Thursday, August 27, 2009

Word to the Wise

I usually am pretty satisfied with the column written by Kathy and Marcy (former editors of Ann Landers' column), but lately they've been slipping up with language, then printing the letters of readers who call them on it and defending themselves. Not sure if they're short on "real" letters or what, but these just make them look foolish.

For example, a week or so ago, a reader took them to task for mixing up "e.g." and "i.e."
The reader was correct, and polite and clear about it, and Marcie and Kathy recognized this. But they should have stopped there. Instead, they went on to say, "We often see and hear "i.e." applied to mean "for example" and had no idea it was incorrect. "

You spent decades editing a newspaper column syndicated around the world, and you had no idea it was incorrect? It's an easy mistake to use the wrong one here and there--we all do it. But it's frustrating to learn that professional writers and almost-journalists-by-proxy haven't heard of the difference between the two.

In another example, today they totally blew off a reader who wrote in to protest their use of the term "professional woman:"

Dear Annie: "Patrick in Stockton, Calif.," said men enjoy strip clubs because they aren't getting what they need from their wives at home. You said, "Insecure men often prefer professional women because they don't care what the guy is like as long as he has money."

As a practicing attorney, I consider myself a professional woman, and I most certainly DO care what a guy is like. I finally concluded you must have used the term "professional women" in reference to females who work in the sex trade. That's certainly an unconventional use of the word "professional."

My dictionary says a profession is "a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation." Strip clubs and lap dances? I don't think so. — Professional Woman

Dear Woman: Please tell us you are joking. "Professional woman" is a common term used to denote a female who is paid for sex-related work. A reference to "professional women" in a letter about strip clubs should not bring to mind an attorney, unless you have talents of which we are unaware.

Wait, a common term? Really? I've never heard the phrase used in that way, so I did a quick Google search. I was sure that if "professional woman" was code for "sex worker," the Internet would be kind enough to show me--probably graphically.

Top 10 results of my search?

1) Professional Woman Magazine Summer 2009. Featuring: Kimora Lee Simmons The Sassy and Savvy Business Woman

2) The Professional Woman Network is an international training organization designed to assist individuals in starting a consulting and seminar business

3) A collection of the best women's career networking and professional associations -- a guide for job-seekers.

4) The Professional Woman Speakers Bureau is a private, international network of independent consultants and trainers who are available to present workshops,

5) Professional Women's Network, Inc. is a professional organization of dynamic business and professional women in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area.

Ok, I think 5 is enough to make my point.

The most "colorful" things I saw were links to an association for professional women wrestlers, and one to a professional womens' rodeo association.

I scrolled through the first 5 pages of results, and nary a mention of sex workers. I think Marcy and Kathy are way off here, and it bothers me that they didn't even bother to LOOK before responding--and bashing their reader. "It's common" and "we hear it all the time" aren't explanations that inspire much confidence. Come on, ladies, get it together!

As a side note, the term professional woman is kind of an awkward one, suggesting that you've been trained as, and are being paid to act as, a woman (Hm, what would that look like?) as opposed to a professional lawyer, professional doctor, professional dancer, etc. It seems to me that "female professional" or "woman professional" would be the correct way to indicate that you're a professional [something], and also a woman.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Such Devoted Sisters...?

(I know I've used this title before, but I can't help it if it's such an easy line to grab for sisterly posts!)

This letter could have been written by my grandma before I left for undergrad:

Dear Amy: My granddaughter graduated this year from high school.

She will be attending college in the fall.

I had hoped that she would join a sorority. It doesn't matter to me if she joins the one I joined years ago.

She indicated that the system has a bad name and does not want to even give it a try. I think she may be wrong, but in your opinion, what is the general reputation of the system today?

My friends from college are still close friends, so I have a hard time thinking that things have changed that drastically. — MollieBee

Dear MollieBee: I don't think sororities have a bad name, though the Greek system has been through its ups and downs, and the reputation of the sorority or fraternity depends on the particular organization and the school.

Some sororities and fraternities are intended to be service organizations, though in general they seem to function mainly as clubs uniting students with common interests.

