In Response To “Walking the Line in Chicago”

Today, Salon runs a letter to their advice maven Cary Tennis from a confused hipster chick that goes by the handle “Walking the Line in Chicago.” I know, I know, Johnny Cash references are soooo 2005. But that’s the least of her problems.

By the way, fuck Cary Tennis’ advice- it usually sucks. Amidst skewering the many follies of the Bush administration, Steve Gilliard has made a cottage industry of ripping Tennnis’ advice to shreds, and I won’t even pretend to be a contender to the throne of the mighty Gilly. But back to Cary: His advice to this gal basically breaks down to a discussion of modernism, post-modernism, symbolism and other isms, which is nonsense. This woman isn’t looking for a post-doctoral thesis of why her love life’s fucked up, she just wants some freakin’ useful advice.

Therefore, in the fine tradition of Dating Advice by nikkos™, I’d like to offer “Walking the Line in Chicago” my own two cents…

Dear Cary,
I don’t have any of the dramatic family, substance or psychological issues it seems you normally help people with. For the most part, I have a pretty nice life that on paper might be enviable. I have a job that is both lucrative and fulfilling, loyal friends, no long-standing family rifts. The issue at hand is that I don’t think I know how to grow up. I’m 28 and have mastered the basic life skills for adulthood. I have my own apartment and pay my bills on time. I have a reliable and insured car, a retirement plan, health insurance, and a fairly predictable career path.

So far so good. Compared to most of the sick, confused fucks that write Salon in the futile hope that they can be helped by an anonymous stranger, you actually sound pretty together. As a 29-year old male living in the Chicago area- from the sound of it, probably in the same neighborhood as you- I can tell you that us guys feel the same way a lot of the time, so don’t beat yourself up too bad. You have a good vocabulary, are obviously educated, sane and smart. In short, you sound like you could be a catch.

The problem is that I do not have a boyfriend and it has been a long time since I have had a real relationship. Since breaking up with my college boyfriend of four years, four years ago, I have proceeded to have a string of emotionally fulfilling but completely impractical relationships. There was the six months I spent with a Ukrainian who told me upfront that he would only marry someone who understood his culture and spoke his native language. Then there was the six months spent with a married father of three. I adored being around him but I didn’t want him to leave his family (he wouldn’t have even if I had wanted him to). Finally there was the eight months spent with a fantastic and caring man five years my junior who is still too busy playing grown-up with his first job, first car, first real couch, etc., to think about settling down anytime soon. I don’t think it takes a psychologist to see a pattern.

A pattern? Maybe not a pattern so much as a string of choices that even you admit you knew were bad even as you were making them.

I do have one criticism. You write “Then there was the six months spent with a married father of three. I adored being around him but I didn’t want him to leave his family (he wouldn’t have even if I had wanted him to).”

Well, how good of you to not go whole hog in destroying this man’s marriage. Way to show some restraint! Granted, he bears as much responsibility as you do, but to be perfectly honest I can think of no less desirable trait in a woman. Maybe I’m just naïve, but it seems to me that there are a lot of women your age that view bedding a married man as some sort of accomplishment, an expression of your female punanny power. If you had any idea how horny, frustrated, lonely and depraved the average married man was, you’d realize the accomplishment was his, not yours. And if you could hear him bragging about you to his buddies at the office or on the golf course, you’d really be sickened.

As for the other relationships, the Ukrainian guy was about as honest as could be, yet you dove in anyways. Chalk that one up to experience. As for the guy that’s fantastic but just not at your level of development, hey, sometimes shit just doesn’t work out. This doesn’t sound to me like a failing on your part. It’s just life.

On paper I want the whole family thing: husband, house, kids and a dog. I also realize that while 28 is not exactly old, it is probably a good time to start approaching relationships and life choices more seriously. I did the proper thing in this day and age. I took some cute pictures, wrote a witty profile, and started online dating. I like to think I am engaging, eclectic and informed. In a busy 21st century American life, there is limited time to consume the books, movies and music that drive our popular culture and water cooler discussions. Because I don’t have that many hours in a week to keep up on the latest and greatest, I make an effort to read quality books by new writers and seek out movies that don’t star future governors or computer-generated aliens. I find that most men I meet via computerized matching don’t have much in common with me.

Without getting too deep, ask yourself why you draw a distinction between what you want “on paper” and what you actually think you can attain.

