Just shut up and look pretty.
It was meant as advice, and her well-meaning father gave it to my best friend. She had just turned twenty-seven and she was living in downtown New York City and she had been dating like it was her job, which meant she more often than not felt overworked, underwhelmed, and sadly certain that the world was chock full of morons. Her list of potential mates read like the following: stockbrokers (unreachable before 4pm and way too materialistic), NBA players (unreachable because their wives checked their cell phone records and way too materialistic), and unemployed drifters (frustrated because they had no discernable musical talent and yet – shockingly – way too materialistic).
She had tried online dating. One guy’s profile stood out. He struck her as funny in a sarcastic way, and tall – the Holy Grail – but he didn’t respond to her witty first email. She was perplexed, wrote to him again: What’s wrong with you? I am clearly adorable. No response. One guy sought her out and told her that she was truly beautiful and she had the most luminous skin he had ever wanted to caress, but one quick thing before the caressing could commence. Did she wear at least a 34 D bra -- he could only physically respond to a really large-breasted woman. She wrote back asking him his dick size.
So there she was, at her family’s dining room table in New Jersey on a Sunday morning. She’d taken a subway to a bus, a bus to a mall parking lot, and had gotten into her mother’s waiting car, all while hung over and wondering why the guy she had gone out with two nights prior and had a great date with – started with sushi, progressed to lots of wine, ended with some good under-the-jeans groping – hadn’t called or texted. She sat with her family, loudly yawned while buttering a bagel, and responded to their questions, telling them everything but the information that might have led them to believe they had raised a whore. She relayed the non-stop conversations she and Bryce had while wielding chopsticks: how she had enthusiastically shared with him all the reasons Hunter S. Thompson should be considered a deity; of the amazing bond she had with her brothers. And she said she had no idea why, after that karmic connection they had forged, whyhad he not been in touch?
And that’s when her father sighed and told her she had done it wrong. If she wanted to snag a man, she needed to simply sit there, shut up, and look pretty.
When Becky called to tell me of this fatherly decree, I was horrified – and weirdly intrigued. I mean, neither of us could ever be accurately described as passive, so why pretend, even on a first date? It sounded deceitful, and really, could it ever work in the long run? True character traits have to come out eventually, so it seemed as ridiculous for us to try to pull off an enthralled and fictitious silence as it was for my friend Tracy to consistently to pull off lying about her age. (Seriously – it had gotten to the point that, when I went out with Tracy, I’d have to ask her how old the guys we were meeting thought she was and if that meant I had to modify my own age so that it made sense that I was even hanging out with her, and the whole thing involved math, and I could never fully pull it off.)
But I was also intrigued by the advice. I wondered if it was the kind of thing a father would say to his adult daughter as she swam through the murky waters of twenty-first century dating, dating that now involved technology, and I simply couldn’t be sure. My father had died when I was too young to get parental wisdom about how to best push a bumpy love life forward. Plus, right before he died I was in this hideous gawky stage, complete with an asymmetrical hairstyle, braces, and lips swathed in frosted pink gloss, so knocking down the doors, the pubescent boys were not. Yet I have always wondered what my father would have thought about my boyfriends, and I was even more curious about what he’d say to me if he found me embroiled in a love crisis. Would I be open with him about my actions and my fears? Would he understand that settling wasn’t in the DNA that he was half responsible for creating? Would he blush if he knew that I sometimes texted scantily-clad pictures of myself to boys – when I was sober? Would he even have an iPhone? (Answer to the last question: no doubt. He would have loved being able to get NHL scores instantly during years when the franchise decided not to strike.)
The advice Becky was given was never followed, and soon after, she met the man who would become her husband. She violated every single rule in the process of dating him, from sleeping with him almost immediately to never ever sitting back and just looking pretty. She was fully herself, and she met a guy who responded to it. And when she was pregnant, her bra size ballooned to a 38 DD, so that online guy can suck it.
As she became romantically stable, my dating life turned tumultuous in a way that might have been cute in a shitty romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson, but in reality felt like a documentary with no production budget. I’d always been the girl with a relationship and all of a shocking sudden I was single. And what I found was that, as an adult, sometimes it’s fucking hard to meet people. (I teach for a living, and probably the biggest issue I have with tenure, other than the fact that a few totally incompetent and psychotic teachers in my district are allowed to keep their jobs and not be mandated to go reside in a padded room for evermore, is that there’s almost no turnover in the profession – rarely does a September begin with a slew of attractive male teachers I can potentially seduce.) So I did it: I went online. And I would have rather been a spectator for someone else’s colonoscopy than fill out my dating profile.
Who did I meet? Here’s the short story, edited down so nobody romantically hopeful throws herself off a bridge after reading it:
I met up with one guy in his house where he still lived with his parents. We sat in the dark on his unmade twin bed while the show Blind Date played on the television in a marathon. At least I thought it was a marathon until he told me it was the DVD of Blind Date, which he had purchased. He tried to kiss me, but the likelihood of my lips ever touching someone who had paid good money for DVDs that featured the mating process of testosterone and silicone-enhanced idiots was slim to none, and I stayed only twenty minutes before I hightailed it out of there, thanking his parents when I left for the lovely time.
