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It’s Nothing Personal

So here I am four years post-separation and marriage. During the summer I amused myself by getting reacquainted with girlie things—dresses, shoes, and those whatchamacallits…oh, yeah, accessories. I couldn’t quite pull off sexy, but I got and had a lot of laughs. Summer slipped into autumn and winter is nearly upon us, and even though the girlie dresses are getting cold, I still want to wear them. Out. Somewhere. With sincere apologies to Keats, I now find myself slouching towards dating Bethlehem. I’m still not interested in actual dating, but I’m interested in the idea of thinking about maybe seeing what might be out there. Makes me a perfect catch, don’t you think? I am the consummate researcher and thinker, which, for your information is absolutely very different from a procrastinator. I’m a writer, I know the nuances of language better than you.

In any event, I realized I’m in a good position to evaluate the personals. What do they look like compared to when I answered my ex’s personal ad in the Boston Phoenix, Boston’s alternative weekly newspaper, more than 25 years ago? Of course the internet and apps have intervened in the interim, but I limited my research to just personals because 1) I’m too lazy to actually create a dating profile on a site like Match.com, 2) I’m still scarred by my friends’ stories about how brutal and dishonest these dating sites are and 3) I’m not quite ready for an app like Adult Friend Finder—no explanation needed for that I think, except to emphasize that the technology allows you to meet someone RIGHT NOW. No judgment and call me old fashioned, but I just like to get a drink or two and dinner first.

So where to go? Craigslist personals, that ubiquitous, democratic, free internet space that provokes pretty much the same response from people as the Boston Phoenix personals did 25 years ago. Mild shock quickly followed by admonitions to be careful of all the murderers on there. The similarity was downright heartwarming. So far so good! I plunged on with my research, and here, dear reader, is my take on personals then and now:

The Phoenix had the regular personals and a section where sex was a main feature. I believe it was hip enough to also have the basic categories for gays and straights. Craigslist has nine sections and within in them, evidence of the wonder of human variation and preference. Since I’m kind of boring, I stuck with two, “casual encounters” and the “men seeking women.”

All I remember from the Phoenix was that the personals pretty much sounded all the same. The guys liked dinners, movies, and walks on the beach, which was pretty useless—what kind of food? What kind of movies? My ex’s ad actually had specifics, which made him stand out. Now? Holy acronym Batman! LTR, BBW, HWP. Within minutes I was Googling “Craigslist acronyms”: long-term relationship, big beautiful or black woman, height-weight proportional. And that’s when things really got interesting. At one point I forgot I was looking to see if there was anyone I maybe wanted to think about contacting because the specificity is fascinating. This ain’t no dinner and movies crowd.

First there are all the attributes. Ladies, if you get discouraged about all the ways the media reinforces ridiculous standards of beauty, just go to Craigslist—fair warning you are going to see more pictures of men’s junk than a porn site and the fetishes are rampant, but once you get past that, you will find guys looking for BBW, bubble butts, big breasts, small breasts, requests that a woman have a little meat on them. Tall women, petite women, single mothers, HWP, geeky women, tiny waists with big hips. Something called “thick” which even the guides can’t agree on. I thought it was maybe somewhere between HWP and BBW, but then I saw a picture of a “thick” example, and I thought she was actually HWP, so what do I know? I guess the poster will know it when he sees it. Of course there are the straight out requests for being hot looking and thin/athletic. But there are not as many as you would think, and the guys claim to be the same. And that has been going on since Adam was hoping for a hot babe who was an independent thinker and had healthy eating habits.

When men do make very specific or even wacky requests, they often apologize for it and explain they don’t mean to offend, it’s just what they prefer, which I found kind of touching. Sure they may have gotten flamed by some pissed off women or they are simply savvy marketers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a nice touch.

The details included in the personals turned out to be my downfall. I stopped looking for myself and got lost in my writer’s curiosity. I tend to be attracted to guys who make me laugh, and so don’t really have a type. How do people get such specific types? For example what is it about a bubble butt that gets you going? Honestly, thank goodness they included a picture, because I wasn’t even sure what that was. Of course the pictures, clearly of real people, got me started on a whole other line of thought. Where are these people now? Do they know they are a Craigslist poster girl for a ______ (fill in the blank). Then I think how many women actually respond? How many of a type can there be?

