Stoics and the Zombie Apocalypse

Imagine a reality show in which a lazy, spoiled, selfish young man is made to believe that the world is coming to an end. After experiencing a special-effects-laden meteor shower, he awakens to find himself in an abandoned hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Civilization has collapsed. He goes on to meet people who demand of him the qualities of courage, compassion, and leadership that lied buried beneath his malaise and sense of entitlement.

Such a reality show exists. I just watched it and you can find it here. It was the brainchild and production of Derren Brown, British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, and writer. Brown is evidently so famous in Britain that he has hordes of devotees and even stalkers, which is why his presence at this year’s Stoicon 2015 Event in London could not be publicized. This particular reality show was Brown’s idea of an extreme Stoic experiment. He discovered the ancient Stoics while reading Montaigne (his taste in philosophers is what makes him sexy, surely) and he took a shining to them. Here’s what he says in an article he published at Radio Times:

The Stoic philosophers advise us to regularly rehearse the loss of everything we love. Only that way can we learn to value what we have in life, rather than fixate upon things we don’t. It seems our psychological landscape hasn’t changed much since Seneca was penning advice to his protégés of ancient Rome. Those who study desire keep coming across the same answer: that to master desire, we must learn to want what we already have. We are bombarded daily by overt and covert messages from advertisers, media and peers, conditioning us to hanker after the latest, shiniest, most retinally-screened trinket, or to claim for ourselves our bigger house or faster car or sexier partner. And we may find ourselves anxious and distracted if we don’t find a way of acquiring these things, but more interestingly we only enjoy them for a very short while before reverting back to our former dissatisfied state. This hedonic treadmill keeps us moving forward at whatever level of happiness to which we are pre-disposed, and despite the spikes of momentary glee as some new status symbol comes our way, we don’t really grow any happier. The joy of the car and the house and the phone doesn’t stick around. The way to feel satisfied, and to know that your desires are being truly met, is to hunger after what you have already in your life.

Jules Evans interviewed Brown at the Stoicon Event on Saturday. I’m not British and I had no idea who Brown was before this event, but he struck me as thoughtful, creative, imaginative, modest, and that he cares deeply about philosophical issues. He also has “it.” Whatever “it” is, the man’s got it in spades. I include a picture of him here even though I look terrible in it–London is so bad to my hair. Brown is on the right. He doesn’t look like much, does he? Well. William Irvine (to the left, very funny and personable author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) and I both agree that Brown is sexy.

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I liked what Derren Brown said in the interview about the practice of Stoicism not being about achieving “happiness” necessarily, but about living large. Creating a bigger, more meaningful life. That is what I have gained from Stoicism, and what I continue to seek from it. As I said at the beginning of Stoic Week, I renamed it Joie de Vivre Week for myself. My intention for the week was to stop focusing on the negatives in my life, especially those things which I do not control, and thus increase my joie de vivre. It’s worked. I do feel more joy after my study and meditation during Stoic Week and my attendance at the Stoic Week Event.

This year and last I had the opportunity to socialize a bit with the Stoic Event presenters, mostly academics in Philosophy. So, philosophers. Sounds like a really swinging crowd, doesn’t it? Or people you would do anything to avoid, more like it. I found them charming. At least, from the little I know them. They seem friendly, open, warm, funny, self-effacing, and easy to talk with. They have joie de vivre!

IMG_9475Here with Massimo Pigliucci, professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College (London was messing with my hair again). Massimo is organizing and hosting next year’s Stoicon in New York.  I also got to talk with Donald Robertson who besides writing the excellent Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, has written the Stoic Week Handbook and has a Stoicism Facebook group of nearly 10,000 members. The man has a Scottish accent to die for. I overheard Donald and Jules discussing a book of Stoic memes they plan to co-write to be entitled “Philosophical Tapas: Daily Stoic Affirmations.” I think Don should narrate the audio version.

Speaking of voices, I went to my voice lesson today not having practiced at all and with a slight cold. Neither my teacher nor I expected much of me in the lesson, and yet I proceeded to effortlessly execute a range exercise I struggled with last week. My teacher gasped and looked at me in shock. “What did you do different?” she asked. I shrugged and said I didn’t know. She asked me to do the same exercise again and I was able to do it twice more perfectly. She said she can tell I return from London with a different energy. I can feel it, too. She said that not only was I able to do the exercise better, but my voice sounded better. We think it might be due to a combination of bringing back a new energy from London, not overthinking, and having low expectations.

