Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is being 'a catch' a liability in love?

I wrote this post as a guest blog for Simone Grant of www.sex-lies-dating.com and got some interesting comments on her blog http://su.pr/21PncX from her followers. Love to hear what you guys think too, so please comment here!

Yes, I’m going to go there.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m going to call myself out and blog about the fact that I am worthy. Any woman in her thirties who isn’t able to embrace what she has to offer a man, or the world, has got bigger issues than finding a mate.  By now, after having been married, rebounded, broken some hearts and had my own heart broken too, it comes down to being real about who I am.  I haven’t come to this conclusion by myself. I’ve taken stock of what friends and family tell me - people who know me. Including some male friends who have said the following to me: “You’re a lot, Cougel. You’re a strong woman. You’re attractive and smart, but moreover, you’re tough. I meet even dare say, scary. I wouldn’t want to be your enemy!”

Um...thanks?

So, is this a compliment? I mean, what is a woman to do with this information? Am I supposed to downplay my best attributes, diminish my “light” as they say? Gain ten pounds, ditch the hair color treatments, fake a lisp or feign some vulnerability, and shut the fuck up when I’m hanging out with a group of eligible men so that I don’t overshadow them?

Yes! If I could do that, I would probably have better luck. But then I wouldn’t be myself. And at the end of the day – or rather in the morning when I wake up, in my own skin, not in my friend’s or neighbors or dog’s - me is all I have. And if I’m faking me, if I’m twisting aspects of me and my growth away from the light, then I’d be a sad plant whose been tied up to grow against its natural grain.

I’m writing about this because as in most post break-up phases and hazes, I’m doing some accounting of the self.  I’m looking back on my last two or three relationships (marriage not included), and I’m finding a pattern. I’m studying what I call the “point of entry” into my relationships - the courtship stage which graduates into the boyfriend/girlfriend phase, and I’m wondering, how did I get there? How do two people make that transition? It’s elusive to me. And yet, in retrospect, I’m afraid to admit that all of those relationships got off the ground as conquests. Where the guy “wanted” me, because of whatever he believed me to be from afar (the idea of me) and decided, “I’m gonna get that girl.” 

Since my break up, some men have come out of the woodwork who I used to know platonically or otherwise. Now that I’m single, they’re back on the prowl. It’s cougel hunting season! I had a man practically wrestle me to the ground the other night trying to convince me why he was right for me, what he could offer me that my ex-boyfriend could not. But all along, what he was really saying was, “Why not me? What’s wrong with me that you won’t have me?”

The truth is (although this isn’t why), if I did submit, if I did resurrect his ego by agreeing to be with him, what do you think would happen? He’d probably be like, “Oh shit, I didn’t think I’d actually catch my prey. And now that I have, what the hell do I do with it?” Am I being cynical? I don’t think so.

Funny enough, in all of those instances where I did end up with the guy, I was initially reticent. “No!”  I said emphatically. “It’s never gonna happen,” or  “I love cubs but you just missed the cub-off by a year!” or “You just got divorced yesterday!”  “You’re two inches shorter than me!” and even,  “You’re not only not Jewish, you’re not even circumsized!”  

Well, where did that lead me, you ask? Yep, to the guy chasing me down harder. My falling. In love. Showing and giving of my true self. And then? Yeah. You’ve heard this story before. Guy pulls a Houdini. But this is not a newsflash. People, men and women, inherently love the chase. I’d even say it's elemental for every relationship’s point of entry.

So if that’s human nature, then what do we do about it? Play games? Change who we are?

My mother says not to. So do my sisters. But they aren’t single, and they are not in my shoes. My mother, when reading my blog says “Who are you? Where did you come from?” If your own mother thinks you’re an alien, or has blocked out your birth from her own womb, where does that leave you? For firsts, it probably means don’t take her advice.

My own sister once said, when I was heading out the door to City Crab on a blind date, what my male friend said too: “Just be careful. You’re a lot. Try not to be too much.” So I proceeded to walk to City Crab with my tail between my legs, and every time I had something witty to say, I had another crab leg instead. Which led to my feeling pretty crabby.  

Did my meek damsel in distress masquerade make a difference? Did the dude call? Course not.

I know I’m asking a lot of questions here. Cuz it’s a work in progress. What do you all think? I’ve floated this theory by some men and they (sadly) have confirmed that:

All a guy really needs is a hot chick who doesn’t badger him. Who is "smart enough" and laughs at his jokes. And gives him frequent blow jobs.

