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A couple of months ago a friend of mine told me I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

At first I argued with him. But that ended pretty quickly because his argument was actually convincing. My favorite point? “How many men,” he asked me, “have you helped ‘discover their joy’?”

My reaction to that question was, “Oh, shut up.” Although of course, I didn’t actually say that because it wouldn’t have been a discovering the joy kind of thing to say.

So then I thought maybe I could write a memoir called “I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Because how much fun would that be?

Bringing the joy! With BAKING.

Bringing the joy! With SWEET TREATS.

The idea was shiny but not without its drawbacks. For starters, to write that book properly I’d have to show a lot of the past messes in my life, and even though I know everyone has a lot of mess in their lives at one point or another, it’s still not the most comfortable proposition. Plus I know if I wrote that book the way I wanted to write it, I’d get rape threats for sure. Which, I mean, I kind of feel is inevitable, but it does have a dampening effect on my desire to pursue the project.

Also, I feel the need to point out that yes, we live in a world where female writers think about rape threat potential when planning their careers. Yup.

One of the great things about this hypothetical memoir is that it has a great redemptive arc. And I just read a blog post by Penelope Trunk telling me publishers want redemptive memoirs. (As an aside, I completely agree with her about Jeanette Wallis’s The Glass Castle. I was so disappointed when it ended. I wanted to know how her crazy childhood affected her adult life. To me, that was the interesting part, more so than the redemption. And then the book ended right when we got there!)

Anyway. Note the title of my memoir. I WAS a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Past tense. Because I don’t really think I am one anymore. How’s that for some redemption?

Why do I think I’ve changed? Well, I’ve been meeting a lot of people for the past several months. Including a lot of guys who I’m sure I could have helped discover their joy. Or at least made myself very unhappy trying. But I’ve lost almost all my interest in doing that. (I mean, okay, not ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of my interest, but hey, no one’s perfect.)

Like, I could never date a workaholic again, and I would be completely happy with that outcome. Ecstatic, really. Workaholics are thick on the ground where I live. And they are the perfect people to help rediscover their joy and the fact there’s a world outside their offices and all that jazz. Also, I totally disagree with their life philosophies. I think they’re more likely than not to regret being workaholics later in life. I mean, look at the top five regrets of dying people. But, I mean, whatever. Maybe they won’t, and in the meantime, it is so amazingly lovely to have that not be my problem.

It is amazing how liberating it is to realize how many things are not my problem. He can’t ask me to do something with a reasonable amount of lead time? Not my problem. He doesn’t see the importance of a social life? Not my problem. He has deep existential pain? Or, you know, some kind of complicated problem? Not my problem. He doesn’t like that I don’t drink? Not my problem. He doesn’t like some detail about my past? Not my problem. He’s unhappy and lost his ability to appreciate the little things? Not my problem. He lacks a sense of wonder? Not my problem. He tends to mansplain? So not my problem. Especially if it’s anything remotely related to writing. I’m currently perfecting my “Why do you think I want to sit here and listen to this?” face. (It needs some work. I’m still way too nice.)

I know to some of you that last paragraph will sound cold. Of course I help when I can and it is appropriate to do so. But refusing to take on other people’s problems means I can take a lot better care of myself. And a lot of that stuff is, frankly, a waste of my time and energy. As it turns out, it really sucks to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a hell of a lot of work for very little reward.

So yes, I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But now I’m just Amy, and I’m pretty happy with that.

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Facebook is an amazing social tool. I know a lot of us love to hate it, and it has its problems, but we don’t leave for a reason, that reason being its extreme usefulness.

Aside from allowing me to stay in some kind of light touch with people who live far away and giving me a curated set of articles to read, Facebook is the single easiest way I’ve found to grow my local social life. You friend someone and then they invite you to their events, and then you meet people at those events and friend them, and they invite you to their events, and your social circle grows with much less effort on your part than back when you had to wait to be on email address exchange terms to get an invitation. (Or phone number exchange terms, heaven forbid!)

Likewise, I’ve found Facebook to be indispensable for dating. Basically, there are two ways most of the single people I know date. One way is to use internet dating sites: OKCupid is super popular among my friends, but there are a whole slew of sites to choose between. You don’t even have to choose! Some people are on a bunch of them all at once.  (And I guess a corollary of this would be speed dating, which I kind of want to do just because then I could write a hilarious blog post about it, and we’d all have fun with that.)

The other way, the Facebook way, works like this: You go to a social event. Any event where there are people will do; parties are perhaps the most common, but this also works with game nights, group dinners, conventions, classes, dances, etc. You meet another single person and spend some time chatting. Maybe a lot of time. Sometimes they then pull out their phones and add you on Facebook on the spot. Other times you friend each other in the next day or two or three. Regardless, now Facebook is your main point of contact.

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

“But Amy,” you say, “surely you could exchange phone numbers or email addresses instead!” Yes, you are right. Surely you could, and occasionally you even do. But I’d say ninety percent of the time, you don’t. You friend each other on Facebook. And then maybe you switch to email or texting after that. Maybe. At some point. Or not.

