We dated the Zeros… so you don’t have to.

Sample Chapter: The Virtual Man

the virtual man

[texticus ad nauseus]

Creates the false impression of closeness called a “Virtual Relationship” through near constant indirect communication. This specifically modern species of man is known for poor grasp of spelling and grammar, and is also known for expressing all feelings through emoticons. Anthropologists suspect this genus will, over time, develop engorged thumbs due to excessive texting and may eventually become extinct do it his lack of actual physical interactions.

Sometimes I envy my big sister Alexandra. She met her husband when they were both 19 years old. They dated throughout college and then married at 24. In many ways dating was much simpler then.  Sure, it was the nineties and we were in the midst of an AIDS crisis, but that didn’t affect the two of them. They were both virgins.

I know that wouldn’t have worked for me. If I had married the guy I was dating at 19, we would probably now be living in his parent’s basement playing Guitar Hero stoned for 9 hours a day. But I do think my sister and her husband are incredibly lucky. Despite the odds and conventional wisdom, my sister’s choice to marry her first love was a good one.  They are really happy, and I’m happy for them.

The world has changed a lot since Alexandra met her husband, and the dating world is almost unrecognizable. She never had to negotiate dating in the age of email, cell phones, texting, myspace, google, facebook, twitter, IM and match.com. When she was dating, her only source of contact with a potential suitor was the telephone and an answering machine. *69 was still the cutting edge of communication technology -we’re talking the dark ages – and trying to talk to my sister about my dating life is like speaking a different language.

As much as I love my family, when I’m not in a relationship I sort of dread going to Texas to visit them. Everyone in my entire family over the age of 18 is married, and they don’t know what to do with me. I know they want to be helpful but the scrutiny regarding my love life often comes in the form of a Law and Order style interrogation scene. They don’t get it. When it comes to dating, they are still in the world of Columbo, while I live in the world of C.S.I. If I tell my Mom that I met a cute guy, she’ll get very excited and ask, “Has he called yet?”

What to say? The most likely answer is that I’ve received a facebook friend request and a handful of texts. This would not impress my mother. More often than not, I don’t mention anyone I’m seeing unless he’s officially referred to me as his girlfriend. In public. Previous to that stage, everything is too difficult to explain.

When my mother was dating, breaking up with someone over the phone was considered rude and totally unacceptable. Now, you’re lucky if you even get a phone call. A friend of mine only found out her 5 month long relationship was over when she saw that her boyfriend’s facebook relationship status had been changed. I’ve had my own technical difficulties when it comes to relationships.

Once upon a time, when I had just gotten out of a relationship, I promised myself that I would focus on my career. Stand-up comedy is a tough business, particularly for women. Comedy is a boy’s club, and though, as a female comic, men constantly surround me, it isn’t an ideal situation for a single woman. It can a little bit like a girl trying to play football; the guys don’t want you on the field, and they definitely don’t want you in the locker room.

When I started doing stand-up, a successful comedian once told me, “Remember one thing Claudia, DDTC.  Don’t date the comics.”

This was wise and sage advice. We all know that dating in the workplace is a big no-no, but when your workplace is a bar, the rules can seem a little less clear. I knew he was right.  So I nodded my head in agreement, and then proceeded to date many comics over the subsequent years. Whoops.

One of these comics was Stew. I was introduced to him at a comedy club. Actually, this was the fifth time I had been introduced to Stew.  He never seemed to remember me.  This was unfortunate because he was really talented, plus he was really cute. After my set, he came up to me and started chatting. I was excited.  Stew had light blue eyes and an acerbic sense of humor, and the combination made me weak in the knees.

He complimented me on my set, and then out of the blue said, “Claudia, you have the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen.” I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I stammered out an incoherent ‘thank you’ and blushed.  I’d never received such an outright, bold compliment.  It did seem a little strange.  If my face was so fantastic, why hadn’t he remembered it the first four times we were introduced? Nevertheless, I was stunned and completely smitten.

Stew didn’t ask for my number or make any move whatsoever, but I thought such a compliment gave me the ammunition needed to be equally bold. I decided to ask him out.

