Tag: dating

Handsome Men and Their Dogs

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cary_grant_dog

Dear Sara,

I met a handsome man walking his handsome dog, and I only talked to the dog. This has happened before, too. What’s WRONG with me?

Doggone Girl


First of all, I want you to memorize the following line:

“Goodness! I don’t know who is more handsome!” which should be delivered with your best smile, while looking back and forth between handsome man and adorable dog. Follow with petting the dog; move on to other questions.

    Loss in Dating (and the Self You Gain)

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    Dear Sara,

    I went through a trauma a couple years ago and haven’t been dating that much since. In the beginning, it was easy to throw myself into other aspects of life, and then suddenly a couple of years passed. It’s very personal, so I don’t feel like sharing the details with prospective dates. Yes, I have had some therapy for it. But I feel wistful for my old, normal life. Every now and then I meet a guy who makes me feel like I might be ready to open up, but I don’t want to bring an unnecessary aspect of seriousness to the relationship too soon. I’m not even sure I know how to express interest anymore, in fact I can’t even attend a party properly. I feel shy where I once felt bold. I feel self-conscious when I once felt confident. I feel broken where I once felt whole.

    The Masculine Label: Do Women Prefer Jerks?

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    “Dating Data” columnist Sara Lynn Michener answers a (nice) young man who thinks that bad behavior might lead to better dates.

    Dear Sara, I am 20 years old and I read your column. I was hoping maybe you could teach me to be a little more masculine. I am in love with a girl, but she’s not in love with me. I realize your gut reaction would be for you to tell me there’s “No way to get someone to love you,” and yeah I sort of agree, but I think maybe part of it is a matter of ‘manning up’ as much as I hate saying shit like that. I was wondering if maybe you could give some advice on how to fall between being a “bad guy” and being a “nice guy.” Because right now I think I’m the nice guy she doesn’t like.

    I think the only way to begin to answer this question is to go Back to the Future. As in George McFly vs. Marty McFly. Both boys, it is important to mention, are fairly physically weak. Biff is the only one with muscles, and Lorraine isn’t interested in him at all, thank goodness. At the beginning, George is a meek pushover with an annoying laugh, and Marty is exciting, confident, rebellious, and, well, from the Future. George can’t compete with one of these things, but has the upper hand unbeknownst to him: he is not Lorraine’s future son. This scenario is not going to happen in the real world (at least not until someone invents time travel, further complicating all of our love lives). But I mention it to bring up a very specific point: You will always have the upper hand of not being the other guy; no matter how hot you think she thinks he is. You never know what his faults are, and everyone has them. In romantic relationships, sometimes the faults of the cutest guy in the room don’t make him any less cute, but make the relationship impossible. I’ve dated some amazing men, but the things that ended our relationship were very important signifiers of why each union would never have functioned long-term.

    My Dinner’s on Me, and Here’s Why

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    Dear Sara,

    In online dating, who pays for dinner when you finally meet?

    First, let’s define what a date is and is not.

    Ours is a culture in which many a 20-something will admit to never having been out on a single traditional date. Meeting someone in a bar, where one might express interest in buying you a drink, is both an act of old fashioned gentility, and new-fashioned, crude efficiency, depending on the manner in which the gift is offered. Dinner might not come into the picture until you’ve already become lovers. Or perhaps you’ve met a friend of a friend at a party and are hitting it off with them, ending the party with a kiss or more. That’s not a date either.

    One of the appeals of online dating is that it feels ironically old fashioned once the laptops have been left at home and you find yourself sitting across a table, peering into the pupils of a would-be beautiful stranger. The most common phrase on the average online dating profile is “I’m tired of the bar scene.” Without the internet, it’s really difficult to date traditionally. It requires the right environment; it requires both men and women to ditch the unwritten social systems we have established for ourselves by default, and actively approach someone with the intent of asking them to dinner, a movie, or on a walk around town. In other words, a date is a formal expression, the enactment of a specific activity bound by a specific time and place, involving just the two of you.

