Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my most recent article “Just Ask” – The column has taken on a new flavor. No longer found in the Living section, Lost is now all on its own in the world of dating and advice.
Likewise, although I’ll continue to post here each month, I’ll also be collaborating via Medium and continue the Q & A advice column. Should you be interested in following on Medium please send an email and I’ll add you to the reader list.
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my most recent article titled none other than “Lost in Translation” – a story about understanding, and not understanding. A story about my life.
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my latest article, Bulls vs Apes: A description of a Portuguese bullfight. Although the article is only a small portion of what I originally wrote about the “show” as I’m limited in length. I wish the entirety of it could have been published as it best depicts the true disgrace of the “sport.”
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my latest article, A Barbarian for Dinner: showcasing my frustration at the differences between the “American” style of table etiquette and the ever difficult, “Continental” style.
The dinner party included me (the American), a lovely German woman, a French couple and two Portuguese men, one of them the host of the soirée. We sat beneath colored lights on a small patio, the warm Lisbon air gradually inviting mosquitoes that warned us to move inside.
Wine glasses were filled and refilled while conversation flowed seamlessly from one subject to the next. As with most European discussions, “the crisis” topped the agenda, along with recent French political upheaval (which the French couple felt compelled to explain, futilely I might add.) I gladly joined in, answering questions about Obama, the United States, and my experiences as a veteran American traveler.
Until the food came.
It was then, while looking longingly at my fresh grilled sea bass, roasted potatoes and sautéed Romanesco broccoli, that I was forced to remove myself from the conversation. I had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
As the only American at a table full of Europeans, I was determined to adjust my American style of table etiquette to fit the habits of my newly acquired continental friends. In fact, I’d been practicing making the etiquette break for months.
And it was damn hard.
Suddenly, I had to eat with my left hand, which I’ve always insisted exists only for show (and to lean on from time to time).
Differences in dining etiquette never had much of an impact on me until I briefly dated a German man. I noticed he’d leave his hand on the table as we ate and wondered to myself how a well-educated adult could have such poor table manners. It wasn’t that important and who was I to play teacher?
He was much more opinionated on the subject. He asked me if my parents had ever taken me to nice restaurants while I was growing up. “Of course they did,” I replied. “It was very important to them that their children learn manners.”
“Then why do you eat the way you do? Why do you put your hands on your lap? In Germany, we always say that the Americans do that because they are hiding a gun.”
I was stunned. I wished I did have a gun, or nearly.
“You’re the barbarian,” I snapped back. “Your hands are on the table so we can see you won’t stab us with your knife.”
Later, we had a good laugh over childhood training. I explained how I was constantly reminded to get my hands off of the table; to rest my left hand (I’m right handed) gently on my lap, which held my napkin, and to move my fork from my left to right hand while cutting my meat or buttering my bread. If my left hand accidentally came to rest on the table, my mother was ready: “We are not barbarians, get your hands off the table.”
My polite and conscientious parents made sure their children could go anywhere from high-class restaurants to Broadway musicals. They prided themselves in our manners and that we could fit into any situation. Or should I say fit in into any American situation.
Their own manners came from parents who had learned them from their parents, and so on, and my mother’s quip about barbarians wasn’t a joke. The American style was indeed developed to break free of the ravenous tendencies of centuries past.
Yet here I was in Europe, a place I know well, feeling like a bit of a barbarian, picking at the fish while struggling to hold the fork in my left hand. How I longed to use my right hand, and for a moment I slipped up. I switched hands and let my knife rest in my left while my wonderfully dexterous right hand did what it’s done with great skill for 42 years — eat!
Then came another, even worse slip up. After resting my utensils on my plate to sip wine, I absently-mindedly picked up my fork with my right hand and rested my left hand on my lap. Had anyone noticed? Would they duck and cover in case I went on a shooting rampage with my hidden weapon as we weaponized Americans do while eating our dinner? But nobody noticed and I recovered quickly. I managed not only to hide my gun (again), but also slip myself back into the conversation.
One thing about “us” barbarians: we’re quick, and extremely clever.
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my most recent piece, “The Deep End” which is not a typical article, but more-so a prose poem. Anyone who knows me, knows that poetry is near and dear to my heart. Although the magazine does not typically publish poems, this particular prose was allowed – this one time.
