Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 54

Men are staying single for longer and one of the reasons is that women are following 'The Rules', which I wouldn't have believed until I witnessed it first hand.

You've heard of 'The Rules'. It's American, a self-help book for women offering an cast-iron gameplan on how to catch the man of your dreams.

It's totally ludicrous but somehow American women, and it seems British women as well, seem to lap it up. There's a lot of it around. If it's not 'The Rules' then it's 'The Program: How to Find a Husband After 30', another book that follows a similar tract.

No matter that it's some reactionary throwback that attempts to reset the clock on feminism and the women's movement by advising women that what they really need to do to win in the "love game" is return to pre-feminist mind games and exploit "the male hunting urge by playing hard to get".

I know, genius plan, but hey if you want the man and the white picket fence that the authors no doubt throw in for free...

In the US, it's an industry with Rules seminars and parties springing up all over the place.

I'm sort of digressing, but I'll get there. There was, this week, some new research out in the UK, which basically said in typical media cliche that men are the new Bridget Jones.

The research by the LSE (don't they have real stuff to research?) found that men, in increasingly large numbers in their twenties and thirties, are not in serious relationships.

The research found that while women were simply delaying commitment until later in life, men are not settling down, period, with a third of British men in their thirties classed as single, compared with just over a quarter of women.

A number of reasons were given to explain why men were rejecting meaningful relationships, including careers and the disappearance of the stigma attached to people who choose not to settle down. But also tucked in there was a mention of 'The Rules' and women who follow them.

Those interviewed were complaining that not only was it becoming more difficult to meet women (leading to crazy plate-smashing dating), but also women were spending too much time reading or soaking up the ideas of 'The Rules'.

Or as one man in the research put it: "They aren't supposed to ring us back and we're supposed to chase them". That'll be Rule Five then: Don't Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls. Oh cheers.

Anyway, like I said, I witnessed this first hand and could hardly believe my ears beause Susan is at it as well.

I was talking with Susan, who was filling me in on the details of some new man she was interested in who sounded very promising. Smart, good looking and single.

He's a friend of a friend of Alison's. Subtle hints have been dropped in all directions and conversations have been had. Everyone in this particular dating circle seems to know the score. Basically they simply need to get on and date. How difficult can that be? Ask a stupid question.

"I'm rather pleased, I didn't think those kind of people existed any more," she said.
"Wow, he sounds pretty good, so when are you going out?"
"Well, I know that he's interested."
"So are you going to give him a call, go for a drink?"

Susan at this point gave me a look of utter disgust. Like I was a crazy man and had just suggested she strip and run around the pub, which I have never suggested.

"Er, are you insane? I can't call him."

When she said this, I really wasn't quite sure what she meant. Because I knew she could call him because, of course, many times in the past she had picked up the phone and called a guy, which had resulted in a date. So it wasn't that she couldn't, but more that she wouldn't call him.

"I'm confused."
"Again, Gord? Oh try to keep up."
"Funny, but why can't you call him?"
"He has to call me."
"I still don't understand. He has to call you? What's that about?"
"It's about the guy making the first move."

And she shrugged when she said this, like it's something everyone knows. And of course, I know it is, you know, something that everyone knows, but I also thought I knew that, these days, it kind of worked both ways, that as well as men picking up the phone and calling, women could do this also.

"But you've called guys before."
"I know, but I'm not doing that any more."
"Because?"
"Because I shouldn't have to."

I thought for a second or two she was joking.

"You're joking, right? You're not really just going to wait until he calls are you?"
"Uh-huh, that's what I'm going to do."
"But what if he doesn't call?"
"Well then he obviously wasn't right, was he?"

It's all there in the book. Rule Seventeen: Let Him Take the Lead.

"But he might have been, but because you failed to call him, he thought you weren't interested and so, you know, lost interest."
"That's tough."
"But what about the women's liberation movement, equal rights, smashing glass ceilings, women on top, what about all of that?"

