Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year End Review

This is it … that time of year … the time of year for unbelievable post-Christmas sales, for making New Year’s resolutions that end up having a shorter shelf life than ripe bananas, for organizing crazy fun New Year’s plans that never end up being that crazy or that fun and … for enduring the dreaded OR welcome Year End Review (it’s all in the perspective, right?).

Yes, in the ensuing weeks, lawyers, bankers, marketers, you name it, will be called in to the head honcho’s office for a frank but diplomatic assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. “Sit down so and so, it’s time to discuss your accomplishments this year, and while we’re at it, we should address a few areas that could use some work ...” Gen X yuppies everywhere will find out whether they will get promoted, what their bonuses will be and/or whether they will be vigorously searching their contacts trying to locate the number of that persistent headhunter whose calls were of mild interest a year or so back.

What does this have to do with dating, you might ask? Well, just picture it – what if you could receive a Year End Review not in your capacity as an associate or aspiring managing director but as a single guy or girl about town with an active dating life, but possibly unfulfilling love life. Wouldn’t it be great if we could line up all of our love interests from 2009 and get a similar no-nonsense assessment of our strengths and weaknesses as a date, as a boyfriend/girlfriend, as a potential life partner ... You know, something like: “Suzie, you exhibited excellent conversation skills, but lackluster table manners.” Or perhaps: “Richard, if you could just try to work on the foreplay skills, you’ll be promoted in no time.”

This type of tough love feedback would be worth its weight in gold. Even if you disagree with the person’s take away (we all know colleagues who leave their year end reviews arguing against the collective wisdom of the firm/company/bank because they don’t want to acknowledge that they might not be the perfect employee) you would at least know that someone else perceived you that way. And while it may not have mattered with this prior paramour, the next time around it might be someone you really like who harbors the fatal misperception.

Unfortunately, unlike in corporate America, singles in the dating world are highly reluctant to provide truly candid feedback to one another. This is understandable, as the fear of confrontation is a strong one and, anyway, most good natured people don’t want to offend others so they opt for platitudes (e.g. “It’s not you, it’s me”). Therefore, bewildered daters are often left wondering “Why? Why didn’t I get the return call/the third date/the coveted invite to spend New Year’s together?”

So then, just how does one get answers to ensure that at the end of 2010 you don’t find yourself in precisely the same place as you were at 12:30pm on December 29, 2009? For the fantastic men and women who choose to become my clients, I am in the unique position of being able to pass on a tremendous amount of relevant and constructive feedback from a variety of sources. Of course, outside of seeking the assistance of a professional, there’s also the option of going straight to the source and asking the girls/guys you’ve dated for their honest constructive criticism. If you’re still friends, you might invite the person you were dating for coffee and, while assuring him or her that you have not entered AA, ask your ex-love interest what advice he or she would give you for 2010.

If you’re not in a position to reach out to an “ex” perhaps you can ask a family member whose opinion you trust or two or three friends who know you very well to: (1) share with you their assessment of what you might be doing that is leading to disappointment in your love life and (2) offer one piece of advice (or more) they would give you regarding what to work on for the upcoming year. We all know that, given the opportunity, we would have ample constructive critique to offer those we love. Can there be any doubt that the feeling is reciprocal among those who love us? Most people do not fully appreciate how they might be coming across to others. What better way for you to find out than by asking? And as the saying goes, knowledge is power.

So, here are a few pointers that might help in the conduct of the “Year End Review”:

  • Ask your ex-love interest/friend/family member, etc. to provide equally positive feedback to accompany the critique (this makes it an easier pill to swallow and reminds you that, yes, this person is your friend).
  • Emphasize that you are looking for specific examples in the feedback you receive – not vague generalities.
  • Try to elicit ideas on how you can make positive changes for the future.
  • Take notes.
  • Consume a lot of alcohol before and after (just kidding on this one).

If you embark on this path of self-discovery and improvement, it’s important to let your "reviewer" know that no matter what he or she says you are not going to get angry or hold it against him or her. Hearing honest, raw, unfiltered, critique can be the equivalent of being ripped open with a dull object and slowly being picked apart by vultures. It freakin’ hurts. I know – I have been lucky enough to receive such an unapologetic critique and, in light of what I do, I am the one giving such critiques on a weekly basis (though I always try to do it with a delicate hand).

The above exercise calls to my mind that famous line in A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson announces to the tenacious Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” I think it goes without saying that if you’re going to do this, you need to be able to handle the truth.

So, here’s a toast … to reviews, to the truth and to a knowledgeable, powerful, wonderful 2010.

Interested in receiving invaluable dating feedback, benefiting from image consulting, dating coaching, personalized introductions, events and more? Contact Marni at marni@sundayatnoon.com to learn more about becoming a client. Give yourself the gift of love in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Path To The Dark Side

All of my faithful readers know by now that I love New York, warts and all. As New Yorkers, we deal with extreme noise, extreme stress, extreme prices, extreme traffic … extremely small living spaces … and still we thrive. And we also choose to live here despite the various perils inherent in living in one of the world’s most important and highly populated cities. Nevertheless, we leave our apartments every morning instead of staying home for fear of what might happen on the way to the subway because we seem to recognize that you can’t let fear dictate your life (and we need to go to work so we can afford our expensive rents).

Indeed, as Mark Twain aptly noted, “Courage is not the lack of fear, it’s acting in spite of it.”

However, the truth is that when it comes to relationships and finding a life partner, many fearful New York singles simply don’t act. Their fear of the inherent dangers in dating paralyzes them into inaction and so they never (figuratively) leave the safety of their apartments’ four walls. Or, if they do, it is with enough body armor to withstand a full frontal assault. In many ways when it comes to dating these cynical New York singles act more like the cowardly lion – afraid to put themselves out there and see what might happen – than the tough, courageous stereotype of New Yorkers that the world has come to view us as.

And this makes sense in a way. New Yorkers are achievers, right? Achievers are not used to failing. Rejection = failing = not good. Therefore, it’s easier to act as if meeting and connecting with someone is not a priority and that other things are just more important (work, social life, etc.) than to proactively put yourself out there. This way you haven’t failed in your goal. Of course, there is also the real fear of even opening up to someone in this dog eat dog city. Add to this the fear of not being successful/thin/cool/good enough … you get the point. What if this other person learns that you are not perfect and then tells someone else about it – no one wants his or her cover blown. And, then there is one of the most paralyzing fears of all: the fear of making the wrong choice (“who knows if I commit to this person I might miss the opportunity for something bigger and better?”). The fear of settling for less than what you think you can get can keep one vigilant about not getting trapped into the wrong relationship … and it can also keep one from ever being in a meaningful relationship at all. Yes, in New York, bigger and better is always around the corner.

On top of all that, is the fear of getting screwed (of course, figuratively – not literally). If you have had enough bad dating experiences in this city it’s not surprising that a fundamental need for self-preservation kicks in. As corny as it may sound, dating can be scary. Especially if you really like someone. Getting rejected sucks, plain and simple. Being vulnerable sucks. If you’ve dated long enough, chances are you’ve been burned. You were too nice, too available, too trusting … too flammable. Taking a cautious approach or a preemptive stance certainly helps you avoid being burned again - e.g. "This time around, I won’t show I’m invested until he or she shows me.” or “This person might reject me? F – that – I’ll reject him/her first.” It’s easier to claim that you don’t care if the person you are starting to date chooses to walk away because there are plenty of other quality, good looking fish in this proverbial sea, than to let the catch of the day know you actually care for him or her.

Employing the foregoing attitude definitely helps prevent the arson attack but it also often leads to yet another night of meaningless interactions and lamenting your single status. It’s understandable that some people’s fears of not succeeding might keep them from even trying. It’s also understandable how many people would rather turn their frustration with dating outwards (and towards the opposite sex) instead of figuring out if it might possibly be something that they’re doing that keeps them from getting what they want.

But the point is to confront and surmount these fears. You might confront these fears by going to a party where you don’t know anyone (other than the host – not talking about party crashing here...), or by making it your objective to approach new people at events and not care if you occasionally get blown off (it happens to everyone) … or you might ask people who know you well for honest feedback about yourself and what they think you are doing that is keeping you from meeting the “One” (while the truth might hurt, you will be infinitely better off having heard it).

