July 18, 2019

Dating 101: Curse of the Blog

Last night I met a man after work for a drink. We met online, emailed once, exchanged numbers, and spoke yesterday. It was a fun conversation and I found him to be very entertaining. In the interest of not overthinking and being spontaneous, we decided to meet for a drink. He came to my neighborhood, which I always appreciate. I arrived first, found us a spot at the bar, and waited.

He arrived and any interest I had going into the date disappeared. Oh dear. He looked like his pictures, and was clear on how tall he was, but the issue was that he arrived from the gym. Not a big deal, unless he opts not to shower or change clothes. He was soaked with sweat, smelled like a pig, and had the balls to go in for a hug. I extended my hand and cringed when he went in for cheek kiss.

He smelled horrible and I was truly surprised he thought this was an acceptable way to turn up to a first meeting with a woman. The weird thing was he never mentioned it at all. He simply asked what I wanted to drink, placed an order, and jumped into casual first date conversation. I was grossed out, but slightly amused, so I asked him how his work out was. He said he had run to our date. Literally.

He ran the 9.5 miles from his place to the bar. He said he ran to me thinking if we hit it off I could drive him home. He then proceeded to tell me he is an avid reader of my blog and was sorry I had been dating so many losers. He told me I was funny, smart, pretty, and worthy of a nice Jewish guy. He said perhaps he was the one to turn it around for me. He said timing is everything and this was our time.

I sat looking at a man who was literally dripping in sweat, marveling at his chutzpah, when he asked me if I wanted another drink. As I contemplated whether I could manage one more round with this strange man, he told me my hair was beautiful and he looks forwad to “pulling it while we make love”.  I was shocked by what he said and he took my moment of silence to mean I wanted another round and ordered.

I pulled myself together and told him I didn’t think we were a match, but appreciated him coming out for a drink. He then gave me a passionate speech about my blogs and what he thought about my dating life. He mentioned men by name, told me what was wrong with them, what I did wrong on my dates, and concluded by telling me I’d be a better dater if I was having sex as it would make me free.

I sat in wonder as he rattled off his opinion of the last year of my life. It was as fascinating as it was creepy. It was interesting to hear a man’s perspective on my life, until I snapped out of it and realized I was not listening to man as much as I was listening to a pig. He concluded his lengthy speech by saying if I didn’t want to date him, we could just sleep together so I’d be more attractive to others.

I thanked him for the insight and told him that while I appreciated the offer of sex, I would have to pass. I wished him well, payed for my own drinks, and told him I needed to go. He then said he was going to pop into the restroom and would be right back so I could drive him home. I think I actually laughed out loud at that point and told him I would be gone when he got out of the bathroom.

The most interesting thing about this date is that is was the most interesting date I have had in a long time. It is not every day a man offers to have sex with you in order to make you more attractive to others. This is the curse of the blog. As I approach my tenth year of Keeping the Faith, for the first time I see an end in sight. I’m not sure if it will be the end of the blog or the end of my dating, but change is coming. For now I will keep dating, keep writing, and keep the faith.

What Men Want (To Say)

On a typical coffee date, because we’re meeting for the first time, awkward conversation comes with the territory. Neither of us completely reveals what we’re thinking or feeling. We’re shy, holding back, concealing, putting on a good face, feeling the other person out.

How much more interesting the first date would be if we both were to communicate our true emotions. Still, those actual thoughts and feelings are definitely present, whether uttered or not. They’re simply bubbling under the conversation’s surface; biding their time until we feel more comfortable and trusting with one another.

For instance, take this (nearly) verbatim transcript from one of my coffee dates. All un-uttered thoughts have been italicized for the protection of the emotionally fragile.

Me: Lauri?

Here I go again. Date No. 163, but who’s counting? At this rate, by next May I’ll have dated every unattached woman in the city. At which time I’ll have to start importing them from other countries and taking Berlitz classes.

Lauri: Hi, Mark. Nice to meet you.

Dear Lord, please don’t let this one be a stalker, a jerk or have serious psychological issues like the last six. I believe I’ve reached my annual quota for restraining orders.

Me: Should we get some coffee and sit down?

And then decide within 10 minutes whether there’s a chance we might eventually see each other naked or, and most likely, never see each other again?

Lauri: Sounds good.

Looks like I’m gonna have to train this one how to dress, make eye contact, speak, stand up straight and do something with that hair. Yep, this one’s a definite fixer-upper. Again. Dear Lord, just shoot me now.

Me: So, have you been doing this Internet dating thing long?

Exactly how many guys have you rejected, and how many have rejected you? Be specific. You have five minutes to answer. Show all work. Begin.

Lauri: You’re actually only the first coffee date I’ve been on.