I had my arms out spread by this time and was gesticulating madly. What can I say? There are just somethings I'm passionate about.

"Gord, I don't think the women's movement had anything to do with dating."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 53

I get a really excited phone call from Alison, she's come to the conclusion she's a grown-up and, to be honest, I'm a little shocked.

It really is quite an announcement, but to be fair it was one preceded by a momentous bit of news after Alison, who after all is best, has recently had a baby.

I should rephrase that. Alison has had another baby. I know, my feeling exactly, some people are just so greedy.

But the thing with the first one was that it didn't really seem to slow Alison down at all. She kind of careered on with work and life and boundless amounts of energy, which is part of why I'm fond of saying that Alison is best -- you know best looking, best job, best car, best husband.

But still the whole "I'm a grown-up" is something of a surprise, you know, mostly because I found it sort of made me re-examine my own life, which really to be honest, is not one of my favourite leisure activities. I prefer, wait I have a list here...

I mean Alison, while best, likes nothing better than getting rather trashed on white wine of varying degrees of quality like much of the rest of the population in one form of another, which at its root, and for all its ills and such, is one of the few classless pastimes of modern British society. That's a good thing right?

To be honest, and for entirely selfish reasons, I'm kind of concerned that she won't do this any more and that instead she will choose only to stay at home and be exhausted.

"That's shocking, are you're sure you haven't rather rashly jumped to conclusions?"
"No, I followed all the steps correctly, a deeply furrowed forehead, two kids and and er... basically that's all I've got."
"Wow."
"I know, wow indeed."
"I have to tell you I'm concerned."
"Concerned? Don't tell me is this for selfish reasons of some sort?"

I am, of course, appalled Alison would suggest something such as that, you know kind of.

"Er, why would you say that?"
"Because I have the feeling that your biggest concern about this big change in my life is that I won't on an occasional basis be able to entertain you by drinking lots of alcohol and then engage in funky crazy dancing?"

Spooky or what? I'm such a fool, how could I possibly forget about the funky crazy dancing? This always follows inebriation, even if it is, these days dancing around the room.

"OK, I'm guilty, I'm worried about the impending lack of funky crazy dancing in my life that comes with your new status as a grown-up."
"You'll have to encourage Susan more."

I have tried this, but it only happens very occasionally. Susan seems to be under the impression that her role is to sit on the couch and offer the world much-needed sarcasm.

"It won't be the same."
"Oh tell me about it, I'm worried that I'll have to say sober until they go to school."
"Wow, that's like becoming a Mormon."
"A Mormon? Are you sure?"
"To be honest, not really I just thought most things were like becoming Mormons, but, hey, I did go a whole month without drinking once. I felt pretty good, you know, general boredom and disgust for my all my drunken friends aside"
"That was years ago."

This is true. It was like 1997, but hey what's a few years and some between friends, but to be honest the real thing here was now that Alison has officially described herself as a grown-up, not even pausing messing with such mid-way demographics such as middle youth, how does it affect me. I know, I know, so I'm not entirely selfless, what can I say?

"Ali, I have to say I'm kind of alarmed how all this 'I'm a grown up... get me out of here' talk affects me. I've been kind of fighting it, you know like the Germany 6th army at Stalingrad, it's clear from a quick tactical analysis that I'm a) surrounded and b) in a hopeless situation and should give in, but my dumb evil Adolf like brain keeps shouting 'no retreat, baby no surrender' like some stray Bruce Springsteen lyric, which I know is a weird combination, but you see where I'm coming from right?"
"Mmm, well, Stalingrad or not, I'll tell you one thing and that is simply Gord that, yes, the end will be bitter."
"Oh gee thanks."
"Besides, you are technically nine months older than me."

Nine months? I can't believe she brought that up. That's really low.

"Hey, I can't believe you brought that up."
"I know, but I'm a woman, a mother, a lawyer with a deeply furrowed forehead and so I don't feel the need to pull my punches."
"Fair point."