Anyway, now you’re Facebook friends, and you begin messaging back and forth. There may be some banter. At some point the possibility of hanging out in person is discussed. All of this is very casual. After all, this is the exact same way you might go about creating any new friendship. Occasionally someone is very explicit about asking the other person on a date, but more often than not it’s all unspoken subtext. (I know from my Maybe-Date post we all have lots of opinions about this. Regardless, this is in my experience what tends to happen without making deliberate effort to make it happen differently. Not always, but often.)

I was talking to my friend about hipsters because I find the hipster movement fascinating and slightly confusing, and the conversation turned to hipster dating conventions (of course it did). My friend said that for hipsters, it’s all about plausible deniability and avoiding possible embarrassment. I don’t know if my friend is right, but the relaxed technique of hanging out and testing the waters with potential romantic interests happens all the time. And Facebook forms a cornerstone of this strategy.

(Of course, my friend went on to say, “Limbo can continue for months.” Months! Who has the patience for months? I certainly don’t. I’d simply turn my attention elsewhere. But apparently this too is a thing.)

In any case, I would not want to be dating right now without Facebook. It is simply too ubiquitous and useful. Plus I haven’t done any online dating since January because I was so appalled by Creepy Neighbor Guy (met on OKCupid, for those keeping track) that I just got annoyed with the whole thing. So at this point in time my dating prospects are all people I’m meeting first in person, and Facebook is the easiest way to facilitate that.

Of course, Facebook is a convenient way to encourage new friendships and grow existing friendships in general. Dating is just one facet of that. But it’s definitely an interesting part of the Facebook experience!

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I really like stories. No surprise there. And as I collect my own stories about dating and hear other people’s stories, I’ve developed certain opinions. I don’t want to call them guidelines because your mileage may vary. But they are things that, based purely on anecdotal evidence, appear to be helpful or true or, at the very least, entertaining to think about.

I’ve decided to call this series the Dating Beat. So without further ado, here we go:

1. Have single friends.

I’m not saying you can’t also have non-single friends. Assumedly you would even if you were starting from scratch, since at some point some of your single friends will become not single anymore. I’m also not saying you shouldn’t talk to your non-single friends about dating or being single or whatever else.

But having some single friends is key. I don’t think their gender or orientation or age necessarily matter very much. It’s the singleness that is important. (Well, that, and ideally having more than one, so that when one of them finds a significant other, you still have single friends.)

Why? Because having single friends normalizes the experience of being single. There are a lot of single people in the world, but if you are constantly surrounded by people who are in romantic relationships, it can be easy to lose sight of that fact. And in a culture that often places pressure on single people, this normalization is especially important for maintaining a healthy outlook.

And it doesn’t hurt to have people who are dating right now with whom to swap stories, get advice, and share those moments of dating suckitude.

Photo Credit: sidehike via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sidehike via Compfight cc

2. When someone you have recently started dating tells you something less than complimentary about themselves, believe them.

You know what I mean, right? There’s that moment when the guy says, “I’m trouble.” And guess what. He probably is! Or she says, “I’m not very good at relationships.” She probably isn’t!

Other statements that fall under this category:

  • I’m not very good with people.
  • I have trouble with commitment.
  • You’d be better off without me.
  • I tend to hurt the people I love.
  • I’m usually thinking about the next thing I’m going to say instead of listening.
  • I break a lot of hearts.

So, okay, yes, context matters. But usually when people say these kinds of things, they are telling the truth. Unfortunately, what happens next is often that the person they’re with doesn’t take the statement seriously, or feels badly for them, or takes it as a challenge, or thinks they will be different.

You’re probably not going to be different. And compassion is great and all, but not at your own expense. Yes, some of these things might be said because of low self-esteem or inexperience. And maybe some of them aren’t a big deal to you. But at the very least they give you an inkling of what you can expect in the future. It’s all data, and you get to decide what, if anything, to do with it. And if you don’t want to deal with it, there is absolutely no shame in not continuing to date the person.

And that is the dating beat for today, my friends.

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On a great date, the conversation will flow, there will be a bunch of questions you want to ask and a bunch of topics you want to pursue, and it will end with a continued sense of fascination about the person with whom you’ve been spending time.

Most dates aren’t great dates.

But before we start talking about my own personal date conversation dislikes, let me suggest that we all try our best not to take this post too seriously. Because you know, life is short and we’ve all made a few of the conversational blunders I’m about to point out. ME TOO. That doesn’t mean they aren’t funny or worth talking about. That also doesn’t mean you fail at dating or socializing.

It simply means, hey, life is ridiculous sometimes. We screw up sometimes. Things that don’t work for me might work swimmingly for you. Etc., etc.

So with that out of the way, let’s talk about my least favorite conversational gambit of all time: the What Do You Like to Do in Your Spare Time question.

Sometimes this question can masquerade as “What are your hobbies?” Both questions are about equally wretched and boring. In fact, I hate this question so much that at this point I will endeavor to avoid having to answer it. Unfortunately, most people who have strayed so far off a good conversational path will inevitably HOLD THEIR GROUND, thereby consigning us both to an asinine few minutes. The only consolation, and it is a tiny one, is that I can then ask them the same bad question to see if they actually have a good answer to it. For science. (But they don’t. They never do. At least not so far.)