Standing by the side of the pool I felt the raindrops on my shoulders. Beyond the palm trees and jagged rocks, the Pacific Ocean remained still. It was far too early in the morning for anyone to be out and about. Eyes open, I dove into the warm saltwater pool, heading straight for the bottom.
As a child, my swimming teacher lectured me on the need to learn to swim on the surface, not just under water. I tried in earnest, but as soon as I’d let out my breath, my small body would sink. I’m dense. The deep end became my home. Sometimes I’d let my belly rest on the bottom. Floating was and remains difficult. To stay buoyant, I have to arch my back to let my chest expand. My legs often dangle beneath me.
I swam along the bottom of the pool, kicking off it for propulsion, imagining myself as a dolphin torpedoing upward. I came to rest on the surface, my upper body floating, my hair extending half the length of my arms, which remained spread. As I tried to float, my back arched and my legs dangling as always, I thought about a simple but significant question my younger son had asked me a few days before.
“Do you think you’ll ever marry again, Mom?”
Everyone I know, or so it seems, is divorcing and remarrying, sometimes doing both within months. My son is sensitive. When it comes to me, he doesn’t like not being in the know.
I wanted to remarry, I had told him honestly. It just wasn’t that easy. Dates were easy. Romance was easy. But finding someone who complimented me and I them, well, that was harder.
As I considered this, I let myself sink to the bottom again. There, peering up through the water at the sunrise above, the rain gone, I held my breath as long as I could before again shooting back to the surface, all the while pondering my own marriage, my past relationships, and the deep end below me.
I’ve had only a handful of significant relationships in my life — four to be precise. Metaphorically, I started comparing them to my lifetime of swimming.
For years I was married to a man who was an All-American in every sense. We spent almost all our time with our heads jointly above water, feet firmly planted on the ground, never letting anything become too uncomfortable or run too deep. We remain good friends who care for each other. Even now, as co-parents, we keep our heads well above the surface.
I also thought about the German man I became involved with, and loved, for four months. He and I had stood on the different sides of the pool, smiled at each other, and decided to dive in head first, destination deep end. But while I continued exploring the pool’s far ends, he lost his breath. Gasping for air, he retreated to the shallow side where his friends awaited and comfort was assured. I knew he still longed for the deep. I also knew he didn’t have the lung capacity to truly explore it. I climbed out the opposite end of the pool.
My relationship with the Canadian was all in fun. He didn’t swim but appreciated that I did. During the week I’d dive as deep as I could, resurfacing on weekends, when he’d have a glass of Dom Perignon and vacation plans waiting. After exactly a year I realized I no longer wanted to step out of the water. He took his cocktail party elsewhere and, still poolside, is happy as a clam.
The Italian I met while navigating the deepest parts of the pool. He took my hand and for the first time in my life I felt like I’d found someone who swam like me. We held our breath for three years, exploring, discussing, debating and loving. But whenever we had to leave the water to gather food, our hands apart for a while to cope with life on land, we’d fall apart. Neither of us knew how to survive together outside the deep end of the pool. One day we stepped out of the water together, both frustrated that we had to, and couldn’t find our way back.
My watery metaphor was suddenly interrupted by outside conversation. A man jumped into the pool and water sloshed over my face. I did what I always do. I let my breath out, sank, retreated to the deep end, and swam along the bottom. Until I found the stairs and left the water behind.
After a long and particularly dramatic relationship, followed by an equally long and ugly break-up some years later, I was mentally kaput. When friends asked if I would begin to date again, I scoffed. What I really want, I lamented, is sex and companionship with no strings attached. What was so wrong with that?
“You mean you want a booty call?” one of them asked.
“No, no, just someone to have sex with, date and nothing else. No futures planned, no expectations to crush and no relationship crud,” I explained.
Was that so hard?
Months later along came Jad. Aesthetically beautiful in every way, he was by far the best-looking man I’ve ever dated. A man virtually everyone, men and women alike, couldn’t help but take notice of. He wasn’t a tall man or a boisterous man or in any way odd. On the contrary, he was of average height, bald, soft-spoken with a thick Lebanese accent and aside from the brown flat cap he often wore, donned himself in mostly black. His lips were full, his skin was fair and his athletic body was that of a practiced yogi. Although it wasn’t his height or his build or his accent that had me entranced. It was the way he moved. The man oozed sexuality from every pore of his being without even trying. When he approached me, asking me out to dinner, I looked over my shoulder thinking the invitation was meant for someone else. His piercing brown eyes made sure I knew it was directed at me.
