Saturday, November 5, 2011

Catalogue Shopping, Disposable People, and Pre-nuptials

We have these things to sort out
between us, furniture, cars, nest 
eggs and air purifiers, souvenirs
 of past lives, past loves. Your cool damp
basement, my unlit closet. Assumptions
about who I am and what I have
without you. And as for the wounds
and the weight of desire
they are nobody’s property
the debts are paid, the account is balanced.
Pre-Nuptial -- Laurie Block (2006)

Although I am not a poet, the verse I quote above is from one of my favourite poems. And I'll admit that is biased because Laurie was my writing mentor back in 2006, two years preceding my love of bikes, and the same year my seven year old marriage was quickly and quietly slipping into the dusty pages of marital history books. 

The poem is about starting a new relationship post divorce. I can still see Laurie standing at the microphone at McNally at his book launch, telling the story of what he referred to as "resorting" to the personal ads, after a certain amount of time being single, to look for love. What he found there was a recurring theme: No baggage, please.

He discovered quickly that “baggage” was a code word for “children” in personal ad lingo. This was a shock for Laurie, who has two daughters who would have been much younger at the time.

But of course, baggage, in relationship terms, and what became the inspiration for his poem, is also about everything you bring into a relationship from your past. And the conclusion Laurie came to was, Why would you want to reject someone else's baggage? It makes them the wonderful person that they are today.

Now I’m not sure if personal ads even exist anymore in that form. Do they? I’m sure they have been replaced by online dating. I’ve been separated/divorced for over 4 years now. Is that too long to go without having found the next love of my life? Is there a time limit on such things before society defines you as perpetually and irrefutably single?

I’ve had a couple significant relationships in that time and a lot of bad dates and false starts. I tried online dating and I, and most everyone else I’ve talked to who has done it, has found it a huge waste of time.

I’m jaded now though, you understand. But I walked into the process of meeting people online full of optimism. Anyone who was willing to put out that kind of money to meet people had to be serious about it. Instead I found a lot of unfinished profiles with pat, safe statements that could be true of everyone (I’m inspired by my grandfather and I'm passionate about my kids), but gave no hint about what made them who they are. 

It wasn't long, and after a couple of weird dates with people who seemed normal, and even awesome, in writing and on the phone, before I began to suspect that most people in the online environment only thought they were ready to date. Some of them are just trying to replace something and fill voids as quickly as possible. I see a lot of anger and bitterness reflected in many men’s profiles; the only word many men can come up with to describe what they are looking for in a relationship is, "honesty." Nothing wrong with wanting honesty, I want that too, but that one single word sitting in the large space they give us to describe our hopes and dreams for a relationship, to me implies that dishonesty burned him in the past and he is still obsessing about it. I've also seen pleas from men for women with "issues" to please stay away. As someone who is often too honest and definitely has baggage and definitely is still scarred and conditioned from a traumatic and toxic past "relationship," I find it sad. I'm not looking for someone to be my therapist (nor do I want to be your therapist), I'm looking for a partner. 

It made me quickly start to wonder: Was I catalogue shopping for a mate? Felt that way. Flipping through profiles and pictures rejecting people based on nuances and photographs. Most of the time I read profiles and thought, "I don't know."  I could muster up no more enthusiasm than that without the aura of the real person in front of me. I made a pact with myself that if someone contacted me I would always answer. And, for the most part, I stuck to that.

The problem is that when someone is an object in a catalogue, they become disposable. I can be brushed off without even being tried on. And I can do the same to them. And people shouldn’t be disposable. A paradoxical trend seemed to emerge in my online pandering: If I did find some guy's profile interesting and having depth, I would often come back to look again at a future date after I contemplated making a move, and found myself "archived." Really? You didn’t even say hello.

