Tuesday, February 24, 2009

East Side West Side, My Side Your Side, Upside Downside

Manhattan is an island slightly under 23 miles in area and 2.3 miles at its widest (near 14th Street). Most people in the rest of the country would think nothing of traveling this distance to pay a quick visit to a friend or to go to their favorite manicurist, masseuse, hair stylist, barber, and so on. But as New Yorkers know, we are not like the rest of the country and even walking an extra five blocks to go to a better dry cleaner will often be five blocks too many. In regard to dating in NY, the choice of venue for planning your rendezvous requires the consideration of not just eating preferences, cost and ambiance but also the very real question of how much cabbing it/subway riding (read: inconvenience) is this person worth?

Clearly, the answer to this question can be very circumstantial so let's start off with making a few distinctions. There is a difference, naturally, between setting up a venue for a date where the parties have actually met before (and thus have a certain level of excitement) and the online dating "date" where you are carefully planning your "means of retreat" (see previous blog on the hierarchy of dating days for more on this). Also, as per previous blogs, we are assuming that the first date even when the parties have met before is on a weekday night and not on one of the coveted Friday or Saturday nights. Certainly, the desire to trek to Tribeca from midtown after work is significantly less than it would be coming from home on a relaxing Saturday. OK, so a weekend night first date would certainly impact the equation. Lastly, we are again talking about first dates here. Not second dates or tenth dates - just that ever scrutinized first one.

OK, now that we have all of these clarifications out of the way, what is the protocol you might ask? Let's start with an example based in the online dating world. Someone you have never met before is asking you to meet him or her near his or her apartment in Battery Park and you live on the UES. The clear response is "Are you kidding me?!!" OK, maybe that's not the response but it's definitely the thought. The understood protocol for online dating is someplace halfway between the two of your offices or apartments. Unless the guy wants to travel to the woman's neighborhood ... Yes, there is still a double standard if you want to call it that. But women, you should not be traveling to his part of town -- and any guy who makes that request from the get-go should be an automatic delete on your "hotlist." Chalk it up to his being clueless or not chivalrous or self-centered or lazy or whatever you would like but the message being sent is NOT a good one. Trust me on this, this is a red flag of huge dimensions.

Even if the scenario is where a mutual friend sets you up, the same rules apply to the "sight unseen request to travel to his hood" code. I know a girl, let's call her Jane (yes, it's an original one) who explained to me how she drove from the city to NJ to meet a guy for the first time because he was uncomfortable in Manhattan. I could probably stop there as I am sure you see what's coming. He was as weird as he sounds and she drove all the way out to NJ for him ... she was commuting on her first date! Clearly, had he come into the city her means of retreat would have been far easier. Ladies, you should not be driving anywhere on a first date. Period. And men, asking this is not going to make a good impression.

But what about setting up the date when the parties have previously met? Really, the rules of etiquette are not all that dissimilar. Most women have had men offer to come by their apartments to pick them up on the way to the first date - even when the guy lives close to the venue and the women live across town. Men, just so you know, I don't think that is the expectation among most women but when men offer to do so it definitely stands out and it usually sends a much appreciated message about the level of interest and consideration.

The expectation is, however, that on this first date the guy will pick a restaurant/bar/lounge/you name the appropriate locale that is convenient for the woman or he will at least ask something to the effect of "hey, would like you to try this great spot on the west side or do you just want to stay local?" This is the sign of a considerate date who is actually excited for the dinner, wants to make a good impression and wants to ensure a second date ... or at least someone who knows the rules of engagement.

So what message is being sent when the subject "asker" (sight seen this time) picks a venue in his neighborhood without even proposing one in the neighborhood of his prospective date?* 9 out of 10 matchmakers (or moms or friends or therapists) would still say that the signs are clear - it's all about him. And it always will be. Of course, there could be a very good reason for the selection - perhaps it's a completely unique, romantic, amazing restaurant that he is sure you will love. But this should be said up front so that the woman can understand there is a specific reason for the 12.6 mile travel.

Of course, when the request for first date travel is to try out some fantastic, new, always booked, gastronomic paradise that you have been dying to go to, that's a definite upside to the request to hike uptown, downtown, crosstown and maybe even to one of the outer boroughs if the Best of Citysearch says it's worth the trip ... OK, that might be second date travel ...