Today. The sum total of all my coffee dates could fill Dodger Stadium. And it’s always I who do the rejecting, because I am perfect and they are flawed. Capiche? So unless your own perfection level approaches mine, you might as well start heading over to the stadium right now.

Me: What are you looking for in a relationship?

Are you a) High maintenance? b) Emotionally needy? c) Nuts?

Lauri: Oh, I don’t know. I guess the usual — chemistry, shared goals, friendship.

A man with Brad Pitt’s looks and Bill Gates’ bank account who can make me yodel in bed. That specific enough for you, Sparky?

Me: What kinds of things do you like to do for fun?

And please know that the red flag goes up immediately with any hint of chick flicks, shopping or eating at restaurants whose names begin with a “Le.”

Lauri: I’m pretty down-to-earth. Just the usual.

That is, if you define “usual” as a) Frequent, “where is this heading?” talks about our relationship; b) Having my mother visit us as often as possible; c) Making it my lifelong mission to interest you in ballet and opera.

Me: Is it just me, or am I sensing some chemistry here?

I’m picturing you without your clothing right now, but I’m gonna have to do some up-close and personal research in order to get the full effect.

Lauri: You might be right.

It’s just you.

Me: May I walk you to your car?

And check out your rear view as I, the perfect gentleman, allow you to walk in front of me?

Lauri: Sure. Can I contribute something to the bill?

And need I remind you that a “yes” answer on your part will forever brand you as a cheapskate of the highest caliber?

Me: Oh, no, I’ve got it. Thanks.

I accepted one of those invitations to contribute once before and ended up as the featured newcomer on www.cheapdatestoavoid.com for two months.

Me: Well, here we are. It was really good to meet you.

Because I enjoy taking two-hour chunks out of my day to spend time with people I’ll never see again.

Lauri: You, too. You seem like a really nice guy.

And we’ll have our next date when Paris Hilton becomes a nun.

On second thought, perhaps those dates are better off with the actual thoughts and feelings remaining bubbling under the conversation’s surface. After all, if you start off a romantic relationship with absolute honesty, no telling what madness and chaos would result.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

Generation Ex

My editor recently suggested that as long as I was writing something called "Singles," it might be helpful if I actually went out on a date every once in a while. Research. Give the column the ring of verisimilitude.

I must admit that I resisted at first. I’ve been on dates before. I know how they work. It’s basically a job interview over cosmopolitans and seared ahi. A bad date ends with a handshake or a restraining order. A good date ends up in the Styles section of The New York Times and the repopulation of the species is assured. Everything else is details.

I just started dating someone new over the holidays. We’ll call her Alison. Alison meets all the pertinent criteria (yes, she’s Jewish), and we are off to a wonderful start. Three weeks and still no restraining order. So far, so good. We are two happy little people, full of hope and promise, living on love. If history is any guide, this, too, shall pass. The repopulation of the entire Jewish population hangs in the balance.

Some people look at a first date through the impossible prism of "How would they be as my spouse?" This is not an unrealistic question to ask at a certain time in your life, at this hour of uncertainty, instant gratification, and mounting community pressure. But trying to determine — on the basis of a first impression — if this is someone I could spend the rest of my life with is a tough call. It’s a very high set of expectations to ask of a stranger when they open the door the first time you get together. You can’t just say, "Hi, nice to meet you. Will you be a really excellent mother to our children?"

I have a somewhat different paradigm. Not that I’m unaware of the long-term possibilities of meeting someone new. Anyone could be "the one," but that’s not the first thing that leaps to mind when we sit down to the "interview" part of the first date. I know, statistically, that most relationships don’t work out. It’s nobody’s fault. I’m not pointing fingers, but almost all of the dates you go on in the course of your life aren’t going to lead you to the altar. If things work out reasonably well, she might turn out to be your girlfriend for a little while, but after that, if you don’t walk the aisle, she’s going to be your ex-girlfriend forever. No rose-colored glasses here. When I go out on a first date, I want to know how she’s going to be as my ex-girlfriend.

These are people who have the capacity to bad-mouth you around town. You might even want to get back together with one of these people, so it’s a viable concern as to how one breaks up. Ideally, no one gets hurt in the process, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. There are some soon-to-be ex-girlfriends that you know, prebreakup, you will not be enjoying a good postbreakup relationship. In these unfortunate cases, the best thing is if you can make a clean break. Being cold and heartless actually serves everyone in the end.

I wanted to know the best way to be cold and heartless, so I called my friend Rob the talent agent, who’d just broken up with his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He told me things were already pretty rocky between them when she called him and they got into a fight. The rhetorical heat was rising when she finally pleaded with him: "What do you want me to do?"

"Are you on a cell phone?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Press ‘end,’" he said.

