Posts

Online Dating: A New Way to Think About Branding, SEO and SEM

Online dating: spending money to find love online?

I’m a serial monogamist. The “dating” thing eludes me. Perhaps that’s why my list of clients remains long and my list of suitors short:

It’s by design.

See, my clients are after a target customer or demographic. Just like me when it comes to dating. After having been a paying customer or lurker on several online dating sites (’cause “it’s OK to look”), a conversation this week brought me to the realizations below about how I’ve handled my online presence in the world of romance. I was practicing my own best advice to my clients when it comes to branding, SEO and SEM practices — and I didn’t even know it.

For those out there reading this who aren’t savvy in the fields of marketing-speak throughout, have faith. I’ll give you fancy pop-ups and definitions to go with my online dating advice. And I guarantee, none of the links will lead to porn sites.

Shall we? Let’s put on our cybersuits and delve into the online dating pool.

Online Dating and Branding

You’re unique. Yeah, you’re real unique.

Everyone is “unique.” So why the hell are you so special?

A company that puts out a product or service that doesn’t differentiate itself from the competition is poised to fail from the get-go. Once in a blue moon, you find the rare instance of a wanna-be that ekes out an existence, but is that why you went into business in the first place? To eke?

Successful companies have a clear identity. A clearly-defined brand. Customers know what to expect, what they’re buying and the terms and conditions under which they’re acquiring that good or service. It’s no different in online dating.

Ladies:

  • Every one of us is “just as comfortable in a cocktail dress” as we are in jeans
  • We’re all looking for someone to laugh with
  • We all “work hard and play hard”
  • And everyone (well, I think most everyone) is looking for a man who will love them and, on occasion, make them feel like a princess.

Gents:

  • Most of you like sports, cars and beer
  • You’re all looking for an “honest, loyal” woman (i.e.: one that ain’t gonna cheat on you, and if she is, at least not with your best friend)
  • You want a girl you can “just hang-out with”
  • The majority of you don’t spend hours at the mall and would prefer that’s what a chick just went and did without you, leaving you to a day with guys doing whatever you feel (or DON’T feel) like doing.

Those are givens.

Since women aren’t looking for an overweight ogre who will use them merely as an automatic beer dispenser every time they head for the kitchen and men aren’t looking for clingy, psycho Glenn Close/Bunny Nemesis type, it’s time to do some research.

There are a multitude of online dating sites that let you scope-out the competition, so why not start running your personal life and search for Happily Ever After more like a business? Successful businesses understand their competition, so get online and do exactly what Match.com says is perfectly acceptable:

It’s OK to Look!

Get in there and take a tour of your “competitors” – the other people in your age, physical stature and life demographic. See what those folks are saying about themselves. I think you’ll be surprised how similar most of the profiles appear.

Now for the tough question: what makes YOU different?

Are you an irreverent smart-ass?
Do you collect 19th century coins?
Have you climbed Mt. Everest?
Are you a stark-raving Led Zepplin fan with a portrait of the entire band tattooed across your chest?

Your online dating profile should reflect both your core qualities and your quirks (ever read a bottle of Smart Water?) This is your love life, folks. If you’re going to actually go to the trouble of paying a membership fee (or not…lots of free sites out there…ew) and actively search for someone to share your valuable personal hours with, why not actually get something that resembles what you’re looking for?

A fair and honest representation of your personal brand – your personality – is the beginning of a more rewarding online dating endeavor. When someone checks out your profile, let them know what they’re getting, what your personal brand represents, and what they can expect if they actually earn the opportunity to meet you. And don’t get me started on photos. Post current photos that look like you, because when I go to the car dealership to buy a 2008 Honda Accord, I’m looking for the Accord I saw in the Saturday paper … not an ’86 Ford F-150 with the left side made entirely of bondo.

Truth in advertising. A key element of any successful brand.

Online Dating in SEO Terms

Truth in Advertising: photo by Natalie Dee

So, you log into your dating site du jour and it gives you a gazillion search options. Age, marital status, kids, eye color, hobbies … the list is endless. Guess what: those are keywords. Just as if you were on Google and shopping for the latest Star Trek boxed set of DVDs or the best deal on that indispensible Fendi purse, online dating  sites are nothing but glorified search engines for sex. (there, I said it)

In addition to those nifty “long tail URLs” (threw that one in there for the SEO geeks like me), your entire profile is a collection of keywords. When you sit down to write that “In Your Own Words” section or whatever the heck the dating sites are calling it these days, think of the words that describe the core of your person:

Irreverent Smart Asses: who are your favorite comics and TV shows?

