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Wednesday
Jun152016

Six Great First Dates

One of the vehicles on display for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston's exhibit Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles 1929-1940. February 23, 2016.

Most people default to coffee or drinks for a first date.

Meh.

Meeting someone new for coffee feels like networking. First dates feel enough like interviews without having the accoutrements of an actual business meeting.

A first date over drinks makes dinner afterward feel obligatory, and you may not want to risk putting so much time on the line for a stranger.

Further, having drinks with someone can feel overly romantic, and when you meet someone for the first time at a sultry bar and you feel anything but sultry upon first real-life encounter, something already awkward—a first date—just ratcheted up eleventeen notches of awkward, where you’re contorting your body in such a way as to ensure they don’t get the idea for a good-night kiss later.

Take the following suggestions for great first dates from a—sigh—dating veteran:

  1. Visit a museum. Doesn’t matter the subject, a museum makes for a great first date. On first dates, I’ve visited mainly art museums, but science museums would work as well—as would quirky museums like the ones we have in Houston celebrating art cars and funeral history. (Yes, really.) You can spend the entire time talking in a museum—yet the setting makes it so you don’t have to talk nonstop, either. Even better, looking at exhibits together gives you something immediate to discuss with someone you don’t otherwise know.
  2. Go for a walk. I’ve enjoyed jaunts around a few parks and city neighborhoods in Houston; the movement keeps down jitters and the things and people you encounter provide good conversation fodder. Even better, you might run into a free performance of some kind—live music in parks happens on the regular. (Side note: Walks and bike rides fall on opposite sides of the good-idea list for first dates. Cycling’s single-file formation, speedier pace, and road or trail noise do not make for good conversation.)
  3. Take a dance class. Early in a date one late afternoon, a salsa dancing class struck up in the tea shop where my date and I had met. The instructors begged us to join, mainly because they wanted to move our table out of the way. Though I may not have jumped at a dancing date if offered, the lesson gave us an excuse to touch chastely, a lot of laughter, the challenge of attempting to learn something together, and a good story.
  4. Go shopping. I’ve only tried this at a bookstore, yet I figure a mall or a street market would prove just as good a way to get to know someone by discussing items on offer and getting a feel for your date’s purchasing habits. (Hey, can’t hurt to figure out the buying habits of a potential partner sooner rather than later.)
  5. Paint. These wine-and-painting-party places have had passed heyday, and I wouldn’t plan a party at one of them today. For a date, though, the activity feels perfect. You have a job to do, you sit together, you can flirt over painting styles, and the paints and water and aprons and easels lend a sense of play and childhood and allow you to let down your guard just a bit.
  6. Try trivia night. Though at a bar, and so technically in the category of “meeting for a drink,” going to a trivia night adds a little sense of competition—and you can see what kind of sport you’ve chosen to meet. If someone’s ego gets toasted by missing a question at a bar’s trivia night, or if they spew sarcasm at you for suggesting a wrong answer, knowing it first thing allows you to avoid a second thing.

Have any of these first dates turned into second dates? Not yet. The first date my last serious relationship and I had took place over lunch on a weekday. (Hey, low pressure—and therefore not bad as an option.) The first date for the previous serious relationship took place over dinner.

However, I met both men in the real world—not on-line. So perhaps that helped; we’d met and had some level of in-person conversation prior to our first formal date. Allow me to feel wistful for a moment: Sure seems like few people meet “organically” like that anymore.

Tell me about your best first date.

Wednesday
Jun012016

Things I Learned in the Grand Canyon

Self portrait with blue rock. Grand Canyon, Arizona. April 24, 2016.

Either at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon or somewhere near the nadir, I realized that I find hiking boring.

This shocked me. For years, I’ve believed that I like hiking. And frankly, it seems like I should like hiking. I like spending time outside. I like exercising. I like physical challenges. I like to push my limits.

So… Leslie likes hiking. Right?

In this I-like-hiking conviction, I’ve mused about great hiking locales and have even planned and taken hiking trips. I’ve hiked with a close friend in Glacier National Park over a long weekend. I’ve hiked numerous sections of the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, near where my father has a house in Alto. I’ve hiked here and there over the course of many years.

And recently, I had a friend talk me into—without trouble, mind you, because until halfway through this trip I believed I liked hiking—a day hike down into the Grand Canyon, an overnight in bunks near the Colorado River in a camp called Phantom Ranch, and a subsequent day hike back to the rim.

