Sunday, August 29, 2010

Modern Day Fairy Tales

I don't think I've ever really believed in fairy tales, Disney or Grimm or otherwise. The idea of falling asleep and waiting for some prince - who was obviously attractive and wonderful - to come and wake me with a kiss didn't ever really seem likely. 'Happily ever after' still seemed plausible, but I never expected to have a meaningful relationship with local fauna nor believe they would sew the dress I'd wear when meeting my beloved.

It doesn't really add up, then, that I discovered myself buying in to a whole new version of the fairytale story, version 2010. Internet dating tries to purport an idea of relationships almost completely opposed to any damsel-in-distress/knight-in-shining armor love story. The more obvious message of commercials for, eHarmony, or the hundred other dating sites tries to be, "You've got to make your magic. Seek and ye shall find, but ya gotta do some seeking." So when you take a deep breath and delve into those deep, deep questions of life (What's your career? What's your next big goal? Do you prefer dogs or cats or none of the above?) you feel proactive. Finally! you think. I am going to stop wishing and start taking control of my love life.

But there's more to it than that. We are still being sold on a dream, but now it's a dream deferred. And while the eHarmony commercials are especially good at making you feel like you're just one more personal survey question or one more email correspondence away from The One, it's also a fairytale story that Hollywood is selling to online daters (and some online daters are selling to each other). Here's a popular one:

A girl on a dating site is meeting some nice people, but none of them are really anyone she cares to see again. She goes away for a week to her brother's wedding, which she leaves with the takeaway that love is possible and comes when you least expect it. She decides to take a break from online dating and just live her life - a fun life, at that - for the time being and hope for the best.

Then, she's emailed by a guy who she'd been conversing with before the wedding. She had planned to meet him but was sick and had to cancel the date right before she went away for the family event. When he emails again, she feels guilty for not getting back in touch and has a first date. It goes pretty well, and there is a second. She realizes she's interested in him and gets excited for their third date, a low key affair.

But then! He calls at the last minute to suggest a much fancier plan and she has to mentally switch from county-fair casual to four-star restaurant chic. She excitedly tells her friends, and slips out of the office to buy a new dress for the night. Her work day is slow until the very last minute, when she falls into an urgent, rush project and almost misses the date! Somehow, she makes it home in time to gussy herself up in the new dress and has a wonderful dinner with Third Date Guy. Third Date Guy makes an overt promise to be, at the very least, her Fourth Date Guy and they end the night with a kiss.

Isn't that a beautiful story? The kind that rom-com's are made of? I can just see Jennifer Lopez running frantically to some wonderful NYC boutique and having a dress-me-up montage while her married coworker looks on with approving and hopeful eyes. But the parts that don't fit in to the cliche are the ones that make it real: he's just getting out of an 8-year relationship at the age of 26; he suggests they split the bill; he makes no effort for a fourth date and instead schedules a "break up" phone call.

I'm a little bitter (at least bitter enough to write this post) but not really with the guy - I'm bitter that I was eating up all of the 'clues' that made this feel like my last foray in the online dating world for at least awhile. The "We were supposed to meet but I had to cancel our first date" or "I'd given up until so-and-so emailed me" clue. The "he changed his plans around so he could see me" clue. The "he wanted to up the ante on our date and take me to a fancy restaurant" clue, and finally, the "I almost didn't make it to that date because of a work crisis, and wouldn'tcha know that's when we fell in love!" potentiality. All of that seemed to add up like basic math to the perfect eHarmony commercial or Success Story post.

In retrospect, it was just as ridiculous as if I'd somehow lost a shoe while walking and, instead of stopping to pick it up like any logical human being, expected the person who chased me down with the shoe to be the man of my dreams and heir to a throne. But when you find yourself in the middle of what appears to be a fairytale, you don't want to fight the possibility that Walt Disney was right all along and dreams do come true.

