Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Sandra Goldenberg

On Beauty, and the End of Dating

I thought the dating world would be different. Years of Friends and Sex and the City led me to believe that my twenties would be filled with meetings at coffee shops, exhilarating phone messages confirming second dates, Sunday afternoons spent laying in bed cuddling, devastating break-ups peppered with the occasional one night stand to spice things up. Most of all, I thought it would just happen naturally, that if you were an outgoing, cool, not hideous-looking young person dates would be all around you, like water in Canada. Turn on the tape and there’s some men! Rather, dating is like fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa: it takes time, patience, fortitude and, after spending all day walking back home with a jug on your head, you discover it’s filled with bits of grit, chemicals and other defects.

Other than the pot-smoking anarcho-lesbian music students, there were no other queer people at my high school. That’s a lie, there was Gerry. Gerry was beautiful, red-haired, a dancer. He led me on and then changed schools. Only after years dwelling on this first disappointment did I look him up on facebook and he told me our non-started relationship had nothing to do with me.

But I was promised sex in university: “Undergrad is all about sex!” I was told. Not so much. I didn’t date a soul in first year. When I look back on it, I’m kind of glad, because not having a boyfriend gave me the time to make a lot of friends and have an amazing, life-changing time. But it hurt my feelings when I saw those around me hooking up.

“Why do you need to be with someone?” my well-meaning friends asked last night over pints.

“I don’t need to be with someone. But don’t you like kissing? And cuddling? And sex? Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that life?”

“Can’t you be happy to be by yourself?”

‘We had all of our childhood, and most likely the majority of our dotage for that!’ I think. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At Guelph, all the gay cliques were formed in first year, and they were sort of incestuous. Because there weren’t that many of us, you knew who they all were, but your attempt to meet new people and infiltrate another group was often met by awkward stares.

My first real boyfriend, my first love, was a friend of a friend, and I never thought it would end. But it did, because love is simply no match for the unavoidable fact that people change.

After a series of one-night make-out sessions, usually followed by them saying “let’s just be friends” and me having a fitful night of tears, I decided to try this internet dating thing, and I met a lot of people fast.

I always considered myself kind of cool, interesting and talkative, and, despite having the insecurities that we all do, I didn’t think I was unattractive. I thought, ‘Here are guys who have really put themselves out there, who admit that they want something more. And, look, he’s already sending me messages with little hearts! The question is, who will become my boyfriend first!’

Yeah, you can guess how that turned out.

I met a lot of nice guys, had a fun time with them, and never saw them again.

‘Maybe I’m not attractive…’ I wondered, sometimes aloud.

“No!” my friends chime in. “You are a handsome guy! There’s any number of reasons why you didn’t hear back from them; maybe they just wanted friends; maybe they had nothing in common with you; maybe they’re still getting over their ex…”

“Maybe,” my friend Dorrington whimsically suggested, “you remind them of their uncle.”

“Those are all possibilities,” I acknowledged. “But you can only meet so many guys, guys who have made the effort to meet new people and admit they want to date, who tell you they just want to be friends before it has an effect on your self-esteem.”

“But, Max, why is how you feel about your looks tied to other people?” Sandy asked.

“Because that’s the point of looks, to attract people,” I said, bewildered at the question.

“No. You need to be okay with the way you look for yourself. And eventually others will pick up on that.”

“I don’t know if I believe that…”

“Anyways,” she added. “Isn’t it a tad superficial to think that not being attracted to you was the reason you never heard from them again? I have never not called someone because I didn’t immediately find them hot. Who does that?”

“…Who doesn’t?”

“Okay,” Dorrington jumped in. “Say they don’t find you attractive. Why should that hurt your feelings?”

“Because, if they like your personality, and it’s just your looks that are holding you back, how does that not hurt? There’s nothing you can do about it!”

“Precisely,” Sandy said. “So why are you worrying about it? What use is that?”