Of course, many people are in denial – they claim they don’t have any fears (all this talk of fear is far too “Dr. Phil” for them) and so they can’t even know how to confront them. With the New Year around the corner what better time than now to take a cold, hard look at yourself and ask some tough questions. Indeed, before you write your list of resolutions, how about writing a different list first – a list of what fears you have in regard to being in a relationship, getting married/not getting married and what you might be doing to prevent those things from happening. Because far worse than being indirectly called a scaredy-cat by some two-bit writer of a blog, should be the thought that you might be letting fear prevent you from getting what you want in life. And that would really suck.

Maybe it’s time for us all to watch Star Wars again.

[1] Nelson Mandela offered a similar definition of courage: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

[2] “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda.

Curious to know what Sunday at Noon is about and the services Marni offers? Contact Marni at marni@sundayatnoon.com to learn more about becoming a client. Why not give yourself the gift of love this year? Sunday at Noon: It’s completely confidential, it’s fun and it’s effective.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Naughty or Nice?

The holidays are right around the corner. As if it isn’t hard enough trying to figure what to give your father who has everything he could possibly want (otherwise, he’d buy it himself…) or what the going rate is for NYC doormen in a recession, now add to that the question “what gift is appropriate for someone you’ve only been dating a few weeks or a couple of months?” No gift? A card? A Starbucks gift card? (I do not recommend that one).

For couples who have just started dating this time of year is particularly difficult to navigate. Everywhere you go, you are reminded that the holidays are right around the corner (I kid you not, I was hearing “Jingle Bells” in Bed Bath & Beyond before Halloween). If only the three wise men were on hand to let you know what gift would put you in good standing and what gifts will result in charcoal in your stocking next year.

Yes, we know it’s not about the gift per se. As cliché as it may sound, whatever you give, it truly is the thought that counts. Especially now when the poor economy has made people take stock of what really matters. Still … there’s no denying that there are inherent expectations this time of year that, if not met, lead to disappointment, resentment and a notable lack of holiday cheer. And these expectations go well beyond the gift giving but also to plan-making (Geez, is New Year’s just 4 and ½ weeks away?) and staying in close phone/email contact when holiday travels take you to different time zones.

But let’s stick with the gift giving for the purposes of this blog which in some ways is the easiest part of the equation (knowing when it’s time to spend the holidays together, meet family, etc. now that can be a doozey). Obviously, if you’ve only had two or three dates, you’re safe with a “have a great holiday” sign off via email or phone and “let’s get together when you get back into town.” Past the token first few dates, though, things can get tricky. Of course, you can never go wrong with a nice card – even if it says a most generic “Happy Holidays – looking forward to spending more time together in the New Year.” Guys, this would do wonders for the new woman in your lives and it only costs $4.99. Even sending an e-card is better than nothing.

But what about the actual gift giving? What should one get? As any jaded dater can figure out, if you pick out a gift that is too lavish too soon you run the risk of scaring off your new paramour. On the other hand, if you refrain from placing anything under the tree (or near the menorah), then you also send a message which you hope is appropriately timed (e.g. “it’s too soon for this gift giving thing” – that’s fine if it’s three weeks, probably not going to fly with the ladies after three months).
[1] Ok, ok, so, yes Guys, for purposes of this blog there has already been some level of intimacy (I know the guys are thinking when contemplating theoretically what would be an appropriate gift: "have I seen her naked? Have we slept together?" Girls are wondering "is he calling every day?" These things do factor into the equation). Continuing with the questions… what gifts show thoughtfulness and appreciation for the other person, what gift might send the wrong message?

If you are in the beginning stages of a relationship, the gift should most likely be relatively small – as we all know, you could very well be broken up next week and here you are having given a pricey Tiffany’s bracelet to someone you may very well never talk to again. In my opinion, books are a perfect small gift (as least for guys) in a new relationship assuming the object of your affection likes to read as they are something someone can potentially have forever. And you never forget the person who gave you a book that really impacted you. In addition, if you give your new romantic interest a book that you really love, it can also be a way for that person to get a better sense of who you are as well as provide a way for you two to connect even more. Other good gift items for guys could be cigars, a good bottle of wine or liquor, boxers, cool cufflinks, a gift certificate for a hard core Swedish massage at his gym, CDs to learn Italian if he’s been talking about wanting to get in touch with his Latin heritage … or any gift that shows you’ve been paying attention and were thinking of him.

For women, you could also try books (Guys, if you’re not sure where her interests lie, casually check out what’s on her bookshelf next time you’re over) though I think some women would find this gift not to be romantic enough (if there are no books in her apartment that might be a good clue not to do your shopping at Barnes and Noble). Maybe consider nice gloves and a matching scarf so she can wear them and tell people you picked them out for her. Even a quality picture frame might also work (it has the hidden message that she might fill it with a picture of the two of you someday) … or you might really impress her if you notice that she is in need of something and fill the void before she gets the opportunity (i.e. noticing that she is running low on her perfume, etc.). Most women I know are always in need of good body lotions (ask a good girlfriend what a desirable brand is – Dove is probably not going to earn you any points). This is a gift that has a dual impact – it’s slightly sensual but also practical. Nice candles could also be a good gift and they can be used to set the right ambiance on a cold winter’s eve.

While artistic, handcrafted jewelry could also be a great gift (a new boyfriend once gave me a relatively inexpensive but very cool pair of earring from a new jewelry designer that I loved for the holidays – it was a perfect gift), I would be very careful about giving any jewelry unless you are pretty confident about your new girlfriend’s taste – you’d hate to have your gift sit in the jewelry box all year or worse regifted in a Secret Santa office swap. And just as I suggested for the men, what woman wouldn’t appreciate a gift certificate for an hour massage at a nice NYC salon or spa (maybe pass on the Swedish massage and opt for hot stone therapy)?

These are all relatively inexpensive gifts that are not charged with too much symbolism but also show you are invested on some level.
[2] Whatever the gift is that’s being shared, I think we can all agree that as long as the other person’s trying, he or she gets the green light (no matter how far from your taste the gift might be, try to keep in mind that old expression regarding looking a gift horse in the mouth – generally not a good idea as they have very bad breath).[3] Hopefully, you’ll have another whole year for your new guy or gal to get to know your taste – and possibly a lifetime together to get this whole gift giving ritual down.

Readers, if you have any good suggestions for thoughtful, inexpensive gifts for members of the opposite sex, please feel free to post them (and stories of interesting/inappropriate holiday gifts are also welcome for a good pre-holiday laugh).

[1] For starters, there should be open communication on this topic. You never know if the other person is also planning to show his or her excitement over your budding romance with some token of his or her affection. I think most people agree that they hate being taken by surprise when someone presents them with a gift and they are caught empty handed. One suggestion is to say to your new love interest, “hey, I picked you up something small. Nothing big at all, just something I think you’ll like.” Now he or she has been duly warned. Similarly, if you don’t “do” gifts during the holiday season (perhaps you don’t agree with the commercialism of the holidays), it’s also important to let your new significant other know. That way there is no misunderstanding or hard feelings.

[2] If you have some special skill where you can make a gift for your sweetie, even better. But if your one skill is making wood plate holders with a ceramic center (a la 7th Grade Home Ec.) you might want to hold off another year or two … or indefinitely.

[3] Ok, I know you’re busy this time of year… I’ll save you the effort of having to click onto the link: “[t]he value of a horse is related to its age - i.e., a younger horse is more valuable than an older horse. You can determine the relative age of a horse by inspecting its teeth. Back in the day, a horse was commonly given as a gift. If a man received a horse as a gift, and then inspected inside its mouth, he was trying to assess the value of the gift he received. So, the saying means that you should not assess the value of any gift that you receive; rather you should be thankful for the thoughtfulness of the gift-giver.”

Curious to know what Sunday at Noon is about and the services Marni offers? Contact Marni at marni@sundayatnoon.com to learn more about becoming a client. Like all good things this time of year, holiday discount available through December 24th. Why not give yourself the gift of love this year? Sunday at Noon: It’s completely confidential, it’s fun and it’s effective.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Peter Pan Lives on Perry Street (and his cousin, Paula, lives on Prince)

Ah, New York. Unlike any other place in the world. The ridiculously expensive shops, top tier entertainment, VIP nightlife, the constant energy and distractions … one big playground for high salaried adult-kids whose sense of age and aging would make Ponce de Leon think that there is definitely something in the water.