I had dinner with one guy and went back to his house to “watch a movie.” I teach Film and I love movies, but let’s just call it like it is – in the dating world, “watch a movie” should always be in quotation marks. At his house (also his parents’ house, though they weren’t home – what is wrongwith these men?) he served me a bowl of ice cream, brought his bowl to the couch, and preceded to share his with his dog, allowing it to lick the ice cream from his spoon. He seriously did this. Now listen: I love my dog more than anyone I know, but I do not share desserts with her. And it’s not just because I have a problem sharing dessert, though that’s part of it. The biggest reason Wookie doesn’t lick from my ice cream cone is because doing so would be fucking gross. I practiced my fake yawn in the bathroom mirror for ten seconds, told him I was exhausted, it being nine-thirty and all, and got the hell out of there, leaving him with his dog who would surely give his scrotum more attention than I planned on giving it.
Then there was the lawyer someone set me up with. He had great hair. We laughed a lot over drinks. On our second date, he asked me if I had ever in my life used drugs and stared at me in utter shock when I told him that I had smoked. Literally: his fork paused mid-air. It’s not like I had a bong in my purse, but I wished at that moment that I did and contemplated creating one right then and there out of the salt shaker, the avocado from my salad, and a napkin, just to show off and to freak him out. He made me feel, before the main course even arrived, like I was the girl in middle school mothers didn’t want their kid to hang out with.
A few more? How’s this:
One guy sent me many texts, each one concerned that I indeed looked like the pictures of myself I had posted. He told me terrible things, like women showing up hundreds of pounds heavier than they appeared in their photos or rocking seriously deformities. He was so nervous about my possible deception that I began to worry. Did I look like my photos? I took a picture of myself right at that moment as I sat on the couch wearing sweatpants and sent it to him with a note: this is how I look right now. He calmed down and we arranged to meet Saturday. And when I arrived at the designated meeting place, I didn’t recognize him – because he looked nothing like his fucking pictures. The next day he sent me a text that said he had a great time and asked if I had masturbated when I got home. Shockingly, he did not turn out to be my soulmate.
I met a guy I really liked and invited him over to go swimming. I put on a black string bikini and tried to feel confident – which took so much energy that I almost had to go lie down. I did a dive, a perfect dive, and then I swam over to where he stood in the shallow end. We floated around, talking, and it was a full five minutes later when I realized my left boob had popped out of my bikini top. Not a hint of nipple showing – the entire breast. I had to decide whether I should drown myself in the shallow end in embarrassment or tuck it back in and pretend it had never happened, which is what I did – but even now, I’ll sometimes be doing something random like driving and I’ll remember the moment, and I’ll mutter holy shit out loud as I experience the horror in retrospect.
Or there’s the time I sat down at the bar at Rosa Mexicana with my blind date, only realizing I had sat down with the wrong guy and had eaten all of his guacamole before being approached by the guy I was supposed to be meeting, who looked at me like I was crazy.
How about the guy I recently went out with, a professor who had a dog I liked. This guy was great on paper, but I did notice early on that he had a breast fixation. Not the strangest fetish – it’s not like he wanted to pee on me – so both my chest and I dealt with his attention calmly. But then there was the night that we were walking down the street, eating ice cream, and we came upon a stack of old videos someone had put out as garbage. For fun we rifled through them, and I was able to snag a copy of Bachelor Party, and what girl my age didn’t pray back then to look just like Tawny Kitaen looked in that movie? As I celebrated my finding, he pulled out his own: a video on the proper way to breastfeed. He said he was going to give it to somebody as a gag gift, but I’d bet my favorite leather boots that the video is now crammed under his mattress, on which I no longer slumber.
So what’s the point of all this romantic horror? Some might say it has to do with karma and we are all being held accountable for earlier misdeeds. Perhaps there’s something to the Karma Theory – I haven’t always done things in as kind and compassionate a way as I should have. Others believe these horrifying experiences help you to weed out what you don’t want in a partner, but I call total fucking bullshit on that one because I’m quite certain that I never entertained the notion that an icky guy – who wore a white patent leather belt on our one and only date – texting me about masturbation might feel nice. Instead, I think these dating travails are about getting a story, a sickstory, a laughable story. There’s no other option when considering that one guy sent a text to a good friend of mine asking her if she wanted him to stab her in the pussy. That text ended things between them, but the residual hilarity cannot be quantified. When I told a guy I wasn’t really interested in him and suggested that he might feel awkward showing up to my book release party since he and I were no longer together, he wrote me a text: Whatever. I think you are retarded. I saved it. I break it out in bars when someone needs a good story. When she’s feeling down, Becky can always be cheered up by being reminded that some guy wanted to call me retarded – and felt okay enough to actually send that sentiment in a text.
And you know what? It’s okay, because I sometimes think that what life is really about is the story – all of those collective stories – that bring each of us to the very brink of sanity and closer than ever to who we really are.