Archive for March, 2009


After five years living in Europe, I noticed many things had changed upon my return to the States, most notably, the way people on the subway behaved.  At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but soon realized: no one was talking. 

Five years before, subway cars contained bickering couples, yakking corporate execs and gossiping college co-eds, all of them adding their part to the beautifully cacophonous music of city life.  Now, everyone was plugged into IPods, putzing around with games on their cell phones or watching TV on screens the size of guitar picks. 

Soon, I realized the phenomenon wasn’t restricted to the subway.  Facebook status updates and tweets now fill the space diaries used to provide for self-expression.  Emails killed letter writing, while text messages have eliminated the need for those things our elders once termed “telephone calls.”  The art of conversation, the back-and-forth exchange of ideas, the ability to express feelings in full, unabbreviated sentences, is dying.  Americans no longer know how to communicate.     

Thus, it came as no surprise that “talking” was a recurring theme at the March Man Panel.  The topic under discussion was how to take a casual relationship to the next level.  After nearly two hours of exploring the minutiae of “the dating game,” one panelist brought it home. 

“You want to make a change in a relationship you’re having with a guy?”  The panelist asked.  “Talk to him.  Communicate.”

The audience was dumbfounded.  Some cocked their heads as if they’d just stepped off a spaceship and needed to ask, “what is this ‘talking’ of which you speak?”

Really, it couldn’t be clearer.  Who needs Man Panels, self-help books, advice columns and understanding friends when you’ve got the one thing no one else on the planet has: your voice.  Wondering if a guy’s interested in becoming your boyfriend?  Ask him.  If he bolts, he probably wasn’t into it in the first place. 

But no gal wants to appear “clingy” or “desperate,” so much better to put a sock in it when it comes to making her desires known.  We ladies of the modern age can demand six figure salaries, run Fortune 500 companies and reach second place in presidential races.  So, why is it so tough to say, “I dig you.  Wanna be my man?” 

Maybe because both men and women are supposed to be emotional superheroes with easily controlled feelings and resilient hearts.  Because we’re led to believe needing someone is weak.  Because we no longer know how to talk about our deep selves in meaningful ways, and have few opportunities to express who we are or what we want, and have someone else listen much less give a dang.  

And so we vanish into IPod shuffle world.  We avoid strangers standing next to us in the elevator.  We hide behind steely exteriors and wait around for the apples of our eyes to allow our relationships to step up a notch.

Of course, who am I to talk when I can’t even make eye contact let alone form words in front of my current crush.  I fear I may collapse if I stood next to him, actually speaking might cause me to burst into flames.  Even an extroverted, live-life-to-the-fullest chick like me wimps out after one too many heartbreaks.  No matter what one has achieved, asking someone to validate your feelings for them is the scariest of life’s undertakings.  I’d rather go to the dentist, speak publicly and die.

But I’m working on it. 

So this communication thing?  Much bigger than love and romance.  This nation needs to get talking again.  I, for one, won’t let Facebook be my diary and won’t let my daily interactions be full of trifles.  I shall talk, I shall engage, I shall smile at strangers in the elevator.    

In fact, if you see me on the subway, feel free to take the seat beside me.  I’ve got loads to tell you.

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baggage-claim1My friend, Kim, was considering penning a memoir about her romantic life until she discovered “Smart Women, Foolish Choices” had already been written. 


Kim has been so successful at moving in and out of unstable relationships with sexy, psychological wrecks, you’d think it was her job.  The more emotionally inaccessible the guy, the deeper she falls.  There was Kevin, the school teacher who removed a thriving collection of Xanax bottles from his bedside before inviting Kim into his room, and Josh, a former drug dealer still weaning himself off a co-dependent relationship with his ex-wife.  Perhaps a better title for her biography would be “Still Life with Weirdoes” or perhaps, “Him?!?  You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me.”   


So imagine the relief I felt when Kim became smitten with Allan, an affable café owner who played guitar on the side.  A group of us were at Allan’s café, envying the romantic focus with which he attended Kim; bringing her free food and booze, becoming bashful whenever they made eye contact and printing out the bibliographies of his favorite authors once he found out she wrote.  Allan was smart, funny and unlike Kim’s previous conquests, seemed relatively free of the emotional luggage that makes modern lovin’ so taxing.


If only we knew.


