A Single Story

Bear with me, today, guys, because this is a bit of a deviation from my normal post topic.

There are days when I really wish the internet had never been invented.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet. It is my best friend. I stay up too late at night chatting with it about my day, it helps me with my homework, and when I don’t know what to do, it gives me helpful advice. The internet is an awesome friend.

The internet is also sometimes an asshole friend: when you complain about your boyfriend cheating on you, the internet asks what you did to make him cheat. When you are in the middle of a fun conversation, the internet makes a racist joke, and all of a sudden, you’re uncomfortable and not having fun anymore. But it’s just the way the internet is. You can’t change the internet. It’s the price of admission.

But the real thing that I regret about the internet is that with so much out there, I know how much I am failing to measure up to my own ideals.

I’m not necessarily talking about the Pinterest Effect, although that’s part of it (why can’t I hand-craft little marzipan trains for my son’s birthday?), but about the ideals of fairness and equality in the world — ideals I care deeply about and do not always manage to fulfill.

I know I have issues around race. It makes me kind of sick and unhappy to think about, so I spend a lot of time looking away from it, which is me disappointing myself with how I deal with disappointing myself. The best I can do there, I think sometimes, is to keep my issues inside my head, where the people to whom those issues are grossly unfair never have to deal with them. That, and try to teach my children to do better.

But I also have issues around feminism. In theory, you see, I am absolutely for feminism. Women are absolutely 100% equal to men. Women should get paid the same. Household tasks should be divided evenly, including the childcare tasks. Women should have the same opportunity to participate in jobs as men, and “women’s work” (the traditionally female jobs) should be valued by our society as much as the equivalent “male” jobs. Women shouldn’t have to be the emotional caretakers for their partners, and men shouldn’t have to pay for dates and buy gifts and “woo” in a way women don’t.

But in practice, I really do long to be taken care of that way. In practice, I want a man who is taller than me, and physically strong, who can make me feel delicate and protected in spite of my sturdy 5’8″ frame. I want a man who will open car doors, who will pick up the check. I want a man who will take charge, and make me feel things. I want a man who will do yardwork and his own home repairs. I want a man who will sometimes just wrap a fist in my hair and kiss me until I can’t breathe, who will take control of my body.

And yet I rebel against the notion that this is “what women want.” And every time I ask for it, with word or with action, every time I choose the man who makes me feel protected and secure, some part of me spits imprecations against my betrayal of the cause. How dare you rule out men less than 5’9″? How dare you pursue the “alpha male” type? How dare you look for your own pleasure and preference, at the expense of the cause?

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie is a Nigerian writer and a feminist, and she talks about how important it is to tell a variety of stories. When your high school English class has you read a book by a Nigerian woman, and that is the only book you ever read by a woman from Africa, you leave feeling like you understand the perspective of African women. But you don’t. It’s the single story problem.

I am a single story. I am not all of the stories. And my story is still an important one, because it is my story, and because it is true. It is not All Truth, but it is a true story, one of billions, and no more or less valid or true than all of the others. Am I culturally brainwashed? You know, maybe I am. Maybe we all are, in some ways. Maybe my story is the Hollywood version of what my life was really meant to be.

But it’s the story I have. It’s the story I’m living. And it deserves a happy ending.

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Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned

I cancelled my membership yesterday with the absurdly expensive dating service I’d prepaid for. I’d been holding onto it because I was trapped in a sunk-cost fallacy mindset: I paid way too much for it, now I need to wring everything I can out of it.

But the reality is that it’s been a sucky experience. Here’s how they work: you talk with them for 45 minutes and pay them a truly ridiculous amount of money (literally, 4-figure money here) for 6 months of membership. They then set you up on lunch dates with people who match your tastes.

Except the reality is: A) they don’t seem to have enough people to really care about your tastes, and B) no one actually does lunch dates.

I should never have signed up, but the woman I talked to was so good at it, I was giving credit card info before I really understood that I was doing it.

My first date was set up with someone I remember literally nothing about, who backed out very quickly saying he was going exclusive with someone. Cool, I’d wait for the next one. Weeks pass. I get another phone call, and we set up my date with Duncan for a few weeks down the road. I believe (although I may be misremembering on this) that Duncan and I had to reschedule once, but I didn’t really mind, because it was a lunch, and it’s easy for me to shift my schedule around lunchtime. I’ve written about how that went. I called afterwards to debrief with them, per their instructions.

