Saturday, April 23, 2011

Would you date a guy because he has a cool name? (Or reject him because he doesn't?)

I know. I know. It sounds so shallow, like dating for looks, or money or, ahem, endowment. But don't even try to tell me that you don't have a name thing. Everybody does -- though for some, it's more extreme than for others. On a name-nut scale of 1 to 10, I'd say I'm about an 8.

How does this name fetish work? An example: During my first trip to Melbourne last year, I was at the pub Windsor Castle with friends one Sunday afternoon when I overheard someone talking about her new boyfriend Nathan.

Nathan!

My ears weren't the only things that perked up! My friend Annie and I spent the next half hour discussing the importance of being Nathan. Now there's a name you don't hear every day. There was Dr. Horton, the recently departed Nathan on Days of Our Lives, and there's Castle star Nathan Fillion, but I don't believe I've ever met a Nathan in real life. I pretended that the really cute guy I'd met the night before was named Nathan because I couldn't remember his name. Who knows? Maybe he was a Nathan, but he looked more like a Josh.

Once, upon a mattress, Josh would have worked wonders for my libido. In the U.S., Josh and Ryan aside, my greatest ambition was to go out with a guy named Brendan (it happened, a few days after September 11). In Argentina, I turned my name focus to Lucas. Instead, I got Martin, Fernando and Marcelo -- tons of them -- but not one single Lucas. It got to the point where I would attach personality traits to certain names (Matias = Hot, Federico = Player, Hernan = Shady, and so on) and avoid others like the plague. During my first weeks back in Australia, I was relieved that I'd never again have to cross paths with Alejandro, unless it was via the Lady Gaga song. It was all about finding Nathan.

Not that any name slut wouldn't have his or her pick of good ones in Australia. It seems every guy I meet calls himself something cool -- or totally different. Blake, Clint, Grant, Mick. Hayden (which I've been told is pretty common Down Under). Beau. Zoren. Kimberley. Kimberley! Ashley. Ashley! My friend Marcus used to date a guy named Dade -- which was also the name of a former NYC colleague of mine -- and lately he's been hanging out with a bloke named Harris. (I've always had a weakness for surnames as first names!)

A friend of mine has a two-year-old nephew named Mason. I always thought of that as a name for a grown up, but I suppose everybody has to start somewhere. Though I've met a Jason and a couple of Scotts (I don't know why, but I've always considered both to be uniquely American), I don't think I've met a single Mike, John or Tim, not to mention Tom, Dick or Harry. I did kiss another Jeremy recently just to see what it would be like. It wasn't like kissing myself -- though I wouldn't even know what that's like.

Last week, I finally found my Nathan -- well, actually two of them. On my way to a date with Nathan No. 1, a slightly inebriated guy stumbled up to me and struck up a conversation. His name: Nathan. So after nearly 42 Nathan-free years, I got two in one night, though I only went out with one of them. I'm not sure what it is about Nathan. Maybe it's memories of history class and Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War hero whose last words were "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Maybe I'm the one who's losing it. The date, by the way, lived up to his name.

I couldn't imagine either of the Nathans I met that night ever doing anything quite so noble as dying for his country (though Nathan No. 1 said his life-long dream is to do good deeds in East Africa), but with a name like that, they don't really have to.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Start of a romance: Is playing it cool for losers like me?

Years ago, while stuck more than 30,000 feet up in the air, I watched a ridiculous romantic comedy called Serendipity. Though sitting through a rom com is not my favorite way to kill a couple of hours, and it's something I generally only do in-flight, this one, costarring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, was dumber than most. It gave love -- and rom coms -- a very bad name indeed.

I'm pretty vague on all the details, but from what I remember, Cusack and Beckinsale meet cute, and rather than writing down their telephone numbers and exchanging them like normal people back in the day when people actually did that sort of thing (as opposed to programming them into their iPhones, Facebooking each other, or stalking them on Grindr or Manhunt), she decided that if it was meant to be, they'd somehow meet again.

Stupid girl, I thought. Isn't it possible that the serendipity that she was holding out for had already hit her over the head when she met the guy in the first place? After what seemed like centuries of cheesy misadventures, they ended up living happily ever after, and I never gave the film another thought until yesterday when I was at a friend's birthday party.

I struck up a conversation with a lovely woman, and she told me about the possibly perfect guy she had met at a wedding the weekend before. They have a number of friends in common and had spent years just missing each other, so this was the first time they'd ever officially met. Although they spent quality time together at the reception, exchanged several longing glances, and put on quite the display of chemistry (so much so that it was the talk of the reception), they parted ways without exchanging numbers -- or I should add, anything more un-chaste than a handshake.

