Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why we “goggle.” Crushing out when under the influence. And it’s not just because of beer.


I always liked the term “beer goggles,” since I heard it back in college. The notion that our perception of another person is enhanced due to alcoholic intake was not only interesting, but absolutely true. I tried those goggles on often. They were dispensed at the frat house like… other things… and they not only made the nerdy guy from my dorm more attractive, but it boosted his confidence too. Nothing wrong with that, right? But more importantly, these experiences taught me that context plays a role. The situation in which we meet someone, and the lens through which we view them (expectations and our surroundings), matters big time. 

Some examples of goggling:

1. Business class goggles:  the tan cheese-ball who can afford a business class seat is much hotter than he would be sitting in coach (which is where you’re headed).
2. Wedding goggles:  how many of you guys have tried to hook up with a bridesmaid at a wedding, or even the groom’s sister, when you would never glance at her at a local bar?
3. Writer in cafĂ© goggles:  (tip: facial hair and a pocket Nietzsche in public view help.)
4. Forbidden fruit goggles: someone else’s boyfriend or husband, especially when they appear happy together.
5. Whole Foods goggles: there is something about the guy perusing aisle five, thoughtfully contemplating what to cook for dinner, with the emo soundtrack crooning over the speakers, that makes my heart flutter.
6. Guy in fancy car at traffic light goggles.
7. Office goggles:  when you’re around the same people for ten hours a day, even the short dude with the pencil neck starts to look good.
8. Dad with baby Bjorn while carrying groceries goggles:  the baby has to actually be in the Bjorn though, smiling back at dad as the sun dances along their flaxen hair.
9. Bat-mitzvah goggles:  no, no, no, not the tweens. I’m talking about the single parents attending.  
10. Carpenter hanging my shelves goggles  (toolbox not necessary).

There are also the more obvious ones like Bartender goggles, Weatherman goggles, and Memory goggles (high school crush you haven’t seen but he’s still hot in your head). And in my case, non-Jewish guy goggles, or, goygles.  Any other prescriptions?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Checklist: insurance or illusion?

We’re all familiar with the checklist. The “on paper” qualities that qualify a person as marriage material. It becomes ingrained in us early, when we first start dating; in high school, college, and in our twenties too. It’s made up of things we are programmed to want, whether we actually want to or not.

The checklist is seductive. It serves to give us comfort, a sense of security that it’s going to be okay. It helps to give definition to an otherwise murky future. It’s like buying relationship insurance that safeguards us against angst, marital discord, and divorce, and provides us with its opposite.

But does it really work? And when it does – at what price? Does subscribing to the list actually generate confusion; impair our judgment of the other person, and our ability to ascertain how we truly feel about them?  

When I got married, I wasn’t asking these questions. I unwittingly bought into the checklist. It was part of what brought my husband and I together.  It was concrete – something tangible that helped strengthen my faltering conviction. When in doubt, I could grab the checklist and feel better. Perhaps it’s what kept us together for close to fourteen years. But when we divorced, I wondered if it was the reason for that too. In the end, was my dependence on the checklist antidote my failure?

Since then, like most people do after a break up, I reacted by going in the opposite direction. I took the anti-checklist approach.  I turned away from the tangible. Instead, I put feeling before function. I chose men that gave me that swoony feeling of butterflies. It inspired the emergence of my inner Cougar, primed to defy the norm and what was expected of me. It didn’t matter whether the men were age compatible, financially solvent, or culturally and religiously different. All that mattered was that I felt in love. I was thinking, for a change, of only the present, because as I learned all too well, you never know what will be tomorrow. Worrying about my future and trying to control it by grasping onto a flimsy piece of paper didn’t work.

This approach was logical. And earned. Because although I was in my thirties, I had missed out on dating in my twenties, so it was okay for me to choose a mate as if I still was.

But here’s the catch. A female in her twenties (pre-Cougar age), looks at the world through a different lens than an older women in her thirties, whose priorities – the checklist criteria – demand adjustment.  The importance of feelings, of butterflies, trumping all, starts to diminish. And function forces its way back onto the page.  Now that you’re a bit more experienced, now that you have more realistic expectations about what you can actually attain in this life, you can’t ignore the checklist’s legitimacy, like it or not. It matters less whether or not you actually want the things on the list, and more that you might need them. Because now you have acquired the undeniable knowledge that certain things can and do make this difficult life just a little bit easier. It sucks, but it’s true.  So what do you do?

I don’t have answers. If I did, I would have nothing to write about.  I know there are some of you who are fortunate enough, or built in a way, to have both the butterflies and the boxes checked. Some of you happen to be my friends, and relatives too. But for those who might not, I am eager to know whether you have experienced this kind of recalibration of wants and needs. Are the qualities that made you fall for your boyfriend or girlfriend at 25, and they for you, still holding up? And if they’re not, is that a deal breaker? Is the checklist tempting you, and if it is, is that a bad thing?

