Saturday, December 25, 2010

Being single: Is it just a state of mind?


When making plans for the holidays, I was down in the dumps. I was still mending after my break up and knew I needed to get out of cold NYC and have something to look forward to. Last year, I celebrated my first Christmas at my ex cub’s home in the South. It was my first taste of what Christmas feels like, which having been raised in a Jewish household, I had never experienced before.  Looking back, it planted that seed of yearning for cozy family and companionship that I had always imagined this time of year sowed. But now I knew for sure.

There was no way I was going to stay in the city, single and roaming. Two years ago, I took the week off for precious book writing time, and cherished it.  But this year, my book is finished – at least for now - so that wasn’t a focus either. No one likes to feel unmoored, especially when the New Year beckons.

So I decided to go to South Beach for some sun and solo time. Traveling alone has become a salve for my soul since my divorce, and has always managed to stoke my writing fire, be it chapters, essays, or ideas for a different novel.  At least that was my plan.

So I booked myself four nights at an affordable boutique hotel, figuring that was all I needed. It didn’t have a bar, or a pool, but a trusted friend recommended it for some peace and quiet, and it sounded perfect to me.

And then I told my parents.

My father turned to me and said, “How cheap is this hotel you’re staying at?”

“What does it matter, Dad? It’s what I can afford.” 

“What if money was no object? Would you stay at a nice place, a real hotel? Where you could find a husband?”

His question can be interpreted several different ways. You could say my parents really really want me to settle down, at all costs, even if I’m not even sure myself. And that it only adds to the pressure.

But you could also say that they want me to be happy. And that they were also taking cues from me – when I was depressed and stuck, having lost a guy I had been (mistakenly) building a future with.

My mother jumped into action. My sisters always said she would make a great travel agent. For someone unversed in the ways of Google, somehow my mother was able to forward me hotel deals from five different discounted travel sites.  In the end, she called her travel agent, a “very with it gay man” (her words), who got me a deal at a swank hotel on South Beach. A Hanukah present. Probably my first real one (when I was little, it was socks, shirts at The Gap, and once, really awesome roller-skates).

That was four weeks ago. When I told my friends this story, they laughed and thought it was so sweet. I do have wonderful parents. The caveat being, I said (half joking), is that I better come back from Florida with a potential husband. 

Or I’ll have to make one up.

Since then, I managed to emerge from my post break up haze. The holiday parties helped; social opportunities, new contacts, and some friends work parties too, where I met a guy.

I’m not going to talk about said guy here, for lots of reasons, but mostly because he is not my boyfriend, and I have no idea if he will be. But unexpectedly, at a party I almost didn’t go to, I connected with someone with whom thus far, our dynamic has been effortless. You know that feeling, when you’re getting to know someone, but in the process you don’t even realize that you are? After just a few dates, you feel like you’ve always known them?

So I got to South Beach today. A few of my friends are in town too, all in their twenties.  They go out at 11pm and stay out til dawn. They told me I better get with it and join.  They’re singing “The Cougel needs some fun The Cougel needs to hook up with boys” song. I was singing it too – when I booked my trip.  So when I hesitated, and said to my friend, “Well, I don’t know. I mean, its not that I wouldn’t be open, but I don’t feel eager to. Suddenly, I don’t really care.”

Because I realized, as soon as I left this morning, that here I am, receiving texts (and phone calls! Imagine that?) from the nice guy - from the moment he left to visit his family - and headily sending texts back. I don’t wait an hour to respond, I don’t even think about waiting. Is it getting in the way of my plan? Of my parents' plan? Of course, it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It supports my theory that we can never plan for how we are going to feel a month in advance, or even a few days. We just have to adapt to the changes.

But my friends say, “Cougel, you’re single. You can do whatever you want. You should have fun. Keep your options open.”

It's true. Technically, I am undoubtedly still single. But how does feeling, and behavior factor in? What does being single really mean?  Am I the kind of person that can act single, when I’m thinking about, or possibly on the verge of being with someone else? And if I do act single, and hook up with "whoever," will that get in the way?

What does “being single” actually look like?

I’m discovering that after all my running around post divorce - where dating or one night stands seemed second nature – that it’s possible, that now that I’m more settled and know what I want, that hooking up with guys that I don’t want to hang out in the future with, seems more than just pointless. It’s really not that much fun.

It made me wonder, is being single really just a state of mind?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Can you predict when a guy is gonna bail?


Can you isolate the exact moment on a date or in a relationship when you know it’s not going to work out, that the guy is going to go bye-bye? 

It sounds funny, but I'm going to call it "the moment of imminent 'poof'" (no not like that).

It used to take me at least five dates, or feel like a slap in the face, when after what I thought was a good date, with future potential, a guy vanished.

But the signs are always there for the taking. Then why do we ignore them?  Does our desire to project an open mind, or to be in a relationship, blind us from listening to our gut?

