“Trifles light as air are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ.”
Othello, Act III Scene iii
Desdemona was undone by a handkerchief. For the American single woman, a shiny diamond bauble worn on the wrong finger can create an opposite sort of mischief. Namely, missing out on finding the man of her dreams, or at least one that will upgrade (or condemn) her to ‘Mrs’. The modern conspiracy of DeBeers and Hollywood has increased the real estate value of a betrothed woman’s ring finger exponentially while causing a sartorial danger of the digits for those not spoken for.
Why? Because baubles might be trifling things, but they convey a commitment heavy with meaning, burdens, and danger for the interloper. A potential suitor scans quickly for something either genuine or masquerading as a diamond while considering his approach. Wearing the wrong jewel can mistakenly turn a harmless rhinestone into holy vows of matrimony.
At first, I refused to listen to the warnings. My obstinacy sprang partly from my love of the gold and diamond treasures gifted to me by my father. Indians give jewels the way Westerners give iPods and computers. I have a ring that could be a wedding band, sparkly with diamond clusters. My mother gave me a navratna ring – an astrological symbol of the nine planets containing the earth at the center represented by nine gemstones – supposedly to help end my spinsterhood. (Pluto’s planetary demotion has not yet hit the Indian astrological jewels market.) She failed to grasp that a ring with a raised pearl solitaire encircled by eight precious stones has the opposite effect at a crowded cocktail hour full of singles. Chastised repeatedly by well-meaning girlfriends, I defended the practice, wanting no part of the Western obsession with $10,000 engagements rings. It’s not part of my culture, so why do I have to comply? A fellow Indian-American had the final word – When in Rome do as the Romans do. You’re in the US, and the boys here don’t know about the astrological powers of the nine planets as represented in fine jewelry so get over it!
So the planets were packed away, awaiting martial bliss, and chunky, silver, unmistakably maiden trinkets were purchased. But so far we have only covered the jewel of marriage. What of the myriad hearts and gems of love? These, it turns out, have uses beyond adorning a woman’s extremities.
Recently, I was sifting through pieces at a Peruvian friend’s jewelry show when I found one worthy of extra attention. A faux Tiffany heart pendant. The classic boyfriend gift. But this was not the weight of it’s wispy original, hinting at romance in a delicate curve above the bosom, strands of hair at turns covering and revealing it like a cloudy day. This pendant was thickened and oversized with hefty layers of shiny 950 silver. It filled the open neck and demanded to be admired. I liked it, and it liked me. I was about to buy it when the familiar lament returned – to wear this is again to be falsely accused of coupledom. Or is it?
What does the prominent display of the classic Valentine’s Day gift from a loved – or liked – one convey to a prospective mate? The answer points in two promising directions for singles. First, silver is not gold, and it’s definitely not diamonds. If love is to be measured in precious metals, silver weighs in at blooming and tentative. A girl sporting a curvy heart is a ways away from the ‘full catastrophe’.
But doesn’t this still mean she’s taken? No. She’s not married which, from the man’s perspective, is the salient point. More interestingly, the heart declares that someone, at some point, found her worthy of romancing. Whether the pendant heart is a recent declaration, or the remnant of lovers past, it certifies value. For those who would object to such a classification, I offer the familiar scene of two lovely ladies entering a party, one escorted by a man while the other enters solo. The one in the company of the opposite sex is routinely more sought after. Why? Because nothing shines as brightly in a competitive man’s eye as a wanted woman. Inquiries will be made of the escort’s claims, their status, history, and solidity. And our lone feline in the corner? Well, she should have planned in advance by purchasing a chunky, faux Tiffany heart pendant for just such an occasion.
I bought the heart and am ready to begin the experiment. Will the silvery symbol attract eyes, inquiries, and ultimately dates? I will wear it frequently and report back. Of course, dear reader, the origins of the pendant’s purchase must remain our little secret. I’ll be keeping track of how many tales I can tell about the pendant and the men who gave it to me…
#4 – B & B
La dolce vita – The sweet life is sweetest when lived on the stiletto peninsula. Though I’ve never moved all my worldly possessions and attempted an Italian existence, I have spent weeks upon weeks strolling her beaches, learning her language, and believing the lies in her men’s eyes. To say I love Italy is to say I love being home. Indians and Italians share so many virtues and vices that it’s a wonder we haven’t made more babies together.