True or false?

If true - what are women with more than that to give supposed to do?

Blog?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Yoda Mexicana: An old friend from Mexico City tells it like it is.


When I was twenty-three, I attended the New York Film Academy (this was before it had the gazillion branches it has now). I wanted to write and direct movies. I was one of two girls in the class and the other ten were guys, some of whom were from Mexico City. We became close friends. We’d run around the city in crews of four, switching jobs to assist whoever was directing.  I was on an eight-week high; we were taught how to tell stories in under ten minutes, direct actors, handle a camera, and edit on an old-fashioned Steenbeck.  It was movie camp, and looking back, I can’t believe how fortunate I was to have my parents support my dream – even though I’m sure deep down they prayed I would just “get it out of my system” and get a real job. My mom goes to synagogue once a week to pray, but apparently that wasn’t enough, because I spent the next ten years in pursuit of that same dream.

It was awesome to be the only girl (the other woman was older, married, and German), but even back then, I was already “taken,” dating the guy who was to become my future ex-husband. In retrospect, what an idiot I was for not maximizing on the boy/girl ratio. Those boys were hot, international goys! And I had not-so-secret crushes on every single one.  I lost touch with my crew, except for “the Mexicans” as we lovingly called them. One of them – who back then was only sixteen, painfully shy, with a bad complexion he masked behind long greasy bangs – is now a well-known actor named Gael Garcia Bernal.  The other two went back to Mexico City and started their own businesses. 

I saw one of my Mexicans the other night – thanks to Facebook  - for the first time in thirteen years. He’s 37 now, a self-made businessman, and been through a lot. He’s realistic and yet unjaded. And to my delightful surprise, he still wants to make movies. (Me? Not so much. Maybe Mom intensifying her prayers during my divorce finally paid off).

We all know how impossible it is to cover thirteen years of adulthood in three hours, so instead, we got right to the good stuff. Not facts or timelines, but our learnings: comparing and contrasting who we are today to the kids we had been back then – full of hopes and dreams.

I’ve noticed that I like Meds (no, not that kind): Latinos, Italians, and Greeks. Perhaps it’s because they speak like Israelis…not just the broken English and talking with the hands part – but they get right to the guts of an issue, with no fanfare. I wonder if they even have the word “airs” in their vocabulary. Most importantly, we can curse and yell at each other. People who witness this think there will be blood, but to us, it means there will be love.

For example, here are topics that my friend and I covered, and our dialogue. By the end of the night I was calling him “Yoda Mexicana.”  

On being single….
Me:  Have you done the online dating thing? I’m not sure I believe in it.
Him:  We try to find love through computers. But we are not computers.

On affairs…
Me:  More people than we realize have had affairs. I don’t know how they do it. Not the cheating part, but how they are able to live their lives pretending.
Him:  Well, they are not cheating on anyone else. If I cheat, I cheat on myself.

On change….
Me: When I left my husband and moved to NY, I started from scratch. I was a mess.
Him: People that stay die. People that move, live.

On roommates:
Me: So you and Gael used to be roommates?  Wasn’t he broke before he became famous, how did he pay rent?
Him: He didn’t. He lived on the floor.

On regrets…
Me: I don’t regret all that time I spent married, or the divorce. I found my passion because of it: writing. You know what I mean?
Him: Life gives to people who take advantage of it.

On bad patterns…
Me: Why do people, myself included, keep banging their heads on the same wall - trying to get through to the other side - without realizing that they should stop and go through the back door?
Him: Because people are stupid. Dogs are smarter. They only need to get hurt once.

On being “selfish”…
Me: It took me a long time to subscribe to the conceit “you have to do what’s good for you” without feeling like I was being a selfish bitch.
Him: No, no, you are not conceited. It’s like on an airplane, when they read you the safety rules. First you have to put your own mask on, before helping others. If you can’t breathe, then what good are you to people around you?

I wish I could remember the rest, but every time I stopped him mid sentence to write this stuff down, he gave me a look that said: “How is any of this a newsflash to you?” So I told him to F*ck off, he waved his hand at me dismissively, and we ordered more drinks.  But he’s right - none of the above is news, but maybe it’s all about how it’s said. Maybe when your vocabulary is compromised, it forces you to simplify overcomplicated thoughts and get to the essence of the matter.

