No Shit Dating and Relationship Advice (Part II)

Do you shack up with people or fantasies?

[This is part II of an unknown numbered series.  Part I is here.]

Don’t have sex until you know the person you are having sex with

Revolutionary right?  That you might actually want to know the person you are having sex with.  But I have lots of personal experience having sex on the first, second or, at latest, third date.  I know I’m far from alone.  It’s almost never ended well for me and I’m pretty sure you’re no different.

A friend of mine said, “There is no such thing as casual sex.”  When we have sex, our bodies tell us, “You are now in a relationship.”  Our hearts and minds, on the other hand, haven’t had time to discern their feelings on the matter.  Maybe we’ll like this person, but maybe not.  Who knows?  I’ve jumped this gun many times, finding myself in a relationship with someone I barely knew.  Rather than confess my error, I slog away at relationships with women I have nothing in common with aside from anatomical compatibility, sometimes for years.  This problem would have been avoided had I known the people I was having sex with.

See people for who they are

As Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  Pay attention to people’s behavior, not to their words or who we want them to be.

We often can’t see people for who they are because of our ulterior motives.  Most of us think we are broken and believe we are unworthy of being loved.  When a datable girl or guy comes along, we create the fantasy “he/she is going to fix/complete me/make me lovable.”  With this fantastic pot at the end of the relationship rainbow, all of our observations are skewed.  We will believe words and look for actions that affirm the fantasy rather than observing actions that might directly contradict them.

In our fantasy land, our new partner—who might be someone we just met in a bar—can do no wrong.  We overlook her deeply bitten fingernails or his constant looking at other girls.  This is why online dating is problematic.  We literally don’t see anything.  All we have are words that people write about themselves; words that would be negated by 10 seconds of face-time.

These fantasies are often projected in a flash.  You see a guy with a tweed jacket and fantasize about reading books together in bed on Sunday mornings.  You see a girl with a backpack and imagine family expeditions to the Himalayas.  When we set up these kind of fantasies, it’s almost impossible for things to work out because no one ever lives up to our fantasies.

People are mixed bags.  We have healthy and not-so-healthy traits.  Ignoring either side shows us that we are disconnected from reality.  A good test of this is how often we use or think the words “always” or “never” in relationship to someone. “He is always so thoughtful.”  “She never considers my feelings.”  No one always or never does anything.

Healthy relationships and courtships are based on being with someone in reality, not in fantasy—loving and respecting the mixed bag that they are.  If you meet someone and they do something you don’t like, don’t expect that behavior to change.  Accept it or move on.

Don’t talk smack about your prospective partners

“There are no good men.”  “Women are crazy.”  “Gay men can’t commit.”  “Lesbian women are too dominant.”  When we say these things, it creates a lens through which we see the world.  Men cannot be good.  Women cannot be sane.  Gay men cannot be committed.  Lesbian women can’t be agreeable.  We think we have evidence, but the evidence is all collected looking through the lens.  Take off the lens.

The first step is stop saying these things.  It may take some work because we are often surrounded by people who agree with our contentions.  Many women surround themselves with other women who believe there are no good men.  Many men surround themselves with other men who believe women are crazy.  Maybe some time away from these people is in order.  Hang out with people who are in healthy relationships.  Barring that, don’t participate in the conversation.

No Shit Dating and Relationship Advice (Part I)

This could be you.

[This post got a bit long-winded, so I’m splitting it into 2, maybe 3 parts]

The issue of meeting a romantic partner has come up a lot in my life recently.  I talk to countless men who can’t meet good women or men, women who can’t meet good men or women.  Perhaps they are coming to me because I am (somewhat disbelievingly) in a healthy relationship with someone I am connected with emotionally and physically.  They want to know what we’re doing.

I’m no expert, but I know some basic things that do and do not work in relationships.  I was also single for a long time and had a certain facility meeting the opposite sex.  I figured I’d codify what I know.  These principles/guidelines are directed toward single people, but apply equally to people in relationships.

What do you want?

This is a huge issue for for both men and women.  We have no idea what we want.  Without that bearing, what happens is we meet someone and ask, “Does he/she like me?”  Or we settle for someone who likes us rather than going for what we want.

Rarely do we ask, “Is this what
I want?”