I'm sure it works like that for some people, or those little details wouldn't have felt so familiar. But I think what I'm realizing now is that every one has a different love story. If it starts to feel like a tale I've heard before, then it's probably not the one for me. No one likes plagiary, and I shouldn't be so eager to accept it in my life's story.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"We Don't Make a Lot of the Products You Buy..."

This is absurd to admit, but this is probably one of my favorite (and definitely the most memorable) ad campaigns from my childhood*:

*do other people have favorite childhood ad campaigns? Is that the weirdest part of that statement?

That slogan is starting to ring a little too true for me - at least the first part. I'm a very loyal person and that includes brand loyalty. I was raised on Diet Coke, and Diet Coke is what I shall drink until my dying day. Don't even bother suggesting I buy Jiffy peanut butter if the Skip
py is out of stock. That's just grotesque. In the past few years, the products that I love and rely upon have started to fade from the shelves. I think I'm cursed.

1. Citre Shine Hair Gel Once upon a time, there was a little Princess R-in the-P who didn't pay attention to fashion. Or style. Or humidity's effect on thick, curly hair.

Then one day she was cleaning the gym locker
room after the 7th grade play was over (once a volunteer, always a volunteer) and got in a fight that involved flinging some leftover hair gel at her attackers. Someone suggested that, lo!, hair gel would be a good addition to the Princess' morning regiment and from then on, her locks did not remind any older brothers of the wind tunnel effect. And it was good.

Over the years, this product began to disappear. When she moved away for college, the new city did not posess a trace of the potion and the Princess' mother had to ship it up in care packages
. She tried other products but they were too goopy or left white bits in her hair or just plain could not conquer her beast of a braid. Now, the product does not even exist for sale in her homeland and the quest for a replacement has been arduous and full of disappointment.

Okay, back to the 1st person narrative, that's exhausting.

2. Conair/Scunci Comfort Curved Bobby Pin
s Now that I am aware that hair can (and usually should, NJ stereotypes be damned) be smoothed down, it is a requirement. Bumps are not allowed. Sleek is in. I found these curved bobby pins once - once! - and fell in love immediately. They're amazing. Most bobby pins are wiggly little buggers that stick up and make you look like you're trying to hide antennae. These are curved to the shape of your head with out the wriggles and I need them in my life. Apparently, so do a lot of other people because when I search for them online I always end up on message boards with women like me complaining that they're no where to be found. Hear us roar, Conair! We want our smooth hair pins back and we want them now!

3. Smucker's Easy Squeeze Strawberry Jelly I didn't eat anything fruit-related until
a few years ago. That means that I survived for years on straight-up peanut butter sandwiches. No wonder I drank so much milk as a kid (though a helluva lot of good that ended up doing...). When I finally got around to incorporating jelly into my life and my lunches, a glorious invention had been introduced to the market: an inverted, squeezable container guaranteeing that I would never have to stick my hand into the Smuckers jar to make a sandwich. My timing was impeccable. But now...the Easy Squeeze has started to go the way of the dinosaur! Or the Citre Shine Hair Gel! Every time I see it in the store I buy it, just in case it's the last time I see it. Do you know how many times that has happened? Once - because it is near impossible to find.

Here I am, a girl whose favorite ad campaign was for a company that, in it's own confession, didn't really seem to do anything. It's hard to see the things you love disappear, but it's even more difficult to be a female born in the 80s who does not find herself, at least every now and again, acting like a total Material Girl.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Enough for Government Work

When I was little, I think my dad got a kick out of teaching me random, semi-insulting phrases. I knew how to use SNAFU correctly when I was 6 and knew things were not good if he dropped a "FUBAR" into conversation. My mom yelled at me once for telling her we should "make like a hockey player and get the puck out of here." To an 8 year old, that's just a sports joke.

"Good enough for government work" was another phrase in my dad's arsenal, and I understood that it meant "that'll do, i guess." But I didn't truly understand what he was saying until I moved to the DC area, where my local news is everyone else's national news. Being this close to the cogs of the US Government is shockingly depressing sometimes. It's ridiculous the amount of "good enough" that goes through, especially considering most of what happens isn't actually good for anything.

