Some Modest How-To Ideas

I cover a lot of ground in the book, but one topic I mostly avoid is how-to. By the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you don’t need my advice on how to present yourself or appeal to men or women. Then again, why not some ideas from a guy who spent years out there knocking around and getting knocked around? I’m compiling a list of pithy, good-hearted guidance, initially for women. As ideas come to me, I’ll add some for men out there who are working the websites and wondering how to make them work better. So:

  • I like self-confidence in a woman, especially on appearance issues. Of course, our bodies changes as we age, and a woman’s sense of satisfaction and self-acceptance is very appealing. Put your best foot forward and save the neuroses for your girlfriends.
  • When going out to dinner with a man, take plenty of time to find a restaurant you both like. Once there, select what you want to eat with a minimum of agonized consideration; long discussions about the pros and cons of different dining options exhaust and confuse men. We like to decide on what to eat and be done with it. Save the food fetishes and phobias for girls’ night out.
  • If you had an enjoyable time with a man and think the feeling is mutual, surprise him with a hand-written thank-you note. Everybody likes to get real letters yet  nobody sends them. Break that pattern and surprise a man with your communications flair and elegant handwriting — you will make a BIG impression.
  • When using an online dating site, remember that men are intensely visual creatures. Use as many profile photos as possible, selecting those that focus on YOU in a favorable, put-together light. Let men’s imagination wander and envision themselves with you via evening wear, business wear, fresh at-home ensembles. Avoid blurry cell-phone and webcam photos, photos with sunglasses (what are you hiding?), travel pictures that make you look tiny (men don’t care that you visited the Eiffel Tower), or group photos with your arms draped around Uncle Fritz and Aunt Gerdl. Show that you care enough to get appealing photos.
  • Don’t let strong political views overly color dating profiles, since that can turn off men who don’t share those values. You may think “Republicans make me vomit!” and “Rush Limbaugh is a war criminal!” but saying so brands you as a political crank rather than a caring progressive. I found profiles with such intolerant views and they were a major turn-off. Men and women are more than their political views so it’s better to agree to disagree rather than dismiss an otherwise compatible man just because he does not think exactly the way you do. (In my experience, liberal women are far more adamant and unyielding in their politics than conservative women.)
  • While on a date, you may see other friends. It’s perfectly acceptable to stop and chat with them and introduce your date of the evening. Beware, however, if the conversation with the friend turns into a one-on-one discussion that leaves your date feeling ignored and isolated. This could especially sour an early date in a new relationship when people feel vulnerable and want to stay connected with the romantic potentiality. Save the deep discussion for later (post-date, when you’ll want to dish about the date, anyway) and keep the focus on having an enjoyable time with the man/woman of the evening.
  • GUYS: This is for you. Based on conversations with women, such as my dear friend, mentioned in the book as Chloe the Oracle of Romance, show some common sense. Chivalry is still popular: Hold open doors, stand up when a lady enters the room, push a woman’s chair in at a restaurant, observe good grooming at all times, be attentive to a woman’s interests and questions. Don’t drone on about your obsessions, be they sports, World of Warcraft, the “Saw” movies, your prostate, or anything else that could be a conversation-stopper. Keep the focus on getting to know your date and let her know about you — but not everything about you. Sure, you’re interesting — but she is, too.

Thinking About Body Images and “Someday Melissa”

I typically scan the New York Times obituary page for lives well lived, but the December 21 edition with the tiny-type paid notices was wrenching with its sketches of too-soon loss. One very long notice was for Suzanne Hart, the advertising executive killed in an elevator accident a week earlier. By contrast, the memorial notice for Melissa Rose Avrin ran only 7 lines, plus a photo. It read,

Dec. 21, 1989-May 6, 2009. Your movie is a reality. It’s changing lives around the world in the battle against Eating Disorders. Missing and loving you forever, Mom. www.somedaymelissa.com.

I followed the link and found that “Someday Melissa” is the name of a documentary made by Melissa’s mother, Judy Avrin, as a response to Melissa’s death at 19 from a heart attack related to her bulimia. It has already accepted at a film festival and screened at medical schools, universities and Jewish community centers. Someday Melissa includes journal entries from Melissa and interviews with family members, friends and medical and mental health professionals.It deserves wide viewing and discussion.

Melissa Avrin’s wrenching and fatal bulimia resonates with me as the extreme expression of body-image issues. In my dating days in the 1980s, I met women with bulimia and the memories of their deep distress over appearance and other psychological issues still haunt me. I tried to be as supportive as possible, but I realized the matter was far beyond my influence, other than saying I accepted them for who and what they were. Whatever self-perceptions led them to behave this way had no basis in reality — they were attractive and fit. But we’re not talking about reality with any of this. I couldn’t save anybody, and it took years before I realized that.

I touch on body image issues, both men’s and women’s, in my book. I don’t know if Jewish women are more prone to eating disorders than any other ethnic group, but they are perhaps more articulate in acknowledging and addressing them. I look at the film’s website and I think of other women and their pain. The film already has had an impact, judging from the hundreds of comments posted on the site’s guestbook about viewers’ responses to it. I can only hope that Judy Avrin’s response to her great loss leads to comfort and support for people who punish themselves when looking in the mirror and not seeing the God-given wonder they truly are.