I am a great ex-boyfriend, if I do say so myself. This is one area in which I am very accomplished. I’ve had tons of practice. You can’t swing a cat in this town without hitting one of my amicable exes. (This, sadly, is not a wonderful selling point when meeting someone new.) Usually, by the time we throw in the towel, the one thing we have in common is that we both agree she’s better off without me.

It’s still too early to say for sure, but, sadly, Alison doesn’t show a lot of good ex-girlfriend potential. She will probably not need a date for movie premieres, charity events or Lakers games. She will not call me late at night because she’s feeling lonely, and she doesn’t have a lot of sexy roommates to turn me on to. As an ex-girlfriend, she’s a total bust. It looks like we just might have to stay together.

All Dressed Up

I remember what I was wearing on just about every first date with every boyfriend I’ve ever had.

I remember what I wore on the first day of fifth grade — a hand-me-down green flowered dress with red polyester kneesocks.

I remember the pastel, flowered, zipper-at-the-ankle Guess? jeans my mom bought me at full retail because I had stopped biting my nails for two weeks.

I remember the dress I wore to my senior prom, not because it was beautiful, but because it was returned. After spending all kinds of cash on college applications and SAT prep courses, I knew my mom was tapped out. I didn’t want to ask her for more money for a prom dress because I knew she’d find a way to give it to me, and I knew she didn’t have it.

My after-school job at Lombardi’s Sporting Goods wasn’t exactly flooding my coffers with cash. I got an idea: buy a dress from Nordstrom, renowned for its liberal return policy, tuck in the tags, and take it back to the store the next day.

I bought a stretchy black dress with spaghetti straps and a satin skirt. Shoes were courtesy of my friend Tasha, half a size too big, but a perfect match. I felt clever, but I also felt ashamed. The Nordstrom saleslady to whom I returned the garment shot me a look that said, “I have to take this dress back, but you and I both know you wore it to the prom last night.”

I had forgotten about that dress until I read about Dana Green, a 29-year-old freelance public relations consultant who started a program to provide nearly new, stylish formal dresses to young women for proms, graduations and other celebrations.

The idea started with the bridesmaid’s dresses in her own closet she knew she’d never wear again. She collected dresses from friends. She stockpiled shoes and accessories.

In two years, she has given away close to 100 dresses in connection with A Place Called Home, a youth center in South Central Los Angeles.

With a black beaded shift and a sea-foam green, sleeveless bridesmaid’s dress slung over my shoulder, I headed toward A Place Called Home to meet Green, who had set up a makeshift boutique in the center’s playground.

It was “Clothes Give Away Day,” thanks to donations from Temple Israel, and mothers, kids and strollers were crowded into a line, waiting in the late afternoon heat to go through the piles of clothes. Green was standing near a rack of gowns: yellow, pink, silver, all fresh from the cleaners in plastic bags.

I added mine to the rack and dropped off a couple pairs of faux pearl earrings to go with them. “This is a city of haves and have-nots,” Green told me, squinting into the sun. “This is a great way for people to share what they have.

“The reward is to see the smiles on the girls’ faces,” she added. “What girl doesn’t know how great it feels to put on a pretty dress? It builds great self-esteem.”

I sat on a nearby bench and watched a teenage girl twirl in a pink satin, floor-length gown, her jeans and sneakers peeking out from the bottom. Her friend had on a sophisticated silver silk number. Both were beaming.

“Some girls wouldn’t even be able to go to the prom at all because they couldn’t afford a dress,” Green explained.

Ray Gallegos, executive director of A Place Called Home, took me on a tour of the center, which has 4,000 members between ages 9 and 20. There’s a music room, a tutoring center, a kitchen that serves three meals a day, arts and crafts and a busy computer lab. Even a guy like Gallegos — who told me he was both stabbed and shot during his gang days — is hip to the importance of the right dress.

“After Dana was here last, the buzz went on for days. She gave the girls a whole new picture of themselves,” he said. It wasn’t just the dresses, he added, but “seeing people from an affluent background come down here and spend time with them, help them pick out clothes.”

The at-risk youth Gallegos works with have what he calls “a brick-around-the-neck stance,” something the dresses help alleviate, if just a little.

My frocks haven’t found a home yet, but when they do, they won’t have to be returned. In fact, Green tells me that the dresses are often passed along to a cousin or friend, recycled and given new life until they wear out.

Green is hoping to expand her program, so that next spring she can set up four different “boutiques” around the city. She needs shoes, new hosiery, makeup and, of course, those dresses you know you’ll never wear again but can’t bring yourself to throw away.

Dana Green can be reached at cinderellaproject@pacbell.net.