The next step was an in-person meeting with the service, so I set something up for after work and went into their office. That appointment was August 28, and was apparently to assess who would be a better fit for me. I’m pretty sure that was bullshit. I’m fairly confident the entire process is set up to make it feel like you’re getting value for your money, when you are absolutely not.

The next date they set up for me cancelled. Twice. Each time after I set up a 6:30 PM evening date, because that’s all he could make. I really don’t want 6:30 midweek dates, because it means I’m not seeing my kids, and makes me feel like a crappy parent, but hey, I’d paid the money, I should get my money’s worth out of it, right? Two cancellations. I said I wasn’t interested in trying again. They put me back in the pool.

They called with another guy, gave me his basic info, asked what evenings were good for me. No evenings! Evenings are bad for me. Weekend evenings, I want to spend doing things I like with people I’ve at least exchanged 2-3 words with, and weekday evenings, I want to not spend an hour wrestling with traffic to go make awkward conversation with someone. But I pick the least bad day, because hey: I should get my money’s worth, right?

Apparently, that guy didn’t work out, because my next phone call was for someone else, someone who lives an hour away from me with no traffic, both living and working in the heart of the city. They suggest a compromise city, I come up with my least bad day, and they ask about times. “Earlier?” I suggest. “Hm,” they say. “Maybe 7?” Fine, whatever. I’m frustrated. I don’t want to do this, but sure, I’ll fight rush hour traffic to go into Arlington and meet this guy who lives too far away from me. Maybe he’ll cancel, too, and I won’t have to worry about it.

This is the point where I realized I was being a monumental idiot. In 2.5 months, I’ve spent literally hours on the phone with these people, rearranged my schedule multiple times, built up multiple cycles of excitement and nervousness for exactly one crappy date.

So I sent them an email: On second thought, I’m going to pull out of this, and ask you to take me out of the matchmaker pool. This is becoming a very frustrating and unpleasant experience for me, with arranging childcare for days when people end up cancelling on me, and setting things up with people who are realistically living too far away from me to make things a real possibility. This service is obviously just not a good fit for me, and I’m going to stop pouring time and energy down the same well as the money I wasted on it.

Today, they called to try to talk me out of it, using the most patronizing language imaginable: “There’s no reason to stop dating because one guy cancelled on you!” “I hate to see you giving up like this!” “If these guys aren’t right, we’ll help you refine!” I tried, in return, to explain that they are not actually the only way in the world to date, and that I am stopping using them because they are actively getting in the way of me doing dating activities that might actually, you know, work. They kept trying to put me back in the dating pool. I said no. Finally, I just said, “Look, I’m done,” and hung up.

I’m pretty sure they’re still planning to call next week to try and get me to change my mind.

#3 – Kyle

So, last Friday night I went out with Kyle. Alert readers may recognize that they’ve heard that name before: Kyle was one of the guys I felt like I clicked with at the speed dating event. A few days after I wrote about The Aftermath, I got a note that he’d put me down on his second date list, and I sent him an email. We did some hurried planning, since my kid-schedule meant either that weekend or waiting 2-3 weeks. We were both free on Friday, though, so he suggested he come by and pick me up, and we’d head out to dinner. He wanted to “take [me] out for an evening of fine food and perhaps a little wine,” which sounded… well, kind of adorable, honestly.

He suggested a few restaurants in a neighboring town, I said I knew nothing about any of them, but they all looked really good. When he tried to get reservations, only one of them had a reasonably early option, so we planned on this local Italian place. He’d be there to pick me up at 6:30, and we would dine at 7.

On Thursday night, I started looking for an outfit and realized everything I had was disastrously bad. I wanted to wear a dress, but my dresses were either too workaday, too summery, too fancy, or not fitting anymore. Friday, I went out to the mall over lunch. There were no dresses at all in my size that didn’t look like shapeless sacks. In one store, they didn’t have my size at all — everything stopped one size down from me. Feeling desperate, I grabbed a number of dresses in the smaller size and hoped one was vanity sized. This is when I discovered I’m apparently a size smaller than I used to be, because they all FIT. With shape! I had breasts, a waist, and hips! You couldn’t see my bra! It was a bit awe-inspiring. I bought two of them and headed back to the office. Someday, I will post some date outfit pictures, so everyone can see the glory that is me.