    That said, dating culture is so very much all over the map, there are no official rules as to who pays for dinner. I have met a few girls who insist that men should pay because “it’s how they were raised.” When they describe it as such, they insist on adopting the sense of it being a class issue, not a patriarchal one (which is the same thing if you think about it). A few men of the same breed have also stated that they could “never let a woman pay for dinner.” But I find this attitude hardly complimentary to the female sex: It stinks of the utterly average, princess-laden, Disney Store consumerist, little-girl upbringing, rather than those of American would-be debutantes. Real ladies have something in their purses other than lipstick.

    I went on a date once with a man who insisted that the woman “at least blow smoke up his ass,” explaining he prefers that she offer to pay though he has no intention of allowing it. I replied that when I offer to pay, it is because I intend to pay. It was our first date, and we nearly fought about it. I didn’t like the image he was painting, of the girl who disingenuously offers to pay merely because she is expected to offer. Feminism is about, among other things, not raising little girls to say “yes” when they mean “no” or vice versa. This starts at the dinner table.

    Oh, a relevant side note: The link between established couples fighting about money, and divorce rates, is well documented. In certain cases, these people no doubt got married under certain assumptions about money that didn’t pan out for either party. If a man pays for a woman’s dinner, on a primitive, evolutionary level, she’s more likely to assume that he’ll continue paying for anything else she might need, and in the worst case, build the entire relationship on that foundation. So the next time you split the check on an awesome first date, you’re not only adding to the health of the overall relationship at that time, but to the health of the relationship, potentially 10 years down the line.

    Personally, I always offer to pay precisely my share, and I always mean it when I do, except under certain circumstances. When a man makes a thousand times what I make to the effect that it would make me feel ridiculous to offer, I let him pay. When a man ordered so many more drinks than I, and the check cannot be split evenly, I let him pay if he offers. If he declares he is paying for dinner in a respectful, nonthreatening way that doesn’t make the quills on my feminist crest flare up, I will let him. This doesn’t mean that I expect men to figure out how I want them to ask. I am merely confessing that I can be seduced into it by the right attitude. These men have powers of gentility which are the same whether they are offering to pay for a male friend or a female friend. In this case, the man has made me so comfortable with his presence in general, and treated me as his guest so genuinely throughout the entire dinner, that he manages to convey the sense that paying really is his pleasure. It doesn’t happen very often. (And again, that’s quite all right — among other reasons: I think men ought to be able to date without having to double their dining out budget to accommodate it.)

    In closing, splitting the bill down the middle is a safe, comfortable and democratic dating method, and if and when it comes to it, if he gets a bit pushy later that night outside your door, you’ll have that extra bit of self-respect leftover. Incidentally, I’ve never heard of a man who felt pressured to have sex with a woman because she bought him a bowl of pho two hours prior. Anyway, please be aware of the culture you live in and how easy it is to fall into unpleasant role-playing. I know too many girls with a fragile sense of self-respect. The fact sometimes is, when he pays, there is an expectation-elephant in the room that wasn’t there when the date began. If you don’t have the Princess Power to remain fixed to your post-date evening plans regardless of who pays, you’d best pay for your own dinner.

    That said, I have read about many women who are using dating as a way to eat in this economy, which blows my mind. If you have the cheek to do this regularly, I suspect you also have the cheek to make sure it has no effect upon your sex life. Otherwise, please go fetch yourself a package of ramen noodles while I donate another $15 to Planned Parenthood.

    Got a dating-related question? Write to: [email protected]

    Baltimore Ranked One of Best Cities for Singles — Really?

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    On paper, Baltimore has an attractive resume for a single gal interviewing potential cities to live in. Between Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland systems, Baltimore is bursting at its waterfront seams with doctors, lawyers, dentists, and academics. And compared to nearby D.C., the cost of living is reasonable.

