On Meeting People

Over a year ago, my friend Mary Margaret and I discussed our experiences as nannies. Today, we get into the physics of meeting people.

Dear Amy,

Why did you never have to online date? Okay, I don’t know that you never did. But it seemed that way knowing you as a coworker several years ago, and from all social media pics, updates, and blogs, which is how I’ve mostly known you since.

You have always seemed like you were dating some pretty great, sweet, creative man, that you guys had all sorts of great indie adventures, and that you never really struggled, as so many of us do, with finding a good guy. And now you are permanently with a great guy. I know I’ve only technically met Jason once, but I have a pretty great Facebook stalker eye, and I can tell you, Amy, he’s pretty great.

Clearly, I’m standing on the street peering into the candy store window, here. And surely all was not always a sharply written and edited, funny, endearing romcom for you, since you, and the gentlemen you’ve dated, are, you know, human. I guess that’s what social media does–makes us jealous of the illusions of others’ lives.

Still, it seems like it’s been harder for me. The reasons are elusive, though I regularly try to discover them with my therapist. I figure I must have some serious psychic wall up or some serious emotional fears, but it’s the guys’ fault too. I swear. I tend to find myself with men who think a relationship with me will negatively alter the trajectory of their creative life. For a woman artist who finds herself most creative when in the security of loving, stable relationships, these rejections are especially offensive. Or the guys just aren’t over their exes, and that sucks for anybody.

All this leads to where I am today. Which is online dating.

Online dating is a microcosom of life; you have to have a good attitude about it or nothing good will come of it. But it’s really effing hard to have a good attitude about it sometimes.

I’m not talking about the indignity of attempting to sprout the seed of my most significant, intimate relationship through the same interwebs where I shop for discount underwear, block pop-up ads, and that wasteland known as myspace still exists. That part you just have to get over. You just have to suck it up.

I’m talking about the hair gel. Amy, there’s so much hair gel on these guys. There are a lot of tee shirts with shiny, nebulous, almost Chinese-dragon-looking designs (these are usually worn at the club). There are a lots of pics of dirt bikes. There are a lot of selfies in bathroom mirrors. There are way too many pictures of dogs. Guys, as much as your pet can be an important part of your family, a pic of your dog is not a pic of you. I’m happy to see a pic of your dog, as long as the only other two pics are not you wearing sunglasses 50 feet away from the camera at a wedding in a pack of other best men and I can’t even tell which one you are and you looking out over the Grand Canyon on vacation with your back to the camera. I need to see you FACE. You’re not willing to show me a clear picture of your face but you want me to reach out to you so we can possibly become best friends and know each other more intimately than we know any other person?

And then there’s the personality synopsis. I guess I’m somewhat of a writing snob–a man’s written voice is important to me in a way I’m guessing it’s not for most ladies. So there’s some phrases that send me to the “archive” button real quick.

“Work hard, play hard.”

“I never know what to say in these parts.”

“It’s so hard to write about yourself.”

“I’m a hard-working, fun-loving guy and I’ll fill this in more later.”

And then there’s this one:

“I’m looking for a girl who doesn’t take herself too seriously. A girl who likes sports, and can just laugh with me and have a good time.”

This one really fucking gets me. What’s so wrong with taking life seriously? Life is a serious thing. What do you think? I hate to laugh and have a good time? Jackass, I just realize life is a messy mix of beauty and suffering, joy and devastation. And what I’m looking for is another human who is willing and happy to love me in the good times and in the times when things suck and things are hard and we hate each other. And I’ll do the same for him. And no, I don’t like a lot of sports. There’s no great speech behind why not. I just don’t. Except baseball. I like baseball.

There are some good guys on there. (A lot of them are highly active hiker/kayaker/rock climber types and I get tired just looking at their profiles). I’ve gone on some dates with them. But nothing has ever taken off yet. Usually what happens is that you find yourself on a date with someone you do match with on paper, you have a lot in common, you could talk to them for hours, and have a really good time, but there’s no romantic, sexual chemistry there. And while I’m certainly looking for a best friend, I’m also looking for a lover.

I continue to go on dates with guys I meet online. Because I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know from which direction my partner will appear, and I’m hopeful. But I admit, I do it somewhat to feel I’m at least doing SOMETHING while nothing happens more organically.

Love, Mary Margs

Hi Mary Margs,

Sorry it’s taken me a bit to respond to this. As it happens, I spent a while thinking you were asking for dating advice. I have a fair amount of that — albeit of the “do as I say, not as I did” variety, and I was working to make it reasonably coherent when I reread your letter and realized you’re asking for advice about MEETING people.

I’m not the best person to give advice on this particular topic. Mainly because I had a fundamentally unrealistic understanding of the physics of meeting people. I mean, on the most basic level I understood that I was not going to meet anyone just sitting around my apartment, but I think some part of me (perhaps the part that watched movies?) REALLY THOUGHT IT WAS POSSIBLE that some funny, smart, attractive guy was just going to ring my doorbell someday.

After I graduated from college, meeting men became more difficult than I could have imagined. I had an instinct that once you were done with school, you met people at work, but I worked in the basement of a university press (my “office” was the boiler room) and was easily twenty years younger than any of the men I worked with, who were also, it should be noted, married. Later, I got a job at a restaurant. In my experience, in restaurants, you meet a lot of sassy, charming, mid-twenty-something-ish women (I include you in this group, and, really, most of the women I’ve been friends with for more than a decade) and teenage boys. (Where are you working these days?)

