Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blog: Nature Says It All

To conclude this month of more "romantic" topics, I figured this would be an appropriate entry.  Short and sweet.

Today I went to the lake for a swim (managed to swim across and back!) and as I was packing up to leave, I saw two mating dragonflies land on the wheel of my bicycle.  Since I'm still a New Yorker at heart, I didn't dare bring my iPhone for fear of theft, so I couldn't capture the image of these two.  But a quick internet search resulted in an example which I think will get my point across:


Mating dragonflies form the shape of a heart.  
Despite everything, I still believe in love.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blog: Online Dating or The Normalization of the Mail Order Bride

 
While having coffee with a friend the other day, we got on the conversation of dating in Germany. Quite a hefty undertaking for expats, since this is where I think I've seen the most cultural differences. Granted, I'm pretty inept at dating in general, but adding culture shock into the mix certainly doesn't help. I told her about my experiences with online dating, which she in turn told me that she had considered trying.


Let me first make one thing perfectly clear: I despise online dating. The only reason I've gone back to it time and time again was to “give it a chance” as my mother is always encouraging me to do. According to her, this is the “way people do things” these days. And it's true. Some of my cousins and friends back at home have found themselves perfectly nice people online. And from what I've seen, none of them have turned out to be creepy psycho killers...at least not yet.


To me, online dating is the epitome of the unromantic. It represents the dry, clinical, distant, instantly gratifying way our society seems to be going about human relation. When I was a kid and I wanted to play with someone in the neighborhood, I would ring their doorbell. Or ask them at school if they wanted to hang out later. Now, why would we need to bother with any of that when we can instantly talk with 50 of our friends at once on Facebook or Twitter? And sometimes we don't even need to talk with them. We can just stalk them and see what they're doing. This way, we have the distance to prevent ourselves from getting hurt and to step back and evaluate a situation before we physically put ourselves into it. Ok, yes it's true I use these social networking sites as well. I have to for my job and while living abroad, I find it a great way to connect with the people I know from home and those also living abroad.


Still, when it comes to romance, who wants to get to know someone from behind your computer? Back when the internet started becoming accessible to everyone (now if that doesn't make me sound old...), those kinds of things were huge red flags. DANGER! DANGER! POSSIBLE PEDOPHILE ON THE LOOSE! When did it all of a sudden become ok to meet and get to know someone online? And then meet them in person? This was always a huge no go. But these days, it seems to be commonplace, and apparently is “the way to do things”.


But allow me to come back to my point. Say you're starting your adult life in the year 2012. What do you need in order to create your life? You need a job. No problem. Hop onto Monster.com, Craigslist, Toytown, whatever the acceptable job search website is for where you're living. Scour the listings, pick the ones that seem relevant to you with an appropriate amount of pay, send out your resume and cover letter, go into the interview if you get one, if all goes well, mission accomplished. You have a job.


Place to live? Hop onto Immobilienscout24, WG-Gesucht, Craigslist, apartments.com (I'm not so up to date with the American sites...bear with me. We used to do everything via Craigslist). Have a look through the listings, where you want to live, cost, proximity to public transit, if it has a kitchen or not (yes, this is a problem in Germany), how much the dreaded deposit and brokers fees are. Then as with the job search, send your letter with credentials, with luck get to actually see the place, see if you feel comfortable there, interview the person who lived their last on why they're moving, what they liked about the place, then duke it out with the countless others looking at the exact same place. But with luck, mission accomplished. Dream home (or something close to it) obtained.


So you have your job and your home. Through your job maybe you meet some friends. Social life begins. What's missing? Oh yeah. A relationship would be nice right?


Hop onto match.com, eharmony.com,...Craigslist? (probably not). Scroll through the listings. Age range, interests, pictures, occupation. Pick the ones you like and send out an email, usually with credentials, send a couple back and forth, make a date, interview each other on origins, jobs, interests, (basically the things you've covered in the email already...), and if their answers seem satisfactory to you, make another date. With luck, mission accomplished. Boyfriend/Girlfriend.


Wait a second.


Is it just me, or do all three of those things sound dreadfully similar? I mean, ok when it comes to looking for a job or an apartment, yes it is a rather similar process. But for a relationship?! When did we become so cold and routine? Does the above scenario strike you as having any romance or passion involved in it? I have to wonder, how do people who are in relationships that began with online dating really feel about each other. Do they just think, “Well, we have a lot in common and our profiles seemed to match up well, so this must be the right person to me.” Because a computer said so?! Because it looks good on paper?! Ladies and gentlemen, pardon me for being a hopeless romantic, but this just doesn't do it for me.


What happened to being tied up in each other's dog leashes in the park? To the handsome stranger who picks up your scarf that you didn't notice you dropped on the street a couple steps back? To the secretive and seductive smiles from across the bar? Have all those things simply become fairy tales from days of yore?