(This is my truncated version of an incredibly long, enlightening conversation about dating and physical attractiveness)

Beyond my insecurities, what it finally came down to for me was that I always thought people went into dating with the same mindset I did: that if the other person seemed nice and interesting and you found them attractive, you would try to see them again. I’ve only gradually learned this is not the case.

I hear that some guys use internet dating sites to see where they are in the picking order, never being serious about dating someone in the first place. Others have crazy-high expectations that they have to immediately fall in love with someone on the first date. Still others really just want friends, boys to add to their extended group, maybe for a dance-floor snog at some point, but nothing serious. We are the facebook-RSVP generation, automatically clicking ‘maybe attending’ just to be safe.

So I’m going to be single for awhile, because I rarely meet gay guys in the organic, pre-internet way. It’s easy to blame Toronto: in Dublin every other night I went out I ended up talking with someone, and sometimes actually getting phone numbers. Toronto bars, like the queer culture of Guelph, are for those already with friends. But Toronto gets blamed for enough, so let’s leave that aside.

I guess I have to get over ‘blaming’ my looks as well: Dorrington and Sandy were relentless in their attempt to convince me I was being paranoid and uselessly hard on myself. I’m a rational, scientific person (don’t push me, because I will say ‘MacBeth’ in a theatre just to bug you) and I always thought you figured out your looks based on the evidence of other people’s attractions. The concept that one’s beauty is inherent, not based on another’s gaze (is it not in the eye of the beholder?), is something I’m still getting my head around. But, I agree, much less destructive to worry about.

What’s left to blame? I suppose I can blame the TV shows that taught me my twenties would be all about sexy fun dating. Chalk it all up to another lesson of what life is about: it sucks sometimes but there’s moments of pure beauty and joy, if you can get over what you thought it was going to be like. That’s what your twenties are actually about.



A Rainy Day in Toronto

Well, they’ve done it: they succeeded in hijacking the G20 meeting for their purposes, mysterious as they may be. And I’m not talking about protestors hijacking it away from politicians. I’m referring to the black-clad anarchists stealing the all attention from the peaceful protestors.

It was a surreal day at work. It was a busy afternoon, rainy, so lots of people coming in and sitting around. Other than the occasional flock of police cars racing by the windows, there was nothing to suggest that it wasn’t a usual Saturday afternoon. But eventually someone turned on the Toronto Star live updates blog of the protests downtown, and we took turns reading and refreshing the screen (while helping customers in a timely and courteous manner). It was like reading updates from another city entirely; cars on fire; shattered windows; tear gas that may or may not have worked; police goaded on by protestors who may or may not have been undercover cops. The mom of one of my coworkers was downtown and she was not able to reach her cell phone. “They’ve probably blocked reception,” someone suggested.

One of the updates had a quote from a protestor claiming that only big businesses which used sweatshop labour would be targeted. We all had a bit of a chuckle over American Apparel being vandalized (does anyone have good feelings about that store?), but smashed windows of Starbucks (where I used to work) and Swiss Chalet (where my family used to go for special occasions) hit a little close to home. Where’s the Swiss Chalet sweatshop?

I don’t think it’s as bad as it could be, and I don’t think anything terrible will happen. It’s just depressing because a lot of thoughtful, non-violent people like Sandy participated and will be ignored on the six o’clock news for the sensational footage of destruction. If anti-G20 protests are to continue (that is, if G20 meetings are to continue) there needs to be a reckoning between those with legitimate grievances, relevant issues and peaceful intentions, and those flown-in professional protestors, brave enough to smash windows but not enough to show their face.

Other People: Sandra Goldenberg

When Sandy and I worked together we discussed many things which were “problematic”. Then she left to stand on the street for Greenpeace. (Be nice to those people!) Now she’s doing yoga, running around, a gal about town. Because of her encouragement to get back out there (“You have to!”) I met the Gentleman. Even without that, she’d have a place in my heart for her intelligence, wit and genuine compassion.

