Saturday, June 26, 2010

In which I let myself be talked into several things I should not have let myself be talked into

As I write these stories, I am amazed at how dumb I was in my 20s. And 30s. What causes someone to act so self destructively? Was my desperation for male attention because I had not been invited to one single dance in high school except the time that Miles from chemistry asked me to the ROTC dance? I tried to think of a nice way to say no, because as much as I wanted to go to a dance, I didn't want to go with Miles. He ranked lower on the social scale than I, so it would be better not to go at all than to go with him and have my status diminished. As I was thinking, my friend Jackie, who was standing next to me when Miles asked, which, in retrospect, showed great courage on his part, laughed at him, which added insult to injury.

Or was it just the general insecurity of someone who is uncertain about her place in the world and has had her position as the Smart One yanked away as soon as she got to college with some real competition (which wouldn't have been so bad if I had 1. gone to every single class, 2. worn my glasses in class because if you can't see the teacher taking the derivative or showing how hydrogen bonds to - other things, it doesn't matter if you can hear him, and 3. asked the professor for help like my dad kept telling me to do), and then had her ego double-dog-slammed by her sister, the Pretty One who knows how to accessorize and put on makeup but who also ended up being pretty darn smart, too? It did not help at all for the Pretty One to come to the Smart One's workplace one day and have the Smart One's male coworkers drooling at the sight of the Pretty One.

"Your sister oozes sensuality," one coworker said.

"You and your sister are so different!" the other coworker said.


I know.

Anyhow. Every time I think I am running out of Men and How I Was Stupid With Them stories (aka "My Life in Bad Decisions"), I think of another one.

This story takes place in Austin, where I lived for my mid-20s, back when it was a great place to live and the traffic hadn't gotten awful and you could drive around Highway 360 and all you saw were fields and hills. No buildings. No crowding. Chili's, Whole Foods, and the Black-Eyed Pea had not yet become national chains. They were just little Texas places just for us Texans.

My friends Nathan and Tina* worked for a guy named Stan. Stan was older. Mid 30s. So dangerous. You know me. I liked to live on the edge.

I had met Stan a couple of times at Friday happy hours with Nathan and Tina. I had always thought he was attractive, but he had a girlfriend. Then they broke up, which was probably the right thing to do. He told me that they were in couples counseling.


If you are just dating and have to see a counselor, that is a sign to break up. That much stress in a relationship means you are not meant to be. Move on. That's why you date and evaluate many options. To find someone who doesn't push all your crazy buttons.** You'll never find someone who is perfect, but you'll eventually find the right kind of imperfect.

A friend saw a counselor with his girlfriend. She was beautiful, as all his girlfriends were. But she was a leetle bit crazy: she was in law school and taught many aerobics classes a week. That exercise probably helped her keep her lovely figure, but even more figure preserving was her refusal to eat anything good. The friend took the girlfriend out to eat with his parents. GF ordered shrimp. She did not know they were fried. When the shrimp arrived, she pitched a little fit about how she couldn't eat anything fried!

As she was pitching her fit, my friend's dad, who is a super nice, mellow guy, just like my friend, carefully took a shrimp, scraped all the breading off it and handed it to her. "Is that OK?" he asked.

I think the relationship ended shortly after that.

Stan's breaking up with his girlfriend coincided with his quitting his job to attend graduate school. He had moved away. He was back in town for his spring break and I saw him when I joined Nathan and Tina at a bar.

Somehow, we ended up necking in his car in the parking garage.

Oh yes. Nothing but the classiest of behavior from me.

He left for Houston the next morning, but called me that evening. Could he come back to Austin to see me?

Well sure. I was flattered. But where, I asked him, will you stay?

With you, of course! he told me.

I was not happy with that idea. I want to go back to my 23 year old self and slap myself silly, saying, "No! Do not let him stay with you! It's all wrong. He's being too pushy. He should respect your 'no.' This cannot end well."

But I didn't resist. I tried, but he wore me down. And no, it's not like he couldn't have found somewhere else to sleep. He'd lived in Austin fo 18 years. He had friends.

But I was an eediot.

I told him he could stay.

"But you're sleepingon the couch," I told him sternly.

He laughed.

Mas later.

* Tina later married my college boyfriend, to whom I had been engaged. She was one of my college roommates. I will have to tell you that story sometime. They are both nice people and I hope they are happy.