In these directionless relationships, a power balance inevitably arises.   As a friend said, “In every relationship there is a junkie and a pusher” (this friend was a relationship nightmare for the record).  The junkies wonder whether the pushers likes them and obsess about the pusher’s every action.  The pusher’s attention is their lifeblood; it’s where they derive their power.  The junkies diminish themselves, lie and generally piss away their lives in order to keep that power coming.

It’s hardly easier for the pusher, who most of us have been at some point.  The pusher’s narrative goes like this:  “I met/am dating/married to someone, but I’m not that into him/her.”  The pushers persist in these relationships, not because they like the other person, but because they derive power from the dependency—a power they likely lack in other domains of their lives.  But it’s a destructive power.  The junkie is in servitude.  The pusher is unfulfilled and neither party has what they want (unless you count not-being-alone as a desire).

A healthy dynamic is to treat meeting someone like making an important purchase.  For example, when we shop for a car, we get the best car based on our needs and budget.  We don’t purchase based on whether the car likes us.  Chances are most people will not be the item we want.  Find out what you want and don’t be afraid to shop around.

Don’t talk poorly about yourself

Don’t talk about your shitty job, fat ass or unfinished associates degree from DeVry.  It’s not funny.  It’s not disarming.  It’s not “real.”  It’s pathetic (I know because I’ve done it a million times).

Some self-effacing jokes are okay, but they have to be jokes, not veiled indictments against ourselves.  Be kind to yourself, or better yet don’t say anything about your character.  Let your behavior demonstrate who you are.

There is a caveat to this:  if you are looking for people who find comfort in mediocrity, by all means talk smack about yourself.

Don’t talk about your past

This is a tricky one because most of us are still embroiled in our pasts.  We have left wakes of physical and psychic damage from past relationships.  We haven’t cleaned things up.  We haven’t looked at our mommy/daddy issues.  If these things are the case, our pasts will inevitably come up in conversation.

Deal with your past.  Until you do, all your relationships will be condemned to a variation on a past-based theme. Continue reading “No Shit Dating and Relationship Advice (Part I)”

Guido the Great

The big sexy car that almost killed me.

I was on my cell the other day, pacing down a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn side-street on a lovely Tuesday afternoon.  As I meandered from one side of the street to the other, I heard a V8 engine growl.  A brand-new, black BMW 7-series was barreling straight toward me.

While physics has other ideas, I felt like I could crush this wannabe speed-racer and teach him a lesson about safe driving.  He approached doing about 50 mph.  I stayed in the street and stuck my foot out like I was going to kick his car, asserting my pedestrian power.

Kicking cars is a recurrent act that has resulted in one outright assault and several near-misses.  In truth, I am not that tough.  However my aversion to combat is often overshadowed by my righteousness.

Anyway, seconds after my air-kick, the dude (and you know it’s a dude), screeches to halt, backs up, stops the car, and starts shouting at me out of his window.  I hope he doesn’t have a gun.

“You do not kick my fucking car, motherfucker,” followed by additional, threatening oration that more or less built on this initial thesis.

“You were doing 70 mph and could have hit me,” I replied.

He let off a few more expletives and started to drive away.  I took out a pen and paper to write down his license plate number.  He saw this and didn’t like it.  He stopped again, got out of the car, and got in my face.

“You taking down my license motherfucker?”

“Yes, I am.”

“You do not want to fuck with me.”  This comment had more than a whiff of truth.  Here was a guy, one I imagined to be of Italian-American ancestry, who had the diction of a high school dropout yet was driving an $80K car and outfitted with the accoutrement suggesting he bought the car (Persol glasses, Rolex, well-fitting jeans).  I imagined his last name to be Gotti or Gambino.

“You do not want to fuck with me,” he reiterated.  “What you jus’ move to this neighborhood, motherfucker?  I was born and raised here motherfucker.  Get the fuck outta here.”

While I hadn’t ‘just’ moved here, I was indeed relatively new to the neighborhood, and I did not think this was a very nice welcome from a local.  And while I believed he was born and raised here, I wondered why he had a Pennsylvania plate (I assumed because insurance is a lot cheaper in PA.  Smart move).  I decided to table that question.

He got right in my face.  “You do not want to fuck with me. You do not want trouble.”

