Yesterday I heard from a former writing professor: the one who I worked with all of last year, and the one who likes to tell me that he sees himself in me because–according to him–both of us are narcissistic and because–according to life–both of us are incapable of sustaining a man for longer than three weeks.
Both of us, it turns out, are also poor correspondents. So it was a pleasant, if abrupt, surprise when his name appeared in my gchat yesterday morning.
“How are you? How’s the MFA? How are those other creatures S and D?”
“Good!” I wrote back, initially enthusiastic. And then: “You know, same as ever.”
“Oh,” he replied. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
As we all know, the medium of online chatting is such that you can never be exactly sure how someone might have said something were they to speak it out loud. I’d like to think that he would have uttered this line, then, with a strong dose of sarcasm. But, knowing this man as I do, I can imagine that–while we surely would have laughed to leaven the moment–had we been face-to-face, his tone would have been more-or-less sincere.
I enjoy housesitting for the obvious, conventional reasons.
You know, the occasion to raid a fridge for everything approximating sugar, vinegar or sustenance. The chance to recline on a leather couch and watch cable. (Living, as I do, without a TV, I benefit from the occasional reminder that 900 options of channels quickly translates to a choice between Golden Girls and Bethany Geting Married?). The opportunity to pal around with a 120 lb. rottweiler named Fido whose most aggressive move is a mild effort at vertical elevation in those moments when he anticipates a (not-too-long) walk or a dropped morsel of breakfast burrito.
As I lazed around yesterday afternoon, alternating my attention between a short story collection, the dogs, and a marathon of America’s Next Top Model, I thought of yet another reason I enjoy it that I’ve never quite been able to articulate–one largely unrelated to sloth, gluttony or rottweilers.
Shock of shocks, what got me thinking was one of the stories. It was by the writer Pam Houston, with whom I got to take a workshop last weekend, in Taos. If you haven’t read her, do. She writes funny, insightful and heavily autobiographical fiction about being a smart and successful woman with chronically poor judgment about men. Imagine my interest.
I’ve been reading her second and lesser-known collection, “Waltzing the Cat,” in which all the stories are linked and have the same narrator. They deal with her misadventures finding a man, but also with her quest for place.
So I’m at a writers conference for the weekend, aka a place where the male-to-female ratio is approximately 1.2 to 300.
Let’s not even get into who’s actually single. But the whole scene has gotten me thinking that, as much as I deserve blame/intensive psychotheraphy for being compulsively drawn to men who are emotionally unavailable–the feeling is often mutual.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a human hologram: attractive only to people who are prohibitively involved with other women or unhealthy substances.
Which brings me to a public service announcement of sorts: I understand it’s a delicate question, when two people come together in a potentially flirtatious context, at what point someone who is otherwise attached ought to say so. Too soon and you seem presumptious, too late and you seem like a jerk.
But I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend that all of us abandon our collective pride and for the sake of hopeful single people everywhere, tend toward the former. If after thirty minutes of talking and trading book recommendations I still don’t know you’ve got a girlfriend, that’s about twenty-five minutes too many. Because honestly, you’re not that smart or interesting and your writing isn’t that great and I really like to get eight hours of sleep if possible. I’ve got enough friends. We both understand hormones. Out with it.
Thanks for all the comments on that last post. It’s made me feel better about taking a couple of days off to write some mediocre fiction and conference with several dozen bewildered composition students.
In sum: I will concede that there are many elusive traits that make men attractive–mystery, confidence, large biceps–but I stand by the fact that, in order to feel attracted, I need a man who is not completely and totally a hundred percent nice. Sorry, I wish it weren’t, but it’s true.
Anyway, moving on. I’ve been asked to weigh in on altogether different topic: that of “pseudo boyfriends.”
I should have realized immediately that this subject does not fall into my arena of expertise: I had to ask what it meant. According to this reader (and the Urban Dictionary–I just googled) , a “pseudo boyfriend” is someone with whom you sometimes act like you are in a relationship with, but don’t label things as such. A guy you date/sleep/hang out with but do not call your boyfriend.
Before getting the definition, I assured said reader that–no matter what it meant–I was sure to be able to come up with a story. After learning it, however, I wasn’t so sure.
I racked my brain: surely, at some point in all my years of misguided dating escapades, I must have found myself in a comparable situation. Reader, I couldn’t think of one.
As I battle against my bout of writer’s block–and contemplate how to prevent this blog from becoming a daily exercise in shoddy and dull academic criticism–I’ve been trying to think of amusing stories from my dating past that I might share.
You see, I’ve been single for a long time. Relative to my twenty-six years, I should probably say. Please, do not misinterpret my wealth of dating (mis)adventures as a constant or compulsive habit: the experiences I’ve got have been racking up for quite a while.
Anyway. The one story that keeps springing to mind involves my attending a ball while I lived in DC. This is probably because I wore a little black dress borrowed from my friend A that I believe she and her then-boyfriend dubbed the “sexy dress” because no one has ever felt so sexy as when they have worn this dress. Certainly not me, and it’s a nice moment to recall.
I think that I also keep recalling that night, though, because it may have been one of the most bizarre romantic experiences I have ever had.
Let me explain.
“Remember when you lived in Washington DC and were really interested in politics?” my father asked me last night over dinner, by way of gentle counsel that I need not spend the rest of my writing career so focused on relationships.
“Vaguely,” I replied.
(It turns out to be true what what’s going on in Washington is far more interesting when one is living in Washington that it is when one isn’t.)
“I mean, it’s great for now,” my mother joined in. “But, you know, you might, at some point, decide that you want to have a little mystery.”
Ah yes, I thought. Mystery. I’ve been contemplating this word a lot lately–namely, in relation to the fact that I don’t have any.
It came up a few days ago when my guy friends and I were free associating in our effort to pinpoint the nature of femininity. We concluded that it might be in the mix, but that truly mystery is something both men and women look for and are drawn to.
Either way–since I do, on occasion, like to actually attract members of the opposite sex–this reminder causes me some pause.
Less than 48 hours after praising my womanhood, the same guy who had done so commended me for my ability to “be a dude.”
To be fair, I was the one who had used the phrase originally–when we’d quasi-dated the first time about a year earlier. But I wouldn’t begrudge you some confusion. How anyone–most suspiciously, me–could get from the neuroses I express daily in this blog to the performance of any romantic behavior that could possibly qualify as “dude-like” is pretty radically dubious.
So: some background.
I first met this guy (like my avoidance of boy or man? I’m trying) on a bus from Washington to New York about six weeks before I moved from the latter to the former last November. We spent most of that time talking and feeling extremely attracted to one another.
Due to this extreme attraction, things moved rather quickly–quicker than either of us anticipated or intended.
And then, as men are wont to do (especially when they are twenty-four, as he was) he panicked: he wasn’t looking for a relationship–he’d just gotten out of one, he was in school, he had two jobs. I told him that was okay: I was about to move, anyhow–why couldn’t we just keep it casual and enjoy each other’s company? I could “be a dude” about things.