After ruminating on the whole generational descriptive for a while, I do what I always do in these situations I call Susan see what she thinks.

"Hey, I've been speaking to Alison and..."
"I know, she thinks she's Shirley Temple all grown up, like children are a passport to another life. Oh give me a break."
"Hey, that's my line."
"Oh Gord, dream on."

Did I mention Susan could be harsh sometimes?

"That's right and to be honest, I'm wondering if I should reappraise my life, you know, and reclassify myself. I could wear a suit to work or something? What do you think?"
"Gord, you spend all your money on DVDs, music and video games. I don't think you're in any danger of joining Alison just yet."

I can't help it but I breathe a suppressed sigh of relief, although to be honest it's probably a little louder than I had expected.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 52

I was thinking the other day about how no one writes letters any more. It must be an age thing. Then out of the blue I had one of those blast-from-the-past emails, which was sparked by a 15-year-old letter.

I am pretty much of the generation when, as students, we all feverishly wrote letters to our friends. As everyone scattered around the country, in a North, South, East and West type diaspora, letter writing became an essential part of student life as we kept friends informed of the important things going on in our angst-filled lives.

These letters in most cases, as I seem to remember, concerned keeping everyone up-to-date with exactly how drunk you had got in the student union bar last Thursday and Friday, the bands you had seen, the women you were dating, oh and the fact that you had pulled an all-nighter on some essay.

I'm guessing, but really that's a vague kind of summation drawn from memory. I haven't actually got around to digging up any of these letters, which are stacked away back at the parental abode. That said, I should go and rescue them before my mother eBay's them ("authentic 80s student ramblings") along with rest of my childhood.

I bashed most of mine out on what was, in the later 1980s, my pride and joy electric typewriter in conjunction with much Tipp-Ex paper. I can still pretty much see myself sitting there in first year halls with the pitter patter of the keys on the cheap, er, paper-thin paper. I don't think my typing is really much better than it was then, but fortunately, I have the backspace key, which is far more user friendly than flaky Tipp-Ex paper.

Point is, I still have all of those letters, but I don't have anything I've emailed that is much older than last month. Not even kind of semi-important emails such as those that begin with the words "I really like you but...". I kind of wished I'd kept those. I know it's wrong to dump people by email, but it's so, er, convenient? Maybe I mean disposable, because that's what it pretty much seems to work out as.

I have the dribbly letters I wrote to then girlfriends ("I've included you a new mix tape") but important ones as well, like the one from a good friend who announced he had met the girl of his dreams in an our-eyes-met-across-a-crowded-room kind of moment. I'm still convinced he was really, really, really very drunk.

Anyway, I digress, you know, in a round about kind of way. I got this email the other day from a girl I think I'd last seen in New York in 1992 or 13 years ago. Is that a long time or what?

She had found some letter I'd written to "Jane Xxxxx c/o The Little Children in Need...". She said she laughed and Google did the rest.

We pinged a couple of emails back and forth as we briefly recapped our lives to date and to be honest that really didn't take that long -- on either side -- not quite sure why that is.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 51

I've done a lot of things in the name of dating, you know like blind date, retro date and even lesbians, but one thing I will not do is balance a plate on my head and dance around in a circle.

I mean, seriously, who does that? How desperate do you have to be? The answer, like so very often, is not nearly as desperate as you would think.

This was crossing my mind as I was sitting in the basement of a Greek restaurant drinking bad wine and talking to a Polish woman who was reminding me that, as well as attending to all of our plumbing and building needs at a very competitive rate, they also saved us in the war.

I should explain. I had been forwarded an invite to dinner and dating thing and I had used all my charm to get a free ticket ("I'm a journalist"), which had kind of paid off.

There is a whole world of these kind of dating events, which make up what is now described as the dating industry. It's weird to think of dating as, you know, an industry like the defence industry but home to weapons of mass distraction rather than anything more dangerous.

You've read about them. Mass dating cattle market events, to lock-and-key evenings to "snog parties". To be honest, no idea what a snog party involves -- maybe it's French or something.