Looking for Mr. & Mrs. Losnick

Money, Meaning and Mongolian Beef

As if in slow motion, the ominous hand of a waiter dips down into the center of view, dropping the check before I’ve had a chance to excuse myself to the restroom.

I’m in some Chinese restaurant in Koreatown, staring at a tank full of doomed lobsters. I have no idea whether or not I’m on a date. He didn’t pick me up, which seemed to indicate a platonic vibe, but he’s been really fidgety all night, in a very first-date way. He’s twisting his straw with extra zeal now, looking down directly at our check, which has been pinned down by a couple of mints.

I don’t know what to do. An unflattering purplish hue descends on us from the restaurant’s fluorescent lighting scheme. I lock eyes with a lobster, as if to ask the poor critter, what do I do? Normally, I would swoop up that check as fast as possible, anything to avoid the awkward moment. This time, though, I’m pretty broke, and I’m thinking, date or no date, he chose the restaurant and it wasn’t cheap.

I decide to go for the reach and fumble.

That is, I leisurely reach for my purse and grope around for my wallet, thus giving him time to utter any of the following phrases: “Your money’s no good here,” “Put that away,” “This one is on me,” “I insist,” “Let me get this.” Silence. I plunk down my share of the bill. At the end of the evening, I am shocked when he goes in for a goodnight kiss. You see, in the vexing miasma of romantic signals, I had gotten confused. To me, going “Dutch” on the first date meant it wasn’t supposed to be a date at all.

Which got me thinking. Who is supposed to pay? And why does the whole subject make me so squeamish?

Money, according to those who interpret symbols, equals energy, which is probably why it takes on such a charged quality in the world of dating and relationships. Money has meaning. It isn’t just a question of cash, but of attitude, of interest, of spiritual investment. Money is also power, and power is a major component of human sexuality, so it seems obvious that sometimes a check is more than just a check.

In fact, someone’s attitude about money can tell you a lot about their personality, about how they were raised. There are savers, spenders, chargers, hoarders. There are people who would spend their last $30 on a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and others who would reuse the same piece of aluminum foil for weeks.

When the check makes us tense, it’s not just because we don’t know exactly what it means to pay or be paid for, but also because in the exchange, whether it’s the “reach and fumble,” the convenient dash to the restroom or the confident credit card toss, we are learning about each other, picking up clues.

My personal money confusion probably comes from the fact that growing up poor, I hated people to know it. Paying for myself is a matter of pride, not just in being independent, but in being a woman who earns her own keep. On the other hand, I can’t deny the pleasure I feel when someone insists on paying for me, when they wouldn’t have it any other way. When it’s done right, it feels like being taken care of, and that’s not such a bad thing.

For me, this has been a conundrum since my first movie date in junior high. When the ticket lady asked my pre-pubescent date, “Will that be one or two tickets?” I felt queasy. I felt worse when he paid for me.

I wondered if he thought I couldn’t afford my own ticket. Worse, I was concerned about him, thinking he might have wanted to spend that money playing video games or buying comics. My final fear was that I had been bought for the price of a movie ticket. Would I owe him something? Was I no longer free to decide I didn’t like him? (Side note: If you’re on your first date and in junior high, don’t see “Fanny & Alexander.” It’s a four-hour Swedish art film and you really won’t have any idea what’s going on.)

Wishing to better understand this issue, I took an informal poll and found that for many of my friends, even those who are married or in long-term relationships, the money thing can be a real sticking point.

Most of my single friends seem to have developed their own personal systems — whoever asks for the date pays, whoever chooses the restaurant pays, go Dutch only after the relationship progresses, go Dutch until the relationship progresses. There are as many systems as there are people.

When I described the Chinese restaurant incident to one woman — let’s call her Former Sorority Sister — she looked at me as though I had just recounted the lancing of a boil.

“Dutch? Dutch?” she asked, craning her neck forward. “What is Dutch? Before I got married, I never paid.”

Sorority Sister’s system was to fold her hands on the table and stare demurely ahead, ignoring the check and the whole dirty business. That was her advice to me, but to pull it off requires a healthy sense of entitlement, and that’s really not my bag.

Still, it worked for her. I can only conclude that any system that feels right to the individual is a good system. A standard operating procedure seems to minimize the perplexity, preventing those check moments from feeling as drawn out as a Swedish art film.

And take it from me, that’s a good thing.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.

Read a previous week’s column by Teresa Strasser:

Minnie and Me

Trafficking in Futility

Reaching New Haights

Enlightened Teresa Vs. The Princess of Doom

A Few Words About My Mail

Is This a Bad Time?

Looking for a Few Good Therapists

Israel and the Cure for Teenage Angst

Driving Miss Lazy

Tossing My Cookies

T emporarily Yours

Notes from the Village of the Damned

Kissing A Lot of Frogs