MM: Are you still doing chat roulette? What was the craziest thing that happened?

SG: Haha. For the record, my stint on CR was short-lived and fuelled by curiosity (and maybe a giant boner. I kid!) I haven’t visited for a while now, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t in the future. I love meeting new people! See, you’d expect me to tell you that the craziest thing that happened was seeing cock and endless balls (to quote Ginsberg), but something even CRAZIER happened.

My second time on the site, after several creepy, creepy dudes popped up, was a slightly less creepy one that I had an extensive conversation with. It turned out that we loved talking to each other and we’ve carried on video chatting via gchat until now. I think I won him over when I mentioned the movie Houseguest in one of our early convos, and I kid you not, he reached off-screen and it was the movie at the top of his DVD pile. And that was mid-March. It’s not romantic or anything and he lives in Wisconsin, but it’s just a reminder that you never know where you’re going to make a connection. Also, he taught me all about March Madness, ukuleles, and his cat, Sinbad. Moral: Don’t judge Chat Roulette…except maybe a little bit.

MM: What was it like working for Greenpeace?

SG: Amazing! Hands down, favourite job yet. (Well, minus the time I worked with you, Max. That was nice too). For the first time in my life, I was able to apply my passion and my schooling (I’m completing my degree in Equity Studies in December) to a job, for which I was being paid. I was canvassing on the street (a girl with a binder, I know), which led to all sorts of learning regarding Greenpeace itself, environmental degradation and human interaction – good and bad.

From what I saw, Greenpeace is an effective and inspiring organization. I was proud to be on the frontlines for something that I believe in. To revert back to my job as a canvasser, I’m going to go ahead and say that everybody should sign up and donate. See, the world is going to keep kicking whether we stick around or not, and selfishly, I not only want to have kids, but I hope they get to swim in lakes and see ancient trees, and don’t have to feel scared about the condition of the environment. I find it hard to believe that I’m alone in this. It’s something to think about anyway.

I would get a lot of flack from passers-by, claiming that I was naïve for thinking an organization could make change. Hold on to hope, because it inspires it in others, and together, change is absolutely possible.

MM: Ideally, what would you like to be doing?

SG: Who are you, my Mom? Haha, kidding. I love both you and my mother. Honestly, the answer to this question changes a lot, but there are themes that are emerging. I care desperately about my freedom to live as I want and my ability to express myself in a creative way. I care about learning and teaching, writing, yogaing, and my relationships with others. I function under the assumption that I won’t have a TON of money in my future, but I’m okay with that.

I learned early on, with The Sims, that knowing the cheats and having tons of money is a shortcut to unhappiness. To be more specific, I picture: yoga teacher, academic, mother, working in some capacity for Greenpeace or some other sweet-ass organization or maybe even a totally unqualified therapist. It’s not that I have the answers, but I love hearing about others’ confusion – I have endless sympathy for people who just aren’t sure about the answers to life’s bigger questions.  

MM: What do you like about yoga?

SG: It’s just the best metaphor for life, ever. It’s full of struggle, it requires risk, strength and courage, it throws you in compromising positions to which you find, there’s always an escape. Even in seemingly impossible postures, even when your muscles are shaking and the sweat gets in your eyes, you can find this secret bit of strength that you didn’t know you possessed, which allows you to sustain and eventually surrender to the pose. It’s incredible because you can feel this transformation from struggle to radiance and grace. Honestly, I feel like I struggle a lot but I’m aware that I get stronger, and that the things I perceive as failures are (I hope), successes in progress. 

For a long time now, I’ve wanted to teach yoga but I had a set back this year. There’s a voice in my head that tells me I’m afraid to do hand stands and arm balances, so my progress began to plateau because I was so afraid. I stopped going to yoga for a while, convincing myself that it just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. But a couple weeks back, I woke myself up. I was like, “Sandy! What are you doing?!” Ha. I laughed at myself and now I’m going again. I’ll let you know when I start getting up in hand stands.

