really?

The Art of Being Demoted

“You’re not being fired,” he said.

“We’re outsourcing marketing,” he said.

“We definitely want to keep you,” he said.

In January, after two years with the company and two promotions, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I sat on the management team and advised on whatever marketing needs came up. In February I felt a shift happening, which quickly worsened, and I tried to find out what the problem was. On Monday, March 16, I was demoted and told they were getting rid of my department altogether.

“We’d like you to move into Account Management,” he said.

no

He was asking me to move from a writing-intensive, marketing-focused position I loved, one that was propelling my career forward, to a position that had nothing to do with my career path. I felt gutted.

Being demoted – or rather, having your department, of which you are the sole member, obliterated – makes you feel useless. All the time I spent studying industry magazines, doing research, compiling data, examining Excel files, organizing binders and files full of information. All the time I spent learning more about my work and figuring out ways to make it better. Everything I did as a member of the marketing department felt like it was unwanted, punched with a “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp.

I’m good at what I do. When you can point out errors and explain why they’re objectively wrong, that must mean you know what you’re talking about, right? I do freelance work for two different agencies, and they both love me.

I think I’m good enough. Other people tell me I’m better than good enough. But my department, my job, the past two-point-three-three years of my career were going to be outsourced.

“You’re not good enough.” He didn’t, but might as well have said it.

After being demoted, your position outsourced, you want to angrily reach out to the world and proclaim your indignation to the masses. You want to write long Facebook posts, and update your LinkedIn profile, and tell anyone who will listen about the righteous wrong that’s punched you so hard in the gut you don’t know which way is up.

If you’re me, you get so angry and scared and confused you want to cry. And you do. And it’s the most frustrating thing possible, because no part of you wants to cry: every part wants to kick and scream and throw things.

I threw my business cards into the trash instead of against the wall. Didn’t help.

Blasting the company online won’t help. Talking trash won’t help. Anxiety attacks definitely didn’t help, although I got to have one of those, which was super fun.

no panic

From a business perspective, I understand. I don’t think it was the right decision, but it wasn’t mine to make. Sure, I wanted to march out the doors of the office with middle fingers high and all my files shredded. I didn’t, though.

My anger dissipated. I took that Wednesday off to get my mind right and spare my coworkers from my emotions. I’d accepted the offer to move into the other department, and as I stood over my stove cooking breakfast I felt better. The next day I was set to leave for a week-long trip to Scotland, one I’d been planning for months.

I answered my ringing phone. It was the owner. He was upset with how I’d handled the transition. “Mandy, I think it would be best if this was your last day.”

We hung up, and I stood there, stunned. I quickly called him back and apologized, but it was done. My worst fear – being let go – had come true, and anxiety erupted. Frantic breathing, crying, and shaking took over me, and I could barely stand.

Thankfully, over the course of the day I was able to calm down, go to the office and say goodbye to my coworkers. I apologized and hugged them goodbye. The support I received from family, friends, and colleagues was unbelievable, and by the end of the day I felt fine. A little nervous, but fine.

The anger came back, and I struggled with it for a few weeks. I don’t want anything to happen to the company, and I keep in touch with my former coworkers; they’re amazing people, and I’m grateful I was able to work with them.

After a month the anger finally went away again. This Saturday will mark my one-month Layoffaversary. I’m freelancing, interviewing, and feeling optimistic about the future.

Things are changing. Hopefully I won’t be unemployed for long. I am beyond good enough.

Stuart Smalley

Online dating, chapter 16: the cilantro of OkCupid

You can’t sign up for OkCupid if you get offended easily. I’ve found that it’s more fun than eHarmony (by a long shot) and Match (for the most part), but there have definitely been some men and some conversations that get a big, fat NO faster than DSL could load the page.

I do appreciate the upfront honesty on OkCupid. From the polyamorous, to the crossdressers, to the sugar daddies, to those only looking for one-night-long relationships, to the doms, to men searching for cougars and the myriad other fetishes out there: most men, at least in my experience, haven’t beat around the bush.

This answer, coupled with a terrible, slightly frightening set of pictures, made NO super easy.

This answer was coupled with a terrible, slightly frightening set of pictures.

You know this is a dating site and not your diary, right dude?

You know this is a dating site and not your diary, right dude?

I don’t reply to everyone, and as soon as I’m tired of a conversation, I just don’t respond. It’s the equivalent of being in the middle of a conversation at a bar and just walking away – except not nearly as rude. I think.

asldkf

He hopes he can deadlift more than me. Probably can. I thought he was being cute, but subsequent messages made me realize he wasn’t. He was kinda weird.

Blocked.

Blocked.

I thanked him for his input, made a few changes to my profile, and blocked him.

I sincerely thanked him for his input, made a few changes to my profile, and blocked him.

Tempting... but blocked.

Tempting… but blocked.

I thought BBW meant "beautiful black woman". He meant beautiful BIG woman. Thanks. But no.

I thought BBW meant “beautiful black woman”. I dealt with a chubby chaser in Taiwan, and I’m not going through that again.

Well, I have a thing for (slightly) older men. Sorry, kiddo.

Well, I have a thing for men my age. Sorry, kiddo.

Ha!

“ha!”

I don’t “like” a profile if the guy only has angry pictures. Some of them look like they want to kill the camera. Profile pictures, and subsequent pictures on the site, tell me a lot, whether guys want them to or not. One guy had a picture of him in his Halloween costume as his primary profile picture; that would’ve been fine if he hadn’t been dressed as Bob from Fight Club. Until I looked through his profile, I thought he was more voluptuous than most women.

And, just to get this out of the way, body-part pictures are generally frowned upon in my world.

This was the least-angry picture of the bunch.

This was the least-angry picture of the bunch.

If we were to meet, would you look just like your profile picture? Better bring some sand, just in case I don't recognize you.

If we were to meet, would you look just like your profile picture? Better bring some sand, just in case I don’t recognize you.

Any guy who wears a vest and jeans in public is not my type.

His vest really brings out the color of the elevator buttons.

I think this might be 'shopped.

This might be my favorite profile picture on the entire site.

How are you even driving?