Now, I know it’s not just New York that has delayed the aging process. Haven’t you heard? All over the country 40 is the new 30, 30 is the new 20 and 20 is the new … ok, wait a minute… Anyway, you’re right - more people everywhere are going for graduate degrees, delaying marriage, living longer, etc.

But there is something about New York that is different. A feeling. A sense of control over one’s own child-adult transition, timing and destiny. A belief that you can be a kid for as long you want until the one day you decide (if you want, we all know people who never make this decision) that you’re done playing and you would like to now be a real life, certifiable adult. An official “Grown-Up.” Until then, however, there are a lot of trees you would like to climb and uneven bars you would still like to frequent. And, as all residents of Gotham City
[1] sure as hell know, there will always be an ample and steady supply of other Lost Boys more than willing to play with you. Whether you are 21, 31 or 51.

And you may ask why it’s anyone’s business when you choose to grow up. Who’s to say you can’t go out until 3 in the morning or that you can’t do 4 shots of tequila - as long as you are at work on time the next day it’s really not an issue. You get the job done. And done well.

Maybe it’s no one’s place to judge the oftentimes hedonistic and incredibly social lives we lead in New York – it’s certainly not mine. But the one thing that I can tell you, from the countless conversations I have with unattached New Yorkers (how do you like that as a synonym for “single?”), is that when it comes to relationships, this false sense of eternal youth can in fact be very dangerous for NYC singles ...

Dangerous? Yes, dangerous. More so than Barney’s Warehouse Sale. As always, I will elaborate.

New Yorkers tend to be achievers with the salaries to match the drive. They tend to take care of themselves and have the money that it often requires to look good – and younger. They tend to have active social calendars and are not sitting on the couch watching reruns when they could easily be at a gallery opening, a new culinary hotspot, or a friend’s Penthouse party. So when you look good, feel good and have more event invitations than you could possibly attend, dates scheduled than you can possibly keep track of or hookups pleasantly repeating themselves in your mind than you care to admit, it’s easy to get lost in a time warp. But oftentimes when a sociable single finally comes to realize that he or she is tired of the “carefree” single life (been there/done that) and wouldn’t mind some cares (kids, a house, and so on) it is often at a point where so much valuable time has passed that Jane or Joe Single suddenly looks in the mirror and exclaims “Holy *%!@*! How did I get here?”

This phenomenon is extremely common with NYC women, but men are certainly not immune (more on this in a moment). Anywhere else in the country (save LA or maybe one or two other urban areas) a single 30 year old woman is considered a virtual spinster. Here, no one looks askance at a group of 30 year old “hotties” out on the town looking to meet boys – they are considered to be in their prime dating age, really. However, as you might imagine, flash forward a quick 6, 7 or 8 years (yes, they go fast) and many of these same girls are very anxious to get married. Sure, they had a tremendous amount of fun dating casually, going out with the guys who weren’t good/right for them and possibly partying their fair share. Or maybe they’re “unattached” because they held out for Mr. Perfect until they realized that Mr. Perfect does not exist. Or maybe it’s because they were completely focused on excelling in their careers and it seemed as if there was all the time in the world to think about having babies. But they now realize the window to have a family is closing a little more each day. Often these women look great for their age (like many women in Manhattan do) and they don’t feel old by any means. But they have come to realize that, unfortunately, the human biological clock wasn’t set specifically for Eastern Standard Time. And, so for many of these women, dating is no longer simply dating. It has changed into a vetting process that is loaded with expectation, disappointment and frustration.

And, of course, the Big Ben reality isn’t lost on the men either. Yes, the men tell me, they want to be married and have kids. But not tomorrow. “She’s [x] years old? She must want kids as of yesterday. I want to be dating the person I am going to marry for at least a year. Then I want to be engaged for a year. Then I want to be married for at least two or three years before I have kids. So what is she going to do about having kids at [insert age]? My cut off is 36”. And you thought only women had these timelines in their heads! I literally had a conversation that went exactly this way the other day with a guy I never dreamed would have such a fixed time schedule.

If women could only hear the things I hear. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Ladies, but being in the know helps me to convey information that can hopefully make a difference in some sassy single sister’s dating decisions. Message to the Women: You do not want to be a Paula Pan.

But before you get too smug, guys, please know that Peter Pan is not so sexy either. Many women are skeptical of a guy who is 40, 45, 48, etc. and never married and some women I know even refuse to be introduced to “those guys.” To them, it is a major, major indicator of skeletons in the closet, commitment phobia and/or a lack of desirability in general. Maybe there are enough women who overlook it, but there are plenty who will not.

And then there is the “able dad” issue. I met a guy who was 51 who told me that he still wants to have kids and so he only wants to meet women 37 or younger. I tried to break it to him that most 37 years olds don’t want their husbands in Depends when their kids are in college. Of course, I conveyed the message with more sensitivity (btw, I did not take him on as a client) … that was a year ago and he is still single and one year closer to his senior citizen discount. But he would not budge on age, consider dating a woman with kids or ever consider the thought of adopting. And for what it’s worth, let me remind my guy readers, your sperm ain’t immune from wrinkling either. See my Don’t Shoot the Messenger Part II blog (May 2009) for more on this. You have to wonder – why the hell did this guy wait so long? Because he drank the Kool-Aid, of course.

Ironically, these same New Yorkers who are uber-driven and focused in their careers/social lives frequently take a laissez-fare approach when it comes to their loves lives and often completely drop the ball. Indeed, these singles think that if they simply appear at a large number of social events per month they've done what they need to do and Mr. or Miss Right is going to magically turn up. You would not network for a high powered law firm or banking job at a local pub or leave beginning the preparation of a pitch to snare a top account to an hour before your meeting, so why would one assume he or she can take a comparably unfocused approach to finding a life partner? It seems like an obvious statement, but singles need to think strategically about dating. If they took a more focused approach to meeting their potential future partners (whether with the expertise of a service or just engaging in more deliberate dating in general) they would likely find that they can avoid the Captain Hooks of dating’s Never-Never Land.

New York is a wonderful city and it’s a lot of different things to many different people, but it’s not a children’s fairytale. And most would say that’s a good thing … after all, growing up’s not so bad.

[1] Ever wonder how New York got this nickname? Apparently, it was “first used by Washington Irving and others in the Salmagundi Papers, with satirical reference to Gotham, England, where the wise men acted as fools in order to avoid paying for the king's upkeep.” See http://www.answers.com/topic/gotham-new-york-city (also addresses the Batman reference)

[2] I imagine most readers are aware of the unfortunate background story to this now common expression, but for the curious, you can find answers at the always informative Urban Dictionary site. See http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=drink+the+kool-aid

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Down From the Hills

Be prepared, Readers … the Sunday at Noon Blog is going sexual. Ok, don’t get too excited, we’re not talking Kama Sutra, but there are real issues to be raised and explored. How, after all, can the topic of sex be divorced from dating in NYC anyway? And we might as well throw the topic of money in there too…

So for this week’s cerebral sexual blog, the pressing question being raised is: What is a cougar? Where did this term come from? How old does a woman have to be to be considered a cougar? How large does the age difference in the liason have to be for the term to apply? (e.g. 38 year old woman with a 36 year old guy – applicable?) … Does the woman have to be “hot?” Does she have to be financially successful? Is she someone so desperate for food she has to go out and get it when it used to come to her or is she a smart, confident woman who is simply comfortable ordering what she wants off the menu? Is being called a cougar an insult or a compliment?
[1] Does its invention signify a positive turning point in the recognition of women’s sexuality or is it a disparaging, derogatory view on women as they age?

Though I personally had never heard of the term until two years ago, my understanding is that this term has actually been around quite a while. Now, through the media and Hollywood examples such as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, it’s the connotation that’s changing. To provide a window into the parameters of this term, the following definitions of a “cougar” are among those offered in the Urban Dictionary:

An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or
milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity -- particularly the true hotties -- as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.

A 35+ year old female who is on the "hunt" for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar in San Francisco (or other cities) waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path. "Man is cougar's number one prey."