So, a man who leaves Italy for Washington, DC during the Bush years and is happy about it is a man worthy of suspicion. But those suspicions came later. On the surface, a blind date arranged by a mutual friend seemed perfect for my recently battered heart. He worked at the World Bank, my former employer. He had the typical balding that so many Italian men get in their 30s or 40s, and a slightly protruding pancia. Even so, Italians are not adored for six-packs, but for the wild movements of their gesticulated words and their love of all things beautiful.
We met at Indique in Cleveland Park. We started out in a trinity of loveliness – Indian cuisine, Sicilian wine and Italian conversation. I needed practice, and he was patient and charmed by my ability to dine in his mother tongue. He explained his choice of wine while I drank in the sun through the nectar of primitivo grapes. He was taking a course in regional wines at the Italian Embassy and thought my Italian good enough to attempt the course myself. Flattery plus love of libations equaled a promising first course.
We were an hour into a perfect meal of palak paneer and chana masala when the spices started to affect his nervous system. I made a passing joke about how similar our current leaders were at reflecting the worst of our respective societies – the ignorant, inarticulate Bush and his war-mongering sidekick Cheney. Berlusconi’s penchant for women and buffoonery coupled with his Mafioso-style ownership of not one, but three of Italy’s main television channels. I presumed my Italian opposite number in love of all things dolce vita would be boiling over in fevered agreement.
No. What ensued was a surreal defense of Bush and Berlusconi. Let me remind you, dear reader, that this defense came post-Katrina, post-Iraq, post-Abu Ghraib and, as far as most of the 94% of liberal voters of DC and I were concerned, post-apocalypse. I had never thought to question the politics of my dates, blind, bald, or otherwise since during the DC Bush years, there was only one song being sung. The opening lines of ‘We were robbed’ lead into a chorus of ‘Dubya so dumb’ and ‘Cheney so Darth Vader’. Surely there was a similar song in the Neapolitan style for Berlusconi? Surely a man of such refined tastes working at an institution in love with coffee breaks and dreams of a ‘World Free of Poverty’ must agree?
Again, no. My date sang of persecution and delusion. He railed against the socialist elites at the World Bank (did I mention he worked there tax-free?) and the witch-hunting of the charismatic Berlusconi. How the world needed strong leaders and B squared proved they were worthy. How Katrina was an ‘unfortunate’ mistake, but that terror must be fought and Abu Ghraib was probably a combination of a set-up and misunderstanding. The New York Times was never to be trusted, and Berlusconi was in no fear of bias just because he owned most news aired in Italy. We had switched over to English since my Italian didn’t include the words required to shriek out my shock.
Would there had been more wine, I would have spilled some on him, but he had cut us off at one glass each. I feared he was going to sing the Forza Italia theme, written by Silvio himself. Instead he went from defense of war to a personal account of his woes, filled with shadowy suggestions that he couldn’t return to Italy. He had been followed, or kicked out, or misunderstood, or rejected, or something. Unclear, start to finish, but his assurances that he was a hunted man were passionate. What appeared at first as a middle-aged, balding bureaucratic, was now a man on the run, unable to embrace his country for fear of further persecution.
My head now hurting, it was time to end our meal before indigestion followed, but he kept arguing, and I kept taking the bait. Two hours later, I found myself consoling him for his troubles, though I still didn’t understand what exactly they were. He was gracious with the bill, and gracious with his thanks.
Naïve ‘til the end, I felt a pang of pity for his misguided paranoia and wondered what woman would be patient enough to handle him. Why do I bother? A month later my friend called, informing me of his reunion with his ex-girlfriend, who was now his fiancée.
Words, words, words. So many of them, but whatever can they all mean? Use easily turns to abuse if words are left scantily clad by their author. Therefore, let me dress my terms in definitions that clarify, lest they be bandied about without sartorial care.
