Archive for the ‘dating’ Category

On-line dating and Montaigne: Beyond multiple choice

January 17, 2014

In general, one doesn’t meet a lot of new people in one’s living room, especially if one is a self-proclaimed shut-in.  My 90 year old landlady has more visitors than I.  I suppose there are lots of folks streaming in and out of a crack addict’s living room, but at my place there’s no livelier social scene than 2 cats underfoot at dinnertime.

Here’s a picture of my tribe.

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Now that I telecommute and live in the country, seeing anyone on a weekly basis is a challenge.  Last November, riding a surge of optimism as brief as the Indian summer day, I created an account on an on-line dating site in an effort to forestall such a possiblity.  After exerting a minimal amount of effort – posting the one recent photo I had, answering a few questions, and composing a brief profile – I threw in the towel.

Two week later steeling myself to give it another go, I tried dispassionately to consider the site’s possibilities.  I’d answered a few of the multiple choice questions, but apparently no where near enough.  I eventually realized there are metrics tied to each question.  Each answer determines one’s dating personality which in turn computes the degree of compatibility, or “matches,” between respondents.  Duh!  On my first go-round, I’d answered so few questions that this metric summed up my dating personality as “I’m willing if you’re buying,” a description I found hilarious but, as it proved, untrue.

Revelations lay ahead of me, as I opened myself up to the reality of on-line dating.  I won’t go into all of them here.  The most dispiriting, although unsurprising, were the truths about myself, the contradictions that remain unresolved.  I could have given the endeavor a bit more elbow-grease, I know, but I just couldn’t take that bigger leap – actually “rating” a guy’s profile, for instance, or, toward the end, visiting any.  Most of my adult life I haven’t had to wait so long to find another after the loved one’s departure, nor were those months of solitude so unbearable that I would do any activities as un-recluse-like as joining a group, or going to a bar, or, horrors! saying hello to a guy who’d just smiled at me.  That is, whatever efforts people make when they want to increase their chances of getting a date is beyond me.  It’s dumb luck that I’ve had such success in finding loving companions so far, since deep down, I’m ridiculously fastidious at moments loaded with romantic potential.

Perhaps it could have gone differently, I’ve wondered idly since, but the multiple choice questions irritated me.  Some were so outlandishly sick (“Honestly, wouldn’t nuclear war be kind of exciting?”) while others were too personal (the only person who needs to know my sexual behavior is the person I’m having sex with).  The stupid-cute answer choices set my teeth on edge (“This question upsets me,” the answer I would have chosen if it had been offered for the hypothetical nuclear war question but not one on racist jokes).

I skipped a lot of questions, but one or two I puzzled over.  One asked “How would you feel if you did nothing all day?”

To me this is an interesting question.  Often I would be hard-pressed to say I’d done much of anything.  A string of days, in fact, might pass before I could justly claim to have exerted energy enough to break past the stasis of “nothing.”  It is something I’ve been working on for a while now, and probably have a life satisfaction rating equivalent to the majority of people who work at putting more into their lives.

From the answer choices (this from memory) – “I’d be happy.  It’s good to take a break!”  “I wouldn’t mind it, as long as it doesn’t happen often.”  “It would bother me.”  “That never happens.” – I gathered that the depth or significance of my personal struggle regarding this question was not what they were measuring.

Another part of the site had various hiply named quizzes.  I took an animal totem one, but I can’t recall offhand what the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator was called.  Let’s say it was Friday afternoon when I noodled around the internet for over an hour (“nothing all day – not me!”), refreshing my memory on these categories.  After getting my own scoring, now what I noticed as slightly bizarre about one man’s profile took on a darker meaning.  “I’m a INTP, dammit!” he’d offered as explanation, more than once.  At the time, it had been so off-putting that, despite other elements in his description (an artist who loved cats and gardened), I’d moved on.  His border-line obsession with this reflection of himself now made me sad since I could see how he’d probably arrived at it courtesy of this or other dating sites’ categorizations (at least one other on-line dating site pops when you google your MBTI).  The astrological signs  people posted with cute caveats like “Libra, and it’s fun to think about” appeared benign in comparison.  I hope the guy doesn’t believe this shit is any more scientific.