    The number crunchers at Kiplinger, a financial planning outfit, felt the same way. They’ve ranked Baltimore among the “Top 10 Best Cities for Singles.” Their rankings are based primarily on median income and cost of living. They pre-screened cities for their study like a woman screens her calls, ignoring the cities with too high of a percentage of married households. It makes sense right? We wouldn’t want a study to encourage adultery.

    Kiplinger concluded that Baltimore is one of the best cities to be single because, “More than half the population is single, three in 20 hold a graduate degree, and the average date is pretty cheap.” In fact, they report that the average date, which they consider to be two movie tickets and a bottle of wine, costs $28.75 in Baltimore. Maybe if the couple forgoes the wine for a six-pack of Natty Boh, the person picking up the check could spare no expense and splurge on some sweet potato fries.

    What Kiplinger could measure, lackluster cheap dates aside, is the number of people satisfied with the single life versus the number dating to find that one person. When I first moved to Baltimore over ten years ago, I wasn’t looking. I even dumped my Indiana sweetheart of four years because I was wooed by the “plenty of well-salaried fish in the Bay” story. I spent the next six years fishing in some pretty murky harbor water before I found Mr. Right.

    Many of my friends were also looking to update their status from “single” to “in a relationship.” The string of lame dates laying down lame game sent some of my friends packing to cities not on Kiplinger’s list, like Boston and Houston, where they became seriously involved or engaged. My single friends who remain in Baltimore have moved on from serial dating to hobbies, continued education, and more meaningful careers and friendships to enrich their lives.

    So Baltimore, does a city of singles live happily single ever after?

    Valentine’s Reservations: What Guys Want and Need from February 14th

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    For a holiday named after a condemned priest — in Catholic records, one “Valentinus the Presbyter,” a man sentenced to death for marrying young couples during Roman emperor Claudius II’s second century lockdown on marriage — Valentine’s Day still somehow conjures the warm fuzzies like no other.  While most holidays still retain some clear-cut religious or political content, Valentinus’ evolution into a secular figure may have produced the least somber, most life-affirming memorial of them all: an annual excuse to brandish flowers, write love letters, and eat at a prohibitively fancy restaurant with someone you love.

    Still, as national celebrations go, February 14th has long been a psychic sweatbox for the male gender, and not just because its baubles and sweet treats hearken back to a whole Shakespearean universe of courtly love, hetero-normative affection, and members of the landed male gentry flashing their cash.  Unlike other gift-oriented holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day’s popular expectations tends to be pretty stark, begging expensive default romance (flowers, chocolate, and jewelry) from men while encouraging passive acceptance and implacable expectations from women.  Three waves deep into feminism, it’s hard to defend V-Day’s usual portrayal as a one-way social street.

    According to Baltimore psychologist Ann-Marie Codori, part of the problem is the holiday’s limited view of affection.  A couples therapist who deals with long-term relationships, she suggests the holiday’s yellowing tropes amount to a fundamental misunderstanding of what love requires.

    “We have a hard-wired need to feel safe and secure with someone,” explains Codori.  

    She, meanwhile, winces at Valentine’s Day’s emphasis on romance, pointing out that each gender has roughly the same emotional needs.  

    “Anniversaries are important,” the psychologist says.  “But once relationships are established, romance is not a huge issue.  What tend to be bigger issues are things like feeling important, feeling like you matter, feeling like you come first.”  

    In lieu of V-Day’s enforced romantic attention, Codori recommends something more direct. “The best way to express your love is just to say it,” she says.  “The words are less important than having an emotion attached to the words.”

    Of course, basic human needs aside, most Valentine’s Day enthusiasts — this author included — cherish the holiday as a flimsy pretext for going overboard.  For us, DC Matchmaking and Coaching owner Michelle Jacoby suggests staying the usual gifty course while also understanding the holiday’s romantic overtones as a team effort.

    “Women usually expect gifts and don’t often think about what to give the man,” she says.  “A lot of guys put a lot of thought into Valentine’s Day, and I think sometimes they feel a lot of pressure.  I think it should be fifty-fifty.  It doesn’t have to be about spending money, either.  It would be really nice if a busy executive woman took off work early or cooked her man dinner, right?”  