I know several people in sororities and fraternities, and they all say they are enjoying their friendships and value the affiliation.

Your granddaughter could find a sorority drawing young women through a particular academic interest, music or sports.

You have tried to influence her, and she is showing you that she is ready for college by declaring she will make her own decisions. That's the whole idea.

I didn't necessarily have strong negative feelings about the Greek system before I went away to school (but really....calling yourself "MollieBee" doesn't do much to undercut the stereotypes this granddaughter is probably familiar with), I just didn't have much interest in it. My mom was not in a sorority, because at her university they just weren't a big deal, and none of her friends were rushing. My dad was in a frat in college, but hasn't remained friends with a single person from it (or anyone from college, really).

My grandma, on the other hand, was--no, IS--a devoted Alpha Gamma Delta. She went to University of Illinois, but when she came to visit me on the Illinois Wesleyan Campus and saw a random girl in an AGD sweatshirt on the steps of the library, she unexpectedly grabbed her by the hand and re-hashed history for awhile. (Me: Grandma, look at the beautiful library! Grandma: Alpha Gam, Alpha Gam!)

I think what may have changed from the time my grandma, and this grandma, were in school is not so much how sororities work, but what options are available to women on college campuses.

When I worked in my university archives one summer, I was surprised to learn that the sorority houses at my school all grew out of the boarding houses that female students lived in in the 19th century. To re-state: they took the buildings where all the female students lived, and transformed them into sororities. (This, for curious IWU folk, is why the frat houses belong to the university and the sorority houses don't).

At that time, female students were in the minority, and living and socializing together came first, and out of this, they established and declared their sisterhood.

By the 1940s things had changed somewhat--there were dorms and other places to live, and more women in general. But my understanding is that sororities were still the main way for women on campus to band together and form a bond. At IWU, it wasn't until the 1960s that they got rid of having a curfew for female students and not (or a different one) for men. (I KNOW!! It's insane). If I had to be in by a certain time, I would want to live in a big old house with all my best friends, so that "in" didn't mean the fun had to stop.

Now, most undergraduate universities are made up of more than half women. Apartments and houses are widely available (and, in contrast to the frighteningly recent past, can be rented to single women). Universities offer school-owned apartments and dorms have triples, quads, and suites. And casual friendships and rooming with people of the opposite gender are more widely accepted. Today, sororities are just one of many ways for women to find a place to call home on a college campus.

I used to feel really frustrated and hurt that my grandma didn't seem to recognize my college days as valid or complete because I wasn't in a sorority--it took me awhile to realize that I had to listen to her intent, rather than her words. It turned out that she didn't necessarily care, specifically, that I join the Greek system and follow her footsteps. What she wanted for me was to feel safe, secure and happy at school, forming close, lifelong bonds with women that I'd live with, study with, and socialize with. For her, that meant being in a sorority. I did all these things, but in my own way. After my first year, her pressure about the Greek system dissipated because it was obvious that I was happily busy with many other things.

I think Amy's advice here is good--let the granddaughter make her own choices, and lay off the pressure. With any luck, the granddaughter will have a great time forging her own path at college--and her gram will be happy to watch her grow into herself in her own way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ruined in Riverdale

Two of my favorite "A" words: Archie and Advice.

And Amy! Make that three.

Thanks to KG and MM for sharing this with me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's not easy being green

Today, Amy confronts a common fear, one that many of us probably remember well (I know I do): the first day of middle school.

The impending doom of middle school was an ominous cloud over my summer of 1996. I'm almost positive I had similar nerves about kindergarten, but I don't remember them--it's the middle school transition that stands out to me. This letter reminds me of that feeling (well, and every other scary "first day" feeling since: high school, college, grad school, new jobs, even showing up to conferences, meetings, and social groups for the first time). I think Amy addresses it really well:

Dear Amy: I'm 11 and about to enter middle school. There's a problem: I'm scared to death of middle school. I've talked to my family and my friends, but nothing they've said helps at all. I'm not afraid of bullying, but it's everything else.