I left work a little early and went home to get a good bath. I shaved my legs, shaved my armpits, rubbed down with shower gel, exfoliated. I sent the kids off to their dad’s house. I tried to get my crazy hair looking a little less crazy without resorting to either headbands or barettes, either of which was a little too schoolgirl to match the look of the dress. I chose jewelry — a necklace and earring set of sparkling silver and crystal starbursts. I applied lipstick and eyeshadow — as much makeup as I ever wear. I considered and rejected perfume. I selected my shoes — little ankle boots with moderate, thin heels.

Then I settled in to wait. It was around 5:30 by now. I read. I fidgeted. I posted on forums. I read. I paced. I waited. I fidgeted.

Kyle arrived almost exactly on the dot of 6:30, which is something of a miraculous feat given rush hour traffic in my neighborhood. I went out to meet him when I saw his car pull up, and gave him a hug, which seemed to startle him. He looked good — had clearly upped the clothing a step in a sweater vest combo that suited him well. We got into the car and tried to figure out where we were heading. I thought I knew the place we were going to, so I navigated. We talked inconsequentials about the week as we drove.

By the time we were at the restaurant, I knew a little more about his job, his family, his college path. While we were at the restaurant, we talked in detail about a lot of things: politics, religion, books, movies, art, science, exercise, stress relief, food… we went off down a few dozen little tangents. We shared a calamari appetizer, and ordered two desserts to share — a chocolate mousse cake which was by far the best part of the night and a lemon sorbet. I am not exaggerating about the mousse cake. I had to plan each bite because I could not keep the thread of a conversation while eating it. Each time, I would close my eyes and be swept away by the flavor. If I had the secret of that cake, I would not need a love life. I would just live in the glory of the cake forever. And die of malnutrition, because I would never eat anything else.

However, it probably doesn’t bode well for the relationship that the cake was such a distraction on the date, hmm?

At any rate, we were there for a long time: our reservation was at 7, and we didn’t leave until after 10. He really enjoyed the date, he said. I did, too! I liked Kyle, but it was an inoffensive liking. He was a nice tuna fish sandwich. I was kind of looking for a chocolate mousse cake. He wanted to do this again. I’d already been debating: how do I feel about a second date? I wasn’t sure. I’d had fun, but there just wasn’t chemistry, and more problematic… I really felt like I’d been carrying the conversational load.

He just didn’t seem passionate about anything! He didn’t seem driven, or intensely interested in life. When we talked about cooking, I’d explained how I used it as stress relief, describing the feeling of mastering a difficult recipe. I talked about how having something I could produce with my own hands, a thing I could see and assess on its own terms, and know I had succeeded, is important to me in a world where expectations and goals are sometimes murky and undefined. I joked that usually, when people bring baked goods into the office, it’s a good sign. With me, my coworkers may need to take cover, because it usually means the stress is rocketing up.

I asked Kyle what he did for stress relief. Well, he exercised. What kind of exercise, I asked. Well, it depends. Cycling, or tennis, or squash. Whatever’s there. Ha, I said. It sounds like squash would be some fantastically cathartic stress relief. Sometimes, yes, he agreed.

Um, I said. People keep recommending things like running to be as stress relief. But I hate it. I find it boring, and miserable. Oh, he didn’t like running, either. We talked about high-impact and low-impact exercise, and interest levels. We both liked casual hiking. Maybe an option for another date? I thought. I wanted to give it a second try, see if away from a restaurant he’d open up a little more.

I was just not… feeling him there, as a person. He was nice! He seemed to genuinely like me, and I liked that. I could feel myself opening up under his smile and his approval, but he was just a generic guy-shaped object across the table. A few times, I’d lean in, putting my hands across the midpoint of the table, to see if he’d try to touch them. No dice.

When we walked out to the car, agreeing that we would like to see each other again, he kissed me. I was more or less okay with this: he gave me time to pull away if I wanted, and I didn’t. But there was just… nothing there. Incidentally, guys? A tip, because my last two kisses have done this. If you’re kissing a woman on a first date, it’s really not essential to start bringing tongue into it in the first three seconds. If she’s into it, I promise, you’ll get there. If she’s lukewarm, going too fast is a turnoff. Take your time! A kiss is a story. It needs to build.

I returned the kiss, a little bit dutifully. I put an arm around his shoulders. We kissed for a minute or so. Then I pulled back. “This was a nice night,” I said. “Thank you.”

He drove me home. We kissed again, more briefly in the car. “We should do this again,” he said again. “Absolutely,” I said. Then I went inside.

