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Men are more romantic than women

February 14, 2011

"Phew! Not in trouble after all."

I’m not making this up. Match.com, which puts out a yearly Lovegeist report (that’s right: LOVEGEIST), said in the latest one that men are more romantic than women. FACT.

Well, I am willing to believe it. Women have high expectations for romance but men often deliver incredible avowals of romantic feeling – I’ve known of lovey powerpoint presentations, complex ploys involving airplanes and spare keys, chauffeur-driven cars, surprise spa breaks….men do seem able to excel themselves….when they want to. When they want to, though, seems not to be on Valentine’s Day, of which more later.

Today is V-Day (for the next 35 minutes). Despite every last man I know being staunchly opposed to Valentine’s Day, I saw many people today clutching roses with intent. They were all men. At M&S tonight – (where I went on my way home from the gym: my little lover’s gift to myself, those 30 mins of cardio) – the girl at the till said that all evening men had been storming the flower and chocolates. “See that?” she said, pointing to the flower stand. “It was completely empty five minutes ago”. That was at about 8:45pm.

Impressive. But what all this flower and chocolate buying does suggest is tokenism – men know that they need to produce something to keep the ball and chain happy. Arriving home empty handed will probably lead to a fight. Can’t blame the dudes – sometimes just giving in to the pressures of a day you don’t believe in is a good way to go.

I never thought I’d say this but maybe women need to change their tune. I’m one of many that have given boyfriends grief over V-Day – my last one was thoroughly unmoved by it and I threatened to take it VERY personally indeed. He gave in and took me out for dinner and gave me some flowers, but of course I’d ruined it by making a fuss of it. My expectations were the feature of the day – and overshadowed any true romantic feeling.

Men are more romantic – Match says so. So if we lay off the importance of VDay (within reason – roses and chocolates would not be dismissed by me under most circumstances), our men may still shine on other days. Power point presentation, anyone?

Run for your lives. The BAD BANTER EPIDEMIC is spreading

February 6, 2011

Please, man. Don't make a quip about your hangover.

Banter or die: that is the watchword of the single male or female.

Traditionally the weight of banter has fallen on men – women have been expected to receive male witticisms and giggle, crooning later to their friends over pink cocktails that he is just “soooo funny!” Well, now women have to pull their weight in the banter stakes – or at least those with personalities rather than, or as well as, hot bods and perfect highlights. The result, naturally, is that we’re brilliant at it, being – as studies have shown – often more verbally skilled when we put our minds to it than men. The corniest lines, the slowest understanding of innuendo, the worst jokes? Almost always the specialty of men.

Poor male-driven banter was forgivable back when the b-word was a very brief precursor to actually meeting up or, as in the distant past, nearly an irrelevance in the broader scheme of courtship and letter writing and the conveyance of sincere meaning.

Now, it is the single most important part of most nascent love affairs – from the booty call to the relationship to the micro-fling. With the advent on online dating, banter is unavoidable and essential for many couples.

Well, it must be that the weight of importance put on verbal foreplay is now is too great for the capabilities of your average male banterer (I don’t know how female banter is faring – it may also be suffering). Because banter, in the main, has become CRAP.

The bulk of it to cross my virtual thresh-hold of late has involved talk of a sandwich chosen for lunch, feelings of tiredness, boredom at work, and excitement for the weekend. None of this accompanied by any questions beyond: “Good day so far?” “Good weekend so far?” “Good lunch so far?” And so on. The minutia of the average office worker’s day is not sexy, not romantic, and certainly not banter.

Then you get your men who go all formal and dull miss ALL your jokes. They go all “Dear Zoe” and “Best, Bob”. Or, take this paragraph from someone I was set up with (and I kid you not, he DID write this): “I have launched and incorportated my business at the London Companies House in 2002. The company specialises in XX brokerage services and XX management. We also offer consultancy services within the aviation industry.” I responded the only way I could: with a minor but very clear joke: “I am a journalist and I have no companies registered at Companies House.” He missed it. No comment. No humour. NO BANTER.

So, at breaking point after a particularly long string of sandwich-oriented chat, and joke-missing, I think something serious needs to change. An alternative to banter must be born – something more people can excel at. Maybe: how many US breakfast cereals you can name in 10 seconds.

