Reversing the Polarity – A Guest Post.

[Guest post by J., from ‘The Things I’ve Done To Impress Women’]

If you half close your eyes, it feels like the world is moving in slow-motion. There’s no dry ice, but the atmosphere feels smoky as the figures before us turn and twist in slow motion. The neon blue lights underneath the half-finished stairs make the dilapidated basement feel like a half constructed Starship Enterprise, a chariot to the Dancing With Stars. She leans in to kiss me, and the world forgets to breathe for a second.

But… I’m getting ahead of myself. As usual.

A few days ago, the author of ‘Wish There Were a Manual’ got in contact with me over email, saying: “You might be a male version of me.” She’d been laughing at my posts over at ‘The Things I’ve Done To Impress Women’, and seeing as we both had dating disaster blogs, the logical thing to do seemed to meet up and see if we could engineer the worst date in all of dating history.

Strangely, that didn’t quite happen.

Online dating is so much about presenting a front to people, a shop window for people to browse. You need to be able to sell yourself, so it’s no surprise that a lot of people cut a few corners to entice people to sample their wares. Some might add inches to their height, some post old photos, some even ‘forget’ to mention their offspring. As both of our blogs had been wincingly honest in places, I was fascinated to see what it was like to go on a date with someone who already knows pretty much the worst there is to know about you. As it turns out, it’s pretty freeing not having to posture or throw your swagger about. Although I still managed to do that obviously, because I’m a complete idiot.

We’d agreed that we’d walk through Regent’s Park and She arrived with a backpack of shoes and a gob full of anecdotes. After grabbing a couple of organic ice creams we sat on the benches and discussed everything from Dutch/Chinese Stalkers to time travel, via would-be-boyfriends who can’t read social cues while getting touched up by drunken chavs. At one point she lay on her back and smoked into the sky, one knee slightly raised, and I started to think… yes.

After a while, she got cold, so we started walking through the park. We named a lighter, laughed at ducks and almost kissed. Although I unfortunately managed to time the kiss at the exact moment she said the word ‘toilet’, which made us both laugh and totally blow the moment. “I can’t kiss you after saying that!” she laughed, and her eyes sparkled. But we did anyway.

As the date drew to a close, she asked if I wanted to escort her to Waterloo to meet a friend. As I didn’t have anything else planned, I agreed, and we walked through the streets of London. Halfway through this walk, dinner in Waterloo became dinner in Chinatown, and I got invited along. We had a great time chatting with her friend, and he asked “Are you coming dancing with us?”.

I looked at her, and I thought I might.

We headed to the Blues Fusion night, splitting with her friend along the way. Alone again, we stepped though the streets, holding hands. We got to the basement club and were arrested with visions of dedicated dancers contorting and spinning to bass-heavy slow jams. I watched her dance with some other guys. She’s stunning to watch, and there’s motion in her poetry. I shyly tried a few steps with her. While dancing someone said we looked so happy. Another lady asked us how long we’d been together and She said, without hesitation, “Seven years”, and we then bantered back and forth with various improvised stories of our dating history, and about how to keep your relationship alive. The lady said “You can see you’re still in love – you look like you just met yesterday!”

We walked home through the night streets at 4am, and ended the night swimming in a ball pool. I felt so clear and relaxed and happy – it was wonderful to have someone accept you for the awesome idiot you are, rather than the wonderful lie you’d like to present yourself as. Before drifting off in her arms on a battered sofa, the last thing she said was “Don’t mess this up.” I’m sure I will/already have, but if nothing else, at least I had a night that felt like a slice of hot magic.

I guess, sometimes, two wrongs do make a right.

This is Muriel. If you want to read my account of the same night, head over to impresswoman.tumblr.com. No, it doesn’t contain a graph, but I’m talking about expectations, humor and reverse psychology. 

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The First Move- A Dilemma

I usually love being a woman.

However,  a few niggles include the gender pay gap (which makes me steam and rant for hours), the fact that I can’t sing bass lines, and the following situation.