I'm worried about getting up early, doing all the homework and having alternating schedules. It's all so scary. Even actual middle school students, who tell me how much fun it is, don't help. Time is running out. Please help me, Amy. No one else can. — Eleven and Scared

[OK, ok, first things first: all together now, "Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." You know you were thinking it too. And now that that's out of the way....]

Dear Scared: I've started and restarted so many new things that I know this butterfly-in- the-gut feeling very well.

Starting at a new school (or new job) is almost always scary, but here's what I do: I tell myself, "All I have to do is show up." Then I tell myself, "I just have to make it until lunch." Then I think, "The end of the first day isn't too far off. I know I can make it." What I'm saying is that this will be easier if you take it in stages. Once you figure out where your locker and the bathrooms are, you'll be well on your way.

Middle school teachers know how kids feel during that first week of school. That's why they make sure that every student knows where to go and what to do.

Find a buddy that first day. Going through the process with another student who also has questions and might also be a little nervous will help both of you.

A book you will find helpful is, "Too Old for This, Too Young for That!: Your Survival Guide for the Middle-School Years," by Harriet S. Mosatche and Karen Unger (2005, Free Spirit Publishing).

My cousin is starting middle school in a week, and is getting nervous. I wish I had some good advice for her. I know she'll do great, but I don't know how much it helps to keep saying that--as this student suggests, nothing much parents, relatives, and older friends say helps, perhaps especially if you're the oldest in your family. You're sure they don't really understand or remember, and their constant reassurances can feel like they don't take your fears very seriously. (FWIW, though, they probably both Amy and I mentioned, this feeling comes back before nearly every major transition, so it's never really very far away. Feel better? ;) )

Even "helpful insights" from those just a year or two ahead of you can make things worse. When I was about to enter middle school, all the volunteer helper middle schoolers told us things like, "don't worry, your locker hardly ever gets jammed like everyone says it will." My reaction was along the lines of, "WHAT? THE LOCKERS JAM?" Your own fears are bad enough without having to pick up new ones from the folks who are trying to help!

The scary truth is that, as you've noticed all along, no one else's kind thoughts, warm words, or described experiences can ease your fretting. You just have to see and do it for yourself. This nauseating fear is really a fear of the unfamiliar, a new routine in a new place, and the only way to face it is to get familiar.

Recognize that the first day might be hard, but no day afterward will be that stressful. Ditto the first week, and the first semester. Know that it's OK for there to be a learning curve, and that almost everyone feels just the way you go, and go along for the ride.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Soda, Soda, All Around....

Miss Manners faces a crusader of carbonation:

Dear Miss Manners: I have been to occasions that do not have my favorite nonalcoholic drink ... DIET DECAF COLA!!!!!!

I suggest you tell the host to let everyone know with/in the invitations what nonalcoholic drinks will be available. The host should suggest if anyone has a particular type nonalcoholic beverage not offered to please feel free to bring their own!!!!!!!!!!!! After finding out the HARD WAY, I started taking my own nonalcoholic drinks years ago ......... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[take a moment for a snarfle....]

Gentle Reader: How did you get so hepped up without alcohol or caffeine?

Miss Manners is worried about you. Please take a deep breath and sit down while she explains the concept of hospitality.

There is a difference between a restaurant, which sells you food that you specifically order, and a private party, where the host offers you refreshments that he provides.

The restaurant knows exactly what you want because you do the ordering. Hosts, in contrast, are friends who wish to see you for the sake of your company. They should also want to please you by offering refreshment but must guess what would be pleasing to various guests.

Providing nonalcoholic drinks is thus standard. Providing each guest with the exact brand and mixture he or she prefers is difficult and burdensome, part of the finicky-guest syndrome that has discouraged reasonable people from entertaining.

Neither restaurants nor people’s homes should be treated like picnic grounds where you bring your own goodies. If you don’t like what is available at a restaurant, you need not do business there. If you are not willing, for the sake of politeness and sociability, to content yourself with water but must always have your favorite drink, you need not attend parties where it is not served.