An attractive woman in her 30's or 40's who is on the hunt once again. She may be found in the usual hunting grounds: nightclubs, bars, beaches, etc. She will not play the usual B.S. games that women in their early twenties participate in. End state, she will be going for the kill, just like you.

A woman who is 35+, sexually cunning, that prefers to hunt rather than be hunted.

The proffered definitions go on and on, but I think you get the point. What came to interest me most was not so much the specific definition of the term (starting age 30 vs. 35 … or is that a “Puma?) though that is also quite intriguing, but even more so the term’s implications for the concept of women & sexuality.

So much has changed in the past few decades in regard to men and women’s roles in the “dating” game. In times past, you had a prescribed way that men should act and that women should act and, though it was founded on a system of inequality, it made for easy guidelines. Here you go, Readers, this is where the sex and money come in.

Often I hear from men who tell me that they do not want to be with women who are looking to “date a wallet.” These male friends, acquaintances, clients, etc. complain about women expecting the man to pay for everything when she may make equal or more than he does. I have had several requests from men and women to write a blog about this topic (e.g. at what point in dating should the woman start paying for things? What should she pay for? How often?) - and rest assured it is in the line-up (timely, baseball reference for fun. Go Yankees!).

Some might respond to the men who lament this feeling of being expected to pay for things, “But you are the man. The Provider.” In fact, I know some men who will not let a woman pay for anything in their presence. Whether the woman is their friend, their sister or their love interest. It is just their personal guy code of conduct. And they are not “old” (many of these guys are in their late 30s/early 40s) or even that wealthy (certainly, they are successful, but not moving around on their lear jets). I know there are guys reading this shaking their heads, branding these guys pushovers and thinking NFW.

So while the guys are rebelling against a set of rules that used to work when their fathers (accountants, businessmen, etc.) were courting their mothers (nurses, teachers, [insert any profession previously viewed as a “woman’s profession” and for which women were paid significantly less]), women are also responding to a set of rules and roles generated in an age that treated women as “less than” and which also no longer works. Society has changed. Because women are more career minded than they were twenty and thirty years ago they are marrying later and, as a result, there are more single women in the 30+ age group. It’s an aspect of our culture that is very different than it was in the 60s, 70s or 80s. The sexual revolution that started in the 60s didn’t wrap things up in a nice and neat bow. Rather, it paved the way for change but there’s no doubt that the path is still under construction.

Let me elaborate. Despite the strides made in many other areas - workplace, politics, etc. - men and women often still do not stand on equal sexual footing. Women’s sexuality is often still seen as a prize to be taken (gotta love the old adage “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”), and there can still be the lack of understanding of reciprocity - i.e. the concept that most women enjoy sex as much as men and that plenty of women would sometimes like to have sex/intimacy simply for sex’s sake.
[2] So if the man wants to be the “hunter” but the woman has zero desire or need to be “chased,” or in fact might do the chasing herself, then she has altered the “man’s role.”[3]

This is revolutionary in many ways and it brings with it the associated defensive judgments when the status quo is threatened (i.e. the words in the Urban Dictionary definitions listed above re: cunning, calculating, etc.).[4] An effort to categorize this type of female behavior. Therefore, it’s important to note that the term is not applicable to a younger female (let’s say 25) who is on the hunt. That girl might be called desperate or easy … it seems that the green light on a robust sexuality has to be associated with an older, more experienced woman to be seemingly sanctioned.[5] Though one of my guy contacts recently told me that he has seen several 20 something years old sporting "cougar in training" t-shirts. Perhaps this suggests that even younger women in their 20s are embracing the concept of a strong, aggressive, and financially self-sustaining persona.

Of course, if you look at any of those definitions I listed above from the Urban Dictionary, you’d be describing most of the men hanging out at a bar in NYC on any given night. What term is applicable for the old dudes hitting on the 20 year olds? Vultures? Or the young guys chasing tail – dogs? (who will hump just about anything put in their path – your leg, a stuffed animal, the cat…). Sorry guys, I love you but you know it’s true.

Being called a cougar may or may not be considered a compliment - is it the equivalent of saying to a woman that she is officially “old” or is it an appreciation for a woman who is comfortable in who she is and who brings some life experience to the table? - however, the more I analyze the term I find that the creation of this concept is in fact a positive development and reflects the continuing evolution of the recognition of a woman’s sexuality.

The strong sentiment that many men feel that women should be contributing more to the financial equation and women’s rejection of being held to a sexual double standard are just two examples of the shift in norms that is turning the dating world upside down. And rest assured, this blog will tackle many more examples of this shift in the weeks and months to come. It’s clear to anyone in the industry or in the trenches that the Rules of Dating are being rewritten and, unfortunately for those who find it all quite perplexing, the release date for the new edition is still undetermined …

[1]An article I came across about “Cougar” Singles Parties quoted many women embracing the
term. "'Me, a cougar? I love hearing that,' she purred, flashing a mane of blond hair and a white smile." See http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/18/LV23156LPD.DTL.

[2] I haven’t had an opportunity to watch Courtney Cox’s new show “Cougar Town”, but I understand that one of the main characters breaks up with her younger love interest after he proclaims his love for her.

[3] Someone recently told me a story where a friend of his spent the night with a “cougar” who then rolled over in the morning and stated with a smile: “good morning, my little cougar snack.” Embellishment or truth, I have no idea, but still it’s pretty funny.

[4] And it’s important to note that, as many people understand the term, a cougar is a woman who isn’t looking for a guy to support her financially. In this definition, she doesn’t need the guy to pay for anything – she may even be the sugar daddy in the duo.

[5] Also, you probably wouldn’t call a 45 year old woman who “hunts” a 46 year old man a cougar. They would just be two people having sexual relations, dating, what have you. It seems that there is a judgment in the term “cougar” of a younger male not being safe because of a woman’s overt and unchecked sexuality.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dracula, May I Introduce You To Elvira?

In case you weren’t checking your calendar lately, Halloween is next Saturday.[1] This statement may elicit a large grin from my readers who relish the opportunity to dress up in their most outlandish costumes and get their sugar fix for the year. Others may react with a shake of the head and a sigh, thinking “great, another Amateur Night just like New Year’s Eve” (not, of course, if you are making it to my Halloween Bash as anyone who knows me knows I take pride in throwing upscale and fun parties).

Oh, that’s right, and if you’re a male reader, you may also be thinking “are you kidding, I can’t wait to see all the cute girls running around in their skimpy hot nurse costumes.” For the men, on this night, less is definitely more. I started my Halloween costume shopping the other day at one of the huge Halloween supershops and stood in amazement at the bags and bags of skimpy costumes that would make any hot blooded male grin. Super-sexy French maid, sexy policewoman, sexy ladybug, sexy popsicle
[2] … I would love for someone to ask a woman what her costume is and have her respond matter of factly: “I’m just going as plain hot.”

And I had to laugh the other day when one of my friends (who is in her late 30s and in killer shape) recounted her recent Halloween costume shopping experience with her mother and her aunt. The screening process consisted of mom and auntie tossing back the ones with too much material and pulling out the tiniest of costumes for her to adorn. Her mother, who used to implore her to cover up, has adopted a philosophy that is in essence: you’re in the market for a husband, after all, and this is the one day you can get away with flaunting what you got.

In my view, the interesting thing about Halloween from a single person’s perspective is that you meet people stripped of their day to day attire and, therefore, the normal assessments typically at play are missing (e.g. observing whether someone is a conservative dresser, prepster, fashionista, etc. and making the corresponding judgments we all tend to make). For one night, everyone is on an equal playing field so to speak. So, the guy wearing the very masculine construction worker costume might be completely different in real life, but for tonight the ladies are lining up to check out his hardware (note to men – dressing up as a woman could be the least sexiest costume out there. Have fun borrowing your sister’s dress but don’t expect your purse to be overflowing with numbers). And of course, if someone is wearing a mask for the entire night then he or she might give you a real spook when you meet for your mocha latte.

Moreover, let’s not overlook the fact that Halloween can be a Freudian wonderland where concepts and images that would typically only play out in dreams or the subconscious are brought to life on the streets of Manhattan. Whether he recognizes it or not, the straight-laced lawyer who dresses up as Ozzy Osbourne probably chose a costume that speaks to his inner fun side as much as to his appreciation of the music. But let’s not overdo it – sometimes a pitchfork is just a pitchfork.

