Ponder this: Be a fish, not a fisherman?

Emily, In your last post, you wrote: “I can hear you mocking me already, but it is time I attempt the trapline approach” to dating [where you “always have three or four potential [men] in the trapline” to give you attention while you bide your time waiting for the “big fish”].

I say this with all the solemnity it deserves: you were 100 per cent correct. I think the “trapline” approach to dating is high level ridiculous. This isn’t because I think that having a pool — or to follow the fishing metaphor, a river– of humans to fill various roles in your life is a bad idea. It’s super handy to have someone to attend events with or to fix a broken toilet or to give you an orgasm every once in a while. Nor do I think it’s bad to enjoy spending time with people who aren’t “the big fish.”

The ridiculousness of the trapline approach is located in it’s underlying motivation: an urge to strategize, organize, and on some level control, the unstrategizable, unorganizable, uncontrollable dynamics of human relationships. You can absolutely have relationships with multiple men that involve different activities (including, or not, sex and romance). But, the trapline approach takes those relationships and attempts to shove them into a tidy, orderly, life system.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the impulse to strategize . I can mind-map and pro and con list and venn diagram my way through problems like it’s no one’s business. But, these strategies have their limits, and the limit of the trapline approach is detachment: it is designed to disconnect you from your emotions and the emotions of the fish in the trapline.

You, my dear, are not a detacher. You can trapline all you want. It might even work for a bit and be a fun experiment. But I will straight up eat my shoe if you can sustain that practice for very long. Also: the trapline approach still assumed there is a prized fish. It still leads to a single, major, relationship.

So, rather than answer your concluding question of whether or not a “bottom feeder” can transform himself into a prized tuna, I throw these provocations back at you:

What if you aren’t a fisherman but a fish? What are your waters like? What kind of fish do you want to swim alongside? For how long? And, answer this honestly (because we’re going to take the metaphor as far as it can possibly go):

Do you think you’re someone’s prize tuna?

A trapline of men? In time, can a can of sardines grow into a Bluefin tuna?

Kelsey Blair,

A couple days ago, my 4-and-a-half-year-old niece Anna called me up and said: “Emily, I think you should get married.”

I replied: “OK, but I need to find someone to marry first. Where do you think I should look?”

Anna: “Um, well, um, I was thinking Charlie.”

(Charlie is the 16-year-old student who stayed at my place this summer while he was going to arts school).

Me: “Charlie’s too young for me.”

Anna: “How come?”

Me: “Because he doesn’t fall into the half my age plus seven range.”

Silence on the line.

Me: “Anna, why do you think I should get married?”

Anna: “Because, most people get married. It’s just what you do.”

This really got me thinking. 

As far as I know, my sister’s not over there consciously emphasizing the importance of marriage or partnership with Anna. Yet, somehow Anna has internalized this at the tender age of 4-and-a-half. (Either that, or she just had so much fun with Charlie, who gave her a lot of attention, and she figured me marrying him would be a surefire way for her to rekindle with her playmate).

I digress: We live in a world where partnership is perceived as the only option. If you never get married, you’re a sad, almost tragic, story.

“She never married? How is that possible?”

Case in point: Over Christmas, my family invited an old man friend of my dad’s (my sister’s old neighbour), who is now living in assisted care. The guy is 80 years old, never got married, (and might be an 80-year-old virgin, according to my dad). I can’t help but feel like he’s a tragic story. How lonely! How sad! How good we felt to invite him to our Christmas brunch to ease his never-ending lonely days.

So as much as my last post suggested my intention to fight society and accept that I maybe don’t want a traditional relationship or partnership, I think there might be a better approach for me:

(I can hear you mocking me already), but it is time I attempt the trapline approach.

A friend of mine has been suggesting it for years, but basically the analogy is this: We all want to catch a tuna one day, but in the meantime, to entertain and distract ourselves (and perhaps to fend off loneliness), it’s smart to feast upon smaller fish—salmon, cod, crab, shrimp, and bottom feeders of all sorts. The idea is to constantly maintain a trapline of fish, all the while keeping a long term eye on the prize: The fuckin’ tuna!

Though I know many people have followed this path for years, this is actually foreign to me. It feels like a grey zone, like living in a place where you never have to make a decision about anybody. And my  decisions are usually fairly black and white and definitive and final. As a result, I have typically been all in or all out when it comes to men.