This wasn’t easy for me. Between my mother’s old-fashioned influence and growing up in Texas, it was so engrained in me that a woman should never ask a man out, that I had never seriously considered doing so. But I wasn’t in Texas anymore, and so I went to the girls in my life to ask advice. Over lunch with a 16 year-old girl I used to baby-sit, I spilled the whole story.  She said to me,

“Do it Claudia. Ask him out for me.  I’ve got no boys in my life.  I can live vicariously through you.”

Upon reflection, I don’t think asking out a man should be instigated by a 16-year old buddy whose love life consists of watching Gossip Girl. As my crush had grown to an alarming size by this point, and as her advice happened to coincide with the thing I really wanted to do, I took it.

I quickly discovered that I did not like being the one to initiate a date. Even though he’d given me the best compliment of my life, I still felt embarrassed and awkward and was convinced I would be totally and brutally rejected. I was also wrestling with the old-fashioned notion that if a guy really liked me, he would (and should) do the asking. I’d already told all of my friends that I was going to ask him out, and I was determined not to chicken out. And so I did it . . . in the lamest way possible.

My first true error was sending an email. After much deliberation, this is what I sent:

Stew,

This may be a bit out of the blue, but do you want to get a coffee or

a drink together sometime?

Claudia

I probably spent 20 minutes trying to formulate that one sentence.  20 minutes? And I make my living as a writer?  Then came two interminably long days of checking my email with pathetic frequency.   Finally, I received the following . . .

Together?  Funny that you might think someone would be, “Does she mean together or me at one place and her at another?”  Just joking, would love to.
Stew. (323) xxx-xxxx
He gave me his number? That was not how it was supposed to go.  By doing the initial asking, I thought I’d handed the reins to him. My plan was to jumpstart things, and to give him the opportunity to set up a date. To my disappointment, the reins were back in my hands.  This was the problem with email.  We already had two exchanges and no plans. I had given him an opening and, though he didn’t exactly shut the door, he certainly didn’t walked through it. I was too chicken to call him, and so I made mistake number two . . . I sent another email:

Stew,

How about next Thursday?


Simple and to the point, I thought. Perfect.

He replied:

I’m afraid I’ll be in New York for the next 2 weeks.  How about after that?

Was this a brush-off? It was unclear. When a stranger asks you out, it is really easy to politely decline. When someone you know asks you out, it is a little tougher. Though totally cowardly, I’ve been guilty of agreeing to go on a date with someone I wasn’t interested in, only to postpone it until they got the hint. Was this what Stew was doing to me? On the other hand, travel is a big part of the life of a comic, so I decided to believe this was the truth and not a rejection.

Though I hadn’t wanted to be the one to ask him out in the first place, somehow I had managed to do it twice. I was not officially rejected either time, but I also wasn’t any closer to going on a date with him.  As nervous as I had been about asking him out, I really did think the ‘beautiful face’ comment meant that it was pretty much a sure thing. As I have learned, when it comes to men, rarely is anything ever a sure thing.

Two weeks came and went, and I didn’t hear from him.  I thought to myself, “I’ve taken the initiative and if nothing comes of it, then c’est la vie.” I was going to stay positive. Perhaps he was really busy. It wasn’t like we would never see each other again. After all, we were in the same business. I would certainly run into him in the near future and when I did, I was sure he would make a date for our first date. I was determined to continue to see the glass as half full, even if there was, in fact, no glass.

A few weeks later I got a text from Stew:

going 2 The Comedy Store, if U R there. drinks?

He was going to a comedy club that night, and if I was going to be there anyway, we could drink an alcoholic beverage in each other’s company. After two weeks of no contact, that was not the invitation I was hoping for. Instead of making plans to see me, he was giving me his itinerary. Not only was I a last minute thought, it wasn’t even an actual invitation.  He hadn’t even completed a proper sentence.  I felt like the second bird he was trying to kill with the same stone. I already had plans that night, so I wasn’t tempted to take him up in his piss-poor offer.  I texted back . . .

Can’t. Have other plans. Sorry.

He quickly replied:

I’m bummed. Maybe next time.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me feel like this wasn’t completely over. My crush has been dying over the previous two weeks, and this little text was just the CPR it needed to stay alive.

A week later I got a text from Stew inviting me to one of his shows.  Though not the first date I was hoping for, it seemed like a good sign. I had consumed a few glasses of wine that evening, which contributed to mistake number 3: the drunk text.

