Friday, February 22, 2008

No Time for Romance?

"Whatever you do, don't let life get in the way of romance".
(Kara Oh, relationship author and dating coach:

They don't call Kara Oh the "Heart Specialist" for nothing. For years, she's been urging her readers---male and female, married and single---to put romance at the center of their relationships, and keep it there. Kara knows how easy it is for couples to let romance slip into the background as their relationship matures, but she also knows how unfulfilling a life without romance can be.

Men are usually believed to be the guilty parties when it comes to the death of romance, and, indeed, just two weeks ago I wrote a Valentine's piece on how men can, and should, introduce little expressions of love into their daily lives. But women, despite the lip service they give to romance, are sometimes just as guilty as men in neglecting it.

Just about every woman I know tries to be everything to everybody. If they're not shuttling their kids to one sports practice or another, they're acting as caregivers to their aging parents, psychologists to their needy friends, and volunteers to every organization in town. They're conscientious to a fault at work, they do chores at home that their husbands should be doing...the list goes on and on. With all this on their plate, how can women possibly make room for romance?

My answer is simple: take some things off the plate. You can start with your kids. No, I'm not advocating child neglect, but you don't necessarily have to be micromanaging every aspect of your kids' lives. Unless they're infants or toddlers, they need time away from you, unstructured time when they can just be with their friends or by themselves; when they can be, simply, kids.

Aging parents often do need help, but if the help you give them never seems to be enough, you may have inadvertently created more of a dependency than is necessary. And if their lives really are falling apart, maybe you need to bring in outside help, or insist that other family members share the burden. (It may be true that your brothers and sisters are "useless", but that's only because no one has ever demanded that they be useful).

Learn to say a polite "No" to friends, neighbors, co-workers, and everyone else who asks for your time when you don't have any to give. Be selective: put more of your energy into fewer activities. Do what you can, and then stop.

And when you stop, relax and reflect. Think about what's good in your relationship. Remember the way things used to be and figure out how to get back there. Plan a special night for just the two of you. Inject some flirtaciousness into your conversations. And always remember that a marriage is, or should be, more than a household partnership, more than just an efficient system for raising kids, paying bills, and fulfilling obligations to the rest of the world. It should be the way to connect---and keep on connecting---with your best self and with the person you chose as your lifetime lover.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another Black Eye for Online Dating

"Lacking inspiration and a moral compass, some online daters are borrowing other people's witty Web profiles".
(From a 2/15/08 Wall Street Journal article titled "The Cut-and-Paste Personality")

Online dating has always had an image problem. Years ago, before they became mainstream institutions, dating sites and personal ads were commonly believed to be the last refuge of the terminally unattractive: the losers of the dating world. Over time, as the loser image began to fade, the con artist image came to the forefront. Married men would pose as single. Green-card-seeking beauties from Eastern Europe would profess their fascination with much older American men. Gold diggers of both sexes would prey on the recently-widowed.

And even those whose intentions were pure often felt the competitive pressure to stretch the truth. A forty-five year old became a "thirty-something". The Arby's assistant manager was now a "restaurant industry executive". And everyone, it seems, was height-weight proportionate and looked ten years younger than whatever chronological age he or she chose to be.

Successful online dating has always required a certain degree of skepticism and street smarts. Savvy users of dating sites quickly learn to spot the red flags---the requests for money, the premature intimacies or inappropriate sexual references, the inability to give a simple answer to a simple question. But now, it seems, we have a new category of online deception to deal with, one that does not necessarily come with the usual red flags: the ad-copy thief.

The Wall Street Journal article I referred to documents a disturbing trend of people who read other people's profiles, and then simply pick and choose facts, figures, and phraseology from them to create their own profile. And it's not necessarily just lifting a phrase here or there or a clever headline; it can be claiming someone else's entire educational and career achievements, and even their hobbies. One guy, a pharamaceutical salesman, admitted that he was too lazy to come up with anything clever, so he simply copied word-for-word the profile of a prize-winning opera composer. Of course, the sham was eventually exposed when he went out with a woman who had answered his ad, who, naturally enough, started quizzing him about his operas.

I'm not against online dating. In fact, I met my wife through a personal ad, and I think that everyone in the dating world should at least give it a try at some point. But I do think that it is a mistake to put all of your time and effort into online searches, as opposed to face-to-face ways of meeting. Say what you will about bars and singles events, but you at least know within a very short time how old the person you're talking to appears to be, how he talks, how he dresses, whether he has any social skills, and, perhaps most importantly, whether there is any chemistry between the two of you.

And, yes, he can be lying through his teeth. But liars are more quickly exposed through the give-and-take of conversation than in the more controlled environment of online profiles and e-mail exchanges. In the online world, truth is a slippery thing. Although it's probably better (as Samuel Johnson said) to be sometimes cheated than never to trust, your trust in an online profile shouldn't be blind. Don't be shy about asking questions, and don't hesitate to bail out if you don't believe the answers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Romance is Not a Once-a-Year Thing

"Each day is Valentine's Day"
(Lorenz Hart, "My Funny Valentine")

A lot of people---especially men---think that Valentine's Day is an artificial, over-hyped event that benefits only florists, restaurants, and upscale chocolate shops, and creates nothing but anxiety and depression for everyone else. There's no question that, like everything in our consumption-driven society, Valentine's Day is relentlessly promoted for commercial gain, and that too many people put too much emphasis on what they did or didn't receive (or what their lover did or didn't give).

But I do think that the idea of having a day that honors the place of romance in our lives is fundamentally a positive one. And I know that, rightly or wrongly, Valentine's Day has great symbolic meaning for most women. So, if you're a man, recognize reality, take your lovely lady someplace nice, and enjoy the evening.

Keep in mind, though, that romance is not a once-a-year thing. I say in my book that small-but-frequent espressions of love are much more appreciated than big-but-infrequent ones, especially if a) the big ones are only given on Valentine's Day or other "obligatory" events, and b) the man's attitude and behavior the rest of the time are anything but romantic. The rich guy who gives his wife a Jaguar convertible for Valentine's Day, and then ignores or verbally abuses her afterward, will soon find that she's driving the Jag to a hotel tryst with her new lover.

Love has to be expressed often---ideally, every day. But the expression of love does not have to break the bank. Yes, women do like gifts, but they can be simple things like some nice skin lotion or bubble bath. You don't have to make a big deal about it; just say that you saw it when you were at the store and it reminded you of her.

More important than tangible gifts, though, are the gifts of time and thoughtfulness. Notice what your wife is wearing, and compliment her on it. (You don't have to know anything about women's fashions to do this; just say, "That looks great on you"). Always say something when she gets back from the hair salon; women often need reassurance that their new style or color is flattering. Do some chores around the house---the ones she usually does---without being asked.

And touch her. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but brief, gentle touches as you pass by her in the kitchen or living room---just something to remind her that you notice her, and that you care.

Being romantic does not require the looks and sophistication of a Cary Grant or a George Clooney. All that's needed is what I call the "Four A's": awareness, attention, affection, and appreciation. If a man can consistently convey these qualities to his wife or girlfriend, each day will indeed be Valentine's Day, for both of them.