Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sugar and Spice and All Things TOO Nice?

When we were children we learned that boys were made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, while little girls, on the other hand, were made of sugar and spice and everything nice (i.e. all the good things too numerous to mention – probably flowers and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns’ horns).*

Thus, little girls everywhere knew that they had been mixed just perfectly to be sweet and sometimes a little sassy (hence the spice) but still always nice. Thus, when little Suzie and Jane were playing with their dolls and throwing tea parties and Suzie all of sudden had a bout of spoiled child syndrome, refusing to share her teapot, someone’s mom would rush over reprimanding: “Now Suzie, look how you just made Jane cry - be nice and share your teapot!” Suzie would grudgingly comply and that would be that. Meanwhile, in the next room, Davie and Bobby are playing with GI Joe and bashing each other’s brains out.

So when a man addressing a now grown, sexy, sassy Suzanne tries to grasp why she is always smiling when she sees him, possibly throwing in a big hug too, laughing at his jokes, but failing to return his calls, he needs to understand that he is confusing seeming interest with an extra tablespoon of molasses.

Recently, a friend of mine (let’s call him “Rob”) sought my guidance. He explained that he had called "Suzanne" last week and never heard back from her. When he saw her out the other night among mutual friends, she seemed thrilled to see him and spoke to him in a way that – to him – conveyed romantic interest. “I think I should call her one more time” he throws out there. My response: “Absolutely not. You’ve called her, she knows your number and she didn’t call, text or email back – she’s not interested.” “Well, then why doesn’t she just say to me with a big smile, I think you’re great but I’m just not interested.” (The smile is very important in this delivery. Said in a matter of fact manner and there is a solid chance of severe ego damage) Believe it on not, Rob is truly bewildered by why Suzanne can’t just come out and make this statement.**

Yes, why doesn’t she just say “Rob, you seem like a good guy, you’re not bad looking, you’re obviously pretty bright, but I have zero desire to go out with you. You do nothing for me and I would never sleep with you.”

“But Rob, she is saying it. She’s saying it by not calling you back” is my no-nonsense response. When a woman is interested her problem is typically calling back too soon, cancelling plans with her friends to be available when the guy offers last minute tickets to a show, etc. It is rarely the case where she is that interested but has mastered the art of being too coy. There really should be a “She’s Just Not That Into You” movie that could explain to guys, just because a woman is friendly, just because she smiles when she’s talking to you, just because she talks to you, it doesn’t mean she wants to go out with you. Probably, it means that she is remembering the scene with the teapot and is trying to be nice and spare your feelings.

The truth is, Rob is not alone in asking this question. Another male friend suggested to me a few years back, why can’t you just tell a guy nicely, “thanks, but I’m really not interested.” Even among the more outspoken and forthright of us, it’s awkward for women to be so direct and seemingly “mean/bitchy/not nice.” And honestly, do you see guys embodying the diplomatic frankness they apparently seem to desire from women?

So this is today’s question: Men, would you rather women just say, straight up in the middle of a conversation, “Joe, you seem nice, but I’m not interested” or would you rather they sweetly blow you off? Not that there’s any guarantee that even knowing your collective preference women will be able to accommodate - the kitten’s whiskers in them may simply not let them …

*For the curious, this well known nursery rhyme, “What Are Little Boys Made Of” (which was published around 1820 and attributed to the English poet Rober Southey) is part of a larger work called “What Are Folks Made Of.” Apparently, mothers are made of “ribbons and laces and sweet pretty faces” while fathers are made of “pipes and smoke and collars choke”. You can find the full rhyme at I would like to know what lawyers are made of (briefs and motions and self-aggrandizing notions?) Bankers, anyone?

** Deborah Tannen provided a pretty good analysis of how men and women are socialized to use language differently in the book “You Just Don’t Understand." It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Too Many Menus?

Manhattanites take it for granted that any desire or need they have can be easily met at any time, any day of the week. Hungry? Are you in the mood for Italian, Mexican, Turkish, Lebanese, Vegan …? Oh, you’re craving Asian? Why didn’t you say? Here are a few delivery menus for Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and, of course, a few pan Asian. Japanese, it is? Do you want to go with Fusha, Sushi Hana, Monster Sushi…? Oh, you want to go out instead…?!