So this is my new approach into 2020: Always have three or four potentials in the trapline to give me attention—and available in case I ever need a date to a wedding etc—and most importantly, to keep me more relaxed as I wait for the great Bluefin tuna to swim my way.

But Kelsey, trapline aside, here’s the real question I pose: In time, can a mere bottom feeder—if you’re patient and relaxed and don’t force things and aren’t so focused on finding the tuna fish (as has been my approach in the past)—actually transform himself into the prized tuna?

Dare I ask you for your thoughts on this one?

Love, Emily.

On Knowing Thyself & Thy Energy Style

Em,

I read your post about pondering unconventional relationship dynamics during the temporal Bermuda triangle that is the week between the 25th of December and the 1st of January.

To borrow language from generation z, it hit me “right in the feels.”

In part — and please excuse the slightly schmaltzy digression — it is a crystallization of two of my favourite things about you: a) your candor & openness and b) your personal growth.

We’ve been friends forever (give or take). And, I will fully admit that I still tell stories about the boy-crazy Emily of yore, who only saw things in straight pink and blue. She did the worm in the middle of crowded nightclub dance floors! She helped me learn how to drink wine by watering it down with soda and juice!

Junior Kelsey and Emily : Selfie Skills In Progress

To be clear, I love(d) her. But, man oh man, she would never have seriously questioned, never mind publicly pondered, whether she wanted a traditional relationship. It is both the best, coolest, more inspiring thing and also really obnoxious because it’s hard to keep up to.

So, you get a pass on giving the guy who prioritized his dogs over a date with you a second chance (for this week at least).

Piece of advice though: wait until the fifth date to tell him about the blog.

The other part of the reason your post really hit me is because you’re questioning a piece of yourself that’s been a central organizing principle for years. To this end, I think I have fundamentally misunderstood how I energetically (yes, energetically; this is who I am now) relate to humans. 

When I was in my early twenties, a wise friend told me:

“You’re an introvert by nature and an extrovert by nurture.”

Emily Beers Circa 2006

It’s a great line and also felt really true. I’ve quoted you often. But, I think we were both wrong.

As you  know (but readers may not), I’m currently based in Montreal. My social life there has been, well, non-existent. I talk to plenty of people via text, social media, and phone. But, day to day, I mostly interact with baristas. It’s been what I’ve wanted and needed. But, loneliness management is also a thing.

So, the first  few days I was back in Vancouver for the holidays, I organized to see a bunch of friends and colleagues (you included). It was all of the coffee and lunch and catching up.  And, when it was all over, I was buzzing. Like, physically buzzing. At first that was nice, but I couldn’t come down. Eventually I was agitated. And, then, almost angry. Honestly, it was pretty uncomfortable to be inside my body and mind.

And, I realize this happens to me all time:  when I see people, I often walk out feeling like I’m high.  Which can be really enjoyable  But, then I can’t shake the energy. At night, it keeps me awake for hours. In the day, it attaches to and then boosts stress or worry or anger or my on-going low-key existential crisis. Which … you know … not ideal. 

Which is a long way of saying: Emily, I think I’m extroverted. Like, extremely, extroverted.

This might seem small or silly. But, it’s a fundamental shift from how I’ve organized parts of my life.

I have the tendency to retreat when I’m sad or tired. And, I’m pretty private (shocking news, I know). And all the “introvert” literature would tell me that’s okay. But, these instincts may be backwards.  When I’m at my lowest, I should actually seek people out and physically be with them.

I have literally almost never done that.

So, in the end, maybe it’s not just about knowing what you want — as your dog-loving suitor from the last post suggests — maybe it’s about getting to know yourself over and over and over again.

The question is of course, what do you do with self-knowledge once you have it?

Big Love Back, KB

“The hardest thing in life isn’t getting what you want; It’s knowing what you want.”

Dear KB,

You said my last post made you go ‘Ooof.’

I have to say, you questioning whether we use dating apps as a way of coping with our feelings, made me go, ‘Oooof.’ Quickly followed by a ‘Mother fucking Ooof!’

Because, I know you’re right. 

What I have become painfully aware of, however, is I try to use the apps as a way to cope with the alone-ness of being single, but it doesn’t actually work. And in fact, it actually turns a not that lonely me into a lonelier me.