The scenario is a date, or another situation that ends with the two of us alone. It’s likely we have been talking for a while, that we’re quite close, and that all the official date happenings are already finished. The movie credits have rolled, the bill in the restaurant is settled and everything so far has been going well. If this were still the rom-com we’ve been watching earlier, the audience could predict exactly where this is headed: the first kiss, some frantic making out, possibly a bedroom.

However, because this is reality, we’re both required to traipse around this obvious conclusion and instead wait till one of us makes the critical first move. Movies tell us that this first move is a long gaze into each others’ eyes, followed by a seamless swoop of the head leading to a long and passionate kiss. I’ll call this “the smooth swoop”.

Reality teaches me that the first move more likely pans out in one of three ways:

1) “the Mad Chicken”
Our heads are sort of close, then one of us suddenly moves their head a bit closer, the other turns their face slightly, we both attempt a kiss, but one of us ends up licking a cheek and the other finds their nose lodged in an eye. Not terribly sexy, but comic relief goes a long way, and as this situation establishes a solid awkward baseline it’s often possible to recover from there and turn the night around.

2) “the Scared Rabbit”
Our heads are sort of close, we look into each others’ eyes, and then both realise that the other one is watching for our next move. We don’t want to take that responsibility, so instead of moving in for the kiss we both freeze in space, occasionally blinking nervously.
It’s very hard to get out of this scenario. We might be saved by a fox howling outside, or a flatmate walking into the living room, shocking us out of your frozen pose. However, the embarrassment of our inaction is hard to recover from, and chances are that the evening will end quickly, with a mumbled goodbye at the door and quiet relief when the other has left.

3) “Cat and Mouse”
My least favourite scenario – this is when we’re both game for a kiss to happen, but as soon as one of us moves in, the other one, just to prolong the chase, wriggles out.

(nota bene: I’m not referring to situations when only one of you wants to make out!)

The first person takes this as a display of disinterest, and retreats. However, the tables turn and now the second person takes up the chase, trying to move in for a kiss.

This can be repeated almost endlessly, if both of us are stubborn enough. And yes, the chase can be sexy and fun.  My dislike for this last scenario is partly that I’ve so often observed it with straight men who are simply not comfortable with being the one that “gets kissed”. They retreat just so they can take the active part seconds later. Sometimes I’d like to be the one who makes the first move though!

In order to avoid getting cat-moused, I’ve settled on this final gambit as my preferred opening move:

4. “the (Power-) Drunk Super-Villain”
In most action movies, there comes a time when the villain has captioned our hero, bound him in chains and is planning his slow and ugly demise. Being a narcissistic psychopath, however, he appreciates finally having an audience and then wastes a good ten minutes of precious potential rescue time.  He explains exactly what evil things he did, what his evil motivations were, how he’s planning to do evil from now on and probably shares his social security number and bank details while he’s at it.

This never works out, because the pretty sidekick arrives in this spare time, frees the hero and they proceed to undo all the villain’s evil plans. Do not make this mistake as a super-villain. Silence is gold!

However, at the end of a date, this behaviour works brilliantly.

You lean in, you say “I think you’re really hot and I want to kiss you”, you look at them briefly to confirm that they’re not horrified by this proposition. Then you kiss. Dilemma solved.

Just hope the sidekick doesn’t come barging in at this moment.

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Badly prepared.

I’m dating! Again. Or still. My relationship status in itself probably deserves a whole post, but let’s stick with “I’m dating” for now. Anyway, I went on a date. A proper one. With a person from the interwebs.

Now this isn’t new to me or anyone who reads this blog. I’ve been finding online dates for nearly two years now, with varying success. Indeed, I’d call myself a salty veteran who has navigated the cliffs of dishonest profiles, the shallow waters of first messages and the treacherous depths of outdated profile pictures.

However, the person I met was a true landlubber. A. texted me twice to confirm our date on the day before and once to let me know that he’d arrived a little early. When I got to the coffeeshop, he was easy to spot as the most nervous looking person for miles. Looking at him, you would believe that this wasn’t a casual first date but a crucial job interview.

And he had prepared in true fashion. He greeted me, and as I asked whether he’d been waiting for long, he replied that he’d spent the time rereading my online profile. Charming.

We then proceeded to the actual interview, date, interview.

