Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Month: May, 2012

Like a Stroll Through The Park

I often look at the ground when I’m walking. This has little to do with self-confidence. Some might argue, instead that, despite my hunched posture, I am actually over-confident. I attribute this quirk largely to the fact that I spend most of the day deeply engrossed in my own thoughts. I recently took the Enneagram personality test, and was planted firmly in the 5 group, also known as The Investigator (look it up, I’m totally and completely a 5, for better or worse). One of the qualities of Investigators is the propensity to be so enveloped in one’s own thoughts and imagination that they are oblivious to the world around them. For one so invigorated by solo pontificating, life in an over-crowded city can be exhausting, so to combat the constant presence of so many people, I look down all the time. Or sit on a train with my ipod blasting and my eyes shut. For these moments, I create an alternate reality: one where I’m peacefully alone. In fact, I just spent 12 hours this weekend on a bus completely content to have a solid excuse to sit and think for several uninterrupted hours. Aside from the smell of charter bus and slight motion-related nausea, I was a happy little introvert.

Unfortunately, this habit makes it too easy to divorce myself from the world, to lose connection with other humans. At my best, I am a lovely pensive soul. At my worst, I’m a curmudgeonly hermit.

I find it difficult to make eye contact with strangers. If eyes are the windows to one’s soul, I prefer to keep the shutters closed. This is why I am such a terrible flirt. The profound vulnerability that can transpire from a locked-eye gaze with a stranger has the possibility of being met with utter rejection, so that too might explain my downward fixation. I remember telling a good friend awhile back about a series of great dates I had just gone on, and that nervous feeling I got when I paused to think of that particular male companion. He asked me if I was too nervous to make eye contact for fear that he might detect my interest. It really irritates me when friends are able to figure me out so easily. I suddenly realize I’m never as mysterious as I think I am.

“Yes! I said “it terrifies me to think of it.”

I tabled the issue for visits to my future therapist.

Until this evening. I was traipsing down the street on my way home this evening when I happened to  look up at the exact moment a rather good-looking man locked eyes with mine as we passed. It was purely by accident that our eyes met. We held our gaze as we crossed the sidewalk and an interesting thing happened: he smiled, and my stomach flipped. This was not a long moment, lasting only a few fleeting seconds, but it nearly stopped me in my tracks. This stranger penetrating my force-field of solitude was, dare I say, a bit thrilling? Another friend of mine once told me about an article she read that surveyed people to discovered a trend that more people fall in love in a park than any other public place. Something about the countenance just make people more open and relaxed (I have no clue if science backs this claim, but just go with it). People walk less hurried, scowl much less and carry themselves with a slight air of cheeriness. That day I had a great idea that I never capitalized on, one that I was reminded of today after my 3-second tryst: I probably should walk everywhere as if I am strolling through the park.

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How About We (Part 3: The Conclusion)

So I was just about to quit my How About We social experiment (that’s what I call dating: one giant social experiment), when I received an email from a guy named John.  He commented on my witty date idea, and asked me out for a drink. I gave pause because John was not exactly my type. He worked in finance, and if you know me, you know I love my men to be creative, tempestuous, and very, very poor.  But the whole point of this was to try something new, and this guy seemed nice, so I responded. The only other red flag on his profile was that his pictures were less than clear (I could’ve sworn one of them looked like it was taken underwater).  They also only really showed his profile, which begged me to believe that he must have some horrible disfigurement on the hidden right side of his face (don’t judge me, these are just the harsh realities of cyber dating).

After a round of emails, we exchanged phone numbers.  While I was waiting for a flight, he delighted me with silly text conversation. He made a casual reference to spending the holidays with his family during which he found himself reciting poetry at a family event. I couldn’t resist the urge, so I inquired about the poetry and he responded with a 3-part text completely in a Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. This was it guys–I found the one! Ok, not really. Side note: I responded with a brilliant limerick about the angst of Delta flight delays that I found particularly inspiring.  We settled on a time and place for our date, and I anxiously looked forward to meeting Finance John.

The date almost didn’t happen actually. When we were deciding when to meet, he asked me what time I would like to meet on that particular Saturday. I hate it when guys put that ball in my court, so I just responded with 8:00, the most generic time for a date. Two days prior, he texted and said that he might need to meet up with some college buddies, and he wanted to know if I was ok getting a drink at 5:00.  This guy, very unsubtly, was already preparing for Plan B, and I was having none of it (no one puts Baby in a corner, or me in a 5:00 slot).  In a true act of passive aggression, I told him that perhaps it would be better to cancel since he sounded so busy. He responded immediately with a heartfelt mea culpa, confirmed that the original 8:00 time was good. Did I mention that he did all of this all in rhyme (8:00, date, late, great, etc. You get the idea)?

It’s date night, and I’ve done all my pre-date grooming rituals, got my roommate to approve my outfit, and started my commute towards the LES bar where we were meeting. As I walk up, I see John standing outside and make my way towards him. I realize now that he has no facial disfigurements. Phew! He does, however, look a little bit like Spock.  Before I even get a chance to process anything else, John goes in for the awkward kiss on the cheek greeting that people seem to do in NYC that irritates me to my very core. I have a large bubble of personal space, and I usually need to be around a person for more than 30 seconds before I allow them to cross the 12-inch invisible barrier that I like to keep clear around my face. At any rate, he starts to lead me away from the bar explaining that there is a long wait, and we’d have better luck going somewhere else. As we’re walking, we start off with some general small talk. “What neighborhood do you live? Oh, Brooklyn? That’s nice. I live in NJ, blah blah blah.” I didn’t think we were off to a bad start because I already got a few hearty laughs out of him, laughs which were startling to hear because he sounded exactly like Santa Claus. Ho, Ho Ho.  Yes, folks, he looked like Spock and sounded like Santa Claus. I wasn’t too phased by any of this. These are just casual observations to paint a picture.