Sometimes I roll my eyes just leeetle at Miss Manners because she's so very insistent on traditional modes of entertaining. In particular, she advocates 100%-potluck-free parties and dinners, where the host or hostess makes all the arrangements the way she wants and the guests simply come and enjoy. In this situation, the rule of social reciprocation is paramount: the host bears the entire burden and joy of the party this time, so it is up to her guests to take a turn next time.

It's like taking turns picking up the check, instead of splitting the check. Taking turns is neater, and seems more gracious somehow--and ends the evening without all that frustrating math. But it only works if the parties involved are vigilant about reciprocation.

Miss Manners tends to frown upon the potluck, where everyone contributes equally to the spread, except in the case of church basement suppers. At the very least, she insists, the person who plans and arranges the location for the potluck cannot properly be called a "host."

The model of entertainment that I'm most familiar with is somewhere between these two, the "what can I bring?" model. I grew up in a world where you don't go to a party without an appetizer, salad, or dessert--but that the host plans and provides the main course, side dishes, drinks, decorations, etc. I don't think there's anything wrong with this--in fact, I think most of the people I know are comfortable and happy with this model--but I think it does change the clear rules of hosting, reciprocation, hospitality, and good-guest-ness.

For example, Miss Manners is terribly, horribly opposed to the idea of a cash bar at a wedding or similar grand occasion (or any occasion, for that matter). She abhors the idea of the host asking the guest to pay for his own drink.

Hosts should serve what they can afford to serve--be it a full bar, beer and wine, or a big old bowl of punch--and guests should drink it graciously.

However, I think this increasing sense of guest-ownership in the party that gives rise to things like the cash bar. In a world where the host is truly the one and only host, there'd be no question of who pays for the drinks. But we've entered a phase where guests are actually willing--even prefer--to pay if it means they have a stake and a say in what they get back. Hosts know they can't afford it, but they also suspect that guests would rather have the choice to buy it for themselves, than to go entirely without.

This diet-caffeine-free-cola fanatic is just an example of the kind of guest that, as Miss Manners suggests, discourages reasonable people from entertaining. If someone complained that their host provided, I don't know, Smirnoff instead of Grey Goose, it would seem obvious that they were snooty and ungracious. But even though the financial impact of requesting d-c-f cola is obviously not quite the same, the request says the same thing: "what you've chosen to provide is not good enough for ME."

I'm not a stickler for formal etiquette by any means, but it does serve up social interaction down as lovely, bite-sized, hors d'oeuvres, while "our" way seems more like sharing a giant order of supreme nachos with friends--it's tasty and awesome, but can get messy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Wipe Up Your Damn Mess

SK, who has become quite a fan of Dear Prudence, asked me what I thought of her advice to a neatnik fed up with her boyfriend's sloppiness. He thought Prudence was less than helpful, but I'm not sure I agree:

