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Aster’s family keeps to themselves.  They live in the woods outside of town and have their own ways, their own traditions.  These traditions just happen to be magical. For generations, all the men in the Vanissen family have been shapeshifters; all the women have been witches.  The only trouble is, Aster can’t shift. No matter how hard he tries. He does have a knack for witching though. Knowing that his family would shame him for this ability, for a while he tries to listen in on his sisters’ and cousins’ magic lessons in secret and piece the rest together from books.  But before long his spell work is discovered. His family forbids Aster from studying spell craft and tries even harder to force him to shift.

But things are not right in the woods.  Young shifters start to go missing. There’s something else out there, a growing threat the family may not be able to match.  Aster thinks can help…as a witch. With his new friend, a non-magical girl from town named Charlie, Aster builds the courage to face his fears, first the thing lurking in the woods, then his own family.

Every kid feels at some point that they don’t fit the roles prescribed to them, whether at school or at church or in sports or with friends or in their families.  The Witch Boy taps into that universal feeling.  Young readers will see themselves in Aster as he learns to accept who he is and to ask his family to do the same.  Without shoehorning it in, this beautiful graphic novel shows the damage that can come from community rejection and self-loathing as well as the healing that can come from acceptance and forgiveness.  

Molly Ostertag is a lesbian author and infuses her work with themes of queerness.  You can read The Witch Boy as just a solid fantasy adventure with a side of be-who-you-are-no-matter-what-other-people say.  Or you can read it as a multidimentional metaphor for rigid gender roles or gender nonconforming kids or figuring out your sexuality or…  It’s not a hamfisted 1-to-1 allegory. Rather, Ostertag hits the emotional and symbolic notes to make Aster’s story resonate across many different situations.  

And it’s just a darn good story.  The Witch Boy was one of the most frequently checked-out books from my classroom library last year and its sequel, The Hidden Witch walked off my shelves entirely.  Which is…annoying. But I am hoping that whoever took it really needed the validation and seen-ness that Ostertag’s stories give.  The art, too, is lovely, I just don’t know enough about art to articulate why. *starts mumbling incoherently about colors and lines and shadows and contrast*  

There have been a bunch of excellent middle grade graphic novels published in the last few years, and The Witch Boy really knocks it out of the park with a moving and evocative story.  You can read it as a stand alone, or continue with the whole series.  I thought The Hidden Witch was even better than the first book, with much more Charlie and a beautiful exploration of self-loathing/self-forgiviness.  And through writing this post I discovered that there will be a book 3, The Midwinter Witch, in November.  Squeeee!

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Today I want to highlight one of my favorite podcasts: #WizardTeam by Black Girls Create.  Each week, hosts Bayana Davis and Robyn Jordan examine a chapter of the Harry Potter books using all their knowledge of the Harry Potter canon.  They also release occasional in-between episodes about other topics ranging from the fun (sorting the characters of Black Panther into their Hogwarts houses) to the analytical (considering how magical blood purity and real life mixed race identity intersect).

There are a lot of Harry Potter podcasts out there, but most of them just don’t work for me.  #WizardTeam hit my sweet spot from the very beginning, and a huge part of that is the magical (see what I did there) dynamic between the two hosts.  Robyn and Bayana are cousins and very good friends, and their relationship shines through in their discussions. This dynamic is enhanced in later seasons after they set up a chat for Patreon supporters, which they refer to during recording.  You can bet that listener Amani will chime in to explain just exactly how problematic Dumbledore’s latest machinations are and that listeners Connie and Portia will be sent to the feelings bench for making some connection that brings up all the sad feel that no one was asking for.   Listening to the podcast makes me feel like I’m sitting around a table with my friends, debating headcanons and geeking out over our favorite parts of the book. 

Just the feeling of community would be enough to keep me listening, but I also really enjoy Robyn and Bayana’s commentary.  Why is Filch even at Hogwarts? This is a school. He hates children. With all his power and sway, could Dumbledore really not find any other place for him?  See also Snape. See also Trelawney. Why exactly is Ron made a prefect when he’s a terrible student behaviorally and academically and Dean is right there? Harry! Why are you sticking your literal nose into other people’s business with a pensieve?  Again?! Can Voldemort do anything without being the biggest drama queen ever? He’s referring to himself in the third person! Minerva Mother F-ing McGonagall! (That’s less commentary and more just celebration. It’s also a good place to note that Robyn and Bayana use a lot of adult language, so don’t assume that just because it’s a Harry Potter podcast that you can put it on for your 7 year old and leave the room.)  From the way they talk about the books, it’s clear that they love this series and also hold it accountable for the things it messes up.

