Faith, Hope, and Love

February 10, 2008

One thing that helps romance keep afloat is that of hope. As long as there is a chance out there to find their one true love, most people are content. Sure, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that that blonde down at the coffee shop who bends over a lot to work the milk steaming machine or whatever it’s called will say “yes” when you ask her out, but as long as you can sit in the comfortable confines of your isolated emotional box and ponder the fact that there might be a chance…that’s worth all the actual balls-requiring activity you would need to actually take some risk. Hope does a lot to gloss over a lot of lonely Valentines’ Day evenings and watching The Notebook after 10pm.

Of course, hope can do a lot of scapegoating, as well. While it’s nice to extrapolate theoretical romances in your mind, the practical results are often left a lot to be desired. Hoping that it won’t be the case may make you feel better, but, just like comfort food, caffeine, and the alternative minimum tax, once reality sits in of what you’re really going to have to put up with you’re often left with disappointment. For example:

Hope: I hope that that guy finds me attractive.
Reality: I hope she puts out on the first date.

Hope: I hope I find my true love.
Reality: I’m going to set my standards as to what true love is so high that when I realize that what I’m looking for is impossible to achieve I will be dead.

Hope: I hope I didn’t forget her birthday again.
Reality: Will they be listed as “lawyers” or “attorneys” in the yellow pages?

Hope: I hope I didn’t scare her off.
Reality: I hope he realizes I’m Catholic.

Hope: I hope my significant other doesn’t find out how much I’ve been flirting with the help.
Reality: This could really hurt her chances to secure the presidential nomination.

Another reason that hope is so strong is the mere existence of online relationship web sites. Now, granted, classifieds have been around for quite a long time ever since Og carved “Single Cro-Magnon Male Looking for Single Female, likes long walks on the beach, being drug by hair to cave. Must love mammoths, imminent starvation” in the town rock. And, of course, there is a lot of money to be made in hope, as individuals looking to find their match online are usually willing to pay a premium for such services. (Though one has to pause when a discount is offered for six months of service, a time frame most would assume is more along the lines of the discouraging.) It’s so lucrative that niche markets are about to produce reasonably massive profits, and sites such as JDate and Adult Friend Finder can specialize in (hopefully vastly different) demographics. Simply adding the old .com to any particular concept seems to be a recipe for success, and so and won’t have very long to wait until they are presented with a catalog of love.

Of course, with the introduction of massive amounts of opportunities also frightens many people away. By expanding our choices, we also dilute the attention given to each one. Typing in our height, lying about our weight, and checking off hobbies such as “hiking,” “watching TV,” or “illegally downloading music” and crossing our fingers is a far cry from the personal touch of having the file clerk down in inventory try to hook you up with his roommate’s sister who, by all journalistic standards of accuracy, enjoys having a good time.

Having faith in the new technology of romance is almost essential in today’s world. Not having such faith will unnecessarily restrict you in your choices, and with a few adaptations of behavior, mostly those that will keep you away from confronting Chris Hansen, it can be used to terrifyingly great effect. And while those who help sort through personality matrixes and conquering the elusive likes/dislikes algorithm may have a financial bias to get you laid and/or finding true love, in the end both parties gain. Faith is important for this particular commercial transaction, of course, since it seems destined to replace the more traditional, if more time-consuming and potentially embarrassing, personal recommendation. While your friends and family have a vested interest in not pulling a bait and switch scam on you, lest you skimp on the Christmas present next year or buy generic potato chips for the family picnic, only wonders whether you’re paying by check or credit card. Having faith that the system works is, therefore, required to keep the whole house of cards from tumbling into a giant heap of unfilled promises, shattered expectations, and Kleenex.

And, of course, it requires a bit of faith for the relationship itself. The person you meet for the first time is only as good as he or she says she is. Most dates don’t come with a background check or a credit report, so you have to take it on faith what they’ve done with their lives. They could be polygamists or cat ladies or libertarians and you’d never know it from their endlessly fascinating stories about what color his car was in high school or the first time she wore makeup to church. Starting out the relationship assuming everything that the other person is telling you is a ridiculous lie is probably the practical and better idea, but having faith in the opposite of that will help you sleep better at night.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, love will answer its own questions. You’ll know when it’s time to relent and cast hope into the wind, safe in the knowledge that your relationship can deal with true reality—and it has to, in order to survive the ups and downs that is the universal nature of love. Faith is unnecessary when you can accept your partner’s unconditional trust, evolving it into obsolescence, and no longer question the important conversations, or even the more pleasurable trivial ones. Indeed, as has been posited, out of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is, and has to be, love. Dot com.