Mind you, I had long since forgotten my off-the-cuff comment about finding sex and companionship with no strings attached.
He was early to the restaurant whereas I, in typical fashion, arrived 10 minutes late, apologizing. He smiled, hugged me and told me it was really no problem at all. It was clear we liked each other. He was attentive, interesting, never let his eyes wander, and quite honestly one of the best dates I’d been on in years. Hours later we were still asking questions and discovering details of each other. He mentioned he had two children with different mothers, and remained friends with both of them. When I asked him why the relationships had fallen apart, he told me the bonds had never been tight enough to split. “I don’t believe in marriage or monogamy but I wanted to be a father,” he told me. Both were “a trap which ruins perfectly good relationships and love.”
Oddly, his candor appealed to me. So many men I’d met told me what I wanted to hear but their actions were completely contrary. I’d never been with a man solely for the purposes of simple dating and sex with no real future. There was always an underlying question of life-long compatibility and relationship status. Nothing was simple.
Simplicity was all Jad would ever offer me or any other woman. He didn’t beat around the bush when it came to his interest in me, outlining what he found attractive both physically and mentally. He explained that he rarely had both a physical and mental attraction to women, though it didn’t prevent him from sleeping with one should they only fill physical criteria. When he asked me to go wine tasting with him the next weekend, I agreed without a blink.
Jad and I would embark on a romance that involved not one string and revolved mainly around sex.
Having nothing to lose by being myself, I was nothing less. I didn’t care if he didn’t like my political opinions or my lifestyle or even my chipped nail polish for that matter. If I wanted to be sullen and serious, I was; likewise, if I wanted to be silly and goofy, I was. I didn’t try to impress him nor he I. We were 100 percent true to who we were.
I never worried about other woman because I knew the worrying would’ve been futile. At the same time, I never saw him text, email or even speak on the phone with another woman while with me. And we were with each other quite a bit. Sure, I knew there were other women, probably many of them, but it just didn’t seem to matter to me.
The relationship wasn’t typical of most sexually based ones, either. He never called late at night asking me to come over. On the contrary, though lots of sex was involved each time we saw each other, we also behaved as a couple. We went out to dinner, movies, long walks, had a few weekend getaways, and practiced yoga together either at studios or at his house. He’d cook traditional Lebanese food for me and we’d often have heated debates on environmental or educational topics, and when the debates ended, we’d go to bed for sex.
But we never cuddled. Not after sex, not while watching movies, and even though we held hands when walking in public, it was never a strong hold. To hold a hand tightly involves a string.
He began asking me to stay longer. He liked having me at his house when he and I were both camped over our computers. We’d work a few hours, stop for sex and food, work a few more hours, stop for sex and a walk, and then go back to our work. Our weekends got progressively longer. Though still no cuddling.
Until the day he asked me to come snuggle with him. He must’ve seen my apprehension mixed with surprise because he patted his chest and said, “C’mon, come lay here.” So I did. We ended up snuggling for more than two hours, talking about philosophy, children and life in general. As I got up to go to the bathroom, he touched my hand and told me that I was an anomaly. I kissed him, got up from his bed, and never returned.
The next day he messaged me to say that his daughter would be with her mother all week and asked me to come stay with him for four days. I told him I couldn’t, that I had my boys that week, though maybe we could just meet for dinner somewhere. Suddenly, we had a string, a conflict, and I knew we both felt it. And that wasn’t what we had agreed upon. So he said, “Okay” and I responded, “Okay,” and we never spoke again. It was all that simple.
I’m not so sure I could ever have that kind of relationship again. Sex without loving emotions and devotion can quickly grow stale. But I’m glad I was able, at least for once in my life, to feel what it was like to be completely free from all the questions and anxiety that being in love brings.
It happened again. If no one noticed and continued eating and talking it would be one thing. But Italians notice everything. It’s in their DNA. I notice things too, but more discreetly.
So what was it? My trousers? I always dress appropriately for country and occasions. It couldn’t be my dress. Maybe it was the shoes? They were last year’s models after all. Or did I have something in my teeth?
But it wasn’t about clothes. I was alone, and alone in a restaurant, and alone in a restaurant in Italy (insert gasping sounds here).
There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” He obviously never tried to get a table for one in Italy dressed as a woman. If a woman does get a table, she is most assuredly in a place few women ever reach.