So I came across this Tim Ferriss post the other day, where he suggests that instead of making New Year’s resolutions, you conduct a past year in review—a chance to reflect on what you did in 2019 that was positive and led to positive feelings, versus what you did that was negative or led to negative emotions.

And I have to say, many of my positive emotions all involved spending time with people who actually mean something to me: Trips to Calgary and Ontario to visit close friends, deep talks and sleepovers at your house, spending time with my nieces, being the cook for some insane, yet lovable male friends in Scottsdale, laying on the beach connecting with a close friend in Grand Cayman, an oyster and wine festival in Osoyoos, countless Happy Hour evenings sharing laughs with my landlords, and various other events and dinners with clients and friends etc etc….

What did not make the positive list—and what contributed to negative emotions—were evenings spent at home Netflixing, yet only half-paying attention because I was multi-tasking (aka scrolling the social media and Bumble and Hinge feeds).

Bottom line: I have so many great people in my life, yet I feel a pressure to find somebody, so I constantly search to cope with this pressure I feel, and most of the time this leads to feelings of loneliness. Truth be told, I’m not lonely UNLESS I’m scrolling Bumble, which is strange, because the reason to scroll is to not be alone and lonely. What the actual fuck? So messed up, yet I continue to scroll.

On a similar note, remember the dog guy? The one who chose his dogs over me (you can read about him here if you forgot) re-surfaced this week and appears to have re-joined my trapline (as is often the case with the men from the apps) and presented an interesting food for thought.

He said: “The hardest thing in life is not getting what you want; it’s knowing what you want.”

At first, I just wrote it off as some lame cliche he regurgitated, but the more I thought about it the more weight it appears to hold. It certainly got me thinking…

I have always thought, believed, assumed I wanted a somewhat traditional relationship. You know, one where you live together and he does the blue jobs and I do the pink jobs and we function like a 1950s couple. 

But the truth is, whenever men come along that seem to want this, I wholeheartedly reject their bids.

Here’s what I know: I like my independence. I like having my own life. I like having my own place. I do NOT need to see my partner every night of the week, and I am indifferent about having kids. 

On the other hand, although I like my independence, I also need a lot of communication. This doesn’t have to be in-person communication. Texting will suffice.  My love language is words of affirmation (and physical touch), so as long as I’m being reaffirmed through language frequently (and he touches me when he sees me), I’m good. The rest of the time, we can do our own things. 

So where does that leave me?

Is it possible I don’t want the traditional relationship I always thought I wanted? Is it possible I have not found what I want because what I think I want isn’t what I actually want?

The dog guy might have been onto something, and as a result, I am giving him another date. Woof. (Feel free to mock).  

Big love, Emily.

Dating: Like Weddings, Require More Liquid than Necessary

Ooof.

That is the exact noise I made when I read your last post and learned that you have gotten 2 significant relationships out of 150 online dates.

To be clear, I’m impressed. I also strongly feel like all the dating apps you’ve ever used should pool together to send you a gift basket. Because if 150 online dates doesn’t earn you chocolate, cheese, and assortment of unwanted sample soaps, what does?

On the other hand, the stat — in fact your whole post — made me go, “Ooof.” In particular, I was struck by your observation that dating apps can be emotional crutches. I am fully guilty of getting home after a date and checking my app. Great date? Don’t want to get my hopes hope: check the app. Terrible date? Don’t want to fall into a pit of despair: check the app! Neutral date: Don’t want to become ambivalent: check the app. And, on some level, the app rarely lets me down: there are usually dozens of available, mediocre, date possibilities at the tip of my fingertips.

This isn’t news, of course. Technology can be used to connect but it can also be used to numb, and I’m actively trying to pay more attention to the latter. Am I Googling the latest soap opera spoilers because I really need to know what’s happening on The Young and the Restless two weeks from now, or is it possible I’m avoiding a feeling.

Which leads me to an obvious truth: dating as an adult is kind of the worst. It involves really a lot of liquid, three times the healthy daily dose of small talk, and a fair chunk of vulnerability. This is bound to lead to emotions. My question is, then, rather than ditching the apps — as you suggest — is it really about ditching our coping mechanisms? What if, after your upcoming speed dating event, you ban yourself from going online for a month? How will you cope then?