    Jacoby warns that expecting an expensive V-Day to fix months of neglect can be a deal breaker for either gender, particularly if things are already on the rocks. Recently engaged, she suggests sticking to a routine of daily relationship maintenance instead of betting the proverbial farm on a high-stakes holiday.

    “When you’re in a relationship, you should wake up every day and ask, ‘What can I do to make my partner feel special?’,” she says. “Men just want what women want.  They want your attention and they want your thoughtfulness and affection.  They want us to completely appreciate and accept their gestures, whatever they might be.  Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate your relationships, whether they’re your friendships, your family, or this person you’re in love with.”
    Jeff Colosino, a local poet, agrees.  In his mid-20s and raised, like much of his generation, on Eve Ensler and egalitarianism, Colosino joined his girlfriend in hijacking Valentine’s Day long ago, upending its rulebook by creating their own: an unsexy, hosted meal of turkey loaf, banana pudding, and creamed corn casserole with close friends and family.  What began as a shared in-joke blossomed into an annual custom.

    “I don’t know if anyone I know truly does do Valentine’s Day in a ‘normal’ way, the way you see it in a commercial for jewelry,” he says.  “Something about my age group, it’s just something we make fun of.  We distance ourselves from Valentine’s Day but, in our irreverent acknowledgement, we celebrate it.  We’re still spending it with people we love, even if that’s the ‘extended family’ of people we love and not the narrow romantic version.”

    Ironic as Colosino’s tradition appears, though, its relaxed, glib mood has helped him see Valentine’s Day’s potential for bringing people together.   It’s an interpretation worthy of Valentinus himself.

    “It’s not a mockery,” he says.  “A mockery of the day would be doing nothing at all.  And it wouldn’t be okay for us not to be with each other Valentine’s Day.  It’s still important that we take some time to recognize each other on that day.”  He laughs.  “In that regard, Valentine’s Day has won.”

    Little Sweetheart of the Boston Strangler

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    Like so many therapists before her, Tracy (whom you met in the last column) had to be made aware of my romantic history. My taste in men had always been unusual, going beyond the standard predilection for “bad boys” into uncharted territory.

    For example, my earliest memory of romance is an attempt to initiate a pen-pal correspondence with jailbird Albert de Salvo, the Boston Strangler himself. It was 1967, I was nine years old, and I had just read Gerald Frank’s true crime bestseller, The Boston Strangler. (This was typical of my reading material at the time, consisting mainly of books my mother had requested from the library for herself.) What you may not realize is that de Salvo was never even charged with the 13 killings he is associated with; he was in the pen for something else. And if you had read the interview in this book, and found out, as I did, about his horrible, sad childhood and marriage, you’d probably want to write him a letter too. Too late, he was murdered in jail in 1973.

    I graduated from De Salvo to the boys of the boardwalk in my hometown of Asbury Park, N.J. When we were fourteen, my neighbor Donna Benoit and I both fell in love with a doltish hoodlum named Dave Reis. I can’t remember what was good about him except his shoulder-length blond hair which was very straight and shiny and hung in his face. I think of a missing tooth. We found him on a particular bench where you could always meet guitar-playing ne’er-do-wells, and guitar was our bond. Good thing, as he was not much of a conversationalist. From him, I learned the opening bars of “Stairway to Heaven.” Soon after, he stole my guitar.

    Dave Reis was followed by Buddy West, who came in a set with his brother Bobby. Bobby was strawberry blond and freckly, Buddy raw-boned and hazel-eyed. They had an apartment on the top floor of a rat-trap building called the Santander. This was an early experience of bad sex on a bare, possibly insect-infested mattress. Also, they stole cash from my father’s desk drawer and steaks from our freezer. My sister dated Bobby, but Buddy was all mine.

    An even less memorable seaside rendezvous was with The Guy With The Convertible That I Bailed Out Of Jail. I recall nothing about him except that the bail was $150.