If your forte is your creativity, of course, this is your moment to shine. As we all know, a costume that makes everyone think “now, why, didn’t I come up with that!” gets a lot of attention (in the right way). And of course, it provides an incredibly easy opener for someone to strike up a conversation. Something to think about as you get your creative juices going.

Of course, getting into the character is also half the fun and can be very strategic. If you’re Scarlet O’Hara you can seduce with your sexiest Southern belle accent. If you’re going as Michael Jackson and you can actually do the Moonwalk, kudos to you. Just be careful not to overdo it. I remember a few years ago, I met one guy at a Halloween party who was dressed as Billy Idol. Until I realized that his giving me the finger was part of his “costume,” I was not a fan.

So, instead of waiting until the last minute to throw your costume together, why not take a moment to put some real thought into it? Who knows – it may significantly help you increase your chances of winning over that sexy vixen in the Superwoman costume or that bad boy Gangster by the bar. And maybe next year you’ll be going as Bonnie and Clyde, Hans Solo and Princess Leia, Adam and Eve, or even Plug and Socket (yes, listed as one of the most popular for 2009) … ok, you get the picture.

Happy trick or treating!

[1] I am pretty confident that my erudite readers are aware that Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, but if you were curious to read about how this ghoulish day was celebrated before the advent of candy corn and shaving cream, the History Channel’s website provides an interesting (and short) account. See http://www.history.com/content/halloween/real-story-of-halloween

[2] This is really not a stretch. I actually saw a costume for a Sugar Baby that consisted of a teeny-weeny skin tight dress with just a picture of a Sugar Baby on it. Really?

[3] And she’s right on some level – Mother Superior may be a comfortable outfit but it’s not necessarily going to be a guy magnet.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sing It, Billy …

The other day I started doing some clinical research regarding online dating. To be frank, it isn’t that complicated and I won’t be getting any grants for it. I simply set up a bare bones profile (no photo, no commentary) so that I could search both Match and JDate freely and I was off to search to my heart’s content (Yahoo Personals, Plenty of Fish, The Right Stuff, etc. will be next in the research project).

Initially, I was going to read “x” amount of profiles (300, 400, etc.) so I could ascertain certain statistics regarding (1) what people were writing about themselves (e.g. how many men write “I work hard and play hard”
[1] or how many women write my other favorite “I am as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt as I am in a little black dress) and (2) what people are writing regarding their “ideal match” (e.g. the limits of age difference the majority of people are ok with, how many people are ok meeting a smoker, etc.).[2]

[Note to my loyal readers – while we all know people who have had great success with online dating and have even met their spouses, we also know many others have found it to be a tremendous waste of time. This particular blog is addressing solely the latter experiences.]

Back to my research. While I was perusing the profiles of various singles, I came across several profiles of guys who contacted me when I tried on-line dating five years ago. Of course, it’s not an indictment of their desirability that they were on the same sites again – it’s possible that several of them were in serious relationships between now and then and just got back on. Ok.

But what truly galled me and served to remind me why, after the minimal trial period, I was off Match and JDate faster than you can say “I want my $39.99 back” was the fact that these guys had the SAME photos up as they had FIVE years ago. Now, it could be that they have not aged one bit in the past five years and that they look exactly the same. It’s also possible that the parents of the kid in Colorado really thought he was in the balloon when it “accidentally” lifted off.

As would be expected, I came across profiles of a sizeable number of people I know (I hate to feel like a peeping tom, but when you put your profile online you know it is out there for the world to see). As I read their profiles, oftentimes I would mentally exclaim: “This is so right on! Well done, Joe!” or “I love Jane. She really describes herself perfectly.”

And other times I would come across profiles with “not accurate” information such as:

A guy saying he is 44 when I know he graduated from high school the same year as my friend … who is 48.

A woman saying she is 34 on Match when she is at least 39 (on JDate she is 37) (Note to online daters: if you’re gonna lie, try to keep it consistent or it might blow your cover. Many people are on both JDate and Match).

A guy writing extensively about how he loves his job in private equity and has little spare time when I know that he was, unfortunately, laid off seven months ago (and has not yet found a new job).

A woman describing herself as petite when she is significantly overweight.

A guy writing that he lives in NYC when he no longer does (perhaps he has just forgotten to update his profile – is that the same as a lie?).

A woman listing that she speaks a language that I know she does not (so that she can meet someone who does).

A guy listing that he has a certain level of education that he does not (something people would not typically question because he is quite
successful financially).

Non-truths small and large. And for the sake of all the NYC online daters out there, I am going to “out” these twisters of the truth right here:

On Match, Greeneyes35 really has brown eyes.
On JDate, Fun4You is really very dull.

Just kidding.

But seriously, after reading all of these profiles, I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Honesty” … The online dating anthem.

If people actually wrote the truth in their online profiles, what a wonderful thing online dating would truly be.
[4] The answer to all single people’s prayers. I think I’ll just order up a great looking, smart, successful 38 year old, with dark hair and a keen sense of humor who is athletic and toned, has a passion for art and loves boating.

But as anyone who has tried online dating knows, when “great looking, smart, successful 38 year old, with dark hair and a keen sense of humor who is athletic and toned, has a passion for art and loves boating” shows up he is in fact 44, with virtually no hair, a decent belly, has not been to a museum in 10 years and has been boating once in his life … but he did love it.

While a good number of people who are online state that they are looking for a relationship when, in fact, they are really looking to simply go on countless dates/hook up, the following questions are directed at those who are truly looking for the “One” - i.e. for the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with and share all that life has to offer (the tragedies, the bliss, the mundane). Why are they not being honest in their profiles and instead presenting themselves to their potential future spouses with information that is just not true?
[5] What do they think they have to gain?

As can be expected, the most common complaint I hear by far from men about on-line dating is that women just do not describe their physique accurately and that they do not post accurate photos. I simply don’t understand why if you’re a woman who is overweight and the guy states clearly he is looking for a slender/thin woman you would want to be deceptive in your description of yourself and/or your photos? Do these women think that once they get the chance to meet the guy he will suddenly change what he is attracted to? Ultimately, what is more likely to happen is that he is going to meet you in person, be annoyed that you weren’t honest and wasted his time and not contact you again. I’m sorry, this is just the truth.

There are plenty of guys who will like the real description/photos you post – and when you meet for your date they are going to think you look even better in person! And that is always a great thing. In fact, I know of one woman with a lovely J-Lo booty who got tired of seeing men’s crestfallen faces when they arrived on their online generated dates. She then decided to put up a picture of herself in a wetsuit and … you guessed it – she met her now husband online (true story).

And men, if you’re annoyed at the women for not being honest about their weight, it’s high time you stop showing photos of yourself when you were in college with a full head of hair when you know you now look more like Samson after he lost to the Philistines. It’s not to say that she won’t like you if you’re balding a little (or a lot) – it may very well be fine by her. But what’s not ok is showing a picture you know is inaccurate (oh, and also lying about your height) and thinking it’s irrelevant. And, by the way – if you do “tweak” the truth on the height, hair, etc., then you really have no right to be annoyed when she fails to meet the “active and in shape” description you thought you had made very clear was a requirement.

Ok, the age issue. What I came to see in my research is that both men and women lie about this. I understand that if you are above a certain age you may get bypassed simply because the age group you are looking to meet is putting a cap that leaves you out in the cold. And I know that some people think that this is just an innocent "white lie" to get them in the door and then they will come clean. But I know for myself that if I learned that someone lied to me about his age (in person or in a profile) I would not go out with him again no matter how much I originally liked him. Readers? Bueller? Bueller?

It’s hard to think that people can have a solid relationship when it starts off with some level of dishonesty. The odd thing is, a good number of people who feel comfortable tweaking the truth online are otherwise generally honest people in real life. After enough online dates (or enough research) you come to understand that many online profiles are not so much a reflection of what people really are, but rather what they aspire to be.

[1] This would also include its cousin “I work hard and play harder.”

[2] I actually really enjoyed reading through the profiles. Many times I wanted to email someone with a comment regarding something I loved about their profile or something they could improve. But I resisted the temptation – reminding myself that these people are not my clients and after all they didn’t ask my opinion.