** You have enough of that to look forward to with your in-laws.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In which I have a chance to be Mrs Robinson but no

When I was still working for The Man, slaving away in my no-privacy cubicle in the converted warehouse in the part of town where people were carjacked at stoplights and we were supposed to call security if we had to go to the parking lot after dark, a colleague, Billy, asked me to lunch. Although I usually ate lunch at my desk* and then ran to the JCC gym for a quick workout,** I agreed to go. I had known Billy for five years - since his starting at the company right out of college. We had worked on several projects together and he was a great kid. Going out to lunch with him sounded like a lot more fun than going to the gym.

When we got to the restaurant, Billy told me this was his treat. I protested, but he insisted. I stopped arguing and accepted graciously, although I think lunch between colleagues should be dutch treat. But it’s ungracious to argue when someone makes a generous offer like that. When I offer to buy lunch for someone, I mean it, and find it insulting to have the person make more than a token protest.

We had a nice conversation. On the one big project we had worked on together, I frequently made brownies for the team. “No brownies for you!” became a mantra when I was teasing someone. Billy told me there was a guy on his team now who was always bringing elaborate desserts to work and that he – Billy – wanted to make something even better. (Men are so competitive. I would never try to outbake anyone for say, book club.) Did I give dessert-making lessons?

No, I told him, but I would send him some recipes. And, I said, he might want to consider taking some cooking classes – that would be a great way to meet girls! Then I got nosy. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, not right now,” he said, blushing. He was a quiet, reserved guy – not the sort who would be out on the town all the time, I would think.

“We’ll have to figure out a way for you to meet a nice girl,” said yenta me.

Then he told me that he had gotten a cat and we compared kitten and cat stories. “You need to come over and meet my cat,” he suggested.

“OK, sure,” I said. I didn't mean it. I wasn't interested in going to his place. But what do you say to something like that? No, I don't want to come over to your place to see your cat? I spend enough time at work and spending non-work time with co-workers is just like work?

He told me about the vacation had taken to Milan. I was interested to hear about it. “I have photos,” he offered. “You can come over and see them if you want.”

“Email me some!” I said. Enough with the making me go to his place! He was a tech guy. Did he not understand the wonders of the interweb?

But then I started to wonder. No! I was THIRTEEN YEARS OLDER than he was! I was completely misreading things.

I suppressed my thoughts. Crazy, crazy, crazy. What would a 26 year old guy want with a 39 year old woman? I'm not Demi Moore, you know. It's not like I can pay for a perfect body (OK, she was starting with a decent canvas to begin with) or help his career. I was imagining things, letting my ego get in the way of reality. Who wouldn't want a man 13 years her junior to be attracted to her, even unrequitedly? I was seeing things that weren't there that I sort of wanted to see but then really didn't want to because that gets messy.

We returned to the office. I emailed a few friends and asked their opinion. I asked my brother. They all said that given the facts as I had stated them (not that I have ever been known to exaggerate), it sounded like Billy thought I was One Hot Mama, and I use the word "Mama" on purpose, although I have no children.

There was a new young woman in accounting. I called her. "I know a really nice guy," I said. "Do you want to be set up?"

Nope, she told me. She had a boyfriend.

Oh. Like she shouldn't do a capital analysis of all the available investments to see which is the best one? Serial dating is really bad for evaluating options. She should date a lot of guys at once.

But she was unconvinced.

It didn't matter, because I had emailed Billy first to ask him if I should ask Accounting Girl if she wanted to meet him.

“I’d really be more interested in getting to know you better,” he replied.



How was I supposed to respond to that, impressed as I was that he was willing to put himself out there and flattered as I was that he was attracted to me?

1. I wasn't interested in him, age or not.
2. I had to keep working with him.

Hadn't my responses to his bait about cooking, cats and photos been enough to put him off, even though I hadn't thought that he was flirting at first? Could I tell him I had to wash my hair? Why was I being forced into this awkward position? MEN! If you throw out hints inviting a woman to your place and she pushes back and she also offers to set you up WITH SOMEONE ELSE, that means she DOES NOT WANT TO DATE YOU.

Sigh. I had to deal with this.

The meanest thing to do is to string someone along.

So I lied instead.

I emailed him, telling him how very flattered I was, but that I was involved with someone else, which was sort of - OK, not really - true. The flattered part was totally true.

He must have been OK with what I said because not only did we not have a problem in our working relationship after that, but he continued to email me for a good two years after I was laid off (a few months after his proposition) to check in on me. Or maybe to see if I had changed my mind.

