Saturday, October 6, 2018

I Feel Pretty?

I read this critique of the new movie, "I Feel Pretty" (starting Amy Schumer) with much interest.  This is a subject that is difficult to talk about, because no matter what your position on it is, your opinion will be interpreted differently based on how closely you align with society's definition of beauty.  I'll be honest, when I see a woman who is both thin and beautiful talk about how what's on the inside is more important than what is on the outside, I can't help but think, "Easy for you to say, you've never been held back or negatively judged based on your looks."  In fact, "pretty privilege" is a real thing (research shows that attractive people earn 13% more than their less attractive peers) and the $445 billion a year beauty industry isn't going to sit back and let us believe that looks don't matter anytime soon.

The reality in the dating world is that looks do matter... more than anything else.  Lets face it, in this fast paced, digital, immediate gratification age, more and more people are turning away from old fashioned methods of meeting people to alternatives such as online dating sites and speed dating events.  The common theme?  Get exposed to a lot of single people in a very short amount of time and decide who you would like to get to know better based on very little information.  You can't determine whether a potential partner shares your values, has a compatible lifestyle, or common interests with you in a few clicks or brief moments.  But you can quickly determine whether or not you find him or her attractive - and that becomes the determining factor as to whether or not you decide to find out more.

"I Feel Pretty" sells the idea that success, personally and professionally, isn't based on your looks, but on your self-confidence.  In the online dating world, I'm going to disagree.   True confidence is difficult to portray accurately in a profile pic and a catchy headline, so unless you are attractive, very few will click past your photo to find out your personality.  This is most likely the reason that old or edited photos that only minimally resemble the actual person behind the profile are practically an epidemic.  When I set up an online dating profile, I use recent photos.  They may be edited to correct color and lighting, and they may involve strategic poses that highlight my best features, but they really are me.  That being said, when someone meets me in person, I obviously can't spend the entire conversation frozen at that exact, portrait-perfect angle that hides my flaws... but I won't feel bad about that because if the person I am meeting took the time to read my profile, somewhere in there they would have found an admission that I do not have a super model's body.  In fact, I put more effort into not disclosing too much about other aspects of my life in my online persona, such as what I do for a living or where I live, than I do in trying to hide details that will be pretty obvious to anyone who meets me in real life - namely, that I am a 5'4" 48 year old single mom who wears size 16 jeans.

And this is where my experience doesn't match the feel-good assertion that confidence is sexy.  It takes a confident woman to be upfront about her size and while I won't sit here and pretend that I am completely content with it, I will say that I am fully confident that I have enough to offer a potential partner that my weight, something that fluctuates on everyone, shouldn't be a deal breaker. Yet, in every case where I remained friends with someone after an online connection didn't blossom into romance and they moved on to make a romantic connection with someone else, that someone else had a body that was much more aligned with today's beauty standards than mine.  Of course, I am sure they are also lovely people... or at least I hope they are... But if their looks are the only thing they have to offer, the pursuer will eventually find the relationship less than fulfilling.  I can admit that I have been guilty of trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole by trying to make a relationship work with someone I found incredibly attractive but really wasn't compatible with in any other way.

One such attractive potential partner made an interesting point to me.  He said that attractive men have endless options... there are far more attractive women hoping to connect with an attractive man than there are attractive men trying to connect with attractive women.  With such a lengthy waiting list, he didn't have to tolerate the slightest personality quirk in any woman he met because there was always someone else on the list who was just as attractive and didn't have that quirk.  And this was a man who was attractive, but far from financially stable or emotionally available.  Imagine what an attractive man with a good job who genuinely wants a committed relationship has to choose from.

I chatted with another friend last night who talked about a woman he was dating "casually" but he was still looking for another partner because she wasn't attractive enough to be seen in public with.  He then went on to point out that my options will drop dramatically in two years when I turn 50.  I won't lose faith, though... this simply tells me that online dating is not the place for me to find the kind of man that I want to spend my future with.  And even at almost 50 years old, I am confident that I have enough of a future ahead of me that I can take my time finding the right man to share it with.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

An Open Letter To Men On Dating Sites, Part 4: Committing

You'd like to keep seeing us? Wonderful!

23) Please ask us anything you'd like to know about us rather than assuming.  For example, not all women who maintain a good quality of life after a divorce are living off of maintenance from a wealthy ex.  But at the same time, assuming a single mom can spot you a couple hundred bucks to cover next month's rent isn't cool, either.

