Sunday, April 15, 2012

Publication Day

"A Kosher Dating Odyssey" becomes properly available today. I've had friends already email me that Amazon has sent out the paperback version. I'm waiting to hear about the Kindle version. I've had some gratifying congratulatory calls, including from my friend referred to as Chloe the Oracle of Romance in the book. She's soon to get her copy. The references to her could be a great ice-breaker in her online dating activities.

I have no idea what coming days will bring, although at least one article is set to run about the book and I continue to alert editors about it. Who'll find it interesting as fodder for a review or just as a good read is anybody'd guess. The essays I'm doing in support of the book could turn in to excellent material for a revised edition down the road; one essay is evening inspiring me to write a short story for a contest being sponsored by the Texas Observer newspaper.

What comes next creatively? I have some ideas. I always have ideas. Execution remains the issue. To goose up the competitive spirit, I attended a panel presentation by three romance novel writers at the Ridgefield Public Library today. Hearing other writers always inspires me, and now that I have one real, honest-to-goodness book to my credit, I can keep thinking about what comes next. Surely this can't be the peak of my writing careerhave keyboard, will travel to distant lands and write about topics that have been bubbling in me for decades.

All I have to do is turn off the Internet and get back to banging out what's already in me, just waiting to burst outa little later than I expected in life, but the only present I have is right now.

Rolling With The Online Dating Punches

This essay appeared in what was then called JMag, the magazine of the dating site JDate, in conjunction with the publication of my book A Kosher Dating Odyssey
The profile intrigues me. The woman has everything I seek – the education, the cultural interests, the open smile with a hint of sauciness (lingering, intimate weekends), a passion for Judaism. I sense a connection. I write, she responds, we meet at a café midway between our suburban homes. Sitting outside on a spring evening, time simply stops as we both wonder if this could mean something. We kiss goodbye and then write to each other later that evening. We’ll meet again. Soon.
OK, that’s the fantasy. Here’s the reality. Same starting point, different direction:
The profile intrigues me. The woman has enough personality so I write to her. She writes back and we agree to meet. Sitting inside a Starbucks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a fall afternoon, I sense little connection. She’s tired from hard Halloween partying the night before and doesn’t want to get a drink. I settle for tea. After 15 minutes she says, “I don’t think this is a love match so I’m leaving.” And leave she does, as I sit there gaping. We’ll never meet again.
Such awkward moments are part of dating. You’re out there emotionally, revealing hopes and fears and your brightest smile. Do it long enough and you get a thick skin that still bleeds easily. Sure, you want to leap into the great romance of your life, but that electricity doesn’t always strike. More often, you’re drenched in a chill drizzle of encounters that range between wryly amusing (in retrospect) to heartbreaking. I detail some of them in my book A Kosher Dating Odyssey: One Former Texas Baptist’s Quest for a Naughty & Nice Jewish Girl.
Weird moments typically happen on a first or second date when you’re sorting out early impressions. Consider my time with a woman I’ll call Spygirl. On the surface, we looked way promising. Like me, she was from Texas and we both worked in corporate communications – in fact, our employers were direct rivals. And that started the problem. We had one date that worked out well enough, then scheduled another, just for a coffee again. This time, Spygirl started asking, rather aggressively, for confidential documents from my company. Her tone struck me as bizarre. Was I her romance interest, or a patsy in a corporate espionage ring? I declined, of course, and Spygirl’s peculiar behavior pushed me to run for the exits.
Speaking of Texas, I once had an IM from an attractive woman involved in the arts in that state. She was a bit younger than me, and her smart ‘n’ sassy profile made my heart go pitty-pat. Alas… it turned out this woman was my second cousin and we’ve known each other since childhood. Our mothers were first cousins so, no dice there. File under “awkward, but funny.”
Then there was Sparkles, a fellow suburbanite. One Sunday evening at her house we were trying, reluctantly, to move the date to its conclusion. With the weekend kid hand-off looming, we struggled to get me out the door. Keep in mind that Sparkles was a curvy armload of a gal and I liked the feel of our farewell hugs. The seconds were ticking away, but we just couldn’t disengage as we stood next to my car.
And then the headlights hit us as her ex pulled into the driveway with the kids. I don’t know how much he saw of us – we quickly broke the clinch – but he certainly noticed my battered 1986 Saab in the narrow driveway. Without a pause he backed up so I could make my getaway. By the way, Sparkles’ ex and I had some professional connections (let’s leave this vague) so opportunities for office awkwardness could have reached astronomical levels. Maybe I should have introduced him to Spygirl so she could pester him for documents.
Fortunately, awkward encounters usually last just a few minutes. You meet an ex-flame entwined around her new guy, the doe-eyed IM charmer becomes a strident anti-American loon on the phone, the woman you meet bears absolutely no resemblance to her profile photos (been there, done all of that.) When these moments happened, I gleaned whatever lessons I could, dusted myself off and moved to the next contestant. Sometimes I seriously ached, but that’s the way the game goes.
However, awkwardness could stretch far beyond a phone call or coffee date. Instead, you have stumbled into a dating version of The Twilight Zone, full of shadows, menace, long pauses and no chance for escape. I’m talking about the most hopeful yet perilous phase of online dating: “The Visit.”
Traveling a few hours to another city for lunch is one thing; flying to another country for a week is quite another. I know from experience; meeting a woman in a country where you can’t even speak the language requires a leap of faith and a zen-like tolerance for potential disconnections. I made that leap into disconnection during a trip to meet a woman I’ll call Guapa. We burned hot in the beginning of our relationship, then cycled through periods of stone-cold silence and warmth. While she wanted me to visit, she also vowed to find me a local “girlfriend.” The longer I knew her, the less I knew her, if that makes sense, but I was intensely curious about Guapa. After a local opportunity tanked, I agreed to a week-long visit to a place I’ll call Pueblo PeligrosoDangerous Town.
Surprises began at the airport, where Guapa met me with her ex-husband. She lacked a car at the time, so the ex agreed to be our chauffeur. At her place, Guapa laid down some ground rules, such as, I couldn’t take photos of her nor get any photos of us together. She was often distracted; I wondered why she even bothered to have me visit. File this under “awkward and ominous.”
She really did pawn me off on a local friend of hers. And guess what – we connected as the local girlfriend graciously showed me the charming side of Pueblo Peligroso. Among other things, we enjoyed a long lunch at an outdoor café across the street from the main cathedral, which we then toured. In all, a lovely, hand-holding day, with photos. While Guapa was a considerate hostess, we never found a comfortable rhythm and the trip ended our rocky three-year relationship. “Awkward” doesn’t begin to describe the visit. The local girlfriend and I remain in touch, although I have not returned to Pueblo Peligroso.
I like to think every awkward episode was a learning experience. After Guapa, I never took another long trip to meet a woman, for example. I became much more local in what I would consider. In a few years, I met a nearby woman I began dating steadily. I learned what works for me. Reaching that point required leaps into the unknown and plenty of strained moments. Be the encounter a Starbucks one-off or a risky week in another country, I had to find out for myself.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Some Modest How-To Ideas on Dating