Until that becomes the norm here are some ground rules to improve matters:

1. No mention of food consumed that day unless it is hilariously in excess or ridiculous. You could say: “I ate four pigs for lunch and now look identical to one” or “I think I might eat a salad made exclusively of sprouting beans”

2. Do not write emails without questions, thereby making the recipient debase themselves by having to do all the work to respond. Must they cleave to your reference to those 6 unplanned beers the night before?

3. Get on with it- do you want to meet or not? Banter is boring very quickly when pointless. Unless, of course, it’s witty. But see above

4. Your night is boring. Your hangover is boring. Anything to do with your WILD AND CRAZY NIGHT OUT is BORING

5. Ask questions, but not crap ones. Not: “How is your day?” when it’s 11:01AM and you’ve met once. Ask: “On a scale from one to ten, how excited are you for lunch?”

Signing off now, to go get a sandwich. I could really murder a sandwich. I’m so hungry. That hangover….

Q: Every time I meet a guy I like, it always develops into friendship and nothing more. What am I doing wrong?

February 5, 2011

A: Ah ha. The curse of the friending stick. You’ve got the stick and you keep hitting people over the head with it. Why?

Well, the answer is probably because you see yourself as “the friend”. You don’t want to be the friend, but it’s happened before and now it’s your “story”. The less you want to be “the friend”, the more you find yourself being the friend. This is because you’ve bought into a narrative of “why do bad things happen to good people?”

Start seeing yourself as a sexual being – someone who a man would be smart and lucky to lust after – and things will change. That is a long-term goal. Here are a few things you can do to improve things in the short term.

1. Don’t act like a friend if you don’t want to be a friend. Act like a stranger – to start off with. That is: no references to relationships, nothing too matey (ie, “Men are awful! Men are bastards!” or “So, pal, what’s YOUR romantic situation like?”).

2. Limit information you reveal about yourself. Even if you think you’re the most fascinating person in the world because of X, Y, Z, don’t come out with it. Let it be discovered. Then you get to say: “oh yeah, I DO have a phD in nuclear physics, now that you mention it.”

3. Don’t apologise for yourself. The most unsexy thing you can possibly do is be self-deprecating. This can manifest itself in everything from wearing no makeup and baggy clothes because you don’t think there’s any point in wearing something else (rather than because it’s your look, motherfucker), to talking about all your failures – academically, socially and crucially, romantically.

4. Wear lots of eye-makeup, get your tits out or whatever it takes to make sure you look hot. A good test is if randoms on the Tube ogle you/almost fall onto the tracks at the sight of you. If YOU think you look hot, and randoms on the Tube think you look hot, there’s a far higher chance of HIM thinking you look hot.

5. Restrict the communication you have after your meeting. If you get along very well, that could be the glimmer of romantic spark. Don’t kill it by being in his inbox all the time. Don’t arrange group meetings – after a period of good banter – arrange a single meeting where you have the chance to look smoking.

6. Get drunk together. The rest often follows, if the previous five rules are observed. Good luck!

The Single Person’s Catch-22

February 5, 2011

Sometimes the sofa is so tempting. But when you're single, can it ever be guilt-free?

It’s Wednesday night. You’re tired,  just not in the mood for other people. The idea of your sofa, your book, your TV and the stop by Waitrose on the way home (where you can treat yourself to packs of tropical fruit – yum!) is so appealing. And yet there’s a party. There will be booze and “opportunities”. Which do you choose?

If you’re single and the type that gets neurotic about those opportunities, the choice hardly matters. What matters is the inevitable, disproportionate period of angst and debate about what you “should” do. On one hand: home is always nice. On the other, you won’t meet anyone at home.

The two big conflicting arguments in singletude today are these. One: “do what YOU want and the rest will follow” . This means: going home, eating tropical fruit and being peaceful whether by reading or by watching junk TV, which will help solidify your inner core and thus make you more “grounded” and thus a better proposition for a relationship and more attractive to boot. The other one is: “TAKE STEPS! The knight in shining armour is NOT going to appear. So get out there, get online, go go go”.

Reconciling the two is every singleton’s constant nightmare. And by the time you’ve agonised about it, there IS no right decision. Go home and you won’t be able to concentrate for fear of missing out. Go out and – while caught in a “so what do you do?” spiral of chat – images of your sofa and that packet of pineapple will keep flashing in your head.