THEN I started doing freelance editorial work. I lived in an old farmhouse on a dirt road, and, even if that funny, smart, attractive guy HAPPENED to come by, we didn’t even HAVE a doorbell. (This was around the time I stopped answering the phone and, honestly, if that guy had come and knocked, I probably would have hid in the bathroom.) At this time, internet dating was relatively new and had a horrible reputation. There were no compatibility quizzes, percentages, recommendations. At a friend’s behest, I signed up for the Onion’s personals. This resulted in me reading some profiles and feeling uncomfortable and ended when someone sent me a message saying he thought we could “make beautiful music together.”

Online dating has come a long way. Or so I have heard. My experience was in the paleozoic era. It struck me at the time, and still does, as an odd way to meet people.

So. You were hoping for suggestions, right? My advice is simple and terrifying: You have to go where people are. If the people there are doing something you like to do, that makes it even better. And then, you have to be fearless. You have to talk to these people. You have to keep an open mind. You need to quiet that middle schooler inside you who thinks that if you get shot down EVERYONE will know and they will never forget it. And you need to remember that dating is full of contradictions. You know no one is going to be perfect, but you don’t want to settle. You want to give someone a fair shot, but you don’t want to waste your time.

In terms of PRACTICAL dating advice culled from my own experiences, I don’t really have it. I met Jason because he started volunteering at the non-profit writing lab where I work. (I don’t want to tout this as THE place to meet people, but I WILL say there are a number of smart, kind, interesting, and community-minded boys who volunteer there, some of whom are even single. And yes, we are accepting applications.) Despite creating a persona (I sort of think of her as a “character” I play) at work who, at best (I hope) appears extroverted, fearless, and friendly, and, at worst (I hope) appears loudmouthed, too-talkative, and pushy, the truth is I’m an introvert, full of fear, and only a little bit ACTUALLY friendly. (I’m also loudmouthed, too-talkative, and pushy.) Lucky for me (MOST of the time), there’s alcohol. And in my experience, that helps. (Albeit with diminishing returns WHICH IS A LESSON I KEEP HAVING TO LEARN OVER AND OVER. Are you listening, Amy? Are you??)

Other than that, probably the best luck I had dating after college involved a car that continually broke down, forcing me to visit Enterprise Rent-a-Car regularly enough to get a crush on, get to know, and go out with one of the guys who worked there. So you could try that? Their motto is “We’ll pick you up,” which we found pretty hilarious for the two good years that we were together.

Are you still playing gigs? I WANT to say that’s a good way to meet people, but four years in an often-touring band taught me otherwise. (Why is that, by the way? Does anyone know?? The dudes in my band would have women falling over them, but the women in the band — and I have heard this from other female musicians — almost never got hit on.)

I don’t know if this is useful advice or not, but I want to say: There is no one person who is perfect for you. My mom, who’s been happily married for 43 years now, used to tell me that all the time. I was young, and I found it horribly depressing. But now that I am older, it’s comforting. I said a few posts ago that your choices don’t matter that much. Of course who you choose for a life partner MATTERS, but I think there are a good 10-20 possibilities in your general area who would yield basically a similar result.

You’re right: I did good. Jason is a catch. He’s nice to me and he makes me laugh and he’s a great father. But he also never puts anything away. When he comes home from work, he pulls his socks half off, and then walks around like that, with his socks just sort of dangling off his feet and his heels exposed. It takes him two hours to do almost anything (including running up to the corner store to grab something). When he cooks dinner, he manages to use every pot and pan in the apartment. I don’t know anyone as artistically talented as he is who does so little with it (outside of his job as a teacher). What I am trying to say is, he drives me crazy in these ways that feel VERY specific, but the fact is: I am sort of a loner, so sharing my space with ANYONE is challenging, and I also have gotten very bad at applying my own artistic talents, so I need a scapegoat. And so on. The “problems” I have with him are not HIS fault, they’re mine, and I’d find similar things to fixate on if I were with someone else. (I am, I feel the need to say, working on it, though, being a good partner.)

Basically, IF you want to have a partner for life, it comes down to knowing yourself, and figuring out what you can and cannot live with. I’ll save “the rest” of my hamfisted dating advice for another entry.

Or you could let me set you up on a date with the one seemingly decent single guy I know.

Love, Amy

Dear Amy,

Yes, when you’re young it’s somehow depressing to hear there’s no one person for you. It breaks your romantic heart. Now I think, THANK GOD.

I’m back working at Seva, where we met, only the Detroit location and a manager this time. Some of the good guys here are taken. Some are gay. Some are much younger than me (I got a little old in the last decade). And there’s the thing of being their boss.

I also work at a nursing home, wheeling wheelchairs, administering heart and dementia medications, wiping chronically loose stools from butts. Some of the male residents flirt with me, but they are invariably married and, you know, ninety. As yet, I haven’t met any available sons or grandsons.

So you are right. I must go where the people are. Go where people are doing things I like to do too. This part is fairly obvious and not that hard. It’s the next part. The part about being fearless and talking to people and staying open. Some people are gregarious, easy-going, and make fast friends wherever they go. These people are not me. Some people can enjoy another’s company without knowing exactly where things are going or what the future looks like. This is a skill I must develop. As much as I’d prefer to meet someone binge-watching Homeland on my couch, I realize I have to put myself out there. And preferably in the real world. Kind of a terrifying project, but at least I’ll meet some great new friends.

That nonprofit you work at sounds like a great place to meet people. If I get into nursing school at U of M, and therefore live in the area, I will definitely put in an application to volunteer.

So yes, set me up with that guy. Then if things go well we can do a momandnotmom on that dating advice you have.

Whoever things work out with will have to be okay with the fact that I too use every pot and pan in the kitchen when cooking. He will have to love me anyway.

Love, Mary Margs

 

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