadn’t been a horror story date, I thought I’d see it through properly and let him walk me home and kiss me. It was a decent text book kiss but nothing to make a foot pop or a heart skip a beat. I thanked him for a good night and reiterated that I would be traveling for two weeks and would be in touch on my return. And herein lies the lesson that I heavily advocate to anyone trying out online dating. As soon as you meet up with the person start talking about how busy you’ve been preparing for a trip. If you say you’re gone for a week or more its long enough for them not to bother you until you return. That way, if it goes well and you’re interested you can contact them when you fake return but if you never want to see them again, you can just cut ties. It’s unlikely that they’ll plague you if they don’t hear from you after your fake return date.
In my case I was really going away for two weeks and was relieved not to have to broach the question of doing another drink, dinner, doorstep combo anytime soon.

I wonder if John was equally disappointed with real life me or the online experience in general. When I logged back in to look at my messages recently, I saw there is now just an avatar where his face used to be. The same goes for a number of other weirdos who had sent me messages. I’m curious to know how many of these deactivated profiles met someone via the site and have no need to search anymore and how many just grew fatigued by all that ubiquitous drink buying and travel storytelling.

I’ve deactivated my profile because I don’t believe it’s the most effective way for a fussy person like me to meet someone. I never did get my friend to line up his connections in a room for me but I’m convinced that if I did, there would be at least one in ten that I could date. I have more confidence in filtering by association than any algorithms the OKCupid nerds can come up with. The good news is that when the one in ten doesn’t work out and my pool of associates has been exhausted, as it inevitably becomes from time to time, I can always reactivate my profile. Next time I’ll know how to navigate the system.

A Fine Art Part II (or Not Such a Fine Artist)

In my last post some of you were left wondering whether I ever went for that drink with The Artist. The answer is yes…

We went for a drink

After meeting at Dr Sketchy’s, the Artist followed up with a text before I’d even reached home. I generally like the keen approach – it appeals to the manners that were instilled in me as a child. I see it as saying ‘Nice to meet you’ or sending a thank you card. A few casual witticisms later we had agreed to meet for a drink that week.  He courteously made the trek from Brooklyn to my neighborhood and picked a civilized location for our first rendez vous. When he arrived, he actually seemed a little flustered and less self-assured than when he’d had been clutching his sketch pad. Though nerves are not obviously attractive in a Neolithic man way, the hint of vulnerability was somewhat appealing after my long run of self -involved, overly self-satisfied New York men. The wine was good and the conversation intelligent. He was raised by liberal artsy parents and was doing cool shit with his life like traveling, taking photos and teaching himself to tattoo on citrus fruit, while still earning enough freelance cash to live on his own. The perfect mix of un-dull but responsible enough to pay school fees. He wanted to walk me home, but knowing how that goes from the movies and remembering my manners myself, I declined.

We went for dinner

Date two was held in celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and the Artist suggested breaking his vegetarian tendencies with fried chicken at an authentic Harlem restaurant. I liked that he had come up with a cool idea all on his own and that he was willing to break his own rules for an occasion. Also, fried chicken is yummy. The evening was pleasant. We talked American history and politics and devoured deep fried everything washed down with beer. Then we had a sexy subway journey downtown, punctuated by rat sitings. I panicked when he  ‘missed’ his stop and got off at mine to reroute, thinking he might attempt to kiss me on the rat-infested platform, but thankfully he had picked up that it wasn’t quite the moment.

We went on a foodie walking tour

I’d decided that this guy was cool and probably worth kissing. He’d also cunningly alluded to a little skiing day trip, the kind of flippant future looking reference men make so that women start to picture their lives together. Although I totally saw through this, I decided to take it to the next level and suggested a walking tour of the Lower East Side, with the intention of being able to observe him in a normal environment. It was the perfect non-date. We walked, we talked, we nibbled on (vegetarian) dumplings and flatbread from a hidden Matzo factory. He laughed in appropriate places and asked the guide smart questions. After the tour  we sheltered in the oldest bar in the East Village and drank, laughed and flirted until the sun went down. By the time we made our way to the dreaded subway I was starting to think anywhere would do for a first kiss but he was apparently not in agreement. I got the awkward hug goodbye.

We went for Oysters and Champagne Cocktails

I’m not sure if men are actively aware of the power they have when their behavior throws you into a state of confusion. Does he want to kiss me or not? If he doesn’t, then why not?  I’m going to make him want to! So a week later we reunited at my instigation for another seemingly great date or non-date at Maison Premiere to consume some aphrodisiacs. Again with the conversation, the compliments and the open body language facilitated by swiveling bar stools. Again with the non hand-holding walk to the subway and the awkward hug.

We went nowhere

Four dates and no action should’ve been a massive warning flag. But when I went traveling for a couple of weeks he continued to flirt via text and suggest romantic things like cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge when I returned. I wanted to give this shy Artist one last chance to make his move so when I got back into town I got in touch and suggested we attempt the trans East River Crossing.

No rispondi.