Your gripe that most American men simply aren’t great conversationalists because they lack knowledge of popular culture, politics, etc. is a common one. I feel the same way about many of the women I’ve dated. Again, my point here is- this is a common experience and not one to be too worried about.

Then I met one who did. He got my music snob jokes, he got my engineer nerd jokes, he got me. I am slowly becoming convinced that he might be a catch. On paper he is perfect; in person, I feel nothing. Well, nothing romantic. I can’t dismiss this one for any of my normal snobbish knee-jerk excuses: likes televised sports too much, thinks Dan Brown is literature, or Kung-Pao chicken is exotic.

Bucktown, we have a problem. Having recently ended a nascent relationship myself that had everything you thought you were looking for but didn’t have the love, all I can tell you is yeah, it sucks. I’ve been there. It’s heartbreaking to feel like you came THIS close, but no cigar. But that’s life. You can either continue a relationship that you know won’t last or cowboy up and move on. I recommend the latter. You’ll be a better person for it, and your partner will not be unnecessarily harmed in the process.

I identify closely with the meticulously cultivated hipster life I have worked at achieving over the last 10 years. It is full of poet and musician friends, seeing new bands and obscure movies, and going to gallery openings. When I am faced with a decent man with a decent job I imagine his khaki pants might get off the floor at night and bind my wrists, forcing me to march lock step into a subdivision full of minivans where I will never buy a new CD again. At the same time I look at my friends’ attractive, witty and well-read boyfriends and wonder why a woman in her late 20s would cohabit with a man whose career entails working in a coffee shop 20 hours a week and riding a skateboard to get there. I mean, what are they thinking? And then I remember that I am not exactly in a position to dole out advice. I do not know how to accept the idea that a healthy relationship with the right person can include financial stability and hipster diversions or that growing up does not mean giving up my more bohemian friends.

First, stop being a culture Nazi. No guy likes to feel belittled just because he can’t hum along with every Tegan & Sarah tune or because he can’t tell the difference between a Neko Case solo record and a New Pornographers CD.

So, a skateboard is cool until it isn’t? There’s lots to unpack here, but I get the nagging feeling that it’s not really about culture, it’s about earning potential. I think what really bugs you is that you want to be a hipster but you want to do so from the comforts of your well-appointed condo, and you suspect Mr. Skateboard just aint pulling down enough paper to make that happen. As Cary Tennis pointed out in his reply, you can’t get too caught up in the exterior markers. Would you want a man to judge you simply for what kind of jeans you’re wearing, or who’s playing on your iPod? I am forced to dress in corporate attire because that’s what my job requires. It doesn’t make me any less creative or interesting. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’ve been told it makes me more interesting- that I’m hard to stereotype. Isn’t it more interesting to, I dunno, have to actually learn a few things about a potential partner, that not everytihing is outwardly manifest in their fashion choices?

Besides, if you feel that you know everything about a person already, simply based on their external symbols, then you don’t really want a MAN, you want a Ken doll, a plaything. Real people are more complex than the brand of pants they’re wearing. Has it occurred to you that perhaps you’re NOT as grown up as you think?

How do I know the difference between not being attracted to an individual and not being open to a real relationship? Conversely, when I get crushes on those cute pierced young men who work in the record shop, how do I know the difference between a genuine emotional connection and the thrill that comes from receiving attention and not feeling so lonely for a bit?

Walking the Line in Chicago

As for the difference between “not being attracted to an individual and not being open to a real relationship,” you just have to be brutally honest with yourself. You know the answer to that question. The question is, are you honest enough with yourself to accept the answer?

As for how to tell the diff between crushes and a genuine emotional connection, try this: picture that cute, tattooed and pierced guy, say, 10 years from now. When his tats are fading, his lobes are stretched to his knees because of his uber cool Mayan ear paddle thingies, and his gut is hanging over his ostensibly hip trousers, while he slaves away at the same job at the same record store as when you first spied him. Getting over that crush yet?

But for the real thing, it’s like pornography- you’ll just know it when you see it. Good luck.

1 Comment so far

  1. Dave! (unregistered) on March 16th, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

    See, I would have said: stop “meticulously cultivat[ing]” life and live it. Obviously, you aren’t living a life yet because if you can’t tell the difference between attraction and attention, you’ve got bigger problems. And yeah, stop being a culture nazi.

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