Aside: If you like hiking enough to go without sleep for forty-eight hours, I’d recommend this particular Grand Canyon experience. As for me, I consider the learning that I don’t like hiking my valuable takeaway from the trip.

Along the trail, my friend called out the names of plants and birds. He commented on the weather patterns, geological changes in the cliffs, and the chemical makeup of rocks (lots of different types of metals, of course). We stopped to marvel at vistas along the way. (Without question, the Canyon is far more beautiful looking up from the inside than you could ever imagine when looking down from above.)

We had a lot of hiking time.

We had two entire days and one sleepless night to contemplate life and the experience of hiking.

And during these contemplative hours, I realized that I don’t care what humans call rocks or geologic formations or plants or birds or most wildlife.

Further, I realized that the other people we encountered interested me a heck of a lot more overall and in general than the rocks and geologic formations and plants and birds and other wildlife.

We met a couple from Orange County who seemed about as out of place as I felt and who wondered over dinner at the bottom of the Canyon how long it would take it get out of there—equally as ready as me to have it over and done. We met a couple celebrating the husband’s sixtieth birthday by hiking all over the Canyon for a long weekend. We passed a quantity of French speakers and a few people speaking Chinese.

I talked for quite some time with the Orange Country couple. As for the foreigners we passed, I wanted to know why they had come to the Grand Canyon. I don’t know what compels Americans to do it, other than a sense of patriotism and appreciation for the natural wonders in our immediate midst. So what does the Grand Canyon signify for people who’ve originated elsewhere?

To me, signs of life mean signs of human life.

Yep, as I trudged around the Canyon, I realized that I really like observing people-animals. And seeing what they’ve built and done.

When I scanned my hiking memories to test this hypothesis, the people with whom I traveled and the human life we encountered stuck out the most—not vistas, flora, or fauna.

In the Lincoln National Forest, I got lost in the rain with my boyfriend and the hiking stick he found and we held petty arguments due to ongoing relationship tension and stress over whether we’d ever find our way back to civilization. On that same hike, we saw a high-in-the-sky aerie for a park ranger and got to look out her windows and talk about her life.

In Glacier National Park, a nearby bear forced a good friend and me to talk loudly while quickly hiking down the trail when neither of us felt quite like chatting, given disagreements caused by the friction of travel and the difficult places we’d found ourselves in our lives. On a jaunt later that same weekend, I remember finding our way into a hippie commune and getting a glimpse of alternate lives lived in the wilderness of Montana.

And although I like the outdoors, I like the outdoors in civilization most of all. Watching the runners on the Grand Canyon trails, it dawned on me that I don’t particularly like to run in parks. I don’t even enjoy the paved trails in dedicated urban exercise areas. I prefer to run on city streets.

So I faced it: I like the great outdoors. In the city.

I may rank as a confirmed introvert, yet I haven’t a misanthropic constitution. I find people fascinating. (I just don’t want to interact with all of them.)

After all, I majored in history. More specifically, I majored in intellectual history. If history tells the tales of people, intellectual history tells the tales of how people have thought over time and from whence their ideas sprung. And my favorite classes, other than history? Psychology. Anthropology. The people subjects.

Case closed.

Tell me about your last epiphany.

Tuesday
May172016

What I’m Doing Back

I took this photo of an intersection marker in Galveston when I wanted to ensure I remembered where I parked my car. Seems an apt metaphor for seeking direction. Galveston Island, Texas. January 30, 2016.

This post makes two more posts this year than I wrote in all of last year.

In fact, I trailed off even toward the end of the year before that. I went well over a year not writing almost at all.

Where did I go?

The people who have mentioned the blog to me, and who have said they missed it, flattered me immensely. (These people numbered fewer than you might expect, alas. And I will love them forever.)

In a way, I missed the blog, too. I missed thinking through questions and ideas in the process of writing about them, and I missed the occasional dialogue my posts inspired, which made me feel less alone in my ponderings.

Interaction through my blog provides me a small sense of community, when it happens.

Yet other matters and events have drained my time and energy, and as my stress increased, the urgency of writing waned. Worse, I felt I no longer had anything of interest to say.

I’ve asked a couple people who inquired about the blog what they missed about it. What posts they liked best. Even where they’d like to see it go.

One person said that while she appreciated the posts on business, current events, and culture, she liked best what I’d written about me—my feelings, my life, my joys and struggles. The more personal essays that gave her the chance to know me just a little more deeply.