A.’s topics covered all the basics: my relationship status, my occupation, my living arrangements and what I thought of the weather. Whenever it seemed like the conversation would run dry, he shot out another question. After exhausting my life story in snippets of 200 words or less, we both leant back, and I was slightly relieved that the awkward part was over. Or so I thought.

“Well, I don’t think I have any further questions! Was there anything you wanted to know?”

I couldn’t help myself but said “I didn’t really prepare any questions, but maybe we can just chat?”

He nodded solemnly. “Ok. Well, if anything comes up you can still message me, I guess.”

There’s nothing wrong with being literal or with being new to dating, and I’m the first to admit that awkward can be charming. So all this didn’t scare me off as much as it maybe should have.

However, the conversation never became less stilted and I couldn’t help noticing that A. looked horribly uncomfortable. I found out that this was indeed his first date through the site. To break the ice a little I chose the meta-approach and asked him what his best outcome of the online dating would be.

I expected an answer somewhere between “meeting some fun people” and “finding a long-term girlfriend”.

However, he replied:

“I’m looking for some hot lady friends!”

The juxtaposition between the nervously flushed guy who was barely able to string two sentences together and this grandiose statement made me giggle.

He looked at me and quickly clarified “Oh, and I want you to be one of them.”

However flattering, I had to decline the job offer. The whole evening had felt like a chore and we had completely failed to establish a connection- in fact I’ve had job interviews that left me more personally touched than this date!

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Taking My Own Advice- A Timeline

Over the last few years I’ve accrued a certain experience with consoling friends who newly got out of relationships. I don’t think of myself as a particularly emotionally tuned in or apt at dealing with other people’s crises, but most of the time being online late at night and not being a complete dickhead is sufficient to be approached by friends and acquaintances in distress.

Either way, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’d just been broken up with. And in a way, each one of these people had a unique story. A story about long-term partners, recent dates or fuckbuddies. A story about cheating, fighting or slowly fizzling out. A long, drawn out, painful epic, or a quick text on a Thursday night.  The uniting element is that someone, in some way told them “What relationship we have will end here”.  And however unique the circumstances are, however unique the pain feels, there is something fundamentally universal to being broken up with. This means that the limited helpful advice that can be given will be almost insultingly similar to every victim of a breakup. I’ve dealt out this stuff verbatim for years.

The two rules that stick out are:

1)  Stay away from your ex.

and

2) It will take time, but you will be ok

2011 was the first time I had to put this advice into practice myself.

The first rule  is very straightforward and practical, a clear guideline for behaviour and questions. Should I call him? Should I go to his best friend’s BBQ? Should I let her know that I downloaded that program she likes? Should I set my facebook status to “thinking of you…”? Please refer to rule 1.  No, you shouldn’t.

Don’t call, don’t visit, don’t hang out where your ex hangs out. Don’t provoke “chance” meetings, or organise awkward run-ins at third-party friends’ karaoke parties.

In my case this was relatively easily achieved by not living on the same continent as my ex. Changing some settings in my favourite chat protocols was all that was needed for successfully avoiding my ex and not talking to him for the next 6 weeks.

Rule 2) is a bit trickier, as it doesn’t present any clear-cut advice, but some rather vague reassurance that at some point in the future, life will suck less than it does right now. There’s no deadline, no definite answer. There’s also no consequence to your own behaviour, no guideline apart from “hang in there, dude”. It’s undoubtedly true in almost all cases (after all, due to natural fluctuations in happiness, at some time things will be better, and you’ll overcome the local minimum you’re experiencing right now). However, it’s not immediately helpful to hear, especially when no-one can tell when this magical ok-ness will happen.

Ever the social scientist, I’ve volunteered for my own little case study and took detailed notes.

This is highly subjective, I’m not aiming to replicate the results anytime soon, and of course your timeline might be vastly different from mine. But if you’re at a local minimum, and asking all your friends “WHEN THE FUCK WILL IT BE BETTER ALREADY?” maybe you’ll take a little consolation from this tale.