Needless to say, if after thirteen years a guy is able to display such growth and wisdom, I think he should continue to follow his heart, and pursue the same dreams he had at 23. Shouldn’t we all?



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kip Kip Hurray! Atonement can be fun.


Yom Kippur is supposed to be a day of reflection, right? Well how about if this year, I feel like I’ve reflected enough for a lifetime? This blog is just the tip of the reflection iceberg. Shouldn’t I get a day off from introspection, self-flagellation (okay strong word but I like the imagery), and atonement?

Atoning for our sins. That means stopping what we’re doing and thinking hard on the wrongs we have committed. If you can’t come up with anything flagrant (lieing, cheating, stealing, etc.), that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. We Jews have the ability to dig and dig until we come up with some good shit. And by that, I mean shit.

Shit like the kind that no matter how deeply we think we’ve buried it, if we stop to put our nose to the ground – as on Yom Kippur - the smell comes wafting up.

It comes in many forms. This year, or rather yesterday, I had a different kind of Yom Kippur, representative of where I am today. Usually I go home to New Jersey to be with my family, or rather with my mother, who, like the dedicated soldier she is, goes to the same synagogue we went to as kids, even if she is to go by herself. My sisters have their own families and shul memberships now, so my mother is confronted with going by herself, without the distractions. It pained me this year to think she might go alone (note: she and my father have a good marriage but he does not pray).

But that didn’t keep me from staying in NYC this year, my first time. I went to services Friday night. It was noteworthy that I motivated to go at all, without the guilt or pressure from my family. I guess on a day as holy as Yom Kippur, I didn’t want to find out what might happen if I stayed home.  I admit I not so subtly scoured the men’s section to see if there were any eligibles. There were a few, but I figured they were probably married to one of the chicks talking and chewing gum behind me. I also think that men look a lot hotter in synagogue than if you meet them at a bar. Wait, I neglected to add “syna-goggles” to a previous blog about “goggling.” But I digress. 

So I attended with a girlfriend of mine and her lovely boyfriend – who is in the process of converting to Judaism. If he can stand sitting and standing and sitting and standing, then who am I not to?

I left early though. I got a taste, and it was enough. Walking out of a place of worship into the heart of the east village, into the throngs of young people partying and drinking on a Friday night was a disconnecting feeling. I felt alone. I thought about my ex-boyfriend, who I missed, and I felt even more alone. But then it occurred to me that since he wasn’t Jewish, it was likely I would have gone by myself anyway. If we were still together, what would he have done? Come with me? Would I have even wanted him to?

These high holidays have a knack for coming at the right time. They force us to ask questions, the kind of self-reflection that only comes due to timing. My ex-boyfriend wasn’t Jewish, and although it would be nice if he was, it was never a deal breaker for me. But I do think the fact that we broke up on Rosh Hashanah is no coincidence. It forced me to consider how I feel about being Jewish; not so much being born into it, but the practices. If my boyfriend and I were still together, what lengths would I have gone to teach him? Would it have been important to me for him to come, or would I have brushed it off, in order to avoid confrontation? In order not to make him uncomfortable? When it’s left up to me and my beliefs – when there is no one else in the picture – what values are essential enough to go out of my way for?

Since I don’t have the answers yet (it’s only been twenty-four hours), I figure that for me, Yom Kippur has delivered on the self-reflection thing. It made me stop and think, what if? What truly matters? What can I do, what can I change, moving forward?

By the way, the whole fasting thing is interesting. If you’re a single New Yorker on the run like I am, it’s the same as any other day. I was hungry, but it was just a nuisance. It was convenient that the light in my kitchen burnt out the night before, and since I don’t have a man around to change it (that’s not me being lazy, that’s me being klutzy. The last time I tried to change it I shattered the fixture and the light bulb all over the stove and floor), it was too hard for me to find my food anyway. 

But this morning, feeling renewed - and hungry as hell - I ventured out to buy a light bulb, and managed to replace it myself (and subsequently made the best omellete this kitchen has ever seen). 

What’s that phrase from the bible? Oh right. And God said, "Let there be light!"

I got me some of that.



Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Jewish Cougar loses her cub...on the Jewish New Year.


Talk about timing. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year - a high holy day about reflection and repentance – coincides with a significant break up. Is that a coincidence? No Jew would think so.

So timing is what I’m going to talk about here.

But let me back up.