Before entering the restaurant, I thought to myself I should have picked up a sandwich at a highway rest area before heading into town. But I hadn’t. Instead, I was forced to deal what I call the “entry of shame,” the lovely moment when pitying restaurant staff tell you they’re sorry, they have no tables left — and everyone stares. You bring all conversation to a halt. Apparently single people eat in bars, not restaurants. Or so I’m told.
A woman traveling alone in Italy is noticed. No, let me rephrase that: a woman over the age of 25 traveling unaccompanied in Italy sticks out like a sore thumb. Italians are “group people.” They do things collectively, especially women. You might get a coffee on a work break alone or pick up some groceries, but to eat a meal alone in a restaurant? That’s pushing it. It messes with the natural order of things.
College-age trekkers wandering the country through youth hostels catch a break. They’re expected to go it alone; it’s cool. For them, it’s welcome to the bars, the pizzerias (if you can afford them) and generic eateries. “C’mon in you cute little traveling youngin’…”
I travel alone as much as I’ve travel with others and my experience isn’t limited to Italy. I’ve dined with friends and alone in elegant Spanish restaurants, German dive eateries and everything in between. This particular trip began in Verona, where I dined out with a friend nightly (not one look of pity, mind you.) After that, I rented a car and headed into the Italian countryside, destination southern France. I was alone.
It wasn’t necessarily by choice. I just haven’t found that special travel companion. Months ago I thought I might have finally met someone who fit that bill. But our future hopes, and travel plans, were fleeting — along with my hopes of getting a table in Italy. Edward Hopper must have had Italy and me in mind when he painted “Hotel Room, Compartment C,” “Car 293” and “Automat.” I wasn’t born yet but he must have seen me coming.
After experiencing Italy, I was leery about France, a country I didn’t know well. It didn’t help that I entered French territory after my Italian fiasco the night before. The first night seemed like a fluke. They sat me immediately and also gave me good table near locals (not grouped with the foreigners, another Italian risk). The maître d, waiter and entire staff were polite, welcoming, and the place was far from empty. I’m not sure how many times I thanked the waiter.
In the days to come my foodie needs were finally satisfied – alone. I dined on mouth-watering Wagyu beef carpaccio, arugula salad, fresh asparagus, cheeses to die for, perfectly sautéed aubergines, roast duck with cherry sauce, and head-spinning fresh bread.
Pleasantly, on my last night in France I had company. I dined with a spry and polite elderly Frenchman who made me laugh, repeatedly toasted us, and, in the middle of conversation, sweetly forgot that I wasn’t French, reverting to his native language. Even the chef joined us to ask about the food and share some laughs. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? You people are so nice I want to kiss you!” I worried the French might take me literally so I just smiled and thanked all involved as politely as possible.
All this made me rethink my Italian experiences. My next Italian trip I’ll dine out with friends only. No more messing with the collective. It’s their country. They can play by their rules. I’ll save my “table for one” for France, where they happily don’t seem to mind.
Last night, when some friends asked me about my coming trip to Italy, I told them I’d changed my plans. While I’d still be visiting my girlfriend in Verona, I’d only be staying with her for five days instead of nearly two weeks. After that, I’d rent a car and embark on a six-day road trip from Milan to the south of France — following Route Napoleon, which runs from the Riviera to the foot of the Alps.
The questions came in a rush:
“What made you decide that? Are you nervous? Have you ever driven in Europe before?”
I kept my answers simple — until the end. Yes, I told them, the idea of the drive made me a bit nervous. No, I’d never rented a car in Europe. Why had I decided on the road trip? Because of the little pig inside of me.
Looks of confusion surrounded the table. I explained myself:
In late January I visited Frankfurt, where I was born. Exploring a side street, I found a small but interesting gallery with surreal and whimsical art from artists I’d never heard of before. It was there that I saw a Michael Sowa painting called “Kohler’s Pig.” I’ve seen countless exhibits and studied hundreds of art works over the years. From time to time, I’d see bits and pieces of myself in the portrayals, moods I’ve had at various stages of my life.
But Sowa’s painting of a little pig jumping off of a dock into a meadow pond mesmerized me. I saw myself in that funny and whimsical little pig. It embodied me. For a tomboy who became feminine later in life, I’d hoped for a more demure self-portrait. Instead, there I was: a daring little pig.