Ultimately I think it comes down to what’s important to you, and accepting that perhaps what once mattered, doesn’t have to matter now. It’s okay to change. It’s okay not to know. I guess it’s that thing called growing up, that we resist, that’s been nipping at our heels and has suddenly tackled us. The time has come to readjust. Perhaps it doesn’t necessitate some earth shattering life change at all. Maybe it’s just a perspective shift, a necessary one that forces us to accept that some things are unattainable, while we continue to reach, and to dream.








Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jumping the Cougar (not in that way).

There’s been talk. About Cougars. Specifically, in reference to this blog. Many of you who meet me exclaim, “You’re too young to be a Cougar!” Your faces twist in confusion, but I detect a hint of anger in there too. What is that about exactly? Is the question really, “If you’re not over forty, like all Cougars are supposed to be, why in the world would you brand yourself as one?”

Good question. I’ll follow up with another: Why should the term Cougar be so rigid, defined as a woman over 40, with a derogatory connotation?

In response, I’d like to revisit one of my first posts (see link below), “Cougar versus Cougel.” I’m not a Cougar as pop culture defines it: “desperate over 40 with bad botox trolling bars for young men” kinda thing. I’m a Cougel; a Cougar redefined. It’s not really about age. It’s about “coming of age.” After you’ve figured a few things out, know yourself, and go after what you want. For some of us this happens at 25 and some at 45. It all depends on what you’ve been through up until that point and how it defines who you are. So what if you’re dating someone who is older than you, or younger? What’s the difference? Besides, shouldn’t it be up to you to define yourself, rather than leaving it up to society and the media?

We are all, whether we admit or not, obsessed with age. The older we get the more we become aware of and feel the passage of time and its implications. Minutes are measured in dog years. We realize we need to be more conscious and deliberate with our decisions. But is that such a bad thing?

Courtney Cox was a "Friend." We all loved her. Then she got older, and she starred in "Cougartown." Does that mean that she was selling out, settling? Some people felt she was casting herself in that role - her real life, evolved, older woman self. And once that happened, the whole “Cougar thing” became cemented in our culture.

But that show’s old news. It jumped the shark. For those of you who don’t know what that means, you’re showing your age (insert wink here... or go watch Happy Days reruns). In short, it means something hot has passed its prime, lost its luster, etc. So with that I decree (like I have any power, but it sounds good) the definition of Cougars hereby obsolete! Cougars, the way we once knew them – while not necessarily old in age - are old news. It's time for an update. Or a remake!

Enter the Cougel. In her thirties, post divorce, with a solid network of family and friends. And Jewish parents who want what’s best for her. And all the good (love) and bad (guilt) that comes with it.

In summary, I believe (and I hope you do too), that this Cougel has jumped the Cougar.

I brace myself for some harsh comments, but I’m used to it. Cougels have thick skin...under all that fur.

PS. More on this subject in one of my first posts with some silly urban dictionary definitions:
http://cougel.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-of-my-friends-are-taking-issue.html

Monday, May 10, 2010

Are picky eaters picky in love?

Supposedly, I've always been a picky eater. Whatever was put in front of me was never good enough. My mother would cook dinner for the family daily, in preparation for my dad's arrival from work. He would walk in the door in his suit, and then stop, drop his bag, and clap his hands for his three girls to come running. And so we did, one after the other. He'd lift each one of us up, kiss our cheeks, swing us around with glee, and then kiss my mother on the cheek hello. I might be filling in some of the blanks with some Brady Bunch episodes, but since we were kinda like the Jewish Brady Bunch (and I was Jan), I think it's okay.

Dinner was always fish or meat, a starch, a vegetable, and an Israeli salad (iceberg lettuce that in my memory was always wilted, cut up tomatoes, and cucumbers with the peel still on them). Twice a week, we had peas. I hated peas. But it probably wasn't their fault. I didn't like anything that landed on my plate. I'm still not sure if I was rebelling against the assumption that I was supposed to accept whatever was put in front of me, or whether it’s because I questioned everything (still do) that came easily. Maybe it’s because I am the middle child who isn't content with what she gets. My sisters' plates always looked brighter and more plentiful. So with one hand cradling my head, telegraphing my disappointment to my mother, the fingers on my other hand would crush each pea flat on my plate, relishing the satisfaction I'd get seeing their green guts squish out. I got sent to my room for what I did to those peas.

Cut to thirty years later. I can eat whatever I want! Mom’s not dishing out what I should eat (when I’m not with her). I can peruse the menu and with enthusiasm order whatever it is I’m in the mood for. And yet, when the food arrives, I instantly wilt like the lettuce from the Israeli salad. My friends, past boyfriends, find it amusing, if not irritating, but I don’t find it funny at all. It’s frustrating. I don’t do it on purpose. I just can’t help but look at the dish I get critically. It’s too cold, too small, or not the right blend of ingredients.

Some questions come to mind, right? What would you do? Do you passive aggressively make a face so that the waiter can see? Or are you the type of person who pretends to like it, and not make a fuss? Or, do you kindly flag the poor busboy who happens to be nearby pouring your water, and tell him that no, this dish won’t do?