So the dilemma facing my new friend: Should she follow the Serendipity blueprint for romance and let nature run its course, or should she give nature a nudge? Facebooking him was out of the question. Too Generation Y, we decided. My advice was to not only give nature a nudge but a swift kick in its ass, too. Getting his number from one of their mutual friends and calling him would be putting herself out there a little bit too much, so I suggested that she and a friend casually stroll into the art gallery that he runs the following weekend, mention that she just happened to be in the neighborhood (how rom com!), and if he's not there, leave him a very breezy note that casually includes her phone number. If he calls, she'll know he was interested in more than a diversion at the wedding. If he doesn't, an unresponded-to note is far easier on the ego than an unreturned phone call, an unanswered text message, or an ignored Facebook invitation!

We fine-tuned this approach for a while before she came up with an even better one. Her flatmate happens to be a childhood friend of the object of her attention (Is this meant to be or what?!), so she could encourage her roommate to set up a casual night out that includes all three of them. Though this has the potential of turning the chemistry at the wedding into friendship rather than romance (third wheels often kill romance dead in its tracks, as when one rolls onto the scene, it can send out mixed signals such as "I like you -- but, um, maybe just as a friend"), I liked it because it would require absolutely no action on her part. I couldn't think of a better way to start a new romance than doing nothing!

But then again, inaction is for losers at love, like me. I'm hoping that my new friend's ploy works anyway, not only because I can say I was there (sort of ) and helped put love into motion, but because it might actually give me faith in love, marriage and weddings again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Italians and Colin Firth taught me about love

"Grief is the price we pay for love." -- Queen Elizabeth II

Once upon a time, I fell hard for an Italian guy.

Anyone who's been there (to Italy), done that (fallen for a sharp-dressed Italian man), or seen Summertime (the 1955 film for which Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar) or The Rose Tattoo (the film for which Anna Magnani won an Oscar the same year) knows that tears were involved. A lot of them.

Actually, Paolo never did anything to make me cry. He was and is a fantastic person. It was something he said. We met at B Bar in New York City in the summer of 2000, and months later, when I was visiting him in Milan, we had a deep conversation about life, love and pain. It was the night before I was to return to Rome before heading home. Paolo told me that in his mind, love equalled pain, and he wasn't sure that he wanted it in his life because he didn't believe it could last till the end of time.

I was sure he'd heard that old cliché about how it's better to have loved and lost, so I didn't go there. And at the time, I had yet to figure out that one should live for the moment, not for forever. I didn't even let the romantic in me try to convince him that miracles happen or that sometimes love is worth fighting -- and hurting -- for. I just listened and felt my heart sinking a little. I knew that distance wasn't going to be the only thing that kept us apart.

I cried for about a week when I returned to New York. Paolo and I kept in touch for a while, but in the pre-Facebook era, eventually, we lost track of each other. Then a few years ago, thanks to the power of Facebook, we reconnected. The day we became Facebook friends, he told me that he was coming to Buenos Aires to visit a friend who had moved there, and he wanted to see me.

I wondered if those old feelings would resurface. I was older and wiser, and though I was no longer naive enough to believe that love conquers all, I was still the same hopeless but hopeful romantic I'd been years before. We made a Friday-night dinner date, and when I opened the door and saw him standing there, my heart didn't skip a beat. I didn't feel anything stronger than hunger pangs. I was relieved, because eventually, we got to talking about life, love and pain again, and he hadn't upgraded his gloom and doom outlook. If anything, the years had made him more resolute in his will to live without the emotional burden of love.

Paolo always reminded me a little bit of Julie, the character Juliette Binoche played in my all-time favorite film, Trois Couleurs: Bleu. At the beginning of the movie, Julie loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, and she spends the rest of the film pulling away from life and love because those things, as she then sees them, are traps. Pain always hitches a ride on their coattails. After lots of soul searching, unexpected encounters and powerful classical music, she realizes that life without love isn't much of a life at all. Pain is the price you pay for love, and sometimes it's worth it.

This past weekend, I saw A Single Man, the 2009 film for which Colin Firth probably should have won his Oscar, for the first time -- don't ask what took me so long to get around to screening it because I don't have a decent answer -- and George Falconer reminded me a lot of Julie. (What luck Firth has with Georges -- first Falconer in A Single Man, then George VI in The King's Speech.) When his lover of 16 years dies in an auto accident, he doesn't react in quite the same way, but the intended end result is more or less the same.