Now, if I’d really felt it, I could have reached out to him. But I didn’t. I got the feeling he was more into me than I was into him, and if his level of interest was not high enough to reach out at all in five days, this is just not going to happen. At this point, if he does reach out, I’ll politely turn him down. He’s a nice guy, and I hope he meets a nice girl, but I really need someone who’s going to slam up against me more, conversationally. I need the push-pull. I need the passion. Feel something strongly! It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but I need to see that there’s something that makes you come alive.

Dance Party!

I had a date planned for last night, and he had to cancel because he was sick. I was a little bit bummed, but not as much as I kind of felt like I should be, which is probably an indication that that particular relationship isn’t going to be a keeper, although we’re having some fun for now.

It left me with a big gap in my schedule, though – the kids are away all this weekend, and my planning had been dinner date on Friday, afternoon into evening date on Saturday, Sunday morning at church, and then Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon all for me.

The idea of turning from that to “Friday night date, next two days sitting around home with my parents” was… unappealing. So I started to look for something to do.

After a lot of searching and some cries for help, someone recommended I look into a dance group, and it felt Right. So I did some quick Google searching, and found a West Coast Swing social dance around twenty minutes from me.

For only $12, they offered an hour-long beginner’s lesson, plus admission to the social dance afterwards. I had no idea what to expect, but I tried East Coast Swing over a decade ago with my then-fiancee, and I really loved it. I haven’t had any chance to keep my skills up, so I remember literally nothing but the “rock-back step step” rhythm of it.

I had a blast. I was so, so, so bad at it, but the men there were the most tolerant and patient people on the planet, and complimented me on my (very, very small) successes while encouraging me through the disasters that had me cracking up.

And they kept asking me to dance! Two different guys even asked me twice, in spite of the incompetence of our first rounds. (I am a very bad follower, because I like to see what’s coming, so I keep trying to anticipate their instructions.) A few of them offered me pieces of general advice or determined to show me new steps – which I managed to perform, but could not possibly describe today.

It’s not really a dating-type event – the average age there was, um, high, but it was a fun thing to get me out and moving and socializing with people, and I may try to get back sometime. I don’t think I’m ever likely to be a serious dancer – the people who travel to different events every week, and hit several a week – but it was a fun, fairly inexpensive night out.

Karma

So, apparently, complaining about Too Many Dates irritates the forces that control the universe. Mr. Wednesday cancelled on me, and now my tomorrow date has a really horrible cold and may have to beg off.

If he does, I may consider finding something to do on my own…

Here’s hoping nothing happens to screw up tonight’s date!

Fish, Cut Bait, or Go Home

Last night’s planned date cancelled again — the second cancellation from him in two weeks.

This time, I said “no, thank you,” to the reschedule.

Look, I get it. People get busy. Both times, we had a dinner scheduled for 6:30 PM. Both times he got in touch by around 3pm to say that work was getting too busy and he wouldn’t be able to make it.

Hey, look: I get it. Work happens. Life happens.

But do you know how my life happens? Well, when I want to go on a date, I look at my calendar. I look at when my ex has the kids, and that is 50% of weekend nights and Wednesdays from 4-7. I look at my kids’ schedules, and what they have going on: I need to be home Thursdays, because their week-long assignments are due Friday, and they really need extra support in finishing them up. I look at the stuff going on in my life: deadlines at work — yeah, end of fiscal year on Tuesday means that’s going to be a bad day to make commitments.

And then I choose a date, and then I negotiate for support: okay, Wednesday at 6:30 means the kids will be with their dad, but I won’t be home until 8 or 8:30. My parents can watch the kids in the evening, but I need to be sure I see them off in the morning, so they won’t feel neglected. My two eldest will still be up at 8:30, but my littlest won’t, so he needs extra kisses early, and I need to plan to be sure my older son reads enough of his weekly assigned reading, even though I won’t be there to supervise.

And then I choose an outfit that can work as work outfit and a date outfit. I plan my schedule so that I leave the office at the right time to get to my date, which means shifting my hours later than I really like.

And then at 3pm I get a phone call.

I get it. Work happens. Life happens.

But when it happens all the time, stop making fucking commitments until you can get your act together.