Recently I watched a Youtube video (you guessed it: a Friday afternoon, work all caught up) of an interview with an 81-year old Gore Vidal.  He talked about visiting American schoolrooms and saying to parents and teachers:  “I’ve yet to meet a six year old that is dull or a sixteen year old who’s interesting.  What do you do to them?”  He blamed multiple choice questions.  “That’s no way to learn.”

So in the spirit of Gore Vidal, whose respect for Michel de Montaigne has been so delightfully contagious, I offer up an excerpt from his Essays as answer to that perplexing multiple choice question:

We are great fools.  “He has spent his life in idleness,” we say; “I have done nothing today.”  What, have you not lived?  That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations.  “If I had been placed in a position to manage great affairs, I would have shown what I could do.”  Have you been able to think out and manage your own life?  You have done the greatest task of all.  To show and exploit her resources Nature has no need of fortune; she shows herself equally on all levels and behind a curtain as well as without one.  To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct.  Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.  All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.

Multiple choice: it’s no way to date.

Some Ex

May 31, 2011

“The past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past.”  William Faulkner

“You talk too much about your ex-husband,” he informed me.

We’d been discussing diets, about how I hated them, about how he adhered to his, the low carb Atkins religion that single men like to rely on.

“Can you believe?” he’d interjected. “When I was in college I dated a woman who worked as a baker.  She’d get up at 4 a.m. and leave fresh-baked croissants by the bed.”

I chimed in on how when I was married I had baked constantly.  My husband could consume a cake within 3 days and still stay thin.

“He would read the caloric food values listed at the back of my Fannie Farmer cookbook while he ate lunch.  He figured he needed a cup of frosting a day to gain weight.”

I thought the story was in the same vein as his, but apparently I’d strayed over the acceptable number of references to my ex.

It’s not the first time a man has noted how often I talk about my exes.  Although I have married once, there are a handful of men to whom I have given as much love as I could muster at the time.  A few years ago when I was getting to know another man, he told me, with a sparkle of glee in his blue eyes, that he was going to design a t-shirt for me.  On a piece of paper he started marking hatch marks.  “It will be with all ‘x’s, in the shape of an X.  So when people ask you, you can say, ‘It’s some ex.’”

I remain bewildered on the topics I’m supposed to be discussing.  If you’re getting to know someone, are you only supposed to voice your opinions on PBS funding cuts or the general state of the media?  The trouble with such conversations is that my mind wanders off and then like a petulant 4 year old starts whining, “Why are we talking about this?”  I try to ignore its demands at the same time I’m trying to limit expressing my low opinion of NPR’s reporting.

It’s just too much work to pretend that other people haven’t played an important role in making up who I am.  Don’t get me wrong:  I like denying reality as much as the next person.  I couldn’t even provide a list of all the reality I’m denying I’ve been denying it for so long.  But the past for me has always held a fascination.  Even when I was a teenager and possessed no past, I would ruminate over events that had happened a year previously.  It made for a lugubrious adolescence but isn’t that what adolescence is for?

Just like Faulkner, I thought that if I could get a handle on what had happened, if I could understand how I’d made those fine messes, then I’d win some control over what would happen.  I believed this for a surprisingly long time.  Even when I started to realize how unreliable memory was — even my long-ranging, precision-seeking missile of a memory — I still held firm to this tenet.  Of all the things that seemed to make me “me,” this seemed the most central.

Perhaps this is a quality I’ll never quite shake.  We are, after all, the only species that can ponder our own deaths, and this inevitable ending makes all that comes before seem vitally important.  Some people locate their life’s meaning in their careers, some in their families, some in what they’ve accumulated.  I long ago devoted myself to knowledge, and to me little is knowable outside of one’s self.  We can never truly know the people who move through our lives.  They are like alien beings, encounters with whom can confirm what we’ve already learned or define the limits of what we might never understand, a wisdom that can run the gamut from “I like people who also like Woody Allen movies” to “I have no idea why she acted that way.”

So while I hope I’ve given up feeling pressed to make sense of everything that’s come before, I’ll keep talking about my exes if only because I’m a writer.  Writers know that one of the best ways to delineate characters is to talk about what a character loves.  I am a character who has loved and hopes to continue to love for the rest of her life.  I love chocolate, cats, twilight, jazz, the scent of honeysuckle, and all those people who have trooped through my life with muddy shoes leaving footprints on my heart.  What else is there to talk about?