Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Second Time’s A Charm?

I have a good friend who just came back from a phenomenal three week honeymoon in the Maldives. Wonderful you might say, but what does that have to do with a dating blog? Ok, bear with me – there’s a relevant story behind this.

My friend (let’s call him Dave) met his wife at a party and proceeded to ask her out. Though they had a very nice time, “Tracey” didn’t feel enough of a spark to go on a second date. Standard dating story so far. Dave is a persistent fellow, however, and he remained undeterred. He took the “friendship route” and never gave up hope – despite everyone else’s feeling that he had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting out of “platonic purgatory” with Tracey. A full year later, and after going on yet another bad date, Tracey realized that she’d rather be doing just about anything with Dave over having dinner at the most fabulous restaurant in Manhattan with anyone else. Had Dave just walked away letting their first date be their last interaction, obviously, they would not be reveling in their newlywed bliss at the moment.

I suppose you might think the point of this blog is the power of persistence – but let’s save that topic for another day. Rather, the question that comes to mind when recounting the story of Dave and Tracey is how many people walk away from an enjoyable (but not "phenomenal") first date but don’t wish to spare another two hours of their lives to see if there could possibly be more there the second time around. Sometimes a first date is simply not a fair indicator of people’s potential compatibility. For starters, a lot of people are nervous on first dates. Sometimes people just don't bring their A game. Sometimes people have bad hair days … sometimes all one’s flattering clothes are simultaneously at the dry cleaners... If people said to themselves “hey, why not give this sweet, engaging, bright guy/girl the benefit of the doubt?” who knows … perhaps a Sliding Doors version of their lives would show that had they given the person across the table the benefit of a second date they might also end up very much in love like my dear friends Dave and Tracey.

Now, some people have the philosophy that, outside of thinking “I’d rather go to the dentist than go out with this person again,” a second date is always warranted. I don’t know if I’d go that far … Your married friends’ advice that you should give everyone at least a second date has to make allowances for the guy who thinks it’s appropriate to tell sexually explicit jokes to a virtual stranger (“Have you heard the one about the panda and the prostitute…” Fair response: “Is that really the best conversation you can come up with?!”) or for the girl who thinks that Antonin Scalia is an Italian fashion designer. There are limits.

Others espouse the opposite philosophy – they know immediately whether someone is right for them and so they ask “why should I continue to waste valuable time?” These folks are looking for fireworks, the big Kaboom!, love at first sight … or at least lust at first sight. If that feeling is absent, they posit, why should anyone bother to further prove that this is not the future Mrs./Mr. Smith.

Ok, fair question. But think about this for a minute. Have you ever met someone who you thought was super attractive only to feel after getting to know this Adonis/Venus better that, physical appearance aside, this person was wholly unattractive? Now, there is the obvious follow-up question - have you ever met someone who, at first blush, you thought was ok looking but over time you got to know so-and-so and started to contemplate “I wonder what it would be like to kiss so-and-so? Oh wait, so-and-so is my co-worker!” Obviously, at the point you’re thinking this you’ve come to know so-and-so quite well and now there is a whole different level of assessment at play.

It seems that people in other parts of the country tend to be a little more open-minded in regard to engaging in a second date even when they didn’t fall head over heals in love over drinks. My friend in LA attributes it to New Yorkers’ limited time and apparent need to make fast judgments. In her view, people in California are simply more laid back (about everything) and tend to be a little more forgiving. A Michigan friend and a former resident of the Big Apple, agrees. As she astutely noted, New Yorkers always have a million opportunities and thus are quick to toss someone aside. Out in the land of automobiles, good prospects are harder to come by resulting in a willingness to go a little deeper before ruling out a potential partner.

Of course, one’s age and experience can also factor significantly into the openness to go on a second date after a “good, but not great” date. This is not code for “desperation” (though of course that can always be a factor). Rather, it simply means you understand that it takes time to really get to know someone. And as for all those dates where you felt the “Kaboom!” – well, the “Kaboom” couldn’t have been a fail-proof barometer as it ultimately didn’t get you where you want to be... One could say it’s almost like shopping. Once you get to be a seasoned shopper you know that sometimes when you fall in love with that gorgeous dress in the window, it doesn’t always love you back. On the other hand, one learns that sometimes the dress doesn’t look like much on the hanger, but when you try it on … well, it’s a sleeper and a keeper. Maybe more men need to go shopping?

No doubt the arguments could go both ways on this one – and, as always, these things are very circumstantial. But I would love to hear from people who had an ok first date, then hesitatingly chose to go on a second and now are soundly converted to the “benefit of the doubt" camp. You can post your comment anonymously … and your partner never has to know!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mamma Knows Best??