Dear Prudence:
A couple of months ago, my boyfriend had part of his ceiling collapse. I told him he was welcome to stay with me until it was repaired. It's fixed now, but he's still at my place. I travel frequently for work and have been coming home to some unpleasant surprises. He's trying to be helpful but says he's "just a guy." So when he does the laundry, my dark clothes end up covered in light-colored towel fluff. There are other disgusting and unsanitary issues like the trail of urine running down my toilet and the kitchen counter spotted with grease or food. I'm not a neat freak, but I do think that he should respect my living space. I even hired a cleaning lady—but neither she nor I can clean up after him every day. After an exhausting trip, I came home to a new mystery odor and again set upon scrubbing his urine off of my bathroom floor. I don't want to marry or have kids, and I'm tired of acting like his mommy, but I do want to keep him as my boyfriend. How do I get him out of my house without getting him out of my life?
—Grossed Out
Dear Grossed,
He may be a true slob, or he may be "just a guy" (if you had a Venn diagram of these two states, the overlap would be significant), but face it—you're a neat freak. You are entitled to be one, but it's a good thing that until now you have lived alone. Either your boyfriend adores you or his apartment is a dump, because having someone monitor every crumb you leave and drop of urine you discharge has got to be a real drag. (As comedian Rita Rudner once observed about men's relationship to toilets, "They aren't too specific.") The best way to get him out of your apartment is to tell the truth: Living together full-time is driving both of you crazy and will destroy your relationship. Explain that his moving in has made you realize that having another person around to mess up your pristine space is not for you, and surely he can't be happy having you chase after him with a wet rag. There are no guarantees he will continue to be your boyfriend, but if he's stuck around this long, he seems unlikely to end it just because you want him to go back to dribbling on his own bathroom tiles.
SK felt Prudie was unreasonably harsh on this woman--that food remains and urine stains are indeed worth getting up in arms over, and not the province of obsessive-compulsive folk only. And while she honed in to criticize this particular woman, she was even harder on men in general, assuming they're generally all slobs beyond redemption. My first instinct is that this is not Prudie's best work.
But there's more under the surface here: while the writer basically wants to be patted on the back and told that she's right and her boyfriend is a pig, Prudie won't give her that out. So many letters that show up in these columns are just about labels and validation--who's right, who's wrong, who's normal, who's unreasonable--when in fact picking sides, most of the time, does nothing to address the problem.
What Prudence's answer forces us to recognize is that it doesn't matter which one of them is normal and which one is nuts--all that matters is that they have different expectations, natures, and comfort levels and living together is driving them BOTH mad
If they were married or otherwise deliberately cohabiting, Prudie might have made some suggestions about how to communicate openly about this and find a reasonable medium. But in this case the woman has no desire to be married, and she doesn't even want to be living with this guy--he's just staying without any discussion or decision between them. So the thing to do at this juncture is not to get him to respect her space, but to go back to his own.
Prudie's response had a bit more sneer to it than I expected (who knew she had such a grudge against neatniks?) but in the end, she gives the woman the answer she needs and the words to use, so in my book she's done her duty.

O traytours homycide, o wikkednesse!

Props to Prudence for a Chaucer reference:

Dear Prudence,
My wife and I have been married for four years, and we have a 2-year-old son. She's going to school full time, our son's in day care, and I work in a rapidly declining industry for mediocre pay. Times are hard financially. My wife was born in another country and abandoned by both of her parents as a child. She met her father only once, when he arrived unexpectedly at our wedding. Over the past year, she has begun talking to him on the phone and trying to build a relationship. He has recently offered her a substantial amount of money as a gift, an amount that's close to my annual salary. We are living in the United States, and he is in my wife's homeland, an impoverished nation that has suffered through several brutal wars over the past 40 years. The issue is complicated by the fact that my father-in-law fought for the faction that killed millions of civilians. He apparently rose through the ranks and is now relatively wealthy and owns a vast swath of land. Can accepting this money be rationalized in any way?
—Empty Wallet

Dear Empty,There's a reason the phrase "blood money" chills the blood. You know your father-in-law is able to give you such a generous gift because he's become a wealthy man through murder and confiscation. You and your wife may be lovely and will use the money only for the most benign purposes, but Lady Macbeth can tell you evil stains don't wash out so easily. I talked to Charles Tucker, executive director of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University, and he mentioned a couple of possible legal complications to taking the money. First, look up the Alien Tort Claims Act. This allows people who are the victims of human rights abuses to bring suit in the United States, even if the crimes were committed elsewhere. It is a legal growth industry, and if your father-in-law is caught up in such a prosecution, his victims could lay claim to his money—which could lead back to you. Also, if your father-in-law's country is listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, you could be subject to restrictions on accepting money from that country.
But let's face the ugly fact that a good way to get away with murder is to commit it on a mass scale and assume your father-in-law remains rich and free. That still doesn't remove the moral taint that you already acknowledge. Additionally, perhaps this generosity comes with some future strings. Maybe he contemplates a time when it would be useful to leave his country, so he'd like some relatives in America who feel an obligation to help him. Or maybe he wants to draw you in with a gift, then propose you start doing some financial laundry for him. Finally, Chaucer's story "
The Pardoner's Tale" is an instructive take on ill-gotten cash.—Prudie

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Guess what! I got an email from Cheryl Lavin today. And here's what she had to say:

hey! why don't you link to my columns: and my brand new blog: ???????????

