Dating in the 21st century

Ambiguously yours.

Dear Eva cartoon (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dear Eva cartoon
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I positively yearn to go back to the 1950s and ’60s.
Things just seemed so much simpler then. Society – both religious and non – brought up men to believe that their natural course of action, upon reaching their early 20s, was to meet a nice, cute girl with whom they shared common goals, and after a reasonable interval, to marry her.
Moreover, having married, while the man and woman were allowed to acknowledge that members of the opposite sex were attractive – they weren’t dead, after all, and could look but not touch – their focus stayed inward, on home, the children that came after a few years, and work.
There were a few exceptions, but that’s generally how it went. Take my mom and dad, products of 1950s Da Bronx and Brooklyn: At the age of 21 and 23, respectively, they got married after meeting in Israel, both there for a college summer abroad. And over 40 years later, they’re still married.
Sure, over the years, my dad has admitted he found both Farrah Fawcett and Vanna White in their prime to be very good-looking; my mom laughed and agreed they were foxy. And my mom had a particular affectation for Mr. Big a.k.a. Chris Noth (even urging me to marry someone who looks like him).
But mostly, they were with each other, without wandering eyes.
Now, take today. With the advent of texting, Facebook (see previous column) and just the general atmosphere of things moving quickly and everything being highly sexualized, permissible and disposable, situations are suddenly more ambiguous. Thirty is the new 20, while 40 is the new 30; basically, people aren’t settling down until much later, if at all.
And when they do commit themselves, even to some extent, they allow or better yet, maneuver themselves into ambiguous situations.
Take my experience with a coworker at a recent former place of employ, who we’ll call Brock (a common name, non?). Working on different floors, I would see him around, and we began saying hello.
One day, he came into my area, and seeing I was sniffling (it couldn’t be avoided, I sounded like an elephant), gave me some cough syrup, which I found thoughtful. I started getting the feeling he had a little thing for me, as he was always super friendly, which of course made work slightly more interesting. But we kept things on the professional level and never really socialized out of work.
(Truthfully, I usually try to avoid dating coworkers, having internalized the American philosophy of avoiding “dipping your pen in the office ink,” but here in Israel it’s much more accepted.) Then, Brock approached me in the coffee area, and asked if I was seeing anyone, saying he had a friend for me. I asked for more info, and he provided details of his friend’s age, occupation, religious level and where he lives, and it all sounded like a possibility.
He next friended me on Facebook, which I thought would give him the opportunity to introduce me to the friend. In the process, I checked his page and noted he had changed his status to “In a relationship,” only a few days before our interaction at the coffee nook.
I also noted that Brock’s personal details sounded remarkably similar to that of the potential set-up he had described.
I didn’t think much of it, but then he began instant messaging me with random conversation that didn’t really have to do with the set-up, and I wouldn’t love if I was his girlfriend: How’s life? What are you up to? When are you coming into work? Then…. Can I ask you something? Sure, I said.
Can I buy you a drink sometime? Um, okay, I replied.
Truth is, I was confused. Why did Brock want to buy me a drink – to discuss the set-up guy I was starting to suspect was a phantom, or maybe – him? I approached a good friend at work who knows him: Is he in a relationship? Yes, the friend said, not only is Brock beholden – he’s engaged! Something was obviously rotten in the state of Denmark (to quote the great Wills Shakespeare). But things were delicate, with us being coworkers, and I decided to just let things be and forget the set-up, and try to avoid the IMs and the drink.
But a few days later, Brock kind of cornered me in the hallway to first compliment my (very ’80s) shade of lipstick, then told me I just had to come to a play in which he would be appearing in a few weeks. I murmured a few vaguely nice sentiments, then hightailed it out of there.
And there you have it: Ambiguity. Is he in a relationship or, better yet, engaged? It’s probably partly my fault for not confronting him straight out, but sometimes one just doesn’t want to be bothered.
I told the story to a friend, and she asked: If Brock wasn’t with someone, would you be interested? I thought about it. The answer is maybe, but having seen the shady way he operates, the final answer is no. If he does this to one girl, what’s to stop him from doing it to me – and always looking for the better offer, despite having committed himself? THIS HAS also been said numerous times before, but I’ve found that the new realities in society, in which women have taken on a lot of traditionally male roles, have left men floundering and somewhat emasculated.
And they’ve left women like me, who were brought up to prefer traditional, old-fashioned values, pining (to use an old-fashioned word!) for a real man.
Take my recent experience with a guy we’ll call Tonto (amazingly, not his real name). He is the roommate of a guy friend, Brian, whom I had met at said guy friend’s birthday party; we happened to sit next to each other and chatted throughout the evening. Then, in requisite fashion, he friended me on Facebook and we developed a little rapport, IMing every so often.
I suspected Tonto was interested: He once invited me to come out with a small group for drinks, and another time, even called to help interpret a dream I had posted a status about on Facebook (dream interpretation being an original angle I appreciated).
Still, he never formally asked me out, and I was content to let the ambiguous “friends” situation continue. I was not uninterested, but thought he might be too young and inexperienced for me, and therefore was not super interested. I figured it would all eventually become clear.
And it did, but not in the way I had thought: Last week, I got a call from Brian. He wanted to set me up with someone.
This again? (Ha.) Still, it was nice of him to think of me, so I asked who he had in mind.
Weeeelll, he said, actually it was Tonto.
Did Tonto know about this? I asked.
Why yes, he did, said Brian, and in fact had put him up to it.
That’s nice, I replied, but we know each other for quite a few months now. Why didn’t he ask me himself? I guess he was afraid you would say no, said Brian.
The thing is, I get that. I can be tough and appear intimidating, and nobody enjoys rejection. But still, the real kemo sabe I am looking for would have taken the risk, and had the guts to ask me himself. I came for drinks when he asked, didn’t I? I discussed my dream with him in great detail, nachon? In my mind, that was enough positive reinforcement for Tonto to have gone out on a limb.
Being that I was on the fence about Tonto to begin with, the fact that he had not asked me out himself was enough to push me toward “no” territory, an answer I promptly delivered.
I need someone with enough confidence to take the direct route, not the roundabout sixth-grade way.
I KNOW I’m looking at the past through somewhat rose-colored glasses, but I truly believe that in my parents’ time, dating was easier and people were more satisfied. Readers, please chime in: What can us 21st-century peeps do to go back to simpler times? • Eva welcomes your feedback, as well as questions about your most pressing dating dilemmas.
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