Ah the 50s! Poodle skirts, jukeboxes, milk shakes with two straws ... boys and girls going on double dates, girls getting pinned and couples going "steady" ... When our parents were dating the world was truly a different place (I'll leave technology out of this one, we can all think of a hundred other ways). However, in our nostalgia for the innocence of these halcyon days we forget the marriages straight out of college and the lack of options and opportunities for women. Movies such as Far From Heaven and Revolutionary Road remind us that the happy homemaker was not always so happy. And forget the glass ceiling ... at that point in time it might as well have been on the moon. As a rousing tobacco advertisement used to tell us, we've come a long way, baby.

So when a woman now - in 2009 - has an expectation that the man should pay for everything on a first date there is a clear question to be asked: Is it fair to enter the new millennium with the old mores of yesteryear still in play?

I don't think there is a girl I know whose mother isn't showing signs of shock and disapproval when she hears her daughter's suitor let her pay for some aspect of a date (drinks, cab fare, movie tickets ... gum), or worse split the dinner bill. Yes, in the minds of these loving and proud moms, these men should know that their daughters are highly sought after and the cost of drinks and dinner is but a small price to pay for the privilege of their daughters' company. And so the daughters nod their heads in accordance, "Yes, a small price to pay." But if these women listen to their mothers, they may very well listen their way right out of a second date.

Many years ago I went on a first date with someone who told me that he had just passed his Series 7. Before dinner we had a drink at the bar and when the check came I quickly grabbed it announcing that it was my treat for his passing the exam. Dates later, this accountant mentioned to me that he really appreciated that I had paid for the drinks on our first date and that if the women he went out with didn't make such a gesture he didn't ask them out again. I listened in surprise and admitted that that was not my typical modus operandi and I had only made the "generous" offer because something worth celebrating had taken place in his world that day. Any other day sans accomplishment, and I would not have made the offer and perhaps that dinner would have been our first and last.

Before the women label the men who are willing to let them pay for anything as heals (and loyal readers, as always, we still need to make some critical distinctions - online date vs. "regular date", economic disparity between dates, and so on), let's consider things from the guy's point of view for a moment.

Men don't want to come across as cheapskates. Ok, that is a given. So if it's a matter of meeting for one or two drinks and the guy wants a second date, he is certainly going to want to pay to signal his interest. But when the night has a few components and there's an opportunity for the woman to pick up something small, I think many men (most men? come on men, time for you to weigh in here) will welcome it as a sign that the women has a real interest and is not just using them for their money or a free night out on the town. I suppose it's the equivalent of the 50s "will the woman lean over and unlock the car door?" test. As one dear male friend put it, a woman covering some token cost during the course of the evening signals to him that the girl is looking for a partnership, not a "sponsorship."

Ok, the distinctions. I personally think that in all fairness everyone should go into an online date expecting to split the bill. That being said, most online dates are meeting over coffee or drinks and if the guy is interested that is a small price to pay to secure a second date. So women, if he's trying to split it he's probably not interested, and if he lets you split it you should probably not be interested.* Oh my, did I just let my little angel-mother peering over my right shoulder type that?

Alright, maybe it's time to consider economics for a moment. Women still make only 75 cents to a man's dollar.** If a male doctor with a six-figure salary is meeting up with a teacher's aide, most people would say it's a no-brainer: the guy should pay even if there's no interest. It does get more complicated when you have two lawyers, let's say, making equivalent pay ... or, on the opposite end, when you have two struggling entrepreneurs making the equivalent lack of pay. Some men (and women?) may be scratching their heads asking what is the rationale in those scenarios for expecting the guy to pay? (We're still on online dates here).

And if it's not an online "blind" date, should the salary categories still come into play? In light of the current economic climate, you can find a laid off banker in NY as easily as a Starbucks these days. So here's one for you - what happens when an unemployed private equity gentleman goes out with a PR managing director lady-interest with a steady and solid paycheck? I have a feeling Dad might have something to say on this one ...

* It is important to reiterate so there is no misunderstanding here that the appreciated contribution I am addressing in this blog is a "token" payment - not the splitting of a lunch or dinner tab. To that end, I think men also realize there is a difference between the gesture (as farcical as it may sometimes be) by a woman in reaching for her wallet and politely offering to split the restaurant tab (expecting to be told "please, it is on me") and a woman insisting on paying for her share. Guys, if she's truly insisting on splitting the bill on the first date - especially one generated by the online dating world - she might as well be wearing a neon sign flashing "you're off the hotlist."