Perceived Happiness over Time from Day 0 (Break-Up)

Interpreting the graph should be easy. X-axis represents time in days, Y-axis represents level of personal well-being and contentment. For future reference: it took me about a two weeks to a month to be fully functional in daily life again, two months until things were normal 90% of the time, and three months until I could genuinely look back on the relationship without pain.

And yes, sticking to my own advice was the right strategy for me. Following the first rule and not being around my ex let me appreciate that my life without him is as colourful and complete. Instead of dwelling on what was missing I filled the empty space with old and new friends. The second rule became a mantra that brought me hope. In future, I will update it to “It’ll take time (approx. three months) but you’ll be ok”. It might be universal advice after all.

Although all my friends were helpful and supportive throughout this experience, this post is dedicated to K.

You’re wonderful, and everyone can only wish for a friend as caring as you are. Thank you.

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Just Ctrl C Ctrl V (part 2)

I’ve recently described the phenomenon of the well-crafted generic message that is posted to hundreds of girls at once, equivalent to flyering your neighbourhood with valentine’s cards.

There are many different approaches to constructing these messages, and I would like to highlight some of them.

Speaking to a large group of people yet achieving that everyone in the crowd feels uniquely addressed is a form of art, and a skill honed in expensive management classes and nights down the corner pub. One strategy that I previously discussed, is to keep the message very short and concise. This will intrigue the reader and make them hunger for more.

Today I will share a message with you that followed quite the opposite approach. The writer decided to reveal everything, and draw me in with full, honest disclosure. He discusses his employment details, his goals in life, his hopes for our relationship, and his medical history. He also alludes to sexual preferences. All in all, a self-summary that could not be more open. What else could a girl want?

But read for yourself.

Example B:

I am Egyptian man I work a lawyer and I have 25 years love life simple hope that Atovq through this site to find a Wife is shared by my life in the future and had a children and live in peace and I am open-minded and it is not none other bad, to search for Wife by sites the net and I hope you understand me

I’m good-hearted man looking for love do not look for the shape I’m looking for a good heart and a sense of fulfillment I am sincere and I hope to get to know a lot about you and your love of your life and future .. Surely I do not know what is possible in the future I am, a pair for you.
Obviously, you are so beautiful white heart Ok I’m raring to get to know you.
Do not leave me

I want to marry you, I did not unprotected sex never in my life I really need to get married and wish to marry a foreign girl Do you agree, and I admitted I did not never unprotected sex with any girl in my life

Full message, no edits. Life is that good.

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Deciding Between Two Men

Remember how I went out with N.? How it was all lovely and picture-perfect, but neither of us really felt a spark? Well, seeing as we’re nearing our one-year anniversary of that date (and haven’t really been in touch since) we decided to repeat last year’s performance and go to the same outdoor festival. Now, I’m still not really in the market for dates, but this seemed to be more a reminiscent outing than anything else- we had a fun time watching a movie last year, so why not do it again.

The organisation was very simple- after all, we’d done this date before. The only apparent problem was that on the day of the festival, it was raining like mad (what with it being August in London and all), and I couldn’t really see us sitting outside on the ground, huddling in the downpour, trying to keep the mud from seeping into our mats and blankets, all while balancing umbrellas,  trying to see the screen and eating sushi. I guess you can see my priorities here.

Either way, I proposed what I thought of as an excellent alternative to outdoor cinema: Prom 55. It has the same picknick+culture spirit as the original plan, but instead of in the rain, we’d sit in the Royal Albert Hall. I love opera, I love Handel, I love Handel operas- I was already completely sold on the idea. In a quick text, my date agreed and we settled where and when we’d meet.

I spent half the afternoon researching Rinaldo, reading synopsis and interpretations and pre-listening to important arias online. I was positively giddy when I arrived at our meeting point. Also because I was curious to meet N. again. But yeah, mostly for meeting R.

Our preprom queue banter quickly showed that N. hadn’t even realised he was going to a partially staged opera performance instead of an orchestral concert. His face twitched slightly when he asked “Oh, with singing and everything?”- which should have warned me. However, I was in my own little bubble of enthusiasm and just replied “Yes, it’s going to be amazing!” instead of picking up on his scepticism.

