Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Anna and the Sergeant: Dreams are made of eucalyptus

A head cold is an admittedly odd reason to feel some gratitude for a long-ago, tongue-pierced suitor, but when said date was the one to inform you of eucalyptus oil’s powerfully curative properties, even the boob job he’d bought his “ex” (in an ill-fated effort to boost her self-esteem, or so he claimed) becomes the sort of endearing quirk that makes you sigh, “Ah, Sargie,” laugh and shake your head. (Yes, that sentence weighed in at 71 words, thank you.)

Sargie wasn’t really his name, of course — in fact, he had a such unusual one, I still sometimes wish I weren’t committed to pseudonyms — but somehow or other, a similarly shortened version of St. Ex-cessories’ real name had previously wound up on my shoulder, in a short-term tattoo scratched with eye pencil for my Halloween guise of stripper one year. (Ironically, that costume predated the early-20s bender of secular dating I went on, in a sort of rebound from being so shattered by Married Man’s being, well, married. Yes, you can get more back-story in the book.)

And when I met Sarge at the bar one night in grad school, he talked well enough that I chose to overlook his tongue ring, highly tricked out Jeep (all of which accessories he swore were vital to its optimal operation) … and the various other details that moved from being eccentricities to deal breakers in a matter of three dates.

Maybe the fact that I’d once gone around a party with a nickname version of his name writ as evidence of some prior, ill-fated “fling” had something to do with it. Or maybe I sensed that behind the avid first-impression conversation (which he later claimed was like running his brain in the “red zone,” a place he’d rather our physical contact went), was the sort of valuable homeopathic insight that would one day take on the sinus scourge of my second trip to India.

I don’t remember how it came up, except that I think I got sick the month of our dates. So one night Sgt. Ex-cessories helpfully mentioned that his dad used to have him put eucalyptus oil up his nose during head colds, which he claimed promptly caused all germs, junk and who knows what other fluids to promptly eject themselves from said stuffed-up orifice. Charming, no?

But charming or not, in an hour of desperation in Mumbai — either shortly before or after my equally desperate visit to an ayurvedic doctor who performed acupressure, some treatment with a heat lamp and played an unsettling meditation chant from an elephant plug-in — I remembered Sargie and the oil.

My head had been putting me through such misery that the needle-like pains in my temples sometimes drew spontaneous tears, an experience that was into its second or third day since my departure for Mumbai. Our first treatment had been tracking down the Indian black-market version of Sudafed — made with the real stuff, not the nearly impotent phenyl-whatever — and had taken us three or four chemists to find (the local version of a corner drugstore).

This worked quite nicely at first, but less than 24 hours into the treatment, the more capricious, black-market side of the pill introduced itself — as if it perched there beside me in bed, fearlessly gulping unboiled local water, and laughed when I pointed to my temple ordering, “Sinuses, NOW!”

“What, you think my work is clinically proven or something? I’m just a pill in foil packets that some unknown pilot or flight attendant dropped by the chemist for God knows what reward.” Wink, wink. That’s probably when I remembered the claim that oil of eucalyptus might cause, well, a disgusting flow of discharge, but one that just might open my sinuses, stop the pain, and allow me to sort of enjoy my vacation. In short, it might be a miracle cure.

Did I find it? Did it work? Did I manage to live in sinus happiness ever after? Check back next week for the thrilling conclusion to Anna and the Sergeant: Dreams are made of eucalyptus.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

E-dating week 5: Gambling on love?

So I’ve got a little confession to make: I’m not quite sure what Kenny Rogers’ advice on gambling means, or how it applies to life, but I might be about to embark on a little romantic roulette beyond the blind date blackjack I played a few weeks ago. (Is that enough cheesy gambling references yet? Yes? Good.)

Can buy me love?
Yes, I might be about ready to plunk down cash for a dating service. I didn’t have to do it with the first one, since their two free trial periods were sufficient time for most of the guys I met on there to give me their emails or IM handles — and CrazyBlindDate is free of course — but eHarmony wants to charge me through the proverbial wazoo to answer questions from/trade emails with/view pictures of my matches. And by wazoo — in case you haven’t priced such services lately — I mean anywhere from $60 for one month to $251.40 for one year.

Now, granted, they have a vastly better interface than the previous site (though clearly the former had work to do in ensuring their users were actually revenue-generators), but still, the whole thing entails a bigger financial commitment than I’m prepared to make ... at least before my likely first date with e-Prospect #1 this weekend (turns out life in the mujahidin did not exclude some internet use after all). I still have almost no clue what the plan for Sunday is, but we’ll see. I guess you have to play each hand one at a time, eh? In any case, depending on how that all goes, I may be more or less likely to fold ’em, more or less likely to hold ’em, pay up and see how harmonious my matches are.

Either way, this new experiment at “putting myself out there” seems to involve risks with every deal. Obviously that’s inevitable, and some things will turn out better than I feared. Despite the cliché of blind dates being horribly demoralizing and awkward, my first one in a long time resulted in almost no nerves on my part and a very lively conversation that let me talk about things I’d forgotten I had thoughts about or had studied. (Alas, there wasn’t enough there for me to consider him a romantic prospect, but on the whole it vastly exceeded the street rep of such random outings. Props to the e-dating matchmakers at CrazyBlindDate.)