PS: You have always been, and will continue to be, my personal dating guinea pig: you try things first (admirably; with courage). I support and and tease you as appropriate (and also take all the notes).

A case to delete the dating apps in order to maximize your chance of finding a match…

Kelsey B,

The question you posed—Is it still possible to meet people in real life?—is a thought-provoking one with all kinds of nuances.

One particularly amusing nuance is that even when we do meet someone in real life, we often proceed to back track to communicating online in order to solidify a connection before re-entering the real world with more courage.

Case in point: Recently, my landlords had a male friend visiting from Winnipeg. As we often do, we got together for dinner. I met their friend in the flesh, and together we researched the most humane way to kill a crab for our seafood feast dinner, had some drinks, some laughs etc.

A day later, with him staying directly above me in the same house, there we were, you guessed it, Bumbling (As a sidenote, I don’t recommend matching with someone residing in your own home. When they knock because they heard you making a racket, pretending you’re not home or not available isn’t really an option). (I’m kidding: Come back soon, Ed).

But seriously, it’s an actual thing to meet in person and then move to online communication—be it Bumble, Hinge or social mediaI. Essentially it means we no longer have to muster any courage when we meet someone who intrigues us IRL, because we know we can go home and do a quick online search and stock and plant a seed in a safer zone, as we cowardly hide out behind our screens.

Reverse online dating aside, let’s take a look at my numbers to see if I can reach a conclusion to your original question:

The number of people I have met for a date who’s origin stemmed from an online website or app of some nature:

150 + (Keep in mind, I was an early adopter who started at the age of 21, no less than 14 years ago). So, I will draw the conclusion that dates are readily available through website and apps and such.

However, of those 150 men, the number that have turned into anything masquerading as even remotely significant = 2.

2 out of 150. Low batting average, indeed.

Now, if we look strictly at my long-term committed relationships, as well as somewhat committed relationships that lasted at least multiple months, that number is 7.

This means, 5 of these 7 men I met in real damn life!

But here lies the problem: Beyond those five men, how many other first dates have I had with men I have met in real life through the years? Not very many. Maybe 10.

The point is, without the dating apps, I could very well go weeks, even months at a time, without even a glimmer of romance in my life. So even if 135 of the 150 first dates from app men I have experienced were completely unmemorable (with another dozen or so peaking some interest before resolving of their own volition relatively quickly in one way or other), at least I have experienced the odd dash of a spark here and there.

Here comes a bigger question: Is it worth it for a mere spark?

I would argue no. And when I dig a little deeper, I think it becomes apparent that the promise of endless matches online has led me to be less inclined to give anyone a chance (see my post about the guy who called me Buttercup)—online or otherwise. And I don’t think I’m unique in this matter. I think app dating simply makes us less willing to give anyone a real shot, because there’s always another option just around the corner that might be better. Not only that, it probably even makes us less likely to bother trying to talk to people in real life—because of the apparently infinite number of candidates on the app.

Thus, while counter intuitive, it seems online dating—although it’s based off the very concept of there being a never ending inventory of men—makes us less likely to find a match than if we were to embrace the scarcity of the real world.

Alas, my final answer to your question: It might only possible to meet someone in real life if you ditch the app! (Mind is blown).

This brings me to your last question: Where does a girl go to meet a guy?

Maybe…um…speed dating?

I’ll let you know, because I’m hitting up a 25 dates event early in the new year. I have a feeling a whole new can of worms is about to be opened. Will circle back with the verdict.

EB


Shuddering Souls and Meeting People IRL

Dear Emily,

In your last post, you asked whether or not you were heartless for not being empathetic when a date prioritized his dogs over you, and it kind of made my soul shudder.

Can a pet enrich someone’s life? No doubt. Are dogs cute? Sure. But, let’s do some math here.

If 1 human year is 7-15 dog years, then your date’s 4- and 6-year old dogs are effectively middle aged. If they were humans, they’d drive hybrid minivans, vote Liberal in Canadian federal elections, and be saving up for a cottage on the sunshine coast. You’re telling me they can’t be left alone for a few hours?