Stoicism helps a lot with limiting the overthinking and managing expectations. The philosophy lends itself to focusing on this moment and bringing your best to it. This weekend I was struck with what a simple and complete philosophy it is. I just finished reading Daring Greatly by Oprah darling Brené Brown, a shame researcher who writes these obscenely popular books about vulnerability, courage, and authenticity. While the book was motivational and interesting, I couldn’t help but compare this self-help book to the more elegant and simple Stoic writings. Do you want to stop feeling shame? Then stop caring what people think of you. People’s opinions of you are outside the realm of what you control. Make the center of who you are within yourself, grounded in your own principles and values. When you practice Stoicism, you naturally become more appealingly vulnerable, courageous, and authentic.

More Stoic thoughts to come. (And I was just kidding about Don and Jules’ Philosophical Tapas. Unfortunately, no such book is in the works. ;))

joie de vivre week

12204658_10208166150575640_725060995_nOn Halloween night two days ago I carefully painted my face to look like a decorated Mexican sugar skull. I put flowers in my hair and pulled on a sexy black dress and heels in preparation for a Halloween swing dance party. I felt good about how I looked, as did my friend, adorably got-up as Wednesday from The Addams Family. We left her flat in high spirits, anticipating a fun party, and stepped out into the cool October night (not cold–this is southern Spain) in search of a taxi. I was surprised to see a large percentage of my friend’s neighborhood turned out in Halloween mode with costumes, make-up, and trick-or-treat bags. Wow, how flattering that the Spaniards embrace our Halloween, I thought to myself.

And that’s when it hit me. Literally. An egg to the back, soiling the back of my dress and even my hair and face somewhat. My friend and I turned around to find a little posse of kids, just standing there. I was incredulous. I had never been hit by an egg in all of my 30+ years of Halloween in the States. But what really made my jaw drop was that the kids were not running away. They were just standing there. And then they threw more eggs. There were quite a few adults around observing, and they did nothing. Just stood there idiotically. I was enraged.

I took off running after the kids. They started running and then stopped and turned, throwing more eggs. They missed, and I kept running, screaming at them. “Gilipollas! Niños de mierda! Os voy a matar!” (Jerks! Stinking brats! I’m going to kill you!) In spite of the fact that I was wearing heels, I am proud to say I was close behind them. I chased them around the entire block and stopped. They stopped when I did and tried to look cool and pretend they hadn’t been running. When you think about it, it’s pretty lame for a pack of 10-14 year old boys to be running from a little lady in heels. “Ahora nos vamos a ver y os vais a enterar !”  (I will see you again and you are going to regret it!) was my parting shot. I walked back to the entrance of my friend’s building, where she was waiting. We went back up to her flat and cleaned off the egg as best as we could.

“What would you have done if you caught the kid?” my friend asked. I told her I would have grabbed him and scolded him. She said even though it made her really mad, she couldn’t imagine doing such a thing because then the kid’s parents could get angry and come tell me off. I replied that I would like nothing better than to have the opportunity to meet the little shit’s parents and tell them what I thought of their parenting, their genetics, and anything else that occurred to me in the moment.

Part of what made me so angry was the complete indifference on the part of the many other adults who observed a 12-year-old boy throwing eggs at an adult woman. Can I just tell you what the response would have been if in my town in Maine, adults had witnessed such a thing? The kid would have been immediately grabbed by the collar (or ear) by whichever adult was closest. He would have been marched to his parents’ door, getting an earful of scolding the entire way. His parents would have grounded him to his room at least for the rest of the evening and there would surely be other consequences, like not being allowed to go out with his friends for a month and having to apologize in person to the lady he threw the egg at. Also, he would probably have to do yard work in the lady’s yard or something as atonement.

As I remember this I still get angry. It really pisses me off. I did go on to have a fabulous time at that party. But we couldn’t get all of the egg out of my dress, so it felt a bit sticky to me the entire night and it galled me. Every time I noticed it I thought of those disrespectful boys and it made me mad.