We turn the corner, and I hear his phone ring. He asks me if I mind if he takes it, and I allow it (though I made a mental note of the rude behavior). He walks a few feet in the other direction, but I can hear that the conversation is distinctly pleasant (a pleasant greeting, laugher, a non-urgent up-beat tone). He hangs up, turns towards me and says the following exact words:

“Listen, It was nice meeting you, but I have to go.”

As the sentence began to make his way into my ears and through the gears of my brain, I notice that Finance John has now begun sprinting down the street in the opposite direction. I am left standing there alone on the street. I started processing what had just transpired and rapidly moved through shock, rage, and then finally landed upon the feeling that would carry me all the way home: utter disappointment and hurt. Despite how I felt about Finance John’s long-term prospects (which wasn’t much since we had spent a sum total of 3 minutes together), it is very difficult to not take something like this completely personal. The thing about first dates is that you are essentially allowing a perfect stranger into your intimate little world, and opening yourself up to the possibility that the person might just shrug their shoulders and say “nah, not for me.” Deciding that someone is not a right match doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on either individual, but because of that possibility, there are certain rules of etiquette that must be followed–common human decency that must be exhibited for this process to not reap horrible destruction. Finance John broke all of those rules when he decided that he didn’t even want to sit through a quick drink and polite conversation with me.  He broke protocol when he didn’t even attempt to make up a fake emergency to attend to. I called my roommate at exactly 8:07, and she was surprised to hear from me so soon.  After the shock wore off, she gave me her usual pep talk. Sadly it didn’t work. I went home that night and shut down my account. Perhaps I’m better suited to the old-school method of dating. You know, where you start with meeting the actual person, and not their carefully edited Interweb persona. Ah, who am I kidding? Nobody does that anymore.

How About We (Part 2 of 3)

Shortly after I revamped my dating profile on How About We, I ran across the profile from a man whose date idea suggested strolling through the aisles of Strand bookstore while discussing book choices.  I’m not sure if I’ve alluded to my love of used book stores, but I consider them to be the Geek’s aphrodisiac, so I was quick to click the “Like” button on his date idea. He sent me an email introducing himself, and here is what I gathered:

  1. He was a teacher.
  2. He lived in New Jersey, presumably because of his current teaching job.
  3. His name was Omar and he had quite the sense of humor about it. He said “My mom and my aunt were big fans of Omar Sharif. It is clear to me that my dad is completely whipped”

After a couple of emails, we exchanged phone numbers. Typically, I prefer to keep the emails and texts limited before actually meeting in person because it’s so easy for either party to build up a false idea of a person in their head based solely on how they come across online. It’s one of the occupational hazards of online dating. Unfortunately this was right around Thanksgiving, and I was busy getting ready to travel for the holiday. We were stuck in the text vacuum, and I was completely charmed. This guy was clever, kind and interesting, and all of this made me completely nervous.  We made plans to go out the following week, and proceeded to exchange in light-hearted text flirtations until that day arrived.

It rained hard that day, and Omar didn’t bring an umbrella. He texted me to tell me he had arrived at our meeting place and that I should look for the guy in the restaurant that was completely soaked. I scanned the place looking for a guy that resembled his profile pictures, and I spotted him in the corner. I wouldn’t say that he looked drastically different than his pictures; I would just say that his presence in a room was much different than I had imagined. He was hunched over, sopping wet, and very twitchy. Friends of mine have come to Omar’s defense insisting that he must have had a case of first-date nerves, but I could tell pretty quickly that he was one of those guys that just had a nervous energy. Once again, I found myself on another first date with Woody Allen. This is not to say that the whole Woody Allen persona isn’t appealing to some people: I’m just not one of those people who find neurotic quirkiness and awkward conversation adorable. As the date progressed, I learned a few new things about Omar:

  1. He was no longer a teacher. Unemployed for undisclosed reasons, he now was taking part-time classes to become a paralegal while he entertained the notion of law school (Raise your hands, gentlemen, if you have thought about going to law school. Why are there SO many of you?)
  2. He lived in New Jersey……with his parents.  (Who am I to judge, right? But doesn’t this get harder to explain once you are in your 30’s?)
  3. He supplemented his unemployment with online poker winnings.

Ooof. This was hardly the same guy I had been chatting with for 2 weeks. Let’s face it, for writers (he also claimed to be a writer), it is just much easier for us to be charming in print. This is the writer’s occupational hazard. What I learned here had little to do with the date. The actual date was fine: nothing spectacular, but nothing spectacularly awful either. Omar was a nice man, but ultimately we were not a right fit for each other, but it did get me thinking about this whole dating process. This is the point where it fully dawned on me the tragic flaw of online dating: it is completely inorganic. You go online, set a few parameters, and then you start shopping for a mate. All of this is based solely on a profile designed to mask all of your obvious flaws and exaggerate all of your strengths. It’s a resume, with headshots and sexual preferences.  Once you set your sights on a prospect, you engage in a series of emails before deciding if the other party is worthy of a face-to-face interview. It’s all so clinical. I’m convinced it sucks the romance right out of the dating process. 

But before I decided to throw in the towel, I received an email from a man named John, and this is where my How About We journey draws to a close…..