In all seriousness, I understand that people love their pets. Loving things is good. But, dating is about making space for new people — maybe, even, at some point, people to love — in our lives. Prioritizing the dogs over seeing you tells me that this guy isn’t ready to make that space yet. Because, you know what? If he is truly worried about the dogs, there are other options: dog sitters, doggy-day cares, neighbours, friends. And, I know that time-sharing pets with ex-partners is fairly common but I have a hard time believing the dogs’ welfare is the driving force behind that arrangement.

Also, as your friend, I want you to want to be prioritized: Emily over Dog every time.

Next topic: meeting people in real life.

I was chatting with a friend this weekend and she asked, a little sadly, whether I thought it was possible to still meet people in real life.  

I wanted to say, “Of course!” I can count twenty friends who met their partners at school or through work.

But, I also think that the landscape of being single in public has changed. Because of online dating, I’m not sure people are looking to connect at coffee shops or bars or house parties like they were ten years ago.

What do you think? How has online dating changed how we meet people in real life? If she isn’t in a romantic comedy, and is unlikely to meet the love of her life by literally running into him on a crowded New York sidewalk, where can she go to find a guy in-person?

When your date prioritizes his dogs over humans: Selfless? Or obnoxious?

Dearest Kelsey,

Yes, we’re very different. I’m all heart and impulse, and perhaps smell, and you’re all head and rational lists. 

In your last post, you asked me how to get out of your head, and warned me that you’d throw a bird at me if my advice for you was to just take a leap of faith and let yourself feel. So I won’t do that. (Not because I’m scared of having a bird thrown at me: Wouldn’t the bird just make his own directional decision when you released him?) But because I care about you. And about you finding a great partner for you.

So I know this isn’t terribly helpful, but I think you just need to pretend to be me, ever so slightly. Shouldn’t be so hard. You have known me for 18 years. And on my end, I commit to this: The the next time I come across a perfectly good man—like the dude I disqualified because he microwaved his eggs—I will try to overlook breakfast habits and go on another date.

New subject: Dog owners.

Friday night plans were in the works with a new man. He suggested I head to his place—45 minutes, one bridge and one tunnel away—to take his dogs for a walk.

(The traditional woman in me is always slightly perturbed when the man doesn’t offer to drive in the woman’s direction, but I’m trying to be less weird and more modern about that, so I agreed to go).

Partway through the night, a yellow flag emerged:

He thanked me for heading his way because he doesn’t ever like leaving the dogs alone, to which I asked, “Well what do you do with them when you’re on vacation?” 

“I just go on vacations where I can bring the dogs, like camping,” he says. 

Hmmmm…Just how far does this dog commitment go?

Fast forward a week: We plan to meet up again and he attempts to choose a day he can come to me this time, and is, once again, limited by the dogs (who he time shares with his ex-wife). She doesn’t take the dogs again for 10 days, so he plans an evening no less than 10 days in the future when he can escape and drive to Vancouver for a couple hours to go for dinner. 

I can’t stop myself from inquiring, so I ask: “So let me get this straight. Dogs mean you can’t ever leave the house in the evenings, even for a couple hours?”

“No, not if I can’t bring them with me. I would feel too guilty,” he says. “I guess I just put them before myself.”

Needless to say, I will not be meeting this man in 10 days if his ex-wife does indeed follow through with the dog pick-up.

My question to you: Is this normal behaviour? To never leave your 4 and 6-year-old dogs alone? Or am I just incredibly heartless? Is there just a pet gene that I’m missing?

I think there might be, because when I told the story to my hairdresser, she said—without hesitation— that she would save her cat over a random human being she didn’t know if she was ever forced to choose. And what about my friend who feeds his dog an organic, grass-fed, skinless, boneless chicken breast from Whole Foods for dinner each night, while he stops at Wendy’s four nights a week for a Baconator?

While it feels aggressive to create one of those dating lists you love so much and place “no dog owners” at the top, I think I’d rather the guy has a kid than a dog: At least children eventually grow up and can be left home alone.

That being said, should I ever go the dating list route, I know what I will place at the top: No to the bridge-tunnel combo!

Single ladies with fish: Should we lose our lists?

Mid-way through your post on whether or not pheromones are the driving factor in attraction, you suggest the possibility of becoming a single lady raising birds. Birds have feathers, Emily. And feathers mean work. If you ever become an eccentric version of a stereotype, it’s going to be with a low maintenance animal. Like a fish. Or how do you feel about plants?