You see, years before my pockets were full of dollars, cell phones and lotions, they were stuffed with a gold Jaguar Matchbox car, a few dimes for Bazooka bubble gum, and maybe a feather I’d found in the woods. I was forever the explorer and daydreamer. When not playing outside alone or with friends I was inside making up invisible playmates or having deep conversations with my dog or cat. In both real life and metaphor, I rarely looked before leaping. Though age and experience may have mellowed me a little, I still jump.
My Matchbox car was replaced with lip-gloss as a teenager and my pockets later held the house key I shared with my husband in my 20s and 30s. Though the responsibilities of a home and children tempered my wanderlust, from time to time I still did what I could to jump and explore. I remained the little naive pig ready to jump and hold her breath, hoping the water would be warm and welcoming. I tried hard to teach this sense of wonder and naivety to my children. Yes, naiveté. To me it’s a beautiful trait.
As soon as they were old enough, I’d throw on their jackets and little rain boots and together we’d scour the sharply rocky beach for crabs, starfish and anemones. In summer I’d show them how lifting a piece of wood from the woodpile just so revealed thousands of baby spiders in frenzy over the interruption. If a snake needed catching, I was their girl (and mother) for the job. When I’d find a daddy longlegs walking in the grass, I’d let it crawl over my body as my kids screamed, giggled and ran away. Lying in the grass we’d put our heads together and stare at shapes in the clouds; on a clear night we’d do the same with stars. Forts were built, pretend games were played and hands were dirtied. I was never very good at packing lunches, time management, or even making sure dinner was served at a suitable hour, but I’d foster every question their little minds presented.
Now they’re older. They have girls to call, jobs to keep and books to study. But still I encourage them to ask questions, consider different cultures and opinions, and foster their freedom to remain kids; to wonder. I want them always to be able to jump off of the dock.
As for me, I’ll happily remain the naive little pig with the open heart, ready to leap into the water; leap into the unknown. I’ll keep gasping for air and land. I’ll still frolic playfully when it comes to love and romance. I’ll always shy a bit from the choppy waters of responsibility. And I’ll probably very likely get lost on the roads in southern France.
“Fine, you can have a turn. Spin it.” I didn’t know what I was doing. I had just happened upon my older sister Kim and her friends behind our apartment building playing with a Coke bottle. Wanting to be a part of whatever was going on with the older kids I had pushed my way into their circle, much to the dismay and embarrassment of Kim.
“Go Jenny,” Kim commanded while rolling her eyes at me.
I spun the bottle as hard as I could. I liked the sound the glass made while wobbling on the concrete. When it finally slowed to a stop the neck pointed at a boy named Scott. He was a scrawny kid like me, but with white blonde hair and big brown eyes. He looked around the group, unsure of what to do or say. I thought that was it; my turn was over, the game was stupid and I was about to get up and leave.
“Well, kiss him.” Pricilla snickered while pointing at Scott. I didn’t like her. I didn’t like her name or all the pink she wore. As a tomboy who had never even considered kissing a boy, I looked to my sister for help. But she gave me none. She just stared at me angrily while silently daring me to do it. Or so I felt. I looked at the rest of them and took a deep breath.
“Fuck off” I said slowly and defiantly, while staring at poor Scott’s big brown eyes. I had never said those words out loud before, but I didn’t blink.
Scott’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open and the group was frozen. Again, I looked to my sister. Kim’s eyes narrowed and a slight smirk came to her face, just before she whispered the words, “I’m going to tell Dad,” and got up to run home. I got up to chase her, leaving Scott and the rest in the wake of my expletive. As I ran I planned my defense to my father.
Such was my introduction to kissing — and profanity.
Four years later I finally did kiss a boy. He was a pudgy, blue eyed, brown haired boy named Jason. I chose him because he was nice and I knew he wouldn’t try to stick his tongue in my mouth like the other boys did to my friends. I was right about him. As we stood around the corner from the lockers he kissed me gently on the lips while we both tried to hide our trembling hands in our sweatshirt pockets.
Since Jason, I’ve kissed my fair share of boys (and a few men) and have concluded the obvious: the kiss is pretty darn powerful. Kisses have made me feel excited, frightened, overwhelmed, empty, loved, surprised, and disappointed. Once, a simple kiss made me think butterflies were literally taking flight inside me. Our lips are quite possibly our most potent little body part. “A kiss may ruin a human life,” wrote Oscar Wilde. In Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind,” Rhett Butler warns Scarlet O’Hara, “I will make you faint,” just before passionately kissing her. How many woman wished to have a kiss from the likes of Rhett and how many men wished to have a women respond to their kisses the way Scarlet did with Rhett?
