Sage advice

Had lunch under the trees with my dear Nana today. At 92, this old lady has seen it all, yet she still marvels at the first-of-spring shoots and fledgling birds as if a child, deriving immeasurable pleasure in a plate of food and savouring her glass of Sauvignon Blanc, as if all the joy of life is distilled in these simple rituals. She’s lived through a world war, raised four children and buried two husbands, my Nan, yet she listens intently as I jabber on about the minutiae of my life, never trivializing, never passing judgement.

When I first broke the news to my family of the failure of my marriage, my grandmother was the only one who didn’t have a thousand things to say. Instead, she held my hand in hers and told me, simply, that it would be okay – this from a woman for whom divorce was never an option, despite having married, first, an alcoholic depressive and, then, after my grandfather passed away, a cantankerous old ba$#@!d.

So, today, when I declared, “Nana, I’m falling in love,” she didn’t ask endless questions about his financial credentials, pre-existing responsibilities or relationship history. Instead, she enquired gently, “Samantha, is he good to you?”. And when I replied, “Yes, Nan, he makes me feel like the most special person in the world,” she simply raised her glass in a frail, trembling hand and said, “Good, dear, that’s all that matters.”

Then we sat together in silence, there in the dappled shade of those giant birches, the calm of a Sunday afternoon washing over us, and all was right with the world.

– Single-again Samantha

Online dating – how to spot a player

Trawling the online personals in search of Mr Right is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Cyberspace is a massive place and, with online dating a $1 billion per year industry, we’re talking a big numbers game here. So, in an effort to simplify things, I’ve devised a little personal checklist to help separate the keepers from the players…

For starters, a picture tells a thousand words: If I have to suck it up and post a photograph of myself up there, advertising my availability for all the world to see, then so, dammit does he. Refusal to do so means one of two things: A) He’s dating incognito for fear of ridicule from others – aside from raising an instant wussy red flag, this will make explaining later where the two of you met a sticky point. Or, B). He’s no oil painting – fair enough, but you’re going to discover this in the fullness of time anyway, so why beat around the bush? Reality is, if he’s not prepared to put a face to the name, he damn well better have the gift of the gab…

Which brings us to the personal profile. While spelling and grammatical mistakes make me flinch, there are certain words that instantly press my “skip” button: “Independent” is one of them and can be loosely defined as either “looking for a no-strings fling” or “too busy to invest any time”, both of which don’t bode well for a long-term commitment. “Casual” is another no-no and should immediately be suffixed by the word “sex”, because that’s exactly what the guy’s after.

Profiles that start with “I don’t know what to right here…” are lame and indicate a complete lack of effort. When, however, as is often the case, these words are then followed with a long diatribe of personal achievements and philosophical musings, again, consider yourself warned. This is the kind of guy who wears a flimsy mask over his acute self-absorption and can mean only one thing – interminably long, yawn-worthy hours of indulging his verbal masturbation.

I don’t bother either with a profile that includes a laundry list of likes and dislikes. This is someone who still believes in the notion of perfection and will have a closed mind to anyone who does not exactly meet his catalogue of precise criteria.

Finally, if he mentions his past relationship in his online dating profile, move on without further ado – as he clearly hasn’t.

– Single-again Samantha

Confessions of a people pleaser: being nice when you don’t want to

Sometimes I think that I was born without a spine. I mean, I simply cannot stand up for myself. Take today: I agreed to sit in on a meeting for a project I quit 2 months ago. Why? Because I didn’t have the guts to say no. Then my sister swings by – can she borrow some cash just until her paycheck comes through?”. “Now, you know I lie awake in the early hours of the morning worrying about how I’m going to make payment on the mortgage and eat for the rest of the month, but sure, sis, how much do you need?” Finally, I get a call from Stephen, my blind date from the weekend – do I want to see him again? Instead of a simple “no”, I mumble something about being very busy but yes, that would be fine. This to a guy with whom there was so little spark you could almost hear the engine’s last gasps.

I’m your classic yes-woman, a passive-aggressive tapdancer, skirting round and round the point for fear of causing vibrations. I’m an ostrich with my head in the sand, an under-the-carpet-sweeper whose broom is wearing thin. What makes me, like so many women, I suspect, dependent on the approval of others? Why are we so afraid of hurting peoples’ feelings? What stops us from drawing a line in the sand and declaring, “Enough already! No more”?