Worse, going out when you felt like going home (or thought you might have felt like going home) puts the millstone of expectation round your neck. Fail to meet anyone, kiss anyone, get anyone’s number and the evening feels like  failure. Yet expectation gives you a distinct whiff of…something repellent.

To try or not to try – that is the damn question.

Why those old fatties at Sky Sports are irrelevant

January 25, 2011

The gurning face of football: these idiots know not what they do

As repellent as it is to learn of Gray’s and Keys’ recording, sacking the two old fatties responsible for the comments is hardly the solution.

The problem, unfortunately, goes far deeper than a couple of off-the-record comments that, I’m fairly sure, most men would snigger at in agreement if given the chance.

Just look at the contrast between the amount of time in which women were utterly deprived of rights or life at all outside the home (millennia) and that in which they’ve technically been able to participate in the world as they choose (a few decades) and you see why some men of limited intelligence are struggling to keep up.

If you were to sack all the men who make crude, offensive and downright stupid comments off the record about women, you’d have a big job on your hands and – unfortunately the way things stand – a big hole in the economy. The solution is not to sack two idiots for talking among themselves. It is to force, if teaching won’t do the job, society’s numerous sexist relics to get over the fact that women are not stupider nor less capable than them. Not because we care what they think, mind, but so that they don’t stand in our way. To do this we must encourage and reward more Hilary Clintons, Condelezza Rices, Karren Bradys and Sian Masseys. Shun housewifery and get out there ladies: the fight’s not over.

Finally, football is overwhelmingly still a man’s game. Playing aside, devotion to it requires a degree of bone-headed, slathering animalism that most women aren’t drawn to. It’s one of the last places men can be relatively free of women and as atavistic as they want. Massey and Brady aren’t enough: there are far too few women in the game for their presence to be normal. Until it is – or until the Grays and Keys of the world get new brains – there are deeper feminist issues to address than a couple of predictable comments about chicks in football. (A version of this article was also printed in City AM).

What’s the best way to pick up a good-looking stranger in a non-conventional place – the bus, the grocery store, etc?

January 23, 2011

Do airplanes count? I demanded an exchange of email addresses with the hot Lebanese man I sat next to on a flight from London to Boston in the summer. Otherwise, though I have an extremely active imagination and almost anywhere provides it with fuel…not really.

How do you approach someone you think is good looking in a bar? Or do you even approach?

January 23, 2011

Sure you can approach. Normally I’d say that if you’re the one going after the man, not vice versa, it probably won’t end too well. But in this case he may simply not have seen you. That said, marching up to a guy and offering your shiniest pickup line will present you as Strong, Confident, possibly Sexually Predatory Woman, which appears to “scare” some men. (A lot of guys like it, mind.)

The best of both worlds, then, is to give them the eye, which lures them over to you or inspires them to talk to you when you happen to move in next to them at the bar to ask for a drink. The eye takes nerve, of course. The last thing you want is to give them a mad, hungry, come-and-get-it stare. You want a sweet but intent look. You want to make sure you catch their eye, then look away. You build up rapport this way and talking to them will stop being scary because you will already have lusty water under the bridge.

How do you decide whether to continue to contact someone without seeming too eager? I follow a strictly 1 for 1 communication policy.

January 23, 2011

See the earlier question about having one credit. One for one is good – though you’re allowed one double negative. That is, if there’s been no contact since you last talked or met up, you can – for one time only – meet that negative credit (negative because he hasn’t got in touch since) with another one, eg, you getting in touch. The key to not seeming too eager is timing. Depending on how solid you think the connection was/is (that answers your question about “how” to decide to contact someone), wait enough time so that while it’s still fresh, it doesn’t seem like you have no life. Any time between four days and a week is good – longer than a week is usually fine too, if you can bear it.

Oh to be young again…not

January 23, 2011

My friend Jo and I were sitting in a Japanese restaurant in the City on Thursday night – a hidden treasure called Soseki – when we came to a joint conclusion. “We’ve squandered our twenties!” We pounded the table tragically, sake flying everywhere, seeing with sudden clarity that only now, as 30 draws near, we are ready to be 23 and to DO IT RIGHT. To luxuriate in the distance of problems like ultimate career success, future fame, husbands and biology and instead to go about making them happen (the first two, I mean). If only we knew ourselves as well at 20-23 as we do now (sort of), we could have dispensed with all that binge-drinking, insecure and self-destructive behaviour and just been awesome. If only. Goodbye twenties, goodbye! Weep-weep.