While I’ve popped up with a diary-style essay occasionally, I’ve always kept the particulars of my personal life out of the on-line realm; I haven’t ever posted travelogue-style journal entries or detail-filled narratives about my life. Partly, I’ve avoided these types of posts out of a sense of privacy. Partly, I’ve forgone them out of a lack of narcissism—a lack of belief that anyone could possibly find interest in my day-to-day.

Most of the people I queried for specific input and direction on this blog didn’t have concrete answers about the types of posts they liked best. So still, I solicit input. Do you, dear reader, have a type of post of mine that you prefer? The how-tos? The business and career advice? Humor? Relationship topics? Book reviews? Favorite-stuff posts? Essays on current events, arts, and culture? Other?

I welcome the guidance.

I feel renewed twitches of the itch to write. Does this itch need scratching every other day—the frequency at which I posted when I started this blog? No. Likely, I’ll write as I feel compelled—with even once a week as aspirational and nothing to expect, especially not at first.

Maybe, in posts to come, I will crack just a little wider a window on my life. I don’t post much on Facebook, so perhaps this site transitions into an outlet for keeping informed the few people interested in the particulars of my life, even if only in once-a-month highlights or travelogues from work or play (because, goshdarnit, I plan to actually find play in my life again this year).

Perhaps I’ll write posts about just one book, or thing, or thought, rather than compilations and full-out essays.

What I won’t do: Stick to one topic, despite what the blog gurus advise. As before, the notion of adhering to a single subject or mirroring top-searched posts in new content (another key blog tip, per the experts) bores me. Whatever you suggest, don’t suggest this tack. And if you do, don’t get upset when I don’t act on it.

We shall see. As I figure it out, I’d sure like to read what you think in the comments below or via the comments form. (I know some people feel even more private than me when it comes to posting on the Internet.)

Your thoughts?

Sunday
Mar272016

What I Think When You Hit on Me at the Gym

Me, stretching on the floor preworkout, as Ramona tries to smother me. Though you can't see what I'm wearing, you can trust her judgement in trying to put me out of my misery. June 2015.

Anyone who tries to flirt with me—in any setting—who has any intention of an actual pick-up needs to make his approach almost comically obvious. Take (or not, as I didn’t) the guy who hit on me in the parking lot while I was leaving the gym this week:

Him: “Beautiful car.”

Me, navigating out of a tight spot, windows down: “Thanks.”

Him: “Not as lovely as the woman in it, though.”

Me, thinking how nice a random act of complimentary kindness feels on a Monday morning: “Aww. Thanks!”

Long pause, during which I wiggle my car back and forth. I still haven’t thought to get a good look at the dude.

Him: “Maybe I could take you to lunch sometime?”

And yes, dear reader, it still took a couple seconds after this exchange for me to realize he had intentions beyond simply making pleasantries and exhibiting patience while I got out of the way.

In the scene above, I wore ratty maroon gym shorts, a gray tank top, a forest-green towel-as-cape, fuchsia sneakers with holes, and sweaty hair standing up a la Bart Simpson.

No one could call me an attractive exerciser.

Even after long road races for which I feel pride of accomplishment, I don’t buy the overpriced promotional photos. Actually, I try to position my race bibs so that the photographers can’t capture the identifier by which they’d horrify me via e-mail with visual evidence of what I look like exercising.

I can’t possibly imagine on any given workout day how someone could find me alluring.

Should I feel flattered that someone likes me in a sweaty, mismatched, frumpy, disheveled state, seeing it as an opportunity to wow him in the future? Yet if he likes me at the gym, will he like me not at the gym? What about a nasty gym look appeals to this man? And what does liking a nasty gym look say about him? Should I question this guy’s mental health? His judgement?

However—

I met my last serious long-term relationship in an early-morning running group. (Yes, this means we met sweaty in the dark, which sounds a lot sexier than the reality.)

So maybe I should give fitness locales a little more credence.

Given how much time I spend in gyms and on running routes, meeting someone in one of these spots would probably make lifestyle-matching somewhat easier.

Yet wouldn’t this mean I need to put more care into my workout façade? And I don’t want to spend the time, effort, or money to look good during a workout. I just want to work out.

A conundrum.

Where did you meet your spouse, partner, significant other?

Saturday
Mar122016

That Time I Bought a Mattress

The first night with our new mattress, Ramona decided she preferred the old pillows. Even a dog doesn't fall for the hype, people. March 2016.