How is he even driving?

I do like going through the questions guys have answered to see how our answers match up. I’ve run into some profiles that are outstanding, and the pictures are great, and then their answers send me running for the hills.

Oh, honey.

Oh, honey.

Oooh, honey.

Oooh, honey.

There are a lot of great guys on OkCupid, and I’m talking to a few of them. Anyone who signs up for this site just has to be smart, picky, and willing to weed through the cilantro (which I find absolutely disgusting) to get to the good stuff.

Loved this message. Zero attraction to the sender, but his words made me smile.

Loved this message. Zero attraction to the sender, but he made my night.

Online dating, chapter 15: an eHarmony reject

In my match settings in eHarmony, I’ve selected California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas, and Washington as acceptable match locations. Since I was primarily getting ministers, I opened up my match preference to “Any Religion”, and set it as “Not at all important”, which meant religion shouldn’t be a factor at all. I have no ethnicity preference. Basically, I’m trying to cast the widest net possible, and in five states, there must be a few good men, right?

So I had zero matches on October 23rd?

So I had zero matches on October 23rd? And only three the following day? Sadness.

eHarmony sends me emails about specific men when we’re “highly compatible”.

Okay, cool. I'll check him out.

Okay, cool. I’ll check him out.

I take the bait.

Well then, nevermind.

Well then.

I’m at a loss. At this point my lack of matches, especially ones that are intriguing, can likely only be attributed either to the fact that I’d rather not date a man with kids, or to the fact that I’m an eHarmony Undateable.

Let’s be real. I’d have the same trouble on EquestrianSingles.com. Or FarmersOnly.com. Or OurTime.com. Or TrekPassions.com. Or VeggieDate.org. Or VampirePassions.com. All of which are legitimate dating websites you can visit right now if you want. eHarmony seems to appeal to a very specific market, and I’m not necessarily a member of that population.

asdlkf

Again, eHarmony’s design is beautiful, right down to their emails… except the pictures tend to be broken, even if the dudes’ profiles are full of pictures.

However. Google “eharmony stats”. The very top, numero uno spot on page one has a title of “eHarmony Ranks #1 for Most Online Marriages and Marital …”. (Marital what, eHarmony SEO consultant?) I can believe that a lot of people get married after meeting on eHarmony. Friends of mine have.

This then begs the question: what makes me different? Why, as a Christian, am I so wholly dissatisfied with eHarmony and its matches for me? I’d go back through and retake the personality quiz… if it let me. I’d go through and search profiles of available men and contact them… if it let me.

eHarmony asks hard-hitting questions like this one. I didn't actually answer it because really, what are those choices?

I deleted this question because really, what are those choices? This is not part of the infamous personality assessment – these are questions you answer and can compare how your match answered them, too.

On that note, since starting this post, I’ve received four messages from men on OkCupid, three of which I’m actually going to answer. Granted, I’ve had quite a few, uh, questionable messages from different men on OkCupid, but at least I’m having fun with it. At least I don’t feel undateable.

I’m glad other people are falling in love and getting married because of the service, but apparently I’m just not right for eHarmony. Too bad scientific matching and personality tests didn’t tell me to save my money and try something else.

Online dating, chapter 8: I can’t cringe any harder.

Remember the guy I was emailing at the end of my post about profiles?

Just so we’re on the same page, here’s our entire exchange, with no editing on my part, including the message I got from him this morning.

Wednesday, February 26
From: Dude
Subject: friendly hello
Message: I glanced at your profile and now I’m curious,If you could do anything in the world without the chance of failure what would you do

Wednesday, February 26
From: me
Subject: (blank, but Match populated it with:) Without a chance of
Message: Without a chance of failure – I’d volunteer as the Communications Manager on Mercy Ships for a year. I’d be great at the job, but I can’t do it because of the risk of financial failure.

I don’t think you’d be a big fan of mine. I’m not conservative (or liberal. I hate politics), and I’m not willing to convert to Mormonism. Just want to make sure that’s obvious.

Thursday, February 27
From: Dude
Subject: Without a chance of
Message: That does sound like an amazing job being apart of a cruise ship having new experiences every single day seeing new places and meeting amazing people that would be so great. I love to volunteer and give back as much as possible. Mormonism? I’m not a Mormon I love the lord and attend church. I also hate politics and not really into it all that much. Are you sure you didn’t mix my profile up with someone else?

So where was the last place you traveled?

Friday, March 7
From: Dude
Subject: Without a chance of
Message: What happened? I just realized that we were totally flowing and then our busy lives got in the way! You wanna hear something funny and embarrassing (can’t believe I’m telling you this)…I get this goofy smile on my face when I write messages to you. How dare you make me smile! I’m not sure why I’m smiling, I mean I wasn’t given an instruction manual on how to be human. Ok, I’ve said WAY too much, and it’s YOUR fault!

Hey, Dude, did you copy and paste that from 50 Shades of Grey?

Blocked.

Online dating, chapter 5: the first-date flop

He was a complete gentleman. I was a failure.

My date and I emailed back and forth a bit through Match Mail, and he asked me out for drinks. I replied that I was up for something low-key, and he suggested we go to Dave & Buster’s at 8pm on Monday.

Spoiler alert: mission accomplished.

Spoiler alert: mission accomplished.

He’d messaged me Sunday while I was helping a friend move, and I accepted the Monday-night date even though I knew I’d be wiped out. (Mistake #1)

My workweek was going to be chaotic, especially on Monday, but I figured I’d be fine. (Mistake #2)

Come Monday, I didn’t eat enough during the day. By the time I got to Dave & Buster’s, I was starving. (Mistake #3)

We met, and I was happy to see he was who his profile said he was. I wasn’t nervous… but I was famished. And exhausted, both mentally and physically. And this poor sucker was about to get the full brunt of Flop Mandy.

Five minutes later we were chatting over drinks, and my meal and his cheesecake were on the way. All the questions I’d thought of on the way over fluttered away, and my brain was fried from a long day at work. On top of that, my gin and tonic was pumping through my veins, further turning my brain into a pile of mush. So I did what every sane person does when they’re on a first date: I talked.