No energy for confrontation or no self-respect, whatever the reason we’re not doing ourselves any favours. Everyone needs boundaries and that’s something we don’t have to justify. So, as of tomorrow, I’m resubmitting that resignation letter, I’m informing my sister that I’m not her personal piggybank and I’m telling Stephen, as relationship guru Laura Doyle suggests, that I’m simply “no longer available”. I’ll do it the coward’s way, of course. By SMS. Some habits die hard.

– Single-again Samantha

Matron of honor

My sister Nicci is ten years my junior and still very much single (though not through lack of trying, as my mother would say). In her late twenties, Nicci is adamant she’s fast running out of time… and, well, men, and this, coupled with the fact that her biological clock’s ringing off the wall, makes her pretty upset about the whole business of being single.

So you can imagine Nicci’s reluctance to attend yet another family wedding, this time for our “baby” cousin. As Nicci enters the room, grannies and grandpas, aunties and uncles descend on her, pity and hankies to hand. “Poor Nicci, don’t worry lovey,” they say, “Next time it’ll be your turn.”

It gets so bad that there’s an unspoken agreement that no one jump to ensure Nicci catches the bouquet, which the bride will have been briefed to throw with remarkable accuracy in her direction.

Thank god this is one of the indignities of being single that the single-again woman can escape. The unspoken agreement is that you’ve had your chance and, well, you blew it. Step aside sista, your ride’s up.

And I’ll happily take my place on the shelf if it means avoiding those probing questions, sympathetic looks and clucking false teeth. I had enough of those when I broke the news of the divorce.

As for poor my attractive, confident younger sister… like carrion left to hyenas, she’ll shatter into a million pieces, weep uncontrollably throughout the speeches and catch a cab home as soon as she can legitimately get out of there. Although, it has to be said, not without a backward glance at the best man…

PS: By way of aside, does a divorced woman get to go back from matron of honor to maid of honor? Kind of like going back to being a virgin?

– Single-again Samanth

Single-again Samantha: Finding a Husband

The little one has been nagging me for a baby sister again. Tonight I told her the truth… that mommy needs to find a husband first. “Well find a husband, mommy,” she says. “I’m trying darling, I’m trying.”

A lot of things seem to need explaining these days. Like who made the world, what will happen if we look at the sun and why is mommy waxing down there. Surely one of the most cringe-worthy things to explain, though, is where did Dave go and why don’t we see Nick any more? These are men who have drifted into our lives and drifted out again. Some leaving a lesson, some a bad taste. I could brush them off, put it down to experience, but what am I teaching my child here? I don’t need a shrink to tell me that she’s learning that men just don’t stick around.

So, when she turned five (I know, I know, but better late than never), I made a pact with myself that no one would be granted entry into the inner sanctum of “our” space until I was one hundred percent sure of him. No, we haven’t found him yet and yes, it does make dating that much harder – for one thing, it always involves giving the sum of a down payment on a small car to the sitter and getting little more than a bit of opportunistic tongue action at the front door. No you can’t come in for coffee and, big no, you definitely can’t stay for breakfast. Sure, it signalled the end of all “play” dates, but it also sounded the death knell on the “whatever happened to John” conversations. And sure, it’s extremely inconvenient at times, but I do it for the sake of teaching my daughter that men are not driftwood… yet always in the hope that one day, one lucky man will get to stay.

– Single-again Samantha

Is that a wallet in your pocket…?

While I don’t really ever see myself not working, I do, on occasion, entertain the fantasy of being a “kept woman”. I imagine not having to catapult into the day after an over zealous session with the snooze button. I picture myself lacing up my trainers at teatime and going for a leisurely run… why? Because I’ve got nothing better to do.

I hate to admit to being ever so slightly seduced by Richard’s good fortunes. I mean, for our second date the guy offered to treat me to a massage and facial at one of the city’s most expensive spas. Problem was I couldn’t get the (not-so-pretty) picture of him being massaged next to me out of my head.

But I did dare to dream of being plucked out of my high-impact life in order to speed along the highway of love, silk scarf trailing behind, in Richard’s Mercedes Benz SLS convertible. I could see myself eating sushi without a care in the world for the colour of the plates – literally standing at the conveyor belt and flat-handing the stuff into my mouth. Oh, for the good life.