The last time I did this was with my coworkers at a nice steakhouse when a vendor took us all out for lunch. It wasn’t my fault that my dish came last. But was it my fault that my steak sandwich was cold, the bread floppy? I made both guys sitting next to me (poor chaps) taste it, to prove my point. They agreed, but they were just being nice. The assh*le sitting across from me, who I secretly adore because he always calls me on my shit, promptly said: “Cougel, the day you figure out how to order off a menu is the day you’ll find your next partner.”

Silence at the table, followed by uncomfortable laughter. But I wasn’t offended. He had a point. I high-fived him (and knocked over my wine).

Is it true? Are our eating habits and tastes linked to our romantic ones? And if so, can we help it, or is it ingrained in us?

I can pretend to like what I get. I can pretend not to care whether the thing I’ve selected and invested in is beneath my expectations. But then I’d be pretending. And I’m really bad at that. Maybe it’s my expectations that I need to change (another thing ass*hole friend mentioned above said to me).

I don’t have an answer yet. I still eat what I want, although I complain about it less, and pick my battles. But when I do like something, I love it, and scream it from the rooftops. At least when I find a guy that suits my tastes, I won’t be looking around for the waiter, or for anyone. I’ll love it, he’ll see it on my face, and he’ll know.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My mother, the alcohol police.

My mother doesn’t drink. And she doesn’t understand why anybody would. Especially her own daughter.

Whenever I go out for dinner with my parents, I keep it to a two-drink minimum. Sometimes my father will order a bottle and embolden me. But most of the time, I figure it's not worth the wrath. Or her sticking her nose in my mouth after dinner to smell how much I’ve actually drank. She almost always gets it right on the nose (pun intended).

So what better place for her to enforce her authority than at a wedding, where I'm locked in a banquet hall with her for six hours, and where the alcohol is free?
 
I knew what was coming. The last time I was at my cousin’s wedding in Israel, where everyone was drinking tequila, my mother kept appearing next to me, no matter who I was talking to, pretending to be interested in the conversation. But really she was interested in what I was holding in my hand. Sometimes she takes the glass from me and takes a sip, as if she enjoys the taste. She then holds the glass awkwardly for a moment and nods her head at who ever happens to be speaking, like she’s listening. And then in a flash, she’s gone. With my glass of wine.

So here we were yesterday, on our way to a wedding. My parents picked me up from the train station. They talked about what kind of food there would be and how hungry they were. But not me. I was thirsty.  My mom knew it. It was the elephant in the car we didn’t speak of. Instead she said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at the wedding."

Do you know anyone who's met their spouse at a wedding? It's been known to happen, although not to anyone I know. Or to me.

Especially not at a Jewish wedding. In New Jersey. Mom didn't appreciate that comment. But I deemed it safer than saying I'd be more likely to have the energy to meet someone slightly inebriated, rather than cranky and hungover (I was both).

I wasn't thinking clearly though. This wedding wasn't a Jewish wedding. In fact, it was a unique mix of many rituals. It was lovely. The bride was Jewish and the groom Irish Catholic. In a sense, it was Jew-ish. Which meant plenty of interesting foods, eclectic music (ever danced a Jewish jig? It's like the Horah with bagpipes), but more so, for this Cougel, it meant a vast buffet of attractive goys. Just the way I like em. And instead of a brisket and chopped liver station, we get a vodka station!

My mother was on my heels (should’ve worn my flats). She knows how to find me, no matter my attempts for evasion. This time it was under the guise of meeting her friends, all with Israeli names that blend together. "You remember Chava! From Josh and Rachel’s wedding ten years ago, right?" (The part she left out: "Or were you drunk?”)

No matter that my sister was drinking too, and that we were all having a blast. My sister is married with children. So unlike me, she’s "allowed." The moral of the story is that once you’re the anointed F-up in your family, there is no getting out of it. So you might as well live up to it. I could have stuck to one glass of wine, and she still would have thought I was overdoing it. Because according to my parents, that’s my thing. Besides, what would they have to worry about otherwise? I’m doing a good deed. At least I’m giving them something to fix, and to bond over on the drive home down the turnpike.

Five hours into the wedding I met some interesting people, guys included. Some Jewish, some not. My parents and sisters were happy though. I wasn’t seated at their table, but rather at the "singles" table right beside them, where they got to watch the show with challah rolls in hand instead of popcorn. And mom got to keep her eye on me and my wine glass. This is akin to trying to make out in your basement when you’re 16 and your parents are upstairs. You can never relax because you’re waiting to get caught.

Mom – if you’re reading this – I am not a drunk. I’m over 21 and single, and that is what people do. I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I figured I’d disclaim it again here, in case your friends are reading this and will think your daughter has a problem. I have many, yes, but drinking is the least of them.

I got a ride home from the wedding with a very nice fellow, and the second I walked through the door, my mother called.
"How was it?"
"The wedding? I was there with you."
"No, the ride with the guy."
"It was nice mom. It beats the train."
"Were you still drunk?"
( You’d think she’d be more concerned whether he was, since he was the one driving).
"No mom. Just tired."
"You had six glasses, maybe seven. Didn’t you?"

Of course, she was right. As usual.

The upside? At least, with all this talk about drinking, she forgot to ask if I ate.