For the next several weeks, Kim showed up for lunch at Allan’s café, ostensibly to write but really to ogle, while he continued to seduce her with free food and beverage.  Often, he sat with her to enjoy a pseudo-date and just as often, the lunch date would turn into a dinner date, would turn into a close-down-the-bar-and-drink-until-four-in-the-morning date. 


Thus, everyone was enthused about the possibility of “Kim and Allan.”  Until the day he asked her out for real, then warned her they’d have to schedule the date “on a whim.”  Seemed Allan was crazy about our dear friend Kim, though there was one tiny gap on the track of his love train.  His five-year-old son.


Kim rarely met a pile of baggage she couldn’t sort through, but she’d always steered clear of “the kid thing.”  A kid meant having to impress an undeveloped ego still smarting from the sting of his parents’ breakup.  A kid meant getting ditched on your birthday because Junior came down with the flu.  A kid meant pretending to like cyborgs and spending Saturday nights at Pizza Hut.  And a kid meant an ex-wife or girlfriend who would never, ever go away…ever.


But Kim was nearing the big 4-0 and Allan had already hit it.  Even by thirty, failed dreams and heartbreak leave many people with a stunning set of emotional luggage strapped to their aching limbs.  By forty, it’s a surprise more folks aren’t found in fetal position at the foot of their beds sucking their thumbs. 


Singles always object to dating people with baggage, an understandable but wholly impractical goal.  A better plan might be to determine what kind of issues you can handle.  On what kind of psychological shit stream might you find yourself carrying a paddle?  Really, it could be quite fun as dating becomes like a game show or a dinner buffet; “I’ll take two servings of mommy issues and a smidgeon of erectile dysfunction.”


Kim decided to go for it with Allan, but became disappointed after weeks went by without a commitment for a date.  When they finally met, he came clean.  Not only did he have a five-year old, Allan still lived with the child’s mother.  But no need to fret, he assured Kim.  They were on the verge of a divorce and living in separate bedrooms.


Allan had dropped one too many bags into my friend’s generously extended arms.  The subsequent split was tough on Kim who thought she’d finally met a man with a shallow shit stream.  In the aftermath, she wept, she swore off men, she considered titling her romantic memoirs, “One Hundred Years of Solitude Redux.”


And then, she met Jimmy, a divorced architect with a perfectly manageable case of OCD.  Three months in, Kim has been coping successfully with her new boyfriend’s issues and rediscovering her faith in love.  You can read all about it in her new book, “Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag.”


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demi-mooreWhen you hold a student loan large enough to cancel out third-world debt and regularly wear second-hand clothes, it’s not unusual to dream up ways to improve your financial lot.  Some women fantasize about a rich Prince Charming sweeping them off their feet, but I’ve never been one to imagine romance as a means to financial success.  Women who use sex to lure the wealthy have always seemed to me like swindlers who disgrace the female gender and kill the spirit of love. 


Then along came a man who said those four little words every woman supposedly wants to hear.


“Can I keep you?”  


I met the Professor, a political science scholar and ‘60s era activist, years ago at an academic conference.  He was a lanky man with bulbous eyes, a silver mane of oddball-academic hair and a slobbery old guy mouth he kept dabbing with a handkerchief.  Not exactly Robert Redford in a tux.


My hunch said the Professor harbored a crush, but considering that age-wise, there were five presidential administrations and one world war separating us, I assumed he’d be content with friendship.  Over time, we shared sporadic emails about the plight of the world’s oppressed people, and the occasional dinner when he was in town.


Then one night, he popped the question.  We were eating at a restaurant at the Sheraton where he was staying for the weekend.  Two minutes after we’d finished a debate about whether feminism is a legitimate political movement (he didn’t think so) the Prof said, “I invited you out tonight because I have a proposition.  I want a relationship with you.  Yes, there’s an age difference, and I know you’re hoping to have a meaningful relationship with a man your age, but I wouldn’t place any restrictions on you.  When I’m in town, I’d simply like someone to spend time with, someone to sleep with.  I may be old, but I still know how to please a woman.”


My first instinct was to hurl and make a run for it, but the Prof was staring back at me with wet, lonely eyes.  Being the bleeding heart I am, I stayed and tried not to hurt his feelings.


“Oh,” I said.  “How nice of you.”


 “You’re surprised.”


“One way to describe it.”


“Well,” he chuckled.  “You don’t think men ask you to dinner because they want to eat, do you?”


