Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Check, Please!

I have spent a lot of time listening to friends and family grumble about their commitments of time and family. I have heard enough to know that even the best of spouses will say or do something to make their beloved want to snap their neck like a chicken. I've dried tears, helped compile lists of positives and negatives, and made the snacks for many a pity-party. I've also listened to every gross and disturbing detail of child-rearing. I know more about bowel movements than I care to admit, supported a friend through a cry-it-out night while her husband worked the night shift, and sent flowers because I knew the first day back to work after the baby was going to be traumatic. Friends have told me that they prefer to hang out with other couples who have kids because they have more in common, which is totally understandable. The thing that is the most confounding is that people think they know what my life is like because they were single once too. And yes, most people have experience out there in the world as a single person, but most people haven't experienced being the only single person in every room they walk into. And there is a point in the program when it feels like you are completely alone when you are occupying the odd-numbered seat at the table.

Over the years people have said some amazingly obnoxious things to me in the attempt to be sympathetic. I once had a colleague tell me that my cooking skills were going to waste without a husband and children to cook for. Yes, those brownies I baked from scratch are so delicious because they are filled with my tears. Or that it's refreshing to see a woman who doesn't feel the need to be constrained by the conventions of our society. Right. Like I wouldn't have sold my right arm to have had my fairytale wedding. I'm not someone who deludes myself into thinking that I don't want or need things I don't have. Maybe it's because I'm the baby of the family. Or an Aries. It's a toss-up. The point is, don't try to make someone feel better about what you or they perceive they've missed out on in life. If they want to talk about it with you, they will. If you bring it up, you will say something that they will end up laughing about with their therapist.

This palpable loneliness wears down my defenses and I often end up making excuses to find just about anyone appealing. I think this is why  I accepted a date with a tech support guy who admitted to being a little socially awkward. We made a date to have dinner at a local chain restaurant. I picked out my own outfit, slipped on a pair of heels, and spritzed on some perfume. I knew something was a little strange when I checked-in with the hostess. She looked me up-and-down, smirked, and pointed to an empty bench where she said he had been sitting. I decided to have a seat and wait. Then I saw him approaching. Now I'm not proud of this, but I felt like bolting. We hadn't exchanged pictures, and he never would have known that it was me who stood him up. But I couldn't do it. I immediately thought about how I would have felt waiting and waiting for someone who never shows up, so I plastered a smile on my face and introduced myself. After a few minutes, we were given a table. This is when the miracle occurred. I knew our waitress. She was a former student of mine, and a really sweet kid. She took our order, and brought our drinks. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, which was located near the waitress station. She saw me and said incredulously, "Are you on a DATE with that guy?" I informed her it was an online set-up and that I hadn't had it in me to stand him up. She told me she would take care of it. And bless her, she sure did. The cooks were told to rush the food out. It was at our table when I got back from the bathroom. The check appeared like magic just as I was working on the last half of my sandwich. We must have set some kind of land-speed-dating record. We left and I made some lame excuse about needing to get home. Poor guy. I then went back inside and slipped the waitress a $20 bill. She earned it.

The best tip I ever got was from a friend's mother. She told me on my 30th birthday that it does no good to get bogged-down in how your life is going to unfold, and as you get older you feel the need to plan less and less. So far, she has been right on every count.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, Brother!

Having older brothers forces a person to get a thick skin. Literally. I've had enough noogies, purple nurples, and indian burns to last a lifetime. My first-grade teacher once asked me if I had a problem at home since I always had bumps and bruises. Without flinching, I informed her that I had brothers. She must have had some too, because she never said another word about it. I was a clumsy kid as well, so half of said bruises came from door frames, stairs, and random pieces of furniture. I once ran into the stove. Yeah. In my college years, I tended to hang out with guy friends who are a little rougher with the psyche than girl friends. Several of them were my brother's pals. Spending time with them helped sharpen my wit, quicken my reflexes, and toughen my hide. They gave really great advice, too. I still reference some of their wisdom when I'm having guy issues. The fact that I'm labeling anything that came out of their mouth as "wisdom" is a little riot-inducing, but I'm sticking by it. Besides, several of them danced with me while I was wearing the green bridesmaid's dress. That's got to be worth something. I've been told that I exude the friend vibe when I'm around guys, which most often means I find myself firmly in the "friend-zone." I once had a guy friend call with an extra ticket for a concert. I quickly shrieked that I would love to go and he said, "Oh good. It'll just be a guys-night-out." Yep. That's me. Just one of the boys. By the way, from what I have learned, the Golden Rule of hanging out with guys is that if you dish it out, you have to take it. It's their code.