I’d like to think the drunk text is better than the drunk dial, but when you’re dealing with such desperation, you’re really splitting hairs.  I was drunk enough that I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but my guess is it was overly flirty, laced with innuendo, and was a transparent attempt at being witty. No response from Stew. By the next morning, in my hangover haze, I had a suspicion that my invitation to his show was, in fact, a mass invitation sent to everyone in Stew’s phone book. I called a friend and fellow comedian who confirmed my fears. She’d gotten a text as well. I was really regretting ever beginning this non-relationship.

I had engaged in a month of emails and texts, and had not had one actual interaction after our initial meeting at the club. We hadn’t even had a voice-on-voice phone conversation.  In an attempt to reclaim some of my pride, I vowed never to initiate a conversation with him again. And to never finish another bottle of Pinot Noir by myself.

A few weeks later, I got another text from Stew.

Hey beautiful. Crazy busy. Out of town. hope U R good

My resolve crumbled. I responded, he texted back, and before I knew it we were involved in a marathon texting session.

I can’t deny it.  He gave good text.  He followed all the rules – quick, funny and witty. Every time I got a text from him, it created a little flutter of excitement that made my day a little brighter.  It was electronic flirting and it was fun. Flirting is flirting, even if it is with a cell phone.

We continued texting throughout the week and though I was enjoying myself, sometimes his texts crossed the line from fun and flirtatious to overtly sexual in a way that made me a bit uncomfortable. At this point, we’d only had one personal face-to-face conversation, and he was engaging in boarder line dirty texting. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, why aren’t we getting together, or at least talking on the phone? Besides, I’m much better and funnier in person. I felt confused and entirely out of my league.

After one particularly questionable hour-long texting session, I was left with a slightly dirty feeling, sort of like one might feel after eating a whole pizza while watching a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon. We were almost two months into whatever this was, and I still didn’t have a date. Worse than that . . . he was in complete control.  Often, I wouldn’t hear from him for a week, and as much as I hate to admit it, that just made him more attractive. He was that illusive thing that was always just out of reach.  In the interim, I only fortified my crush by googling him, checking out his facebook status updates and generally stalking him via the internet.

No one ever admits to being an internet stalker, but almost everyone has been one at some point. We may know that going through a person’s medicine cabinet is wrong, but the virtual version is hard to resist because there is no way to be caught. We don’t want to call it stalking, but that’s exactly what it is.

Because of my stalking, I knew a lot about what was going on in his life. The problem was, I hadn’t learned any of it from him. This is one of the many problems with internet stalking – even if you do go on a date with the guy, it is really hard to keep track of all the things you can’t admit you know, so as not to give away the stalking. So, I stalked him and didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks.  Then I got a facebook message.

So we’re friends on facebook? That’s so amazing. Does that mean we will finally have that kiss?

What? Wouldn’t that require us actually being in the same room? They’ve come a long way with technology, but far as I knew, you can’t kiss through the internet. I’m ashamed to say, I got a little excited. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, I still had hopes that we had a shot at a real date. But I was also a little annoyed.  I wrote:

Wow, you really beat around the bush. Come on man, say what you’re thinking.

I didn’t hear back from him right away. I filled time compulsively re-reading the message I’d just sent, and then chastising myself for sending something so lame. As often happens when sending texts and emails, I wrote the message and sent it, thinking I was being funny, not realizing that tone of voice (or in this case, lack thereof) can really make or break a joke. You’d think I’d be more aware of that, being a comedian and all. I think, as a society, we really do need a sarcasm font. I didn’t have his electronic flirtation skills, and without the benefit of my tone of voice, my message fell flat.

After what felt like forever and was, in reality, probably about 10 minutes,  I received this:

Seriously, this is what I’m thinking, you are stunningly beautiful but I don’t date comics. That’s what I am saying.

I was a little stunned by his reply. Even if he didn’t get my sarcasm, his response was a compliment coupled with a stinging rejection. Writing ‘I don’t date comics’ while asking for a kiss? He might as well have said, “I don’t want to date you, but I’ll fuck you some time if I’m not doing anything else.”  Because that is what he meant.  That much was finally clear.