19th Century Coin Collectors: uh, say you collect 19th century coins or list a favorite coin or something

Mt. Everest Climbers: words like alpinist, mountaineering, climbing, snow and hiking could be key

Tattooed Led Zepplin Fans: maybe mention the band by name and the fact that you have tattoos

Why is this important? Because several sites allow you to search by keyword.

If you think of the run-of-the-mill profiles you came across in your Research Phase (see Branding section above), who goes into an online dating site and searches for nice, cool, funny, or cars? Just as if you were in a regular search engine searching for something specific, make the words in your profile ring specific.

For example, when I would do keyword searches, I’d use terms like “rock climbing,” “mountaineering,” “alpine” and “climbing.” Found several nifty men with whom I had quite a bit in common, a few of with which I’ve enjoyed multiple dates and enduring friendships. A hell of a lot EASIER and MORE PRODUCTIVE than just putting in age and other general demographics and then having to trudge through the search results with a fine-toothed comb.

Optimize your dating profile for the same reasons businesses optimize their websites:

to attract a better-qualified lead.

Online Dating in SEM Terms

The majority of online dating sites have a membership fee. Personally, I like the minimum level of commitment that it takes a person to fork over whatever-ninety-nine a month to engage in the whole process. Kind of a low water mark, if you will.

So if you’re going to spend the money, why ya gonna screw around?

You’re online, you’re web-savvy. Perhaps you found the online dating site from a search engine query in the first place. You know those 3 listings in yellow at the top of the Google search results and all those little listings down the right-hand side of the page? Well, companies pay for those ads. Those are called pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

When someone clicks on one of those ads, the company who posted the ad pays a “per-click” fee to the search engine. In other words, those companies are paying to be seen at the top of the search results by consumers like YOU who are searching for what THEY sell. Companies also budget for these PPC campaigns in their monthly or annual marketing budget.

Just like online dating.

Your monthly membership fee is your PPC ad spend, or monthly advertising budget.

There’s a reason that Campmor, North Face and Patagonia come up in the paid search results when you search for “outdoor gear” – because these companies feel people searching for the term “outdoor gear” are a good spend of their advertising dollars. They’re consumers searching for something specific, something they have to sell, and it’s possible you could be a qualified lead and convert to a customer.

It’s time you started thinking of your online dating site membership as your monthly Pay-Per-Click advertising budget.

If you’re going to spend the dough on putting yourself out there for others to see in the online dating marketplace, wouldn’t it behoove you to have your marketing dollars attract qualified leads?

Wrapping it Up

Here are some tips that can help you make your online dating experience a well-crafted one from a Branding, SEO, and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) perspective. These all go back to the previous points I’ve mentioned and bring it all together in one convenient, vertitas-laden package of personal experience:

  • Build an accurate profile. Who are you? What drives you? Represent your personal brand well. There’s no one that brings to this world what YOU do, so put it out there and be proud. Post current photos, keep your profile updated if it’s taking longer to find Mr. or Ms. “Right Now.” Understand your competition and set out to represent yourself as the dynamic individual you are. Hell, even if you’re a twin – I guarantee you bring a floatie to the dating pool that your biological cohort doesn’t! Fair and accurate representation of your You Product ensures that, once your customer (i.e. date candidate) arrives, they’re entering into a fair business situation and not the “bondo dog” pictured above. Deception is NOT a great way to begin ANY relationship.
  • Don’t be afraid to be specific. Specific is GOOD! Successful companies and their associated brands understand that not every human who walks the face of the earth is the most qualified customer for their service/product. Be clear about what you’re looking for, keeping in mind what’s worked and hasn’t in your previous relationships (just like when making business decisions). Understand as well that if you’re looking for a 6’6″ Pacific Islander millionaire with three children from a previous marriage who collects lint from Arab princes, cooks like a five-star chef and watches 60 Minutes every night without fail – that’s going to limit your results. Being specific isn’t synonymous with being so narrow-minded that you’re setting yourself up to fail. Successful SEM and SEO tactics take into account the specificity of the market they’re approaching, and while Ford might be looking for truck buyers in general, they ain’t lookin’ for (and nor are they going to pay for) people who are looking for planes just because it’s “all transportation, right?”
  • Indulge in some good ‘ol A/B testing! Ever heard the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Not only should you review your profile on a regular basis, but if you’re not getting the results or traffic from people who fit what you’re looking for – change things up. Go in and edit that pain in the ass “about me” section. Add a new movie you’ve seen. Post a new profile. CHANGE YOUR PROFILE IMAGE! This is the oldest trick in the book, but it’ll often get you a second glance by someone who’d looked at you before (and maybe some new glances, too). Successful PPC campaigns undergo a certain level of A/B testing to fine-tune tactics so that dollars are spent in the most profitable areas and halted in those that aren’t performing.
  • Pay attention to keywords. Many online dating sites allow users to search member profiles by keyword. Me? I’m looking for a dude who is into the outdoors, alpine sports, rock climbing … all sorts of nutty activity. You bet your sweet ass those words are in any profile I write – because those folks are probably looking for me as well and they’re VERY important things in my life. If you think of your online dating profile as the business plan for your PPC campaign, abide by one rule of thumb: a PPC campaign is only as successful as the keywords associated with them. By using targeted and specific keywords, you’ll likely attract a more qualified contact and one that’s got a better chance of surviving your scrutiny. Wouldn’t it be great to have a date for that whatever-ninety-five a month instead of an inbox full of people who are 180 degrees from your target customer with no chance of converting?