Online dating requires the thickest of skin. You are being judged constantly. Every site delivers profiles to your inbox that they have decided are a good match. Just like any girl whose life was changed by the seminal volume He's Just Not That Into You, I am prone to sit back and see who contacts me. I have done my fair share of chasing guys, and it has never paid off. Besides, there's nothing worse than finally catching someone who you immediately want to throw back. I found myself getting worn-down by the lack of interest. I edited my profile. Nothing. Uploaded different pictures. Nada. Crafted witty, open-ended questions to pique their interest. Zilch. I checked all of the cables, optimized my browser, and defragged. You could hear crickets chirping. Pretty soon you start to take it personally. After all, a profile is a minuscule version of your best-self. The polished-up, spit-shined version of you, put on the shelf with a blinking neon arrow. In one of my online dating episodes, I only got 3 messages in an entire year. It was a little painful. And one of them was a scam-artist who hacked my hard drive and hit me up for cash. Classy. His profile is still out there by the way. Don't say you weren't warned.

In my very first meet-in-real-life date, a guy I'd been messaging picked me up to take me to a Superbowl party. The St. Louis Rams are my team (don't judge), and they were playing that year. We were both fans. His name was Adam, and he decided we should go for some appetizers and a beverage at a local watering hole. I realized this had been the interview portion of the evening after he informed me over a basket of friend pickles (gross) that his friends were having a party at their house, and asked if I'd like to go along. I think it was my "bro skills" that landed me the extended version of the date. The party was fine, and there were some nice people there. It was mostly couples, and the food was yummy. I don't have much of a problem chatting with anybody. It runs in the family. After halftime, one couple ended up getting in a screaming match. I didn't pay too much attention, since I was pretty caught-up in the game. The party broke up soon after the argument, and Adam kept apologizing on the drive home. I had no idea what the big deal was. He called the next day to say that he was looking for a more girly-girl type. That's the rough thing about having thick skin. You have to have it to make it through the dating process, but what guys seem to want is a thin-skinned girly-girl.

Being a Ram's fan has in many ways prepared me for the disappointments of online dating. The most important lesson is that you never know what the next season has in store. But it's probably going to be disappointing and over way too soon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Just Want You To Find A Nice Boy

I've been the only single member of my family for quite some time now. I have 2 older siblings who got married about 6 weeks apart. There are a couple of things I vividly recall about that time. It was my first year out of college and I wasn't making much money. I was also moving into my first place and had to come up with deposits and connection fees. Having the honor of serving as a bridesmaid in two back-to-back family weddings stretched my already-thin budget to the breaking point. Being a girl involved in a wedding is a huge commitment of time and money. There are showers, fittings, accessory-shopping, engagement parties, table linen discussions, and helping-stuff-the-invitation sweatshop nights. And the dresses. One of them was forest green. It was the perfect color to make everyone look like they were about to barf on their shoes, which were dyed-to-match of course.  And I know everyone says you can wear your bridesmaid's dress again, but that is a conspiracy cooked up by bridal consultants to help a bride maintain the delusion that everyone is as excited about their pending nuptials as they are. Like I want to wear a forest green taffeta dress to any kind of function. I didn't even want to wear it in the changing room.