Let’s begin at the beginning. 50 Dates. Why 50? First, it’s a lovely number. Round, even, plumpy. It feels full and wise. Gold rather than mere gilt. Yet, when coupled with the word ‘dates’, it also strikes as absurd. The absurdity is intentional. I don’t know if I will make it to my 50th date, but asking for so many is like slapping my friends’ cheeks with a plumpy golden glove. I challenge you to find 50 men for me!
What constitutes 50? For my purposes, 50 refers to the number of different men I meet, not the number of dates I attend. Indeed, it is likely that I will go on a century’s worth of dates by next year, but I will stop at my limit of 50 poor fools.
The adjective defined, we are left with the noun. What is a date? We will need to embrace the word at times in spirit, at others in letter.
The Letter – A date requires intention, shared activity and coupling. Monsieur 1-50 must want to go on a date and know that the invitation could have amorous consequences. I will know his intention not by deciphering a secret boy code of grunts and conditional phrases. He will use some unadorned variation of the declarative sentence, “I am asking you out on a date.” It’s not a date if he mutters something about hypothetically hanging out at some hour undefined by sun or moon. Such non-dates usually involve video games and a bong, neither of which appeal to me.
The shared activity can be of his or our choosing, but must involve being seen in public together. (If he has nothing to hide, this shouldn’t be an issue.) Though imaginary points will be awarded for unusual or original activities – comedy clubs and motorcycle rides are fine ideas – dinner or drinks are a lovely place to start.
Dating is like a Noah’s Ark reunion – one male and one female of the species. We are a couple for the evening. No need for extra friends, colleagues, cousins, or pets, even if they come in pairs.
In truth, I’m a novice at Noah’s Ark dating. I loathe it. Meeting a man under contrived circumstances and engaging in small talk of the most banal variety repeated 50 ways hardly excites. I prefer cinematic encounters in faraway lands, filled with hours of luscious exchanges that lead to romantically charged transatlantic missives, paper or electronic. I’ve had several such encounters, complete with tentative phone calls and plane rides to parts unknown. Oh, the drama. But note, dear reader, I remain single. So it’s time to try the old-fashioned way.
The Spirit – Given my loathing, I allow the ‘spirit’ of dating into the 50 Dates definition. The spirit takes many forms – A dinner party introduction without forewarning and placed side by side, a salsa dance, a piano lesson, a tennis match, a Spanish class. In general, any introduction where one or both of us are not aware of romantic intent could count. Clearly, this contradicts the letter of dating law. In such cases, the initial meeting would not be considered a date (unless romance bloomed) but if it leads to dating, the man enters the Pack of 50.
What if I meet the guy? Well, it’s a safe assumption that reality love will not follow. It’s also outside the idea of six degrees to love, so my own catches will remain lone wolves, shunned from the Pack of 50.
Who qualifies as a date? If the gentleman caller is straight and single he makes the cut. That’s it. Really? Really. Well, no, not really. I have a zillion preferences, many of them superficial or downright fantastical. I must continually upbraid myself, “Silly girl, Henry V, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, and C.K. Dexter Haven do not exist! They are fictional characters, created by cruel artists intent to ruin your life. Hamlet and Heathcliff would be murder-suicides waiting to happen, even if they did exist. Snap out of it!”
I clearly cannot choose for myself so I am asking my friends to search the wide world for a suitable companion. Nonetheless, I distilled the fiction into a few needs.
Excerpt from an email written to friends (You will find the complete text on the ‘How and Why’ page):
Though we needn’t match in expression (that might be explosive), I do need a man with a passion and sense of what he wants in his life. Sharing passions is great – travel, literature, languages, architecture, cooking, dancing, music, tennis – but having one is key. As for culture, I’m a mixed breed. A desire to understand this is welcome. Finally, at my core I believe that until you’re dead, things can change… I enjoy a witty cynic, but nothing is more depressing (and ultimately inaccurate) than a person convinced that the status quo is all there will ever be.