If finding your partner in life has been reduced to the simplicity of buying a pair of shoes on zalando.com, then maybe I really should give up on love all together.


But I refuse to believe that's true. In order to keep my sanity, I have to believe that people can still meet by chance on the street or anywhere and have a real, true connection. Not through wifi or bluetooth, but flesh and blood. I have to believe that you can still feel sparks when your hand lightly brushes the hand of another. That sometimes it doesn't make sense if you were to look at it on paper, but somehow, some way, you both just know it's right. Human connection is so much more than words, pictures, likes and favorites. It's about chemistry and warm, breathing, blood pumping reality.


We can't lose that. And I will try to hang onto it as long as I can.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Blog: The Jane Austen Guide to Dating...for the boys...


Last week's blog seemed to resonate with some of you, dear readers. Surprisingly though, it got quite a larger response from the male population. Not so much to say “Hey good point. Maybe I should stop my Wickham or Collins behaving ways.” as “...Why not write one for men?”


Why not indeed? Well on the one hand, Pride and Prejudice was written primarily from Elizabeth's perspective, so we are seeing all the characters from a woman's point of view. Also, being a woman myself, it's difficult for me to communicate how the various women in Pride and Prejudice would be seen from a male perspective. But on the other hand, who doesn't like a challenge? Gentlemen, I welcome your commentary. Please take your chance to weigh in on this, because I'm very curious about this from a male's point of view.


Due to the number of female characters, there are quite a few types to explore. But let's start with the sweet.


The Jane Bennett. Sweet, pretty, kind, and at times demure. She's the girl next door. The girl you take home to Mom. The girl most guys probably want to end up with. She is genuinely nice and rarely thinks ill of anyone. In fact, if you tell her about that jerk of an upstart at work who is competing with you for that promotion, she'll probably try to get you to see all the good qualities he possesses. After all, he probably wants that promotion just as much as you do, and you can't blame him for doing what he can to get it. Isn't that what you're doing as well? She will go along with anything you suggest, regardless of how she really feels about it. Rather stay at home to watch the big game instead of going to the ballet you somehow got tickets for? Just say the word and you'll be on that Laz-E-Boy in no time with a beer. She'll just be...knitting or something. A Jane is perfect for your work parties. A well mannered and charming piece of arm candy who will delight your boss and get along perfectly with his wife.


But, dear gentlemen, have you spotted the problem yet in your dream girl? She will never let you know how she truly feels about something, for fear of offending or upsetting you or someone else. In fact, when you're in the process of flirting and dating, you may not even know if she's that into you or not. She smiles and has pleasant conversations with everyone that she meets. So how do you know if it's you that she really wants to be with?


But an even tempered person like a Jane has their limits as well. Since she doesn't actively express her opinion, you have to be a bit more sensitive and empathetic with her. While you know she'll say yes to you staying home and watching the game, do you think that's what she really wants? Do you think that will make her happy? Or will it come back to bite you ten fold years down the road when age has chipped away at that glossy, sweet demeanor?


Staying within the Bennett family, we have the Lydia. Flirty, loud, and fun. Your typical party girl. She's the one dancing on the bar in a mini skirt. The one who stays out into the wee hours of the night at the bar or club. She'll keep you thoroughly entertained throughout the evening with her funny remarks and endless stories...if she's not making eyes at the rest of your friends, of course. At the end of the night, she'll go home with you and the next morning, she'll still be there, probably demanding that you make her breakfast. For the next week, she will text and call you constantly, maybe even show up at your house or at your work if you don't respond. To surprise you. Every time she comes over, she leaves a little something there until she gets that coveted “drawer”. And then somehow you've given her an extra key...and then she's practically living there...and....hinting at a ring now?! How did that happen?!


The problem with the Lydia is that she ropes you in with her vivacity and humor. She's fun and receptive. She won't look away shyly when you make eye contact with her like a Jane would, or snub you like a Caroline would. She is, to be blunt, easy. What's not easy is getting rid of her. She wants it all, and very quickly. In fact, she probably doesn't really care about you all that much. She just wants to be able to run back to her friends and tell them all about how you guys are practically living together. How great and perfect you are together. And how she should be getting a huge shiny rock on her finger any day now. So, you end it with her to stop things from moving much faster than they should, and then you have to deal with the tearful calls and fits at your door. But just give it a little time and she'll be on to the next.