The Oscar for best portrayal of a tough-guy goes to David Friedlander.  As he stood inches away, I didn’t move.  I had a relaxed stance, with my chest out.  I didn’t move my arms.  My unblinking eyes locked on his.

We were both lucky.  I was in a very clear state that day.  Though I didn’t say it, he was not going to fuck with me.  I wasn’t going to let him put me in a bad mood. Continue reading “Guido the Great”

You Will Never Get a Break

In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine.  It was an epic journey.  I hated almost every minute of it.

The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it.  This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began.  I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer.  Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”

The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments.  There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures.  The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over.  As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time. Continue reading “You Will Never Get a Break”

Praxis of Evil

Not sure how relevant this image is to my story.

I moved 5 times between the ages of 8 and 16.  While some transform this type of peripateticism into an ability to adapt into any situation, I transformed it into a means to feel isolated in any situation.

My first move was from Park Forest South to Flossmoor—2 generic, south-side-Chicago suburbs.  The former was lower-middle class, mixed race; the latter middle-to-upper-middle-class, mostly white.  This move went okay.  I adapted to my 3rd grade class fairly well, making friends easily.

Things went to shit on the 2nd move when my mom couldn’t afford Flossmoor anymore and we returned to Park Forest South 2 years after leaving.  There had been a white flight in our absence and I entered the 5th grade 1 of 2 white boys in the whole class.  All the friends I had left in 2nd grade dissociated themselves from me.  I was beat up daily, ostensibly because of the color of my skin, but surely abetted by my obvious sense of not belonging.

The 3 other moves—to the north side of Chicago for 3 years, then back to Flossmoor for 2 years, then to Boulder, Colorado for another 2—were the same situation in different locales.  I would be the new kid.  I might make a friend, usually some socially maladaptive kid.  That friendship would run its course.  And because I was never part of any clique, team or group, I would be isolated again.

Isolation became my default setting.  For much of my life, I shirked the need for friends and girlfriends for long stretches, sure people would eventually reject me.  It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that it occurred to me that I liked and wanted people in my life.   Continue reading “Praxis of Evil”

Dames and Dumbfucks

Everything's cool man.

I shan’t mince words.  I’m a liar.  And exactly 2 years ago, my lies created a life where I felt like someone was pressing the butt of a broom handle into my chest all my waking hours.  I was in a relationship and living with a great girl.  She was cute, generous, worldly, punctual, committed.  But she was in a relationship with a liar (me) and we were fucked from the beginning.

The first lie was the most basic one:  I thought that she was, or someday would be, someone other than who she was.  I saw red-flags from our very first meeting.  I rationalized them away to perpetuate the idea of the relationship—something I wanted to believe in.  But rationalizations are not solid building materials for relationships.

The trouble, in short, was we had nothing in common.  Our politics, spiritual views, tastes, communication styles were often diametrically opposed.  I joked about these things at first, but as time elapsed and our incompatibility became more glaring, the humor evaporated.  These issues would come out in fights and feeble attempts at communicating, but I knew, underneath my ideas and rationalizations, the relationship was DOA.

One night in February 2009, we got into a fight.  It was the same fight.  She accused me of not wanting to spend time with her.  She was right.

I would typically cauterize the fight with lies that I wanted to believe were true, but knew were not.  This night, I couldn’t do it.  I knew this fight would go on as long as we were in a relationship.  I knew things would not get better.  I knew she was who she was and I was who I was and given that, we had to break up.

So I told the truth and was promptly asked to move out (it was her apartment so there was no question about who would leave).  She went for a walk and I stuffed as many of my things in a large duffle as I could.  It was a Tuesday night at midnight.  I was a bum, but one with a modicum of integrity. Continue reading “Dames and Dumbfucks”

Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Theresa has nothing on this woman. Image via blog.freepeople.comLongboat Key, Florida, where I hang out with my family every winter, is about an 1 1/2 hours from the Tampa airport.  On the drive, we pass through 2 tollbooths.  Growing up in suburban Chicago, these types of long, tollbooth-speckled drives were normal.  I decided as a child that working in a tollbooth would be the worst imaginable job:  performing a repetitive, mindless task while inhaling exhaust fumes.