This week I am participating in International Stoic Week. I have a specific intention for this week, and it is to develop the ability to ignore things I don’t like. I have been too quick to anger lately, too likely to hold on to negative feelings, and too focused, in general, on negativity. This reactivity to things I do not control and readiness to engage with negative situations and people is killing my joie de vivre. I want greater indifference to things that bug me. I want my joie de vivre back!

I have a few maxims I will be repeating to myself throughout the week, besides doing the Stoic readings and meditations. I chose the following maxims from the Handbook of Epictetus, ancient Stoic philosopher, to help me develop the habit of ignoring what I don’t like (and don’t control):

You are nothing to me. (Said to the person, situation, etc. that I don’t like.)

If you want any good, get it from within yourself.

What is beyond my control is indifferent to me.

So, for myself I am renaming Stoic Week. I’m calling it Joie de Vivre week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How to Go Through Hell: A Primer

Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake
Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake

As some of you know who have been reading this blog, I have been working for the past couple years on becoming more emotionally resilient. For my entire adult life until two years ago, I was married to a man who made it his business to solve any problem I had, big or small. When we separated and I also lost the support of my faith community and many friends, living in a foreign country far from my family, I realized that my emotional resilience level was about zero. There were some men hanging around and I saw that I had the option of choosing one who would take care of my problems for me again. But that didn’t seem like the best option for a smart, strong, independent New England girl. I said to myself, I’ve got this. I can use this time that I’m single to develop the skills I need to take care of my own emotional needs.

It’s been a rocky ride. And I’m not referring to the trials that have come my way. Everyone has problems, challenges, etc. I’m talking about how I handled them. Sometimes I’ve failed quite spectacularly. Sometimes I’ve been needy, selfish, inept, and awkward. However, this time I succeeded. I have to say, I didn’t know I had it in me. I’ve come a long way.

In the last three weeks, I’ve been to Hell and back. I finally told a friend most of the story last night and when I was done, her mouth was hanging open and her eyes enormous. I didn’t tell her all of it because there wasn’t time, and I won’t tell anyone all of it. It’s the kind of thing that could happen to anyone and it doesn’t matter what it was. I’m fine. Hell no, I’m much better than fine. (More about that later.)

A couple of the things that came up in these weeks were things that I’ve never had to deal with in my life, or even think about. I felt overwhelmed, confused, scared, and very alone. I started confiding in a friend but that ended up backfiring and making me feel worse. I felt too vulnerable, so everything she said only made me feel worse. For a while I kept it all to myself. I know that my friends and family are there in part to help me through difficult times, but I wanted to hold off and see how much I could handle on my own without troubling or stressing other people. And I wanted to see how emotionally resilient I could be.

I can’t believe I’m saying this now, but I’m glad all of this happened. In my efforts to establish order in this chaos and find confort, I’ve learned valuable coping techniques that work for me and that I can apply next time I have to go through something like this. (I know I said I was glad this happened, but please God let there not be a next time!) I also discovered a strength that I never knew I had, or at least never considered it a strength in these circumstances. I learned new things about myself as well as useful information about another individual that it was much better to know sooner than later.

Here is my little primer for going through Hell:

1. Let yourself feel your feelings. There were a lot of negative and intense feelings all at once, each competing to have its turn. Guilt, fear, confusion, pain, uncertainty, sadness, disappointment. It wasn’t always convenient or possible to give way to these emotions during the day when I was out and about in the world. It was good to have times where I had to go about my business cheerfully. That made me feel more cheerful, in fact. But it was just as good when I was alone in my bed at night to let myself cry for a little while. I found that when I did this I was less likely to wake up to panic attacks during the night. Further on in the post I talk about what I discovered when I let myself cry.

2. Take care of your body. Even though sometimes I didn’t feel like it, I got myself outside and exercising most days. I made sleep a priority. Even though I had no appetite, I continued eating healthy food. When you are going through Hell, you need all the physical strength you can muster. Be good to your body and it will be good to you.

3. Refuse to self-criticize. It would have been easy to blame myself for these trials and to obsess over what I’d done wrong. However, constant self-criticism is damaging to your self concept and even affects you physically. Attacks to yourself, even if you are the perpetrator, stimulate the body’s threat defense system causing it to release high levels of cortisol, which could eventually cause your body to shut down in a depressed state.