Talked and talked and talked and asked a question… then interrupted him to tell a story and talk and talk.

I COULDN’T SHUT UP. He laughed, sure, either out of honest enjoyment or to get me to shut up for half a second. And he was interested (or feigned interest) in my stories. I apologized multiple times for talking too much, which he waved off and said I was fine. But I kept talking. Except, of course, when he asked if I had any questions for him. I think that was the only time my brain completely shut down. What did I want to know about him?

Uh. Sooo… uh. “How’s your cheesecake?” (Yup.)

He offered me some, and I replied that I couldn’t eat sugar or I’d get sick. His face immediately showed concern, and I internally smacked myself. Abort! Abort! Run away from this conversation!

“You get sick?”

I stammered, hemmed and hawed, and just said that I’d been having trouble with it, and if I had too much, my body doesn’t react well. With every word that tumbled out of my mouth, he looked more worried. I just said, “You don’t want to know the details, I promise.”

A bit more back and forth, and his concern hadn’t abated. I was in rare form, throwing away all my PR abilities, chucking my common sense out the window, and stammering like an idiot. He wasn’t prying, but the conversation wasn’t dying, because I kept picking at it, like a scab.

I told him. In very general terms, I told him. And I realized at that moment that I was a flop at first dates. I was horrified with myself.

Thankfully, the “conversation” continued, with me talking in long spurts, him asking excellent questions, and crickets when he offered me a chance to ask questions.

Flop. Flop floppy floppity flop flop.

About an hour after we first sat down, he paid for us, and we stood to go play games. I had a blast, as I tend to when I’m in an arcade and have had alcohol. I’m pretty sure he had fun, too, but I was very focused on each game as we played: air hockey (I won), skee ball (I beat his score), a basket-shooting game (he won, barely, twice), Mario Kart (he came in first, me second), and this weird shooting game that I positively stunk at.

At 10:15pm, I apologized, but had to end the date. I had a 20-minute drive back to my apartment and was fading at an alarmingly rapid rate.

In the parking lot, as we walked to our cars, we said goodbye, and he kissed me goodnight. I wasn’t expecting it, and I ended up making it awkward, and the expression on my face must’ve screamed, “AAAGHWHATSHAPPENING?”

Even when my mouth was shut tight, my face was yelling. This poor guy never stood a chance.

As I climbed into my car, I sat for a moment, plugging my phone into the charger and letting the engine wake up. He drove over and waited for me to put my car in drive before he left. He was a gentleman even after the date had ended.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been on a first date, and I flopped harder than Waterworld. I can blame exhaustion, drinking on an empty stomach, or whatever else, but the fact remains: I was an awful date. I sent him a Match Mail just before I went to bed and thanked him for being a great date – no more apologies, just a sincere thank you.

My next first date will be better. I’ll draw hints for questions on my arms like tattoos, and I won’t talk about weird, personal health issues. Most importantly, I’ll shut my mouth and let the poor man talk every once and a while. I’m normally really good at that.

Oops.

Online dating, chapter 2: my VDay Match Mails

The first email says, “Juicy curves :)”

Do you get your dating advice from Sir Mix-a-Lot? I click the link to say Thanks, but No Thanks. Match lets me send a canned response, and then, once I’ve clicked all the appropriate buttons, says, “We’ve let [redacted] know you’re not interested. Now its time to stop being reactive and start being proactive. With numerous ways to search, you’re as close as one click away from the perfect match for you.”

First of all, you’re missing an apostrophe, Match. Second, calm down. I may be as close as one click away, but I might also be as far away as Mars.

The second Match Mail is quick, with one question and one short statement. No punctuation. I’m tempted to reply with lots of exclamation points. I end up replying with my own statement and question, accompanied by some commas. Zero exclamation points.

This next email is someone’s “VIP Email of the week”. Hey, Match, that sounds stupid. But the guy tells me I have a cute smile and pretty eyes. I need to check out his profile… he’s in Las Vegas? Is that a suburb of Fort Worth? I thought I said I wanted matches within 20 miles of Dallas. His username is a random combination of loWeRCasE and UPPercAsE letters, and this is in his very-short profile: “A women who has a postive additude about life and who is honest . Because I hate liars ….” I can smell the potential for drama from here. I’m just gonna thank him for the compliment, then reject the match.

Match, next to my rejection email text box, has “Tips for writing a great email: Tip #1: Double-check your spelling. For some, poor spelling and poor grammar spell ‘D.E.A.L B.R.E.A.K.E.R.'” For me, personally, it generally spells NO, but thanks, Match.

Next is an email from someone looking for women 18-35. Hmm. He also has a weird, almost Amish beard thing going on. Seems nice enough, but no. As I just learned emailing Las Vagas, I can’t reply to the email and then say no to the match; a reply means Woo I’m Interested! in the Match world. No room for polite declines, I guess.

I really like this next email, but not for love reasons: “i was at 347 in 2006 by oct of 2007 i was 236 by sept of 2008 i was 191 i now hang around 200 so if you put your mind to it you can do it with GODS help we can do or find anything.” What a great, platonic, kind thing to say. If I could email you and say thank you, sir, I would, but Match doesn’t let me do that. So I’m going to look like a jerk and just reject you. Sorry!

The next guy doesn’t want kids. Sorry, guy – you have to be willing to at least consider it. I normally (I have a “normally” when it comes to online dating now. Huh.) send the standard Match rejection email that says, “Thanks for writing to me, but unfortunately, we’re just not a good match. Good luck in your search!” This time, just for a change of pace, I’ll go with, “Thanks for writing to me, but I just met someone and want to see where it goes.”

Just saw that I can write my own rejection emails. Excellent! That would’ve been good to see earlier.

The next two emails are from the same guy. “I absolutely love your profile… I hope we can chat.” My first thought is No – two Match Mails within hours of each other? Creepy. After checking out his profile, I’m just not interested. Bummer. Time to hand-craft this rejection!

Well, crafting my own rejection letter doesn’t seem to cut him from the running in Match’s system. That’s stupid. Back to Match’s terribly-written rejections.