*We all recognize that the guy is usually the one picking the restaurant or bar for the first date. There are many reasons for this which can be addressed in a separate blog. For now, we shall just stick with the understanding that this is the dynamic.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It’s The Thought (or Lack Thereof) That Counts

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. I hope everyone’s was enjoyable. Sure enough, I heard from a friend the next day lamenting the poor showing by her boyfriend of several months … no dinner reservation (thus, waiting at the restaurant for an hour and a half), no card (hence, no proclamation of feelings which tend to have more impact written than said) and no apology (clearly, the most egregious of all offenses). I had to wonder how many new couples ended their first Valentine’s Day with one party (read: the woman) feeling less than appreciated on this day of high romance.

It goes without saying that Valentine’s Day is a day of great expectations for women in new relationships. For men who don’t “believe” in it, what they need to realize is that that’s not the point – most of the women do. Before anyone gets up in arms, providing a million arguments as to why the holiday should not be “observed” let’s make sure we’re on the same page. I’m not talking about the need to provide serious jewelry or to fly away to Paris for the weekend. Believe it or not, the value of a thoughtful romantic gesture has just as much mileage for most women as the pricey gifts. I recall years ago, going to an exboyfriend’s apartment and entering into a world of candles – candles on the shelves, on the tables, on the floor… it was incredibly romantic. While I waited for the first homemade meal the ex had ever made to be served, I noticed his poor octegenarian (in people years) Bichon Frise suddenly catch fire … sniffing one of the candles on the floor, her ear just went up in a flame. Fortunately, my reflexes were good and I jumped up to smother her ear and put out the fire. Thankfully, the poor thing in her aged state never even had a clue as to what happened (though the smelled of singed dog hair permeated the room for the next few hours). Although we had to quickly remove the rest of the candles from the floor, and the ex dwelled upon his fear that he was not fit to have kids for much of the night, the night was romantic AND it was truly the thought that counted.

Indeed, if men could only understand the power of a homemade dinner and a $3.50 card, so many bad feelings could be avoided. As most men experienced in dating should know, even the best gift given without a card loses points fast. Giving a card shows thought – it says “I took the time to stop at the store, read a few gushy cards, pick one I feel comfortable with and actually sign my name to it.”

Need it be said that self-serving gifts are at the bottom of the barrel for Valentine’s Day and should be a clear sign for the savy New York dater? Years ago, my friend who had been dating her boyfriend for about eight months received lingerie for Valentine’s Day after she had specifically stated that was not what she wanted. I’m sure you can figure out where this is going … there was also the prominent lack of a V-Day card. The Valentine’s Day fell far short of her expectations and, in the end, so did he. (Note to reader: lingerie can be a great gift when the giver knows that it will be received happily)

Men, even if you think this holiday is a way for chocolate makers, florists and restaurants to offensively overcharge, I hope you understand the point- Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about any of the foregoing and one can always find creative and small ways to be romantic. In the end, you may not lose serious points for not sweeping your female love interest off her feet on cupid’s holiday, but you certainly risk not gaining any either (which will have repercussions down the road, trust me). Women want to feel special and cared about - I think guys do too, no? So, if that’s your goal, a stop at Joe’s Stationery Store may be one of the most important stops you’ll make next year…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Your Best Valentine

This Saturday is Valentine’s Day – a trumped-up Hallmark holiday or a day for people to let out their inner romantic? Either way, it certainly gets the typical single guy or gal thinking about his or her elusive other half. Most single people have a list – either mental or written – of what they are looking for in a partner. A typical list might start with the standard sought after traits like “attractive, fit, smart, funny, successful, confident, interesting, caring, kind …” and then get into such specifics like “outdoorsy, into cooking, loves chihuahuas, rockstar in bed …”

In my view, lists are fine – they can help make a desire more tangible and serve as a good reference point for when someone is really not up to par. Of course, the obvious problem with lists can arise when one is simply wedded to a list that is inflexible or unrealistic.

Most people are aware of the new phenomenon which has occurred on facebook where people list 25 things about themselves and then pass the request on to friends. I’ve read a few that have been extremely funny and others that have been yawn-inducing, or worse, have left me with the thought that some people need to spend their time doing something other than making lists. Reading these lists, a thought occurred to me … what if every single person took out their lists of what they are looking for in a partner and actually analyzed what’s on them asking themselves two questions: (1) is this requirement truly important to my happiness with another person? and (2) would I make the cut if this were someone else’s list?