I’m sure there are a ton of other parallels I could have drawn here relating the online dating game to these various marketing concepts and practices, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. Bottom line is, when you start treating online dating more like a business than a scratch-off lottery ticket from a 7-11, I think you’re going to be a lot more satisfied with the results.

Who the heck am I to talk? Well, as a subscriber to various online dating sites since my divorce in 2002, my endeavors with

The Head Redhead – your blog author

profiles where I did exactly what I’ve enumerated above have netted me:

  • Two long-term relationships totaling well over 4 years
  • A handful of wonderful men who have remained friends though not romantic interests
  • A clearer understanding of what’s important to me from a relationship standpoint
  • Money spent in the online dating arena wisely with better-than-average (I feel) results
  • Endless fodder for drinks with the girls

And apparently, the desire to write this blog and encourage feedback from the other folks wandering around out there in the online dating/social media world. Lay it on me, folks. I’m listening (in my best Frasier Crane voice).

Gender Fender Bender

gender fender bendertom·boy (tŏm’boi’) : (1) an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, esp. in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls

ef·fem·i·nate   : (1) (of a man or boy) having traits, tastes, habits, etc., traditionally considered feminine, as softness or delicacy

I start this week’s blog in complete defense of the caveman.  Some friends and I tooled down to the Golden Nugget on Freemont Street about a month or so ago to take-in a viewing of “Defending the Caveman,” starring Kevin Burke.  After my wicked case of the giggles underwent mojito-enhancement, I spent a solid hour of the hour and ten minute show with a smile on my face (it’s no wonder why this show was the longest running one-man show on Broadway).  After much nudging among the three of us and several days to let it all stew, I find great comfort in the fact that as a species, we’ve been seeking answers to the same questions — essentially since the dawn of time.

Granted, we’ve moved from spears and buffalo to semi-automatics and Ferraris, but our diabolical dilemma remains the same.

Why are men and women so goddamn different?

I don’t want to look at a guy with bigger tits than mine, and there’s a whole fetish originating in Brazil built on the he-she “hybrid” models.  I’ve read that men are from Mars and women are from Venus and that men go “into their cave” and women want to “talk about things.”  Today’s blog ponders the possibility that there’s a huge gender fender-bender on the main thoroughfare of our Western society, and it’s a 17-car pileup that isn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon.

The shift of societal focus from an agrarian model to an urban one has had undeniable impact on the role that gender plays within our culture. Whereas men were traditionally in the breadwinner role and women adopted that of the homemaker, there is a significant shift in focus that I feel (KNOW) has blurred the gender lines.

Women, and beautifully so, are assuming higher corporate positions and have enjoyed the benefits of “career life” consistently for the past 30 years in the Western world.   But what does this mean for the men of our society? Specifically, how much of a blow to the ego is it to be displaced in the financial hierarchy the relationship dynamic?

<Soapbox>

I fucking HATE so-called “affirmative action” programs and feel that they have not only outlived their usefulness, but also contributed to a greater acceptance of lower standards across the board. I find it to be amazing that from a corporate human resources standpoint, we have been conditioned to accept that in some cases, less is more simply based on the determination of gender or racial origin.