Not only had I indulged this ridiculously drawn out text/email pseudo relationship, but aside from one wonderful compliment, I’d been consistently slighted and rejected every step along the way. I was angry that I would get involved with a guy like this, until I realized we weren’t really involved. I wasn’t dating Stew, and I never had been. I was virtually dating him. I had been in a virtual relationship with a virtual man. I’d started it, I’d indulged it and I shouldn’t have been surprised to be screwed over by it. Finally, after months, I got the message. He may have filled my inbox, but in the end, he was a total Zero.

Stew continued to send flirtatious texts and emails, but I stopped responding.  It seemed like the only adult choice either one of us was going to make.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE VIRTUAL MAN:

Just like our Founding Fathers never anticipated The Constitution having to contend with the issues of Gay Marriage and Women’s Suffrage, previous generations of women could not have predicted how modern technology has taken over the dating world. Texting is the equivalent of fast food: a necessity in many ways because it is convenient, cheap and quick.  But both McDonalds and texting leave you feeling temporarily sated, a little guilty and ultimately unsatisfied.

Long gone are the days when the rule was that men waited two to three days to call and the woman waited . . . forever.  It was almost as though a woman’s phone couldn’t actually make outgoing calls. We all know how grueling and mind numbing that wait can be. Now, most of those rules have flown out the window.  He may still wait three days to call, or he may not call at all: he might text, email, or send a message on facebook.  Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, more often than not we wait for the phone to vibrate with a message in our inbox. Even if the guy does want to go on an actual date, it doesn’t mean he’ll actually call. I’ve had first dates arranged entirely through email – and these weren’t blind dates or guys I’d met through the internet. These days, the early stages of dating mean that you enter a technological purgatory.

This doesn’t stop once you’ve had an actual first date. It used to be that the only contact you had with a guy between a first and second date was when he called to set up the second date. It was very utilitarian. Now, many of us enter a strange post-first date period of near constant communication via email, texting, etc. without necessarily setting up a second date. Texting and emailing are so prevalent now that you can find yourself having weeks of contact without the second date ever taking place. It can feel like you are having a relationship but it is all virtual. In these cases, the only actual relationship you are having is with your internet and cell phone provider.

Sometimes is hard to know how to turn the virtual into the real thing, because no one ever got a lesson in the digital age of dating, and there isn’t yet any established form of etiquette.  Do the traditional rules of wooing apply in more untraditional mediums? Should a girl wait a few days to send an email? From what I’ve seen, texting can begin moments after phone numbers have been exchanged, but it is such an informal method of communicating that you can find yourself acting, via text, in a way you would never act in person – or even over the phone. At least I do.

Through much trial and a whole lot of error, I have developed some rules for electronic communication in dating. Is this technically and virtually playing hard to get? Maybe. Is it old fashioned? You bet, but I’ve come to realize that is not necessarily a bad thing. The beginning of any relationship makes most people feel incredibly vulnerable, but when this getting-to-know-you phase happens almost exclusively through electronic means, it can be even more fraught.  Following my rules will, at the very least, save you from waiting for a response and further vulnerability. I’ve never wanted to think of myself as a game player, but I look it as self- defense. Let’s remember, a man invented the telephone.

TEXTING 101

1. Be brief.

2. In your brevity, be funny or witty.

3. While being brief, funny and witty, you should also relay some pertinent information.

4. While being brief, funny, witty, and informative, the response should be timely.

5. Because the words in texts don’t express emotion, be brief, funny, witty, and informative quickly, but use an emoticon or two so you don’t come across as bitchy, bossy or weird.

6. When in doubt, an exclamation point or LOL will get you out of almost anything.

7. Just like with the phone, get off first.  Make sure he’s the one to send the last text so you’re not left hanging.

These rules came from the tough lessons I learned while indulging in idiotic virtual relationship behavior, and I have the cell phone bills to prove it.

Technology is not the enemy here. In many circumstances, texting is great: to relay quick information, let someone know you are running late, or to give an address.  It can also be a great flirtation devise, but only when used in conjunction with actual, in-person flirting. In these instances, a text is perfect.  Much of the time, and especially in the early stages, technology in dating can lead to confusion and misery.  Easy access to someone, especially someone you find attractive, is intoxicating.  And much like alcohol, this flush of excitement can cause us all to do things we later regret.