4. Have rational talks with yourself. As opposed to beating yourself up, this works wonders. Remind yourself that what is done is done, and as the past falls into the category of things you do not control, let it go. Ask yourself what you will do differently next time. Be grateful that you are learning and growing.

5. Find distraction in the beautiful and the edifying. I was going to go crazy or become depressed if I thought about my predicament all day. I found marvelous distraction in William Blake, my children, my friends, and an exciting, suspenseful novel. It was nice to escape now and then into someone else’s world. Distracting yourself from your problems doesn’t mean running away from them. It means preserving your good health, physically and mentally.

6. Pray. I am going to piss off all of my friends with this, atheists and avid Christians alike. I don’t know what form God takes, but I suppose I do believe in something because I believe in prayer. It always makes me feel better. It works.

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.  -Edna St. Vincent Millay

I can not say it better than my fellow Maine girl, poet and playwright Edna.

These sleepless and harrowing nights in my bed crying, I found out that I’m strong in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It happened every time that I would be lying there feeling like utter crap, and suddenly, I would start laughing. It wasn’t hysteria. It was that I could not help recalling something funny someone had said, or seeing something funny in my situation, and it made me laugh. This happened naturally without trying, and when I was giving myself some time to feel negative emotion. What if I had tried to suppress these emotions, forcing myself to “think positive?” What if I’d tried to medicate those feelings away with drugs, alcohol, or food? I never would have discovered that my sense of humor automatically steals in to save me when I need it.

My dad probably had a lot to do with this. Like me, he had the annoying habit of sometimes laughing uncontrollably in inappropriate situations. We would share with each other embarrassing examples of when in concerts, meetings, and other serious places we would find ourselves snorting, choking, and shaking, trying to hold it back. I was so glad that everyone laughed so much at Dad’s funeral. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Recently I was listening to a podcast of an actor or writer or someone, I wish I remembered who, who said that the best comedy has an undercurrent of sadness to it. He said that jokes that do not have that touch of sadness are superficial and harsh. I want to think more about that. Maybe that’s why some of the best comedy writers are Jewish.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. -Rumi

After going through this, I feel cleansed. I absolutely feel like the yellow leaves have been shaken free and the rotten roots pulled up. I don’t know where the new joy will come from, but I’m ready to receive it.

Oh! And here’s one more from Agatha Christie. I believe this to my very core.

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seeing

A guy I was going out with once tried to insult me by saying, “You have your own reality that is entirely your own. No one else shares it with you! You take situations and turn them around somehow so everything is wonderful and great.” It was one of the sweeter insults that’s been sent my way, but yeah. I get how annoying my way of seeing can be for the very literal and the excessively sane. There are times that I tell myself I’m not going to be like this anymore and I try to “pull myself together.” I try to see things as they really are and deal with them in a practical way. I imagine this will make everyone more comfortable, including me. But you know? That always feels as if I’ve taken off my perfectly-tailored blazer that’s a bit shabby but the color and cut suit me perfectly, and put on some trendy little jacket that’s too small in the shoulders.

I generally end up back in the tailored blazer, “stubbornly” seeing things my way. How annoying to be called stubborn! I mean, stubborn why? Because I don’t necessarily change my way of seeing things when it doesn’t suit… whoever? Because I generally prefer to learn through my own mistakes rather than demurely taking others’ advice? I’m trying to remember the last time I referred to someone as stubborn. I can’t recall. I don’t think I ever think that about anyone. And you know why? Because I wouldn’t presume to call a determined, tenacious person “stubborn.”

So, how is it that I see things? Last year on National Book Day I published the following on Facebook:

Cuando quiero rendirme, me acuerdo de Don Quijote, mi gemelo de alma, y la fuerza que hay en ver el mundo mucho más dulce, noble, generoso, mágico, y maravilloso que lo que realmente es. Sí, ignoro la verdadera naturaleza de las cosas. Y qué? Feliz Día Internacional del Libro, amores!

When I feel like giving up, I remember Don Quixote, my soul twin, and the strength there is in believing the world more sweet, noble, generous, magical, and marvelous than it really is. Yes, I ignore the true nature of things. So what? Happy International Book Day, loves!

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I think this is what comes of having grown up in a magical place. And having had a magical father. There was really never any way to escape it.