But as I try to get back on the same (or similar) emotional horse that bucked me off the last time and left several nice horseshoe grooves in my heart, it’s hard not to fear that I’m in for more pain this time, whether or not the ride’s half as good as it was the last time, and whether there’s one more thrilling fall involved. Then again, I’ve probably been that sort of romantic gambler/horse-rider who goes all in on the first round, who rides the horse without using stirrups, reins, or other standard safety devices (humor me, and find these two metaphors compatible, will ya?). This, it’s to be admitted, isn’t something I’ve really acknowledged till lately, but hopefully it’s a step toward saddling up again.

Improving on a poor poker face

One thing that may help me learn to ride and fall better is a new Sunday school class on dating that started this last week. Based on a DVD series with the author of How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk, it looks to be a tremendous guide to not so much different ways of dating but the skills, head knowledge and heart-pacing needed to “Pick the Right Partner” the course title mentions. The overview session alone gave me lots of new insights into some of the bruises my heart has sustained, and the book has uniformly high praise on Amazon. Check it out if the title is as new to you as it was me. Even if you’re not “single-and-looking-to-change-that” yourself, odds are you know someone who is.

If nothing else, I can say from experience that the title alone will get you plenty of laughs and stories about others’ ill-fated gambles on jerks/“jerkettes” when you mention what you’re reading.

Which confession of reading/classwork, now that I think of it, is one more social ante-in that went better than my risk-fearful heart might have expected. And if there’s nothing gained without venturing first, perhaps I ought to focus more on improving my game and learning when and how to risk, than just quitting cards altogether.

Kenny, I guess I’m not ready to walk away just yet, but have you got any insider tips on what the winning odds are with eHarmony? I’m still wary of big-money games ...

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

E-dating week 4: ‘Girl brain’ at its worst

I was talking with a housemate and her guests recently when some faux-superstitious remark on my part (probably joking that some “sign” surely portended her romantic fate) prompted Housemate #1 to dismiss my quip with a snort and the charge of having “girl brain.”

It’s probably been called lots of things, but my favorite depiction of these histrionic, melodramatic flights of analytical fancy is the montage late in Amelie when she imagines all the things her mystery man has run off to do — the only one of which I remember was to join the mujahidin.

I liked that scene. It had the right deftness and briskness to suggest Amelie herself constructing the pastiche of internal mania with a coy self deprecation, as if to say sweetly, “Yes, it’s loony, but haven’t you done it too?”

Loony or not, girl brain almost always manifests in the absence or maddening silence of a man. Any situation where uncertain possibilities present themselves is an instant opportunity for our ever-active brains to fill in the gaps (naturally as colorfully as possible) until the man acts or speaks, providing us further data to mull over.

I had been mercifully spared of this affliction until recently, as nary a possible prospect was on the horizon (except with liberal stretches of the imagination). It was great. I walked the streets of San Francisco home from work to BART each night, my head busy with the latest baby garment to knit or who I needed to email next for some ongoing task with the book. Although I’ve decided to let myself actually look at the rotating line-up of four wedding dresses I always pass in a shop along Columbus, I’ve generally had a nice long stretch of calm deep breaths and peacefully savored foggy evenings.

Enter my recently married cousin, whom I saw at the end of a business trip last month. Barely one day into our visit, and she declared me in romantic hiding, which she suggested might be tackled by exploring internet dating.

I’ll admit I haven’t exactly been trying to crash every possible party that fills my housemates’ busy social lives, but neither have I been cultivating a shrewish tone with men, pretending to own several litters of cats, or finding other ways to become a SuperSpinster.

Still, I decided she might have a point.

Since this region isn’t exactly known for its seminaries and Jesus freaks, I decided to take her up on it, short of actually putting down money for said services. While this has so far yielded plenty of writing fodder, it’s also — alas — renewed the risk of girl brain (gulp).

Take the guy whom I’ll call e-Prospect #1. If it weren’t bad enough that we started contact shortly before a trip he took (a chance for wild speculation based on his email address), we subsequently resumed contact, briefly but promisingly, which Christmas and New Year’s then interrupted further.

And since he’d apparently rather IM than email, I’m now in the girl-brain hell of logging into a chat program to try figure out when he goes online (at work, in the evenings, or when he’s waiting for laundry to dry?), and then pondering whether or not to IM him or maintain a diffident distance so he can be the one to say hi.

You’d think that after the last romantic ______ (for which I still can’t find words appropriate), I’d be warier of wading back into IM ambiguity. And I am, but with a few hundred miles between us, I’m unlikely to break through that unless my forthcoming trip to see relatives (who just happen to live in e-Prospect #1’s town) leads to a coffee date or something. Assuming of course, that we actually “talk” again and I have a chance to casually mention said trip.

Until then, I guess I’ll just have to assume that laptops aren’t allowed in the mujahidin.