[3] I actually wrote to one friend that I made from JDate and shared with him that I was doing some research and came across his profile and that he might want to post some new photos as they were the same as when I met him five years ago (and even then they were not current). He wrote me back saying that he is virtually never on JDate and we thereafter engaged in lighthearted email conversation. When I moved to doing my research on Match (and saw the same photos of him there) it showed that he had been on within the past 24 hours (JDate does not provide this information). I really don’t understand his reluctance to add current photos as he still a very nice looking guy (though he most definitely looks older than in the photos on display).

[4] When I ventured to try online dating, I was honest to a fault. And I know I am not the only one who believes in truth in advertising. In my research I also came across a good number of online profiles of friends and acquaintances that were totally honest (as far as I could tell). But more than half the profiles I read had something that, empirically, was not true in them.

[5] Now, someone saying that they are “the best catch” on Match (men and women beware – the people who need to assure you of this are typically the people who make you want to ask for the check the minute your waiter arrives to take your order), or that they "love to travel" but never go anywhere, or that they are considered good looking by all of their friends (I never understood the need to say this, I think the pictures speak for themselves, no?) cannot be considering to be lying per se. We are discussing empirically false statements here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light - Go!

The beautiful thing about getting older is life experience (despite some people’s argument to the contrary, in my opinion it’s definitely not the wrinkles, balding and cellulite).[1] Most people I know would never switch their lives now to be their 18-year-old-self again. Indeed, you never hear of the wise young man doling out advice on a mountain top.

So if you’ve lived long enough and dated long enough, then you’ve likely experienced and seen enough to say under certain circumstances – “I’ve been here before.” And, hopefully, you are able to recognize the familiar landscape early on so that you can get out of terrain that you didn’t care for the first time around.

When seasoned singles go on a first date (and in particular ones generated on-line) they tend to be like a detective solving a whodunit - looking for every clue as to whether this person is normal, worthy of a second date and potentially good partner material.
[2] We are not necessarily talking about assessing traits and qualities such as whether a person has good table manners or is dressed in outdated tapered light blue jeans – that is a different level of assessment which goes to whether a searching single wants to work with a diamond in the rough.

Rather, we are talking about red flags. And orange, yellow, blue and green flags too. Yes, for those paying attention, the Homeland Security Advisory System works quite well as a point of reference here (the levels of security alerts being as follows: red = severe condition, orange = high condition, yellow = elevated condition, blue = guarded condition, green = low condition). Ok, here I will take a little poetic license and make green = highly favorable condition.

A red flag is one that should make a smart single stop in his or her tracks and say – I’ve seen this behavior before and it ain’t good. The last person who did this, said this, had this "story" was “x, y and z” (none of “x, y, z” being positive). The presence of a red flag (on par with the “severe” condition indication) should be met with a similar reaction – get the hell outta there and don’t look back.

What is a “red” flag? Sometimes they’re gender neutral (e.g. virtually every male and female client tells me that a date being rude to waitstaff is a no-go), while other times the flag is obviously gender specific.

A red flag indicating that a guy has a violent temper (i.e. getting into a physical or verbal fight with another guy while you’re on a date) is a clear red flag to a woman (one day that out of control temper could be directed towards her). Among other red flags that most women I know look for (or should notice) are flags that would indicate that her date is just in it for sex, that her date has zero interest in settling down any time soon (if settling down is what she’s looking for) or that her date has zero career ambition.

When someone chooses to show you a red flag early on it is a blessing. Take, for example, my friend “Lisa” who told me about a guy who took her to a very nice dinner on their first date, acted like a perfect gentleman but then afterwards asked her multiple times to go back to his apartment to “listen to music” (by the way, the he chose a restaurant conveniently located a block away from his apartment). Lisa made it clear several times that she had no interest in doing that and suggested continuing the date at a nearby wine bar. Her suggestions were apparently met with dissatisfaction and continued insistence on the night cap at his place. Lisa proudly recounted her response as she ended the date and hopped in a cab: Thanks for the red flag – very much appreciated. Sorry, no music, no nightcap, no second date. Good guys – guys with the right intentions - just don’t act like that.

Of course, men tend to have their own red flags. Typically, on a first date they are looking for any flags indicating that their date is emotionally unstable, a gold digger or potentially non-discriminating sexually.
[3] The difference between men’s red flags and women’s red flags is that the man won’t necessary follows Lisa’s quick exit strategy even if he perceives enough red flags to adorn a fort. Thus, he might see what he can make of the date but he isn’t sticking around long after. So, if a woman asks what kind of car the guy drives or whether he owns or rents his place (it’s hard to believe, but apparently there are women out there asking these questions over their first sip of Chardonnay), the "gold digger alert" siren has gone off but it still might not be a death knell. A sign of mental instability on the other hand, now that is usually an effective one - “Joe” has been there before and it isn’t worth going down that path again no matter how hot his date is.

Ok, here are just a few examples of flags to consider based upon my own experiences and the constant input I have received from both men and women:

· A guy even talking about anything sexual on a first date if unprovoked by the woman = RED FLAG.

For example, if the guy is asking you very personal questions about sex and you haven’t even kissed yet. Most women who have dated enough realize that the guys who have done this in the past have turned out to be creeps. Sure, to some women it might be a green flag – I guess, it depends what you’re looking for…

· A woman who gets hammered on the first date … by herself = RED FLAG

More than women realize, serious men are looking at the women they are meeting as potential mothers of their kids. So if a woman gets wasted on a first date it usually makes the man think that she exercises poor judgment and is not responsible. My guess is that every woman who drinks has had at least one instance where she drank too much on a first date with a guy she liked and regretted the impression she made. That can happen when you’re younger, but if the woman is over 35 it is probably going to be perceived as a deal breaker. The guy is now thinking she may do something similar at a family wedding/party with his friends…

If both parties get drunk on the date, however, then she’s likely in the clear – or only waving a yellow or blue flag. If they are many dates into their relationship when she has one cosmopolitan too many, it’s probably a non-issue.

· A man who has no relationship with his mother = ORANGE FLAG

If a man has cut his mother out of his life it is typically a given that he has issues establishing close relationships with women. This is very dark orange flag to the point where you are scratching your head – “is it orange? maybe it’s red, no maybe it’s orange …”). Do you really want to take on this person’s issues?[4]

· A woman revealing intensely personal stories on the first date = ORANGE FLAG

One of my guy friends told me about a first date where the woman shared with him the fact that she hasn't had her period in seven months. She assured him she wasn’t pregnant and she was just having some health issues, but he could only conclude the girl had an eating disorder. A woman who shares intensely personal information on a first date typically sends a flag to a man that she is unstable and has issues. What’s the Homeland Security translation again … oh right, “heightened condition.”

· A man or woman who is over 45 and never married and claims that he or she wants to be = YELLOW FLAG

Ok, I know I am going to hear it from my readers on this one. But it is a flag – notice I didn’t say “red” flag requiring immediate withdrawal. Maybe this person has just been incredibly focused on his or her career, maybe he or she wasn’t really ready or interested in marriage until the past couple of years (obviously, you can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen once you’re ready), maybe he or she lived with a significant other for several years and lost valuable time with someone who turned out not to be the “One.” All legitimate reasons.

Or maybe the guy hasn’t really grown up, doesn’t in fact want to get married, or maybe the woman has unreasonably high expectations which can never be met, or maybe … you get the picture. The presence of this yellow flag calls for “elevated” sleuthing.

· A guy who makes up a totally unbelievable job when you ask him what he does for a living (e.g. ice cream truck driver) = BLUE FLAG

Such a ridiculous response is typically a sign of immaturity. Even though some guys will say they do this to deflect gold-digging women who just want to figure out how much money they make, one would hope they have other capable sensors. A mature man just answers this question in a straightforward manner (e.g. “I am a lawyer, doctor, professor, etc."). This guy may be a fine guy, but proceed with slight caution.

· A woman who orders the most expensive thing on the menu = BLUE FLAG

Women, just so you know, when a man sees you doing this he may start to wonder if you are out with him just for the money and/or if you are extremely high maintenance (usually a turn off for men). Or maybe he thinks "she just loves lobster crepes adorned with caviar and sauted with truffles …"

· Someone who shows genuine interest in you on a date with the clear intent of getting to know what you’re really about = GREEN FLAG

No explanation needed here.