Amongst all of this, the thing I remember most is the constant bombardment of family members asking the dreaded question, "So when are you getting married?" I know statements like that are their way way of showing they care. It's sweet that people want you to be happy, and are interested in your pursuit of it. But what they couldn't possibly know was that it felt like a red-hot poker was being jammed into my left eyeball every time I was interrogated. The truth wasn't pleasant, and certainly not what I wanted to share on a lovely evening in the gymnasium of my former grade school. I wasn't even dating anybody at the time. Well, not really. There was a guy who called whenever he felt like it. He was recently divorced, bitter, and took a bit of it out on me. I'm really not angry about it. Well, not anymore. At the time I was so happy for any kind of attention, that I let it go on for much too long. Needless to say, he wasn't in the mood to escort me to any of the wedding functions. So the only armor I had to shield me from the endless barrage of well-meaning relatives was the aforementioned frock of forest green. And a few bottles of champagne. Which matched the dress, now that I think about it. What I loved most were the tidbits of advice about how to land Mr. Right. Apparently all I need is a new lipstick color. Thanks, second-cousin once-removed.

Fast-forward to this past Thanksgiving. I'm still not married, but there are now husbands, wives, babies, grandchildren, in-laws, and a myriad of other things to occupy the conversation. After dinner I was entertaining my cousin with the latest adventures in online dating, when I realized several family members had migrated over to hear the tales. The latest was a doozy. One evening I got a message that simply said "Hi." So I messaged back. He then asked how I was. To which I replied that I was "fine, thanks." Then next message reads, "Are you a freaky girl?" Two things happened within nanoseconds. I replied, "Nope," and called my friend to describe the parallel universe I had fallen into. He messaged back that there was no need to message him anymore. Thanks, Captain Obvious. My cousin and I were laughing about the ridiculousness of it  when my mom asked, "What's a freaky girl?" I love these moments. It's almost like the universe slows down in anticipation of the awkward discussion that everyone can see coming, but can't get out of their chair fast enough to avoid. I informed my mother that a "freaky girl" is someone who enjoys unorthodox sexual practices. Her eyes got pretty wide, she cleared her throat, got up, and made some comment about how she needed to tend to the pies. My grandma, unfazed, asked, "So did you call him?" I eventually caught my breath and informed grandma that I had not, in fact, called him. She then patted my arm and said, "I just want you to find a nice boy." It took a few minutes to convince her that he didn't qualify. That's the funny thing about the clearance aisle. What one person thinks of as a needless appliance others think of as a way to finally brand the NASCAR logo into their toast. And my grandma must have had a lot of fun when she was younger.

There are so many places one could wear a dress like this. None come to mind, but I'm sure there are some.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cut The Crap

A friend of mine today told me to "cut the crap" and get to the good stories. All I have to say is, be careful what you wish for. I immediately thought of my second meet-in-person-after-meeting-online adventure. I was still on the pay-to-be-soul-crushingly-rejected website and someone had decided to drop a hook in my pond. His name was Paul. We lived in the same town, and after a lot of back-and-forth emails, it turned out we had a few things in common. I was pleased when he asked if I wanted to meet up one night for a beverage. I said yes, of course, and called an emergency summit to help me pick out the perfect outfit. Guys have no idea how much work it takes to get ready for a blind date. We want to look good, but not too good because that implies we're trying too hard. There's nothing worse than looking like you haven't been on a date in years - even if it happens to be true. And we don't want them to smell the desperation pouring off of us like water over the mighty Niagara. It smells a lot like Obsession for Men. Just saying.