I don’t know about you people, who must buy mattresses weekly to keep the sheer volume of mattress stores in business, yet I’d only bought mattresses twice in my entire life.

My first personally purchased mattress came from IKEA in London, where I’d relocated without any furniture (or mattresses). I bought my second mattress when I moved from London to Houston (also without furniture or mattresses). Unbelievably, for reasons other than mattress purchases or use, I made this second mattress purchase nearly fifteen years ago.

I’d still not have recently purchased my third mattress if I hadn’t made the now-questionable decision to dump my old guest-room mattress, which came from a friend’s then-new wife. She no longer needed it once they married, so she’d had it in storage for a while when I moved to town. So who knows its age. I would ask her, if she and my friend hadn’t long since divorced.

When I made the decision to get rid of the old guest-room mattress, I thought buying a new mattress would cost a few hundred dollars. And I figured, without buying into the mattress-industry’s marketing-manufactured hype about purchasing a new bed set every eight years, a new mattress with all today’s vaunted mattress technology (memory foam! sleep numbers!) might feel nice in the master bedroom, with my current mattress relegated to the bedroom down the hall.

And then I went to a mattress store.

Unsurprisingly, the only other person in the store sat behind a desk in the back. Again, I call this unsurprising because I hold firm (no mattress pun intended, but I’ll just leave it there) in questioning the validity of most mattress stores. The world doesn’t need more mattress outlets than ATMs. Especially with most furniture shops and department stores also selling, you follow, mattresses. Can you say “racket?” Maybe “front?”

Byron put up with me nicely. I give him extra credit, in fact, for staying unflapped even after I barked over his greeting that I wouldn’t buy anything at all that night, not whatsoever, and that I wouldn’t even make a decision or hint at one. Get that, Byron? Back off, Byron.

Aside: I hate to have someone sell to me. Yet I sell to people. Let’s not muse on what a psychoanalyst would say.

I learned that unless I wanted what effectively would feel like a cot, I needed to spend four figures.

And lest I think a four-figure mattress top-of-the-line when it comes to mattresses, Byron walked me to a showpiece that cost a solid five figures. Actually, I think the thing topped out with all bells and whistles at about $17,000.

Seventeen. Thousand. Dollars.

In other words, buying a mattress may require the same investment as a buying a decent used car.

Now, everyone with whom I have shared my shock—including Byron—wants to tell me that I spend eight hours a day on a mattress, so what seems like an unreasonable expense actually makes sense.

Clever. The mattress store people got to you, didn’t they?

Let’s dissect this fallacy:

  • The vast majority of mattresses that ranked above the quality level of camping cots felt much the same after a brief prone period. The only difference came from the increasing awkwardness of lying there, work-clothes-clad, on half a dozen mattresses in succession while a Polo-shirted salesperson stood nearby. Paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for one mattress over another above the cot level seems crazy, by this measure.
  • I will sleep for the majority of the eight hours I may spend on this mattress each day. While sleeping, I lose consciousness. Therefore, these eight hours don’t compose time spent fully aware of the amazing experience of lying on a ridiculously expensive, automobile-level investment. In a car, I can at least with full consciousness (one would hope) experience the joy of driving.
  • The majority of the human race across the globe sleeps on pallets on hard surfaces such as, yes, the ground. This includes the Japanese, who traditionally sleep on mats on the floor. Note that research often lauds the Japanese for having one of the healthiest cultures on the planet.
  • Lest you argue that, majority-of-humans and Japanese aside, sleeping on volumes of fabric, polymers, foam, springs, and what-have-you feels better, some studies indicate that sleeping on the ground reduces pain and discomfort. Further, no reliable science has found that mattresses improve health and wellness.
  • Further, experts say that humans sit too much, and have equated sitting and smoking. Sleeping in one of these new-fangled beds that crunches the body into a slightly more horizontal seated position for a lot of extra money seems ill-advised.

After much griping and incredulity spread far and wide to friends, coworkers, and even a couple strangers at a business event, I bought a mattress. My purchase-experience takeaways:

  • For a long stretch before and after the purchase, buying a mattress will cause emotional distress.
  • You will not feel excited by the major-capital-expense purchase of a new mattress, unlike how you might feel after acquiring a new-to-you car.
  • Shock, awe, and begging may get you a few concessions and a freebie or two from the salesperson, who wants to avoid post-traumatic-stress disorder from dealing with your mattress-purchasing psychological fallout.

I wish I had more heartening advice.

How transpired your last mattress-purchase?