This next email is from a guy who used the word “surmising” in his profile. Hey-o! I’m not sure how I feel about him, but I’m leaning toward a positive reaction. He seems cool. Buuuut, I’m not sure. I’m putting him on hold.

These last three emails, including the Surmising Guy, are fine, but I’m tired of dealing with Match tonight. This is starting to feel like work, and it’s late. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Online dating, or why I’m an idiot.

It’s common knowledge that I’m an idiot when it comes to calendars. I once planned a high-school reunion for June 31st. I’m as organized as they come, but I have to ask people to double-check my calendar to make sure I’m not screwing stuff up.

This would be why, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, aka last night, I set up a Match.com profile. All the lonely people flock to online dating sites on VDay, just like out-of-shape people go to the gym en masse on January 1. Did I think about the timing? Nope. It was just Thursday night to me. 

My previous experience with online dating was pretty disappointing. First of all, do you even know how many sites there are now? I wouldn’t do ChristianMingle because they took a hymn and misused it in a commercial. That’s just weird. Plenty of Fish, according to friends who have used it, is more appropriate for people looking for “immediate gratification” (bow chicka bow wow). I used eHarmony in Austin and had such terrible matches that the insanely-long questionnaire and the hours it took to create my profile were a complete waste of time.

However, my entire love life in Texas has basically been a complete waste of time. What do I have to lose?

So Match.com it was.

I breezed through the questions, and then was asked to enter a few sentences for an “In my own words” section. I just went for it. An edited version:

Okay, so here’s some honesty for you. I was 235 pounds as of Dec 31, but have cut out most sugar and am trying to train for a 10K sometime this year. Once I get back from a trip to Taiwan in April, I want to get back into CrossFit. I love lifting weights. I suck at running – like, 5K in 45 minutes suckage – but I enjoy it. My preference is to be with someone who is motivated to be healthy, too.

BAM! Truth train! And I’m just getting started!

I drive an SUV with a truck chassis so I can do whatever I want in it (mud looks sexy on an SUV, amirite?), but I recycle like crazy to make up for that whole oil dependency thing. Oops. If you drive a Maserati or rev your engine randomly or park your dually truck in compact car parking, we probably won’t get along. That drives me nuts. Actually, you’re allowed to drive a Maserati. Who am I to judge?

I’m a non-denom Christian, and my faith is important to me. Jesus and I are bffs. But I cuss. I would never, ever say anything inappropriate around children, and I wait until I know my audience, but I like cursing. And dirty jokes. And innuendo. And sarcasm. I fully believe God has a wicked sense of humor and laughs a LOT.

(Choo-choo!)

I prefer to spend money on travel and experiences and get major (like, stupid-bad) wanderlust every six months or so. Five-star hotels are nice, but I’d rather stay in a hostel or Airbnb or a homestay.

If you like a woman in high heels, sorry. I physically can’t wear them. I’m in flats, Sperrys, Vans, or running shoes most of the time.

I’m not meant to be in Dallas forever. I’d love to get out west, to Colorado, or the coast. Dallas is too flat for me. Gimme oceans and mountains. The majesty of God’s work – it’s amazing!

I uploaded a few current, painfully Marshmallow-Man-esque photos, hit publish, and expected that to be the end of it. That was last night right before I went to bed.

Now, roughly 15 hours later, I have five emails in my Match.com inbox – apparently one person sent me “their only VIP email!” Three people liked my photos. Two people winked at me. I think winking is the equivalent of a Facebook poke, which means I hate it. The kicker is that I need to “subscribe” to Match.com so I can read the emails and see who’s interested.

‘Kay, fine. I’ll give it three months. Given that my two most popular posts have been about my dating life – my worst date ever in the history of Mandykind and my experience speed dating – I figure this whole experience will make for interesting blog fodder. I still need to finish writing about my New York trip, but I was aching to write something lighter and funnier. Ask and ye shall receive.

I don’t know how much faith I have in these matches. I received an email with my “9 matches for today!”, and one guy hated flying and had been to Hawaii once, and it was okay, so he might go again someday. Sup, soulmate?

–Oh, someone in Alton just liked me. Where on earth is Alton?

…it’s on the border by Brownsville. Yeah, as in, almost in Mexico. I’m practically in Oklahoma, dude. But maybe if you’re hot…

So yeah, there you have it. I’ll subscribe once I get back to my apartment, I guess. We’ll see if any of these matches are exciting, or if Match.com is just as bad as eHarmony was at finding me a beau.

Six emails now. Depending on how this goes, I might ask a male friend of mine to go speed dating with me so I can have another post on that from two perspectives. Get ready, folks. I think this blog is about to get interesting again.

#1: Go to a speed dating event

There were three pages in front of me: one detailing the rules, one where I could write notes about each “date”, and one I had to turn in at the end if I wanted to connect with one of the guys. Sitting at a table, an empty chair across from me and a placard with a 6 in the middle of the table, I read the rules.

tableThe placards were in sequential order and let the guys know which table to move to next. Each date would be six minutes long, and we were encouraged to “ask more than mundane questions like ‘what do you do’ & ‘where do you live’.”

How about these questions?

How about these questions?

Reading the rules page made my copyediting brain hurt. “Please support the establishment by buying something & take care of your bartender!” The sentence was bold and underlined on the rule sheet. I got a large glass of water; I would need it.

The majority of the women were sitting at tables already, my friend Kris sitting next to me at an adjoining table. Men were trickling in and being led to different tables by Bob the  Bulbous Cheekbones, the organizer. Kris and I used the thick Crayola markers on the table to write our names on sticky name tags. She put hers on her placard, while I put mine on my shirt.

Surveying the men walking in, I was both excited and worried. A blonde was sitting at a table across the room, and he looked promising; one thickly-bearded guy was sitting near the door looking terrified.

Bob walked toward my table, leading one of the men my way, and my heart sunk. Chuck the Truck Driver sat down, avoiding my eyes, and stared at the paperwork.

Not a word.

“So… did Bob tell you what to expect?” I asked.

“No.”

“Well, it looks like we’ll have six minutes to talk, and then we can take notes on this page-” I shuffled his papers a bit to point to the paper, “and we fill out this page with who we’d like to talk to again-” I pointed to the bottom page.