    Why was I like this? Perhaps it was my parents’ fault for bringing me up in comfort and ease, with my own shag-carpeted bedroom, ballet and piano lessons and new clothes each fall, family trips to Disney World. What were they trying to do to me? To rebel against their kindness and generosity, I pretty much had to seek malevolence and dysfunction, or simply spiritual and material impoverishment.

    As an undergraduate, I completely lost my heart to my 6’6” curly-haired housemate Mitch, who had a nervous breakdown and a cocaine problem, but was the focus of my hopes and dreams and terrible poetry for many years. Also at Brown I met Jan, my first longterm boyfriend. Just as I had had my enthusiasm for the Boston Strangler, Jan had a fixation on Squeaky Fromme, spokeswoman for the Manson Family and would-be assassin of President Gerald Ford, and had even thought of a plan for springing her from jail. Jan was devoted to bringing down the capitalist state by making free long-distance phone calls and robbing banks as advised in Steal This Book. First, you went through old obituaries in the library to find a baby who would have been about your age if it hadn’t died. You got this dead baby a Social Security card and some other ID, then used that to buy traveler’s checks. You reported the checks lost, got replacements, then quickly cashed both sets at different banks, wearing a disguise for the security cameras. The whole thing made me a nervous wreck and I was relegated to driving the getaway car, a copper-colored 1972 Olds Cutlass given me by my Uncle Philip, who I hope is not reading this. Eventually our revolutionary ideals led us to East Germany, where we could live among like-minded brethren. After several months of unbelievably dull and oppressive socialist living, I rushed back to the States posthaste.

    By then my sister Nancy, my best friend Sandye and others of our entourage were living in Austin, Texas. It was there that I met David Rodriguez, an authentic Mexican American street person, at an art opening. My friends and I were at the event for the free food, and in the months to come he would teach us many more ways to get things for free. Hopelessly in love, I hitchhiked with him to Colorado to a creative writing conference. He went to an outdoor concert where he was arrested while trolling around the grounds for pills people had dropped. When the police searched him, they found someone else’s ID in his pocket, someone who was wanted for Grand Larceny in the town of Junction, Colorado, hundreds of miles away. I hitchhiked out behind the police car to spring him. Ultimately, he stole our stereo.

    Over the years, I took several trips abroad with Sandye. These provided many opportunities for unsuitable liaisons, as word of a female American tourist passing through town with her easy virtue and her MasterCard will bring out the flower of any country’s freeloading sleazebags. In fact, they’re not all sleazebags, some are quite nice, and for this reason it is possible to think of yourself as doing charitable work overseas rather than just being taken advantage of by the uncircumcised. For example, Dave and his friends were a group of on-the-dole Liverpudlians we met in a bar. They gave us cigarettes and took us to what seemed to be their home, a tent in a field outside Cambridge. Dave was sallow, hollow-cheeked, and so thin I feared I might accidentally suffocate or break him. Though he and his friends stole our camera right after we took the group photos, when I got home there was a letter suggesting he come to the States and live with me. In a trailer, he said.

    Perhaps the biggest mistake I ever made was when I went with my bluegrass-loving college friends to the Fiddler’s Convention in Union Grove, North Carolina, in 1977. I didn’t like bluegrass as much as they did, and I soon found live banjo and fiddle combined with very strong LSD to be a form of psychological torture.  Even today I cannot hear bluegrass without experiencing a nerve-jangling acid flashback. However, this unpleasantness was dwarfed by my decision to sleep with a guy named Tim. I remember little about him except his first name and that he looked something like Greg Allman. I met him that evening when he fell into our bonfire. The rest of our romance is a blank until the next morning when he failed to stumble all the way outside the tent for a pee and apparently mistook my sleeping bag for a large tree root.

