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Alyssa Bereznak Doesn’t Know How Dating Works

In Rants, Relationships on September 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Some time ago I was interviewing people at Seattle’s Emerald City ComiCon, and talked to a man dressed up as an Imperial officer from Star Wars. I asked him how long it took to reveal his sort of eccentric hobby to a girl he was dating. He said, very quickly “third date.” He’d very clearly thought about it quite a lot, and had a clear strategy for gradually revealing his geeky hobby to prospective romantic partners. Given that the third date seems to now be the customary time at which doin’ it commences, I thought that his strategy seemed pretty sound.

Which leads me to Jon Finkel and Alyssa Bereznak.

Earlier this week Bereznak wrote a deliberately incendiary and hugely unprofessional post on Gizmodo about the “harsh lesson” that she learned from using OKCupid. The “lesson” in question was that her date happened to be a champion Magic: the Gathering player. Bereznak’s problem seemed to boil down to “Jon Finkel is a big nerd, and he should have put that on his profile.”

This whole thing was, I suspect, deliberately designed to provoke nerd rage. The internet has been flooded with angry commentary and opinions about the incident, all of which has directed more eyeball’s to Gizmodo’s page (which I’m not going to bother to link to). This, I’m sure, was their plan all along. The question remains, though: should Finkel have talked about his affinity for Magic: the Gathering on his OKCupid profile?

No- he had no obligation to do so.

When you go out with someone for the first time, you do not necessarily project the totality of yourself. You try to come across as attractive, interesting, and fun, and are projecting a version of yourself that you imagine other people will find likable. This is not necessarily deceptive. Most people with a reasonable amount of emotional maturity know what constitutes appropriate first date conversation/behavior.

First date conversations tend to be things about jobs, friends, hobbies, favorite movies, and other such low-impact topics. You would not, for example, pour out your heart to your first date about deep emotional problems or difficult issues. That would be weird and off-putting. Another thing is that first dates are not depositions. If you don’t really know a person yet, you’re not necessarily under any obligation to tell them every little detail about yourself. You are allowed to keep some things private. This is not deception- this is something that emotionally mature adults should be cognizant of.

This is doubly true for online profiles. Your online self is not you. It is not the sum total of your hopes and dreams and fears. Instead, it’s the version of yourself that you project to the world. Like this:

(Image via the Inquisitr)

When crafting an online profile, cover letter, resume, or even dressing up for a job interview or first date, you try to make yourself look awesome. That is allowed. Part of making yourself look awesome can include not talking about weird hobbies like poodle grooming or competitive macrame. It’s not that these things are necessarily shameful, and after two or three dates it is a good idea to start talking about stuff like this. But, an individual is not defined by their hobbies or pop culture affinities.

Bereznak’s supposed “harsh lesson” is that she learned that Finkel was doing what everyone else on OKCupid is also doing- he made himself look appealing and attractive, and he did not lead with the sort of eccentric fact that he’s a champion Magic player. Instead, during the date he tried to make a first impression with other aspects of his personality.

Online dating can be kind of hit or miss (I’ve been on some bad dates myself) but this is hardly “harsh,” and Bereznak displayed a galling lack of professionalism when she called out Finkel by name. He is not a public figure, so making fun of him in a public forum is not okay.

I hope that Finkel gets lots of good dates out of this, and ends up meeting a sexy nerd lady who smooches his pants off. As for Bereznak, I hope she spends the rest of the year forlornly watching romantic comedies whilst attempting to drown her solitary sorrows in inexpensive boxed wine. Finding out that your date is a nerd or that maybe you don’t mesh with them is not a “harsh lesson” at all. It’s part of being an adult.

Preacher Man, or, What I Was Doing in San Francisco

In Relationships, San Francisco on April 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm
“Joe, will you marry us?”

I thought the question rather odd, to say the least. I mean, I’m totally okay with open relationships, polyamory, swinging, etc., but these were my friends and it would be kind of weird to… Suddenly I got it.

“You mean perform the ceremony?”


I thought for several seconds. More than five but less than ten. After that time, I said


That was last August. Two weeks ago I found myself in San Francisco, and suddenly, very suddenly, it was all much more Real. Prior to that, the idea of officiating the wedding of my friends seemed like a fun/quirky enough idea, something that I could do that would add to my overall Resume of Weird Stuff I’ve Done. The fact that can now (in a technical and legal sense) append “Rev.” to my name seemed just sort of charming and odd. That all changed two days prior to the wedding.