“Actually,” I told him, starting to feel peeved.  “I do.  And I certainly don’t expect them to ask me to become their kept woman.  Why would I want that for myself?”


“You’re a starving artist,” he answered.  “You stay in hostels when you travel and can’t afford expensive dinners.  Stick with me and you get the Sheraton and prime rib.”


The Sheraton, I thought.  What a gyp.  Still, I wondered.  What if all the things I’ve sacrificed to live this artsy, not-for-profit life – good wine, exotic travel destinations, clothes that don’t come off the sale rack – were suddenly provided by a sexy rich dude who just happened to be older than the hills?  What if the Prof really did look like Robert Redford?  What if he paid off my debt and offered up a better hotel?  Would I have considered his indecent proposal?


Anyway, the point was moot as I wasn’t sitting across from the Sundance Kid.  I was sitting across from the Slobbery Grandfather taunting me with a pervy grin.  Here was a guy who spent a lifetime defending the world’s political underdogs and fighting the powers that be.  Yet, he couldn’t see how asking a young woman for a roll in the hay in exchange for a good cut of meat might be a tad dehumanizing.


Even more maddening was the recognition of how often these scenarios occur.  One of my girlfriends had a married father of two begging her to become his piece on the side.  A guy that refused to give my female colleague the relationship she wanted, still expected her to be available for late-night trysts.  Most men are decent human beings who bow out upon realizing they can’t provide what a woman needs, but there are still those who want what they want and don’t consider what’s in it for the other person.  Obviously, women do, too, though they don’t usually ask anyone to give up love and real companionship in order to become some chump’s sex toy.


El Profesor played it cool when I turned down his offer and our friendship gradually petered out.  Since then, whenever I make my way to the back of department stores toward the discount racks, or skip an appetizer I can’t afford, I pride myself on being the kind of gal who’d never go for the Prof’s kind of proposal.


Though truth be told, if I’m still paying off this dag-blasted student loan in ten years, he may just get a call.


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A friend insisted I see He’s Just Not That Into You, thinking it would change my long-held belief that chick flicks blow. 

I’m just not into their Disney-ified take on life.  The women are shallow ninnies who buy shoes and sing pop songs into hairbrushes when they’re sad.  The men are clueless hunks who miraculously get their crap together then deliver goofy speeches about the transformative effects of love.  Marriage is presented as the only worthwhile aim of human existence, while love itself is depicted as a series of zany mishaps that must be stumbled out of in order to be attained.

He’s Just Not wants to get real.  Indeed, the flick reveals some real moments from single women’s lives – staring at the phone, looking for “signs” the guy likes you.  I’ve done these things.  All my girlfriends have done them.  I’m sure even Angelina Jolie did these things before she had Pitt sweatin’ her. 


But I want to go deeper. 


Years ago, after being discourteously dumped, I had one of those old-fashioned Victorian heartbreaks.  I spent several days in bed sobbing, begging God for mercy and having hallucinatory visions of unzipping myself from my own skin in order to be rid of a savage case of self-doubt.  All I could think was, “if he could see how much I’m suffering.  Things might have turned out the same, but he probably would’ve been nicer about it.” 


Maybe men would revise their dating repertoire if they stopped getting the message that we’re just a bunch of whiny shopaholics who need only a pedicure and vat of ice cream to offset their bad behavior.  A stop at the salon never helps us get over the person we love.  When you cut us, we don’t bleed Häagen-Dazs.


Maybe women would be healthier if the entire planet would stop insisting the only way to existential bliss is matrimony.  In the movie, Jennifer Aniston’s character breaks up with Ben Affleck, a mild-mannered lug who adores her but won’t put a ring on it.  Later, Jen’s father has a heart attack, so she cares for him while her married sisters’ spouses show what sports-lovin’ lazy asses husbands can be.  Ben shows up to help, making Jen realize a man who loves and respects her carries more weight than a marriage certificate. 


“Bravo!” I wanted to shout.  “Marriage schmarriage, the goal is love!”


Then the dope asks her to marry him anyway.  And this, just minutes after the dude tapping Scarlett Johansson admits to cheating on his wife because he felt forced into marriage.  Way to go, Hollywood!


Shouldn’t we be telling honest stories so we can live our lives honestly?  Here’s He’s Just Not That Into You as it would really happen:


Plucky Ginnifer Goodwin goes on a date with a schlub, then gets bummed when he never calls.  In the movie, empowering girl talk with Jennifers Aniston and Connelly helps her through.  In the real-life version, Ginnifer gets hammered, makes out with random strangers then pukes up Cuervo shots as Aniston holds back her hair. 