Old Man, Take A Look At My Wife

May 19, 2007

Joe Hardy, founder and CEO of the 84 Lumber Company and owner of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, recently exchanged rings and probate court servers with a 22 year old salonist employed at the complex he owns. Or, rather, previously employed, though I suppose that goes without saying. Hardy recently reached his 84th birthday, so the age difference and standard deviation of wealth have raised more than just a few eyebrows. I’m sure it would take more than a few numerologists to divine that someone who named their lumber company “84” after the town it was started in would find a particularly creative way to celebrate their landmark 84th birthday, but I doubt even the most expert of psychiatrists would predict it would involve creating a future Anna Nicole Smith replacement. Nature, as it seems, perpetually abhors a vacuum.

May-December romances always seem to cause a bit of a stir when they happen, even though, historically, they’ve been rather common. Back in the day, gentlemen with, shall we say, a significant amount of life experience routinely courted mere teenagers as their wives, partly because in a day and age of rampant consumption, violent, drug-free childbirth that was the medically necessary equivalent of seamlessly passing a watermelon though a screen door, and the socially acceptable requirement of breeding enough children to field both teams, and the fans thereof, of a standard baseball game, it was encouraged that middle-aged men find fertile, study young women as their lifemates. Plus, they were pretty much old horndogs.

With gender equality came progress, though, and young maidens no longer had to be held as prizes for established merchants or reputable gentry to procure as a fruitful and subservient means of production. As the sexual revolution entered the mainstream, women were now free to be held as prizes for freshly minted middle managers and young appliance salesmen to procure as a fruitful and subservient means of production.

As society settled down to equilibrium during the sleepover Eisenhower years, marriage tended to be among equals—most courtships were between high school sweethearts, so unless the groom skillfully avoided getting assaulted with the smart stick for long enough and skipped about every other grade until he passed remedial study hall, the age among both parties involved reached near parity. So much so that couples often graduated together, started getting cancer screenings together, got sick of each other and cheated on each other together, and got that letter from the AARP and then discussed exactly how old they are and how they wasted their lives buying Frankie Avalon albums and voting Republican when all they really wanted to do is drink highballs and smoke duty-free cigarettes playing blackjack at the Indian reservation together.

Because of this, the incidence of the golddigger/trophy hunter match-up always gets people’s attention. It’s unusual enough as it is, though it’s perfectly explainable. Women tend to find constancy, maturity, and success as desirable traits in a man, while men tend to gravitate towards nubile innocent young things with a rather cavalier grasp towards socially accepted sexual mores. Pairing these two things up will often lead towards marriages of unequal ages. (Please note that this paragraph contains some atrociously sweeping generalizations, most of which women will find incredibly insensitive and men painfully indifferent. Such ham-fisted oversimplications will no doubt cast aspersions on my analysis, but it will certainly be enough to pass muster on, say, The CBS Evening News.)

The extreme forms of this occur in cases like Joe Hardy. It’s not terribly common, but hardly unheard of, as many old men realize that their sell-by date is fast approaching and they might as well get all they can while the getting is good, lest their shrew ex-wife get a portion of his money when he dies. It’s not too much to think that he might as well split the pot three instead of two ways while getting his rocks off in the process. Depending on their theological inclinations, of course, such transgressions will no doubt be either erased by the vanguards of history or, at least for Lutherans, eliminated with a healthy dose of God’s good grace.

It’s strange how, often, the females end up with the shadier reputation in these partnerships. Many of them are portrayed as stiletto-heeled vixens perfecting the art of extracting his wallet while staring at the ceiling. Yet nary an aspersion is cast at the man, who could just as easily be painted as a predatory pervert throwing greenbacks around in what is generally considered to be borderline prostitution. Perhaps it’s latent jealousy, perhaps it’s society’s expectations, but most likely it’s the fact that most old men with money have gotten to the point where eHarmony isn’t exactly going to be sending out boatloads of responses on a regular basis so they might as well go to the strip club for prospective wives.