Their commentary also extends to how Rowling handles and doesn’t handle race, and blackness specifically, in the Harry Potter universe.  Considering how well pure-blood superiority maps onto white supremacy, how does racism work in the Wizarding world? How does that affect black Slytherine Blaise Zabini?  What does it say about the wizarding world and the Weasleys specifically that Molly wants to own a house elf? What are the implications of Dobby’s situation, where his enslavement is cast as a bad thing not because he is enslaved at all, but because he belongs to the Malfoys, who are bad masters?  Robyn and Bayana bring up critiques that never occurred to me, but that broaden my understanding of the world, both fictional and real.

You can jump in with their most recent episode, but here are some of my favorites to get you started.

  • Episode 17 – The Man With Two Faces –This episode was recorded just hours after the casting for Cursed Child was announced. Robyn and Bayana spend a significant chunk of the episode celebrating and explaining how much it meant for them that Hermione was officially black. The chapter discussion is good as well, but you can’t help but get caught up in their excitement.
  • Episode 28 and 3/4 – Pottermore Edition 3:  History of Magic in North America — Robyn and Bayana are joined by guest Johnnie Jae of the Otoe Missouria and Choctaw tribes to discuss Native American representation in the materials introduced by Pottermore.  They discuss how “The History of Magic in North America” draws on stereotypes and appropriation and how deeper research and consultation with Native writers could have mitigated those problems.  I found the discussion of the ways in which magical blood purity relates to native tribal identity and blood quantum especially interesting. 
  • Episode 105 – The Ministry of Magic — This episode critiques the ridiculously lax security of the Ministry of Magic and sets up running joke of Eric, the lone security guard at the Ministry.  Seriously? The Harry Potter can show up at the Ministry in the middle of the night, announce he’s on a rescue mission, and no one is alerted? No flags on his name?  No locked doors? He can just waltz right in? Well, they’re not paying Eric overtime, so he’s not going to put in extra work after hours. 
  • Maggie’s illustrations are the best part of Book 7

    Episode 185 – Bathilda’s Secret — After spending a long time being creeped out by the idea of a giant snake hiding inside a dead body, this somehow gets turned into a joke about Nagini trying on different outfits, liking Bathilda best, and developing a fashion line around her.  “Bagini” becomes a running joke as listener Maggie draws sketches of a cute little Nagini popping up in unexpected places for the rest of Book 7. (image source

Prefer reading to listening?  Check out Hogwarts BSU, a collection of fan art, fan fiction, and head canons imagining what it would be like to be a black student at Hogwarts.  Or maybe Harry Potter isn’t your thing at all. (It’s okay. We can still be friends. Kind of). Try TARBIS (Time and Relative Blackness in Space) and Cousin Black, where Robyn and Bayana give the same treatment to Doctor Who and Orphan Black.  Their blog, We Black and Nerds covers topics from all sorts of fandoms.  If you’re looking for some friends to nerd out with, Black Girls Create has you covered.

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Patina by Jason Reynolds  Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Patina Jones ain’t no junk.  She can’t afford to be, not since her mom lost her legs to diabetes.  Ever since then, Patina has run to prove to her little sister, Maddy, that they’re still okay as a family.  Sure, Aunt Emily tries to take care of them, but she’ll never really get what it is to be one of the only black girls at this fancy white school.  And besides, without Patty, who would braid Maddy’s hair for church with Ma every Sunday? Whatever the adults say, Patty has made it her job to take care of her little sister. And everything else going on around them.  But after she loses a race, Coach moves Patina to the relay team. How can she prove herself with other people slowing her down?

The best part of any Reynolds novel is the characters.  From the first page, Patty jumps off the page and drags you into her story.  She feels real, her desire to prove herself, her love for her mother, her desire to keep things stable for her little sister, her tendency to take on all the responsibility herself, her drive and determination, her loneliness without her old friends, her annoyance with the “hair flippers” and group projects at school.