We met on a weeknight - another code for "I don't want to take this too seriously." I don't know if this is true for everyone, but the anxiety of what will happen when the person sets eyes on you for the first time is excruciating. I just knew his eyes were going to bug-out of his head in the cartoonishly ridiculous way with the old car horn sound effect in the background. And not in a good way. Fortunately that didn't happen. We had a seat, ordered a beverage, and had a really nice chat. I even survived his bail-me-out phone call. I took it as a promising sign. He asked if I would like to see a movie that weekend, and I agreed. He walked me to the parking lot, but didn't pull any moves. There was follow-up emailing, and we went to see a movie that Friday. He used a discount card, which doesn't really bug me since I am the bargain-basement queen. Friends told me that should have set off some alarm bells. No funny business on that walk to the car either, but the follow-up phone call was cute. I decided that if I wanted to seal the deal, I was going to have to cook for him. I figured date three was the perfect excuse to invite him over for a home-cooked meal. I hate to toot my own horn *TOOT*, but I can cook. And I pulled out all the stops - lasagna, salad, homemade bread, and pound cake with berry sauce for dessert. And another outfit picked out by the good-lord-we-need-to-find-her-a-man cabal. What could go wrong? (Insert ominous music.)

Now would probably be the time to explain that I have a couple of medical issues. I hadn't been feeling well for years, and had decided to start getting to the bottom of what was going on. One specialist had just put me on some new medicine. He explained that it would upset my stomach for a little while. He further explained that it would get worse for about a week, and then take another couple of weeks to go away completely. This little adventure and my Paul-flirtation were going on simultaneously. And the dinner date was scheduled for the day that the symptoms were supposed to be the worst. Timing never was my strong-suit.

So the big night arrived, and he was very complimentary of my cooking. I just shoved food around my plate and tried to distract him with my sparkling conversational skills. He excused himself to go to the bathroom, and I pounced on the opportunity to scrape my plate into the trash under the guise of cleaning up. We went and sat on my couch to chat for a little while. The rumble in my stomach started very slowly. So much so, that I thought I might have actually pulled off a miracle. Then it happened. You know how you start to get the sweats, and all you can think about is how you would leverage your unborn children if your mid-section would just go numb? Well, I had passed that point about 45 minutes before I actually excused myself to go to the bathroom. I don't mean to be indelicate, but it was epic. And I was in there for a long time. There were 3 courtesy flushes. I was mortified. I was trying to craft some sort of clever thing to yell through the door, but I was at a loss. When my gut decided it was finished throwing its tantrum, I washed my hands, opened the door, and promptly ran straight into him in the hallway. He asked if I was ok. I mumbled something unintelligible, and he said he had to go to the bathroom. I may have said, "No! You can't!" a little too forcefully, but it didn't deter him. I didn't even have the chance to light a candle. To my amazement, he came back into the room, sat down, and picked up the conversation where we had left off. The holidays were approaching, and as we were sharing stories about how we normally spend time with family he started to tear up. He explained that his family wasn't very close. I changed the topic immediately. We chatted a little longer, and then he said he was going to take off. I asked if he wanted to take some leftovers with him. He said he would, so I dished them up. He took them from me, turned around, unlocked the door and ran out of my house. He couldn't get away from me fast enough. I think I heard the tires screech down the street. And I never heard from him again. Ever.

Here is a cookbook snapshot of the recipe for what I now call Poopy-Paul Lasagna. I've made it several times since then. As much as I would like to think that he was intimidated by my skills in the kitchen, something tells me that wasn't the issue.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Die-Hard Bargain Shopper

Conventional wisdom would say that at my age most of the "good guys" have been snatched up. I tend to agree. I have heard all sorts of comments about never-been-married people in their 30's and 40's as "obviously" having something wrong with them. This reinforces the clearance-aisle mentality, or what I call the one-eyed-teddy-bear effect. We leftover people haven't made the cut, for whatever reason. I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to camouflage the holes in my sweater. And like the water gun that squirts grape jelly on the Island of Misfit Toys, I'm convinced I just need to find the right person to appreciate my gifts.

There is an entire industry devoted to helping consumers snag the best-of-the-leftover-or-unwanted-decent stuff. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and even the local Goodwill profits off of it. There are people who memorize the schedule of deliveries and know the best days to find a steal. Online dating is exactly the same. All of us are hoping to find the hidden-treasure profile to magically appear in our queue one day. And people script their profile essays to appeal to this consumer. They will highlight the fact that they just went through a really rough break-up, that they are a good guy, devoted dad, hopeless romantic, and holding out for "the one". This only leaves us with two options. We can either take our chances with the mismatched pair of new socks from the clearance aisle, or a pair of broken-in jeans from the thrift store. The mismatched pair of socks comes with issues, and the broken-in pair of jeans comes with baggage. The jury is still out on which is better.