To be honest, I’m surprised things like this don’t happen more often. I mean, every man wants some eye candy to wake up next to every morning, and every woman laments for financial stability. And if love isn’t defined as the appropriate arbitraging of sex and money, well, then, I don’t know what it is.

RelationHints! Conflict, Strife, and Other Displays of Affection

March 21, 2007

Today’s RelationHints are all about resolving differences! Every couple has occasional spats, but it isn’t all that hard to determine what the causes are for this kind of conflict. Once we determine what the problems are, there are several creative and fun ways to fix it. And most of it doesn’t involve prescription strength Midol.

So here are a few ways to identify then resolve your incompatibility issues. Some things to keep in mind:

Men and Women are Different! One of the most important things you can do is realize how men and women approach relationships. They are incredibly different! For instance, the female approaches a relationship by adhering to the following rules:

1. Do you have any money?
2. Would he be willing to give me some?
3. It looks like he’s done giving me money.
4. We can still be friends!

Men, of course, follow a different set of criteria:

1. Boy, I’d like to get in her pants.
2. Maybe if I cry during The Notebook.
3. Yikes. She’s called me twice this week. Better ditch the needy attention whore.
4. I wonder what her sister is doing tonight?

For the proper relationship, you have to find the point where these two sets of rules meet. It’s not hard! Alcohol is a great way to find a converging point to a blissful couplehood. Why else do you think your parents are still together?

Agree on something! Conflict is an inherent part of any relationship—thank goodness! Conflict can help build a relationship. By resolving these conflicts, couples can explore their boundaries and come to mutually acceptable solutions to their problems. This, in turn, brings you closer together. The perfect couple is always an unhappy couple! At least if you want to get to sleep at night! Ahem. Anyway, let’s take a look at some examples:

Example 1: Brian asked Jill if he could go out with the guys to watch the game, and she said okay. That night, though, Jill changed her mind and wants Brian to stay home and watch HGTV with her. Brian complains that he received prior approval and promised the guys he’d be out.

: Brian should stay home and watch television! There are seven whole playoff games, but only four episodes of House Hunters on in a row. Besides, if he doesn’t, Jill will bring up the time he looked four seconds at that cute waitress without looking the same amount of time at her immediately afterwards.

Example 2: Tina has wanted Ken to fix the hand railing on the porch outside for months now. Ken knows it is going to be a chore; it’s going to cost at least $400; and it’s a barely noticeable wobble.

Solution: Ken should fix the hand railing! Clearly, thirty-two hours of toil over three weekends in February along with $400 in materials is a small price to pay to not have her mother make a three-second condescending remark about how the house needs fixed up.

Example 3
: Jenny wants to purchase a new set of pumps that cost $180. Paul thinks this is too much to pay for shoes that will be worn maybe twice until they are out of style, and, besides, they are two mortgage payments overdue.

Solution: Paul should let her buy the shoes! It’s certainly important that all of Jenny’s girlfriends know that Paul makes enough money to let her buy $180 dollar shoes. Besides, mortgage debt isn’t included in state law to calculate alimony payments!

See? It’s not hard to find solutions. It’s those small, trivial things that make relationships so interesting! That and the items on the creepy shelf at Spencer’s Gifts.

Find Common Ground! Although most couples enjoy finding out a lot about each other, it can be surprising how much you don’t know about your partner, like the favorite childhood hobby they gave up, or their middle name. There may be things you both enjoy doing that you never thought about before! It will be useful to explore these points of interest and participate in them. Sit down and discuss what you both like, and just see what you can discover!

Her: Coach bags are great.
Him: What’s a Coach bag?
Her: I’m into scrapbooking!
Him: No shit.
Her: I love dolphins.
Him: I kind of thought those forty ceramic dolphins in my bathroom were a pretty good indication of that.
Her: And I loooooove Grey’s Anatomy!
Him: Eh. I’d rather watch The Sopranos.
Her: I don’t love you anymore.
Him: What?

Even if you can’t find any common points of interest, it’s not hard to create some. Try some adventurous activities that will bring you closer together, like skydiving, repelling, or shopping for drapes. Life was never so full of living life!