A specific example of this is how I view men and the way I relate to them. My own father was a king of a man, and always very good to me. The boys I knew growing up were respectful and kind. My ex husband was a loving and generous partner. All of the men I’ve ever had anything to do with have been respectful and solicitous, as far as I remember. The only time I can remember encountering some shocking male behavior was when I became single and all these married men started hitting on me. I didn’t expect that. Well, and I guess I’ve written a couple funny posts about men behaving badly, but most of that I found funny or even endearing. I’m never bitter toward men, not in any but the most superficial way.

So, I’m sure I see men as being much better than they really are. My girl friends definitely think so. But I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. And I know some people are reading this right now thinking, Wha? Because I’ve complained to them about men. Sometimes I complain, but it never changes my fundamental, deep-down belief that men are always good to me and I luvs them. In fact, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m a total flopper. I’m the Danny Ainge of the dating world.

Sometimes a guy will do something I find mildly annoying, or maybe I just want to manipulate a tad. So I say things like, “Ohhh you are so bad to me! You’ve made me feel soooo terrible!” when really I feel fine. I found myself overusing this tactic because it was so incredibly affective. And then of course it loses its power. I don’t recommend it. In fact, if I’m revealing this on the blog it’s because it’s something I think I should probably stop doing.

The point is, I realize that my way of seeing men is not the norm. I realize it possibly makes me vulnerable to being taken advantage of. I suppose I probably have been taken advantage of and I never even noticed! So. What? I don’t know. Does that make me stupid? What I think is that a big reason men treat me so well is that they can feel that I’m predisposed to thinking well of them. They can tell that I luvs them. And it has that Pygmalion effect on them, just like the rats in Rosenthal’s study.

make yourself the interesting

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Because men in the kitchen are sexeh. And I’m in love with Jack Lemmon.

There is this phrase in Spanish, “hacerse el interesante,” which means playing hard to get. It’s one of those concepts that come up a lot in my talks with friends about dating. There is an entire book dedicated to teaching women who want to land a husband how to play this little game. It’s called The Rules. The book boasts that you may even be able to land “a player” if you play by these rules. Because, you know. It’s every woman’s dream to marry a womanizer.

Making yourself the interesting absolutely works. I’ve seen it in action many times. Before my very eyes, a handsome, intelligent, and talented guy friend of mine was lassoed by an uptight, marginally attractive, insanely jealous woman. She did that Rules crap on him and he’s been with her for three years. I recently mentioned to him an incident in which she was disrespectful to me and he replied that he didn’t think it was nice of me to say such things to him, because after all, she’s the woman he’s with right now. He was right that I shouldn’t have said anything and I regretted it. But… the woman he’s with right now? Wow. They live together and everything. If I made that type of commitment to someone he’d better be referring to me as the love of his life! And that’s the thing with doing The Rules. The guy doesn’t know the real you until it’s “too late.” He’s already made some kind of commitment and if he’s a decent guy who doesn’t like his boat rocked too much, he’ll honor it.

I read The Rules a few months ago and it did have an effect on me, though not the intended. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have a contrary streak a mile wide. If someone tells me that this is the only correct way then I immediately have to prove the opposite. So after reading The Rules, I decided that I was no longer going to passively sit back and let men chase after me. No. *I* was going to do the chasing. So I started chasing. I started making very direct propositions of the sort that were made to me from guys, somewhat modified to be more feminine. I found that guys loved it. They responded immediately and intensely. The only problem was… then I was no longer interested. I couldn’t follow through! I found that when I was doing the talking, I was all talk and no action. How disappointing! Because really, I think sometimes men just get tired of always being the assertive ones. When a girl makes the first move it must be a breath of fresh air. So it works for them. Sadly, it doesn’t work for me. It seems deep down I prefer to be chased.

Instead of making yourself the interesting, you could always just be interesting. That works. Instead of playing hard to get, you could actually be hard to get, in the sense that you have boundaries and a good sense of self worth, so not just anyone has access to you. This works for both genders. It turns me off when I myself am too assertive, but also when guys are to me. I like them to keep me wondering. I love enigmatic men, even if I sort of hate them, too. I think I do play hard to get, but not intentionally. I do it because it’s fun. It’s part of the little dance.

Is it possible that spring is in the air? I think I’m getting over my pickle face toward potential suitors. Suddenly men seem very nice indeed.