Oh shit, I thought to myself, there are going to be grandmas here. Grandmas. Grandmas and uncles and parents and smiling family members who want to see something sincerely beautiful. And it is, really. This was not to be something frivolous and interesting. This had to be something filled with genuine feelings beauty, love, etc.

Starting the ceremony by saying “Mawage! Mawage is what bwings us to-gether today!” would probably be unwise.

My friends, Robin and Greg, had jokingly told me that one of the reasons they’d chosen me to perform the ceremony was because I “don’t believe in marriage.” That’s not quite true, but I am generally not a solemn person, and don’t stand on ceremony very much. I’m completely atheistic, I try not to feel constrained by tradition, am ambivalent about monogamy, and am generally uncomfortable around nice old people who enjoy things like weddings.

While I don’t disbelieve in marriage, or weddings, etc., I did need to shove aside a certain amount of my personal philosophy aside to pull the whole thing off, which was an interesting mental exercise, to say the least. My biggest hang up was the wording that the bride wanted to use for the ring exchange- the words “holy” and “soul” were included, and in a phone conversation beforehand she asked me if I would be okay with intoning such things. I said yes, I would. In fact, I did so happily.

To eject a bunch of unnecessary detail, I ended up freaking out two days before the ceremony, wondering how everything would go, and then eventually everything went great. Robin and Greg got hitched without a hitch.

During the whole thing, I became very cognizant of the importance of ceremony, ritual, and public demonstrations. Not because ceremony does anything supernatural or whatnot, but because it is a public and undeniable demonstration of fact, in this case, how much my two friends loved each other. Doing the whole thing, I realized that I had no philosophical problem with it. At all. None. I was sort of astonished to find that my worldview is consistent with things like wedding ceremonies. In fact, I’m quite in favor of them. What’s more, presiding over it actually is meaningful. Being the guy up in front who presides over it isn’t all that trivial. While I don’t share their philosophy, I think I have a better understanding of how preachers and priests must feel, and I kind of get while judges still wear those robes. Outward expressions of ceremonial authority are (somehow) meaningful.

Anyway, I had a great time. I still wish that I had a teleporter that could zot me between Portland and the Bay Area. That would be awful nice. As for being a sort of new-model preacher man… I could do it again, given the right circumstances. It was a fantastic privilege, and I really did learn that ceremonies, because they are invested with emotional value, can be much more than the sum of their parts.

Addendum to That Last Post…

In Relationships on April 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Just to make it clear that I’m not spending all of my time drinking and looking at lolcats, I would like to add that breaking up tends to be a great impetus for self improvement. At least, that’s been my experience.

It is good to get jolted out of complacency, break routines and cycles, and live in such a way as to to cognizant of even trivial things. Being present and living in an examined fashion is necessary for any success or happiness to proceed. At least for me- I am not happy with stagnation. As unfun as, say, ending a relationship is, I really do believe that if nothing bad ever happened to us we would not be very effective humans. Adaptation and learning need necessity.

As such, I’ve been animated with this feeling of ambition and confidence in the last twenty four hours that seems silly on the face of it. I’ve been feeling more social, more able to work, and even better able to sit down and pay attention to things. I have had extended conversations with strangers, and felt perfectly alright about it. This is curious. One would think that being spurned by a lover would have the opposite effect.

In any case, I’m happy to respond to undesirable instances with something like a plan, or attitude of ambition. This is not to say that I’m happy about recent events- I’m not- but it is very possible to derive positive outcomes from things like this.

In other words, life is not completely in the Sad Panda realm. The Sad Panda is making himself very, very busy.

A Ritual

In Relationships, Social Conventions on April 9, 2010 at 11:28 am

There is a ritual to it.

Last night at I was over at some friends’ house, drinking a rather delicious vodka cocktail that was going to my head. We talked about, refreshingly, trivial things. Books mostly. I had some leftover pizza, and went home where I couldn’t sleep. I opened a bottle of wine and began clicking away at intellectually undemanding websites, watching humorous videos and looking at amusingly captioned pictures of cats and other animals. For some reason, I started listening to Prince, an artist whom I’ve always admired more than i enjoyed. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though.

Eventually, after consuming the entirety of a bottle of wine, after I couldn’t stay awake any longer, I went to sleep. I’d made my bed and cleaned my room because she was coming over, and seeing that tidiness just before sleep was somewhat painful. I went to sleep, woke up, and slept again. I woke up and read for some time, despite being tired.