Silence. Great.

“Do you need a pen?” I asked, sliding one of the blue pens on the table toward him.

He pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and began writing on one of the feedback forms. He’d said one word to me, the same word I would use to answer the question, “Do you want to see Chuck again?”

While Chuck finished his busywork, Bob brought Giles the Smile to Kris’s table. He was immediately engaging and friendly, though he looked a bit nervous. Oh, I thought, he could be promising.

Finally, Chuck was done with whatever and it appeared his mouth might work. The event seemed like it had officially started, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and ask Chuck a question.

“Have you done this before?”

“Uh, no. I haven’t.”

THREE WORDS AND A GRUNT – I’ll take it!

He was nervous, that much was obvious. I refused to sit in silence and let his anxiety ruin my first “date”.

“What do you do, Chuck?”

Floodgates exploded open, and Chuck spoke! In sentences! With inflection and everything! I listened as he talked about his job, where he lived, and as he answered my various this-is-to-prove-I’m-listening questions. His unkempt ‘fro and bushy beard were distracting, but I kept my eyes on his, which were focused on my name tag. Which was on my chest.

My first “date” was inadvertently staring at my chest for six minutes.

The bell rang, and we ended our conversation. I had a break between dates, so I jotted down some notes. As I wrote, Bob came over and asked how my first date went.

I texted my coworker about Chuck. He apparently livened up on his second "date".

I texted my coworker about Chuck. He apparently livened up on his second “date”.

Bob was nice enough, the kind of guy who could be gay or straight or bi – I couldn’t get a read on him. He had insanely round cheek apples, and I wondered if he had implants or a terrible Botox injection or just really weird genes. He sat hunched over a bit, as if he were negotiating a deal under the table and policemen were sitting nearby.

I saw the countdown timer on his phone. 20 more seconds. Oh, come ON already.

The next two dates were eh. Man from Nigeria, sharply dressed in a button-down and a tie, but still casual in jeans. He, too, was nervous, but thankfully he stared at the table or behind my right shoulder. Our conversation was stilted and boring.

Bill Nye the Pale Guy followed Man, and he was a tall, typical engineer who wore glasses and had a bone-crushing handshake. He’d been to speed dating events before, so the conversation was far more balanced. Then I made the mistake of telling him I wanted to move to Colorado or the West Coast at some point. He looked like I’d just kicked his computer.

“Why?”

“I love the mountains, you know?” No reaction. “I just feel energized when I’m near the ocean or the mountains. Plus if I workout, I like to do it outside. Hah – not if, I mean when-”

His eyebrow raised. “If. Kind of a Freudian slip there.”

How charming.

I noticed that the guys, without any concern for privacy, would fill out their “Let’s Talk!/No Thanks.” sheet in front of me; I could read everything. Meanwhile, I had my notes page covered, and I hid what I wrote as though they were missile launch codes.

Freddy Fresh Air sat down next. Conversation was refreshingly easy, he held my gaze, and we laughed a lot. When I caught my coworkers watching me from the bar, I waved, and Freddy waved, too. He was the first person I told about Taiwan, and it was the first comfortable conversation of the night. When he stood to leave, he said, “I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

John the Blonde, whom I’d seen earlier from across the room, sat down after Freddy left. He nursed his beer and blotted his face and hands with two wadded-up napkins. His accent was strong, and thanks to the noise level, I was having a horrible time placing it. For a reason I couldn’t manage to hear, he’d moved to Dallas from Florida a couple years ago. I’d found my opening.

“Oh, so where were you before Florida?” I expected Australia… New Zealand? Maybe? I couldn’t figure it out.

“Just Florida!” What. “I’d never been outside Florida until I moved here!”

He told me more, and I tried not to focus on the spinach in his teeth. I couldn’t believe, after all my travels, that a thick country-bumpkin Floridian accent had thrown me. I felt betrayed by myself.

My lips were growing dryer by the minute, and the water I’d ordered was almost gone. I felt like I was shouting, and the din in the restaurant was only getting louder. There were no breaks, no time to get up and relax. I was enjoying myself, but the adrenaline was pumping; I could feel the exhaustion sneaking up on me.

My next date had an unnervingly steady gaze and an air about him I couldn’t quite figure out. We chatted for a moment, and then he stated that he was in the Special Forces, and his demeanor made sense. He carried himself as someone who’d been in the thick of terror, who’d pushed himself to the limit, and I was completely fascinated by his stories. Special Forces Steve had stories about going on reconnaissance missions in North Korea, and about the concentration camps there. Even without the romantic spark, I was utterly invested in everything he said.

But what if he’s lying?

It was a thought that popped into my head on a number of “dates”: what if the guy sitting across from me was lying? I decided that I only cared if I was interested in a real date, and that’s when I’d really investigate the legitimacy of the stories. Until then, I was just going to have fun.

After Special Forces Steve left, a tall, broad-shouldered man sat down. Mr. Nothing struck me as someone who’d been a linebacker in college, and he had thick, spiky salt-and-pepper hair. He was nice. He was polite. We talked. I have more chemistry with a carrot, and we both knew the attraction wasn’t there. It wasn’t as awkward as it just felt like we were wasting our time on each other.

I glanced over at the table where my next date was sitting, and was dispirited. Mr. Nothing was replaced by Amish Amos. Dark hair ringed his entire face, from his forehead to his beard. He had perfect porcelain skin, but I wouldn’t know what his teeth looked like because he didn’t smile. I found out that he liked history and then, THEN, he started talking about the stock market.

Zero chemistry? No problem. He was going to teach me how to properly trade stocks instead. At one point, during a break in the stock market talk, he asked what I liked to do in my free time. I mentioned my To Do Before 32 List, and actually pulled it out to show him. He barely looked.

“See, lists can be kinda bad sometimes, you know?” Oh. “‘Cause, like, you do everything except number 32, and you did great, but all you can think of is, ‘I didn’t do number 32!’ And it’s ruined, ’cause all you can think about is 32, the one thing you didn’t do.”