Len had money too, but he was arrogant about it. Or perhaps it was the fact that he pre-empted the date by saying that he wasn’t looking for a relationship – I mean, where do you go from there? He spent the evening boasting about the number of en-suites he’s added to his house in the mountains, where he’s also built a landing strip for his light aircraft. I was quite pleased when he choked on a chilli from a mouthful of my Vindaloo and stayed in the men’s for a while. Talk about bad chemistry.

Conclusion? The problem with my little fantasy, it seems, is that millionaires don’t grow on trees and, when they do crop up, they come with a price tag.

– Single-again Samantha

You’re so vain

I met Kevin when I had just received my all-time monumental dumping. The guy was a class-A jerk who kept me on a short leash, giving a bit only when he saw he’d pushed me too far and I was about to bale. My therapist called him a textbook narcissist, a guy so pathologically self-involved he made Warren Beatty look like Ghandi. John walked around like one of those cartoon characters, with his huge chest puffed up in an air of bravado (and his tiny balls tucked up in an even tinier Speedo). Forgive me for the note of bitterness in my voice, but this was the guy who only said he liked my outfit because it matched his own.

Why did I take it, you ask. Well, A). because I was at an emotional all-time low and B). because I’d never had the pleasure (not!) of dating a born-and-bred narcissist before. Sure, I’d met my fair share of egotistical prats – I even went out with a guy whose hair was more coiffed than mine. But Kevin was in a different league all together. And while it may have been possible to overlook his all-pervasive grandiosity, his unrelenting sense of entitlement and his constant need for admiration and adulation (not to mention the fact that he practically swooned when he caught site of his mirrored reflection), it became exceedingly difficult to deal with his complete lack of empathy and the uncanny way he had of putting me down in order to bolster his own self importance – I mean, his “playful” nickname for me was “fattie” – need I say more?

As you can well imagine, narcissists don’t take rejection well and neither did Kevin. He flung every derogatory insult under the sun at me and then did a complete about turn and became all saccharine sweet. But I wasn’t fooled – a snake may shed its skin, but it’s still a snake underneath.

If you’re in love with a narcissist, my wish for you is that you hold yourself dear … because that’s more love than you’re gonna get from a man incapable loving anyone more than himself…

– Single-again Samantha

Single-again Samantha: Must love dogs

No self-respecting single gal lives without a dog (unless, of course, she has a kid, in which case she already has her excuse to hang out at the park, scoping for singletons). I have both and, let me tell you, even combined, they are less trouble than having a husband was.

If you go at the right time of the day, the park is a veritable meat market, with humans hitting on each other human style while their dogs do it doggy style. You can tell a lot about a man by the kind of dog he owns and the relationship he has with it. You get the coat-wearing-daschund owner. Let me tell you that the kind of guy who dresses his pooch up for a walk in the park is also the kind who will insist that you speak to the canine on the phone. And he’s the kind who, after shaving and balming, will be licked all over the face by little Lucy – so not a great prospect if you’re partial to the odd snog, as I am.

Then you get the man with the giant Doberman who, you can bet, lives in a small condo (I can say this with authority as there are no big condos where I live). Again, not dating material as, you can bank on it, this guy suffers from a bad case of small-man complex.

You can tell the guys who are in relationships as they’re the ones who are almost as happy to be at the park as their dogs are. So busy tossing balls and sticks are they that they don’t even stand still long enough for you to sneak a look at their wedding fingers. Take it from me, these guys are so shacked up they’re on a tighter leash than their pets.

Personally, I keep an eye out for the guy with the miniature poodle as he’s undoubtedly divorced and now has custody of Muffy (who she originally picked out to match – and fit – her Marc Jacobs tote).

Now, some would say that bumping into each other while elbow deep in doggie doodoo isn’t the most romantic of ways to meet, but let me tell you, there’s every reason not to go to the park looking like, well, a dog’s breakfast. There’s a reason why Jennifer Aniston turned to that dog after Brad dumped her. Trying to pull your retriever off from humping his Labrador provides a good conversation starter, even if it is just to observe that both dogs are male.

Seriously, though, if dogs are happy to meet their mates in what is effectively a communial canine toilet, surely we could be less choosy about how we go about doing it. I’m not advocating sniffing each other’s behinds, but perhaps we could take a leaf from our canine companions and be less afraid of putting ourselves out there, even if it is just at the park. If it works, well hell, you could be in for (dog’s) years of happiness. If not, simply put it down to barking up the wrong tree.

– Single-again Samantha

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