In a certain way, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had some wonderful relationships, and none of them have ended particularly badly. I have only, once, yelled at a girlfriend. I have never had a relationship end with a fight or any any kind of acrimony. My relationships have ended as well as anyone can hope for, with a minimum of drama, and a certain degree of amicability. For that, I think I’m truly fortunate.

Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of ritual wallowing that goes on. Even as I’m sitting here, somewhat unkempt and watching episodes of Lost on Hulu, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m indulging in a pattern. Sad music, alcohol, consoling words from friends. I know it’s a ritual, a thing that plays out again and again. What I think is fascinating is that it remains meaningful.

The exasperation of the post-breakup, the behavior and the indulgences, the conversations are all iterated again and again. There is always comfort and mucking about in negativity, always a little bit of a wallow. Nevertheless, despite the predictable nature of it, it remains necessary. How fascinating, I think, that I need to do what I know is predictable. I need to seek comfort from predictable places.

Ritual is not necessarily empty, and not necessarily codified. My hood is over my head, and I’m bent over my computer, and not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. Any fiction writer could have written my actions, and anyone astute in the ways of behavior could have predicted them. Nonetheless, in my subjective perspective, this time of post-breakup wallowing, this ritual retains its importance.

A Few Love Songs For Rational Adults

In Music, Relationships on September 16, 2009 at 11:42 am

After that last post of fist-shaking ranting, I feel that it’s only fair for me to hold up some examples of good pop music and talk about stuff that I actually like. Pop music that doesn’t have sophomoric lyrics or stupidly naive views of human love and relationships. Pop music that’s actually good, that says something astute and interesting about the human condition (whatever that is) and turns us into better, smarter, sexier people by listening to it. There’s plenty of music like this out there. Music that doesn’t just smile at us through a haze of pot smoke and idealism about how nice niceness is, but instead links up its brain and heart into an emotionally mature, intelligent supersongwritingmachine and entertains us with flashes of brilliant melodic insight.

Here are a few examples of stuff about love and emotions and all that that seems like it was actually written by rational adults. If you can think of any additional examples, by all means speak up.

Pretty Much Anything by the Magnetic Fields

69 Love Songs is easily one of my favorite albums. If I were a character from High Fidelity, it would be on my top five list. On that list, it would have a number like “three” or “two” assigned to it. The album isn’t just great because it has songs about dancing bears and bunnies fucking, it’s great because so many of the songs that once can actually relate to. These are songs that drag love into a laboratory, do bajillions of test on it, and then publish their findings in Nature. Not many naive proclamations of how awesome stuff is, these are mostly studies of the particular.

Elliot Smith, Say Yes

While a lot of Elliot Smith’s career is a nasty illustration of Why Heroin is Bad, he was also a brilliant lyricist in addition to being a suicidal smack addict. He wrote lots of songs, but I’ll focus on the one that everyone seems to like, Say Yes.

The song’s all about vulnerability, expecting the worst, and feeling sort of weird when things actually work out. Smith finds himself in a position where he doesn’t feel like he has any power or agency. (“They want you or they don’t,” etc.) Feeling powerless, feeling like you have nothing to offer and plaintively asking for acceptance is an experience that I think pretty much everyone except psychopaths and egotistical douchebags have experienced. Say Yes encapsulates yearning, definitely, but also the pleased disbelief that things can actually be good. The lyrics seem to say “Holy shit! You’re still around? I haven’t fucked this up? Um… Wow!”

Early stuff by Liz Phair

Years ago, before she turned into an overly polished Avril Lavigne soundalike, Liz Phair was a respected, self-taught, indie singer/songwriter. Remember that? Anyway, I still like her. I even kinda like her in her new pop-princess guise. I have particular affection for Johnny Feelgood off of Whitechocolatespaceegg because it’s just so damn direct, and that’s not something you get out of pop music much (really- explicit lyrics usually aren’t). It’s a song about having dirty, rough sex with a guy who sounds like kind of an asshole, and the refrain is simply “And I liked it,” the implication being, that maybe she shouldn’t have.

Who hasn’t thought that at one point or another? (Well, virgins and Mormons haven’t.) But, for everyone who’s ever had a sexually rewarding encounter with a person of dubious character, this is the song for them.

Favorite lyric: “Moderation is a memory.” Phair isn’t proclaiming her love to the cosmos, or belting out how unrealistically transcendent it all is, she’s acknowledging her own irrational mental state. Refreshing little twist, there.