MM: Describe your bedroom.

SG: It came furnished and the stuff is remarkably nice, considering.  The walls are white with a plastered ceiling. I like to look up at it because it’s all swirly. I have a white comforter and a crazy old-school hud-bay blanket for additional warmth. (Completely unnecessary in this heat). The window is by my bed and always open. The artwork is all my own and I only put up pieces that inspire me. Books, lotions, dirty mugs. Yup. Oh, one time my roommate walked in and my room was a MESS; a giant pile of random things lying on my floor. As she turned away she said, “You know it’s a real mess when there’s a hula hoop in the mix.”

MM: What book should everyone go out and start reading?

SG: Ugh, I hate talking about books because you know like 75% of people are going to be like, “Ooooohmygod, On The Road or Catcher,” and I’m one of those people! And then someone is inevitably going to rag on you for your cliché choices. So, I’m going to choose other amazing books because LOTS of books are incredible. Angela Carter wrote Wise Children, after she found out she was dying of cancer. It’s not only a hilarious, rich and well-written novel, but one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. The tone corresponds to the refrain of the novel, “What a joy it is to dance and sing!”

I was also raised by a mother who was into self-help in a big way. If you want to find freedom and joy, read Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.

And when you’re done feeling really good about life, read whatever poetry you can get your hands on and question everything you learned from Carter and Hay. But then read the former two again so you can feel good.

MM: Describe what G20 protests you’re involved in, and what your opinions are about it.

SG: I was present at the Toxic Tour on Wednesday, a march through the streets which sought to bring attention to Canada’s extractive industries, the Tar Sands, key financiers of these industries and to bring together people who believe in climate justice. I’ll also be at the People First! march on Saturday which will be huge and amazing, not to mention family friendly. (Bring your friends!) At this point, I’ve read a lot of theory about activism, but haven’t put a lot of it into practice. The summit has provided an interesting introduction to this kind of work.

As for my opinions, they’re conflicted. They’re conflicted because I don’t know the right way to make positive change. I’m not sure how best to shape this reality into the one I wish it is. I’m not altogether sure that I think it’s fair to shape things to my hopes and dreams, as opposed to yours or that guy’s or whomever. I don’t know how the protesters will be met, if the risk of violence is worth it, if people will be respected. I believe (and I know there are people who would argue this) that both protesters and police deserve respect. My understandings of non-violence are probably stricter than many people marching.

I find it difficult to reconcile also the messages I receive on my yoga mat with the chanting and shouting at a rally and yet, both make sense to me. I attempt to keep things in tension, keep things complex in my mind. Ultimately, the reason I’ve decided to be there is because I heard someone say that you’re either an activist or an inactivist. I’d prefer to the be the former and not sit by idly.

MM: Where would you like to travel next?

SG: To the woods, out of sight.

MM: What are the five best (or worst, or mixture of the two) academic books/thesis you’ve come across.

SG: Sigh. Max. Perhaps you overestimate me as a student. I wish I remembered all of the amazing articles I’ve read over the past 6 years. But…

John Gray’s work on Modus Vivendi, gave me nerd-chills like nothing else to date. He’s a political theorist dealing with value-pluralism, which is relevant to a place like Canada. In a nutshell, his theory allows for groups with conflicting cultures/morals to form smaller groups/nations run by their own worldviews, while all nations agree on a VERY minimal compact or agreement. I’m not promoting it necessarily, just saying it’s awesome.

Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One was a hit. She talks about vaginas. It’s pretty cool.

The entire book, PoMoSexual. It’s two of my fave things to talk about: post-modernism and sexuality.

Christopher Southgate et al.  God, Humanity and the Cosmos. It’ll tell you what you need to know about the history of the science/religion interface. Amazing.

I’ve only got four. My head is really to explode from thinking hard. Nap time. And I’m not joking.