24) At some point, you've gotten to know us well enough that you want to be officially a "couple."  If it is your desire that we are no longer active on dating sites or talking to other men, we probably feel the same way.  This means it is time to deactivate your account and to let the other women that you still communicate with know that you've met someone.  We realize that other women who took a liking to you may still check in on occasion, but at some point we should be able to reasonably expect to get through a dinner together without texts coming through from other women you've dated.

25) If we've gotten to the point where you have given us dedicated bathroom drawer space at your place for a hairbrush and lip gloss, then we've gotten to the point where we shouldn't find other women's jewelry and hair in your bathroom.

26) If we've gotten to the point where we spend the night together or take a trip together, then we've gotten to the point where you really need to put a stop to ex-wives/girlfriends/lovers that continue to harass you with daily letters, text bombs, and 20 phone calls a day.  If we are being woken up by text messages from your ex at 3:00 am, then she is harassing us, too.  Please respect us enough to deal with it.

27) There is often this unknown period of time during which we want to get more comfortable with each other before we get introduced to family and friends.  That is completely understandable, especially when children are involved.  While there may be no hard and fast rule, it probably should happen before we start living together two years into the relationship.

I know, without a doubt, that you have your own lists of struggles with women that you've met.  Certainly, nobody is perfect... but maybe understanding our perspective a bit will help you adjust your approach to one that draws a more desirable response from us.

All the best,

An Open Letter To Men On Dating Sites, Part 3: Let's Meet!

Would you like to meet?  OK!

16) If you like texting us, then be open to Skype or FaceTime before you meet us.  Why?  It tells us that you actually are the person in your photos, and that your living circumstances are as you described them.  Men who refuse to video chat come across as having something to hide or simply unwilling to give one woman their undivided attention long enough for a conversation.

17) Usually a first meeting involves coffee or a drink.  If you plan on paying, please take the lead in picking a place that is within your budget.  A good woman won't assume you are paying, but if you are, she doesn't want to dictate how much an evening with her should cost.  Now, I know this may not meet with your experience, some women will take advantage of your generosity by ordering he most expensive items on the menu.  This should tell you something about the woman you're meeting.

18) Please pick a place that is conducive to conversation.  Few things are more frustrating than trying to get to know someone when you can't hear him over the ambient noise.

19) Learn how to use the "Do Not Disturb" feature on your phone, or at least turn off notifications.  I have been on dates where the man set his phone, screen up, on the table and never looked at it again the entire evening.  This isn't something I expect, but it was a huge sign of respect.  Most men keep their phones tucked in their pockets, which is also fine.  But when you pull out your phone and contort yourself to check it in a way where you are obviously concealing the screen, it is a little awkward.  Maybe just excuse yourself and run to the restroom if you absolutely must check to see who just called or messaged you.  But better yet, respect our time and company enough to turn off notifications from tomorrow’s date until your date with us is over.

20) If the date ends and you aren't interested in another, please just politely let us know.  Something like, "Thank you for the opportunity to meet you!  I don't think we're a romantic match, but I enjoyed our conversation and wish you the best!" is fine.  You really don't have to give a reason.  And please don't give us a reason that isn't true.  The fact is, most women have friends who are on the same dating sites, and we talk about the dates we've been on.  We really prefer not to get a message from a friend who was just asked out by the same guy who told us the day before that he changed his mind about dating and is deactivating his profile.

Its bad enough when it comes from a friend...but I actually got one from my ex's new girlfriend.

21) Keep track of who you meet.  If we meet you for coffee and you aren't interested in a second date, it is a little awkward getting a connection request from you on a different dating site a few months later.  Especially when you use the exact same opening line.

22) There is a negative perception around "baggage."  The truth is, most of us have had experiences that impacted us positively or negatively in the past that we carry forward into future relationships.  Ideally, we have integrated these experiences into our sense of self and what we desire from a relationship.  If, however, you still have lingering issues that you can't get over, please don't use us as a distraction to help you repress your issues rather than dealing with them.  A therapist may be a better choice than a date.

Still with me?  One more to come!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

An Open Letter To Men On Dating Sites, Part 2: Chatting

So you like what you see on our profile and you'd like to strike up a conversation?  Great!  Please know...