In regard to the first question, everyone knows at least one person (friend, ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, sister or brother) whose list has some ridiculous criteria on it that their loving and all knowing friends and family realize will never lead this person to the relationship utopia they seek. Maybe it’s the guy who’s always seeking out the head-turning bombshell who, for whatever reason, is never going to be throwing her digits his way unless he’s dangling the carrot of a trip to St. Barts next weekend (who is doing that these days anyway you might ask – fair question). Or maybe it’s the girl whose list includes a height entry that requires a full foot of distance between her and her price charming after she’s donned her 3 ½ inch heals. Why are these things important for some people? I’m sure everyone has their own fully rational answers that any therapist worth his or her salt can get to the heart of after a session or two.*

However, I think question number 2 calls for even far more interesting soul searching. Would you pass your own list? Are you the person you would want to be with? If you place a high priority on someone being in shape and active and yet find yourself on the couch watching reality show reruns instead of hitting the gym, maybe it’s time to rethink the gospel. If one’s list artfully describes a well-traveled, adventurous renaissance woman but the author of said list is waiting for the right woman to come along before he goes to any of the places he wants to see before he dies, he should - he must - ask himself would this woman, should she materialize, be interested in dating him anyway? I know this may sound harsh but a little dose of reality is needed these days.

In my line of work I am constantly hearing from people about the type of person they are looking to meet. Ultimately, pretty much everyone’s wish list includes one common thread: they are looking for someone who is genuinely happy with him or herself and not looking for someone else to make him or her happy. In fact, happiness with one’s self and where one is in his or her life actually transcends so many features on the wish lists, the list could almost start and stop right there. This Valentine’s Day, be the person on your list and next Valentine’s Day who knows … you might be making up a very different kind of list (hint: this one includes Aunt Bertha and Uncle Harry).

*As long as we are including the origins of expressions (see prior blog), the phrase “worth your salt” comes from Roman times when soldiers would get paid for work in salarium, an allowance for the purchase of salt which was considered good for health but a hard commodity to find at the time. Hence the modern word “salary.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I’ll Trade You Two Mondays for One Friday and I’ll See Your Coffee Two Drinks

Everyone in New York understands the value of time – people are always rushing from one place to the next, darting through crowded sidewalks cursing the out-of-towners for walking too slowly, sitting on the edge of their seats in the back of the taxi trying to figure out why their cab driver took the most congested street possible… you get the point. In dating, it’s easy to see how the pressure to use time most effectively (and the desire to avoid wasting valuable time) can translate into a hierarchy of dating options with the chosen option sending a clear message of letting people know precisely where they stand.

For example, if someone proposes a first date on a Monday or Tuesday, that’s clearly less desirable than a more valuable Wednesday or Thursday. Obviously, Friday and Saturday are coveted nights not to be given out lightly. In the world of on-line dating, you only have to be burned once to know that you NEVER schedule a first date with a prospective interest on a Friday or Saturday night unless you make it clear that you are meeting JUST for a drink and then you have a commitment you have to make. Funny how those commitments often fall to the wayside when the person who shows up actually looks like their picture and has a great personality to boot. But at least it’s there, your trusty escape in the instances when you see that the person who looked like a Brendan Frazier double in his picture looks more like the Mummy in real life. I personally would place Sunday in its own special dating category (at the top of the totem pole), but then again maybe I’m biased on that one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, sometime people have no choice but to schedule the first date on a Monday or Tuesday. Maybe, just maybe, they have not made any judgments relegating you to a lesser prospective dating status … maybe they are going out of town for the latter part of the week or maybe they have a friend or family member visiting for a few days and in their excitement about you they don’t want to postpone seeing you for a full week. Certainly, the day of the week selected also has to be valued in conjunction with the specific beverages or foods to be consumed. Are you meeting for coffee or drinks? Snacks or dinner? No food on the itinerary? Not a good sign, my friend.

Meeting for coffee or drinks, as one of my good friends aptly put it, is like hedging one’s bets. When I actually looked up the origins of that expression, I had to laugh at the definition: to avoid committing oneself; to leave a means of retreat open. (By the way, for those who are curious, the phrase has been around since the 16th Century and was apparently used in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. It started being used in regard to financial transactions in the early 17th Century). I’m not saying that simply because someone proposes meeting up with someone for coffee or drinks on a Monday there isn’t a genuine interest or the chance for love to bloom. But when people start off anticipating leaving a means of retreat open, well let’s just say that’s a message that might get the messenger in trouble.

Now, if you’re being asked to have plans for Valentine’s Day (a Saturday this year), you know you can keep your hand.