It’s a wonder anyone ever makes any decisions in this city!

In the dating world, it’s not surprising that such an embarrassment of riches has both a positive and deleterious effect on single New Yorkers who are looking for the “real thing” (or so they think) in a city of overwhelming options. On the positive side, you have far more choices than if you were stuck in suburbia with the mommy and me crowd and married folk whose weekend activities include mowing the lawn and cleaning out the garage. On the down side, the abundance of choices can lead to a syndrome of indecision and option-weighing that can continue ad nauseum.

Indeed, anyone with minimal dating experience in New York knows that any guy or girl you meet at a bar, party, charity event, clinic (just making sure you’re paying attention!) etc. can also be easily juggling several Janes or Joes. Thus, even if this new object of your affection may be likewise intrigued by you, it doesn’t necessarily translate into her cancelling her full roster of dates that week or refraining from planning more the following week (men have always been great at playing the field, but New York women have become a quick study).

Now, some would posit that having a full menu of choices at one time is essential in making the right decision for a potential partner. The argument goes something like this: “I’m not getting any younger. I can’t waste valuable time being exclusive with someone until I really know this person and am absolutely sure this is someone I could spend my life with.” What might have been wonderful, immediately exclusive girlfriend material at 25 is no longer cutting it at 35. By dating a few people at once, these multi-taskers rationalize that they are in the best position to make a fully informed decision about who they want to spend the next 50+ years of their lives with. When you think about it, is the reasoning so unsound?*

Another somewhat obvious benefit of dating several people at once is that you tend not to get fixated on one person. This is especially important for women. When you have a long line of suitors, one’s threshold for bad behavior gets inversely lower. Indeed, “Tim’s” last minute invitations are no longer so easily accepted because “Dan” is more than willing to bring you to his ski/beach/country house next weekend.

Has anyone ever walked into Dylan’s Candy Shop and walked out empty handed because you were simply overwhelmed? I admit to experiencing such paralysis at being besieged by candy of every sugary color and shape (coupled with walking in not knowing precisely what I was in the mood for). Knowing that Dylan’s is soundly at the corner of Third and 60th gives one the peace of mind that you can choose nothing, but the next time you have a craving you can always go back and satisfy your every sweet tooth need.

This calls to mind my friend “Suzy” who has been going out with a few different guys over the past few months. Suzy called me recently, curious to know what I thought about one of her men du jour who I happen to know. During the course of our conversation, she described the benefits of Jason (very bright, handsome and interesting) but also his drawbacks (not that spontaneous, not that funny, a little pretentious). Now Phil, she explained, is also really cute and funny, spontaneous, creative and … totally unreliable. And then there’s this new guy, Andrew. Unlike, Phil, Andrew has a great job, great family and he is great to her … thing is, he’s just not that great in bed. But “will that really matter in the long run?” she asks with the slight hint of the answer in her voice.

When there are so many people in the mix, it is easy to start comparing one person you are dating to the other person you just has sushi with instead of comparing that person to the standard of the “One” you are truly looking for. “Amy has all of 'this', and I love 'this.' But Jennie has all of 'that' and I really like 'that.' But Amanda has a rockin’ body. If I could only find an Amy/Jennie/Amanda hybrid. She has to be out there! Who knows, maybe this new girl Brooke I am going out with Friday with be the perfect mix of Amy/Jennie/Amanda?!” Of course, we all know that Brooke is just Brooke with her own chart of pros and cons, and Joe’s going to be leaving hungry ...

*Of course, if the other person is not also multi-tasking and not aware of your multi-tasking, there are inherent dangers in proceeding in such a fashion. This will be addressed in a future blog whose title may be something to the affect of “Casanova or Creep? But We Didn’t Have THAT Conversation.”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

First Date Cherry Zinger Euphoria! Expires Two Weeks From Today

Everyone loves that feeling you get when you leave a really good first date – there’s a little extra energy in your step, a twinkle in your eye, a goofiness in your smile perhaps and the sneaking thought “this one’s got potential.” If it was exceptionally good, you might even be struck by that urge to shout it out to the people you pass on the street “FYI, I just had a great date. No, really, a GREAT date! This one’s hot, fun, smart and, as far as I can tell, seemingly normal.” Ok, you might refrain from sharing this earth shattering news with indifferent strangers but perhaps your doorman George will get an earful. If someone could just figure out how to bottle this euphoric feeling, the waiting list for the iPhone last year would seem like child’s play in comparison.