I may not remember the exact dialogue, but I do remember that it was number 32 because he would not shut up about it. Chill out, dude. I can tell by your bowl cut that you’re a precision man, but do you have to rag on my list?

Again, I caught myself looking over. The event was nearly over, which was great, because my ability to string together a simple sentence had waned. I was making an absolute fool of myself when I tried to expound on simple concepts like my occupation and what I liked to do in my spare time.

I started strong, but I was limping, miserably, to the finish.

I didn’t get a good look at Teacher Thomas until he sat down, but once I did, I was pleased. I struggled to pronounce his name correctly, and when I asked its origin, we launched into a great conversation. We laughed and held eye contact, and I learned that he taught high school. His thick black hair was tousled and his eyes kind and inviting. Six minutes went by too quickly, and I knew I would like to talk to him again.

Giles the Smile, who had been Kris’s first “date”, joined me at the table once again. My brain was fried. My mascara was smudging down my cheeks. I was glued to the plastic bench. My throat was swollen. I was spent.

He seemed as tired as I was, and while he smiled and we had a good time talking, it seemed a little forced. I stammered, I made terrible jokes and, overall, was a terrible date.

When the bell rang at the end of the “date”, Giles stood, and I glanced over.

“Oh, no, you don’t have to get up. I’ve already met him.” I was practically begging. Please don’t let Chuck the Truck Driver sit down again. I can’t have another terrible conversation.

Giles walked away, but Chuck did, too. Kris and I began comparing notes, and we noticed some of the guys were returning to talk to other girls. Giles had made a beeline for a girl a few tables in front of me, and Teacher Thomas was sitting with another girl.

Kris's picks

Kris’s picks

They could talk to other women all they wanted. I was still going to put their names down as potential dates.

My notes and picks

My notes and picks

At my station was a ton of trash that had been left behind. Chuck’s paperwork and blank name tag, Man from Nigeria’s blank notes page, John the Blonde’s napkins and beer bottle. Thanks, guys.

Kris and I got up and headed to the bar to close her tab. We ended up talking to Steve, a well-dressed man with about ten years on me who’d been talking to my coworkers while they watched us. Small chitchat turned into a long conversation about speed dating, awkwardness, and basic manners.

I mentioned that I’d been told before that I’m intimidating. Kris nodded. “I can see that.”

“I don’t think you’re intimidating,” Steve countered.

When I said that Amish Amos had been disinterested in my list, Steve wanted to see the list, and we proceeded to talk in depth about it.

Steve, if you’re reading this, you restored my faith in men. Thank you.

I heard back, and Freddy Fresh Air asked to see me again, too. We shall see.

#24: 31 pieces of gum – blow bubble

Number 24 on my list of activities to complete before my 32nd birthday: chew 31 pieces of gum at the same time and blow a bubble.

The suggestion came from Cairan, and since I was trying to take all my friends’ suggestions, I added it to my list.

Cairan, I really appreciate your friendship. I do. But there were several moments the night I endured this torture that I regretted knowing you. (Not really. But kinda.)

Instruments of torture.

Guantanamo Gum.

Five packs of gum and a thingy of Bubble Tape. No big deal.

I was actually pretty excited, especially since Mikey said he’d join me. I was an idiot, and Mikey was the poor lemming that followed me off the cliff.

One piece in. 30 more? Yeah, right. I decided I would stuff as many as I could and then blow the bubble.

One piece of gum, and my first bubble. Unimpressive, I know.

One piece of gum, and my first bubble.

I was enjoying myself. Mikey was going to match me, piece for piece, and once Mel got home, she would join us.

Misery loves company.

Two pieces of gum. Slightly bigger bubble.

Two pieces of gum, slightly bigger bubble.

Then…

Three pieces. My ability to blow a decent bubble was failing because my jaw was already tired.

Three pieces. My ability to blow a decent bubble was failing because my jaw was already tired.

And then…

Four pieces. After this, everything went sour.

Four pieces.

Mikey also had four pieces in his mouth at this point, and Mel had returned home. We forced her to catch up with the Bazooka, and I spit out my wad of gum and started on the Bubble Tape. I thought it was going to be easy.

Oh, idiot.

See the label? It says, "6 feet." SIX FEET.

See the label? It says, “6 feet of fun.” SIX FEET. I’m five foot seven. That’s just weird.

Idiot, idiot, idiot.

StartMiddleEnd

Bubble Tape has a thin, powdery coating to keep it from sticking to itself. According to Mel and Mikey, I looked like Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle’s Show after just three feet.

Bubble Tape is a slimy, disgusting mass.

That's all she wrote.

That’s all she wrote.

It was too much.

I gagged.

I was DONE.

Mikey had 10 pieces of Hubba Bubba gum in his mouth and a pained look on his face. Mel conquered the Bazooka and had nine pieces in her mouth.

We did good.

We laughed, but that made us gag, which made us not want to laugh. Mel told me repeatedly not to throw up.

Thanks again, Cairan.

The literal sweat and tears this mass of trash inspired were from pain and suffering.

At least that’s over.

Like a lamb to slaughter

I was rushing through Taipei Main Station, worried I was going to miss my train to Hsinchu, when a tall Taiwanese 20-something approached me.

“Hi. Can you help me practice English?”

After a rushed conversation, I gave him my phone number and told him I’d come back up to Taipei sometime. Roughly a month later I met him on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Our plan was to visit the National Palace Museum, somewhere I was anxious to go. We watched the rain for a few minutes while making small talk, then ran to a bus that would take us to the museum.

I learned he was an “agent”, which I puzzled together meant real estate agent. He mentioned an interest in bodybuilding, and we talked about the differences in body shapes between most foreign women and Taiwanese women.

He asked me about the word “curves”, and I told him not to use it to describe men. “Curves include breasts and hips, and men don’t want to have breasts.”

He smiled. “You have curves. You have… big hips?”

“Yup,” I said. “Most Taiwanese women are straighter, but my bones are different. I have wide hips.”

He nodded appreciatively, and after a few moments we realized we’d missed our stop. We quickly got off the bus, and I immediately put up my umbrella in the driving rain. We made our way to another bus stop to go back. He kept his umbrella closed in his hand.