On Friday night, however, I had cause to reflect on a different aspect of being old: relief. I was in Cambridge, reviewing its first proper hotel, the Varsity (I strongly recommend forking out the 450 odd for its wall-to-wall windowed penthouse suite, room 613, for proposal night or Valentine’s Day or whatever).

Anyway, the evening provided me with a chance to observe undergraduate life seven years on. Undergrads are better looking and better dressed these days. But they’re still obsessed with gross things, are perfectly happy to surrender all physical dignity and to dim their supposedly prime brains with a range of available and unavailable substances. I felt a sickly shiver more than once at the idea that I, too, used to be one of these intensely unhealthy-living dorm-dwellers never far from the raucous, puke-spattered world of the drinking society and the formal hall (I studiously avoided the puke part, thank you).

Anyway, after good French wine in the penthouse with my also-aged friend Tom, and dinner at the next-door riverside restaurant (swordfish, very nice too), we headed up to Churchill College to check out a Friday night party it holds called Pav. Churchill is the college of a youthful friend and associate of mine (hi Rhodri!) and so his job was to meet us and show us to Pav and generally give us a taste of how the youth live these days.

Up reels Rhoders, near to passing out at 10:55pm (how many times did I collapse before 10pm following a formal hall? Many), slurring his words and as he put it, utterly “mashed”. Through the brick edifice he led us to Pav where, unfortunately, there were only a few people dancing awkwardly. The DJ was dressed in a toga-thing; there were men wandering around as Romans. Evidently the night’s theme.

So off we go to Rhodri’s room – a bit more to drink and so on. Trance music is put on and we stare into space, paying homage to its awesome power with a deep look at the wall (heavy, man). A couple barge in – high on life, evidently – though quite grown-up and attractive and seeming a bit incongruous with the student surroundings.

Within minutes, news travels of a person who may or may not be slumped in the toilet. This is a source of great hilarity to the undergrads – the door won’t open and said person has probably passed out in it. Tom and I looked at each other with wry concern. Upstairs to the next WC then.

On our way out later, we meet another couple heading to a toilet in the belief that their friend is unconscious in it. More chuckling (from them).

Pav has filled up now. It’s heaving with toga’d men and girls in short skirts. Fat Boy Slim keeps playing and there’s a dense crowd dancing. The place is swimming in sweat; nobody has any bodily awareness. We linger on the outskirts, observing the scene: bright young things, wasted, dancing in an ugly brick room covered in sweat and drink; and us, trapped in our observational mode, with neither the interest nor ability to let loose.

Perhaps there was a time when I’d have judged myself harshly for being the observer, for not being able to engage in this scene of grim merriment. Now, I understand my reaction. Let them have fun, but vomit, togas and the furious, debauched exclusivity of drinking societies whose initiations involve applicants drinking their own sick and worse, is so far from being my kind of fun anymore. And I’m glad of it. Swordfish – and certainly the right amount of champagne – over sick any day. I just wish I knew this sooner.

I slept with someone the other night who said he couldn’t perform when wearing a condom. So we did it unprotected – he didn’t seem dodgy. I quite like him- he’s asked me out since. But should I hate him? Should I hate myself?

January 22, 2011

A lot of women – surprisingly sensible ones at that – allow unprotected sex to happen because a condom is either unavailable or undesirable. But I think that when a man makes excuses about condoms such as the performance one, or complains it’s uncomfortable, it’s a sign that he is both foolish and hopelessly selfish. My advice and instinct would be to write him off as that, and move on. What he is doing – and let’s not mince our words – is putting his penile preference before your safety, health and peace of mind. Remember, there is no reason you should be expected to “trust” him – how are you to know for sure who he has slept with unprotected and who they have slept with?

You say he’s asked you out since and you like him. If you really think he’s not foolish and selfish, and you plan to see each other regularly, then I hope he’s got an appointment at the STD clinic scheduled for a full array of tests (yes, even the uncomfortable ones, like Chlamydia). And you too, of course.

