Barbarella
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Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t. — Erica Jong

As Karen chronicled her first few dates with a new guy, I couldn’t help thinking how accurate is the phrase in vino veritas, though in this case the vino was scotch. By her second glass of 12-year-old Macallan, she’d stopped offering the disclaimer “I shouldn’t be telling you this” before sharing a saucy detail.

As her inhibitions yielded to the effects of the amber liquid in her glass, Karen described her latest rendezvous with Mr. Maybe. Relaxed and unconcerned, she paid no mind to the art festival going on around us. Sober and neurotic, I flinched when a couple and small child walked by just as Karen was expounding on a deviant sex act her date had proposed. Fortunately, the family didn’t seem to have heard anything. The DJ, however, perked up — perhaps upon hearing some choice words — while setting up his table and speakers a few feet a way. He seemed to keep one ear tuned to our frequency for the rest of the evening.

“And that was the last time I talked to him, about three weeks ago,” Karen concluded.

If she had simply been sharing, I would have nodded and said, “Cool.” But she had asked for my advice, so I gave it: “If he calls and asks you out, I don’t care what you’re doing — you could be sitting at home trimming your toenails — you tell him you’re busy.”

“But he was so nice,” she argued.

“Okay, forget about the fact that he’s cute, has an exotic Italian accent, and makes millions of dollars a month,” I said. “He’s a pornographer. It might be fun and all new and interesting for you right now, but trust me, it will get old. Having known people in that industry, I can tell you that this guy will never be able to relate to you as an intelligent, independent woman — in the world of porn, women are props.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Karen, the way people do when they voice what they think you want to hear.

“If you continue with this, you’re only postponing your disappointment,” I said. “The first three dates were all about him and his work, what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it. What is it you want?” I softened my tone and continued, “You don’t have to answer that, but think about it. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if this guy isn’t offering you what you really want — things you would later resent not getting from him — then it’s best to bail early.”

Karen nodded in reluctant agreement, and I was relieved. Proffering relationship advice to a girlfriend can be a prickly endeavor. One must keep in mind that the advice-seeker’s is the only opinion that matters; the advice-giver ought to play the role of a sounding board that occasionally reflects contrasting concepts in a devil’s advocate sort of way.

While living in L.A., I had a friend with a penchant for damaged goods. When she asked for my advice about a particular fellow, a guy who worked odd jobs to support his drug habit and lived in a small house with five other people, I laid it out. “Think of him like a residence,” I said. “Back in your college days you had your ratty first apartment. You’ve moved way beyond that now. You don’t have the time or money for a nonfunctioning fixer-upper. You need a new home, preferably one that comes fully furnished in your style, a place that will be your sanctuary.”

During the first few dates with a new beau, optimistic women will try anything to squeeze a man into the mold of their ideal partner — compressing a streak of arrogance or over-inflating an acceptable characteristic such as “niceness” in an attempt to fill the empty space of other desired but missing traits. I follow a basic rule when it comes to relationships: You can’t change people, so if he doesn’t fit into that mold now, he never will.

The only other option is to change your mold, reset your expectations — which is not as easy as it may seem. When I was single, I would invent all kinds of excuses for the insufficiencies in the men I dated. When I was 19, I rationalized how it didn’t matter that one particular suitor had no ambition past his job at a fast-food joint. On a deeper level, I knew I desired a partner whose thirst for life matched my own. At first, I overlooked my need because I was so happy to have a romantic interest be so into me. But needs have a way of catching up with you, and mine closed in during the third month, at which point I moved on. After that, I knew that any realistic contender for Mr. Barb had to meet one requirement: mutual respect. I needed someone I could look up to, but also someone who looked up to me.

It may not be comfortable to watch a friend over-compromise, but I have learned to keep my mouth shut. When my friend Trish broke up with her boyfriend of two years, I made a comment about never having liked him. In a betrayed tone, she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Because when it comes to your love life, it doesn’t matter what I think,” I said. “And, seriously, if I told you a year ago, ‘Hey, I don’t like Tom. He bores me and he’s a bit of a douche,’ you would have been, like, ‘Screw you.’”

It kills me to see my friends settle, to see them give so much more than they get as the imbalance of their emotional ledger slowly drains the life from them. But to offer my opinion when it is not sought is rude and presumptuous. Oh, I’ve done it anyway, but it never produces a desired result. Rather than “seeing the light,” the recipient of my unsolicited advice just sees me as a jerk.

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Comments

aquarimary June 11, 2009 @ 11:31 a.m.

This is so true- and men are aware of it more than women. Most girls act so excited when anyone shows an interest in them that they forget what it is that they want- they just go for it without thinking maybe they could do better!

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pinkshoes June 10, 2009 @ 7:30 p.m.

Again. Wise words for all of us. Thanks!