Such as having marathon texting sessions.  I’ve had long texting sessions for no other reason than I was bored. Come to think of it, I’ve had whole relationships for no other reason than I was bored.  This is not a good thing.  Texting will never equal a face-to-face conversation – in the same way that a myspace friend is not the same as an actual friend.  Having a virtual friend takes very little work, and the same goes for a virtual relationship. Just because a guy is texting doesn’t mean he is really interested. He may just be bored.

There is no denying that texting can be fun and, oddly enough, sexy.  Scratch that, texting is pseudo-sexy.  Having flirty banter with a man is sexy.  Banter that is limited to 50 characters or less is not banter, and therefore not true sexiness. Coming from an acknowledged text-lover, let me tell you, in the initial stages of meeting someone, put your cell phone down.  That is of course, unless it is an actual guy calling to set an actual date.

The web and email may be older technologies, but they are equally as difficult to navigate. Thanks to match.com, JDate and eHarmony, the internet has launched a million dates, and I have a number of friends who have found wonderful people via the Web, but I also know a lot people whose match.com experience has been nothing short of excruciating. As far as I’m concerned, the Web is called the Web for a reason. A spider’s web is where the weak get entangled and eaten alive, so who wants that to be a conduit for dating and relationships? Keep in mind, the name the information superhighway is entirely accurate, though the information you find on it may not be.  Notice it is not called the truth superhighway, the honesty superhighway or the knowledge superhighway.  Information is not necessarily knowledge. Most of us have some sort of information on the internet i.e. a profile, a friend’s webpage, your business or group association, your facebook profile etc, and how much of it is 100% accurate. Anyone who’s been on match.com knows that if a guy’s profile says he’s 5’9”, he’s probably somewhere around 5’7. And the same goes for the ladies. My guy friends tell me that when they look at the body type a woman lists on her profile, they mentally add 10 pounds, because that’s what she’ll really be.  Apparently voluptuous means fat online.  I wanted to argue with him, but all I had to do was look a the weight listed on my driver’s license to see that he had a point. Many guys on match.com aren’t on there because they’re looking for a relationship, no matter what they say. Many guys think of the site as a great way to get access to women who are so interested in finding a man, they may be easy to get into bed.

Just because you can find out things about a person does not mean you know them, even if the information is accurate. Knowing that a guy’s favorite band is The Rolling Stones and that he shares your love of Arrested Development doesn’t mean this is a guy that will be your soul mate, a compassionate lover or someone you want to introduce to your family.

And with all of information that is out there, how do you know if you really have your best face forward?  As we create profiles, upload photos, list our hobbies and our favorite movies, we try to be charming, irreverent, or playful but we have no idea how we translate on a flat computer screen.  Even if we are creating an attractive version of ourselves for people to see, it is never the complete picture. You may list the last book you read on your profile as being a biography of John Adams, but let’s face it; you’re currently reading a book about relationships. (Not that there is anything wrong with that). Is that going to go up on your page? It works both ways. It is easy to get caught up in the profile of a guy you like, and turn him into the guy you want him to be.

Now, the above story began with me asking a guy out via email, so I recognize my hypocrisy.  I did it because it was easier than asking face-to-face. It was also the beginning of a stupid, two month-long, annoying interaction with a guy who wasn’t interested in me. Not really.  By asking him out directly, I believe that fact would have been quickly apparent and saved me a colossal waste of time.  The emails, texts and facebook messages fanned my ego, but did little else.  The ego boost one gets from emails and texts is illusory because anyone can carry hundreds of e-flirtations. It is too easy. As one man pointed out to me, you can be on a date with one girl and send texts to another without your date ever knowing. Hideous, but true.

And there are other pitfalls as well. There is just too much information out there for our own good. Your email has a timestamp, your IM tells everyone how available you are, all the social networking sites flash up blinking lights to let you know exactly who is online and when. It is hard to maintain the impression of being a busy and sought after lady when anyone can see that you are on your computer at 11PM on a Friday night. Equally bad is when you send a message to someone you know to be online and don’t instantly get a response, because you take a hit to your ego. Knowing that someone is online feels like they are close and accessible, but they aren’t.