This particular evening sounded harmless enough. Greek food, wine and about 40 people. I mean seriously, how bad could it possibly be?

To begin it was all fairly amiable, drinks were bought from the bar, people mingled, circled and chatted. I found an established group in the corner who were smoking and started to find out what everyone did. I can't help myself, I think I ask this question almost as soon as I have forgotten the person's name.

There was the early thirtysomething toothy and smiley woman who worked in marketing, who was here with her male friend who had been cornered by a Rubenesque woman in the middle of the restaurant, and two mid-fortysomething men who knew each other from earlier singles outings.

Sometimes, you shouldn't tell people what you do.

"I've got an advertising machine," one of the fortysomething partners in crime told me.
"An advertising machine?"

Not quite sure what, but I had this idea that you put a punch card in and out came your advertising. Surely this is how most financial advertising is made.

He gave me his card. To be honest I was a little nervous about accepting this.

"If only you were a chick," he said.

A chick? Do people still say that?

His partner, so to speak, a chain-smoking IT hack, had been to a few of these and was not so far impressed.

"Crowd's a bit old for my liking, usually go for something younger. I recognise that bunch, they're always at these things."

He was talking about a gaggle of about five overly made-up women looking like they had caught the train in from Essex. Croydon as it turned out.

This must be the circuit that everyone talked about and really this particular one was not looking so attractive. There was definitely a slight whiff in the air and it was definitely a slightly desperate one.

Things were starting to head downhill at a rate where it was difficult to calculate the accelerating rate of descent.

There were a few guys wearing colourful shirts untucked, hanging loose over their trousers in the style beloved of footballers, and a couple of barrel-chested musclebound types with very large arms. I cracked some joke to one as we all sat down.

"Guess you have to be careful with the arms at the table."

He glared at me, to be honest this seemed only fair, but the seats were rather close for comfort.

It was one of these things where you had to move around after each course. I sat opposite the Polish woman who after setting me straight about the war moved on to modern art.

"You have no interest in modern art?"
"Er, I like wandering around galleries," I offered.
"That is not an interest in modern art."

Really? I was going to have to cross off modern art from my curriculum vitae list of interests. At this rate, it would only say reading, and to be honest...

"So you want a date?"

I spluttered on my tumbler of wine. Maybe it was the way she said it in her very good, but heavily accented English.

"A date? That's pretty forward, is that a Polish thing?"

She tipped her head to the left and rolled her eyes at this.

"No, a dating thing."

She had me there.

"You know, I'm thinking that my lack of interest in modern art not to mention differing interpretations of the Second World War would kind of doom us and... and..."

She tipped her head and rolled her eyes again.

Scarily the next women looked just like my friend's wife, who hates me. I swear, an absolutely identikit match, naturally painfully thin blonde type who suffers from migraines and the cold along with other medical ailments.

I felt obliged to impart this look-a-likeness news as soon as I sat down.

"You look like someone I know, I mean spitting image."
"I get it all the time and I don't look like anyone," she said in a kind of exasperated not again kind of way.

At this point, the music started to get really loud and really Greek. It was then that things plunged and the woman organising the event started encouraging people on to the dance floor.

It wasn't the dance floor, per se, and it wasn't the dancing, as such, it was the dancing while balancing plates on top of the head while doing a kind of Greek hokey-kokey legging kicking thing.

As the plates were crashing too the floor, I made my excuses and left. Actually, no excuses.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 50

Good news about Rod Stewart and Penny Whatshername. A father again at 60. I couldn't help wondering what Rod's biological clock sounds like. Weird, I know, but I read last week that men do in fact have one and it starts ticking at the age of 25. Not that I'm worried or anything.

That's right, not only do we have one, but it starts ticking just after we get out of college. I mean come on how fair is that?

Not very, it doesn't really help if, like me, you spent a couple of extra years mucking around (OK sitting on my arse) and actually ended up with almost five years of higher education.