</soapbox>

Back to displacement now …

Here’s what I really think about what the modernizations of our society have done to our gender roles, for good and for bad:

I would consider that it’s a tremendous blow to men to be displaced from the role of “hunter,” and quietly moved over time to what the male psyche would consider to be a role of lesser import.  The thrill of the hunt, the tracking of prey, the camaraderie that inevitably develops between fellow hunters — it’s inherently manly, and as a woman, I find the scent of it all to be fiercely intoxicating.  So why is it that Cosmopolitan and Jane magazines are pitching me Lysol to get rid of that pesky “man odor?”  Somewhere along the way, we sent the message that men shouldn’t be men and our Western society underwent a “pansying” of the male.  I think it’s left men confused between who they feel they are and what society has told them they should be.

It’s much the same for women, I think.  With best-selling book titles such as:

“Why Men Love Bitches”

“Why Men Marry Bitches”

“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office”

“The Corporate Dominatrix: Six Roles to Play to Get Your Way at Work”

…are women really being encouraged to maintain their femininity?  There are very specific things about the male and female psyches respectively that provide the incredible potential for a beautiful and symbiotic relationship experience, but there is one thing I’m almost certain of:

We’ve said to hell with the differences and tried to become the other.

Women are waiting longer to marry, and generally speaking, have become very self-sufficient as individuals.  I can fix shit around my house (time consuming), install a ceiling fan (expertly), have my car serviced (highly inconvenient), kill bugs (gross), and balance my bank account (annoying yet necessary).  I don’t need a man for any of that, yet it is likely that, as a woman, I’ll be able to tell you how I FELT about doing each of those things.

However, two marriages and a broken engagement later, I’m wondering if I have — through my own self-sufficiency — rendered my partners obsolete.

The OCD in me has driven me to a successful career in the sales field, where one excels solely because of either dumb luck or vehement determination (in my case, I acknowledge that it’s certainly a function of both).  I’m 34 years-old, have no children, and quite honestly, don’t need anyone to help me get about the functions of daily life.  But … yeah — it’d be nice to have someone.  But perhaps what’s happened in my past, and for other men and women in our microwave/drive-through/grocery delivery society as well, is that we haven’t made room for anyone else in our lives, and that’s a primary source for our discontent.

On the watercolor painted by the universe depicting the stark naked differences between Adam and Eve, a thunderstorm broke out and caused His fig leaves to run into Her hip bone, and we got all fucked-up from there.  Somewhere along the way, I think women felt they had to grow a pair and men were told to give-up theirs.  In pursuit of what’s important to us, have we individually become so self-contained that we are unwilling and unable to allow the entrance into our lives our compliment

… the ying to our yang?

… the peanut butter for our jelly?

… the embodiment of all that we were not designed to be, yet by design — still NEED?

I wasn’t designed to be a man.  At birth, I got this extra “wo” and along with that comes a litany of remarkable things.  It all makes me wonder why I’ve been so insistent on being the star of my own fucking one-woman show all these years.

At age 34 and 7 months, I’m learning several things about myself that I’ve either repressed for shitload of years or am discovering for the first time (and really enjoying the process):

  • It’s OK to ask for help with something (even though I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself)
  • Underneath this sailor-mouthed, no bullshit, business suit-wearing exterior, I’m a girly-girl.  I like dresses, pink ice cream, flowers, cooking, hosting, and grocery shopping.  There.  I said it.  I like grocery shopping.
  • There is something truly beautiful about watching a man in his element, where he is solving/creating/fixing/moving/rearranging/planning/capturing/etc.  And I think there may be moments where men look at women the same way.
  • That I have to be willing to make room for someone else in my life.  While this may not be an immediate process, I know that for me, it’s allowing myself the time to see where someone fits and enjoy the process along the way.  Otherwise, all I’m really doing is asking someone to come along for the ride, and that kinda sucks.

There’s so much more that I’m learning about myself, but I do think that where society has led us has created more of a Pandora’s Box than ever before.  By opening-up that box and letting fly the dogs of war, I’m realizing that there are (for certain) ways to embrace my femininity yet remain a strong presence — physically and spiritually.  For men as well, there are ways to appease your “inner hunter” yet acknowledge the contributions of the “gathering” nature of womankind.  You can go shopping without feeling like a pussy and it’s OK to have feelings that make you a better partner on some days than others.  And for both men and women, it’s OK to take that “you” time, to be yourselves … alone … just go.

Maybe it’s time that we pull over to the shoulder and ask for directions along the gender highway as opposed to following some of these traffic patterns that got us into this fender-bender in the first place.  Hey lady—yeah, you in the Tahari suit.  Cross your legs while sitting at the boardroom table and put on some mascara.  And you — yeah you.  Guy pushing the cart of groceries for his wife with the forlorn look on his face.  What are you doing here?  You HATE grocery shopping.  Go home and watch the race on ESPN!