But beyond just her realness and her engaging voice, you can’t help but care deeply about Patina and her goals.  I am no sports fan, but I love this series. I love the triumphs Patty and her teammates have and the lessons they learn both on and off the field.   Through relay, Patty learns to rely on her teammates and succeed together rather than just going it alone all the time. She learns the same thing at home, that it’s okay to depend on the adults in her life.  And with the dreaded group project at school, that she can’t and shouldn’t have to do all the work herself. While my summary makes the book sound a bit preachy, the novel never is. The athletic and interpersonal growth weave together seamlessly and emerge organically through the story.

Everyone should read Reynolds’s books, but he writes especially for kids who hate reading.  He asserts that these kids “don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom.”  He delivers on that promise in this series.  The story moves along quickly. I’m always surprised when I reach the conclusion that the story is over already.  If your reader wants a book that cuts to the chase and is engaging through every single page, this is a great one.

Patina is book two in the Track series, and while I recommend you read them all, each book can be read as a stand-alone.  Each novel focuses on a different member of the track team, their friendship, and the lessons they learn on and off the field.  This series is intended for middle grade readers, but is enjoyable for older kids too.

I count Jason Reynolds as is one of the best writers in contemporary youth literature, and his books are wide ranging.  Want a superhero story? Check out his take on Miles Morales.  Want a thought provoking novel in verse about cycles of revenge?  Long Way Down is a must.  Need a gift for your new graduate?  Give them For Every One.  Finished The Hate U Give and want something like it?  Pick up All American Boys.  So if you’ve looking for a good, fast paced, never-boring sports and friendship book with a black girl lead, give Patina a shot.

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Several times over the past few months I have wanted to hop onto MoFem facebook groups (cuz that’s where my friends hang out) and be like GUYZ YOU HAVE TO READ THIS THING!!!  But it’s rarely been connected to Mormonism and only loosely connected to feminism, so I haven’t.

Last month I ran across an initiative from We Need Diverse Books and The Harry Potter Alliance encouraging people to conduct a diversity audit on their personal or classroom libraries.  Most curators have a general feel for the make-up of their collections, but conducting an audit gives you hard data on the diversity of the characters, stories, and authors in your library.  This data can then guide future acquisitions, leading to a more balanced collection.  Completing this audit on my classroom library is one of my summer projects. I’m not very far into it yet (850 books take a long time to catalogue), but what I’ve done so far has gotten me thinking.  If you have recommendations for good middle grade or YA books by Pacifica or Latinx authors, drop them in the comments.

Not long after starting my audit, a black woman in the Exponent II Facebook group noted that most of the media recommendation threads in the group were pretty limited in perspective.  Most media suggested were about white characters and by white creators, so she encouraged the group to diversify the media they consumed. This spawned a list of 400+ media suggestions by POC creators.  (I obtained permission from the OP and an Exponent II mod to share this story outside the group.  You’ll need to be in the group to view the recommendation list.)

So with that and a few other recent experiences in mind, I have decided to formalize my own diverse media suggestions.  Welcome to Pop Culture Fridays! Every other Friday, I will share a short review on a different piece of feminist-ish media with a particular focus on works from POC and LGBTQ creators.  I’ll talk about why I love it and why you should read/watch/listen to it too.

Why?  In education we often talk about mirror books and window books.  A mirror is a book in which a reader sees their own experiences reflected.  A window is a book in which a reader sees experiences and perspectives different from their own.  Because readers are not homogenous, what may be a window book to one child is a mirror book to another.  For example, The Hate U Give is a window book to me, a white woman; it portrays police brutality in a way I do not personally experience because of my race.  But the same novel is a mirror book to many black teens who see their experiences and feelings reflected in Starr. I believe we all need both mirror and window books so that we both feel seen and learn to see others.  And not just books, but all of our media should be a mix of windows and mirrors. But if we all were to run diversity audits on the media we consume, we’d likely find that most of us are consuming mostly stories about and by straight, cis, white, able-bodied people.  This series seeks to break up that homogeneity.

My recommendations are likely going to lean heavily toward middle grade and YA fiction because that’s most of what I read (I teach, it’s part of my job description), but I’ll bring in other forms of media too.  If you have any feminist-ish (we’re being pretty loose with that definition) media you want to spotlight, especially if it’s from POC and/or LGBTQ creators, please submit a guest post.  I’d love to upgrade this from a biweekly to a weekly series.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to Patina by Jason Reynolds.