But what happens in the ensuing days can buttress that feeling of being in seventh heaven* or it can leave one feeling like he or she just stalled 10 feet from the finish line. Yes, my friends, in today’s blog we are talking about Momentum.

Remember the scene from the movie "Swingers" when Vince Vaughn et al. try to convince Jon Favreau’s character that he should wait the requisite three days before contacting the sexy woman he met at the bar who was seemingly interested in him … or was it four days? As we all recall, the loveable nonplayer embodied in Jon Favreau’s character ultimately decided to ditch the advice of his all-knowing “playa” friends when he met the lovely Heather Graham and he made The Call the next day. The reaction of his stunning swing partner on the other end of the phone left the audience clapping internally at the prospect that Mikey had arrived.

Now, I understand that the above movie scene involved the question of contacting someone after just meeting him/her as opposed to having actually gone on a “date” - but in my view the same theory of momentum applies. I imagine that everyone is familiar with a phenomena that can occur where one can walk away from a really enjoyable date (whether it be the first, second or third)* and due to lack of momentum it can easily be the last. As I wrote in a previous blog, yes, one must be wary of a relationship that takes off like a harrier jet – that’s likely too much momentum which will oft lead to a crash and burn scenario. But one also runs the counter risk of being the tortoise that does not win the race.

We all know New Yorkers are busy people. There are always calls to make, errands to run, things to do, people to see, places to be seen. And when you’re slammed at work, it certainly can get the best of you. It’s plausible, I suppose, to see how one can leave a good first date and for whatever reason, wait a few days to follow up. More likely, though, in that scenario the interest is superficial at best (yes, the lesson repetitively drilled into female brains from “He’s Just Not That Into You” should be flashing in neon lights). Most men when they are really interested are present the next day in some form (text, email, call … yes, some men even still send flowers).

But let’s go a step further and contemplate the scenario where there is a real interest on both ends and there is the next day “checking in” call/text to say “hi –just seeing how you’re doing.” Without the next date being planned in the foreseeable future, both the guy and girl still run the real risk of losing the connection that was so tangible just days ago. Indeed, the ideal scenario is to set up the next date at the end of the current one … that shows real interest and the awareness that you if you like this person, chances are so does someone else …

Let’s address a New York reality: in Manhattan everyone – even your average Joe or Jane - can be a playa. If you wait too long between communications or dates, chances are your latest “like” interest has had another pretty good date (or at least hook up) in the interim. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn by one’s leaving things to chance is that he/she is really not that interested. We’re all familiar with the expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Which never fails to bring to my mind the competing expression “out of sight, out of mind.”
So, pray tell, which is it?

Recently, I heard someone repeat the quote “You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the flame begins to catch, the wind will blow it higher.” My internet research tells me that Peter Gabriel can take credit for this bit of wisdom. Is the moral of the story that one should just recognize when something's simply “a candle” (or is it possible that you can actually turn your candle into a flame if you hire an arsonist?) As men typically set the pace, at least in the beginning, there really should be a warning label on the love potion: Delay Drinking At Your Own Peril (insert skull and crossbones here). Men, when you call or email a woman after too much time has passed and she’s blasé she’s really thinking “Buddy, your time’s over. You’ve expired.” Drink anyone?

*For the curious, the term “seventh heaven” can be traced to the Jewish and Islamic faiths. The Jewish religion recognized seven heavens, the highest of which was the abode of God. In Islam, the seventh heaven is a place of “divine light and pure ecstasy” (the division of the heavens apparently finding its roots in Babylonian astronomical theories).

**To be clear, I am addressing an amazing date experienced by both sides. This is not to be confused with the amazing date experienced by one side and the mildly satisfying evening passed by the other.