I assume she means, from this blog, though I'm pleasantly stunned that she knows about it, since I didn't send her the link when I emailed her a (much condensed version of my)
response to the weekend-first-date-disaster a couple of days ago. How did she find us?? No matter! Well, Cheryl, ask and ye shall receive! (See links at right)

In fact, I used to have a link to her Chicago Trib column, but dropped it when I couldn't access the columns for free anymore.

In a separate message, she added that she plans to use my response (or some fraction of it) in an upcoming column! So keep your well peeled eyeballs on
Tales from the Front for an alias like "Beth," and a handful of contempt for "Christopher" and "Patricia," and you'll know it's me!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Long Distance First Date Disaster: The Alternate Analysis

This follow up to the first-date-disaster weekend was supposedly written by "Christopher," a friend of "Patricia." Christopher describes everything he thinks "Russ" did wrong on his doomed first date--an entire weekend with Patricia. Had Russ done the things Christopher suggests, he indeed may have come off as super smooth--he probably also would have seemed artificial. But Christopher, like Patricia, doesn't really take into account that fact that just to be there for this joyous occasion, Russ has driven 5 hours (one way) and paid for 2 nights in a hotel. Let's check out his analysis, shall we?

To recap: In the last column, we met Patricia, who had just spent a looooooong Saturday with Russ, a set-up.

She told her tale of woe to her friend Christopher. In the interest of male solidarity, Christopher offers these words of advice to Russ and all the other Russes out there ...

"Your first mistake was not meeting Patricia for drinks when she invited you. There's a 50-50 chance you would have caught her feeling good and relaxed. Whenever there's alcohol, a woman and a Friday night involved, go, no matter how tired you are. [1. If you'll recall, Russ had just arrived at his hotel after a 5 hour drive. Assuming he had worked that day, it was 11 or 12 at night. And he was supposed to go out and charm a group of strangers? 2. Re: Friday, alcohol, and women: EW. Yes, Christopher, you're a real charmer]

"You don't have to dress like you're going to be on the cover of GQ, but you have to have some style. Lose the mom jeans, and lose the Old Spice. Men should never wear Old Spice unless they're over 75. [I've honestly never heard the term "mom jeans" applied to menswear, and don't even know what this looks like. And also: not fair to judge someone's appearance when you swoop down on their hotel room in the middle of the night!]

"You should've ordered a round of drinks for the table when you got there. You would've looked like someone with style and someone who has the potential to take care of a woman. At the end of the night, you should have walked Patricia to her car, given her a simple kiss on the cheek and told her you looked forward to seeing her the next day." [Indeed, this would have been classy and impressed everyone. But I'm hard pressed to believe it's OK to expect someone to drop 2 tanks of gas and two nights in a hotel on your first date, and THEN buy a round of cocktails for all your friends.]

(Says Patricia: "Wow! If he would've done that, I'd have approached Saturday with a completely different perspective.") [I bet.]

"After the Saturday morning pancakes, you should've thanked her for preparing a wonderful breakfast and said you hoped to cook breakfast for her someday. It's important to say thank you no matter how small the deed. If a woman thinks you're taking her for granted on a first date, just imagine how she thinks you'll treat her after a month. [Yes, you should always thank someone when they feed you. It's true that Russ sounds a bit awkward--this is perhaps why he is looking for a date 5 hours away from his home....?]

"You should've realized Chicago was her city and taken her suggestions.

When you're on a woman's home turf, listen — otherwise, you'll look like an idiot. If you would've taken the taxi, you would've gotten to the boat in time to talk and relax. [This I agree with--again, I'm inclined to be a bit sympathetic to Russ since he's already gone so far out of his way, but better to trust the judgment of the native].

"Even if you're not thirsty, ask your date if she needs anything. After all, she just worked up a sweat giving in to your demand. Once again, you show you care and can take care of the little things.