8) Winks, likes, smiles, and similar reactions to our profiles with no further text are going to be ignored more often than not.  Tell us why you liked our profile.  What interested you?  What do we have in common?  Ask us a question so we have something to respond to.  But not, "Hey beautiful, how are you?"  Every other message we get starts with that.  And opening with an explicit suggestion won't get you too far, either.  Put a little more effort into it.  Let us know that the message you sent us was tailored for us and not the same text that was copied and pasted into messages to 50 other women that day.  Want to really rock our world?  Actually reference something you read in our profile.

Not the best choices for opening lines....
Asking about my Fender Mustang is a much better approach.

9) We get a lot of requests. Usually far more than we can respond to, and sometimes we resort to methods that you may deem "unfair" to sort through them. Sending follow up messages like "Hello?" or "What, I'm not good enough for you?" is not going to make us suddenly realize what we almost missed and come chasing after you. I cancelled my last account after 2 weeks. During that time, I responded to a few messages, deleted well over 100 requests, but still had over 900 waiting for a response. Was there anyone in that 900 worthy of my attention? Of course! But do I have time to read 900 profiles to find you? Unfortunately, no. And sometimes, I didn't respond YET because I only had a few minutes to check messages and was going to reply later. Don't jump the gun and burn that bridge!
How to turn a slow response into no response at all...

10) Don't initiate sexual conversations when you don't even know us. Really, just don't. I'm not a prude, but seriously, I can guarantee that if you haven't met me in person yet, you don't know me nearly well enough to feel comfortable asking me intimate questions or sending me photos of your little friend. If you DO choose to send an unsolicited dick pic, we may assume it is actually a request for feedback. Be prepared for an honest response.

11) Speaking of conversations, if you can only communicate during limited time windows, like the middle of the day, we will quickly figure out that dating is an extracurricular activity that you are fitting in between other commitments, like dinner with your wife. And please don't expect us to communicate with you all day long. I have had a few men tell me I wasn't "serious" enough about dating because I didn't talk to them all day long, or even every day. I have a full time job, it isn't dating.

12) When we do take the time to talk to you via text or online, please attempt to make it a real time conversation. Few things are more annoying than setting aside time to have a conversation and consistently waiting ten minutes for responses. Yes, we know that you are talking to multiple people and that is OK, but at least try to make us feel like we have your undivided attention for the ten minutes we are talking instead of dragging out an eight message conversation for over an hour. Nothing says "you're not that special" like knowing you are in a queue of women waiting for a reply... especially when you lose track of who you said what to and you tell us the same joke twice, or send us the same photo twice.

13) If you decide to exchange phone numbers, give the woman your real phone number, not one from an app like Google Voice. Again, this is a safety matter for women. If you have nothing to hide, then don't hide anything. This may be disturbing to know, but the honest truth is that us smart women who have agreed to meet you in person mostly likely not only know your full name, where you live, where you work, your family court drama, and whether or not you have a criminal record or any legal problems... but so do our three best friends.  And at least one is actively monitoring our location through our phone while we have a drink with you, and is prepared to call the police if our location varies from the planned agenda or if we don't check in by a certain time. A man who has no online presence related to his photos or phone number is almost always a man who is hiding something.

14) Don't expect a woman to do either of the things I mentioned in #'s 3 (Part 1) and 13. She isn't trying to deceive you or hide anything, she is protecting herself. One of my least favorite Facebook features is that when you add the phone number associated with our Facebook profile into your phone's contact list, Facebook starts advertising us to you as "People you may know." Thanks, Facebook. And here is how that has played out in one case.... My phone number or photo leads someone to my Facebook page which gives them my full name, which, when entered into a CCAP (Circuit Court Access Program) search brings up a summary of my divorce records, which include my full address. And suddenly, a guy who I turned down because he started getting creepy sends me a message suggesting I should be more careful with my information and maybe he'll stop by later.

15) This should go without saying, but don't be creepy. I can't speak for all women, but showing up at my house and being creepy when I never invited you is going to get you told off at best, or at worst, a chest full of lead. Ok, I know I'll have to apologize to a few people for that remark, but I do practice my second amendment right.

Don't be creepy...

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Open Letter To Men On Dating Sites, Part 1: Your Profile

I have a confession to make, or maybe you already know and that is what brought you here... every now and then I put myself out there on a dating site just to test the waters. Inevitably, I get overwhelmed and cancel my account within a few weeks, but I've repeated this process enough times to have learned some very valuable lessons.