Men will be men and women will be women (and thank god for that, as only Toyota should make hybrids).  Why are we so hell-bent on trying to be something we’re not in a world that is exactly as it is?  For the love of all that is available at the adult bookstore, I think it’s fabulous that single men have no food in their fridge, and you can bet your sweet ass that if I’ve forgotten my razor, I’m gonna use his on my legs.

I’m a girl.  It’s what I do.

Additional reading for those interested on the premises from which I’ve formed my opinions/drawn my conclusions/launched my rant can view the following links:

Impact of Gender Roles on Men
http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2005/english/ch6/chap6_page1.htm

With More Equity, More Sweat
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/gender/gender22a.htm

The Evolution of Sex Roles
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/magazine/20070402_The_evolution_of_sex_roles.html

Gender Roles and Technological Progress
http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/07/gender-roles-an.html


To Pee or Not to Pee?

To Pee or Not To PeeMany of my friends have heard me state my firm belief that someone has, without a doubt, peed in the dating pool here in Vegas.  Since flinging myself back into the single life in December of 2005, I’ve been stuck in a scene from Caddyshack where someone is screaming “Poooooooooooop!”  You wonder what the hell it is, everyone vacates the pool and heads for the snack bar, and it turns out to be another indifferent date from your latest online dating endeavor (though on occasion, you wish it truly were a Baby Ruth).  It’s a challenging scene for the career-minded professional, who is undoubtedly time-crunched and faced with the decision to take the 215 freeway or surface streets, and one false move could mean you’re stuck behind a gravel truck moving at 30 MPH on what was yesterday a four-lane freeway but somehow, is now a one-lane road.

Seriously, though, all traffic jokes aside. How do we decide who to bring into our daily lives, and shouldn’t we be asking ourselves—is this person worth the effort?

We’ve all heard from friends when we start dating someone new:

“Hey—–what the hell happened to Bob?”

The predictable response is:

“Oooooh…yeah.  We haven’t seen much of him since he started dating Mary.”

Explain this to me: why the hell is that?

Why is it we’re able to bump along with a bubbly existence, hanging out with friends, and doing all we enjoy doing with the people we enjoy doing it with, and then the minute we get those butterflies in our stomach over someone new, we’re buying a ticket for “Anywhere But Here” (aisle seat, please)?  All of a sudden, your buddy and wingman for every NASCAR and top fuel event that comes to down is going to bridal shows and your best gal pal that indulges in “retail therapy” with you at Talulah G inBoca Park is hanging out at the Bass Pro Shops down at the Silverton?

This was all prompted by a conversation with a friend this weekend on the way to a climbing outing.  How do you decide who to “fit in?”  I think that’s a really important question to ask when you’re looking at dating and your social life in general.

You can choose to date people to whom you’re attracted and there might be some chemistry, but you don’t really share any mutual interests other than screwing, coffee, and eating (and not necessarily in that order).  This is where I usually find my long-lost girlfriends wandering around the Bass Pro Shops (yes, I’ve been there…don’t ask) and guys have their buddies cancelling on them for the weekend’s top fuel showdown out at theSpeedway.

Then, there’s the scenario of finding ourselves with people we don’tinitiallyshare any mutual interest, but at least they’re open to trying the things we fancy.  But is that selfish, too?  We’re asking someone else to “fit into” ourlife, yet we’re not really open to fitting into theirs.  It’s not really “my way or the highway” so much as knowing what we like and making it clear to someone from the get-go.

The other option is peeing in the pool.

You’ve got your group of friends/folks you hang with and you all share common interests — your “pool.”  You find someone you’re attracted to, you “click,” and voila!  You’re loving the addition of all the dirty things that come along with the newfound intimacy in the equation, find yourselves living a life together (and apart when the need arises for a little “you” time), and neither one of you has to fit the other one into your alreadyveryfull life.  The question remains, though: in the divorce, who gets the friends? We’ve all been there: we have friends who are dating, you all hang out regularly, and then one day the breakup comes along and suddenly you don’t know who to invite to Sushi Saturdays.  Was she a bitch?  Was he an asshole? (and does it really matter?)