“Don’t you want your umbrella?” I asked.

“No. I want to use yours!” he replied, putting his arm tightly around my shoulders and walking hip-to-hip with me. My umbrella, meant for one person, didn’t cover either of us entirely, and my purse and right side were getting wet. I was a little surprised at the impracticality, but he seemed excited to be sharing.

After catching a second bus, we rode the short distance to the museum. I again took out my umbrella as we climbed the stairs to the entrance.

“Hold it with your left hand,” he said, leaning in and pulling me close as I switched the umbrella to my other hand. As we walked up the stairs we ran into low-hanging branches, and my right side was drenched. I laughed, but kept thinking about his unused umbrella. This was a downpour; what was his deal?

Finally inside we separately purchased tickets and then made our way to the restrooms. I used paper towels to dry my skin and clothes; once I emerged, I found him and proceeded to happily watch a local school orchestra play in the foyer. We talked for a minute as I took in the performance, but soon his arm was around my waist, pulling me away from the music. “Let’s go.”

“Can I put my water and umbrella in your bag?” he asked. As we made our way through the throng of people, I stuffed his dry umbrella next to mine, which I’d slid into a plastic rain sleeve, in my purse.

Once we were back upstairs, I looked at the signs. “Where do you want to start?” I asked. I checked out a map on the wall.

“You’re so serious. I’ve been here a lot. I want to see the vegetable.”

We walked up a wide flight of stairs. “You have a good body,” he said, matching my steps and wrapping his right arm around my back. This would become the theme for the day: him handling me, and me ignoring him or pulling away.

We found the exhibit. I made my way around, reading signs and inspecting the artifacts. His impatience was palpable – literally. He’d come over to me, put his hands on my shoulders or hips, and pull me close. Each time I’d pull away and walk to another sign.

While we were viewing the jade cabbage exhibit, which was supposedly what he’d wanted to see, a small crowd encircled the showcase. He stood behind me and murmured, “That woman in red is pretty.”

I was confused. I was wearing red, but there was a woman on the other side of the showcase that was quite pretty, and she was also wearing red.

“Hmm?” I asked.

“The woman in the glass in red. She is beautiful.”

I checked the glass, which reflected nothing. I figured he was referring to the other woman. Good, I thought, maybe he’s getting my signals.

We discussed the difference between pretty, beautiful and gorgeous as we wandered through the exhibits. He commented that I was beautiful.

Standing in front of three large paintings, I told him that I had a boyfriend back in the US, hoping it would calm down his advances.

“He is far away,” was his response.

I asked him about what he liked to do.

“You’re serious. I like to draw. My parents do not want me to draw. They say I cannot make money. So I don’t.”

Pandora’s Box: this opens a whole new conversation, a scolding, about how lucky I am that I can be selfish and do what my parents don’t want me to do. I was to hear about my selfishness multiple times that afternoon.

I countered, feeling slightly attacked. “It’s not that I’m doing what my parents don’t want me to do. They want me to be happy. If moving far away makes me happy, they want me to do that.”

He seemed unimpressed and was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke about how foreign girls were stronger than Taiwanese, how we have our own thoughts and do what we want.

“Well, some are, some aren’t like that,” I responded. “Just like Taiwanese, we’re all different. I want someone who is equal, my friend. I don’t want him to think I’m below him or above him.”

He scoffed. “Many Taiwanese men are weak. They date and marry Vietnam, Thailand, or Indo girls. They can’t get Taiwanese girls.”

“Wait,” I said. “There are a lot of great girls from those countries.”

“They are not pure,” he continued. “One out of ten children in Taiwan is mix. They are not pure. The men are weak. They cannot get Taiwanese girls. Taiwan girls are too picky. They want money, good job.”

I furrowed my brow. “But you want to be with a foreign woman. You don’t want to be with a Taiwanese woman, either. And not all Taiwanese women are like that. There are a lot of good women here.”

“I don’t want to get married. I don’t want kids. I want a big house in Hollywood with Ukraine and Russian women everywhere.”

“You will be a good mother,” he says suddenly.

I smiled. “Yeah, I hope so. Someday.”

“You will be very serious. Eat at 7:30. Go to bed at 8:00!”

“I won’t be serious. I think I’ll have fun.”

More and more I realized that I was on a date, whether I wanted to be or not. Apparently I was a terrible conversationalist, because he stated opinions about me that were fairly insulting. There was zero chemistry. He invaded my personal space every chance he got.

I was happy our plans didn’t extend into the evening.

Exiting a hall, I looked around, a little lost. I wasn’t sure which exhibits we’d already seen.

“Sorry. I keep forgetting which ones we’ve already gone to.”

He laughed a little too loudly. “Forgetting already! You are very old!”

“You’re only three years younger than me,” I said. “I’m not old.”

We went downstairs. Once we were in an exhibit, he moved close and smelled my neck and shoulders, taking in deep, loud breaths.

“Wow, your hair. It smells so good!” he said, taking fistfuls and leaning into me.

“Uh, I use shampoo?” I hunched my shoulders as his nose assaulted my ear.

“You use champ!” He laughed and sauntered away.

I stopped at a display. Suddenly I felt his body from behind, pushing hard into me. His hands clasped onto either side of the exhibit, caging me in, and he brought his face to the back of my neck. I ducked, wiggled out of his grasp, and forced a laugh. “No, no, no. Can’t do that here!”

He found a bench, sat, pouted, and then motioned for me to sit next to him. I started to walk out. I turned and told him to get up, but he patted the bench again. I relented and sat with a large space between the two of us. He beckoned me closer.

“Nope. I’m good,” I said.

He reached around my waist with his left arm and yanked me next to him.

I leaned away and tried for a new conversation.

“Do you have a mentor?” I asked.

The conversation was dead before it began; I did most of the talking. At least he didn’t touch me for five minutes.

I got up and motioned that we should keep moving. He mentioned going to the restroom and that he was cold. As we looked for the bathrooms, he asked if I was cold, too.

“No, not really. I’m good.”

“Help me be warm!” He wrapped his arms around me, and I walked with my hands pinned to my sides. Was I really not being obvious enough? I wasn’t touching him, I wasn’t flirting. What was going on with this guy?