El Higiénico

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Not long after I divorced I created a profile on an online dating site. Newly single for the first time in my adult life, I was excited to meet guys and go on dates and at the time it seemed like as good a way as any. Actually, for a shy girl it seemed superior to meeting someone at a bar or club where at the time all I could do was blush and look at my shoes when guys approached. This way I could hide behind my online profile, which I carefully created to be classy yet playful, and check out potential dates from the comfort of my laptop and pjs.

I was initially delighted with all the messages I received and it was all so fun. My mobile phone was on fire as I struggled to answer all the messages from my potential suitors. I felt like the popular girl! I was open to meeting in person anyone who seemed reasonably attractive, interesting, and polite in their messages, sometimes if only out of curiosity. However, I quickly realized the following:

This is no place for the grammatically pedantic. I decided I was only interested in dating men whose native Spanish was at least as good as my non-native Spanish. In the online dating community, that decision winnowed down my options to a depressing few.

When you are going to meet someone for the first time, you must have an exit strategy. I learned that meeting someone for drinks on my way to another event was usually best. Jules Evans calls it the Two Beer Rule in his very funny and spot-on post about online dating. The Two Beer Rule (or sometimes, one Coke) is a must, because:

Some people are able to make themselves attractive, interesting, and polite in their online profile and in messages, but then in person they are none of those things. (See El Higienco below for the prime example.) I once met a guy for sodas while I was shopping in the city center. From the moment we sat down he would not stop trying to touch my hands, legs, and face, as well as gaze soulfully into my eyes. I suddenly remembered that I had promised a friend to do something or other and I made a hasty departure as soon as we paid for the Cokes. When I gave him the two kisses in the Spanish goodbye, he grabbed my tush with both hands and squeezed hard. When I told a friend this story she said, “He knew that was going to be his only opportunity to squeeze that ass and he took it.” I only had to endure a few minutes of the octopus’ company, but imagine if I had met this guy for dinner or even worse, to see a movie?

I eventually stopped meeting guys online because it never worked for me. I didn’t like almost any of them. I liked several as friends but not in that way that makes your knees go weak and your innards turn to water. But then, I’m unlikely to react to any guy I first meet that way. I’m a cold one, I suppose. Nearly all of the online guys came on too strong right away and that’s always a turn off for me. I need a more subtle game. I have liked guys who tease and let me tease. Guys who give me space. Guys who are perfectly fine with me flirting gently, then outrageously, then cooly pretending I didn’t do any of that. I like to play. I hope not in a manipulative way. I don’t like to play with people’s feelings. More than a game, it’s my let’s-see-if-you-can-catch-me mating dance. Online dating does not lend itself to my elaborate, subtle, drawn-out dances. As Jules says, online dating is too efficient and brutally direct, too mechanical to be seductive.

And now, as promised, I bring you… El Higiénico.

He was one of the many guys I was communicating with on this dating website but he lived in a city about two and a half hours from where I live. He was very handsome in his pictures, American, a writer, and funny. A few weeks after we started communicating online I went to visit a friend in the city where El Higiénico lived, and we made plans to meet. I was staying at a hotel far from where he lived and unbeknownst to me at the time, he picked a meeting place close to where he lived. He told me to take the bus. That may have been only the second time in my life I had been on a city bus. I ended up having to change buses to get there and it was confusing. It was a hot late summer afternoon in southern Spain and I arrived at our meeting a bit sweaty and annoyed. However, I think I probably looked sweet, fresh-faced, and demure in my conservative skirt and blouse. I was a kind-hearted, innocent Mormon girl, excited to meet a new guy. And he knew all of this from our messages.

He was handsome in a boyish way. He was 33 but could have passed for 25. He was very fit. He asked me if I wanted to go anywhere particular and I told him I wanted shade and a drink of water. For some reason he ignored this and led me on a walk in the hot sun. I kept looking around for a vending machine or kiosk that sold water, but none were in sight. I asked him about his writing career and he told me that the last article he had written was an exposé on the dubious labeling of fish in markets and grocery stores in Spain. And then he told me all the things he hated about living in Spain, including the rude and ignorant people, food, sports, music, news programs, and weather. Topping his list of things to hate in Spain were Spanish women. He told me that he is a person who cares very much about hygiene and potential germs, and he found Spanish women to be unhygienic. He went into disturbing detail on this point. To change the subject I asked him about teaching English, which I knew he did in addition to writing. He told me that teaching English is the one cool thing about living in Spain because he was able to work only two hours per day and earn enough money to put him “in the Spanish middle class.” I don’t remember now what that sum was. However, he repeated this several times. I asked him more about his writing. I think by this time I was weak with dehydration and had to sit down. There was no shade where he had taken me, so we sat in the sun. He then asked me about my writing and the following conversation took place.