Last year I met a guy through a friend who I wasn’t initially interested in at all, until my friend told me how “into me” he was, and that he (creepishly?) looked at my Facebook photos a lot. I was flattered. Flattery does work, whether we want to admit it or not. Besides, he was a nice Jewish boy - smart, funny, and “only” six years my junior.  Looking back, maybe those “check list” things (the kind I could boast about to my mother) wooed me and blocked me from assessing whether I actually truly connected with the guy. We eventually began a dialogue and went on a date. Three hours of talking plus two hours of being “those people” at a bar (making out in the corner) equals a good date, no? My friend confirmed this: “He had an amazing time. He’s so into you.” Cut to date two, where I was pleasantly surprised to learn that physically we connected too.  When he left, I was humming to myself, hopeful.

So I didn’t find it unreasonable to text him the following day (cringe), “Last night was fun.” 

It took him six hours to respond with three words: “Glad you enjoyed.”

Excuse me?

Needless to say, my imminent poof detector was out of whack back then. While I knew that this comment signaled something was wrong (and I didn’t write back), I felt slighted.  And when I didn’t hear from him again, I felt deflated and confused. Had I been blinded by my desire to bounce back from break up #2 with my cub unscathed, that I hadn’t been able to see this coming from the get go? The guy was going through a life change when we met. He had quit his job, rented out his apartment, and was leaving the city on a six month quest in search of himself. What caused me to bother getting involved in the first place, you ask? Na├»ve romanticism? Loneliness? Okay, fine. Stupidity.

When it comes to romantic maturity, I’m 38 going on 23.  I like to blame the fact that I was married for so long - frozen in time - and haven’t benefited from the growth that dating in your twenties fosters. You could say it’s why I keep going back to dating guys that are ten years younger than me. We probably have the same emotional maturity quotient.

But guess what? I’m learning!

On the last slew of dates I’ve had post break up, I’ve managed to listen to my gut. Somewhere in the midst of date one or two, I’ve learned to sense when it’s not going to work  – that instance when something in the dynamic shifts. Whether it’s how a guy says something, or what he doesn’t say.

For example, I met a tall handsome Israeli (should have been my first clue) at a party (he looked 36, but I found out later he was 29). He showed promise. When he asked me out, he used the telephone. Drinks at the bar were flirty and friendly and so was the first half of dinner. Conversation was flowing. And then the alcohol was too. He was drinking two glasses to my one, and then ordered another bottle. I noticed it, but it wasn’t until he started flirting with the female manager - right in front of me - that I realized, this guy’s gonna go poof. When the date ended, he hastily kissed me on the lips and said, “I’ll call ya tomorrow!” before running off. I wasn’t surprised when I never heard from him again.

But only later did I realize that the real defining moment was when he dared to ask me mid-dinner,  “So how old are you exactly?”

“Older than you,” I said.

“Well I know that!” he remarked with an arrogant toss of his head.

And then what did I do? To my disgust and shame, I lied. I told him I was 37. A whole year younger than my actual age.

I mean, if you’re going to do something as gross as lie about your age, you might as well go for it. I realized later that his questioning had made me feel insecure enough to feel flustered, and it was in that instance that I knew there would never be a second date. And I didn’t want one. 

I also went on a few dates with a sexy man fifteen years my senior whom doesn’t live in NY. We had had an ongoing flirtation for some time, and now that I was single again, we went out when he was in town.  I was cautious to risk getting attached to someone long distance, but was willing to give it a shot; to at the very least, have some fun (wink wink). 

After two dates (which he initiated) consisting of intense school kid style make out sessions on the sidewalk - when he had a hotel room three blocks away - I started to wonder. What’s a man in his fifties, who doesn’t seem interested in a long-term commitment - even though he had expressed interest (and apprehension) in that potential between us - bothering with me at all? With a woman who he’s not going to see often, unless its for sex? 

But it never went there either. By the third date, where we met up with a mutual friend, I could sense a shift.  In myself. Suddenly, inexplicably, my interest went “poof.”  When we walked towards my apartment, I noticed that he was keeping his distance, even though we had kissed passionately just the night before. We had nothing to say to each other. Perhaps he was sensing my sudden disinterest. And then when we were two blocks from my apartment, he unchivalrously decided to take a short cut to his hotel, rather than walk me all the way home. 

I knew it too, with my ex-cub. In the month before our break up, I could sense he was gonna go bye-bye, before he did. It was an accumulation of all the tiny intangible changes in his behavior and attention that telegraphed that the end was near. I don’t know if it’s a skill that we women have inherently, to be keen observers and intuition listeners, but it’s a gift nonetheless.

I guess the point is that sometimes, the underlying reason isn’t discernable, nor is it important. Sometimes it’s enough to just listen to yourself, to keep your eyes and heart open, and see the signs for what they are. Sometimes things just don’t click – no matter how much you want them to - and why doesn’t matter.  

It’s possible that after investing so much time in my last boyfriend, when deep down I probably knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere, I’ve learned that my gut is there to save me. Save me from wasting precious time with a guy that’s already planning on going poof, even if he doesn’t know it himself.

Any of you have examples of moments that you thankfully paid attention to? Or ones that looking back, you realized that you willfully ignored?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It is what it is.

I used to loathe this phrase. It sounds like a cop out. When you don’t feel like giving advice to a friend or are at a loss for words, “It is what it is” is the lazy default. 