We’ve covered a lot of ground today. The most important thing to remember is that, for good or bad, all relationships are built on negotiation and trust, if by “negotiation” we mean “craven capitulation” and by “trust” we mean “we do whatever she wants.” Happy coupling!

Love, and Other Mercantile Pursuits

February 11, 2007

It’s that time of year again: young men and women from around the world become star-crossed and dewy-eyed as winter turns into spring; romance fills every empty crevice, emanating from every flower, every cloud, every sunset; people, walking, jogging, running, filing taxes hand-in-hand, looking deep into the eyes of that special someone and thinking about the same universal thought that has driven mankind since time immemorial: Money. Er, Love. I mean Love.

Capital-L Love is one of the few things that we cannot put a quantitative price on, at least not until we get married. And, to represent this upswelling of emotion, we have an entire holiday devoted to love: Valentine’s Day. (As opposed to, say, Thanksgiving, the main purpose of which is not to recognize love, but, rather, to restrain yourself from killing every member of your family with a carving knife, or Memorial Day, so government workers can leave work to get half price off of shoes.)

Valentine’s Day was invented by all those tenth grade guys who were much taller and better-looking than you and had pretty cars and fast women and could afford to blow their money on such frivolous items as sweaters from Kaufmann’s for their girlfriends. Valentine’s Day directly benefited them. And, despite the fact that the average teenage romance lasts about as long as a sitcom on the CW, it left people who took AP Calculus sitting at home on Valentine’s day reading J.R.R. Tolkien novels and wishing that women didn’t have the inherent power of being so attractive that state secrets should be kept from you.

Not that I ever had that problem. I hated The Hobbit. But Valentine’s day is still very popular, especially for Hallmark store managers and reality show producers, and the superseding emotion of Valentine’s day has certainly never been forgotten: Forgiveness.

This is the day that all men buy very expensive and very unnecessary items in a badly misguided but well-intentioned attempt to get their mates to forgive them for every rotten thing they have ever done, which, if publicly revealed, would probably be reasonable grounds for execution in many states.

There are many ways for men to do this. Take chocolate. Chocolate was invented decades ago by Latin American leaders who, for some reason or another, do all their business through banks based out of the Cayman Islands. There are typically two kinds of chocolate:

1. Chocolate manufactured in America that tastes like chalk and is used to bait mouse traps, and

2. Chocolate that tastes so good that, if it were biologically feasible, you would want to marry it.

Men who are not in trouble buy chocolate from acceptable if pedestrian American companies that like to experiment with toffee and other vaguely defined atrocities. Men who are deeply in trouble buy chocolate produced in small European countries that have no armies. The best bet for men who feel like taking out another mortgage would be to buy something like Godiva’s chocolate, which is apparently manufactured by extracting traces of candy from gold nuggets and of which a single box is worth at least two affairs.

Men who don’t feel like watching their significant others blow up like Tyra Banks could take another route: flowers. I never quite 100% understood what the big deal about flowers is. The main purpose of flowers are to A) smell up the place and B) lay around and eventually die. That’s what dogs are for, yet men still buy them for women who still act like you just gave them a winning lottery ticket or crystal meth.

Yet another way for men to create that “romantic” feeling is to take out their spouse or girlfriend on a “Mystery Date,” or, in technical terms, “sheer torture for everyone involved.” This entails surprising their female acquaintance with a trip to an expensive fancy restaurant, where the underlying principle is to serve the worst-tasting food in the smallest portions scientifically possible for the largest amount of money.

The female is so pleased to see that the object of her affection (or, perhaps, affectation) has committed so many resources to not taking her to the Eat ‘N’ Park Valentine’s Day pancake breakfast buffet that she forgets that the entire purpose of the date, at least by his perspective, is to make her forget that the only instance in which he would remember her birthday (or her name, for that matter) is if it was somehow connected with the outcome of the Super Bowl.

Is all of this pseudo-bribery worth it? To many people, the answer is: yes. Otherwise, our national economy would plummet and we would have to invent some other holiday based on a different emotion, like envy or greed. I, personally, favor greed: we could go around, trying to make as much money as we want, and then we could go home and gloriously bask in our newfound infatuation with materialism. And, really, isn’t that what love is all about?