I cover a lot of ground in my book "A Kosher Dating Odyssey," but one topic I mostly avoid is how-to. By the time you're in your 40s and 50s, you don't need my advice on how to present yourself or appeal to men or women. Then again, why not some ideas from a guy who spent years out there knocking around and getting knocked around? I'm compiling a list of pithy, good-hearted guidance, initially for women. As ideas come to me, I'll add some for men out there who are working the websites and wondering how to make them work better. So:
  • I like self-confidence in a woman, especially on appearance issues. Of course, our bodies change as we age, and a woman's sense of satisfaction and self-acceptance is very appealing. Put your best foot forward and save the neuroses for your girlfriends.
  • When going out to dinner with a man, take plenty of time to find a restaurant you both like. Once there, select what you want to eat with a minimum of agonized consideration; long discussions about the pros and cons of different dining options exhaust and confuse men. We like to decide on what to eat and be done with it. Save the food fetishes and phobias for girls' night out.
  • If you had an enjoyable time with a man and think the feeling is mutual, surprise him with a hand-written thank-you note. Everybody likes to get real letters yet  nobody sends them. Break that pattern and surprise a man with your communications flair and elegant handwritingyou will make a BIG impression.
  • When using an online dating site, remember that men are intensely visual creatures. Use as many profile photos as possible, selecting those that focus on YOU in a favorable, put-together light. Let men's imagination wander and envision themselves with you via evening wear, business wear, fresh at-home ensembles. Avoid blurry cell-phone and webcam photos, photos with sunglasses (what are you hiding?), travel pictures that make you look tiny (men don't care that you visited the Eiffel Tower), or group photos with your arms draped around Uncle Fritz and Aunt Gerdl. Show that you care enough to get appealing photos.
  • Don't let strong political views overly color dating profiles, since that can turn off men who don't share those values. You may think "Republicans make me vomit!" and "Rush Limbaugh is a war criminal!" but saying so brands you as a political crank rather than a caring progressive. I found profiles with such intolerant views and they were a major turn-off. Men and women are more than their political views so it's better to agree to disagree rather than dismiss an otherwise compatible man just because he does not think exactly the way you do. (In my experience, liberal women are far more adamant and unyielding in their politics than conservative women.)
  • While on a date, you may see other friends. It's perfectly acceptable to stop and chat with them and introduce your date of the evening. Beware, however, if the conversation with the friend turns into a one-on-one discussion that leaves your date feeling ignored and isolated. This could especially sour an early date in a new relationship when people feel vulnerable and want to stay connected with the romantic potentiality. Save the deep discussion for later (post-date, when you'll want to dish about the date, anyway) and keep the focus on having an enjoyable time with the man/woman of the evening.
  • GUYS: This is for you. Based on conversations with women, such as my dear friend, mentioned in the book as Chloe the Oracle of Romance, show some common sense. Chivalry is still popular: Hold open doors, stand up when a lady enters the room, push a woman's chair in at a restaurant, observe good grooming at all times, be attentive to a woman's interests and questions. Don't drone on about your obsessions, be they sports, World of Warcraft, the "Saw" movies, your prostate, or anything else that could be a conversation-stopper. Keep the focus on getting to know your date and let her know about youbut not everything about you. Sure, you're interestingbut she is, too.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Speaking in Several Tongues

Readers of the upcoming book, "A Kosher Dating Odyssey," may want to keep some dictionaries handy since I throw in words from several other languages. Sometimes a phrase from Hebrew or Spanish just sounds right. I write about this linguistic side of online datinghow a little learning can go a long wayin a post at the Times of Israel, where I'm also contributing these days. "Judaism is for (Language) Lovers" is my maiden voyage there:
Once I graduated from college and moved to New York, I started dating Jewish women and found many excelled at languages. They inspired a lifetime of studies that often overlapped with whatever was spoken by my love interest of the moment. If she spoke Hebrew or Russian or Portuguese or Dutch, then I wanted to speak it, too. For the past 30 years I’ve diligently cycled through languages, including several rounds of Hebrew. While I can’t speak anything but English, an ability to call a woman “motek” (“sweetie” in Hebrew) or close an email with “beijos e abraços” (“kisses and hugs” in Portuguese) sure can smooth the flow of a promising new romance.

Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link .] My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called ...