If you’re not at this stage, then have a deep think. It’s not new that condoms aren’t the best for feeling, but plenty of men can function with them fine. It’s a matter of saying: “I will wear one” or “I do wear them” rather than “Do I have to?” or “I guess we can try”. The latter two never works, the first do work. The stalemate is this: no condoms, no sex. Don’t “try” to stick to this, do stick to it. Frankly, to have to even be in a position to insist on this is beneath an adult woman – but so that you don’t suffer that agonising anxiety following unprotected sex (we’ve all been there), please do it. It may at least force him to approach latex with a more determined attitude.

Is it wrong to go silent on a guy because you’ve found out he’s into new age weirdy stuff?

January 22, 2011

Depends how far into a relationship with him you are. Going silent is not a nice thing to do to anyone who has fair expectations of dialogue with you. If its a new thing, it’s more acceptable, but still pretty harsh. As for the new age stuff, that’s as fair a turnoff as any – discovering the guy you’re bonking believes in UFOs either won’t bother you too much (if you’re just with him for the sex) or it’ll freak you out beyond compare. If you were considering going out with this person, then running a mile is a good plan – life’s short and you don’t want to be spending it worshipping the solstice at Stonehenge. As for how to run the mile, maybe you could pretend an alien took away your power of speech?

Is the old rule about not sleeping with someone on the first date still important?

January 22, 2011

Ooh, tricky one. But in reality, this one has ALWAYS been a “how long is a piece of string?” question. It depends on the quality of the sex, the attraction, and the person. Some men lose all interest in a woman because she’s slept with them on the first date. Appallingly, they’re just wired like that. To them, a woman is the mysteries of her vagina, and once he’s been inside, she’s no longer of particular interest. If you sniff he might be one of these (the signs can include traditional upbringing, perhaps a touch ego-centric, or obvious penis-led roguedom), play it safe. That said, you often can’t tell. But, as a lot of the men of which I asked this very question for my book, What the Hell Is He Thinking?, said: if you’ve slept with THEM on the first date, they’ve also slept with YOU on the first date. Men and women often react differently to sex, true, but the point is that most of the men I spoke to (they were nice guys, in general), said that not only would it necessarily be a turnoff, it could be a sign of real, explosive attraction. (NB: I know a few married couples who shagged on the first meeting.)

On balance, though, it’s risky. “Rules” aside, many men agree that it can set the bar too high too soon, leading to fizzling before you’ve had a chance to develop your passion. I can see what they mean even though I don’t see it the same way. Try holding out a bit – as far as I can tell, second date sex is vastly superior to first date sex. Third date sex is even better, and so on (well, no, after the third date it just gets tiresome to wait. We’re not in high school, after all.)

I’ve never enjoyed oral sex. Is there something wrong with me?

January 22, 2011

I’m assuming you’re a woman. The answer is no. For some reason oral sex is hailed as the holy grail of pleasure, and if you aren’t sent into paroxysms of ecstasy because a man is ferociously grizzling and licking your most sensitive regions, FAIR ENOUGH I say. I find that often when you’re met with disbelief that it’s not your preference, it’s disbelief from a man, who thinks that his skills are so great that all women must swoon. Telling him differently can be an ego-bash. But that’s not your concern. Your concern is to lever his face out of your crotch and get the pair of you doing something more mutually enjoyable.

I took a guy home with me the other night and we slept together. He wasn’t overly friendly the next morning and I haven’t heard from him since – I like him though. Should I get in touch and if so how long should I wait?

January 22, 2011

Yes, you can get in touch. I wouldn’t say “should”, though. The golden rule is that if you have that itch, that “what if” feeling, you’ve got one credit to send an unsolicited message. The brutal truth is that, in most cases, if he hasn’t got in touch after sex, he’s not overly bothered about you and no message is going to change that. However, in about half of cases, you can bring about a second meeting with that single credit. Occasionally, that second meeting can lead to a third, which can lead to the tables changing. As for how long, I think waiting five days is fine. You don’t want to leave it so long that it appears you’ve been obsessing about it for ages. Approach with caution though: try your best to be realistic about the results your little “hello, anyone there?” message. A 50 per cent failure rate makes it risky.