We got gallery tickets, and found space to sit near the bannisters about in the middle of the gallery. Excellent promming! We could see the entire stage, albeit through “prison bars” as my date charmingly put it, and I got even more excited.

I was enthralled from the first notes of the ouverture (go listen to it here). Prom 55 was the Glyndebourne 2011 production of R. by Georg Friedrich Handel, where the crusade age plot is reimagined as a revenge-fuelled school boy’s dream after he’s been bullied one time too many. Seeing as the original baroque opera’s plot is confusing at best, and racially, sexistically and religiously insensitive and bigotted at worst, I thought this was a clever choice(although on a whole the “transported in modern time through one thing or other” strategy isn’t my favourite staging tool) and overall for me, the transformation into a teenage fantasy worked for me.

Sadistic teachers, wise teachers, mean girls, luring synchronised swimmers, armies of bicycle riders and football playing boys- R. filled his dream with some too-well-loved stereotypes and cliches along with some very bright ideas. While the latex-clad Armida as teacher with cane and posse of St Trinian lookalikes felt a bit heavy-handed for me, I found the reimagining of the final battle scene of christians and muslims as a slow-motion football game that ended with R. scoring into the orchestra simply ingenious.

The orchestra of enlightenment was fantastic, and although I wasn’t entirely convinced by his harpsichord solos, I really liked Ottavio Dantone’s musical direction. The singers were spirited and lively, with Sonia Prina’s title role a special treat.

You can tell, I adored it from the first minute. Poor N. really didn’t. He hadn’t read the plot beforehand, and my hastily whispered 45 second introduction to a story along the lines of  “…and then A dresses up as B and her lover C falls in love with her in costume, so she plots revenge together with B’s lover D, who she has imprisoned earlier. Oh, and she’s a witch!” didn’t really enlighten him either.

The prom performance was not supertitled like most other foreign language opera performances (a decision I don’t understand), N. thus had hardly any chance to understand what was going on for the next two-and-a-half hours.We discussed our experiences in the first interval, and it became clear he had resigned to just listening and ignoring the plot completely. And although he was too polite to explicitly state it, it was quite obvious that baroque opera was not the music he would usually choose to listen to for an evening while sitting on the linoleum covered floor amidst a bunch of opera-fanatic strangers.

This essentially gave me a choice to either a) be a very nice person, suggest to leave during the interval and get some drinks instead and spend some more quality time with X. or b) resist the social clues, stay for the rest of the opera and spend some more quality time with R.

I went with b). Because I truly fell in love with R. I’ve been obsessively listening to the recording over and over again in the past days. I’ve imagined our future, how I’ll buy the DVD when it comes out and how I’m going to go to all future Glyndebourne proms. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends, and just writing it down now makes me smile.

N. took it very gracefully, and I promised him non-operatic drinks next week.

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Be Descriptive

The below post contains personal ramblings about body type, weight, public perception etc. I’m happy and healthy, and not too neurotic about these things apart from when typing them up for my blog, so I think it’s ok to post this. However innocent my intentions, if you have weight/body issues, this post might be a trigger.

Second note: I’m using terms like “fat” and “skinny”, when I talk about people. This doesn’t denote a value judgement.

When filling out an online dating profile, you will almost invariably find a page with a host of dropdown menus that make it able to comparably describe you to others. While your personality gets little empty textboxes you have to fill in yourself, your physical attributes get an array of 9 point Likert scales.

However, while there are very fixed measurements for some attributes such as height, and quasi-objective descriptions for things like eye colour (step away from the qualia issue, please) there are certain dropdown menus that rely on rather more insight and subjective analysis.

I’m specifically talking about the “body type” field. My dating site of choice gives you the choice of:

Rather not Say, Thin, Overweight, Skinny, Average, Fit, Athletic, Jacked, A little extra, Curvy, Full figured and Used up.

So yes, plenty of options to choose from. I initially chose Average, as a cover all term, because  it’s hard to be more specific. There are two different issues at play. The main point is a) How I perceive myself, and which words describes that. Even more tricky though is issue b) How the consensus of site users uses and perceives these terms.

It’s no use if I put Skinny because I totally lost a pound last week, and haven’t had breakfast today, so my stomach looks practically concave. I’m still very firmly not-skinny in the eyes of others.