After some time pondering kisses, I wondered why I’d never kept a simple kiss journal over the years. Especially having realized that with each of my relationships, be they a few weeks or 18 years, my kisses, given and received, changed considerably with moods, emotions — and with the loss of emotions. I began asking friends about their own kissing history and experiences. I’m no Gallup poll, but the men and women I chatted with unanimously agreed that a kiss changes with each partner, depending on feelings and emotions. It’s hard to hide your feeling for someone from your lips.
For those of you who keep a journal, why not add a kissing journal, a logbook of each kiss you’ve ever had with three words to describe them? Jog your memories. I challenge you. Create a kiss journal and see what it tells you.
In case you were wondering, I never did get in trouble for standing up Scott and the rest of the group. When I got home my sister was nowhere to be found and my parents were casually drinking coffee at the kitchen table. Kim must’ve figured out that if she told on me, she’d also be telling on herself. No matter how angry she was at her pesky little sister for interrupting the kissing game, sacrificing me wasn’t worth the trouble she’d have had. Smart girl.
It was a busy Friday night for me. Like most Friday nights I had a date. My date included the perfect martini I had just made, a nice soft couch, my trusty dog, Cella, and a TV marathon of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. My teenage sons tell me I need to get out. But I was getting out — just with Hercule, who I happen to adore. If Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael were around on Fridays, I’d date him too.
As soon as I took my first sip I heard my phone chirp from the kitchen. I figured it was one of my girlfriends giving a last minute text to meet at the wine bar across the street. Instead, a number I didn’t recognize showed on my screen. I knew the area code, but the number wasn’t a contact of mine. Or hadn’t been for many months.
“Hi, I’m visiting my folks and they send their regards. You really made an impression on them.”
The text was from an old boyfriend; a man I dated for nearly a year. I realize that a year sounds like a long time, but in truth, we only saw each other on weekends or vacations and although we enjoyed our time together it was all in fun; emotions not deep enough or even shared, personalities opposite, and so in the most adult of ways, we parted. This may come off as ridiculous, but I was proud of that break-up. We were both so mature and calm about it. In fact, we were mature and calm for the entire relationship; highly unlike me, given my typical idealist personality full of overflowing emotions.
But this was a break-up I could write about in a book I’d call, “How To Break Up With Class.” It was face to face, no pettiness, no, “I’ll get my things in the morning, you ass!” while storming out of the house (It helped we didn’t keep personal items at each other’s homes.) Phone numbers and emails were deleted, at least on my end, and even photos electronically trashed in a blink. I believe in clean breaks. I’m not one to “friend” ex-partners or keep mementos. It doesn’t work for me. It seems too superficial and contrived.
In truth, I’ve always respected him for how it ended. Though we met online, he kept his texting and emailing to a minimum which is rare these days, even for men in their 50s. During our first few dates he would make plans for the next date face to face. He’d call (not every night mind you) and we’d text only for a quick hello or to touch base throughout the day. It was all, so, well… mature. Before him I had almost given up on the notion that men would call instead of hiding behind a text (i.e. technology), as my teenage boys tend to do.
His text continued: “I don’t know how to tell you how much you and our relationship meant to me.”
And there it was, my virtual bouquet of flowers — delivered in on an iPhone instead of the local florist.
The problem with women my age (early 40s) is that we remember the time we’d actually answer the door to the pimply-faced high school boy holding a delivery for us. Sometimes they carried roses and other times our favorite tulips. The roses and tulips have been virtually replaced now. Long gone are the days of chocolates and flowers to express your desire to reconnect with someone, whether it be futile or no, in the hopes of reviving a romance. Yearning took a little effort.
We, men and women alike, now get only blips of the past. We hear the chirping of our phones, read the words and are left on our own to see the bouquet, to smell the fantasy fragrance filling the room. We are left to our own imaginations to decipher what kind of flowers they might be, how they might smell and where we should proudly display them. For some of us, these virtual bouquets fill an entire virtual room, while for others they’re left on the kitchen counter, as small as the font on the screen in which they were delivered.
A couple of years ago, while perusing the clearance section at Half Price Books near Seattle, I came across a volume called “Mindless Eating” by a Cornell University food psychologist named Dr. Brian Wansink. I usually don’t read diet books but I do enjoy odd little speculations about how our brains work in relation to specific subjects. I read it simultaneously with “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” by technology writer Nicholas Carr.