Serious Questions

My schedule for the two-week period ending this coming Saturday includes the following highlights:

Wednesday, 9/24 – Date planned. (Date cancelled – may become a story later depending on followup)
Friday, 9/26 – 3rd date with A (a non-bad-date story in the making)
Sunday, 9/28 – Speed dating event!
Wednesday, 10/1 – Reschedule from 9/24 – blind date
Friday, 10/3 – 2nd date dinner planned with B (a non-bad-date story in the making)
Saturday, 10/4 – 4th Date planned with A

That’s over an 11-day span, and represents 6 different evening commitments, with 5 actual evenings spent doing date-related things. Mind you, I structured this to be a busy weekend deliberately, since it’s my ex’s weekend with the kids (the following weekend, my date availability will be Zero), but it is still a bit exhausting!

There are a lot of other things I want to try, but my life is feeling very crowded!

So many dates!

So many dates!

Part of this, of course, is that I am actually moving on to second dates with some people, which is… phenomenal. Really.

There are questions I did not consider before coming into this.

What happens if things become serious? How do I define serious? How many guys am I comfortable casually dating at a time? How do I define the dating time window? If I have a blind date scheduled for three weeks from Wednesday, does he count against my total? How often should I be seeing someone I’m casually dating? How do I walk away? How do I decide to walk away?

I think at least some of these need at least working answers now, so here goes:

How do I define serious?

....no.

….no.

I don’t necessarily think serious and exclusive have to be the same thing. I think I can be serious about a guy — serious enough that I’m not comfortable being serious with anyone else — and still date casually. Serious means that at the end of a date, I don’t feel like I have to ask, “Do you want to get together again?” Serious means that if I want to stop, I feel it’s necessary to break up, not simply to say, “Thanks, but I don’t think this is going anywhere, so we should just stop now.”

I think significant physical intimacy, for me, is sufficient but not necessary to make something serious.

Does serious have a time component? Well, I think if I’m at date three or four and not feeling like we’re getting serious, it’s probably time to hop off that bus. Obviously, I can stop earlier if it’s really clear it’s not happening.

In light of new and recent evidence (OMG I like touchy kissy stuff! Who knew??) I’ll add that if by date three or four I’m not starting to at least seriously think about touchy kissy stuff, that ship is veering into iceberg territory. Probably not worth continuing.

Serious means: he knows at least the major parts of my “dating baggage”. Three kids, regular churchgoer, still living with my parents. He is at least okay with these, and doesn’t make snarky comments about any of them. Again: date four deadline. If we haven’t gotten to these conversations yet, then I don’t really trust him enough to open up, and we’re not going anywhere.

What are my casual dating rules?

If I’m serious-but-not-exclusive with someone, I can still date. I can go on my stupid paid-way-too-much-for-these blind dates. I can speed date. I can go to classes or parties or events and try to meet fun people. I can go out with these guys for drinks or dinner or dancing or whatever.

Within certain reasonable limits.

I think maybe three is about my limit. It’s not even a moral or ethical issue. It’s logistics. Honestly, I am drowning a bit this week! So much going on, so many things to keep straight… and my life is not empty other than this dating experiment, either. Every Sunday, I’m at church in the morning. Monday nights, I attend a Bible study group. I’m in the process of selling a house, which (let me tell you) is TIME CONSUMING. I have doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, car issues…

Also, you know, three kids. Who lay claim to a big part of my time.

Three guys means that my 3 kid-free weekend days in every three-week period can be spread out a bit. I have time for afternoon dates (an extra 3 per 3 weeks) and the occasional weeknight (with childcare support).

I will start guys on my counter at the beginning of the week I’m scheduled to date them. So tonight’s blind date counted yesterday, but not last Thursday. However, if someone else had come into the picture last Thursday, I’d have been obligated to cancel today’s date.

Online chatting does not count until and unless there’s a hard date nailed down for meeting in person.

How do I walk away?

With kindness, and with clear communication. “I’ve enjoyed our dates, but I don’t think this has long-term potential. I wish you the best of luck in everything, but I’m not going to be going out with you again.” OR: “I’m really just not feeling this. You’re a good guy, but we’re just not clicking in the way that I need. Best of luck.”

I’m not sure how/when/where to do this, though. Breaking up in person has always seemed the nicest and fairest way to do things to me, until I started thinking logistics. If I’m seeing a person every week or two, and it involves days of planning and an hour’s drive to make things happen, is it really kindest to get expectations up of a good evening, then yank those hopes away? Or worse, have the date and then break up at the end, with the intention in mind all along? Or would it be better to tell him over the phone when we reach the planning stage? How do you make a date-to-break-up?

I really don’t know about this one. Thoughts?