One guy had "sex" identified on his list of "things you can't live without." I thought this was amusing and honest and, beyond bikes and coffee and writing, I was having difficulty coming up with two more, so I stole his idea. I left it up for about a week and then decided to succumb to society's stereotypes and removed it, because as a woman, I knew men would take my intentions the wrong way. Why can't I want a deep relationship and like sex too? But my experience in life has told me that as soon as I admit I like sex, the odds of me getting a relationship with someone with depth post that admission decreases significantly, while the number of shallow approaches increases exponentially.

By the way, I had two guys approach me during that week. It took another 3 months before there were 2 more after I removed it. Nothing like playing on a cliche.

Another guy told me that on another dating site he was in, a free dating site, one woman told him he was the first man who had contacted her who hadn't immediately asked her what colour her underwear was. Touché.

Stereotypes's exist with the athletic thing as well. Especially endurance athleticism. Especially female endurance athleticism. Lots of people are active but, nope, they're not really active. Endurance athletes get each other. We go for 3 hour bike rides in lousy weather and up steep hills because it is therapeutic and soothing and more than a little addictive but, let's face it, the rest of the world thinks we are nuts. As one guy I met online said to me: “I like that fact that you are athletic. It's very rare, you know.”

I snickered when I read this in his message. He was "athletic" too. One of his things he couldn't live without was "a gym." Rare? Not in my circles. In my circles, I don’t know anyone who isn’t like me. In fact, I have a rather low weekly output for someone who considers herself an endurance athlete. I have "baggage" (i.e. children) remember. 

All the men I've connected with online have only been conservatively active, and they don't get it. And I’ve sensed a threatened attitude often, ("I don't know if I could keep up with you." "I'm not interested in doing that much"), I can’t help but notice, looking around the athletic community, that it doesn’t work in reverse. Women aren’t threatened by men who are endurance athletes. Most women are quite content to support their guy and stand on the sidelines and cheer if they aren't interested in doing that much. Because it is OK, via the stereotype, for women to do less than their man athletically. 

And what about that whole evolution of attraction thing? I have a (guy) friend who teaches evolutionary psychology at various educational institutions around the city and when he is trying to get my goat, he shows me charts about how smart women with high incomes are not what guys want -- from an evolutionary stand point. Well... what does one do with this knowledge?  I'm smart and educated, I have a good job, and I have children (i.e. baggage). I'm doomed. But apparently we can't fight evolution. Making choices based on evolutionary factors and social stereotypes is unconscious.

I suppose those unconscious "evolutionary instincts" were all fine and dandy when we only lived to be 40 or 50 years old. But they are pretty useless and outdated now that we are living to be 80. I can't imagine living the rest of my life with someone who didn't challenge my thinking or wasn't my intellectual equal as discussed in one of my other favourite literary outputs, You Should Date an Illiterate Girl.

And while we are at it, here is my other controversial opinion, I think "Till death do us part" is also an outdated concept. Who we are as people is constantly changing and evolving, who says we are meant to be with the same person for 50 years? But society still looks at divorce as a personal failure.

Don't worry. I won't make you agree with me if you don't agree. Related to that opinion, I also think it is far too easy too get married and far too difficult to get divorced. And yes, I am a little bit left winged.

But there are a lot of evolutionary theories about physical attraction too. How our pheromones draw others to us. In fact, regardless of appearance, we will be most attracted to someone who is as genetically diverse from us as possible because natural selection dictates that couples who are genetically diverse will produce stronger children with "fitter" traits. Ever been addicted to how someone smells? It is kinda like that. That isn’t possible to detect when you are only looking at a picture on a website. Attraction is about how someone moves, talks, expresses themselves. It is about connecting with someone and feeling, I like having this person in my presence. And you can't even explain why this person and not another. All the psychological profiling and matching in the world will not find you that. 

In the online environment, there are no pretences about why you are making your approach. This is helpful, but it makes all your interactions, relationship-like from the very start. Unlike when you meet someone in person and see them in group functions on a regular basis and you go for as long as possible without making your intentions known. Things are more subtle in the real world.