Most stuff by Dan Bern, especially Johnny Cash and Anais Nin

Dan Bern is another singer/songwriter from the nineties, and at this point in my little list I feel like I include someone slightly more current, but whatever. This is a post about good love songs, though, not hip, new music.

Johnny Cash and Anais Nin is a delightful little song about two very dissimilar people having a relationship. This sort of thing happens quite a bit- I once dated a girl who wasn’t a depressive cynic, for instance. In the song the two titular characters run grooves into each other, shape each others’ interests and experiences, and each adapts, changes, and learns something from the other. They get into what their partner is into, expand their field of experience, and generally become more well-rounded human beings. This is great! As much fun as temporarily getting lost in some superhigh love-nirvana might be, ultimately relationships ought to bring out the best in us, improve us as people, and help us experience more of the world at large. Jonny Cash and Anais Nin is a song about that- people who, instead of retreating into the maddeningly comfortable little bubble of their relationship, become partners in crime and subsequently devour more of the world because they met each other.

Also, the song has horse fucking. How could you go wrong?

The Beatles, Something

Since I spent my last post beating up on the Beatles I feel that it’s only fair that I say something nice about them now. I actually love the Beatles- I remember listening to my stepmother’s old Sgt. Peppers cassette back when I was in middle school, and it blew my friggin’ mind. I mean it. The ominous and discordant climax of A Day in the Life scared the shit out of me when I first heard it. Really! I wondered to myself what the hell was that about, what was that?

(Answer: Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.)

But, onto the song at hand. The Beatles wrote lots of cheesy little love songs that probably took them about ten minutes or so to pound out. (I’m not exaggerating- they allegedly wrote I Wanna Be Your Man, the Rolling Stones’ first single, over lunch while Jagger & Co. watched.) Something is not one of those songs. For one thing, it was written by George Harrison, whom I always thought was a bit more introspective than Lennon & McCartney.

The reason I like Something, is that even though it is a soaring and cuddly-sounding song, it’s ultimately about uncertain about a person and relationship, but going with it anyway. There are plenty of times when people can’t really articulate why they’re attracted to a person, and when their friend asks them “So, what’s your plan with this,” the reply is “I don’t know.”

That’s the best part of Something- the big big, spiraling bridge bit is a profession of ignorance. Harrison is saying to us “Wow, I have no idea why I like this or where this is going, but damn, it’s great and I’m going to enjoy this.” The Quiet Beatle managed to write a song that was about reverie without pretense, no small feat.

I’ve also always liked Lovely Rita for some reason. Nifty piano part there.

The Beatles Were Wrong! or I Shake My Fist At Naive Pop Music!

In Music, Rants, Relationships on September 14, 2009 at 9:42 pm

The Beatles have been in the news a bit recently, what with their new box set and special edition of Rock Band. It seems that the powers that be at EMI have decided to cash in on the Fab Four again for the first time in a decade or so. Maybe soon they’ll finally be on iTunes…

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. I want to use the Beatles’ momentary spot in the limelight to talk about one of their songs that I think is not only wrong, but damagingly awful. A song that is horrible not just because it’s incorrect, but awful because it promotes self-deception and a twisted view of human relationships. That song: All You Need Is Love.

Catchy and friendly as it is, I really hate this song. I hate its title, and I hate what it expresses. I hate how people quote it, and I utterly revile how it promotes a simplistic and childish view of human emotions and relationships. I also hate how it is sort of emblematic of the Beatles’ psychedelic phase. Strawberry Fields Forever is much better.

Love is not all you need. Love is not something that will solve all of your problems or make you into a perfectly, existentially satisfied human being. There is so much more to our mental and emotional makeup than a simple desire for love, just as there is more to our physical makeup than a simple desire for protein.

Mind you, I am not opposed to love. That would be ridiculous, sociopathic, and misanthropic. I’m none of those things. I am ardently pro-love. I’m all for losing oneself in a flurry of dopamine and romance. What I do think, though, is that love is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient for human happiness and satisfaction.

In so much of fiction and pop culture love is portrayed as the ultimate. “You complete me.” “Happily ever after.” All of that. What a horribly limited experience to pursue. That’s all you want? Someone else? That’s all it takes- the company and affection of others? What about intellectual and artistic pursuits? What about adventures and experiences? These are definitely things that are nice when shared with loved ones, but I would contend that solitary enjoyment of such things can also garner some satisfaction.