Full disclosure: I am a die-hard bargain shopper. I troll the clearance aisle like a beast. I buy and sell on E-bay, Craigslist, and got my dining room set from the Salvation Army. I never pay full-price for anything. Ever. I consider Groupon proof that there is a higher power. I have also scraped-up bargain-basement guys from the start of my dating career. My first kiss came from a guy who wanted to date me to piss-of his parents. Let me explain. And forgive me - this is high-school-drama-BS at its best. I was a band geek. I played the clarinet in the marching band. Many of my friends were fellow band nerds, and this story includes two of them - my friend Heather, the flutist, and Adam, the drummer. Adam was head-over-heels for Heather. The only real problem was Heather's boyfriend, Chris. In true teenage-girl logic, Heather thought the best way to get Adam to get over her was to set him up with me. It didn't take. We hung out a few times, and even went to the theater with his parents. Awkward doesn't begin to describe it. Enter Adam's older brother Jason, who was home from college on break. Jason and I hit it off, he gave me my first real smooch, and we dated for a short time. When we broke up he explained to me that his parents disliked me immensely, since they were under the impression that I was the one who had rebuffed Adam. Jason loved the idea of sticking it to his parents, and I was a means to that end. Some guys really know how to part ways on good terms, huh?  And from then on, I embarked on a journey of poor choices. And I'm not bitter at all. Jason was a terrible kisser, by the way.

These sandals, purchased on e-bay, have lasted longer than all of my relationships. Combined.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Why the clearance aisle?

 I am a recently-turned-40-year-old single woman of the never-been-married variety. And yes, I do own a cat. Everyone I know is married, soon-to-be married, divorced and remarried, or happily ensconced in a relationship where they don't feel the need to be married. I have gotten a lot of dating advice over the years, some of which I paid a crap-ton of money for. The latest flavor has been that I should try online dating. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who met their soulmate online. I have tried it in the past with extremely limited success, but I thought I'd give it another go. "What have you got to lose?"suggested a friend. Indeed.

I first tried one of the more popular free sites. I sweated over the profile essays. Will they think I'm funny, or cynical? Do I sound too desperate? Does this sentence say "send me a message" or "I'm a psycho hose beast?" The website also has the user answer questions and rate which answers they would prefer from a potential match. Your profile is compared against other people and you can see the answers to their questions as well. I answered over 100 questions, uploaded a few pictures, and waited for the messages to pour in. I'm a catch after all, right? Not so much. I have also returned to one of the sites that uses fancy algorithms to determine who your perfect match would be. In my opinion, all I am doing is paying to be rejected. It's a daily dose of soul-crushing reality delivered to your inbox.

What I have concluded after using these dating sites on-and-off for several years is that at my age, I am dating in the clearance aisle. You know, the aisle in every discount store that has the red-tag items that they can't seem to ditch. That's right. The people who were messaging me were just like the teddy bear with one eyeball, or the bag of mittens that are all left-handed. I was getting hit on by the cologne that smelled like feet, or the radio that only receives AM stations. Now, I'm not saying it's all bad. You can find some great stuff in the clearance aisle. Every once in a while you'll find a set of sheets that perfectly match your comforter. But, you have to do a lot of digging to find it.

The purpose of this blog is to share some of my experiences in the clearance aisle. Some stories are funny, some sad, some ridiculous, and some are disturbing. Several fit more than one of those categories. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm not the only clearance-aisle dater out there. And if others have stories like mine, it can be helpful to know that it's not us. Although lately I have been getting the distinct feeling that I'm one of those one-eyed teddy bears up on the shelf.

Someone in my family once told me that I'll never find someone decent if I use a picture of my cat on my social network page. So I'm including it here. He's a better cuddler than my last boyfriend. Just saying.