That’s odd I thought, maybe he lost his phone. Or got hit by a bus. Or met someone else. Or maybe he had to go to Sweden to retrieve his dog from his ex and doesn’t have signal in the Fjords . A week passed and I deleted his number. Then another week passed and I got angry. What happened to those manners? When you finally get out of the hospital or get network coverage back don’t you reply to your messages? Or when you meet a super model don’t you drop a courtesy text to the person you were fake dating and let them know you had a good time but met someone hotter? So I decided to trace down his number from his website and send a text for all womankind:

Me: ‘Hey what happened to you, I was looking forward to more adventures but maybe you changed your mind…or circumstances?

Him: Hey, ya, my ex showed up and complicated my life for a bit…

Now, what was so hard about saying that? I’m not sure why he couldn’t have raised this road block without being force prompted. His ex had obviously been complicating his life since she’d told him he should get a new girlfriend two years prior. Suddenly I was pleased that he was with her and not me. I want to be with someone who can stand up for himself and tells his nasty ex to piss off when she comes groveling back.

On the whole, I’m pleased that I had this experience. Not only was I hopefully able to coach some basic etiquette into him that will benefit future sisters, I also taught myself that if he talks about his ex too much or has left a living creature with her for safekeeping, there will absolutely not be a second, third or fourth date!

Down with Art

New York is buzzing with talented people who do creative things for a living. This makes it an exciting place to live but the flip-side is that people can be a little disappointed when they hear that you work in that dull  and evil world labelled ‘corporate’. So to add a little something to my creative persona I dragged myself off to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School one Sunday afternoon. The school’s founder, the multi-talented ‘art school dropout’, Molly Crabapple, says everyone has at least 1000 bad drawings in them. I may never get as far as testing her theory but so far p.10 of my A3 sketchpad does not contradict it. My father, who has definitely completed 1000 drawings in his time, many of which had the nymph-esque hippies of the Knysna Forest as their subject, tells me that drawing the human form is the best practice because it’s also the hardest. If you can draw a body, you can draw anything apparently. In search of bodies, I arrived in the LES’ burlesque HQ, the Slipper Room, and was greeted by a stilted puppeteer named Creamed Stu dangling vet performer, Scooter Pie on the mini stage, while thirsty sketchers helped themselves to rye-on-the-rocks at the bar.

scooterpie

While the bar at Dr Sketchy sessions creates a convivial and slightly bad-ass atmosphere and also helps to loosen up the drawing hand, it sadly meant on this occasion that the lovely Scooter Pie had to suction her form into a transparent full body stocking – NY State law doesn’t trust us to mix nudity and liquor apparently. Drawing a sheer morph is actually a lot more challenging than drawing just an old fashioned nude as it turns out. Where there should be folds, there is just sheerness. I was further challenged by having arrived too late to secure a spot at a table (nice stable drawing surface) so had to assume a rather awkward leaning stance against a window. This is what I was painfully able to produce:

Sketched with a plain old 3B pencil

The upshot was that I found myself strategically positioned next to an attractive hipster man who looked like he knew how to draw standing up. He confirmed during a pose change that he was a legitimate Artist, with a degree in it and everything. It turned out to be quite a long pose change and I learnt that the Artist lived in Brooklyn, wielded his talents by day doing animation and had a dog (sweet) that was holidaying in Sweden with his ex (warning sign).

When Scooter Pie resumed her posish on stage, the Artist, in the most romantic gesture I’d been on the receiving end of all year, offered me the use of his blue crayon. It came just at the right time, as the resident funnyman MC decided to spice things up and instructed us all to draw the models ‘in the style of a cartoon’.  Here is my best attempt at transforming Scooter Pie into a Smurf:

scooter pie2

From the outcome of the blue sketch evidenced above, you are correct to assume that I didn’t win any free body shots for my ‘in the style of a cartoon’ efforts. I graciously but quickly handed the blue crayon back to the Artist with a flush of the cheeks that said ‘I’m so bad at this and you’re so good – why don’t you take advantage of the uneven playing field and ask me for my number’. The Artist, having invented this little crayon exchange game, was obviously familiar with how it plays out and casually threw out the ‘Do you want to get a drink sometime?’ to which I responded with an equally casual ‘Sure’. Eight amateur sketches and one powerful flirtation later, my first Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School lesson drew to a close. Given my lack of formal training, I like to think Ms Crabapple would be very proud of my results.

The Filler Boyfriend

I knew I needed one. I just wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pull it off. That elusive concept – a part time boyfriend. Someone you do boyfriend like things with but who isn’t really a boyfriend. He’s just occupying the space in-between until a real boyfriend comes along and sweeps you off your feet. I’d heard people talk about fillers and thought it sounded like quite a sweet set up but wasn’t convinced I could pull it off. I’ve always had a tendency to actually really like the people I’m with. Granted, it wears off quickly, but there has to be some initial person-to-person appreciation.

My friend says I have ‘un cœur d’artichaut’, a 19th C expression meaning to fall in love easily – a reference to the artichoke plant that allows its leaves to be easily yanked off to gain access to its delicious heart:

A Juicy Leaf for Every Crush

A Juicy Leaf for Every Crush

I’d never thought of myself in this way, but I suppose even though I  am quite selective about longer term partners I am really a helpless romantic at heart, which means I develop little crushes on all different types of men all the time. And so it came to pass that after a long Fall drought I decided to give this tall, dark, handsome filler a chance.