Unfortunately, when we really like someone we often develop a strange and temporary affliction of colorblindness. We’ll talk ourselves into believing red flags are orange, orange flags are yellow and so on until we ultimately realize they were always crimson ...

Ok, it’s audience participation time – men, women, your (relevant) thoughts are always welcome!

[1] It is my experience since writing this blog that no matter what you say (or how basic or well-founded), you will always find someone who will argue the contrary. That being said, there’s no question that differences of opinion keep it interesting!

[2] Mind you, even if people do not go on a date consciously “looking” for red flags (perhaps an optimist would respond that is just too cynical of a way to approach a date), they should certainly be paying attention when one of those flags comes waving in front of their smiling visage (a fun word for my language people out there).

[3] Yes, the unjustified double standard exists – as no man would consider himself a slut in any negative sense of the word for sleeping with a woman “too soon” (does that concept even exist in regard to man?) but they are happy to pass this judgment on any girl who actually thinks they are worthy of sleeping with without strategic game playing. I’m the messenger here – disagree with it all you want but it’s a reality (a reality that’s changing, however. More on this in another blog).

[4] If he has severed a relationship with one of his children, please see red flag protocol.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Science - Because It’s Fun (and could get you date!)

Ok, I’ve pontificated from my computer about making sure you’re hitting the gym, ironing your shirt, going out with an open mind, smiling (extra emphasis on this), networking, not telling your date about how late you were out drinking the night before (or discussing your partying habits in general) …

Some of the pointers above may seem obvious (though, I have seen far too often they are surprisingly not followed) so I thought I would share some not-so-obvious information that may give the resourceful single a little extra ammunition in his or her search for the “One” (after all, it’s a jungle out there).

This week’s blog brings fun facts from a field of research that most everyone finds fascinating (gotta love alliteration) and which is constantly evolving: the science and psychology of attraction. Indeed, the more you learn about what makes people attracted to one another, the more you realize that there are an abundance of factors at play, the majority of which we are barely cognizant … Considering the business I'm in, I make it a point to stay current with everything that's out there on this topic, and I thought it might be fun to share some highlights with my loyal SAN readers. Next week, we’ll go back to the pressing questions of singledom, but for this week how about some helpful tips which also make for some good cocktail party trivia?

For starters, did you know that something as basic as the color we are wearing can make a person more attracted to us. For example, when men see a picture of a woman surrounded by, or wearing, red, they're more likely to want to (1) ask her on a date, (2) spend more money on the date and (3) have sex with her?[1] (if I start seeing a lot more red scarves, skirts and tops around town, I guess I know my readership is increasing!). Another interesting one - spicy floral fragrances can make women appear on average 10-12 pounds slimmer.[2] Talk about the next fad diet!

Also, an interesting piece of information for the single women out there – men find women’s voices sexier when they’re ovulating.[3] A small incentive to schedule your dates strategically?? In fact (not surprisingly) men find a lot of women’s physical traits sexier when women are ovulating. Consider pupil size. In one study where men were shown pictures of women that were identical in every way except the women’s pupil size, the men overwhelmingly found the women to be prettier and more feminine in the pictures where the women’s pupils were larger (in case you didn’t know, women’s pupils dilate widest around ovulation).[4]

For the guys, there’s plenty of science to help out there too. Did you know that research has found that the release of adrenaline enhances feelings of attraction? Therefore, if you plan a date that has an element of excitement or danger to it, you can increase your chances of securing a round two. Meeting for a midnight picnic in Central Park might be overdoing it, but whitewater rafting or bungy jumping could do the trick. Ok, I know, we’re in Manhattan – how about ice skating?

Another helpful tidbit for the guys … you can also get some serious mileage from a favorably disposed wing woman. In one study, researchers gauged the impact of an attractive female’s approval on how other women perceive men’s attractiveness and the results were fascinating. A quick recap of the study: researchers showed women photos of two men side by side and asked them to rate their attractiveness. They then showed the women one of the men’s photos again but with a twist – on the second go around they showed the man talking with an attractive woman. In half the photos the woman wore a smiling, engaged expression and in the other half, she wore an unsmiling, or neutral expression. I’m sure my intelligent readers can guess that the men were found to be more attractive in the photos where the women were smiling at them, but would you have expected that the female judges rated them at least 15 percent higher? And if they were the recipient of the sullen look – a downgrade of 10 percent on average.[5]

This study makes me think of a good friend who, when he sees a woman of interest at a bar, gives me a nudge and asks me to focus on talking to him for a minute. I always end up smiling and engaged not only because he is a friend, but because he is incredibly funny. Pretty intuitive of my friend for a finance guy (sorry about the shot, finance guys, I know you are all not like that!).

There is so much information out there on this topic, I could write a 100 blogs on it – uh oh, I guess I should have titled this Science: Part 1. If you want more on this topic, speak up (how is that as a transparent ploy to get more comments posted? Shameless, I know…)

[1] Approximately a year ago, Regina Nuzzo wrote a great article for the LA Times which provides fun tips for using the science of attraction to maximize the chances of meeting your soul mate during the holiday party season. No reason not to apply these tips to socializing year round! See http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-mating82008dec08,0,1461407.story?page=1

[2] Andrew Trees, Decoding Love: Why It Takes Twelve Frogs to Find a Prince and Other Revelations from the Science of Attraction (New York: Penguin Group ( USA ) Inc., 2009). Simply put, this a great book. It’s not a “how to” dating guide but a serious, scholarly evaluation of research that shines a whole new light on dating and the search for a mate.

[3] The Discovery Channel has a short video on this called “Voice on Estrogen” which really illustrates this tidbit of scientific information nicely. See http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/science-of-sex-appeal-ovulating-voices.html. If you have a few moments, watch a few of the other videos on The Science of Sex - I also liked the video titled “Dating and Mating Pool” and the related “Out of Your League” video, as well as the one called “Unsexy Scents” which deals with the issue of how sense of smell helps humans pick the best partners, genetically speaking. Amazing stuff.

[4] Jena Pincott, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes, Bodies, Behavior and Brains ~ The Science Behind Sex, Love & Attraction (New York: Delacorte Press, 2008). This book on behavior answers all the pressing questions like “what body language do women use to express interest?” (Answer: it’s in the gaze) to “why does creativity get men laid?" (I’ll let you read the book or ask me offline if you want this answer!) Over 100 such questions that will really get you thinking (and staring, and creating…)

[5] Id.

Monday, September 14, 2009

That Dreaded Question …

You’re on a wonderful date (finally!). You’re laughing and having fun. You are super attracted to your date and there’s no question that there’s chemistry. You’re even reaching over to try each other’s entrees with the familiarity of at least date 2 or 3. There’s no lull in the conversation. And then he/she asks:

“You seem so amazing, you are so much fun and, you know, of course, you’re very cute … HOW are you still single?


If you’re under 30, chances are the question rolls off your shoulder with a knowing smile, a thank you and a cheeky shrug. If you’re over 30, the arms cross and the eyes narrow a bit. You know that the question is “supposed” to be flattering but it has the inherent effect of making you feel instantly defensive. This question is supposed to be a compliment?! Rather, reading between the lines,* the question could be heard like this:

“You seem so amazing, you are so much fun and, you know, of course, you’re very cute … There must be something wrong with you if you’re seemingly so amazing and STILL single at [insert age]. What am I missing? Come on, tell me what it is so I don’t have to waste weeks trying to figure it out.”

Possible responses swirl in your head.

You could answer with the generic interview-style response: “I’m just very picky.” Aren’t we all … and I’m too detailed oriented.

Or you could offer the comical “deflect the answer” type response such as: “I’m really an ax-murder so none of my relationships have ever gotten very far.” Or “I’m just too good for you girls/guys.” ** Perhaps it will get a laugh.

Or maybe you try the “turn the tables” approach: “Well, you’re single too, so what’s wrong with YOU?!” I don’t recommend this one for obvious reasons.