I think that all too often, the confusion lies in not being honest with ourselves about who we arewhen we’re aloneand what we need in order to be happywith someone elsein our lives.  I mean, it could be that Bob might have a hidden Martha Stewart and kinda gets off on helping Mary distinguish the subtleties between “ecru” and “off-white” icing choices for the wedding cake and Mary might really have an affinity for the panty-wetting exhilaration stemming from the roar of a top-fuel dragster doing a burnout that’s been latent inside her for 36 years.   Either way, those folks have discovered a gift in being open to seeing the world through the eyes of someone they care about.

It’s when we put the blinders on and leaveour lives behind …that’s where I feel the trouble begins (and I know has been the problem in my case).  All too often, we seek happiness outside ourselves and haven’t gotten comfortable enough in our own skin to truly show a partner who we really are and what we find important.  We find ourselves in the, “Um, okaaaay” stage repeatedly, which in my case results in cancelled plans with girlfriends because he suddenly doesn’t have his kids and can now see me tonight, or finding myself wandering around the godforsaken Bass Pro Shop staring at a shiny new party barges that he’ll never buy but I (somehow) find myself commenting how pretty the flame detail is over the pontoons. (!!!!!)

Maybe a step we all need to take is asking ourselves, whenalone:

What really brings me joy in my life?

Knowing the answer to that question sounds to me like a pretty good step towards being true to yourself first and foremost.  Maybe then we’re in a better position to evaluate who “fits” with our style.  As well, maybe we don’t always need to look at situations as if they’ll fail (i.e.: peeing in the pool).  If we enter into them with eyes and hearts wide open, there exists that beautiful “if” that they’ll work out … seeing our relationship glasses as half full as opposed to half empty — a novel concept.  There are just some times in life where — uncomfortable though it may be to think of — that warm feeling we get from the pee in the pool is … er … welcomed? Personally, I’m still terrified at the prospect of even getting IN the pool following a recent scenario perhaps to be recounted at a later date … However, whatever path we decide to choose on any given Sunday — NASCAR, bridal show, or the “gimme” potential of being with a friend who could be more, being true to yourself before anything else … I think it’s the best tool we have to navigate through the looming amber waves that await us.

The Hallway

The HallwayOn my way to the climbing gym this evening, I did something that I do often:  I picked up my cell phone, sported my headset in order to be much less of a threat to those on the road around me, and called my friend Melanie.  We caught up on what’s been going on in our mutual lives over the past day or two, and while the bulk of the conversation wasn’t of earth-shattering import, there was and remains one part of our exchange that will be for quite some time.  She mentioned to me that, in an email with an ex-boyfriend of hers earlier today, he had written to her that yeah, yeah — one door closes, another one opens.

But sometimes, you’re in the hallway.

I about wrecked my car (along with the red Pontiac in the lane to my left).

These words moved me like few words have, and it drove me to blog.  It’s a perfect analogy for where I’m at in my life right now, and I’ve done pretty much nothing except think about those words since I heard them around 6pm.

I’ve lived my life in that model: one door closes, another one opens, opportunity knocks and you move on to the next thing.  To focus on the core challenge I’ve faced as of late, it’s the seemingly interminable search for the door that leads to love and intimacy with a compatible, motivated, and beautiful soul.  My career, friends, social life, and everything around me bring such joy on a daily basis that I consistently wonder why this one facet of my life eludes my happiness.

I think it’s because I’ve been afraid to be in the hallway.

I’ve ducked from door to door, trying not to let one hit me in the ass on the way out while I stick my foot in another to keep it from shutting in front of me.  I realized this evening that I’ve been in relationships for the past 14 years of my life, with very little time in between to wander around in the hallway and look at the available doors.  The hallway has a million doors I could consider, and instead of just taking a peek inside, I’ve grabbed the most readily available doorknob and thrust myself through the associated portal without much evaluation of what the room beyond holds for me.

Have I been following a path that’s led me to shelter out of fear of letting a little of life’s sweet rain fall on my face and ruin my hair?  I really think so, and how revolutionary that thought is at this very moment.  You know why?  Because when I’ve gone to open each of those doors I really shouldn’t have gone through, the lock was jammed, the hinges were squeaky, or dry rot was setting-in, and silly me rationalized the door to being freshly painted and I proceeded to jimmy the lock anyways.  Behind each door I’ve ducked behind, it’s slammed shut and I’ve chalked it up to the wind when it was really the sound of me trapping myself in yet another square-peg-round-hole scenario.  Seeing how the definition of insanity is doing the same task over and over again and expecting different results, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been a raving lunatic for the past however many years…

Realizing that I’m actually in the hallway right now — what a cathartic thought!  I know quite a few other people right now that are in the hallway of their lives as well.  Maybe those few words have provided me with the dawning recognition that I’m NOT the only one who doesn’t know what the next step is and that it’s OK to wander around for awhile between classes.  (It’s like Dr. Freud gave me a hall pass and I’m free to ditch U.S. History and check out the bathrooms in the Psychology wing….)