About three months ago, I got back together with my boyfriend. We had been on and off for several years, and our first break up back in February marked the start of my blog. He is ten years younger than me, hence the whole Cougel thing, but for those of you that read my blog regularly, you know that I believe “Cougarness” is much more about attitude, self confidence, and maturity in a woman, than it is about hunting down young cubs.

Is it odd that I never blogged about he and I giving it another go? I meant to, but other interesting blog-worthy events conveniently occurred so I never got around to it. Looking back, I wonder if that was no coincidence either. Perhaps I didn’t know how to share the fact that I was no longer single and “dating” with my readers; perhaps I didn’t know how to balance my private life and public one. Maybe I didn’t want to invade my boyfriend’s privacy. Or, maybe deep down I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to last.

I had posts that I started, touting the benefits of dating a younger man, that now, well, I don’t know if I believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful things, but for me, there were just too many gaps – the difference in age and life experience being one of them – that we thought our love could bridge. But ultimately, like in every relationship, when that “in love” passionate feeling fades, it exposes the divide. I think we both realized that we didn’t have enough in common to bridge it.  It’s likely that we were never bridging it at all; we just stuck a big honkin band-aid over it.

Out of respect to him, I’m not going to get into detail here. But on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, he asked me a question that to him seemed benign, but to me signaled that his head is nowhere near where mine is. He looks at the world as someone in their late 20’s should, and my vantage is that of a divorced woman in her late 30’s.  It seems so obvious now that I guess we should have seen it all along.

Call it a “click” or a clarity cyclone sent from God on Rosh Hashanah, but in less than 24 hours, we went from being in a serious relationship with plans for our future, to being completely over. As in, kaput.  I feel like someone spun me around like a top. For the past few months - for the past year really - I was envisioning a certain kind of future, finally, after not having been able to for years (after my marriage fell apart). It felt good. I was building a nest again, big enough for two...maybe more. But in retrospect, it was made up of intangibles called hope, projection, and fantasy.

Am I okay? Oddly, yes. I mean, it hurts. But I’ve been through much worse. I’ve built up some serious recovery muscles, and I know that I will be fine. Divorce does that to you, in a good way. But mostly, at this point in my life, I refuse to give a relationship (no matter how happy I had been in it) where I invested my time – my precious time - uneccessary weeks of wallowing. While I agree it’s important to grieve and allow oneself to feel sad, in this case, for some reason – and it’s a power that feels bigger than me - I’m over self-pity.  Hey, depression? You can suck it.

Naturally, girlfriends and social opportunities came out of the wood-work. Maybe it’s just that time of year, or fashion week in NYC. But I got out there. Three nights in a row of drinking and partying, and I can feel the effects (as does my writing, so I hope you’re bearing with me on this one. Spell check I love you.)

A writer friend of mine took me out Friday night. Like me, she too had married her college boyfriend and split after 14 years together.  She had an idea: “Let’s go throw our sins into the east river. Let’s go do Tashlich!”  

What’s Tashlich, you ask? No, it’s not another kind of gooey Jewey noodle dish.  It’s part of the whole repentence thing.  That’s about all I knew when I agreed to go. (Mom, don’t be mad. My Jewish education was not a waste! My guilt degree has proven to be quite useful to you.)

So my friend and I bought a sweet challah at Dags and walked to the water.  I marveled at the view, the balmy weather and the fact that I was on the Upper East Side.

When she explained that the goal of Tashlich is to reflect upon the previous year's sins and symbolically "cast them off" by throwing pieces of bread (each piece represents one sin) into a large, natural body of flowing water, at first I had no idea where to begin. Sins? I didn’t kill anyone. I hadn’t sent my exes hate bombs, or real ones for that matter. I didn’t intentionally screw someone over just for kicks. I think I’ve been respectful to my parents and I honor my neighbors (they are much easier to honor than my last).

And I was loving to - and honest with - my ex-boyfriend.  But had I been honest with myself?

First, we devoured half the challah. We were hungry, and didn’t think we had enough sins to require an entire loaf...evidenced by what I said next: “I can’t think of a single sin. Am I blind?”

And then it clicked.  I was going to start by casting off blindness.

Once we started, it was hard to stop. I thought back on the past year: my relationship with others, with the world, and with myself. And the lessons from my Rosh Hashanah break up began to dawn on me. What I needed to cast off was: Fear of making mistakes. Projecting my needs onto others. More fear (cuz that’s an easy one). Self doubt.

But mostly, I needed to repent for coercing the picture of what my future is “supposed to” look like onto someone else. 