"You should never have let Patricia pay for the drinks. And if she ordered a beer, you should've ordered a beer. If a woman can't drink with you, she's not going to sleep with you. [Again: EW. I do not understand why both Patricia and Christopher are so appalled that Russ chose to order lemonade on a Saturday afternoon at Navy Pier. Maybe he wanted to save money (though Patricia was paying and it's not like Navy Pier Lemonade is exactly cheap--probably still $5), but maybe he just doesn't drink, or didn't FEEL like drinking if he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Jeez.]

"Pizza on Saturday night is OK if you're on a fourth or fifth date. And always offer the lady the leftovers, especially if it's pizza and she has two sons. Burping and farting should not occur for at least six months. If it accidentally does, Excuse me is appropriate. [Once again--totally not taking the situation into account. On a typical first dinner date, yes, a "nice" restaurant might have been ideal. But considering the drive, the hotel, the boat tour, Navy Pier...come on. Give the guy a break! Plus pizza is such a Chicago "thing," I think it's always appropriate to present it as a great first-dinner-in-town for visitors. The burping? Yes, manners are appropriate. Again, Russ doesn't exactly sound like George Clooney]

"You should've suggested returning to the suburbs so you'd both have time to shower before you got together later for a nice dinner. It would have given you both a chance to get ready for what might have hopefully been a long evening. [Indeed a break would have been nice, but I wonder what Patricia would have said if Russ had said he wanted to "freshen up" and meet back in a few hours. She seems to have been at the point of criticizing everything he did]

"While you were at your hotel, you should've asked the front desk to make a reservation at a nice restaurant. You would've earned some major style points. At dinner, you could've had some wine, and talked about the day and the boat tour. After dinner, you could've asked Patricia if she wanted to go for a drink. Who knows? Maybe she would have invited you to have a nightcap back at her place." [Or, you know, Patricia could have made a recommendation, even gladly picked up the tab. Yes, it's nice when a guy can be chivalrous, smooth, and show a lady around. But once again--he's already made a huge gesture by getting himself there, and he's also not on his own turf. Patricia could have stepped up a little, bringing more to the table than pancakes and lemonade].

What do you think? Who's right? Russ or Christopher? [I think Christopher and Patricia should get together, because clearly they want the same things.]

And most importantly, I think people should seek out first dates in their own areas. What would they have done if they date had gone well? Launched into a "long distance relationship" after having met only one time? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the LDR in the right circumstances. They CAN work, and they CAN be important and valuable periods of growth in a relationship. But only if there's actually a relationship there. I think this debacle just demonstrates that it's really foolish to be set up on a blind date with someone who lives so far away. Patricia and Russ gave up a weekend, and a fair amount of time and money (not to mention the 2 months they spent talking on the phone), only to learn that they're just not a great match--something that could have been discovered with much less investment, and thus much less bitterness over a coffee or two if they'd been out with people in their own neighborhoods.

And I'm going to write to Cheryl and say so.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Long Distance First Date Disaster

This woman moans to Cheryl about her terrible, three-day-long first date....and it does sound pretty uncomfortable. But I don't think she was particularly fair to the guy, either. This date was doomed from the let's wallow in the awkwardness with them.

Today, we hear from Patricia. She's been dating, post-divorce, for eight years. It can be, as so many of us know, "brutal," so she took an 18-month hiatus. When a friend offered to set her up, she decided to get right back on the horse, so to speak.

She and Russ talked on the phone for two months and exchanged photos. Then they arranged to meet in person. Unfortunately, Russ lives a five-hour drive away. [This seems to be an unfortunate side effect of our hyper-networked-society. Why would you try to casually date someone who lives that far away? As we'll see, it doesn't make for anything resembling a reasonable beginning] That ruled out any casual if-we-don't-like-each-other-we-can bail-after-15-minutes coffee date. A dinner date was also pretty much out of the question. What would happen to Russ at the end of dinner? Would he have to get in his car and drive five hours?

"You cannot just end the day when someone has made that much effort," says Patricia. A weekend was called for. A weekend was arranged. [ What was called for was to choose a location in the middle, both drive 2 1/2 hours, and spend an afternoon together. That's still a heckuva lot of driving, which is why perhaps what's really called for is to seek dates within your own time zone. But at least it's a little more fair, and doesn't require the commitment of a weekend.]