Which of course brings it around back to me. I’m happy for all the women out there whose type is being called out and worshipped (a lot of guys promise to worship these various parts). But then that means I have the opposite, but equally annoying problem of 25 years ago when the ads were too vague. Then it was OK, we both like movies, but what if I like “Equalizer” and you like “Her”? Now I have to figure out where my body fits into the acronyms. I can knock out the extremes—I’m proudly not fit or athletic. Which is just as well because the guys who ask for a fit or athletic woman always list their hobbies as hiking, running and all manner of exercise—ugh. I tend to gravitate to the guys who talk about food and wine. Also, I’m not a BBW or a bubble butt. My breasts have never been big, and thanks to my recent weight loss, they have actually gotten slightly smaller (you really can’t win sometimes). I have big hips, but my waist ain’t anywhere near tiny. It actually was a while before I encountered HWP, which shows you how many requests there are for just a regular gal—not many. I guess they are all on Match.com.

Once I could tear myself away from these fascinating guys and their requests and I decided I was HWP, I started lurking among this small number of ads. I could eliminate at least 75% of the guys off the bat. They are in their thirties or younger, and I’m not quite ready to be a cougar (although that is not an infrequent request).  Of the remaining men, there are the people who are looking for love and long-term, while others are uncomfortably honest (married seeking same). A few are just liars/too creepy if true. One guy claimed to be very successful and was looking for someone to travel with him on his boat and winter in Florida. Um, I was just looking for dinner, wine, a few laughs, and home by midnight, thanks! And that leaves me about one possibility every few weeks. And even at that point the general rule of Craigslist is that half the time, people will flake out on you and not show up.

So through very careful, research, combing through pages of original documents, I have come to a very scientific conclusion about dating today versus 25 years ago. It ain’t any easier, whether you are looking for an LTR, an Adult Friend, or just looking for dinner, wine and a few laughs. But at least if you have been hiding your Craigslist lurking habit, you can tell people you only know about it because you read it here. You’re welcome. The girlie dresses can wait until spring.

Photo credit: Glamour.com, “Here Are a Few Not-So-Solid Dating Tips From the 1930s”

Respect the Scarf

My friend Mike (from the “You Should Be Dancing” post) and I have continued our dancing shenanigans. We found a club that plays 70s disco on Sunday nights from 5 to 10 pm. It’s like a middle-aged dream come true—it’s our music and it’s at our time. It is technically called a tea dance, but you can call it anything you like in my book if I can dance hard and be home and in bed by 10:30 on a school night. Mike and I made it our mission to become at least semi-permanent fixtures on Sunday nights and what has helped us succeed is our fabulous dancing and my prop: a big flowing scarf. It earned me the nickname butterfly, or 8i8, for the cool kids in the room. I discovered the magic of the dancing scarf many years ago when I wore one to a birthday party. It took on a life of its own as it made its way around the dance floor, people passing it around like a cheap, but inspiring bottle of gin. It made shy dancers bold and good dancers invent new moves on the spot. Eventually it found its way back to me and, sure, it had everyone’s sweat on it and gotten more action than I’ve had in years, but that was just proof of how good it was.

So of course the first night out dancing I brought the scarf, the same one from that party long ago, and Mike recognized it immediately. I have since instituted a scarf rotation. Sometimes the scarf solicits a smile and other times I can tell someone is eyeing it, covetously. Similar to Linus in the pumpkin patch, if the dancer seems sincere, I will present the scarf with great flourish to him (it’s mostly hims as it’s a gay bar). Then I stand back and enjoy the show. Some will wrap it around themselves or envelope a nearby dancer; others will work it like a chorus line girl. One of our dancing friends, also a fixture, likes to wrap it around his head like a turban.

But there is a dark side to the scarf, I mean besides people having to witness my dance moves using it. Once a straight couple had somehow found their way into the club—it happens occasionally. They had just come from seeing “The Book of Mormon” musical, which the somewhat drunk guy informed me was the wildest thing he’d ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than 25, so I forgave him for that. Plus, they struck me as people who were fairly buttoned down, and finding themselves at this gay dance club had given them permission to let loose. I was in favor of this until the guy continued to get drunker and say random things to me; meanwhile his girlfriend was getting squired around by various gay men. Mike and I were trying to get on with the business of our own dancing when the girl came up and complained petulantly that she didn’t have a prop like me. She was wearing a thick bolero sweater and rather than figure out how to use that creatively, she whined about the scarf until, just to shut her up, I gave it to her. She handed the sweater to her boyfriend who then handed it to me as if I was his mom mule. No matter, I used it like a scarf—it wasn’t the most elegant prop, but hey, I’m a professional, so I made it work. Then she was happily dancing among the smiling gay men. Perhaps feeling out of his element, the guy continued to gravitate toward me and shout drunkenly, “Is it always this fun?”