* Take that, the four men (and my only peers in the office) who went out to lunch without me my first day of work at this company. I had taken the train the 60 miles to work. (Don't move to Boca! they told me. We're moving the office to Miami any day now!) I did not have a car with me or any other means to get to a place where food was sold, other than my feet, and considering I was 1. wearing high heels and 2. did not know the area at all, that wasn't a good option. I had not brought lunch with me. There was a small snack bar in the office building that sold junk food. The man who hired me plus all my new colleagues walked past my office. We're going out to lunch, they said. See you in an hour or so. Yeah. I felt welcome. I ate pretzels for lunch. The next day, I brought my lunch. Jerks.

** And to watch the hot, hot, hot Israeli cop who finally asked me out - OK, he told me I could ride around in the cop car with him and asked for my contact info, but that was a request for a date as far as I was concerned - but then told me that he was married but only for a green card, which, as you know, is a deal breaker for me. I don't do immigration cheating. Why are these guys so attracted to me? Cheaters, I mean? Even if he was lying about his marriage and it was a real marriage and not a green card marriage, then he was sort of cheating on his wife with his flirting with me.

In which I break up with a guy mostly because he annoys me to death

I went out to dinner with some friends and a friend of theirs, whom we shall call Ahmet. Ahmet was not his name, but he was Turkish and he did have an MBA from the University of Texas and he did work with my friend, Skip, trading bonds.

The evening was delightful, all the more so because Ahmet thought everything I said was brilliant and hilarious* and if there is anything more intoxicating than a man laughing at your jokes, I don't know what it is. Maybe it's if he tells you you are beautiful, but mine is not a face that could launch a thousand ships, so I have learned to rely on charm and wit instead.

Although I wouldn't mind being told I was beautiful. Primo thinks I am lovely, but he would, because he loves me. Being told I am beautiful by someone who does not know me would be even better, although in the end, I care about what Primo thinks more than what anyone else thinks. Mostly. Not that I am seeking external validation or anything.

Back to Ahmet. The purpose of the dinner was to celebrate Ahmet's quitting his job so he could return to Turkey to visit his family and think about What He Was Going To Do Next, including the possibility of working on Wall Street, although why someone would choose to live in New York City when he could be in Austin, Texas, or Almost** Anywhere, Texas, I do not know. No offense, New Yorkers. New York is a fabulous place to visit and I had a wonderful time, but for everyday life, give me laid-back Texas with space, Mexican food, BBQ, easy living, low rents, and no state income tax.

He liked me. He asked me out. We went. We hit it off. He was very smart and very funny, the two most important qualities in a man as far as I am concerned. Primo is smart and sometimes funny and always handsome, so that's even better. He was nice enough looking, but I remember his wit the most.

Then he stopped working. He got bored. He would call me four or five times a day. I did not have TIME TO GOOF OFF at work. (This was before the internet and before I learned to combine goofing off and working.) I had WORK TO DO.

Plus I had never intended anything serious because hello, when I met him I knew he was leaving town in a month so hey, let's just have a little fun.

I might have maybe considered something more except 1) he was Muslim and those inter-faith marriages? Not so easy.

And 2) he told me he had married his (American) college girlfriend just for a green card. She was complicit. She knew what was going on. Married him without ever telling her family. They stayed married long enough for him to get residency or whatever he needed, then they divorced.

That's cheating.

I don't like cheaters.

Yes, most of us cheat to some degree. We make color copies of our Christmas letter on the printer at work and justify it to ourselves by thinking of all the weekends we have spent at trade shows, the lunch hours we have spent at our desks resolving crisis problems and the evenings we have spent in airports on business travel, but there is venial cheating and there is cardinal cheating. Immigration cheating is definitely cardinal cheating.

I finally had to tell him that no, the relationship was not going anywhere. I hate doing that. I hate having to state it explicitly, but it's far kinder in the long run to tell someone where he stands than to leave him with hope that will never be fulfilled.

OK, I wasn't completely explicit. I told him that because of our religious differences, there was no future. I could not see myself marrying a non-Christian.

He kept calling.

I wouldn't take his calls.

He wrote me a letter telling me he would convert.

I lost all respect for him. I would never convert. Never. I especially would not do it for someone I had known less than a month. Had he so little integrity? Or was I that hot?

Or was he at risk for being deported again?

I don't know. But I never answered his letter. It didn't deserve a response.

* I once changed doctors simply because my doctor never laughed at my jokes. When I explained the change to my roommate, Rebecca, Rebecca said that maybe I just wasn't funny. I refused to consider that as a possibility.

** Maybe not Bledsoe.