Act right part II

In this educational series/TED Talk/Nickel’s worth of free advice, I wanted to leave a little bit of room for something which I have considered lately as probably one of the most dangerous things of starting a new relationship: Charm.

Just knowing how things work out in relationships much of the time, I have to say that in the Snow White story, it was doomed from the start. Prince Charming might only have that going for him, just like your Prince Charming. Er…Princess Charming. Whatever. Adjust the pronouns as you need, because this shit is universal.

Charm

Charm gets you through the door but it won’t be what keeps you there. Being funny, interesting, having a crude joke, or a party trick will catch their interest, but unless you are in the Ringling Bros. eventually that shit is going to wear thin. Usually when someone is front loading the charm, it means that they will probably turn out to be a real piece of crap later on. Charm is nice, but it doesn’t last and anyone who has been burned by it will actively avoid it once they understand it is pretty much just bait for a deadly trap.

Some of my friends have recounted some of the most charming people they have spent time with later turned out to be horrifying monsters. They fell for compliments and sweet talk. So the next time someone sweet talks them, they won’t believe it, even if it is spoken with total sincerity…which is only about 1 in 1000 times.

Masks

Yes, I sound cynical. How the hell else are you supposed to meet people? On dating apps you are supposed to have a great opening line or you won’t get even a hello back. Those are supposedly what is required these days to even participate in the gene pool. (I’ll pass, thanks). Like most of us are doing these days, you are just wearing a mask. Masks are fine as long as they don’t exceed their purpose. Some of the greatest romances in stories have begun at masquerade balls…well, of course those also end in tragedy…bad example, Romeo and Juliet. But everyone wears a mask to some degree. It removes them from the situation just a little bit so they can operate. Some people wear a mask of alcohol, which they think emboldens them; The old Dutch Courage. For some, their mask is their physical prowess. Either a push-up bra, lots of makeup, big biceps, a six-pack of abs. Etc. This mask dazzles people who don’t really consider having to actually speak with someone they are involved with apparently. Masks are what you want the world to see, and even buy you some time until you decide what you want to reveal about yourself.

In time, all masks dissolve, however. Even if there is just another mask under that mask.

A schtick

Others have their schtick or their line of bullshit. In social situations I tell stories, make jokes, etc. but only when I’m loose or comfortable enough to do it. This is just in general too. The only problem is you have to have a receptive audience. I’ve been to parties where I hid behind a mask of just sitting in the corner and watching people. I know some people whose schtick is doing a parlor trick like drinking a lot of hard liquor in a short amount of time or demonstrating they have no gag reflex.

To which I have to say, I remember my first beer.

Movie quotes are a good mask, but eventually someone wants to know what you have to say, rather than something you’ve memorized from your favorite Quentin Tarantino flick.

At the end of the day, even if I am ON IT at a social gathering or just out in public, the introverted side of me kicks in and I just want to be quiet, listen to sad songs in my car, and breathe. Having a schtick also means that you eventually won’t be ON. Nobody can be.

You have to back it up

Charm is fine for breaking the ice. But even the sweetest person in the world won’t be charming all the time. You have to back it up with integrity, kindness, empathy, and putting in the work. Otherwise, once that mask comes off, if charm was all you had, they will see the ugliness you’ve been hiding, instead of the beauty behind the mask. Substance and character beats charm every time. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case, charm might be all you’ve got.

Act right

A while back, I wrote a post about just about any jackass who was dating any number of my female friends was named Steve. And acting like a jackass. Today while visiting with one of my female friends about her current situation, I got to hear about more douche-lagoonery. Combine that with some other tidbits I’ve heard lately for other friends, I decided it was time to talk about what is wrong with this picture. Just like Highlights magazine for children. Only this if for anyone struggling with dating.

Know when to say When

Her scenario: It’s Sunday afternoon. Do you know where your boyfriend is? Yes you do! He’s at the bar, off his face drunk and texting you to come get him. No, don’t, he says. No, wait, you’d better. Gibberish gibberish self-loathing gibberish. I LOVE YOU!!!

She is going to see this as a red flag. And for the love of Mike, don’t tell your girlfriend you love her for the first time in a drunken text. This is not the story she wants to share with anyone on your silver anniversary. Odds are you won’t make it that far.

Some of the other problems I have seen involve alcohol. I mean these days, people are drinking more, but compared to just about any other illicit, mood-altering substance out there, adding alcohol has almost never made a situation better.

Space and time aren’t just for Neil DeGrasse Tyson

When there are moments in a woman’s life that are surrounded by doubt, sometimes she needs some time to think. Usually (from my experience) this isn’t good for her guy if she says this, but if that is the case he doesn’t need to pour gasoline on that campfire. Any dick pics will be deleted, or probably just forwarded on to her other friends (men and women) with the eyeroll emoji.

When she says, “I just need some space” this is not the opportunity to send her texts illustrating specifics as to what you want to do to her sexually. Leave her alone. She might actually think of charming things you have done (don’t worry, guys, you won’t even know what she is thinking about that will save your ass. It won’t be the moments you were deliberately doing anything that charmed her.)

Read a room

If she breaks up with you, don’t do the same damned thing, being especially crude and nasty. You are just showing how tone deaf you are to the situation. Not to mention disrespectful. You aren’t getting points. You are losing even more points if you do this while you’ve been drinking. Eventually she will come to terms with the fact that you have no intention of respecting her. Her friends will hate you in time and anytime they hear your name mentioned, they will all spit simultaneously to get the undesirable taste of the thought of you out of their mouths.

Rough starts

Beginnings can be difficult as well, even though they represent newness and discovery and mystery. As you progress you will start to notice little things that make you go, “Erm? Huh?” Guys, you aren’t being mysterious by saying “I’ve done bad things in my past. You should probably break up with me.” You are actually giving her some insight as to how she needs to respond to whatever the hell it is you think is so heinous you need to be written off.