He wanted to leave after we visited the bathrooms. I’d only seen half the exhibits, but was fine with the decision.

Outside it was muggy, but no longer raining. I started taking pictures, and he told me to pose. When he lifted his phone, I shook my head and told him to take a picture with mine. He took two: one with his phone, one with mine.

I told him to take a picture with me.

“I don’t take pictures.”

I wasn’t having it, so I got a picture of the two of us.

I’m almost 30, for goodness’ sake. You’d think I was smarter than this.

He turned and leaned against the railing while I stood looking out over the grounds. He indicated the railing next to him. When I finally joined him in looking at the scene in front of us, his hand found his way to my shoulder and pulled.

I could tell he was getting frustrated with me, but I couldn’t believe he persisted. We began walking to the parking lot, and he brought up chess.

“Let’s go to my home. I will teach you chess and play my guitar for you.”

“No, I need to get back and get ready for my night.”

“Do you want to take a taxi?” he asked, grumpy.

“No, the bus is fine,” I replied. I looked to the other end of the parking lot and saw one waiting. We boarded and sat together.

“You won’t come to my house. Why are you scared of me?”

“I’m not afraid of you, but I have to be careful and take care of myself.”

He was quiet for a while. Then:

“How many boyfriends have you had?”

I considered my answer, then replied, “Three.”

He seemed surprised.

“What about you? How many girlfriends have you had?”

“25.”

Oh. We weren’t talking about relationships.

He asked me to have dinner with him at Taipei Main Station before I boarded the train back to Hsinchu. I agreed. We rode the metro downtown, him constantly on the lookout for a seat and leading me through the cars. Finally he gave up, and we leaned on the car wall.

“I feel like a tour guide.” He had a sourpuss expression on his face, and I laughed.

“I’m sorry if today wasn’t what you expected.”

He glanced at me. “Will you give me a kiss?”

With that he grabbed me, and I pushed away and turned my head.

“No! I don’t kiss on the first date. Sorry. I don’t. It’s not you. I just don’t.”

His feelings were hurt, and I started explaining my reasoning, but he didn’t care. We reached our stop and make our way through the terminal. He was distant.

Then we saw another white woman. She was heavier than me by 20 pounds, at least, wearing unflattering black pants that showed a thick pantyline. He grabbed my arm.

“Did you see that girl?”

“Yeah,” I responded. I expected him to criticize her appearance or call her fat.

“She is another foreigner,” he said, and I saw his eyes. And then I understood.

“You want to go get her number? Go! I’ll wait over here. No problem.”

He brightened up at my permission. The realization hit me like a bowling ball to pins: this 27-year-old Taiwanese, a hypocrite and general curmudgeon, was a chubby-foreign-girl chaser. And he had chased me. And I, the gullible prey, had been caught.

He came back, telling me he’d gotten her number. “But I talked to her before. When I texted her, nothing. No reply.”

We made our way around, and he told me to hold his arm. When I reached for it, he kept his arm limp at his side.

“When a girl holds your arm, you should crook it like this-“ I moved his arm into a 90-degree angle, “-so she can hold it like this.”

“You’re too serious.” His voice was glum.

I let go and walked in silence. We found a place to sit and eat. He mentioned again that I was lucky I could be so selfish.

“Well, you like your job, right?” I asked. “You can keep working and do what you want to do.”

“I don’t like my job.”

“You don’t? I thought you were a real estate agent.”

“I’m not. I lied.”

“Oh. Okay, so what do you do?”

“I work in my father’s factory.”

We talked for a moment about this. I told him he could still do something he enjoyed.

“No I can’t. I didn’t go to college.”

“Oh, I thought you did.”

“No. I lied.”

We talked a bit more, about how I was selfish and very lucky, about how he’d slept with six foreign women since he started bodybuilding, and how unfair life is. After I was chided again for being privileged, we sat in silence.

Then: “You have good, big thighs.”

“I need to make them smaller.”

“No! Don’t! They are good!” He took my left thigh and wrapped his hands around it. I quickly stood and told him we should go so I could catch my train.

“Let me take your picture,” he said, motioning for me to stand in an open space. “I’m going to take five pictures.”

I stood, awkwardly, ready to go. He took one. He shuffled around and took a couple more, and then he moved to take a profile picture.

“Nope, that’s enough. Let’s go!” I said, suddenly uncomfortable. As I walked, I realized he wasn’t next to me like he usually was, and I turned around. He was walking a bit behind me, using his phone to record me walking.

“Don’t do that. It’s weird,” I chided. He laughed. A few seconds later I turned around again, and he was still taking video. I walked to him, put my hand over his phone.

“Quit.”

He laughed.

“I should make you pay me for the pictures and the video,” I said.

“I will pay you. 1,000 dollars.” He considered. “I will pay you 2,000 dollars if you take off your jeans.”

“Uh, no. If you thought I was strict about kissing, you have no idea.”

“How about a goodbye kiss?” he asked, and suddenly he was forcing me close again. I fought my way out of his grip.

“No! I told you. No kiss.”

“Can I touch your big booty?”

“No.”

“Just a little touch?”

I could feel his hand tracing down to the waistline of my jeans. I turned out of his reach.

“No.”

After a very awkward, weak hug goodbye, I went through the gates to my train.

Abruptly the adrenaline subsided, my amusement faded, and I sat in my seat, stupefied. I was finally angry once I got away from him and was alone, able to digest the past several hours.

“You’re too nice,” my housemate Cameron told me, his eyes wide after hearing the story.

He’s right. I should have been blunt; I should have said, “Stop touching me.” I shouldn’t have laughed to ease the tension. I shouldn’t have worried about his feelings, because he certainly didn’t care about mine. I shouldn’t have allowed him to have dinner with me.

I should have left. I definitely should’ve thrown his phone against a wall.

This past year in Taiwan, culminating in last Saturday, has evidently been to teach me not to help strangers. Every time I do, I get in trouble. I’m too nice, and that makes me weak.

I’m done being weak.

…and hey, Steven? 我希望它腐爛。