One was about our brain on the Internet; the other about our brain on food. Around the same time, I entered the world of online dating.
What do online dating, overeating and our brains on the Internet have in common? From my own experience, everything: They all tug at the same underlying issue.
We are a generation that likes to collect and to gorge. We gorge on food, on information, on people. We create conflict within our body and minds, and with others. But here’s the thing: once we generate all that conflict, we no longer need to resolve it. Why? Well, we can always move on. We can try another diet, read a different web page or just dive back into the online world and find a different partner. Why bother eating less, reading a novel or even resolving a conflict with someone you’ve started dating — and care about — if you don’t really have to?
Wansink’s book mentioned a study involving two groups of students. While watching a movie, one group was given a bowl with 11″flavors” of M&M’s — 11 colors, that is — while the other got a bowl with only seven colors. Now, I know and you know that color doesn’t influence how M&M’s taste. Still, the group with the 11 colors ate over 40 percent more than the group given only seven. Intriguing.
Before I began my online dating ride I had a conversation with a “veteran,” a guy I knew had been at it for years. He was fortyish, good-looking, and well-educated. He leaned toward younger women, since he wanted a family and didn’t think women close to his age could give him one. Fair enough.
After he described the women he’d been talking to and dating I asked him a simple question: Have you ever been out on a date with a beautiful, interesting and composed woman whose company you really enjoy, but in the back of your mind wondered how many texts, emails or the like might await you at home or on your phone — messages from other women?
Sheepishly, he said “yes.” My knee-jerk reaction was that I could never be so shallow. I was above all that. But thinking about it a bit more I realized that I’d been guilty of the very same thing on occasion. I’d been on dates where concentrating on what would have been a good conversation with an interesting man was difficult because I couldn’t take my mind off the text I’d received from some Mr. X an hour before the date began. Later, while alone, I’d feel guilty and promise myself I’d never let it happen again. But it did. I also found myself dismissing a potential long-term partner far more easily.
The more men I met, the more colors or flavors I had, the longer my list of “can’t haves” and “will not tolerate” grew. Worse, I was meeting men who were similar to me, most burdened with their own growing lists of intolerances. Like attracts like. Both sides were essentially going through the same self-involved ritual — gorging on each other in a sea of exaggerated expectations and shallowness. Much like the students who got the eleven “flavors” of M&M’s and ate 40 percent more, online dating gives us a pool of potential partners as vast as the ocean — and even then we want more, more, more.
We just don’t want to admit it. A similar phenomenon is the collecting of opposite sex “friends,” another form of gorging. That happens when you’re not quite into one person as a partner but at the same time don’t want to give him or her up in the event someone else doesn’t work out. Maybe the “friend” is pretty or handsome but lacks personality. Or maybe they’re just not pretty or handsome enough. These people become our “friends” and we become theirs. We like to text them, email them and communicate with them on Facebook. We flirt with funny little emoticons. We hit the send button and get a response within seconds. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel wanted. In fact, it makes us feel everything but satisfied. I liken this to Carr’s description of the Internet’s impact on an individual’s ability to probe self-awareness, or even wish to. He writes, “The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” For Carr, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.” becomes “Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
So where does this all end? Does it end when we finally meet someone who makes us want to bend our rules, and who wants to do the same for us? Or do we enter a serious relationship still hanging on to “friends” and unconsciously believing that if it doesn’t work out with them there’s always someone else? When do we close all the doors? At what point do we decide we’ve had enough M&M’s and that instead of “flavors” we want something nutritious and substantive to fill our insatiable appetite for love, acceptance and affection? When do we set aside breaking news and return to reading novels? I can only speak from my own two-year dating experience, which included a few semi-serious relationships. In that time I continued collecting “friends,” which fueled my ego, but little more. I was full but not satisfied. I’d become my own lab rat, and I didn’t like it.
So I made a decision. I began ignoring texts and messages from my male “friends” and even canceled my online dating account. I tried in earnest to resolve a conflict with a man I really liked. I put aside the Jet Ski.
Yes, it’s crossed my mind that the newfound comfort I feel being single is based on knowing that if I ever get desperate or need an ego boost, I can always dive back into the online world with my old “friends” probably ready to jump back on my bandwagon.
I can’t say that’s not true. I can’t say I’m proud of it. What I can say is, at least for now, is that I’ve picked up a novel. And I like it.