Me: Well, I haven’t written much the past year or so. My dad died about a year and a half ago and since then I…

Higiénico: [whispers] Cancer?

Me: Um, what?

Higiénico: Was it cancer that killed him?

Me: No. He died during open-heart surgery. And it changed me somehow, I guess I got depressed. I had no interest in writing anymore and I…

Higiénico: Look, Lindsay. Stop a second. I need to be clear with you here. I’ve reached the age of 33 and I think at this age I don’t have to beat around the bush. What I really want to do is fuck. Sure, I want to go out to the movies, go for dinner or whatever, and then fuck. It’s that simple. Does that seem like something that would interest you?

Me: Frankly, if that were what I wanted to do, I don’t believe I’d have to leave Málaga. I think I would likely have a fine selection right there to choose from.

At his point El Higiénico lifted up his shirt, grabbed my wrist, and placed my hand on his abdomen.

Higiénico: There. Feel that? What do you say to that? That’s nice, huh? You like that, huh? Those are rock hard abs.

Me: Very nice, yes.

Higiénico: And the thing is, Lindsay, you wouldn’t have to come to me. I [paused for effect and in a sweeping motion with his hands, indicated that his entire body was involved here] would come to you. I could come down for the weekend, we’d take the kids to the beach, eat some sardines at a chiringuito, and then go to your place and fuck.

Me: I see. Hmm.

Higiénico: I think you’d like it.

Me: I’m not seeing that happening.

When I have told this story, most people have asked why I didn’t slap him or cut him off right then and there, or tell him I had a headache (which I did actually) and go back to my hotel. But when I told my sister Maria, she said, “See, if it were me, at that point I’d have to stick around and see what else the bastard had to say.” It is in these ways Maria and I can tell we share DNA, because of course I stuck around. And the bastard had more to say.

We decided to go for ice cream. He told me about his ex wife, a Spanish woman and former model he was married to for ten years. He told me again about how much he loathes Spanish women. And again about teaching English two hours per day and that being enough to put him in the Spanish middle class. And then:

Higiénico: How many messages do you get on that dating site?

Me: The first couple days I got about a hundred messages. Now maybe 10-20 per day.

Higiénico. Wow. Well, but that’s only because you are over 35 and divorced. Everyone figures you are desperate for sex. I get probably five messages per week, which is a lot for a guy because women almost never write first. Have you ever had a homosexual experience?

Me: No.

Higiénico: You’re lying.

Me: Nope.

Higiénico: I know you’re lying because everyone has had a homosexual experience at least once. On a Friday or Saturday night in a club, at about 4 am everyone who hasn’t paired off already turns gay. The men start checking out men and the women start checking out other women because they are all so desperate to get laid. It’s just human nature, not a big deal. Anyway, I often get messages from guys at around 4 am on a Friday night saying, ‘Dude, I’m not gay but I just need to get laid. You up for it?’

Me: Uh-huh.

El Higiénico had asked me earlier what my plans were that evening. I told him I was going to a friend’s orchestra concert and then we were going out after for drinks.

Higiénico: Lindsay, I’ll tell you what I think you should do tonight. After the concert, go to your hotel. Give me a call and I will go there and then go up to your room. Do you have a jacuzzi?

Me: No.

Higiénico: Damn. Well, we will start by giving each other massages. And then, we will have respectful, hygienic sex. And it will be glorious.

Me: I don’t think so. I’m not feeling it.

Higiénico: Lindsay, [at this point his tone becomes very condescending, as if he were talking with a frustrating child] if you would only try it, you would see that you like it. It’s as easy as that. Try it, and you will like it. You think I’m hot, right? So how could you not like respectful, hygienic sex with me?

Me: I don’t feel inspired.

Higiénico: [nearly yelling] That’s because you are so repressed! You are completely sexually repressed! I can tell by how fast you walk. Only people who are sexually repressed walk as fast as you do.