But I've met guys online and I don't even know their kids names or where they live or where they work (you are deliberately protective about that information online, while it is the first thing you talk about when face to face) but we are already, to use the words of my mentor Laurie's poem, talking about the things to sort out between us. Those nest eggs. You dig to find each others’ wounds and find out if debts are paid and accounts  balanced.

And that's emotional wounds and balanced accounts and debts. Not the literal kind. 

And when one person decides "this is not the thing for me," even if it has only been a handful of emails, it requires a mini break-up speech (assuming you are gracious). And we each say thanks and we go our separate ways back into our separate circles never to cross paths again. And, God forbid, NO facebook friendship. This person could still be an axe murderer for cripes sake, even though he might now know more about the pain of my marriage ending than my next door neighbour.

Catalogue shopping, false intimacy, wipe the slate clean. Done.  

I went online to get out of my circles. To expose myself to people other than athletes, people I might not normally come in contact with in my day to day life, because there is far more to who I am than the fact I ride a bike. But it ain’t working. And I hate how it operates. And, to be honest, I would rather have fewer quality dates with people I've gotten to know in person first, who came out of nowhere like God-sends and took me by surprise who love the same things I love, than many false starts and awkward dates with people a computer has told me is "my match."

And at the very least, if you don't love bikes the way I love bikes, you must respect that I do, and you must love that I can do things like I do in this blog and I can write from my soul,  because this is who I am. 

So what next?

Patience, I guess.


InsaneGreg said...

Wow.. straight from the heart.. nice read.

Story Teller said...

Simply brilliant, Kim. Welcome back.

Lisa said...

I've been in so many of those places. I tried an online dating website geared to singles who are into fitness. Like you, the majority of the responses I got were those who questioned whether working out "enhanced my libido". I think I lasted 6 months and quit. I didn't even meet one person face to face. It was something that I knew early on wasn’t going to work for me. Yet it has worked for a number of successful couples I know. Maybe they lucked out. I didn’t have the patience or the thick skin I sensed I needed to remain.

You and I are alike in so many ways. I, too, have had (and have blogged about) issues with baggage. I’ve experienced firsthand the deep emotional reaction I get from smells. I wondered how long it would take before I met someone who truly “got me”, who understood that my children were always going to be number one in my life, and that being number two was not a bad thing.

I know how hard it is to listen to people telling you to be patient, the right guy is out there and he will find you.

I think it’s like when you’re young. You don’t want to believe your parents were right about things…Turns out they were… Funny that… love you girl!

Kim said...

Thanks Lisa... and you are right! Ha! Interesting what you say about needing a thick skin for it. I believe that is true, and there is no doubt that my skin is not so thick when it comes to relationships. I just don't have the stomach for this kind of way of relating with people. And I hate these sites. What I didn't say in my blog is that they tend to find little subliminal ways of preying on your sense of desperation and insecurity (two very unattractive traits). In the process of cancelling my renewal, because they renew your membership without pre warning that it is coming due -- they just outright charge your credit card and say "congratulations" -- there are about 6 steps to go through when cancelling and at each one they remind you that you may be giving up your chance at finding true love -- EVER... Yeah, I'll take my chances. bub, bye!

@Holli -- thank you, that means a lot to me coming from you. I am back!! I hope.

@ Greg... if it isn't coming from the heart it ain't worth it. That's my motto and view on what it means to be passionate about something. Which I am, about writing (and biking).

Terri said...

Like Lisa, I have been so many of these places as well. I always said, "We all have baggage. The only difference is that you can see mine." Well, some of it, anyway.

It was 5 1/2 years before I re-found my love. And yup, it's incredibly tiresome to hear that the right guy will come along and none of it will matter to him and he will be awesome and love you for who you are and love your kids and blah, blah, blah. I was also told I was jaded, which I was. But it happened. I still believe it will for you, too. :)

And I would have to disagree - getting divorced isn't difficult. Just costly and time-consuming. :P

Kim said...

Yes Terri, and I suppose in a way, getting married is costly and time consuming as well. True.