I thus went with the elimination method: I’m definitely not Skinny (too many things under that skin), Overweight (BMI says not), Thin, or Jacked. I’d also like to believe that at not-even-the-end-of-my-twenties-yet I’m also not Used Up, although my under eye circles tell a different story on Monday mornings.

That leaves me with: Average, Fit, Athletic, A little extra, Curvy and Full figured.

And this is where it becomes difficult. First of all these six seem to fall in three clusters: Fit and Athletic belong together, and so do A little extra, Curvy and Full figured. The former two are for sporty figures, the latter three for various forms of the higher range of the BMI.

A little extra is probably just a euphemism for overweight or obese, where the extra is the bit that goes over the normal weight. So I decided to exclude that. Even though I think there’s plenty of extra on my lower stomach for example. overall it’s probably a misleading term. Again, I’m not actually that big, have a NHS approved healthy weight and wear clothes from the not-plus-size range. I have a similar problem with Fuller figure, which seems even more cryptic. Does it mean fuller than Average people? In a society with rates of 60% overweight and  23%  clinically obese, that puts the bar quite high. Or am I fuller if I’m heavier than my healthprofessionally determined normal/ideal weight (which then seems to hold true for over half of the population)?

Again, this term seems to be euphemism for extra weight, maybe a little, maybe a little more than a little. In my perception fuller figured also correlates with increased height, and brings up a Wagnerian heroine: tall, big and impressive.  Concludingly, I’m not happy to conjure a Rubenesque image, where my creamy, fleshy thighs overspill the dainty red velvet chaiselongue, naughty bits barely covered up by some cleverly draped leaves/waistlength hair.  Any guy hoping for that when reading my description would be surly disappointed upon meeting me.

Ok, we’re down to Average, Fit, Athletic and Curvy.

The problem with the sporty descriptions is that they also suggest a very clear image. If I describe myself as athletic, guys will hope for a tall Swedish triathlete with lithe, toned legs, flat stomach and small, but perfectly perky chest.

Fit probably goes in the same direction, possibly with slightly bigger breasts.

Much as my arms and shoulders are about as defined as you’re allowed while still wearing strapless dresses, and my calves are “proper hiker’s calves” as my granddad approvingly called them, my overall figure is nowhere near lithe. I have the aforementioned extra stomach, a very non-sporty looking bum and breasts that when running require the attention of a maximum security sports bra that costs more than my running shoes and should really come with a valet that helps you putting it on and lock the three (!) different closures. Comparing myself to the Swedish triathlete seems false marketing at best.

This brings us to Curvy.

Ah, Curvy. This is the one description that inspired this rambling post. My friend suggested that’s what I should call myself as it “sounds much sexier than average“. And with aforementioned bum and boobs in relation to my waist he might not be altogether wrong. However, I have two problems with this term.

a) Some people seem to use Curvy as another girl-specific euphemism for overweight. And while the two populations certainly overlap (pun definitely not intended), there are plenty of overweight girls who are not curvy, and still claim this term, as it gradually morphs from “very distinct boob/hip to waist ratio, regardless of actual size of either” to “lots of boobs and bum, we’ll not look too closely at your waist”. The main point of debate seems to be whether curves require a distinct “in-out” movement, or whether say, an apple or barrel with their convex outline can be called curvy.

Again, I have a hard time calling myself fatter than I already am and feel no desire to group myself with lots of big-is-beautiful advocates.

The second point goes rather in the opposite direction.

b) In the eyes of some guys, curvy seems to mean a mix of Betty Boop and J.Lo. I’m neither. Yes, I have boobs, but I can still walk straight and thankfully don’t get a backache from my bra. Likewise, my butt does not shatter baked bean can pyramids in supermarkets when I turn around, and my not so dainty arms and legs are in proportion with my torso.

Between a and b, and the implicit message of “I’m a fat version of Betty Boop”. I’d rather stay clear from the term and be safe.

Which leaves me with AVERAGE.

My fit shoulders, athletic arms and legs, curvy boobs and waist, little-extra belly, full hips and thighs simply average out.

I feel misrepresented.

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