Okay, stop and take a deep breath if you often ask this question. I’ve asked it too. We are okay. Really. Just, you know, maybe think about it before you ask it next time.

Here’s why I think it’s such a bad question: because the response it encourages is merely a bland list of activities. Basically this question sucks for the same reason that my blog sometimes sucks, because it doesn’t give you nice, juicy concrete details. It doesn’t lead to stories. It doesn’t lead to connection. It leads to boring boring boring. (Or if you’re talking to me, it leads to me going completely blank and giving you a piteous look.)

Photo Credit: jwordsmith via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jwordsmith via Compfight cc

A better conversational tactic is to talk about what the two of you have been doing recently, which will usually automatically give rise to talk about activities and subjects that interest both of you, but in such a way as to encourage anecdotes and details and maybe even an actual discussion. (I know, I know, I set my sights high.) Granted, if all you’ve been doing lately is working, this won’t be as effective, but here, have a nice reason to strive for a little bit of balance in life. You’re welcome. (Or, barring that, I suppose you could talk about what you want to be doing or what you’re going to do.)

Here are some other quality conversational blunders I love to hate:

  • “I know you don’t drink alcohol, so let me talk for a lengthy period of time about alcohol.” No. Just don’t do it. In a group, I will deal with it. One-on-one, this is totally unnecessary. If you have a huge passion for wine, or Scotch, or whatever, I accept that maybe someday I’ll have to listen to you talk a lot about it, just as you’ll have to listen to me blather about musical theater. But that time is not the first date. Or the second. Or probably even the third. Basically it just shows you’re not paying attention to what your companion finds interesting. (If, on the other hand, it hasn’t come up that I don’t drink, you’re totally off the hook. Expecting your date to be a mind-reader is not cool.)
  • Personal questions about money. I understand my date might want to be reassured that I’m solvent and responsible and not about to flee the country or file for bankruptcy, but beyond that, waiting a couple dates before prying into all the details of my financial situation is a good call. I know some people think this is totally fine behavior, which is their prerogative, but I’d never to do it on the first couple of dates myself.
  • “Here’s what you should do about x situation that you didn’t ask for advice about.” Ugh. This is often kind of annoying anyway because people usually want a different response (and that’s if they’re actively talking about their problems in the first place, which is rarely the case in early dating, when you’re merely trying to get to know one another). But on the first couple of dates, it’s particularly bad because the other person probably doesn’t even know enough details or information to actually be giving relevant advice. But then when I stand my ground and then try to change the subject, they won’t always let it go. Fun times.
  • Saying something mean-spirited/putting the other person down. Here’s the thing. Maybe the person was nervous. Maybe the person was making a joke (granted, a mean-spirited joke). But ultimately I don’t care why it happened. If someone says something kind of mean during one of your first times together, odds are it’s going to happen again. And again. And again. This isn’t just a red flag, it’s a get-the-hell-out-NOW flashing neon sign of doom.

(Note: I’ve gotten some push-back in the past when I’ve talked about this particular neon sign, and I think it might be because people are worried their teasing will be interpreted as mean or negging or whatever. But if it is interpreted that way, then that means the two of you are not compatible, end of story. Your senses of humor simply do not mesh. Or else it means you are crossing the boundary between teasing and being disrespectful and aren’t aware of it. But nobody owes you a lesson in that; it’s something you’ll have to work out for yourself. Or maybe people are worried that I am too sensitive. Don’t be. My main failure at reading people is sugarcoating what I know and being too accommodating, and I’m fine with being willing to stand up for myself.)

In conclusion, most dates aren’t amazing out-of-this-world I-can’t-stop-talking-about-it dates. If they were, dating would be a simple and short process (and for the people for whom it is, hey, more power to you!) But dates are certainly a lot more pleasant when both people are kind and polite and make an effort to be in tune with one another. On that I suspect we can all agree.

PS: If you would like to share your least favorite conversational gambit of all time, I’d love to hear it!

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I was having a conversation with a friend, and after telling me about someone new she’d hung out with, she asked, “So. Do you think it was a date?”

This is not as uncommon a question as you might think.

I myself am the master of the maybe-date, so much so that I have coined the phrase “maybe-date” in order to more efficiently communicate with my friends. “Oh, what am I doing Wednesday night? I have a maybe-date. Yeah, I’m not really sure. Maybe.”

Photo Credit: zeevveez via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zeevveez via Compfight cc

Here is how the maybe-date tends to come about. You’ve met someone in real life (aka not via internet dating, which tends to cut down on ambiguity, although YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED). You’ve met them at work or at a party or at some other social event. You likely have at least one friend in common with them, and often more. They are your preferred gender, and they are available. At least you think they’re available. If you’re me, you also think they might not be polyamorous. At least you hope they’re not polyamorous. (Although if you’re me, you have tons of polyamorous friends, and therefore the likelihood the guy you just met at x social function is polyamorous is fairly high. This tends to confuse things even further.)