There's so much to love about the film. Visually, it's stunning. Fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford did a fantastic job recreating the 1960s in the stylized Mad Men image that those of us who aren't old enough to have lived through the decade imagine it to have looked, and Julianne Moore, whom I haven't loved in a very long time, reminded me why I fell for her so hard in the early '90s (pre-Boogie Nights, somewhere between The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Safe).

But despite all of the beautiful images surrounding him, I couldn't take my eyes off Colin Firth, not even in the scene where he took a cigarette break from his solitary bereavement with one of the hottest guys I've ever seen. His pain and devastation were so palpable throughout the film that I felt like I could almost reach into the TV screen and touch them.

Though I've never lost a lover in such a tragic way, he made me understand and feel everything Falconer was going through. The scenes in bed with the gun reminded me of Emma Thompson at the end of Carrington. I can't even begin to fathom being willing to die for love (I've never even really suffered a broken heart), but expert actors like Firth, Thompson and Binoche (who never contemplated pulling the trigger in Bleu but might as well have since her retreat from life was like a slow suicide) help me understand why someone might go to that point of no return.

I don't know what Colin Firth's views are on life, love and pain, but in A Single Man, he sold the doom and gloom outlook of George Falconer without the benefit of a moving stutter-free speech backed by Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Interestingly, he's been married to an Italian (film producer Livia GiuggiolI) since 1997. Presumably, happily so, and hopefully, without any of the romantic angst I've come to associate with all Italians, thanks to Summertime, Anna Magnani and Paolo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

You only tell me you love me when you're drunk

I stole the title of this post from Pet Shop Boys. I've never been too crazy about the song (which appears on the duo's 1999 album Nightlife), but don't those words just work?

Sometimes, dear readers, liquor and language don't mix, particularly when that other L word is involved. Forget drunk dialing (that's so pre-2006). These days, you've got to be careful what you type -- into your iPhone, onto someone's Facebook wall -- or tweet when you've had one too many.

I should know. I've said it all. I've written it all. I've heard it all. I've read it all. In Argentina, guys will say pretty much anything when booze blurs their thoughts. I've heard "I love you" come out of their mouths between the first "hola" and the one-night stand. The first time I was shocked out of my trousers. By the time I left Buenos Aires, I was regularly dismissing it as a really lame form of foreplay.

Thankfully, Australians are more reserved. There's no "hermoso," "bonito" and "mi amor" in place of your name. They're all "mate" and "buddy" and "man." Around here, it seems, nobody says, "I love you." They're too busy playing it too cool. Though it's totally forced (they call it being "laid back," but I can smell a game a mile away), it's kind of nice not to have to kiss everyone you meet on the cheek.

Of course, you can take a guy out of Argentina, but you can't take the Argentine out of the guy. At least not in one month. The other night, after a few too many shots of tequila with Pure Blonde beer chasers, I started feeling a little sentimental. It's not a good look on me when I'm sober, and it's an even worse fit when tequila is clouding my judgement.

I pulled out my phone and started to write a message to the guy I've been seeing since I arrived in Melbourne a month ago. (We met when I was in town last October and immediately clicked). My friend Ashley (that's a guy, by the way -- the names around here are so cool) was cheering me on. Do it. DO IT!

 "Te quiero," I typed, caught up in the rapture of the moment and figuring I had nothing to lose. He wouldn't understand what I was talking about (Aussies make fun of Americans for a lot of things, but they're even less likely to know a second language), and does a word in Spanish even count in Australia? Back in BA, I didn't exactly take saying "te quiero" lightly, but I could have. I'm not actually in love until I say it in my native tongue, and in four and a half years, that only happened twice.

Sure enough, when he responded, he didn't know what I was talking about, and I wasn't about to tell him. "Look it up," I replied, certain in my tipsy haze that he'd do no such thing, though I probably should have dropped the subject. Knowing him, he went straight to the Spanish-to-English translator. Even if he did, I rationalized, did it even matter? The roles had been reversed exactly one week earlier, and he'd done it in English!

He came over later, and I'm sure things were said that would make me blush in the light of day. The next morning, I promptly deleted all of my sent messages without reading them because who knows what I texted when my buzz got out of hand, and ignorance is bliss. Thank God, he was too much of a gentleman to bring up any of it, which, of course, sort of made me mean what I'd written even more.

But, naturally, only in Spanish.