To get to your question: No, I don’t believe partnership only hinges on smell, or other pheromone-related phenomena. Partially, I’m suspicious of theories of attraction that are purely biology-based because:

1. They often, a little too conveniently, let adults off the hook for their actions, and

2. They tend to oversimplify the texture of life. Despite what Axe commercials want you to believe, attraction and romance and sex and partnership are complicated.

But, maybe, they don’t have to be as complicated as we make them out to be?

When I read that you just want to “feel that je ne sais quoi, that intangible connection,” it got me thinking about my own shifting relationship to the intangibles, and how I have been living on the complete opposite side of the fence as you and your ill-fated pheromone-driven dating adventures.

I have yet to dismiss a potential suitor because of a Hotmail account (because, full disclosure, I still have and use my first Hotmail account so that would be, you know, pretty hypocritical), but I’ve definitely done the opposite: I’ve gone on second, and (cringe) even third, dates where I felt no connection. How did this happen, you ask? Basically, they looked good on paper, so I spent multiple walks and coffees and drinks and a movie or two hoping the intangible would suddenly materialize.
Spoiler alert: it did not. In the end, I made things complicated when they weren’t.

Now, in theory, I’m more interested in connection than packaging (by which all the box-checking categories like career and interests and tolerating my incongruous love on both musical theatre and the Raptors). But, I know the list is still in the back of my mind somewhere, haunting my future dates with all the things I’ve ever thought I wanted in a partner.

So, my question is thus: How do I genuinely let all that go? (If you tell me to “just leap,” I’m going to throw something — maybe one of your birds — at you).

“He eats his peas one at a time”: Is finding a mate really all about pheromones?

Dear Kelsey,

A recent dating escapade involved a handful of dates with a dude I legitimately felt I could be into. Banter was good, he was really smart and successful and had an astonishing amount of muscle mass. 

Alas, something I couldn’t explain held me back. I wasn’t able to put my finger on what it was, so his 750 lb. squat kept him in the game for a while.

Fast forward to D-Day: I went to test drive a vehicle he was about to purchase. While the world trends Tesla, this dude goes Hummer. Let’s just say, I was thrown. 

I hopped into said Hummer and he greets me with: “Hey Buttercup.” Double thrown.

And that was that. I couldn’t get over the Hummer purchase and the Buttercup greeting. 

Truth be told, however, as I mentioned something was off all along, and I’m starting to realize it wasn’t really about the Hummer or the Buttercup. Those two things just finally gave me tangible reason to scurry away from him. And an explanation to give to people when they asked me , “How’s it going with the maritime guy?” Now I could say: “He’s driving around the city in a Hummer calling me Buttercup. It’s over.”  

I am aware that had I been into him, I would have somehow found the Hummer sexy and manly, and being called Buttercup cute and endearing. But since something unexplainable was off, these became easy targets for dismissal. 

The situation caused me to look into the other seemingly absurd reasons I concocted for ending things with men in the last 2.5 years:

There was the intermittent faster, so committed to fasting that we’d never eat dinner together…

• There was the guy whose t-shirts were too short, so when he lifted his arms his midriff became exposed…

• There was the guy who picked flowers from his deck and put them on my plate on a second date…

There was the guy who took a picture of his closet to show me there would be space for my clothes when I moved in…

There was the guy who kissed me on the nose one too many times…

And the guy who chewed citrus-flavoured gum (Yes, this was actually my stated reason)…

• Or the guy, who due to his “troubled past,” wasn’t able to travel to the United States.

And on. And on.

On the one hand, I just sound like a massively critically 35-year-old woman who will end up alone raising birds. But on the other hand, I think there’s something greater at play here: Pheromones!

In theory I don’t have list of must-haves in a man. I just want to feel that je ne sais quoi, that intangible connection, and I’m starting to think it all comes down to pheromones. 

Yes, if the smell were right, I am fully aware that I could end up with an intermittent fasting, citrus-gum chewing, nose-kisser rumbling around the city in a Hummer, unable to travel to Vegas with me, who wears t-shirts that expose his mid-section and regularly decorates my dinner plate with flowers.

Kelsey, when it comes to mate selection, does it really all come down to smell?

Always, EB.