Since I mentioned the Caroline, let's move on to her next. Caroline Bingley. The beautiful, elegant, upper class city girl who seems to look down her nose at anything that doesn't impress her. Which usually is quite a lot. This is the girl who your friends would tell you is “out of your league”. She is extremely good looking, dresses well, cool, and knows it. As I said before, she is the girl who will snub you when you try to make eye contact with her. Who will laugh at you when you attempt to hit on her. Yes, she is that head cheerleader who made you a laughing stock when she rejected your invitation to the prom.


So naturally, she is attracted to status. In the “grown up world”, she is the gold digger or the social climber. The trophy wife, but in a very different way to Jane. She will dismiss you mere mortals with a wave of her hand, but to someone who she deems “worthy”, all her pride and coolness will dissolve into a driving aim to please. In order to get a guy, she may pretend to share his interests, or somehow figure out what kind of girl he usually goes for, and personify that. She is very cunning in her tactics. A good example is a story a friend of mine told me about being at the concert of her roommate.


During the set, the band introduced a song based on the movie “Machete”. A movie which in my opinion is the epitome of everything guys like in a movie. Let's just say, a chick flick it is not. My friend's roommate asked “Who here has seen Machete?” and my friend promptly raised her hand. A couple girls next to her, who had been gushing about how cute my friend's roommate was, saw this, and raised their hands as well. He looked at them and said with a smile, “Oh really? You girls have seen Machete?” Enthusiastic nods from the duo. “What was your favorite part? Was it the part with the aliens?” “Oh yes!” they exclaimed. “The aliens were really cool!” I probably don't have to tell you that unless you count the illegal Mexican immigrants, there were no aliens to be found in Machete.


To jump to a completely other side of the spectrum, we have the Charlotte Lucas. Plain, quiet, and steadfast. Not particularly pretty with any special talents or charm, but loyal, simple, and constant. Her primary goal is security and comfort. While she may not be the girl you pine after or the most exciting person to be around, she is a good companion and will do what she needs to do to get by. She doesn't have delusions of grandeur and if a relationship seems to be working well, she will settle for it, regardless if she feels that there's any love or emotion involved.


There is an interesting take on the character of Charlotte in the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which presents the story of Pride and Prejudice set in 2012. Since the series is set in modern times, it is not as marriage-centric as the original book was. Therefore, Charlotte's character had to be more developed since in the book, she achieves the simple goal of getting a husband who can provide for her and offer her security. In the web series, she is a woman of talent and potential, but without the ambition or desire to dream bigger. She is a cynic and a realist. I think we all know these people. The dreamers among us can get very frustrated with them (as Elizabeth does both in the web series and the book), but in the end, it seems they're content to live their lives simply and without complications.


The other two Bennett sisters, aside from the quick witted Elizabeth, are also certain types, but since their personalities don't quite have flirting styles, I won't go too much into them. Kitty is a follower. She is the friend of the Lydia and is always in her shadow. It's hard to know much about her because she is constantly copying other people who have larger personalities than she does. Mary on the other hand is the stoic, well read, and accomplished girl who doesn't have interest in much else than forcing her knowledge and abilities down your throat. She is book smart without common sense, can do a variety of things, but with a very clinical method and no passion, and has morals without an understanding of them.


Finally we come to Elizabeth Bennett. Witty, intelligent, and outgoing. I touched a lot on this type of person in my last blog, since I consider myself one as well. As I said before, and my mother will agree, she can initially come off as a bit abrasive and at times intimidating. If you say something to her, she'll most likely have a snappy retort, which, if that's not your thing, can be a bit off putting. But at the same time, she is a fun conversationalist in a more intelligent way than the Lydia is. She is genuine and good hearted like a Jane, but more opinionated. Unfortunately she can also be quick to judge. If she decides from the beginning that she doesn't like you, it's hard to convince her otherwise. She is a challenge, like the Caroline, but without the fake, social climbing, gold digger side. If you can break through her walls and earn her respect, she is an extremely caring, stimulating, and loving person with a big heart. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends and would go to the ends of the earth for them.


The funny thing that I've noticed as I've written this, is that while with the men in Pride and Prejudice, there are about two viable options while the others are fellows you should avoid, the women tend to have more of a spectrum. I would say that you could be with an Elizabeth, Jane, or Charlotte, and depending on the type of person you are, would be happy. Even a Caroline could be well matched with someone who valued her for what she was, and a guy who has a need for a lot of attention and affection would be perfectly happy with a girl like Lydia.


But I want to know what you men think. Which of these types do you think would be best suited to you? Which of them is your “dream girl”? Do different types fall into different categories with you, for example the classic “shag, marry, kill”? This is a more interactive blog, so please comment and share! Thanks and see you all next week for perhaps something a bit different...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blog: The Jane Austen Guide to Dating

This is one for the ladies! I wrote this some time ago while on a Pride and Prejudice kick and got to thinking how the various men in the book always seemed to pop up into my romantic life in some way. Of course with the exception of Mr. Darcy. Still waiting for him.  The style is a bit different, as I was going for a more modern, romantic comedy feel.  Hopefully the gentlemen reading this can also get something out of it. I guess the one thing I could tell you to take away from it is...don't be a Collins or a Wickham...