If you can’t wait for my own recommendations, Project Lit is an excellent source of middle grade and YA recommendations.
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Once, as a kid, I sat on the front steps of our house, waiting for someone, I think. As I waited, I saw a little ant, or maybe it was a spider, crawl by. I stepped on it and squashed it. Right after, I felt terrible. Why had I killed this little life that wasn’t in my way, wasn’t harming me, wasn’t really doing anything but existing.

I feel like this little incident demonstrates the care I have for all life. I used to be very pro-life. Now, I’m a pro-life person who is for choice in the start of life/end of life department. I’ve come to this position slowly. It wasn’t too long ago, that I had a miscarriage that required a D & C, and named the whole ordeal an “abortion”, that I was angry at all the women who’d choose abortions that this procedure medically associated me with.

But things have changed. As pained as I was then about losing a pregnancy I very much wanted, the pain is gone. And my perspectives have shifted.

Recently, I had a FB conversation with a friend from college. She felt pretty strongly that essentially all abortions are wrong, and only become more wrong the farther along you are. She feels very strongly about protecting children, and thought that if you really wanted to be sure you don’t get pregnant, just don’t have sex.

Our conversation has been on my mind the last few days, as I’ve read about the legal changes in Ohio, Georgia and Alabama. These new laws have had me feel angry and afraid. Enough that I felt the need to try and write about this, seeking to sort out in the open what is happening. I’m trying to understand why anyone would be supportive of such extreme legislation as the one in Alabama. It is hard for me to understand.

I’ve had some thoughts floating around in my head regarding abortion arguments that I want to share. I was hoping that sharing, and talking will help us dig up and better articulate feelings and thoughts that are still embryos.

One thought I had, after thinking about the conversation with my friend, was that people feel so strongly about protecting those who have no voice – children. I do get that. As a person, who has trained to be a CASA, who wants to do foster care, who has worked with children in day cares, asylum seeker shelters, and having 4 kids myself, I feel pretty strongly about helping and protecting children. But upon further thought, I thought it was odd to expect women to carry to full term a still developing human, in the name of protecting the lives of children, when no one, including that friend, is willing to dramatically down size the quality of life of her children or herself in order to nurture more children. In short, I don’t know many (or any) families, who live off of rice and beans, for example, to have spare money to feed hungry kids. I don’t know many families, who greatly downsize their life style, to have more money, time and/or energy to take in kids who need a home, to adopt, to work as CASA’s or do whatever else they can to help protect children.

This is not meant as a judgment. While I try to do what I can to help other human beings, I’m also accepting the truth that I’m not actually doing all I can. I COULD do more. I could go with less. Live simpler, cheaper, smaller, and exert myself more to help more children. But I’m not. And neither are most people I know, including those vehemently in favor of stricter abortion laws. Which begs the question how much the whole thing is really about protecting children. Why is it acceptable for us to not have sacrifice our life quality, or the life quality of our children to assure life for another child in the world, if protecting life is super important to us? Do our kids really need trips to see family, Christmas presents, birthday parties, or food from all food groups? How many malnourished kids could live if we were more frugal? We don’t point fingers at each other and demand that we HAVE to compromise our life quality or the life quality of our children or family. Yet, if a woman feels unable to carry a child to term, because of how it may impact her, her family, her children, her health, her finances (which can be severe), we find her selfish, and irresponsible.

Which leads me to my next thought. Many feel that women could have chosen to be more responsible if they didn’t want to get pregnant. Just don’t have sex, or use several means of birth control. But mostly, if you don’t want to be pregnant, don’t have sex. That’s certainly a sure way not to get pregnant. And I can see how people feel that if you choose to engage in a certain activity, where you know that there’s a risk for an undesired event (an unwanted pregnancy), you should be able to live with the consequences.

However, we don’t apply that logic consistently in other areas of life. We all participate daily in activities fraught with risks. Everyone knows that car accidents can happen. Yet, we all drive. And if you do get in an accident, either by your own fault, or the fault of someone else, we usually don’t point fingers and say tough luck. We won’t mend your broken bones. We won’t tow your car. You knew this could happen, and you chose to drive anyway, so now you have to live with the consequences. Nope. We do all we can to cover our bases in case this does happen. We make sure to heal any injuries possible that were the result of an accident. We fix the car, if we can. In short, we do all we can to reverse the consequences of an action that we knew had a risk.