Six Degrees to Love
‘Six Degrees to Love’ reads the tagline. Six degrees refers to the concept of six degrees of separation – the idea that each person on the planet is connected to the other by no more than six other people. Will plumbing six degrees of depth reveal my one true love?
Each person counts as one degree of separation. For example, if my neighbor forwards my request to her cousin who then puts me in touch with her former roommate’s fabulous brother, my new date and I will be four degrees of separation apart.
If past is prologue, my future looks grim. My dating life resembles bucolic landscapes littered with mines. Flowery starts, explosive ends. But the Bard didn’t leave us tethered completely to our history. The line ends, “what to come, in yours and my discharge.”
And so I begin 50 Dates with a prologue of dates past – my top 5 worst dates, that is. Tempests I have seen. Six degrees of separation from me, rainbows I hope will follow.
#5 – The BMW
His BMW convertible was an odd shade of purple, with the top down and the music loud. The letters B,M, and W linked together on a logo normally would not have held my attention. Contrary to prevailing tastes, I am not the gold-digging kind. In fact, I have trust issues with men who possess money. It seems to inspire a desire for more acquisitions, and I am no man’s door prize.
What caught my eye was the license plate. A special tag bragging that the driver was a triathlete. I looked up to see his biceps unfettered by sleeves, and the cuts of his dark-skinned muscles sparkling like diamonds in the noonday sun. I was behind the BMW, waiting for the light to turn green. I had 39 seconds to put the car in park, primp, open my windows, change lanes, and then act as if I hadn’t noticed him at all.
Yes, that’s right. I put myself in position, and then did what any sensible girl should do if she wants a boy. Ignore him. More accurately, ignore him while looking decorative. That man in that car with those guns for arms was not looking to be chatted up. The package, tags and all, bellowed confidence. We were at the corner of 7th and ‘R’ Streets, NW. His peripheral vision was acute, and if he were interested, he’d make a move by ‘P’ Street, latest.
Our triathelete didn’t waste time. By ‘M’ Street we were talking cars, by ‘K’ we were laughing about his last race, and by ‘G’ we were pulling to the side for a speeding fire truck and swapping digits. I feigned shyness and hesitated to share numbers. 5 minutes, 39 seconds. I had surely beaten my personal record.
Over the coming days, voicemails were exchanged and details were discussed. The triathelete was a cop by profession, patrolling the waterfront because he was also a licensed diver, naturally. Given the unpredictably of nocturnal marine criminality, we chose brunch for our first, and only, date.
We met at a diner, conveniently named The Diner, in the funky, relatively affordable Adams Morgan neighborhood. From the moment I sat down, it turned into the ‘I am man, hear me roar’ show. The triathelete showered me with tales of undercover busts of pimps and narcotic rings. When he wasn’t talking cops and robbers, he was explaining how astutely he had flipped several properties in his neighborhood and hoped to retire early, leaving more time for – triathlons.
Granted, he was doing all the talking, but I couldn’t have been surprised by his testosterone display. I envisioned a couple weeks of late-summer silliness, peppered with joy rides in the BMW and boat rides on the river. He could talk all he wanted. I picked at my dry egg sandwich and exclaimed at the appropriate moments. That is, until our server came back. She looked at me directly, asking if we would be paying together. He answered before I could process her request. “No, she will be paying separately.”
And so, one hour and $7.19 later, I was on my way home, on foot, alone, and stunned. I remind you, dear reader, that my boy vice of choice that day was not greed, but vanity. Yes, I was shameless in my pursuit, but the wealth that the convertible suggested was a secondary pleasure. My primary delight concerned the definition of body parts.
But the story doesn’t end there. On cue, he called me the next day, asking me out on another date. I pressed delete on the house-flipping, BMW-driving, hater of egg sandwiches. Gentlemen, please find this man a clue.
I invite you all to share your horror stories with 50 Dates. Misery loves an audience. Gentlemen, I am under no illusion about the craziness that is the female of the species. Feel free to tell your tales of woe. I will post the best tales on a separate page dedicated to bad dates.