Anyway, you and this person who you think is available have made plans for just the two of you. But is it a date? Or are you friends hanging out? WHICH IS IT?

You think it’s easy to tell the difference? Well, yes, sometimes it is. And it’s always satisfying to be able to say, “Yes, I have a date” with conviction. But sometimes, between the context and the casual way everything has come about, it isn’t so clear. Add to that the fact that sometimes I’m not even sure if I want it to be a date or not, and the confusion can mount quite quickly. And sometimes you’re pretty sure it IS a date, only to end the evening with a shrug and an “Or not.”

Okay, so let’s break down some signs of date vs. not a date that you can disagree with me about in the comments, shall we?

  • Gives you lots of compliments: more likely a date, unless it is a colleague trying to help you out of the depths of impostor syndrome
  • Pays for your meal/activity: not clear. Yeah, I know this is gendered, and it used to be my go-to way for telling if something was a date, but it doesn’t work anymore. It’s actually become a pretty bad way of telling, because enough people like to treat and enough other people go Dutch as a matter of course that this is simply not enough data.
  • Touches you a lot, like on the hand or shoulder or whatever: more likely a date
  • Is also touching other people in the same fashion (say, if you’re at a party or other group event): probably likes flirting in general, so who knows?
  • Invites you to dinner: more likely a date, but solidly in the gray zone
  • Invites you to a group activity: probably not a date
  • Invites you to a group activity, and then because of the vagaries of life, it ends up being just the two of you: probably not a date, unless they’re trying to be weirdly crafty (which is unnecessary, since they could, I don’t know, just ask you on a date?)
  • Randomly runs into you and then hangs out: not a date (yes, I’m defining a date has having been planned in advance.)
  • Mentions dating: Who knows? People on a date love talking about dating. It’s kind of weird but true. But people also just like talking about dating in general.
  • Asks you on a date-like activity soon after meeting you: more likely a date
  • Has gone to a lot of trouble to elaborately plan what you’re doing: probably a date. Either that or maybe they just really like to plan stuff?
  • Flirting: more likely a date, but people’s definitions of flirting differ (for example, smiling can be seen as flirtation, but I smile at EVERYONE, it’s just part of Amy-ness)
  • Stays up talking too late with you: more likely to be a date, but could also just be a night owl (like me) or love chatting (also like me)
  • Hugs you: I live in California. This means nothing here.
  • Asks for your phone number: more likely to be a date, although context really matters here. The advent of the Facebook age has definitely increased the number of maybe-dates in the world.
  • Holds your hand and/or kisses you: yeah, it’s a date
  • Asks you explicitly on a date (aka “Would you like to go on a date? Would you like to go out sometime? I’d like to ask you to dinner. etc.): Easy peasy! It’s definitely a date.

Basically, it all comes down to body language and social cues, and sometimes those things make the “is it a date” question?” very clear, whereas other times…who can say? This effect is probably heightened when more of the interaction is done via a text medium (no body language and no tone of voice make it a lot harder to read) or if at least one of the people involved is a bit on the awkward side.

What to do about the maybe-date? Well, you can try to make your plans in a way that is more explicit. Certainly I have plenty of first dates that aren’t internet dates that I am still sure are dates. Barring that, you can just straight-out ask. This isn’t the smoothest thing ever, but it does resolve the question in a quick and efficient manner. Or you can learn to be comfortable in the maybe-date zone and wait and see what happens.

As for myself, I’m perfectly happy to take a wait-and-see attitude on occasion. By the end of the outing, I’ve usually made up my mind about something, anyway: either on whether or not this was a date, or if not that, perhaps on whether or not I wanted it to be. Although if I’m still really uncertain, I’m probably less likely to want it to have been a date, because you know, life’s too short. And then there’s Mark Manson’s popular Theory of Yes to keep in mind.

And what about my friend? After much discussion, we decided we think it was a date. But we’re still not a hundred percent sure.

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Lately I’ve been feeling like a bad feminist.

It kicked up a gear last month when my feminist book club read Feminism is for Everyone, by bell hooks. I learned a lot from the book, but the entire time I was reading it, I was thinking, “Wow, I feel like I’m really falling short, and I don’t even really understand how.” It talked about raising consciousness, and I’m pretty sure my consciousness is completely NOT raised. Whatever that means.

This month we’re reading Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, which is making for a nice change of pace. Roxane Gay is smart and insightful and funny, and she also seems like she isn’t perfect, which is reassuring since I am also far from perfect.

For example, I have this fascination with eye makeup. It all started when my friend was visiting this coast from Boston, and the friends he was staying with invited me to stay for dinner. It was a lovely evening of good food and even better company, but I kept being distracted by the woman’s eyelashes. She had AMAZING eyelashes. And I was sitting there at the table, wondering if she glued on fake eyelashes every morning or if she was able to work these wonders with mascara, and if so, why had I never been able to work similar wonders with mascara?

Thus began my fascination. It started with mascara experimentation, but after some months I branched out to an interest in eyeliner and different colors of eye shadow. And a few weeks ago I took a field trip to Sephora and obtained this fat eyeliner pencil that is a modern wonder of cosmetics.