** This statistic is only a rough one as demographics come into play that create a plethora of variables too complex to address in this oh so simple Sunday at Noon blog.

Monday, March 2, 2009

He's Just Too Into You??

I am writing this blog as the movie "He’s Just Not That Into You" is hot in the theaters. Every woman in New York now knows (as if they really didn’t know before) that if he’s not calling – or if he’s not calling with the courtesy of a few days advance notice to make plans – he’s just not where you want your guy to be. Women get that if the guy doesn’t call it’s because he simply doesn’t want to (just like if the girl doesn’t return the call, we all know it wasn’t because she was “so busy”). Whether actually it sinks in is another question…

But what about the opposite scenario … the scenario where the guy is saying all the things that the woman wants to hear and immediately doing all the things the woman wants him to do. Back in the day boys told girls that they really liked them, that they were really pretty, etc. to increase their chances of getting what they really wanted. At some point the women, having heard it all before, understood the dynamic and knew not to take anything said as anything other than what it was – not to be too cryptic, we’re all adults here after all. But when the sweet lies are so much more and touch a much deeper psyche, the stakes can be perilously high.

Let me explain. I knew a girl a few years ago who was somewhere between a friendly acquaintance and friend. One day “Natalie” (this one’s not a Jane) called me extremely excited about a guy with whom she had gone on three dates. That’s fine – I think we’ve established that it’s good to be excited. But when she told me that the guy had said that he loved her on the third date my role as the cheerleader stopped and I candidly took stock of the situation. I explained to Natalie that no normal guy would feel like he was actually in love on the third date but if he did feel that way he wouldn’t dare say it – the rules of normal guy conduct would prevent that from being uttered for many, many dates to come. In my most frank opinion, I told Natalie what I think is plainly obvious to most readers - I warned that she should be cautious about this one (inside I was thinking “run Natalie, run!” but I was trying to provide a semblance of support). Two weeks later, I was supposed to meet up with Natalie and her new beau in the Hamptons, however, she permanently blew me off in the coldest of ways an aquaintance/friend who doesn’t want to hear the voice of reason possibly can. Two years later I ran into Natalie out with mutual friends. Within minutes of reconnecting, she confided that I had been “right about that guy.” This I knew, but she clearly had to figure it out on her own.

Sometimes you hear a friend telling you a story about her latest love interest and you can’t help but think – “do you understand how insane this sounds?” The bubbly voice on the other end of the phone proudly uttering - “He wants 2.5 kids too, with me do you believe it? And he also wants to live in a Tudor house and have a granite kitchen counter top!” Ok, I exaggerate slightly – though oftentimes it’s worse. On the first date this knight in shining armor is telling a tale that every Cinderella wants to eat up with trusting enthusiasm. But that’s just the problem. It’s a fairy tale. And you have to wonder why grown women believe in it like they’re eight again. Most men are simply not talking or acting like this on the first date … or second … or third. There is standard guy conduct – guys from Mars behavior – and this isn’t it. Okay maybe one can argue it is, because there’s just enough of it out there to make it appear like the conduct of a Martian subspecies. Unike the guy who takes four months before he even feels comfortable writing "Love" before his name on your Christmas card, these aberrant men come on super strong, baring their inner most desires and transfering them recklessly to the smiling face across the table only to figure out several dates later that they never truly felt that way towards this particular woman in the first place. And of course, the women are left reeling four dates later after they’ve prematurely told all their friends and family this is “the One.” When the behavior comes from a guy of 18 you can cut him some slack – at 38 or 48 you have to wonder what is up with these men ... Is it simply that this guy who is way too into the woman, way too quicky is tired of the chase and overcompensating for a lifetime dedicated to his career (or friends) and now is far too eager to catch up to his married peers?

And of course, one must also consider the reasons underlying the willingness of the listener of these tales/promises/sweet nothings to believe in what they would otherwise greet with profound skepticism were they on the other end of the phone (the rational listening end). Can you possibly feel like someone is "the One" when you've only read his or her Match profile and spoken on the phone a few times (even if they're long conversations). Why is it that some women go on one date and in the taxi home they’re already planning their wedding and envisioning their lives with someone they’ve spent a total of 4 hours with? Is it that these women are simply searching for any reason to fall in love … obsessively, foolishly, head over heals in love? Are they being hopeless romantics or simply hopeless? Is it immaturity (despite their objective age) or amnesia as to what it truly means to love someone? And do these men seriously lack self-awareness or are they victims of that same romantic self-delusion? Guys, if there was ever a time to comment and shed some light here, this is one of them. Perhaps there’s a sequel "He’s Just Too Into You" being written somewhere …