As a progressive, liberal, insert-catchphrase-that-Glen-Beck-has-demonized-here, I am in favor of the Health Care reform. With an expected vote this weekend, there's an electricity in the air for wonks everywhere - but the bill that is being pushed through is so incredibly watered down that it's a mere fragment of the bold changes President Obama had in mind. Watching the Democrats, with their veto-proof majority, bow down to the pressure of the Republican minority for the last year or so has been really disheartening. On some level, I think it would have been disheartening to watch if the parties were switched, too.

I have to attribute this feeling to Stephen Colbert, who was commenting on Rep. Boehner's threat to Democrats thinking of voting in favor of the health care bill. 'We will come after you in the elections this November,' Boehner promised. Um, duh. Duh you will try to unseat the Democrats in the elections this year. That is what you do, whether or not the health care bill goes through, because that is how politics works. So how is that a threat? And why did it work?

This is where my dad's phrase really starts to ring true. Why does one run for office? To affect their community in a positive way (relative to the candidate), I would hope. So how does sitting on your thumbs for your whole term help your constituency? It doesn't. And if you didn't really accomplish any of the goals that you set out for during your term, why would you run again? And why would people vote for you for doing nothing? Is that better than standing up for your beliefs - potentially the beliefs you were elected for in the first place - and losing the election? I, for one, would rather be back in my law firm after 2-6 years of working my tail off for the country I love than sitting in the chamber and wondering what the cafeteria special is that day. But I guess there's no real need to fight the good fight. Just showing up each day must be "good enough for government work."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Taking Care of #1

Recently, I've been spending a LOT of my time thinking about work, whether I'm in the office or not. It's super busy and super stressful, but that's not entirely new for my job. Maybe part of it is that I spent the DC Blizzard working from my dining room table, but home just doesn't seem like a safe haven right now. I've also brought a long-term project home to work on when I can, since there's no time for anything that isn't entirely urgent between 9am and 6pm. My roommate was saddened to see me surrounded by spreadsheets at 11pm the other night. "If you could see yourself..." he said, and honestly I'm glad I couldn't.

Still, I'm usually pretty good at shaking off the work day blues and relaxing. Now I'm having trouble sleeping; if I am lying in bed and start thinking about what I'm going to wear the next day, it somehow slips into thoughts of what that day will entail. Then I get stressed and am up til 2am. When people say, "How are you?" my thoughts immediately turn to work and I give a very unconvincing "Good."

Part of me has been thinking that my lack of a relationship is impacting my extreme focus on work. Most nights, I go to the gym, make dinner, do the crossword - all activities that give me plenty of time to think. And that's dangerous for me, it seems. It's difficult to put into words, but a relationship is an important part of one's life, a part that requires effort and thought and also inspires effort and thought. It's a distraction (hopefully a welcome one) from the day-to-day grind. It also reminds you that there is more to life than just work. Work is the biggest thing in my life, so it's getting all my focus. My friends are crazy important to me, but I am lucky enough to have friendships that are not high-maintenance.

I't's also becoming more obvious that I have a really difficult time putting myself first. I'd like a boyfriend (or a puppy), someone to care for and take care of when necessary. Wanting to play hostess, or cook dinner, or organize a night out, or tend to someone not feeling well makes me a good friend to have. Responding quickly to other's requests and pushing my needs off to take care of something someone else considers more important makes me an excellent employee. Unfortunately, it also makes me a doormat. Why am I more concerned about my boss' workload than mine? Why can't I ask a friend - whom I am doing a favor - to work around my schedule instead of being overly-accomodating when it's not necessary?

They say acceptance is half the battle to recovery. But instead of trying to change and figure out how to care more about my needs and desires, it'd be much easier to have a Numero Uno in my life. It'd be an outlet for all these annoying maternal instincts; maybe if I could get them out of my system more consistently than the occasional planned happy hour allows, they wouldn't be so strong at work or even riding the frickin' bus. And maybe if this person considered me their #1, I'd know what it feels like to be important enough to consider first.