Flawed Feminist

Flawed Feminist

And every time I play with eye makeup, I know I’m probably being a bad feminist. I’m propagating a certain ideal of feminine beauty, and I guess as a feminist I’m supposed to deliberately subvert that ideal, and I don’t. I get almost as annoyed when people imply I shouldn’t wear makeup as I do when people imply I must wear makeup. I want to look the way I want to look, and I want to wear what I want to wear, and I don’t want to care about the messages I’m sending or the subconscious misogynistic ideas I’ve no doubt internalized over the years. And so I wear makeup when I feel like wearing makeup.

Also, when I’m on a date with a guy, I allow him to pay. I’m pretty sure a good feminist would not do this. My rule is never assume, but accept graciously. I cannot pretend that this is motivated by anything but self-interest. I don’t want to get into an argument about who’s paying for dinner (conflict adverse, me?), and also, it’s really nice when someone buys you dinner. The allure of free food and being fed, which to all rights should have died down after college, remains strong. The allure of being treated remains strong. It’s also super unfair, and I know this, and yet. I accept graciously.

Even my language is suspect, and for a writer, this is inexcusable. I like to say and write “you guys.” I like to say, “Man.” I know a good feminist would never say or write these things. And I do try to avoid this gendered language sometimes, especially in tweets. But there aren’t any good alternatives! I’ve tried “you all,” but I’m not from Texas and I’ll never be from Texas. “You people” is horrible. “Friends” sometimes works, but not always. And the best substitutes for “Man” are all profanity. So I have to choose between saying “Man” and swearing a lot.

I imagine if I had my consciousness raised, I wouldn’t do any of these things. I’d effortlessly never say “you guys” and I wouldn’t wear any makeup EVER EVER and I’d insist on going Dutch every single time. So where does this leave me?

I guess it leaves me far from perfect. But that doesn’t mean feminism isn’t important to me. That doesn’t mean being a feminist isn’t part of my identity. I think what it really means is that I’m human and flawed and complicated, and aren’t we all?

You guys, I’m a bad feminist. But even so, I’d rather be a bad feminist grappling with these issues than not be a feminist at all.

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The Breakup Expert

In the wake of my most recent breakup (last Sunday night, woo!) I realized I have a lot of experience with breakups. In fact, I could put up a website proclaiming myself a breakup expert and not feel like a complete fraud. Not only have I experienced a range of breakups myself, but I have watched many other people’s breakups. And not even only on TV!

So of course I thought, the way you do when you’re me, I should blog about the post-breakup experience.

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I took the breakup with the first guy I was in love with really hard. We were together six months, and he worked all the time (not that I’m magnetically attracted to workaholics or anything), and I was going to be moving to the UK and he still had two years to go at university, so, you know, not the most practical relationship ever.

But I was so devastated when we broke up. Common knowledge had told me that after a breakup, I would need closure, so I went to have a closure conversation with him a few weeks afterwards. This taught me something about breakups: You don’t need to have a long closure conversation. You don’t need closure, full stop. What is closure, anyway? I have no idea, but I’d say ninety percent of the time, once the relationship is over, you can work things out on your own.

And then I heard this rule that has stuck with me ever since. It’s a stupid rule. It’s not true. But I’m going to share it anyway: It takes half the length of the relationship to get over the relationship. At the time I found this rule deeply depressing because it meant I’d feel terrible for three months, which seemed like a very long time to feel terrible. But lo and behold! By the time three months rolled around, I was only a few weeks away from feeling terrible about an entirely different relationship. Hmm. Maybe Past Self missed the point on that one.

Here’s what I think is true: getting over a relationship takes the time it takes, and it always takes longer than you want because who wants to feel terrible? So when I felt like a flattened pancake on Monday morning, I reminded myself this was a process and time would help. And then I worked on my novel and wrote a certain blog post and I wasn’t really thinking about the breakup anymore and I totally felt better. So, you know. Time. And distraction. Distraction can be good too.

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After going through enough breakups, you also begin to get a sense of the normal phases you go through.

First I feel kind of numb, and everything seems very quiet. Maybe things don’t seem completely real, or maybe I feel a sense of relief. Or both.

Then I feel completely wretched, like my insides are collapsing while at the same time I am obviously completely hollow and empty and don’t even have any insides. I know, it makes no sense, but that’s how it feels. This tends to be when I start to cry. This also tends to be when I phone someone up. If I’m going through a bad breakup, this step might repeat a bunch, in which case I can’t call someone up every time. But for a minor breakup, it will probably only happen once or twice, in which case calling someone is pretty much always the right thing to do.

Then, in no particular order, the following things might or might not happen: I feel mopey. I eat ice cream. I don’t sleep well. Or I sleep a lot because breaking up is exhausting. I spend a lot of time thinking, and I have all the emotions. I feel like I’ll never find anyone to date again. I feel like I never want to date anyone again. I feel like I have to start dating immediately. I think that maybe someday I’ll get back together with the person. I realize I never want to get back together with the person. I get bored thinking about it all.