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My mother calls my method of flirting the “Sheera” or “Xena” tactic. It refers to the bold, and in her eyes, aggressive manner that I talk to men. She suggests that I use the “Toffee” method, referring to the ingenue role I had in my high school's musical production of “Zombie Prom”. All cuteness, smiles, and tee hee hees. I prefer to call my flirting style the “Elizabeth Bennett”. A coy mix of wit, banter, and clever remarks.


To continue with the Pride and Prejudice theme, I suppose my mother would prefer me to be more like Elizabeth's sister Jane, who is all beauty and sweetness, arguing that I end up attracting rather unpleasant men with my tactic of choice. And it is true that Elizabeth finds herself in the company of some pretty awful characters before she and Mr. Darcy ultimately find their way. In fact, the majority of men I seem to get are either heartbreaking, snake in the grass charmers like Wickham or utter nincompoops like Mr. Collins.


You see quite a lot of Mr. Collins' in life actually. He's that creepy guy leering at you on the subway. Or that slimy dude at the club who just won't leave you alone. As in Pride and Prejudice, the Mr. Collins isn't too picky about which girl he gets, but he tends to set his sights first on the one he deems “the best” by his shallow, pitiful standards...which basically means the one who stands out the most. Be she pretty like Jane or outgoing like Elizabeth. He is a social climber without common sense. Boasting about his achievements, regardless of their size, and inflating them when they seem too small for the situation. No social graces and a knack for saying the absolutely wrong thing at the wrong time. He is also the one to call you a bitch when you reject his feeble attempt at a pick up line.


The Wickham type, while more tolerable than the Collins, is by far more dangerous. He is drawn into the excitement of the banter. It's interesting for him. And the coy wit makes it a challenge for him, which he craves. It's all about the chase. Of course we know these types. They're the ones who never called or the ones who stood us up. The ones we found fascinating, fun, and exciting. But in the end, he's just that asshole you want wiped off the face of the earth. The one whose pictures you burn and make voodoo dolls of with your friends. He does have attractive qualities, be they good looks or a devlish charm, and he knows it. This is the infamous “bad boy” that we have all fallen for at one time or another, and who has then broken our hearts.


I'll get to Mr. Darcy in a moment, but I want to address the Bingley type, especially as he relates to the Jane style of flirting. The Bingley type is sweet and kind. Loving and very attentive. He'll always remember your anniversary and bring you flowers “just because”. This is the type of guy you're supposed to want. I know it's the guy my mother wants me to be with. And to attract this guy, being sweet and lovely is the way to go. Some can simply rely on looks alone. But then you ask yourself: Is that what I really want? Somehow it isn't enough. Afterall, there's a reason Mr. Bingley isn't the main subject of readers' affections when it comes to Pride and Prejudice. Sure, I could swallow my retorts, put on my most shy and modest smile, and attract myself a Mr. Bingley, but then what? Such simplicity and loveliness would become tedious after awhile. We are always told to be ourselves. Relax. Don't put on fronts. While I can be sweet when I want to be, I'm no Jane Bennett and therefore am not really suited for a Mr. Bingley.


Sorry Mom.


So now we come to the ever elusive Mr. Darcy. At first perceived as arrogant and unpleasant, later revealed to be the very best of men, playing knight in shining armor, family man, and beloved by all who truly know him. Oh yeah, and he's hot and kind of loaded too. It's the challenge of a Wickham with something genuine in the middle rather than something rotten. Elizabeth's wit at first repels him, but makes her unforgettable, ingraining her in his mind. The two are perfectly suited for each other, social class aside, and throughout, both learn and become better people from one another.


This is the holy grail of relationships. It's the one we all long for...at least we Elizabeth types. And this is what I, among countless other women in this world, am searching for. That Mr. Darcy.


The trouble is, with all those Collins' and Wickhams out there, how do we find him? If we have one pegged for a Wickham, could he not after getting over our own pride and prejudices become a Darcy? These days, we have to guard our hearts so well. Is there even a chance to open ourselves up to a Darcy, when more often than not, he will end up a Collins or a Wickham? And if he's a Bingley, should we just thank the stars he's not one of the former and settle with that? Or do we hold out, hope against all hope that if we stay steadfastly true to ourselves as the Elizabeth type, one day he'll find us, be charmed by our sharp and clever wit, respect us for it, and in the process find ourselves falling uncontrollably in love with one another?


...When you put it down on paper...it does rather sound like something out of a story book doesn't it...?