Instant messages may be instant, but they aren’t true communication.  In fact, they are the bare bones of communication.  IM and emails can be a minefield because they lack emotion, intonation, feeling and are easily misconstrued. What may be intended as funny can come across as rude or hostile, and we have no idea when the “conversation” ends.  How many of us have wanted to get off the computer, but once we’ve sent a message, we then feel the need to wait awkwardly for a response that doesn’t come?   We thought waiting by the phone was bad?  Now we get to have the added horror of not receiving a message in our voicemail, text inbox, facebook, and our emails. The ‘Inbox: 0’ messages is a horrible sight to see when you’ve sent a clever little message to a guy you like hours before. If, like me, you’ve sat in front of the computer for hours maniacally hitting the ‘refresh’ button on your browser, hoping a message will miraculously appear, you know what I’m talking about.

I know when I sit down to my computer I have the best of intentions, but after I check and return emails, somebody else takes over.  I start to snoop, investigate, peak around and check out anybody and everybody.  Google is one of the greatest inventions of our time, but it is also one that brings out my inner dork.  I revert to the 14-year old version of myself. I can peak into people’s lives, groups or interests and judge them.  I was the uncool kid who always wanted to know what the cool kids were doing.  Now, I can do just that, although reverting to the uncool, 14-year old version of myself has never been a goal to which I aspire.

When it comes to dating, there is something to be said for the old-fashioned way. Isn’t one of the joys of a new relationship discovering a person’s like and dislikes with that person? Sure, you can learn about a guy’s political views by visiting his facebook page, but isn’t it better to learn it from him? And when something is written on a screen, don’t we tend to be more judgmental than we might be face-to-face? If, on a date, a guy tells you that his favorite band is Warrant, you’ll get the story to go with it and may just see it as a charming quirk. Whereas if, on a screen, you see “favorite band: Warrant” you might be tempted to say, Next! And how much does that stuff really matter? I couldn’t even tell you my dad’s favorite book or band, and I’m sure it wasn’t a deciding factor in my mother’s affection for him.  Are these really the things we need to know, particularly as the first thing we know about a person? We’re being judged on our spelling, book choices, witticisms and photos.  It is too much.

Flirty banter on a cell phone screen or quick emails may be fun, but they aren’t enough to build a relationship. They aren’t even enough to start a relationship. The more advanced we get in our methods of communication, the more pressure it adds. This might be okay, if it actually made us better communicators, but it doesn’t. We have more ways to get in touch, but that doesn’t make the quality of our interactions any richer. We are curious creatures and the impulse to know who, what or where the person we like is, or what they are doing, is undeniable. But we have to ask ourselves, where does all this information get us?  Not far.  Mostly it gets you stuck in a series of virtual relationships fraught with technical difficulties.

At the end of the day, the only science I want in my love life is chemistry. The good news is that you can avoid these technical difficulties because The Virtual Guy can easily be identified within the first 48 hours of initial contact. Every communication will be virtual.  I believe after 3-4 texts have gone back and forth on each side, someone needs to pick up the phone. At a certain point, just text: Call me.  If he doesn’t, it’s a red flag.

Texting and emailing are great time savers.  We can all get wrapped up in our careers and schedules, and are tempted to take the easy way out, but when it comes to dating, a little work should be involved. All of these other ways to communicate can be great additions to your life, but should never replace one-on-one interactions. This is something my big sister and I can still agree on.

Some may think having a virtual man in your life is better than no man, but it’s the best way to ensure you’ll never have a real relationship.  If you want to flirt and have harmless fun (and are 19 or younger) have at it.  Otherwise, I recommend technologically advanced dating only in moderation.

I recently started dating someone.  We’ve known each other casually for a few years, but a friend urged him to ask me out.  And he did. He called me and asked when I had time to go to dinner that week. Just like that.  I was stunned that it could really be that uncomplicated.  I immediately said yes.  When I told my girlfriends that he called me and asked for a date directly, everyone’s reaction was the same.  They were impressed.  Apparently, the basics of dating are been so far removed by technology that when someone goes about it in a traditional way, it makes women weak at the knees.

I love my email and my cell phone, but it will never replace the feeling of being close to someone you really like. If people say it’s old-fashioned, tell them it isn’t.  It’s vintage and according to fashion stylists, vintage never goes out of style.