It’s become pretty predictable, so I’m sitting there going, “Oh yeah, now I’m at the part where I’m pretending we might get back together, and I know that’s total bullshit so can we move on to the next thing already?”

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Apparently catharsis can be good. Photo Credit: Brother O'Mara via Compfight cc

Apparently catharsis can also help. Photo Credit: Brother O’Mara via Compfight cc

Other things that make me feel better after a breakup:

Thinking about the bad things. I read this in an article once, that people recover from breakups more quickly when they focus on the bad parts of the relationship. Maybe because they pass over a bunch of the phases more quickly this way? It’s hard to think too seriously about getting back together with someone when you immediately remind yourself of why you were unhappy.

I mean, you all know I’m a positive person, but I am a big believer in focusing on what wasn’t working. I look at it this way. I will spend the rest of my life being broken up with this person, so I have plenty of time to think kind and charitable thoughts about them. So I can damn well spend a little bit of time being irritated first, while thinking of all the things that are no longer my problem.

Plus this way I learn what’s important to me and what I want, and that’s pretty much the point of dating in the first place. I mean, if you’re not going to be beautifully and madly and happily in love. That would be another point.

Friends. I always think people who neglect their friends while they’re dating are incredibly short-sighted. Or, um, maybe just really optimistic?

So last week I was upset because a hurtful thing happened with the guy I was dating and I knew it was bullshit behavior, so I texted my friend, and he brought me a chocolate milkshake from In N’ Out. He brought it to me. And then we’re sitting there and I’m being upset, but there I am with one of my favorite people in the world, drinking a chocolate milkshake, and then we just start to crack up about all my ridiculous dating stories from the past couple of years. Because they kind of suck, but they’re also pretty funny, and how can I be super miserable when my friend just brought me a milkshake? I just can’t maintain the woe.

Especially because the next night another friend feeds me chocolate popsicles and cheese and strokes my head and tells me funny stories. And then on the weekend there are awesome people and cookies and sushi and shopping and movies and the best pancakes ever. And then on Monday night I’m swinging an inflatable sword around shouting “Inconceivable!” and smacking myself on the forehead with yet another wonderful friend.

And then of course there’s the friend I called in tears on Sunday night who told me I could call any time.

Any time.

Now that is love.

Self care. Metta meditation. Long walks and good books. Hot baths. Little dogs. Eating. Sleeping. Blah blah blah. You know the drill.

Looking fabulous. You know the stereotype of someone who feels miserable and slouches around all day wearing saggy sweatpants and a T-shirt that’s falling apart? When I feel bad, I usually dress UP. I want to look amazing. It’s harder to feel woe when you look amazing. Plus you can make tragic faces at yourself in the mirror, and that’s pretty fun.

Being fabulous. It turns out all that self-esteem work really pays off come breakup time. As does all the work to make your life as amazing as possible. Sure, maybe the self-esteem needs a little shoring up, but when you already know how to do that, then you can just do it instead of floundering around for long periods of time practicing self-flagellation. And dating is just one part of your life. It may be an important part, but even so, it’s still JUST ONE. Having other things in your life that matter to you makes all the difference.

*

I cannot end this blog post without addressing the elephant that’s hanging out in the corner over there. You kind, wonderful people, I know some of you will be concerned after reading this post. I know you’ll be thinking, “Oh no, Amy broke up with someone? On top of everything else? Is she okay?”

So allow me to reassure you. It was early days, which tends to make things a lot easier, and I am fine. If I were not fine, I would not have written this piece because I’d be too busy being curled up in an oozing puddle of misery and self-pity. But that is not what is happening.

My blog stats tell me that you really like it when I talk about dating. So here is some truth for you. When you’re dating, breaking up is fairly inevitable. Not everyone finds someone they’re super compatible with right off the bat. Is this unfortunate? For sure.

But being too afraid of breaking up is the true tragedy. And breaking up is no longer my chief fear. When I was hanging out with my milkshake friend, after some laughter had made the truth more easily accessible, I told him, “I’m afraid I’m letting myself down.”

He gave me a knowing look.

So know this, friends. I am no longer afraid I am letting myself down. And that is what matters the most.

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Person I just started dating: “You said you were easy to find with a Google search, so I took a look, and I’ve been reading your blog.”

Me: “That’s…great.” Oops.

*

A thought I’ve had in the middle of a flirtatious conversation: “Oh, you’ve totally been reading my blog to try to figure out if maybe you want to date me/to find out if I’m available. That doesn’t make me even vaguely uncomfortable.”

*

On an online dating website: “I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and it would be great to have a conversation with you.”

Me: “Am I professional Amy or dating Amy right now? I am SO CONFUSED.”

*

“This totally inappropriate thing I did was inspired by you and one of your blog posts.”

Me: “Um….” ???

*

I love my blog, but I do not love having my blog and dating. I try to pretend it’s not weird because sometimes the best strategy is to bluff your way through something, but in reality, IT CAN BE PRETTY WEIRD.

It’s a question of a balance of information.