Urban Dictionary agrees:
-A phrase that seems to state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.
-Used often in the business world, this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as "fuck it."
-A trite, overused and infuriatingly meaningless cliche that is utilized by provincials who think they are adding some deep, meaningful insight during a discussion.

It’s almost as irritating as, “You gotta do what you gotta do.” When the shit hits the fan, these phrases crop up everywhere. When my marriage fell apart and I was adrift and turning to people for advice, I’d hear: “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“But what if I don’t know what I gotta do? That’s the whole reason we are having this conversation!”

Friend (shrug): “It is what it is.”

Right. Got it.

“It is what it is” is a phrase that Israelis employ often. Growing up, I heard it a lot - from my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and from my parents too. Maybe it’s because Israelis live in conflict and anticipation of the next “bad” thing that could happen tomorrow, so they are forced to accept “it,” that is, life, and its harsh realities.  For them, “It is what it is” is not just a phrase, it is a philosophy. It supports accepting the state of affairs rather than hiding from them and living under pretense.

So it made me wonder if my ongoing issue with this phrase has been rooted in a deeper frustration. Perhaps what angered me was not the laziness or seeming meaninglessness of this phrase, but rather the realities of my own life; of a picture that had been forming before my eyes, when for so long I’d held onto a different one. Perhaps it is the makeup of my life today – the furnishings that occupy its space – be it abandoned dreams or the reassessment of my goals that I am stubbornly rallying against.

So I’ve started to look at things differently.  When people say (or think): “Cougel, don’t you miss the life you had in LA, and your nice house?”  “Do you want to be doing what you’re doing right now?”

Guess what my response to that is?

“It is what it is” is not cynical, nor is it defeatist. I no longer see it as a dismissal, as a shrug of the shoulders that says, “Ah fuck it. I can’t do anything about my situation so I’m not even going to try.”  It’s exactly the opposite. It means that taking an honest look at what you have and accepting the cards that have been dealt to you frees you from illusion. And from there, you can start building again.

So I’ve started to take stock of the “its” in my life, and then I’m going to make some decisions from there.

Because you know, I gotta do what I gotta do.

Friday, December 3, 2010

If a Cougar stops dating young cubs, is she still a Cougar?

My break up with my cub was due to several differences between us, age and life stage being the biggest. So I've since sworn to try to date guys over 35. On my online dating profile, under "age range looking for," I deliberately wrote "35-51." This doesn't mean that if I meet a guy younger (or older) that I wouldn't be open, but I figured I had to re-start somewhere.

The thing is, it hasn't stopped the cubs from migrating in my direction or even pursuing me. It's bizarre. It makes me wonder, is being a "Cougar" in the eyes of the beholder? If I'm not cub hunting - let alone even looking anymore - but the cubs are hunting me, does that mean that I'm a Cougar by default, regardless of intent?

I met a guy a few weeks ago through friends who is 26 (or "26 and 3/4's," he explained, as kids do). But he seems much older. He's sophisticated, wise, and accomplished. When he told friends of mine that he's looking for an older woman, 35-38, preferably Jewish, they sent me urgent texts: "Cougel! He's not only a cub, he's a Jewish cub. A Cougel's prime target! Get your ass over to this bar right now and meet him!" So I did. My friends were right. The dude is awesome. We totally hit it off.

And yet I'm reluctant to take it further.  I'm not sure if it's because I've been recently burned by the age thing and still healing, or if I've wisely learned from my experience and know that practically speaking, it's unlikely the relationship could go anywhere.

This guy doesn't care though. He doesn't seem put off by my reluctance. He doesn't care how old I am. In fact, he likes it.

It made me stop and think. Is there something intangible about me that attracts younger men? Or,  is there something about younger men that attracts me, despite my decision not to go there?

As I mulled this question over, a chat box popped up on the online dating site I've joined (not J-date, but the free one, which is proving to be good for laughs rather than romance). It was from "BoyToy123," description: straight, single, 24 years old. This was the third time he tried to engage me so I decided to respond and set him straight, like so:

BOYTOY123: Do you like younger men?
ME: Yes but not to date.
BOYTOY123: Ohh. Shucks. Well then what for?
ME: Why, does my profile say I like guys under 25?
BOYTOY123: No. Just figured I'd try. I'm very attracted to older women. And you have a very sexy face.
ME: I dated a guy younger than me and that didn't work out. So I'm taking a hiatus. Sorry.
BOYTOY123: Well I'm not really looking to date..
ME: No kiddin.
BOYTOY123: ...just go out a few times.. see where it goes...
ME: Right. That's fine. But I'm looking for a long term thing.
BOYTOY123: Ah alrighty
ME: Thx for checking in though, I'm flattered.
BOYTOY123: Ok. If you ever want a young boy toy, let me know!

Yes, that happened.

I can't help but laugh at the irony. I'm finally ready for a long term partner and open to dating age compatable men, but it's crickets out there in the wild. Crickets, and apparently, cubs. 

Does this mean that I should stop fighting the laws of nature, and just go with it?