Me: Ok. Could be.

I shrugged, smiled, and hailed a taxi. As I got into the taxi, El Higiénico told me he’d be waiting for my phone call. But alas, it was not to be. That was the last I heard of him, or him of me.

Every single person I have told this story to has asked me what he meant by “hygienic” sex. A body condom? No oral? What? Everyone is disappointed that I didn’t find out what he meant by that. I’m ok with leaving it to the imagination.

don’t be that guy

womanizer

My sisters and friends have encouraged me to write a book listing all the idiotic things guys have said to me when trying to win my heart, affection, or whatever it is they were after. I don’t think I have quite enough for a book yet, but at this rate, I soon will. The following was said to me all within the same year, early 2013 to early 2014, or thereabouts. I’ve been keeping a list.

1. “Because not only can I facilitate you with that bank account, but with many other things as well.” Sleazy Bank Teller Guy who was trying to get me to open an additional bank account, AND go with him to the feria.

2. “After seeing you yesterday I thought a lot about it, and I decided that I just don’t want to complicate my life right now. You completely fit the profile for the type of girl I always fall in love with: your looks, your gentle voice, your intelligence and sense of humor… But I’ve decided I don’t want to fall in love. I just want to have sex with you.” Text from a guy who’d been utterly charming and with whom I felt a lot of chemistry on a first date.

3. “I am married, but probably not for long. Two years ago my wife cheated on me and then she tricked me into getting her pregnant. Now that we have our son I’m not sure what I should do. It would be a shame for him to grow up without a father. Anyway, what I can offer you is lots of sex and companionship and support. I can help you with your business because I’m really good at those things.” A man I met through Instagram who casually invited me for coffee, supposedly to show me cool editing techniques on my iphone.

4. “When can we get together so I can give you some real kisses in person?” Facebook message from prominent married man in our community who, after I pretended this overture was just a joke, unfriended me on Facebook. (I had signed a message to him “muchos besos,” and that was his reply.)

5. “I realize that I am like most guys in Spain. I want a girl that I’m sure of, but with the freedom to look for a nicer one who will be better for me.” [slight pause.] “And I’d still love to go out with you some time if you’re interested.” A guy that I cannot reveal details about because if his boss found out, he would be fired from his job for hitting on me. He tried to get me to go out with him for months. When he said the above, he had just been telling me about the annoying girl he was dating.

6. “Yes, I have a girlfriend, and I’m proud to say that I have been faithful to her for an entire year.” Reply from a guy who friended me on Facebook. When I saw pictures of him with a girl, I asked if that was his girlfriend. He had been inviting me to take a siesta with him almost every day for the past two months since I met him. My answer was always negative, thus, his admirable fidelity.

7. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend. I have an ex girlfriend.” Found out later the “ex” part was not true.

8. “So, when are we going to get together?” This and other flirtatious texts from a guy, I was later informed, was simultaneously trying to convince the guy I was seeing at the time that I was completely nuts. Actually, believe it or not, this guy and I are good friends now and all is forgiven.

9. “Yeah, I’ve got a girlfriend and for now everything is going just right because I have her in line. She knows that the day that she starts up with any nonsense I am gone. No explanations, no negotiations, because that’s how I roll. Because see, it’s like this, Lindsay. If you are with me, one minute you could be here and the next we’re in Thailand alone, with the jungle all around us, but you feel safe because I am by your side. You know you have a man sleeping next to you. And you know? There are few of us left, I’m talking about real men who are strong and know how to take care of you. That is what you need, Lindsay, is a real man. This blonde knows that I don’t need her. If she gets out of line she is out of my life in a heartbeat, and the woman always has to know that. The minute she knows she is indispensible in your life, you are done. You are toast, because she starts calling the shots. If you are with me, I have to know that you would die for me. It’s not about me being first in your life, it’s about me being first, first, first, second, third, fourth… you know? But what you have in exchange is a man, and that is worth a lot.” Only a small part of what my physical therapist, who had previously made it clear to me that he liked me, said to me one day while he worked on my back. 

10. “But that guy doesn’t care about you. He only wants to use you for sex. I’m not like that, but other guys are.” Almost every guy who has tried something.

And this list does not even include quotes from the notorious El Higiénico. He deserves his own post.

Update: See follow-up post, Be This Guy.