Whenever I write a blog post, I ask myself if I’m okay if the whole entire world reads what I’ve written. That is my base assumption, not because I think that will ever happen in a million years (it won’t), but because I want to do my best to remember how very public this blog is (even though it doesn’t always feel super public). So I’m sanity checking whether what I’ve written is something I’d be willing to say in public, even knowing whichever person I’d least like to might, in fact, read it.

So it’s not that there’s anything of which I’m particularly ashamed on the blog. I’m sure I’ve said some stupid things sometime in the past, because in four and a half years, that’s pretty much a certainty. I’ve probably also said things that I no longer agree with, because hey, in four and a half years I’ve learned new things and changed my mind and become aware of more nuance in certain issues. But overall, I don’t find the blog embarrassing.

What I don’t like about having the blog and dating is that at the beginning of getting to know someone, I think it throws off the balance. An enterprising person can read four and a half years of more and less well-thought-out essays from me. Surely most people won’t have the time for such an undertaking, but even so. Even if they don’t read all or even most of my essays, there are still an awful lot of them.

And meanwhile, what do I know about them? A few emails worth of carefully curated information? A single conversation’s worth of anecdotes? The flow of information is the opposite of balanced in this situation.

And then there’s the problem of assumed intimacy. People read this blog, and over time, perhaps they feel like they’ve gotten to know Blog Amy. And that’s as it should be. I’m happy when you get to know Blog Amy. But the people I’m dating? I don’t want them to get to know Blog Amy. I want them to get to know Personal Amy. Preferably by talking to me and spending time with me. I want to share my stories and opinions myself instead of past Blog Amy getting to have all the fun.

It’s not even that I don’t want the people I’m dating to read my new blog posts as I’m publishing them. It’s more that I then want to talk to them about those posts. I want to have a conversation about those subjects, because if they weren’t interesting to me I wouldn’t be writing about them. I want to talk about what was hard about writing them, or how people responded differently than I thought they’d respond, or how no one is interested in reading about such-and-such a subject.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to think of my backlist of four and a half years at all.

Blog Amy or Personal Amy?

Blog Amy or Personal Amy? Sometimes it can be hard to tell.

I’ve actually thought about whether to continue the blog, given the potential dating weirdness, and you can see the answer to my deliberations in my continued blogging, and even my new willingness to blog about dating. My discomfort, when it comes, is the price of maintaining a public persona, however obscure, on the internet. And I’m willing to pay the price.

I’m willing to stand behind this blog, and say, yes, this is part of who I am. I am a writer. And dating a writer can probably also be weird. Take it or leave it. The blog leaves no room for anything less. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

*

Person I’m dating: “So I saw your most recent blog post. On dating.

Me: “Oh….”

Person I’m dating: “I didn’t read it.”

Me: “There’s nothing about you in it.” Please don’t freak out. Please don’t freak out.

Person I’m dating: Doesn’t freak out. Starts a conversation based on the headline of the blog post instead.

Me: Sometimes mature communication wins.

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Creating intimacy can be something of an art, whatever the nature of the relationship.

One of the most important parts of my job as a voice teacher was to create a safe space for my students to be vulnerable and experiment with their voices. An important part of the teacher-student working relationship was establishing trust: that I wouldn’t mock them; that I genuinely believed experimentation was key to the learning process, even when that meant messing up; that I believed in them as individuals and as musicians; that I had been where they were and so could understand; that I would be constructive but kind.

It was a part of my job that I was damn good at. And I think it was a large part of why I was in demand as a teacher.

Everyone’s been talking about the piece in the New York Times about Dr. Aron’s study on falling in love that resulted in a marriage between two of the subjects. The big takeaway from this study seems to be that falling in love is not so much a random happenstance as it is a choice: the choice to be vulnerable with another person, the choice to cultivate intimacy, the choice to give another person the opportunity to see you. Share enough personal information, stare deep into each other’s eyes, and off you go!

My first thought was, this is something people don’t know?

Look at one of the favorite fictional romantic couples, Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy at the beginning. His first proposal is disastrous because even in the process of making himself vulnerable, he is hiding behind his pride (and failing on the kindness front, as well). He makes himself truly vulnerable only when he takes her admonishments to heart and seriously attempts to address them. And it is when Elizabeth makes herself vulnerable to him in return by revealing the true nature of her family scandal that she begins to actively reciprocate his feelings. It is his reaction to this vulnerability, of continued regard and attempted assistance instead of judgment and reprimand, that seals the deal.

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Vulnerability can create intimacy in all sorts of relationships, but romantic relationships can be more complicated because they require a reflection of some kind. As a teacher, I expected my students to treat me with respect and to honor our business arrangement, but beyond that, it was my job to create an effective learning environment for them, not vice versa. Whereas in romantic relationships, at least the ones I’m interested in, trust has to go both ways. Both people have to ultimately choose to be vulnerable. Both people are involved in creating an environment conducive to love and partnership.

Dr. Aron’s experiment simulates, to a certain extent, the process of creating intimacy. After all, what do two people dating often do? Spend time together and talk together. Stare into each other’s eyes and give each other goofy grins. Affirm appreciation of each other. The common wisdom about not going to a movie on the first date (interaction at a movie is minimal) is given for a reason.