Most of the time the person asking the dreaded question is in fact trying to compliment you (and figure out what could be wrong with you) but doesn’t realize that the question can make dates feel like they have to justify their single 35/40/45/etc. year old existence. When I told one of my girlfriends the topic of this week’s blog, she remarked “that question is downright rude.”

Yes, perhaps it is rude – even if it’s not intended to be. Regardless, it’s certainly not a smart question for a first date. Does anyone think they are going to get an honest answer? There are many reasons why someone as wonderful as yourself could be single at 30+, 40+. Are you going to get into the details behind such a personal issue with someone you barely know? A good response to this typically well-intentioned inquiry can be simple and straightforward: “I’ve had some wonderful relationships but none of them were right for the long run. In my opinion, marriage isn’t something to be taken lightly. I want to make sure it’s right.” A fine answer and, hopefully, this is true. Anyone who has ideas for a good response, please post them – at a minimum, we’ll all get a good laugh.

But while my dear readers (and I know you’re out there and growing - thank you!) are stopping to think of what witty answers they might offer should this question rear its ugly head on their next romantic encounter, it also does calls for a moment of true reflection.***

If you’re single and don’t want to be, why not take a few moments and really ask yourself the dreaded question: Why am I still single? (if you’re single and happy about it, feel free to clap your hands and stop reading now).

Maybe you are too picky … but maybe picky is a nice way of saying unrealistic. Maybe you’re not “getting” the same guy or girl you were “getting” five, or even two, years ago – at least not for the long run. There could be a variety of reasons for this. Maybe it’s time to face reality. If you’re a woman in your late 30s perhaps it’s time to expand the age of the guys you’ll consider dating – there are a whole lot of good guys out there who may surpass the 4 to 5 year cap you’ve arbitrarily placed. It may also be time to really ask yourself why it’s so important that the guy towers over you? Yes, tall is preferred (sorry short guys, it’s true). But there are a lot of women married to tall men who would give anything to be with their friend’s short, but caring, kind and considerate husband. And if you’re a guy who has “dated” “hot chicks” but has actually never had more than a one night stand with one, maybe it’s time to ask why you keep going for the model types? Are you really looking for a partner or for validation?

Maybe it’s time to take stock of your dating life. Is it possible you’re doing something wrong or something that is sabotaging your chances of meeting the person who is right for you? Yes, time for a small plug for my business. I give my clients feedback (often straight from the person that they have been introduced to) that friends and family are simply not going to tell them. Tough love with a gentle hand. Recently, I spoke with a guy who had expressed an interest in becoming a client. He explained to me that he wanted to hold off on joining as he had recently been on “a million dates” and that he had a "million more" in the pipeline. I thought, if I were going on dozens and dozens of dates and none of them yielded a match I would consider that a bad thing – clearly something is not working, shouldn’t it be time to find out? Unless you’re dating for the hell of it, which I know this particular guy is not.

For all the people reading this thinking, “well, my answer is simple – I just don’t want to settle” - try a little exercise. Think of your best single girl or guy friend. If someone were to ask you why “Jane” or “Joe” is still single, I imagine you probably could offer a very informed opinion. And something tells me it wouldn’t be simply that Jane and Joe just don’t want to settle (though, most likely that would be their answer). Now what if someone asked Jane or Joe about you …

*Yes, it’s been a while since we had fun researching expressions just for the heck of it. This particular phrase comes from the days of military letters and writing, which were often written in a coded form. According to The Phrase Finder, this phrase “derives from a simple form of cryptography, in which a hidden meaning was conveyed by secreting it between lines of text. It originated in the mid 19th century and soon became used to refer to the deciphering of any coded or unclear form of communication, whether written or not.” Ok, this one’s not that surprising …

**Both of these are used by male friends of mine. I add this to ensure my female readers that men get asked this question just like the women do.

***This weekend starts the Jewish high holidays. I love this time of year because it ushers in a week of reflection. Even if you don't observe these holidays, there’s nothing stopping you from asking yourself some soul searching questions. Summer’s over and it is a new season, after all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mission Impossible?

Summer is over … such a sad sentiment. What other season yields so much social merriment for single scenesters? (now say “Sally sells seashells on the seashore” six times fast …) Weekend calendars filled with pool parties, bonfires at the beach, and cocktails by the water. All of those opportunities rife with the potential to meet that special someone but, for many, their most faithful companion this summer was the aspirin bottle on the nightstand. Now that the Fall is upon us, countless wonderful opportunities will arise with the potential for these lesser-tanned hopefuls to meet that elusive Mr. or Mrs. Right.

Unfortunately, many of these upcoming opportunities will be squandered by those who are the most anxious to meet the love of their lives. We all know them. Guys and girls who go out on the town on a “mission” – not a mission to simply have fun with their friends, or to make new friends, or to do something new and exciting – but a sole mission to meet that person. They primp, they strategize and then head out with a dogged determination that would make secret agent Ethan Hunt proud.

Yet, too many times these focused and fixated singles fail in their mission, returning home date and digit-less. What these secret agents often don’t realize is that the mission they’re on doesn’t necessarily get accomplished in one covert outing. There are many ways to accomplish the goal of meeting someone with whom you could potentially hit it off – just one of them being the direct go out, meet someone that night, talk to him or her, exchange numbers, go on a date and live happily ever after way. Another way is to lay the foundation for the mission and network (uh oh, the dating/job search analogy is resurfacing…).

Let me elaborate. As many of my readers are aware, I throw social events once a month. These events draw a great, sociable crowd and people meet and connect at my parties. On one occasion, however, I observed a woman who determined right away that there weren’t any guys there for her, so she lost interest in the event and the people at it. She exuded negative body language, crossed her arms, and sent out a vibe that made her seem totally unapproachable. Of course, her attitude kept many great guys away and her mindset became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Now, if this woman (let’s call her “Jane”) had gone into the event with the attitude that it was a great way to meet new, interesting people – even make some new girlfriends who might know someone who is perfect for her – there’s no doubt she would have had a totally different experience even if “her guy” wasn’t there.

In fact, if Jane would just focus on having fun and enjoying the conversation of a quality guy when she goes out (even though she isn’t hearing wedding bells in the background), perhaps the guys she’s talking to will think “wow, Jane is a cool girl” and invite Jane to his friend’s party the following week.* Instead, as Jane is looking over his shoulder, completely disengaged, the guy is likely thinking Jane sucks. No invite. Simple as that.

In the past few weeks, I had two fantastic guy friends recount stories to me of women who were so focused on their immediate mission to meet the “One,” that they lost sight of the fact that every outing is an opportunity to meet someone who knows the person you want to know. Both guys were apparently at intimate gatherings where they met women who simply didn’t want to give them the time of day until they heard something about who my guy friends knew that sparked their interest. In one instance, my friend was ignored for most of the night by a particular girl who was clearly on a mission to meet a nice Jewish boy (no one is thinking my pal is a member of the tribe) until he made it clear through conversation that he had ample single Jewish guy friends. By the time she started to acknowledge his presence, it was too late – he wouldn’t set up a friend with her no matter how hot she was. Then there was my friend (who has ample attractive, successful single guy friends from business school) who told me he was universally ignored at a Hamptons party full of socialites until it came up in conversation that he was very close with a much desired guy friend of theirs who went to Princeton (where he also went). From thereon in he had all the attention he could want from the future ladies who lunch club – but by that point their true colors were out and there was no way he was remaining pen pals with this group.**

It’s clear that everyone in this wonderful city we call the Big Apple knows someone who is single who would prefer not to be. So, maybe the guy or girl you’re chatting with is someone who doesn’t come close to meeting your criteria for a long term (or short term) relationship, but he or she may very well know your Prince or Princess Charming. Of course, if you blow this person off with a perfunctory nod and an immediate trip to the bar, you’ll never find out …

* This approach also applies in the one on one dating context. Indeed, there have been instances where I’ve set people up and they have come back to me and explained that, though they didn’t feel any chemistry on the date, they would love to set up the other person with a friend/cousin/ etc. because the other person was just that fantastic. Even if you show up on a date that doesn’t yield fireworks it can be the sparkplug that results in a Kaboom with someone else. Why not be nice and engaging even if you’re not interested? It’s really common sense.

**Naturally, it’s my view that people should be kind and friendly because, after all, it’s a good way to be (and it’s sexy too).