This year, I need to learn how to let things grow and breathe - at their own pace.  Timing is indeed everything, and in this life, that’s all we have. My ex-boyfriend needed to develop on his timeline, not on mine. What’s that saying?  A cub is a cub is a cub. And no matter how much you push, he can’t turn into a bear overnight.

My question to you guys is: if I’m no longer dating cubs, can I still call myself Cougel? :- P

Friday, September 3, 2010

Eat Pray Love to get those two hours of my life back.

I realize I’m way late in the game. Eat Pray Love has been out for over two weeks and reviewed ad-nauseum. I haven’t read the reviews though. I wanted to see it for myself. I suspected I might dislike it, but based on my own experience “healing and growing” post divorce, I assumed that at the very least it would make me emotional, as it had for some of my girlfriends.  I ended up hating it. It actually made me angry.

Reading the book was by far a more relatable and moving experience. Elizabeth Gilbert chose the memoir as the right vehicle to convey her personal journey – words on a page. Her self-deprecating humor, her candor – her voice - allowed me to connect with her story. But on screen?  The power of her voice is lost, there is no humor, and very little poignancy.  It was impossible for me to feel sorry for her character. Five minutes into the movie, after we see her at an upscale party in Manhattan with her handsome (if not, goofy) husband, she breaks down in crying jags asking God for help. “Save me from all this,” she moans. From what, exactly? 

I don’t mean to sound glib. I understand the pain of divorce; the fear and regrets that you’ve mistakenly pulled the rip cord on your life, and hurt people you love. This happened to Liz Gilbert. And in the book, it works. But come on Hollywood, this is a movie! I almost wished they made up some stakes for Liz, for drama’s sake. Couldn’t her husband have been abusive, or lost all of their money? Couldn’t he have cheated? Couldn’t she? Although I suspect that in the real story (which is not revealed even in the book), she does. My theory is that she leaves him for David.  This missing, yet vital piece of information - which would help to explain the depth of Liz’s grief - bugged me when I read the book too, but the issue is more prominent on screen.  Where, exactly, is all this grief really coming from? You don’t have kids. You can support yourself. Your husband gave you the divorce pretty quickly. So then, what is it? Are we supposed to believe that it’s really not all that deep - she’s simply immature and on a self-indulgent quest to snap out of it? Again, I know that in real life, divorce is brutal and these things are nuanced. We women can torture ourselves plenty; we don’t necessarily need an external force’s help. But, for the sake of the movie, we need to relate to the main character. If we can’t connect with our protagonist, in the span of a movie moment, then what exactly is the point?

Also, I know this is a shocking revelation, but Julia looks very pretty. She is desirable, funny, and makes friends wherever she goes. This conveys the message that divorce is fun! Especially if you’re hot. (If you’re not, don’t you dare try it). If you’re as cute (and witty) as Julia, tall and lithe no matter how much pizza you pig out on in Napoli, I say, sign me up! I wish I knew about the Eat Pray Love divorce cruise before my husband and I split. It would have been so much more appealing than being forced to stay put, work during the day while crying myself to sleep at night, after getting guilt inducing phone calls from my sobbing ex.  

I found it curious that the movie totally neglected to mention that she's writing a book at all, which in my opinion was a lost opportunity. Nor is it said that Liz’s travels were pre-paid for by Penguin Books. Fancy negligee in a Rome storefront? Easy. A jaunt to a luxurious abode in Bali? No prob. Even when you get driven off the road upon arrival, the driver is gorgeous, and promptly falls in love with you too. I hear there are now Eat Pray Love tours in Bali. I wonder if you have to show your divorce papers in order to apply.

The real question is, why does its badness piss me off? What’s thirteen bucks and two and a half hours? At least I had popcorn.  I’ve looked inward and here is my conclusion.  It’s not the obvious: that I’m jealous or bitter of Liz’s success, or that I feel that she’s romanticized divorce and marketed it for public consumption. I believe she wrote the book from the heart, and probably, wisely, left out a few things she wasn’t comfortable confronting at the time.

It’s the Hollywood machine that angers me. I used to be a part of its complicated inner workings. It chewed me up, and I fled, before it had the chance to spit me out. Since then, I watch movies from a different perspective. I choose to escape, to be moved - rather than bored - to tears. But mostly, I hope to watch man triumph over adversity. Just give me a little bit of that – even a smidge - and I’m good.