As I was recounting some of my stories to a group of women at a recent ladies’ night celebration, I realized maybe you men would benefit from hearing this as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can replay this with quite the same colorful language that was pouring out of my mouth under the influence of Holy Water and Jell-o shots, but lets see if I can hit the highlights.

Now, before I cause any concern, let me say that I have met some very nice people on dating sites.  I certainly don't mean to imply this applies to every man, nor that it doesn't equally apply to women.  However, a woman's perspective is all I can offer.

In general... men, you need help. The online dating scene is grossly unbalanced and unfair for many reasons:

First, statistically speaking, there are more men on dating sites than women. That may seem like a disadvantage to you men, but I am here to tell you that is not true!  There are far more ATTRACTIVE women on dating sites than ATTRACTIVE men. If you want to understand why, just google "makeup before and after." We know how to make ourselves look good. We know how to pose for a photo to emphasize our best features.  The honest truth is, if you end up with me, you're going to wake up next to the woman on the left... even though you invested your time getting to know the woman on the right.
The second area of unfairness is that it is inherently more unsafe for a woman to meet someone she has only talked to online than it is for a man. And for this reason, men, we need you to be real about who you are and understand that we may be slow to reveal our full name or phone number.

And finally, 53% of online users lie in their online dating profile. According to one online source, the most common lies are about age, height or weight and job. In my experience, current relationship status is another common one.

So here is what I'd like you to know, based on my experience. And I do mean experience... every single example I am giving is based on actual dates I have been on.

Let's start with your profile.

1) Most of you use terrible photos. I have actually contemplated recreating some of your most common poses on my own profile purely for satire (in fact, I may ask 11 of my closest friends to partner with me on this and make a 2018 calendar). We fully appreciate that you enjoy your hobbies, but presenting us with a dead fish through your profile photo is not the way to make a good first impression. Neither is a selfie in a bathroom mirror, a topless photo of you at the gym, or group photos where we can't tell which one is you. Want to get our attention? Ask a friend to take a nice, well lit, photo of you smiling.  If we can get past this first point, I promise to do my best to spread the word to women everywhere to stop using photos of their cats.
This is my cat, Moonstone.  I know... you don't care.
2) Please stop using old photos. Yes, you were very attractive when you were younger. So were we. But I'm not going to try to impress you with bikini shots from my modeling days years ago. None of that is relevant to who we are today. The odds are, if you were attractive a few years ago, you still are now... even if you've put on a few pounds or lost a little hair. Be confident in who you are, because even an attractive man is not someone we want to meet in person if he doesn't look anything like the photos he used to represent himself.
Me, Christmas 2004 and 2017
3) If you are serious about wanting to meet someone (and not just wanting to take advantage of someone), consider using photos that also appear on your social media profiles. Google has this great image search feature that lets you see every other place where that the same photo appears on the internet. We use it... not to cyber stalk you, but to confirm you really are who you say you are so we can be OK with meeting you in person.

4) Put something in your profile about who you are, not just what you're looking for. Some of the biggest players out there use phrases like "Not looking for a hookup" because they think it will attract better quality women. We know this... seeing that on your profile tells us there is a 50% chance or greater that a hookup is exactly what you're looking for. The same goes for "No drama", "No baggage", "I'm not your ex", and similar statements... if you don't want drama or baggage, don't behave in ways that create it.

5) Actually, don't put anything in your profile that is untrue and serves no other purpose than to trick women into believing you are something you aren't, or want something you don't. Seriously, lying to or manipulating women for your own gain isn't just uncool, it is predatory. I know some of you feel that misrepresenting your age improves your odds of finding a woman you are interested in because you don't "look" or "feel" your age, but the truth is that most of us don't care about your age as much as we care about being with someone who doesn't feel the need to lie about things we consider insignificant.

6) "Self employed" is not what you do for a living. We'd like to know what you spend your days doing, not who you do it for. 20% of businesses fail in their first year and that jumps to 50% by year 5. So assuming "Self employed", "Business owner", or "Entrepreneur" means you actually do run a small business, you haven't told us much other than your long term financial risk. What we've learned, though, is that men who are unemployed and pick up any odd job for quick cash also use these same phrases to describe their employment. If you own a business, tell us what your business does. If your profession is known to be highly compensated and you don't want to be overwhelmed with requests from women who are only attracted to your pocketbook, then be vague (call yourself a healthcare worker if you're a neurosurgeon).