We live in a society that encourages and promotes every one picking themselves up by their bootstraps when the going gets tough — we’re told to get going, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and that only YOU can prevent forest fires.  We live our lives much of the time heading from the frying pan into the fire, our friends encouraging us and cheering us on along the way—how wonderful you’ve met someone new!  He’s/She’s so nice!  When can we meet them?  You deserve it!  Good for you!

And in my case, those cheers eventually revert back to the square-peg-round-hole conversations when you’re calling a friend to ask for advice because things just don’t seem to be working out … yet again.

What exactly is it about being in the hallway of our lives that is such a terrifying prospect?  In my case, I’ve come to realize that while my search for the elusive love of a lifetime has been intense and focused, I haven’t known too well the woman who’s been doing the searching.  5’4″, red hair (of varying length), active, fit (yet not “athletic and toned” in the meaty sense)… she loves 80s music … dancing, yet usually doesn’t go since a bunch of old guys usually ask her to dance and grabbing a 65 year-old man’s love handles isn’t her idea of a good time…loves her iPod and all of the guilty pleasure music it contains that she’d never admit to most people … treats her cats like they’re her kids … adores cooking … has an affinity for “jammies…”  While I’m comfortable with all of THAT information, I don’t really think I’ve paid too much attention to the facts that have led to the untimely demise of my relationships.  You know —the things that are truly important to me at the end of the day.

I crave intimacy, yet have repeatedly put myself into situations where that’s unavailable, become unavailable, or isn’t on my flavor-of-the-month’s agenda.

Having “me time” is important to me, yet I’ve repeatedly found myself feeling as if I should sacrifice what I need for what my partner wants.  Maybe I had plans and he calls and asks me to do something at that same time.  I feel that spontaneity is important and it keeps things exciting, fresh, and new — it’s sometimes just not “doable” and I think that’s OK.  If the answer is always “yes,” then why bother asking the question?  Sure, every now and then the guy’s gonna watch her chick-flick and she’s going to go bass boat shopping with him, and there will always be those things that you enjoy doing together, but is it so bad to retain yourself throughout the entire relationship process and knowing that — if allowed to do so, you’ll be a better person for your partner to be around?

Finding a person with an inner fire — how difficult to discover in this era of rush hour traffic, airport security lines, and the automated voices that have taken the place of personalized service!  Society does its best to beat us into submission, and I’m a person who’s always up for attempting something I’ve never tried, meeting a new friend, or having a difficult conversation on a topic that’s not my cup of tea just to hear someone else’s opinion.  When you meet someone who speaks with a contented passion for life and knows that’s where they want to be, living inside those flickering campfire flames instead of being the sheepish marshmallow on the stick that’s just resigning itself to become part of life’s S’mores … I just don’t think there’s anything sexier or more attractive out there.  But that’s not who I’ve been dating (or marrying).

Family — good lord, I could go on and on about this.  Personally, I think it’s OK that I’m 34 years-old and haven’t produced offspring of my own yet.  Hell, I’d have to have found a sperm donor to stick around long enough to get me knocked-up and sign his name to the birth certificate so I wouldn’t be siring the quintessential redheaded bastard.  Is it important to me to have a family one day, though?  I can’t think of anything that would fill my life with more joy!  Yet, I find myself dating people who already have children and don’t want to have any more and I just don’t know how on board I am for being the main ingredient in Carnation Instant Mommy … it ain’t just for breakfast anymore.  My passion for children and the humility I find in their wide-eyed innocence, selfless laughter, and the fact that they always see things that I miss because I’m all grown-up now (term used loosely) — perhaps it’s led me down a path that, while having the best of intentions, isn’t the best fit for me.  It’s hard when you’re 34, single, and female to meet your male counterpart that’s available and doesn’t have children from a previous marriage, and while I don’t mind and actually prefer the previous marriage aspect of that equation, it’s likely that those men aren’t going to have me as a priority in their lives since their children already have filled that slot.

