Another Dimension in Dating

Q: I’m back on the singles dating scene, and it’s been a nightmare! At 35, I’ve been out to bars and clubs, and I can’t help but feel like I’m in the twilight zone. I’m surrounded by 20-something women who look fantastic in mini-skirts, and after a cocktail or two, seem to think they’re auditioning for an MTV video. First of all, I’m not comfortable showing half my ass to a bar full of strangers anymore, but on the other hand, all male eyes are locked on Miss MTV. Do I really have to compete with this to find a mate? – Not a Bar Babe

A: Dunno. Are you looking for a mate along the lines of The Situation? Then, yeah, you’re up against legions of entire-ass-and-then-some-baring, pole-dancing, girl-on-girl-grinding chippies and their ilk. But if you’re shooting higher than that – and, lord, I hope you are – then perhaps it’s time to start hanging out elsewhere.

First of all, though, give yourself a pat on the back for your efforts at reentry into the dating scene. It can be tough as hell to get back out there, very Twilight-Zone-ish indeed, and just the fact that you’re doing it shows you’ve got moxie. Well done.

Onto some takeaway: Focus not on the where, but the what, when you’re trying to meet new people. In other words, veer away from spots where hooking up is clearly the objective, and venture toward groups and/or gatherings that are more about your interests – you know, the things you did before you got into a relationship. For example, if you love wine, then start scoping out tastings around town. If you’re an active type, then look into a running or hiking group.

Also consider online dating. The stigma that surrounded it just a few years ago has all but faded, and at the very least it’s a great way to ease back into the dating scene and build some confidence.

Finally, if you do end up getting dragged to the occasional club, just grab a drink, sit back and enjoy the action. Sure, you might have mini-skirt envy for the 20-something set, but take heart knowing you won’t wake up the next day covered in bronzer stains in a stranger’s bed.

Q: I was out the other evening with a group of great girlfriends. We met for dinner then went to a wine-bar down the street. It was a great, fun-filled, relaxing evening until my ex-boyfriend, “Aaron,” walked in — with his new girlfriend. I completely froze when I saw him (and nearly choked on my wine), hoping he wouldn’t see me there. But of course, like some law of the universe, he looked right over and our eyes met. To my utter disbelief, he turned away like he didn’t even know me! Are there rules for ex-etiquette? – Still Sad

A: Yes, but they’re so dependent on context and situation that I’d need an entire column to go into them. More importantly for you: You should be doing a little happy dance that YOU WON, hands down, the First Post-Breakup Ex-Sighting Contest.

Why? Several reasons: 1) If there’s any “law of the universe” to consider, it’s that an overwhelming majority of the time, you’ll run into your ex for the first time at the drugstore, while he’s looking dapper and buying an economy box of condoms and you’re wearing sweats and no makeup, with a basket full of Ben & Jerry’s and gossip mags. Instead, Aaron saw you out and about, carrying on with your fabulous life with a passel of great girlfriends, AND all gussied up for a night on the town, to boot. Tiger Woods in a Buford Highway massage parlor couldn’t get any luckier than that, sister.

2) You might be understandably “still sad,” but take heart in knowing that Aaron is still shaken up, too. Otherwise, he would have been able to muster at least a cursory “hi” instead of silently shuffling off with his new piece.

3) You can be damn sure that said new piece noticed his awkwardness at running into you, asked him about it and is still analyzing what it all means. (And it’s ok to laugh demonically over this one.)

4) You didn’t choke on your wine. Now, go pour yourself another glass and toast to the universe for sending you such a glorious crutch to help you move on. Seriously. You couldn’t have orchestrated it any better if you tried.

Coming Clean

Q: I’m 35 and single, after breaking up with my girlfriend about a year ago. It seems impossible to meet someone in a bar, so I gave in and gave this online dating a shot. Unfortunately, online dating, while promising in pictures, turns up some women who look absolutely nothing like as advertised. They say “25, fit, well-educated.” What shows up? A 40-year-old woman who hasn’t seen a gym since high school, since that was the last stop on the education train. I need to know, from a woman’s perspective, what kind of strategy is this? Women are always a mystery to men, but this really takes the cake. — Hating Online Dating

A: The strategy, my friend, is none other than a new twist on the old bait and switch, and men are just as adept using it in the online dating arena as women. In fact, according to Scientific American, a whopping 90 percent of people lie in their profiles. Women in their 20s and 30s shave off anywhere from five to 20 lbs. from their weight, while men tend to fib about income, education level and relationship status. A survey from MSNBC.com says that one in four men who say they’re “single and available” are actually married (sound familiar, all you tatted trollops messing around with Jesse “Vanilla Gorilla” James?).

But is this not-so-little web of lies really that much of a surprise? I mean, profile embellishment is the technological equivalent of the front we put on during first dates and the genesis of relationships. Look at it this way: When the woman who bills herself as “curvy and clever” waddles into the bar or coffee shop (you’re not meeting online dates for the first time over dinner, right? RIGHT?) and starts in about the “glory years” of high school, you’ll know you’re 45 minutes away from having her and her stretching of the truth (and the elastic waistband) out of your life forever.

Here, a few of the more common profile comments to be aware of.

1. “I love long walks on the beach/a good glass of wine.” Translation: “I’m trying to sound deep and worldly, but the height of my sophistication came during college Spring Break when I learned how to say ‘Diez cervezas, por favor’ in Cancun.”

2. “I hate playing games.” Translation: “My relationship M.O. = Lifetime Doormat. I try to come off as genuine and passionate about finding something ‘real,’ but I’m so friggin’ desperate to be in a relationship that I get stricken with diarrhea of the mouth telling my life story, starting when I was traumatized as a toddler by my mom’s repeated tried to jump-start my acting career by having me audition for diaper commercials,.”

3. “I don’t like the word ‘cougar.’” Translation: “I am a cougar.”

4. “As the founder and CEO of a successful Internet startup, I savor the finer things in life.” Translation: “I’m a peon in a pyramid marketing gig, I work out of my mom’s basement and I spend my ample free time playing World of Warcraft and chugging Yoo-Hoo, and my annual vacation is the Dungeons & Dragons convention.”

5. “I’m 29.” Translation: “I’ve been on these sites long enough to know that lowering your age to under 30 will make you pop up in more searches. I’m anywhere between 35 and 55.”

This isn’t to say that you can’t meet your match on sites like Match.com and their ilk. It just takes a more critical eye; as in, if there are more Glamour Shots on a profile instead of candid photos, a few with friends, you’re better off clicking elsewhere.

Q: “Anna,” my girlfriend, is amazing in a million different ways. She’s hot, funny, gets along with my friends, and she likes sex. She’s been dropping the marriage hint like crazy the last several months, and to be honest, it’s not that I don’t love being with her, it’s just that I’m not interested in getting married. How do I hang on to my woman without having to walk down the aisle? – Hitched Jitters

A: If you honestly “love being with” Anna but honestly don’t want to get married, then here’s what I propose you must do: Sit her down and repeat everything you wrote here, sans that ever-so-grating last line about having your decidedly non-wedding cake and eating it, too. Then Anna can decide if she’s ok with a marriage-free future with you, or whether she wants to take her amazing-in-a-million-different-ways, hot, funny, easygoing, sex-loving self back on the market, where I’m guessing she’ll find somebody who will consider it a privilege to make that commitment to her faster than you can say “cold feet.”

It won’t be an easy conversation, I get that, but you have to do it. If not, rest assured that the deceit you’ll be perpetuating – passive or not — will be far, far worse than, say, using the term “slightly receding hairline” when you really mean “my hair plugs send small children screaming in horror” on an online profile.