I admit they were starting to wear on me.

Eventually the girl reluctantly brought back the scarf, like Cinderella having to watch her coach turn back into a pumpkin, and the next thing I knew they were arguing. I moved as far away from them as possible. Mike, who likes to get the scoop, informed me that the girl had put her purse down and someone had taken it. I was unsympathetic because 1) that’s what you get for taking a purse to a dance club, and 2) they are fun, gay men, not saints. What did she expect?

Well, they got the last laugh, or at least the straight guy did. As I was leaving I walked by him and smiled goodbye (and good riddance) and was rewarded with a hard slap on my ass. I whipped around to see his goofy smile and thumbs up, but I was too shocked to respond except to shoot him a dirty look, which was certainly lost on him. I vowed to be more judicious in granting scarf privileges in the future, which is harder to do than you might think.

Another time the scarf caught the eye of a very drunk younger man who was with a much older boyfriend. Younger drunken man looked sincere, and I knew he wasn’t going to slap my ass, so I bestowed the scarf upon him. He theatrically wrapped it around himself, did a back bend onto the little dance runway, and did some passable dance-like rolls. Then he sashayed to his boyfriend and tried to envelop him in the scarf (a nice romantic touch, I thought). Then the boyfriend took the scarf and with a look of distain, dropped it on the floor. That was worse than slapping my ass! The scarf must always be respected, not to mention lord only knows what the hell was on that floor—sweaty bodies are one thing, but dance floor effluvia is quite another. Being a mom, I invoked the 10-second rule and rescued the scarf. Drunken guy wandered over a number of times, but it was game over for him. The scarf, my friend, is a privilege, not a right, and you might want to rethink your choice of boyfriends.

Speaking of older gentlemen who should know better, I was once fooled by one who had gotten up on the runway and was dancing in a funny/sexy way. Some of the younger guys started stuffing dollar bills in his pants—half joke and half approval, like saying, “Go for it old queen!”  We were all generally encouraging. I mean who among us doesn’t want to be pushing 70 and rocking it out on the dance floor? So when he not only eyed the scarf, but outright asked for it, I leaned toward yes, when I should have realized this was a violation of the unwritten rules of the scarf. These rules, by the way, I silently make up as they occur to me. One of our wise dancing friends heard the request and said simply. “Don’t do it. You won’t get it back.” I was torn. On the one hand, I knew he was right, on the other hand, the scarf had a life of its own and another unwritten rule of the scarf is he who needs the scarf must have the scarf. Old Queen continued to ask for it, and I thought, no one would really take the scarf, would they? (Clearly I hadn’t learned the lesson of the young woman’s purse from the first story).

I relinquished the scarf.

At first it was OK. He was working it in a little routine and getting more dollars. Then he stuffed it in his back pocket—more a sign of ownership than borrowing. Still, I wasn’t worried until he asked if he could keep it. Then I thought he was joking, playing up his part as a runway tart, so I laughed nervously and said, “I’d rather you didn’t.” He continued to keep it in his pocket, and now my posse of fellow dancers were keeping an eye on the guy. The scarf’s honor was clearly in jeopardy, and they were mobilizing like a disco version of West Side Story. There was a scuffle when one of my friends took the scarf and one of the Old Queen’s posse took it back. The Old Queen then headed to the bathroom and Mike bravely followed him in and snatched the scarf back, only to be confronted by another of the Old Queen’s posse. Of course Mike emerged as the victor and the scarf was safely rescued. Old Queen came up to me later, claiming he was going to give it back. I should have said “Sure, I believe you!” and slapped him on the ass.

I’m Sexy (If Only in My Head)

You may recall my post featuring Blanche, who keeps me honest and told me to “Get back on the damn horse and ride.” Well, I’m still not ready to do that, not in a even semi-permanent sort of way, but I am thinking it would be nice to just, you know, chat up a decent guy once in a while. However, I’m long on thinking and prepping and short on action, so my first, hesitant step into this fresh hell was to go to Old Navy to look at cute dresses. Oh, I know, believe me, I’m the main reason Blanche drinks so much, and once I induced an eye roll in her that required medical attention.