ME as a priority. I don’t delude myself into thinking that I’m always going to be number one on my partner’s priority list — I’d happily take a consistent top 3 finish (in the Olympics, you still get a medal, and I’m cool with being bronze some days and gold on others).  Life happens!  Jobs change, life throws us curve balls, we suffer the loss of a loved one, our car gets rear-ended, your boss is being a dick, a deal fell through, your steak came well-done instead of medium rare…priorities change daily and sometimes by the minute.  I think it takes a unique level of communication within a relationship to identify that love exists on many different levels, and that while priorities may change, we’re responsible for working together to make sure we’re not falling off our partner’s list.  I’ve consistently sacrificed those things that are important to me while in a relationship and allowed myself to remain in situations where I’ve slid from the top three and then find myself completely out of the lineup.  Before I know it, I’ve been sent back to the farm team and spend my time hanging out on the bench, waiting for the coach to notice that I’ve got skills—mad skillz—and realize that I should be put back in the game.  Waiting … still waiting….

Now back to that whole sacrificing what I need for what someone else wants — A recent conversation with a friend brought me to an interesting observation:

Compromise is working together for a common good.

Sacrifice is for no one’s good, and ultimately leads to no good at all.

While in compromise, one party may feel like they’re giving way more than they’d like, both people usually end up feeling pretty good about the outcome.  It’s a bonding exercise that reinforces that you’re with one another for a reason.  Sacrifice, though, leaves us with an empty feeling and eventually leads us down the path of contempt (which my old therapist labeled as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in relationships).  When we stop communicating, start sacrificing, and abandon compromise, we’re just one handle flick away from swirling our relationships down the crapper…so why do we do it?

Most relationships—and not healthy ones, mind you—exist on the teetering edge of the toilet bowl.  We see it every day, whether it’s in Starbucks from the woman whose boyfriend mistakenly got her mocha-frappa-lotta-whatever and forgot the “no whip” and she rails into him, or at the grocery store where a mother is yelling at her child the words “no, no, no” instead of laughing at the admirable gall of a child who just hasn’t yet learned that he’s not going to get all he ever requests.  One day, each of those people—the boyfriend, the child—will stop offering, stop asking…because it’s just not worth it anymore.  Where along the way did we lose our compassion and simply choose to head down Route 1 (aka Selfish Highway) and expect someone else to come along with us for the journey?  Would we not be better served if we took an approach of compromise and began to realize the gift that comes in the form of differences between people and use that information for our gain instead of dominance?  The realization of differences is always a gift, as you’re seeing someone for who they truly are as opposed to who you’d like for them to be.  Through this process, we can then make responsible choices as to whether to continue down the path of resolving/accepting those differences by using compromise or refusing to sacrifice and initiating a parting of ways.

(stepping off soapbox, realizing I need to take my own advice and that I was long overdue for eating some crow)

I’ve taken some steps in the past few months that are rather uncharacteristic of me:

  • I cancelled a date with a man I had no interest in going out with again, but had for some reason set a second date with;
  • I cancelled my membership to an online dating website;
  • I ended a relationship on account of realizing I wasn’t even second-best, and for all intents and purposes, off the list of priorities completely and had become an afterthought.

Each one of those items was another door I was trying to duck behind, because for some reason it felt safer than the decision to wander around in the hallway for awhile and have the love affair of my life…with ME.

While the concept of being in the hallway is new to me, I think it’s something that I could come to enjoy.  I can paint the hallway any ‘ol color I want, change the doorknobs to something in a brushed nickel or perhaps an oil-rubbed bronze, maybe install a faux-brick finish like the one I went ga-ga over when I saw it at a friend’s house…a picture here, a plant there…maybe a banana tree down by the elevator bay…but definitely some mirrors.  LOTS of mirrors.  Not only will they allow me to know if my fiery mane is tamed just right and my bra strap is tucked-in beneath my tank top (which it never is), but I’ll be able to indulge in quiet moments of self-reflection as I get to know this chick who’s got a lot of incredible qualities: a wicked sense of humor, passion for life that runs deeper than the royal family’s bloodline, and the confidence to bear her ass and laugh about it on a regular basis.

I think it’s time as well that I met someone while being in the hallway.  I’ve been involving myself with people I’ve found behind those doors I’ve ducked into, and I’m coming to realize why they haven’t been Mr. Right.  If I’m open to finding someone else in the hallway, there’s a reason they’re in the hallway, too…

Wouldn’t it be lovely to decide which door to go through together?

PS:

When I told Melanie that I was going to steal the whole “hallway” thing, she said it was totally cool because she didn’t write it.

I told her not to delude herself—I’d steal it even if she had.