Russ arrived on Friday night, checked into the hotel and called Patricia. She was out with friends having drinks and invited him to join them. [Under normal circumstances, meeting a guy with friends seems like a reasonable, low key beginning. But it's totally out of line to expect someone who just drove 5 hours to clean up and show up for late night drinks, where he has to impress not one, but a whole gaggle of cocktail-laden women] He said he was "a little tired" from the drive. She offered to come by the hotel and say hello. When she arrived, he appeared freshly showered "with some weird wet hair action going on." The strong smell of Old Spice wafted off him.

"I was not too impressed." [Yeah, I hate when men wash their hair and use deodorant]

On Saturday morning, Patricia invited Russ to her house for breakfast. He arrived wearing mom jeans. (See President Obama throwing out ball at All-Star game.) She cooked him pancakes.

"It was a nice, simple breakfast, but he did not say thank you." [Has she yet thanked him for the $100+ he's dropped before they even started their date, just trying to get here and spending a night in a hotel?]

The next order of the day was a trip to downtown Chicago and a boat cruise on the river. They took the train into town.

Patricia suggested they take a cab to the boat so they'd be sure to get a good seat. Russ insisted they walk. Walk they did. Actually, they half-walked, half-ran. [I personally like walking around the city and don't like taking cabs...though I also hate running to get somewhere on time. Obviously, he wanted to cut costs--again, not unreasonable, since he's the one dropping several hundred bucks just to put himself geographically close enough to go on a date with this woman]

"At one point, we were running, and Russ was laughing. I asked, 'Why are you laughing?' He said, 'I'm laughing with you.' I said, 'I'm not laughing.'" [you've GOT to have a sense of humor and a sense of adventure....this woman seems to be lacking both, along with common sense]

They got to the dock three minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave. All the seats were taken, so they had to stand for the 90-minute tour.

"If we had taken a cab, we would have had a seat on the top deck. He never even asked me if I wanted a drink." [Again, it just sounds like they have totally different expectations. I wouldn't want buy an overpriced drink on a boat tour if I knew the rest of a date lay ahead. I suppose it would have been generous of him to offer, though again...if she wants a drink, why doesn't she just go get one herself? (And bring one for him?)]

After the tour, they headed over to Navy Pier. Patricia said she was thirsty and walked over to the drink stand. She pulled out her wallet. Russ made a show of offering to pay but let Patricia do it. She ordered a beer, and he had lemonade. [Is she trying to spin this as more evidence of undateability or cheapness on his part? What's wrong with lemonade?]

They headed back to the suburbs for pizza and a movie. It came down to one piece of pizza. Russ wrapped it up and said he'd eat it for breakfast. [Again, clearly poor Russ is hurting here. It would have been generous of Patricia to offer him the pizza to begin with, since she presumably has a stocked kitchen at home and he's going back to his second night at the hotel]. Then they went to see "The Hangover."

"For some reason, he found it appropriate to burp with the ease that one should only feel after dating for years." [Well, I mean, when you pick "The Hangover..." Also, she hasn't complained that she had to pay for any of these things, which suggests that he paid for the movie and pizza. Not an extravagant event, to be sure, but a perfectly reasonable first date--especially on top of the trip downtown, boat tour, and Navy Pier extravaganza]

After the movie, they arrived back at Patricia's home. "He had that are-you-going-to-invite-me-in look. I told him I was tired and that I'd talk to him the next day."

Russ spent Sunday doing who-knows-what and finally called Patricia Sunday night. She didn't answer the phone. [OK, you don't get to gripe about someone not calling if you don't answer when they DO call. What is she thinking, "you should have called me earlier so I could snub you sooner?" He probably HIT THE ROAD and was home by Sunday night, unless he was supposed to take Monday off work for this]

"Can you blame me?" [Well...]

In the next column, Patricia's friend Christopher tells Russ what he did wrong. [Can't wait! Look for an update!]