But you have to understand, I’m not a girlie girl. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t own one of those bag things many women carry around their girlie stuff in, I prefer jeans and plain tee-shirts, and lean toward black chunky shoes because I get to have comfort disguised as cool (perhaps only disguised to me). I own work dresses but only because pants are too hot and I don’t have to wear hose. So, for the record, me skulking around Old Navy for a dress is a BIG DEAL. I admit I kind of got caught up in the girliness of it all, and bought not one, but two dresses. One is a little black number that I have absolutely no use for and no place to wear, but my understanding is that this is the bedrock of girlie shopping. It may play into my scheme to sit in a nice bar to chat up all the decent guys who would most certainly be drawn to the dress like squirrels to an acorn. (Oops, I just made Blanche choke on a beer nut). The second dress is cotton and is a long sundressy kind of thing, and I have so little experience with this, I don’t even know how to describe the style. Here’s a picture.

photo (7)

It’s sort of a crossover, wrap around, which I usually avoid because 1) when it wraps all the way on the bottom, the women I see wearing them are constantly having to hold on to the bottom lest they end up flashing the world and I’m much too lazy to do that, and 2) when I was younger, I didn’t have the boobage to carry something like that off. But this dress was only wrapped at the top and since having a kid, I’m almost average size, so I thought what the heck? It looked pretty darn cute, if I may say so myself, and so I bought both and had exactly three minutes of giddiness until I remembered, oh yeah, girlie is a harsh mistress: you can’t just buy a dress. The dress needs other stuff like a necklace and shoes, perhaps even a scarf and other things I don’t even know about. I mentally scanned my belongings and thought I could scrape up everything but the damn shoes. My choices were Merrell sandals and girlie sandals the wrong color from a dress and event long ago. Crap. Despite these reminders of why I’m not a girlie girl, I attacked the shoe store like a Navy SEAL. Sweating and gasping, I got a pair of black sandals, even though there is no black in the crossover dress. (Blanche is sighing and ordering another shot.)

With the summer dress burning a hole in my closet, I decided to kill three birds with one stone: celebrate city life and the end of summer, debut the dress, and practice being cute in public. I put on my costume, complete with the new sandals, a black chunky necklace and earrings I’d bought once for a fancy work dinner, a bracelet-watch, and rings. I gathered a small group of friends to meet me at an outdoor hotel bar in the afternoon, so we could enjoy the weather, sip cocktails, and look like those people in the outdoor furniture section of a Crate and Barrel catalogue. I was well into enjoying being a person who had no piles of laundry at home or a teenager to corral, chatting and laughing, when one of my friends pointed at me and asked,

“Um, what’s going on there?”

I looked down to discover with horrifying certainty that my boobs were only big enough to hold the dress up while I was standing. Sitting on the Crate and Barrel couch, not so much. Despite being manhandled by my strapless bra, one boob was half popping out of the now slackened wrap around/crossover, which clearly is not the right name for this style because that dress was doing neither of those things.

We all laughed while I scooped up my dignity and my boob and then I spent the rest of the time checking and plucking the dress from the back and sitting on it so it wouldn’t gap. But that’s what dry runs and fun friends are for, right? Just as I was starting to feel cute again, in spite of having to sit ramrod straight to keep my dress in place, I glanced down and spied a small chain poking out of the side of my dress near my boob. Like a tawdry stripper/magician act in Vegas, I tugged on the chain and slowly pulled out my necklace from the side of my dress. Bless any of you who are blaming a broken clasp—I promise not to take my lukewarm mess to any public venues near you. No, I hadn’t actually caught the clasp in a link, just around the chain, so it slid up to the last larger link. There it sat precariously until my boob shenanigans had undone the thing. Ooooh, yeah, I’m a real catch.

We all had another round of belly laughs as I struggled to re-latch the necklace and keep my boobs covered. As I headed home, I had flashbacks of similar results in my attempts to be cool/cute/sexy in my 20s. It wasn’t pretty.

  • Trying to kiss a guy on a first date and practically knocking his teeth out with my inexperienced eagerness.
  • The time, after a bad break up, I went to the dance club determined to go home with someone, and even the last dance desperadoes fled from my female version of the “What is love?” SNL guys.
  • The time a guy was putting the (not unwelcome) moves on me and I kept asking, “What are you doing?”

I should be asking myself the same thing. Well, to quote Blanche, I’m “getting back on the damn horse.”

“I’ll drink to that,” says Blanche as she takes a fortifying drag off her Marlboro. “But better make it a double.”

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I do have a serious streak, and recent world events have dragged it out into the light. While I’m very relieved about the truce in Gaza, the Ferguson, MO conflict still weighs heavily on my mind. I had been thinking about it when my best friend from college Sonia posted on my Facebook page, “Thinking about Ferguson and race relations…I think it’s time for our Ebony and Ivory duet again! What do you think?”