It happened in a remarkably predictable way. We met at a friend’s birthday and exchanged a few facts. He works in Finance, doesn’t like what he does. Works out a lot. Spent Summer in Ibiza. He bought me a drink. I spoke to other people. He felt neglected. He told me so. I said buying me a drink doesn’t guarantee my company for the night and I left. He was hooked.

So as most brave New York men would do he ‘befriended’ me on Facebook. Apparently this is a tester to see if you want them in your life. I ‘accepted’. Then nothing. The dating game is so boring.  So I suggested I owed him a drink and what do you know, we were ‘dating’. Drink here, dinner there. Movies at the cinema, movies at his place.  Great once a week winter-warmers. While I always suspected we shared very few common world views other than Obama for President and couldn’t be sure after date 4 or 5 if he had ever made me laugh, I thought it was worth pursuing until a real boyfriend came along. Anyway, you’re always a more desirable flower to bees when there’re already other bees buzzing around trying to extract your pollen, right?

So on we rolled with our weekly text message exchange. While I might have the heart of an artichoke I have very low tolerance for bad spelling and poor planning. Below are a few randomly selected examples of texts that signaled the beginning of the end:

  1. Dinner tonightIf u dont have plans offcourse  (concerns: no punctuation and of course I have plans)
  2. K (concerns: lazy, lazy, lazy)
  3. Felix cumpleanos (concerns: I don’t speak Spanish and he does but I know that’s not spelt right AND its 11pm on my birthday – too late)
  4. Dinner drinks tonight (concerns: no punctuation and NO – I have plans tonight)

But spelling and planning are not everyones thing. On the plus side, the man came to the ballet with me – extra points for effort. The real demise came when I trekked all the way to the Upper West Side for dinner at his place one night. I had my concerns when he asked me to bring a side dish but shrugged it off. Then I arrived and I swear he was in his pajamas and not in a sexy way. It all fell apart from there  – he asked me to cook the steak, there was no wine, he banged his knife on the table while we were dining and afterwards lay down on his sofa and pulled up the basketball on his iPad. A wave of shock washed over me – he had taken me as a wife. I skipped out of there as  fast as I could in my heels and zoomed down to Soho and the real world for a friend’s party. I’d had my fill and would not be going back.

All round , it was a good experience but I’ve decided the bee metaphor was misguided and adopted a new philosophy for Spring: ‘if you don’t get off the wrong train, you won’t be at the station when the right train comes along’.

The Dating Fatigue Experiment – Part II

Most frequently asked questions about my New York life: are without fail: ‘Have you started dating yet?’ or ‘What’s the dating scene like? The answers to those questions, respectively, are yes and confusing. If you recall, a few months ago I pledged to go on one date a week for 4 weeks. I like to think I fulfilled that mission, even if it was all with the same person.

Despite my small sample size, I did manage to emerge with some interesting findings:

You can date someone for several months without a) really getting to know them and b) it being a relationship. Dating in New York is a sport. Something you do on a regular basis to to ensure you keep your eye in. Just another enjoyable way to pass the time. As an American, you’ve been doing it since childhood, so you understand all the rules and are probably quite good at it.  The rest of us need a few things explained in order to participate. The most critical rule that I’ve had explained to me by American girls is ‘The Conversation’ (or sometimes ‘The Talk’) According to this rule:

  • The Conversation determines the exclusivity of your relationship
  • If you have not had The Conversation you should assume he is seeing other people
  • The Conversation is usually initiated by the woman
  • Men do not like having The Conversation
  • The Conversation should not be initiated too soon
  • The Conversation should be kept light hearted (is received best when introduced with humour) and appear unthreatening.
  • The Conversation is not good pillow talk

My own attempt at The Conversation was admittedly amateur and ignored many of the above principles, but then in my defense I’ve not been playing this game very long.  In fact, I didn’t really even want to have The Conversation – I was more concerned with what was happening in the present than about where things ‘were going’ but then I suppose that’s one and the same in Dateland. So I went for a simple yet strong opening question: ‘Like, I was just wondering, what are we doing – are we dating?’ (trying to play the ignorant foreigner card but perhaps too threatening and not light hearted enough in hindsight). In response to my question he did two things: First he positioned himself on the moral high ground by affirming that we were in fact dating inasmuch as he was not dating anyone else (I like to think of it as dating by default). Second, he gave me a full run down of his frantic Summer schedule, including business trips, expected visitors and w ends in Montauk. He concluded by saying that he should have more free time in the Fall. Naturally, in response to that I said I would clear my schedule beginning October and look forward to romantic walks with him in Central Park as an abundance of golden leaves fall softly around us. Like – NOT!

And so out of this little experiment the number one rule of American dating is revealed: Do not put all your eggs in one basket – or at least not until you’ve had The Conversation. Critical learning if I’m to be in a relationship by the Fall.