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MsGrant June 11, 2009 @ 9:08 p.m.

It makes you wonder - why do friends that are gainfully employed, educated and non-residence challenged wind up with these manipulative losers who come on strong and eventually strip away every ounce of self-esteem they had? I've seen it in action, and it is scary. I had a boyfriend like that myself. I went in the top dog and came out with my self-respect in shreds. But I learned a valuable lesson. Like you said, date someone who you think yourself to be. You may surprise yourself.

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Barbarella Fokos June 12, 2009 @ 8:52 a.m.

Interesting point, aquarimary, I hadn't thought of it that way. But it does seem that women are more preoccupied with whether or not they're "worthy" of a man's attentions, rather than the other way around. Societal? Cultural? Probably a little bit of everything.

And MsGrant, so true. I don't think it's coincidence that I ended up with a man like David after I started valuing myself on a level I never had before.

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cece5650 June 14, 2009 @ 1:48 p.m.

Your story is so on the money! Could have used this advice 20 years ago. Settling was always my biggest downfall! I love this column and I love the advice you gave in it. I am away from San Diego now, but read the Reader weekly. It either hurts, or helps my homsickness. I read all your stories. You write and entertain. Thank you so much!

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Barbarella Fokos June 17, 2009 @ 9:39 a.m.

Thank you, Cece! I only hope more women would hear their "inner pragmatist." I'm happy that technology makes it possible for you to continue reading, even if you're not in sunny San Diego. :D

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Stephapalooza June 17, 2009 @ 4:13 p.m.

Thank you for writing what (IMHO) may have been your best column ever. If there is a woman out there who says this topic hasn't applied to her at least ONCE in her life, she is lying. Why do we do this to ourselves?!?!?!?

I printed out your column, and sent it with a Super Woman card to all of my favorite females to remind them that they are not now, and never will be...bags of Cheetos. Absolutely loved the metaphor, keep up the good work!!!

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Altius Aug. 4, 2009 @ 1:30 p.m.

I think it's harder nowadays when everyone feels compelled to get sexual after a date or two. It's flattering to be found sexually attractive, and the glow of that flattery often blinds us to unattractive traits in bed partners that make them unacceptable as life partners.

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traci_madison June 18, 2009 @ 8:05 a.m.

And that trait which flatters the most (the guy falling for you fast and furious) can cause an inbalance in the relationship when you begin to think of him as a devoted, but clingy, puppy.

Read a good description of "Borderline Personality Disorder" and see if a few of the traits apply to you or your partner.

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Robert Hagen July 7, 2009 @ 12:56 p.m.

The mystery man waited. Protocol required that Kato come and console him, which was when the mystery man would lunge for him. However, Kato was not concerned with protocol. Instead, he tried to wend his way around to the passenger door, and get back in the car.

'There is a cop across the street, and obviously the Dilbert is upset over the damage to his limousine.' thought Kato.

When the mystery man detected Kato moving away, he sprang up and after him, screaming in Chinese. Kato took off, around to the front of the limo. The mystery man gave vigorous chase, but immediately began losing distance, due to his dress shoes. Kato circled around the car, and on the second lap around the car, when the mystery man was running for the front, and Kato had turned on a burst of speed going around the front and drivers side toward the back, he clicked a remote to open the trunk, hopped in and closed it. The mystery man's back was turned. He never saw a thing. When he realized Kato was gone, he skidded to a stop, throwing his fists down in a tantrum.

"KATO!!!!!!!!!! KATO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where have you gone?!"

'Aha' thought the mystery man. He's in the trunk. Jauntily, the mystery man walked back toward the trunk.

"I calling the cops right now, Kato. I'm very sorry."

Kato jumped out of the trunk and the mystery man sprang on him like a tiger. Missed him by that much. The foot race resumed around the Mercedes. Then Kato picked up a little speed, but not so much as to make the mystery man stop running. Once again, Kato put on a burst of speed. When he had the mystery man's back for a moment, he hopped in the sun roof, and began retracting it even as he plopped into the front passenger seat.

The mystery man skidded to a stop. Kato was gone. 'Not again' he thought.

Tim Versace was watching the whole thing. Then Veronica came strutting out of the showroom. She came loaded. Her chassis was finer than a Mercedes Benz. Her front to back weight distribution would never get a man twisted out of shape on a dangerous curve. Was she top heavy? Just about enough to blow you away, man.

But what Tim Versace loved about her the best was her sweet disposition, and ability to collate messages. She not only knew how to take a message, she could tell Tim basically where the caller was all about. She was totally amazing, and the general manager refused to let her out of his sight.

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Barbarella Fokos Aug. 4, 2009 @ 4:15 p.m.

That's a great point, Altius, and most likely accurate. On a side note, my most serious and healthy relationships have been those that did not begin with sex in the first few dates. I can't help but think that has something to do with it.

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