Rod was obviously aware of this, while I wasn't even slightly appraised of the fact. This is why Rod is on child number seven and I have yet to make it out of the starting gate. There's a gate right? OK, it might have something to do with the fact that Rod was a rock star in the 70s. I seem to remember my mother was a fan.

Susan, of course, thinks the news about the Male Biological Clock, or MBC, is totally hilarious as only women can.

Women have had to live with the knowledge of having a biological clock for years. Men on the other hand have pretty much lived in blissful ignorance of the MBC, comfortable with the knowledge that we could sail right along and have children at any time.

I won't quote the story about Charlie Chaplin having kids at close to 80 as everyone always mentions this oft peddled old chestnut (what's an old chestnut anyway, I've never seen one). OK, I will, but everyone who has every watched 'When Harry Met Sally' knows that Charlie was unable to do much with them.

Sally: And it's not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73. Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.

Of course, then Saul Bellow had them at 85, but that whole episode sure took it out of him. He died this April four years later aged 89. Rod is, however, looking forward to the event. I know because I read the press statement:

"I am overjoyed and extremely proud to be able to confirm that my fiancee Penny is carrying our baby," Stewart said in a statement. "I count myself blessed to have bestowed upon me the honour of fatherhood again with Penny, whom I love and cherish so much."

Is it just me or did his publicist write that?

Anyway, I digress. I never knew I had so much to say about Rod. The story is that people have known that male fertility nosedives after 25 for some time, but for reasons unknown this information has been slow to reach the public. You know, like got held up somewhere. Where isn't clear, but there was definitely a hold up.

I'm discussing this with Susan, but really can't say I'm liking her attitude.

"Ha!"
"Ha? That sounds harsh, what's with the ha'ing."
"I think you had a ha coming, not personally, just men generally."
"Gee thanks, I think this is, you know bad news. Ha is not appreciated."
"I think you deserve ha. After all, women have known for years that we have these clocks and ours are ticking away."
"You make it sound like it's my fault."

Susan paused at this point as if she was about to tell me that it was in some way my fault. I must be, you know, like psychic.

"Of course it is, well it is your fault in part."
"How do you work that out?"
"You make us wait, keep us ticking over. You exacerbate the problems of the clock."
"We keep you ticking over? What does that mean?"
"You know, like the engine is on, but not going anywhere, just ticking over waiting around until you're ready to commit, settle down and get with it."

Women as cars... to be honest I'm not sure this metaphor is one that I can get my head around. I'm suddenly getting these flashbacks back to the whole VW thing -- to be honest not good (see The Demographic Shift - 48).

"So you're like a car now?"
"It's a metaphor, dummy, at least now you know how we feel."
"What because I have a clock?"
"Because you have a clock."

It's true we have a clock and, give or take, it works in pretty much the same way, you know, give or take. The crucial difference seems to be that men don't have a definite cut-off point (enter Charlie and Saul), there is no menopausal midnight strike. It's just that things (OK sperm) start going downhill quality-control-wise. I know, shocking. Who would have guessed? I always wondered what all the talk of blanks was about.

But seriously, men older than 35 are twice as likely to be infertile as men aged 25 depending on lifestyle, health and diet et cetera. I mean I go to the gym, am weirdly addicted to broccoli (I know, what's that about?) and generally pretty healthy in that urban flip-flop kind of way where the weekend makes way for possibly too much alcohol.

"Maybe it will make you buck up your ideas."

Buck up your ideas? Susan sounds just like my games master from school. Mr Dodds. He was big with the bucking and the upping when it came to rugby.

"Buck up my ideas? Who are you, my teacher?"
"No, I just want to underline the fact to you that your time is running out.
"Running out? You're harsh, do you know that?"

She, of course, smiles. She knows.

"Maybe you should freeze it now, while it's still swimming."
"Freeze it? No way, what am I going to say, here's some I prepared earlier? That doesn't sound like, you know, true romance."

Susan smiles at this.

"Welcome to true biology."