On the obverse side, if either of you is just learning about the other, full-disclosure should be appreciated and encouraged about any sexually transmitted diseases you might be carrying. With great Herp comes greater responsibility. I think Spiderman said that. Hiding that shit until either of you has an outbreak is not how you win someone’s trust.

If you have been married several times, that information should also be disclosed upfront. It might even be first date conversation. It should probably be included on your driver’s license right along with whether or not your are of consenting age or if you are an organ donor. Better yet, just have a face tattoo that indicates how broken you are as a person. Saves time! Especially if you are still legally married to at least one of them!

Miscellaneous is the largest category

If you meet an old flame and things get heated, and you wind up sleeping with each other again, it is a douche-lagoon move to ghost them afterwards. What might be worse is trying to smooth things over with lines such as “Just a friend helping out another friend” or “can you send me your half for the hotel room?” These are NOT ways to respond. These kinds of words hurt people.

If you are dating someone you just aren’t all about, don’t tell them a list of names of people you would jump at the chance to date again. For God’s sake, don’t marry that person, because they will always, always remember that list of names. If you have a list like that, don’t break someone’s heart until that list is no longer a thing, or the person you are spending time with makes you forget there ever even was a list.

A friend of mine recently told me that dating in your thirties is like shopping in a thrift store. Believe me, it is much worse in your forties. The sheer amount of damage any of us carry around at any given time should earn us a closer parking spot at the store. Try to be kind to each other, and respect others. Most of all, respect yourself.

Learn to act right.

Start Running

Recent events in my life have definitely thrown me for a loop. I have around a week of the day job left. The final bits of an event in my life that has lasted for nearly 19 years. After that is the uncertainty of freelancing full time. I have a lot of uncertainty about that. Most people have already switched jobs about half a dozen times at the very least in that amount of time, but not me. I’ve stuck it through during recessions, housing bubbles, tech bubbles, and now the Higher Ed bubble. When I was married, it was the only stability I had. The job market where I have lived for the last 19 years hasn’t been all that welcoming to my skill set; not when you are the sole source of income for a family of five. Quitting would have devastated my family as we had no savings and were usually behind on bills. Long story short, kids, marry someone who is on the same page you are when it comes to making a budget.

I’ve lived modestly, biding my time for when I could finally try my hand at writing. That moment arrived this year in a sink or swim kind of decision. The stability of the boring day job is going away next week. I am thrilled and I am terrified. I see my university as being the canary in the coal mine. It won’t be long now before people recognize Higher Ed for the Ponzi Scheme it really is.

Even the place I am leaving had a $10M deficit each year and these cuts were supposed to curtail that. We had around 108 days of funds left barring any natural disasters…then COVID-19 hit. Now the university looks to be sporting a projected $15M deficit and counting. Per year. That’s up around 50%. I’m glad I took the severance and won’t be looking back.

But the idea of filling my days writing articles and copy for companies is a little panic-inducing. I guess I’ll just have to adjust. It could be the best decision I ever made.

The end of a wonderful 10 month relationship has left me teetering on the edge of just move on with my life and being bitter. Today I choose to just get on with my life, rather than dwell on the details. The whys of “Things were going great and then…they are over.” That just plays into my abandonment issues, trying to change myself to suit what I imagine their needs to be, etc. Nobody asked me to do any of these things. This is just life. Sometimes things just don’t work out, even if you thought they had been.

I was watching a Chris Voss video the other day. He’s the FBI negotiator you might see on YouTube ads. He said something particularly interesting about psychological stress and leverage. As someone who was in the equivalent of FBI special forces, he said uncertainty is the biggest obstacle we have to face. On his training, he said they didn’t do things like torture them or haze them for the final test. He said they picked them up in a car and said, “Let’s go for a run.”

They dropped the trainee off and said, “Start running.” We are all built to know how to pace ourselves if we know how long we have to endure something. He said he could do a six minute mile, but that involved knowing that it was only going to be so far and for so long. When someone says, “Start running” you don’t know if it’s going to be ten minutes or six hours. You just start running. You wonder if you are doing it right. You wonder if you are going to last or wash out. What breaks people is the uncertainty of when, or rather IF it will ever end. Hostages and their loved ones wake up every day without knowing if today is the day that they can stop running, for one reason or the other. It is stressful. This is why routine is important. Run until this, you can make it another 100 yards. You can make it to the next 100 yards. Keep going.

Chris Voss said he had to run for about 45 minutes, but it was one of the most challenging moments of his life. If felt like hours and hours to him. Right now, I feel like that is what I’m up against. I don’t know if freelancing is going to be successful. I don’t know if I will ever meet someone again. There is a gap between right now and what is coming up and I don’t know anything about what to expect.

I am being eaten up by this uncertainty. Someone told me to just start running. I saw an inspirational meme that helped out some. It said something about the space between what is happening now and what you expect is filled with uncertainty. Don’t be frightened about the uncertainty, but be curious about the possibilities.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

All I can do is trust that I’ve made it this far and I have plenty of tools in my toolbox to prepare me for about 80% of what happens next. That’s a lot more than a lot of people have going for them right now. I’m looking down that long road ahead, unsure of what will come next other than the distorted lens my experiences have given me on Trust, future plans, or committment. Too many sad choices. I’m in my forties. I don’t have a lot of faith in people left anymore. God knows they all have their baggage too. I can focus on a few things right now. Getting my business going. Raising my son. Being open to whatever good things are just over the horizon. The list is getting shorter though, I must admit.

I hope to show gratitude for the good that has happened in my life and patience for the moments that challenge me. The work keeps me company. My memories help fuel the work. I have the rest of my life to run. Starting…now.