But the lab experiment also simplifies things. It gives each person a script, and it demands a certain level of reciprocity. (Both people have to answer each question, so the focus never freezes on only one of the couple.) And because it isn’t presented in the context of dating, there are fewer expectations going along with it, and perhaps less anxiety as well.

In real life, it’s less clean, and the opportunities for intimacy are less well-defined. When we confide in someone and ask for support, we are asking for something, yes, but we are also presenting the other person with an opportunity. And that opportunity will not always be accepted or handled well. But once you’ve ascertained a certain amount of chemistry and interest in another person, one of the big next steps is giving these opportunities, because how somebody responds is very revealing, and can either deepen the relationship or hasten its ending.

Because really, many of us want what I gave my students as a teacher. We want a safe space to be ourselves and share our stories without judgment. We want room to experiment and mess up. We want to be appreciated. We want someone who will listen and do their best to understand. We want someone who is both kind and helpful in a constructive way.

We want to choose to love because an intimacy has been established that is worth the fall.

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I don’t write about dating or romantic relationships here on the blog. That is a deliberate choice. I once had someone tell me they thought I must be anti-romantic relationship since I never talk about it here, which I thought was hilarious, and also a good illustration of how much people can read into this blog that simply isn’t true. (Yes, sometimes people read a lot into this blog. It is unfortunate. I’ve also decided it’s probably inevitable.)

Anyway, today is different! Today I’m going to talk about dating! And it’s because of my friend Rahul, who wrote this fascinating blog post about the novel Ready Player One, among other things, called “Why do all sci-fi novels assume that if a person likes the same stuff as you, then they’re your soulmate.” I suggest you go over and read the whole thing so you have context, but this is the paragraph of particular interest to me:

“What we forget, though, is that friendship and love aren’t about shared interests. They involve a sense of connection and understanding that goes deeper than that. They’re about…a…a…a sense of fascination with each other. And that loving the same geeky shit really does nothing to provoke or prolong that sense of fascination. All it does is give you something to talk about once in a while.”

Many of my friends and I spend a lot of time talking about dating and relationships. And over time, I’ve developed a few pet theories. One of them is about just what Rahul is talking about here, the idea of the importance of having interests in common. Because we hear about this so much! The online dating sites are set up to highlight common interests, and when people talk about their ideal dates, they often bring up interests they would like to share.

But I agree with Rahul. I think common interests aren’t actually all that important. I’m not saying it’s great if you have absolutely nothing in common. And I think shared interests can be pleasant, like a nice bonus. They can smooth out beginnings, in both romantic and friend relationships. Shared interests give you an excuse to hang out, basically, and they give you something to talk about when you’re not sure what to talk about because you don’t know each other very well yet.

But in my experience, not sharing a particular interest hasn’t usually been a big downside in a relationship. I haven’t dated a serious musician since right after college, and music has certainly been important to me since then. I think I’ve dated more people who didn’t care about board games than people who really liked them. Certainly I’ve never dated somebody who shared all my interests. And I never felt like I had some big void in my life as a result. Plus sometimes I’ve picked up new interests and learned new things because of someone I’ve dated (or someone I’ve been friends with, for that matter), and that’s pretty cool.

I’m not saying that sharing particular interests can’t be important. For example, it gives me pause to consider the idea of dating someone who doesn’t read. The written word has become so intrinsic to my life, and I think I probably talk about it all the time, or at least I’d want to, and it would maybe be a little weird to talk about it with someone who never actually reads. Or even worse, someone who doesn’t even have an appreciation for the art form that is the novel. That being said, I have many friends who don’t read, and that’s fine. I just don’t talk with them about that part of my life. But with a partner? Yeah, I think it might be weird.

And of course, it’s great to spend time around people with whom we can have interesting conversations. But I’m not convinced shared interests are the key to having interesting conversations. They help, certainly, but equally important can be some combination of knowing how to ask good questions, knowing how to listen, having a lively sense of curiosity, having compatible senses of humor, being a good storyteller, having things in our lives that we are passionate about, and using empathy.

Photo Credit: Shawn Lavery via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shawn Lavery via Compfight cc

Overall, Rahul’s idea about fascination seems more important. Fascination causes us to enter the realm of something deeper, of something not simply based on a shared interest for an activity, but instead on a shared interest in each other. It is at this stage in a relationship that we can talk about the things that shape us, the truths that are more personal, the vision of who we truly are or want to be or are afraid to become. Fascination causes us to be interested in someone else’s history, in their opinions, in their emotions, in all the components that added together equal themselves. And of course, fascination can be related to chemistry, whether we’re talking about physical chemistry or conversational chemistry (for example, the friend you can talk to for hours without effort in a satisfying back-and-forth).

Where does this fascination come from? I’m not really sure. From some magical combination of chemistry and curiosity and expression and appreciation and paying attention and who knows what else.

Shared interests are fine and good. But fascination, I think, has the potential to make a relationship truly extraordinary.

 

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