7) We understand that physical attraction is important. Statements like, "I workout 5 times a week, looking for someone who also takes care of herself" are fine if that is what you really mean. I worked out 4 times this week, but I am a full figured woman who wears size 16 jeans. If you're looking for someone with a perfect figure, then say so. But please, be realistic with your expectations relative to what you bring to the table. If you are incredibly muscular but 5' 2" and bald, please don't expect to meet a supermodel. I know what you're thinking... “but weight is within an individual's control, while height and hair aren't.” You're absolutely right (in most cases), but the physical characteristics that we are naturally attracted to don't change just because they are or are not under your control.

More to come...

My Relationship Philosophy

I am certainly no relationship expert, but it seems like such a simple concept.   Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, and they live happily ever after, right? Well, maybe not…

I’ve heard theories about people coming into your life at a certain time and for a certain purpose, and some staying for a time and others staying forever. Or when that purpose is met, and your growth is complete, you lovingly and respectfully release each other to continue your respective journeys. But does it really work?

From my point of view, it should be simple. When two people meet, they come from two different sets of experiences that shape them and influence not only who they are, but what they need to feel comfortable and secure in a relationship.  Don’t confuse this with the need to be in a relationship to feel comfortable and secure, which stems from insecurity rather than self-awareness. I’m talking about how the basic human experience results in a natural set of rules and boundaries that become each unique individual’s guide to navigating all of life’s situations. Much like traffic rules for navigating each state vary, there aren’t right or wrong rules, just different rules. Can I turn right on red here? Make a U-Turn there? What is the maximum speed limit?

When two people meet, they learn basic things about each other. Likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. They determine what they have in common and if they want to get to know each other more. As the relationship advances, they start to learn about each other’s unique experiences and the resulting boundaries that have developed (some might say baggage, but who doesn’t have experiences that have left a deeper imprint?). Perhaps this is where my theory becomes too idealistic. In a perfect world, both adults have enough self-awareness to understand and articulate the traffic rules for navigating their state – emotional state, that is.

And those rules and boundaries could be anything. The child of an alcoholic might have a boundary that doesn’t allow for alcohol in the house. A victim of domestic abuse might require that disagreements be resolved without raised voices. A person with a physical handicap might have a need for a single story home with no stairs. Choosing to continue a relationship at this stage doesn’t require that your rules or boundaries be the same. However, if a person’s experiences have shaped boundaries that are significantly different from yours, another choice must be made. Simply stated, do I respect and care for this person enough to consciously honor their boundaries out of love, or do their boundaries constrain me to the extent that I cannot operate within them and still love and honor myself? And either decision is OK, because it acknowledges and honors the human experience. All too often, though, people make a decision that isn’t loving to either party – to try to “cure” the other person of their limits, or get them to move boundaries that we perceive as unreasonable based on our own unsympathetic perspective.

If the choice is to stay together, then you have chosen to become a partner to that person. And as that relationship progresses to new levels, such as physical intimacy, cohabitation or marriage, the partners learn more about each other. They see the best and worst of each other. They experience each other at their strongest and their most vulnerable. They know, at the most intimate level, the worth each other has that can’t be measured against outside standards, the beauty within each other that can’t be seen with the naked eye, and talents their partner has that may never be exposed to the outside world, the potential their loved one has to achieve greatness in their own way, and their capacity for love, patience, understanding and acceptance. And in this stage, trust runs deep. It isn’t developing, it is established. Assumed. The connection experienced is strong. Visible to those who see it. Yes, it takes work to maintain, but that work should be a joy, not a burden.

But, obviously, many relationships end. Why? Perhaps the choice wasn’t made to honor the other’s boundaries. Perhaps circumstances caused those boundaries to be reassessed and moved. Perhaps the emotional maturity required to honor those boundaries was lacking. Perhaps they stopped seeing each other’s inner worth and beauty. Perhaps outside influences caused distractions and damaged trust. Perhaps the connection became a burden to maintain.

Indeed, like many, I have lived through my share of tearful relationship breaks and ends. It can be tempting to focus on the decisions made not to honor our boundaries, or to betray our trust, or to simply not be the partner we desired.  The problem with this focus is it that it can lead one to the conclusion that “I wasn’t good enough” or "You weren't good enough." When actually, we are all as good as we are supposed to be, even when facing an experience that shifts our inner navigation rules. If that moment comes, I urge you to refocus on acknowledging the life experiences that led you or your partner to no longer pursue love for each other, and respectfully choose to continue loving yourself.