My childhood assumptions have been replaced by an adult observation:  tollbooth operators seem inordinately happy—not just in contrast to my preconceptions, but happy in a standalone sort of way.  They are almost universally cheery, smiling and courteous.  This is not just a Florida phenomenon.  The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the GWB, Midtown Tunnel and other Tristate toll plazas are filled with damn happy folks.  Sure, there’s a surly cop manning the booth every now and again, but for the most part they are courteous, pleasant and cheerful.

I walk 3/4 of a mile every morning to work through my fancy Brooklyn neighborhood.  I typically do it around 8:15AM, right as children are going to school.  My walk down Clinton Street takes me past a couple crossing guards.  Like the toll operators, these women (and they’re all women) seem preternaturally happy.  They know most of the names of both parent and child.  They seem untroubled by the weather, which is pretty damn cold right now.

On the walk I pass many well-dressed people on their way to work.  Perhaps they betray a different affect at work, but going there they look pretty miserable.  Few smile.  Most have sad or anxious eyes.  If I smile or look at them, they don’t seem to know what to do and look away rather than smiling back.  Most of them wear headphones and/or are tapping away on their phones, sending texts or emails; their fixation punctuated by obligatory glances at the sidewalk.

I just finished reading an article by David Brooks in the New Yorker called “Social Animal.” The subheading is, “How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of life.”  The article uses an imaginary case study of a couple’s courtship and all of the neurological mechanisms that inform its development.  I can’t do justice to Brooks’s article, nor his argument (you should definitely read it), but I’ll tell you what I got from it.  It’s the same thing I get from seeing the smiling tollbooth operators and ebullient crossing-guards, people whose job is to interact with other people:  humans want and need to connect with one another. Continue reading “Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

We Are All Going to Die!

Watch video for perspective.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing, and enjoying, things that totally oppose our sense of aesthetic congruity.  For me, this happens every Tuesday at spin class.  Once a week I enter a glass-enclosed studio where 20-or-so of us pedal stationary bikes, showering sweat, while our instructor Elgin, a fun, femmy, tall and lean, dreadlocked dude, pushes us to exhaustion as top 40 music—Lady Gaga, Kate Perry, Rihanna (music I fortunately hear at no other time)—blares in the background.  It’s the human equivalent of a hamster wheel.  Lots of exertion and movement in a completely artificial environment.

The class is broken up into several portions that include hills, sprints, breakaways and flats.  Last night I felt good.  I was able to exert myself harder than normal.  This hamster pushed the wheel really fast. Continue reading “We Are All Going to Die!”

Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Madea and David Friedlander
Don't mess with me or Madea.

Yesterday I wrote a post about Peter the bore.  It was essentially a diatribe about his inauthenticity, his desire (and resultant failure) to impress, his lack of interest in those around him, and so on.  It was a warning to all the boring people in the world to straighten out and fly right.

I was pretty proud of myself for such lucid thinking, deconstructing the aggregates of boringness.  I thought I did a real mitzvah to all the bores or potential bores of the world.  They could read my post and reflect on and alter their behavior.

Last night, I headed over to my girlfriend’s where we were to have dinner with a couple friends.  I printed out my post, eager to serenade her with my mellifluous excoriation of the intolerable.

When I got to her place, I asked if I could read it to her.  She said of course.  I read it aloud and after the first few paragraphs I noticed something that I didn’t reading it to myself:  the author sounded really pissed off. Continue reading “Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post”

What Does the Company You Keep Say About You?

Friends to the (very near) end. Photo via good-times.webshots.com

Then

Big Pete was a rotund twenty-year-old with thinning red hair that reached down to his butt.  He sold and consumed copious amounts of cocaine.  He drove his Jeep on a suspended drivers license.  He gorged nightly on beef jerky shoplifted from 7-Eleven.

His roommate, The Captain, owed his name to his affection for Captain Morgan rum.  The Captain was a bald-on-top, mullet-down-below, goateed, beer-bellied, mid-forties, unemployed chef from Boston.  He sat around his apartment all day pulling bong hits, consuming Captain and Cokes and watching MASH reruns on the FX channel.

Pete and The Captain were my neighbors and, for all intents and purposes, my best friends. Continue reading “What Does the Company You Keep Say About You?”