Likewise, what a horrible burden to put on your partner. If someone were to tell you, “you’re my happy ending,” “you complete me,” or “all I need is your love,” that should really freak you out. No one person is capable of being those things, of being the fount of existential satisfaction for another. People need each other, yes, but they also need other sources of meaning and affirmation.

For example: While her life is overshadowed by mental illness and suicide, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard had a fantastic marriage. They were intellectual partners and professional collaborators, and each of them wrote enthusiastically about their marriage. (And yes, I know that Virginia slept with ladies. I don’t think that’s a strike against their relationship, though. If anything I imagine that Leonard was totally into it.)

Despite their wonderful partnership, though, Woolf was the one who wrote A Room of One’s Own, which basically says that artists need a certain sense of personal autonomy in order to flourish. Love, according to Ms. Woolf, is not all you need.

So… there. Take that, Beatles! Me and Virginia Woolf say you’re wrong! Suck on it! And while you’re at it, most of the rest of pop music can suck on it, too! So much of it seems naive and non-lucid. Grand promises and proclamations that aren’t really tenable or applicable to real human experience. You have to do a fair amount of digging to find something that actually seems like it was written by an adult, something that portrays human emotions and needs in a realistic or poignant way.

Also, Imagine sucks. I still love Sgt. Peppers, though.

Sympathy For Sanford

In Politics, Relationships, Sex on July 1, 2009 at 10:16 pm

I know I’m a week late on this, but whatever.

Last week, I found Mark Sanford’s press conference oddly touching. Yes, there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in me as well, as he is, in fact, a Republican and called for Bill Clinton’s resignation during the whole Lewinsky thing. But, he was obviously flustered, obviously unscripted, and obviously falling apart emotionally in a very public setting. The cameras were on him, the ticker underneath him was summarizing his words, and he seemed to constantly have a look on his face that said “Um… What do I say next?”

The whole “politician has affair” story is rather tiring. It’s commonplace and trite, and I don’t think it’s really all that newsworthy most of the time. Seeing Sanford, though, brought a few things to mind:

1: The personality of a successful politician and the personality of a successful monogamist do not overlap.

Politicians are generally outgoing, charismatic people with powerful personalities who know how to talk to people. They are also, almost by definition, ambitious. They are generally exactly the sort of people who attract others (they have to be, really) and exactly the sort of person who seek others out. We demand monogamy of our most driven, most well-spoken, most socially skilled people. It’s almost like expecting vegetarianism from orcas. Which makes me wonder…

2: How many of them are actually swingers?

No, really. It seems like there would be way more political fallout if a politician admitted to being in an open relationship than cheating on their spouse. Cheating, after all, is an indiscretion performed by red-blooded testosterone-charged Americans. Open relationships, though, are for perverts who live in filthy hippy holes like Eugene, Oregon. Better to just cop to the cheating, rather than admit being involved with weird, pervy sexual practices. Which brings me to my third point…

3: Monogamy isn’t for everybody.

But we expect it to be. As far as I’m concerned, if everyone’s on the same page and no one is emotionally maltreated, consenting adults can do whatever they wish with their anatomy. I don’t think that what Mark Sanford did was right because he obviously lied to his wife and it sounds like he was also stringing his girlfriend along. However, I think that in a more permissive culture, he could have done right by both of them. Having multiple partners, I think, is utterly possible. However, one can’t be fair about it unless they are open and honest about it. That can’t happen when you’re strutting about as a public figure pretending to have a vanilla marriage. Also…

4: Your favorite politician is a probably a cheater, so just get used to it.

Like I said, their personalities make it more likely. Better to just expect them to be boning half their staff, while the other half watches. (And who knows, maybe their wives are in the cheering section.) Barack Obama, messiah that he seems to be, is probably sleeping with someone who is not Michelle. G. W. probably had a few girls on the side. Reagan probably forgot more sex than you’ll ever have.

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t think any less of, say, FDR for having a mistress. I don’t think any less of Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards, or Mark Sanford. If I was in their position, I would have probably succumbed as well. You probably would, too.

The idea that Sanford should resign because he cheated on his wife is utterly ridiculous. Politicians should resign because they break the law or are incompetent. Sanford was a dick to his wife, yes, and also a dick to his girlfriend, but that has nothing to do with the execution of his office. He should fill out the duration of his term according to the law, and doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s gotten in the press.