In the movie, Ginnifer phone stalks a playboy bartender to get his he’s-just-not-that-into-you-style advice.  Despite his commitment issues, the bartender wants her in the end.  In our version, he writes off Ginnifer as a needy wacko, like any sane person would do.  Otherwise, he tries to sleep with her, like any playboy bartender would do, thus spending the rest of the film driving her deeper into an abyss of confusion and despair but certainly not falling in love with her because she’s his “exception.”  Puh-leeze.


Instead of “not making a scene” at Home Depot after discovering her husband’s been schtupping Scarlett Johansson, real-life Jennifer Connelly concusses the guy by chucking a bucket of paint at his head.  As punishment for their infidelity, Bradley Cooper, the actor who plays the adulterer, has to go back to working television, while Scarlett Johansson has to go back to the nose she had in Ghost World.


And finally, when Affleck asks Aniston to marry him, instead of accepting, she says, “no, thanks, doll.”  Better yet, Affleck doesn’t even ask.  Their plot line ends with the realization that love and kindness is really all you need.


Now, that I’m into.


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sex-blogEveryone wants to know what makes gals tick.  Universities do research, glossy magazines do surveys and Mel Gibson stops making Jesus-flogging films long enough to star in a movie declaring what women want.  Apparently, female sexuality is some elusive enigma, a riddle of biological labyrinths as profound and unknowable as God Herself.


An article in last month’s New York Times drew many fascinating conclusions about female desire, mostly centering on the premise that women are just a bunch of voyeuristic floozies.  In one cited study, both men and women were presented with images of straight sex, male and female homosexual sex and…Bonobo chimpanzee sex.  Straight dudes only watched the girls.  Contrarily, women got randy watching everybody do it, including the, um, apes. 


Which begs the question: Why would anyone pay a university researcher to watch people watch monkeys screw?  Are there not diseases to cure and ozone holes to sew shut?  


These studies suggested women are open to varied forms of sexual expression because our sexuality is a discordant medley of physiological and psychological notes.  Supposedly, men are more basic.  As long as they see naked boobies and have their parts touched, they’re happy as clams.   


But is this all men want?  According to the guys on February’s Man Panel, not even slightly.


The panelists’ desires were as diverse as their personalities.  Some said their hearts needed to be as stirred as their loins when doing the deed, others not so much.  Some believed sex on the first date cancels out the possibility of true love, others thought no time line offers guarantees.  Two wanted a woman with only a few notches on her bedpost, the rest felt better-suited to a gal whose bedpost could double as a Jackson Pollack painting. 


Like women, the panelists said, men can develop feelings for their “friends with benefits” and feel hurt when no relationship evolves.  They’re also just as worried about their lovers liking their bodies.  And get this.  Guys can fake the big-O.  Seems they sometimes lose steam, lose interest or just feel sorry for the poor gal laboring over them to no avail. 


In other words, male desire is neither simple nor fixed. 


The women in the audience were brimming with questions.  How should a woman swivel her hips when she’s on top?  What toys do you want to find in her bedroom?  What celebrity would you like to see train your woman in the ways of knockin’ boots?  In other words, what do we have to be, look like and do in order for you to want us? 


The men were befuddled. 


“It’s a problem to mimic someone else’s style without developing your own,” said one panelist.  “Women who are good lovers don’t back off from their own sexuality, they understand who they are as sexual beings.  So ask yourself, ‘what are the things you like, what titillates you, what makes you curious, what terrifies you?’”

Be authentic, the guys said.  Listen.  Respond.  If something feels good to you, it would probably feel good to him.  Sure, you could pout like Angelina Jolie and re-enact the entire script of Debbie Does Dallas.  But sexiness is something you can’t fake.  Besides, it only gets you so far. 


“The physical usually doesn’t have staying power,” said another panelist.  “It might do me well the first time we sleep together.  But I need something more to pull me back.”


And therein lies the rub.  If there’s anything the Man Panel has taught us thus far it’s this: when a guy digs a woman, she really can do no wrong.  And if he digs you, it’s because the two of you are compatible in lots of ways, including between the sheets.  Whether it’s putting out “too soon” or not swiveling your hips to porn star perfection, an emotionally invested guy will make it work. 

And anything you do will make him go ape.


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