“Yes!” I replied. I’d been thinking the same thing. I’d been thinking about how although she was black and I was white, we had, in that magical college time, become best friends and crossed the color lines. The duet by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney was on the charts at the time and we use to sing it, as a gag. I think a lot about how lucky I am to have met her in those circumstances where you are primed to delve deep into everything. And we delved deep into each other’s cultures. Although I’d say I was the one who had the steeper learning curve. Black people by default already know about and have to negotiate white culture every day. I was an invited guest into Sonia’s culture, and I had more to learn and gain; she was patient with my questions.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to. Is it possible to replicate our experience? There is this great divide between blacks and whites, but as a white person, you can’t just go up to a black person and say, “Hey, tell me about being black!” For the most part, I think black people get tired of having to explain themselves to white people, and they shouldn’t have to. Class is also involved, and is trickier, because as much as we don’t like to talk about race, we really don’t like to talk about class–that “anyone can make it in America” thing gets in the way. If we want to improve black/white relations, we have to start with groups in the same class, and preferably they have something in common outside of both spheres. For me and Sonia, we both loved the same kind of music, U2 in particular, but good old rock too. That’s how we met; she heard U2 crooning from my room, walked in, and started thumbing through my fairly decent album collection. The rest is history. So, in honor of that fortunate day in my life, I am reposting the opening of an essay I wrote about our relationship in the Fall/Winter 2009, issue of the Newport Review. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think, white folks, the onus is on us to get better acquainted with black culture. Once we’re better informed, we can knock on the door, and politely ask to come in.

Oh, and one random note, I call her Samantha in the essay–I used to have a thing about using real names in online publications, as if 1) any one was actually reading my stuff and 2) the one person who was would be a crackpot and hunt the named person down. Blogging helped cure that.

The Color of Vinyl

“Hey, black girl. What are you looking at?” I challenged.

“You got a problem, white girl?” she shot back.

We glared at each other. The air in the elevator was still, tomb-like. The two other people in the elevator shifted nervously. Neither one was close enough to the panel to push a lower floor number.

I struggled to keep control. In their darting peripheral vision, the two other riders could see our eyes locked together. I noted the ding of the bell as the floors dropped away from us – 9, 10, 11. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw floor number 13 light up. The elevator slowed. I timed my response. “Maybe I do.” As the door slid open, one of the riders flinched and I lunged to the lobby floor. She flung herself after me. I heard a gasp from the elevator, and could no longer contain myself. We both burst into laughter as the door closed on the terrified, confused riders.

Read the rest of the essay here.

You Should Be Dancing

Last year, a good friend who was single at the time invited me to a GLBT breast cancer fundraiser dance. She invited another good friend of mine, also single, who she had recently gotten to know better — I was in heaven — a night out with my two favorite dancers. We are now well into midlife, but back in the day, I’d gotten to know them separately and had spent many happy hours dancing with each of them when we were still young enough to pull off a night out that starts at 11 pm. Still, we sounded like the beginning of a bad joke — a lesbian, a gay man, and a straight woman go to a lesbian dance…but what was the punch line?

Oddly enough, it was “I’m getting divorced.” We three share the same sense of humor and we use it liberally to get us through the indignities and unfairness of life. So we riffed off one another all night. As L and M recounted their bad dates and online dating photo and profile exaggerations, I contributed in a fake peppy voice, “I’m getting divorced.” I don’t know why it was funny, but it was — we weren’t even drinking (that much). M lamented that many men his age had gone to seed, and L countered with the observation that many lesbians our age are either partnered or live in the suburbs. Again I added “I’m getting divorced.” And again we laughed, perhaps at the absurdity of it all, of finding ourselves in a place we’d never intended to be and the opposite of what we’d hoped for at this stage of our lives. And we’d discovered the galling truth is that it’s just as awkward and difficult to be unpartnered now as it was when we were 20. Maybe we thought age and wisdom would make it easier, but that’s turned out be a bunch of midlife propaganda. Instead, we turned to the wisdom of our 20-year-old selves, and danced away the hurt with heart and soul. By the end of the night, the long scarf I’d brought as a dance prop had both coiled and floated playfully around L and M and had steadied M as he gracefully came out of a back bend on the dance floor. It was glorious.

We came, we laughed, we danced, and for one night it didn’t matter that M had pretty much chatted up every single woman there and we still hadn’t found L a viable date. It didn’t matter that I had a mountain of divorce paperwork to sift through. It didn’t matter that neither L nor M had gotten messages from their respective love interest. I was getting divorced, and while we danced, it just didn’t matter. 

photo credit: http://www.smouseproductions.com/