    By the 1980s, things had gotten rather grim. Eddie Gonzalez was my sister Nancy’s first husband’s friend from high school, and I think he may have been the original link in the chain that got us all doing intravenous drugs. Since Eddie is now many years dead of AIDS, I don’t want to go on too much about his terrible complexion, his tedious conversation, or his addiction — all of these I was only too eager to share at the time. Even he was horrified by the stupidity of my crush on him.

    As should now be clear, the apparent bizarreness of my first marriage must be seen in context. If Tony was a penniless, gay bartender who had recently lost his job as an ice-skating coach due to his drug problem, he was still a significant upgrade from his predecessors. He was elegant, funny, and sweet and he took good care of me in many ways.

    After his death, I repelled the advances of a gorgeous, wealthy, physically fit and socially conscious doctor — yes, a millionaire M.D.  He wanted to take me to Hawaii and entertain me at his marble-floored mansion. I gave him no encouragement, though during a particularly screwed-up period, after his crush had petered out, I tried unsuccessfully to get him to write me a Vicodin prescription. During the same period, I rejected the marriage proposal of a perfectly nice single dad I’d been hanging out with for a few years. I was waiting for the appearance of my second husband, I suppose, whose complex combination of alcoholism, anarchism, anger, OCD, distrust of women, brilliance, and talents in the bedroom made him the romantic disaster of all time. Even the fact that he loved bluegrass couldn’t stop me.

    Having heard all this backstory, plus a few more recent updates, Tracy had me write down what I was looking for in a man. I took my assignment seriously and handed in several paragraphs. Tracy came back the next week with her assessment.

    “You want to date yourself,” she told me.

    That’s ridiculous, I thought. But wait. Did she mean I wanted to date someone like me, or actually me? I had the checkered past, the dubious emotional health, the bohemian habits that I was historically attracted to, and I certainly shared my interests. I often treated myself less than nicely, which would keep me interested, and while I might not be ideal on the erotic front, no one was more efficient.

    Unfortunately, still clinging to my multi-decade obsession with lost causes, I was not available.

     

    Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

    One-Night (Produce) Stand?

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    Dear Sara,

    A stranger asked me out, in the produce section of real life, and I
    more or less ran away from him. My friend then made fun of me, but I
    didn’t know what to do. I just feel more safe and comfortable meeting
    new people online. Weird? Probably. I feel bad about it. He was kinda
    cute too. I felt like I had to make a decision right then.

    Dear In-Headlights,

    One of the oft-overlooked little beauties of the internet is that in a
    sense, it is a slow-life movement even as it speeds so much else up.
    Yes, new social acronyms are born there every day and Urban Dictionary
    dutifully keeps track. But it has also given us something back that
    we’d culturally lost. It is a place of pen pals and waiting several
    days to hear back from a thoughtfully composed email. The comfort
    level you’re describing comes from the power of being able to think
    about and compose a response on your own terms. Yes, few people
    utilize this power when engaged in a heated political argument on
    Facebook, but nevertheless, it is an option, and speaking as one who likes
    to write, I prefer it to the feeling of being put on the spot that
    happens often enough in real life.

    What you really wanted was to experience your grocery store moment slowed-down, long enough to have a chance to think about how to respond. The internet is The Neutral Zone and you’re the captain of your personal spaceship. Not so in the real world, where apparently a cute guy who had the balls to talk to a strange girl in the first place, makes you feel like you’d have to marry him or something if you gave him your email address. Decide in advance what information you feel safest giving bold strangers and stick to it. For some, it’s a phone number. For others, it’s the email address they use for coupons but not the one tied to
    their Facebook account. And remember that the internet feels safer in part because it’s full of so much fiction (where anonymous authors feel safer inventing new MLK quotes than they do owning up to their own words, for instance). Any safe “feeling” is very rarely grounded in anything real. I mean watching Robert Redford in Out of Africa makes me feel VERY safe. Real safety has nothing to do with a feeling or a fantasy. It comes from good choices and proper safety nets in place. You know, stuff like a really long password containing numbers and special characters. Now that you’ve had this experience, you’ll know what to do next time. In the meantime, this is why Craigslist has a Missed Connections section.

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