Why is it that women HAVE to endure the consequence of sexual intimacy that ended in an unwanted pregnancy? It makes no sense to me. Especially when we do not expect the men to endure any consequence by engaging in the same “irresponsible manner” as the woman. Why are there no laws demanding that men, who are found to have caused an unwanted pregnancy have to pay a steep fine, and pay 50% of all maternity care and delivery costs?

Then I had to think about the beginning and end of life. I feel those topics belong together. Death has gotten more tricky just as ” birth” has with the advancement of medicine. When has someone died? When the heart has stopped beating? When brain function has stopped? When both has taken place? We constantly make complicated decisions about death for loved ones. We decide when to turn off the machines.

The beginning of life is also a bit more grey these days. Does life truly start at conception? Or does it start when there’s a heartbeat? Or when there’s brain function? All of it? If you are brain dead, but still have a heart beat, are you killing if you decide to pull the plug?

And what about forced organ donations? If we value life, and want to protect it at all costs, would it be ok to require parents or people in general to donate organs they don’t need in order to save another life? If I can give of myself, so someone else can live, why wouldn’t I if I truly cared about protecting lives? Women are asked to give their bodies, health, and life quality to give life. Granted…in one case, inaction leads to death, in the other, inaction leads to life. But in both cases, one life will suffer negative consequences, because of choices made. Why not protect all life from selfish choices?

In all my conversations, and my musing, what I cannot figure out is why it is so very crucial that all life lives. In nature, animals will at times kill or abandon their young. It’s not “unnatural”. Yet, we humans seem to feel strongly that every life needs to live. While I’m haunted by the thought of those I love dying, I’m starting to accept that it’s part of life. We will die. Some of us sooner than others. I want to savor up those days I have with the people I love. Which makes me less willing to sacrifice of my ability to LIVE in order to allow a new life to exist. Why does every zygote, every embryo, every tiny fetus HAVE to live?

My friend asked me if I wouldn’t miss my kids if I wouldn’t have had them. Or something like that. No. I wouldn’t have. We don’t miss what we don’t know. I might have been sad to not have kids in general. But I wouldn’t have missed MY kids, because I had no idea who they are.

Which brings me back to an earlier point. My own miscarriage. It was such a painful experience then. I felt the loss to deeply. However now, 9 years later, I don’t miss anything. I do not feel that our family is incomplete, or that one of my children is missing. I don’t know anyone else who had a miscarriage, who seems to treat these losses the same as the loss of a baby they birthed and held in their arms. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be the same. Emotionally, most people feel this. Why do they still all have to live? Why are we so rigid about the beginning of life, while we seem to often have a more accepting view about the end of life?

Why must every life live*? Why do we say we want to protect life, when we don’t actually do all we can to protect life? Why do we expect women to endure the consequences of a risk, when we don’t expect that in other areas of life? Why do the men not need to endure any consequences?

*I just thought about editing my title and my question about why all life must live. As a German, that may come across really really wrong. But instead I’m choosing to add some thoughts here. I deeply believe that life is a gift, that’s sacred and invaluable. I do think it’s extremely important to protect life. However, recently I’ve been trying to figure out why sometimes we cling to life so tightly. Why we feel uneasy about people who are wanting to die, why we feel that every embryo has to grow into a fetus and then a life birth, why everyone should enjoy life, why we often push medical procedures that are painful/difficult/risky to extend life just a few more days/months or years, even if this person is very old. Etc.

Yet, I realize life has value. Whether you’re sick or healthy, old or young, able-bodied or not. When my 4th daughter was born, I had a few weeks of…crisis? Post-hormon emotionalness? Not sure. But I suddenly felt deeply that I didn’t have enough time. I thought of how old I’d be by the time my kids left home, and how old I may be when they have kids (if they have any), and how old I’d be by the time my potential grandkids would graduate high school. Then I realized that there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be around for my youngest daughter’s kids highschool graduation. Or that I’d be too senile. And then I cried, feeling death creeping up on me, and realizing that eventually my kids, and grandkids would live on and I wouldn’t be there. During that time, I realized how valuable each moment can be, no matter your age.

But then in the craziness of day to day living, I also feel that life is lived not in quantity of days, but in enjoying the living. Sometimes I feel we sacrifice living, for more days on the calendar. And I wonder why we have such a strong urge to not allow people to die, even when it seems to clash with our own daily choices, or quality of life. Why must each life live? No matter what? I’m not sure…

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When I was young, my parents would invite the Kelly’s over for dinner.  Dr. Kelly had been my dad’s professor in college.  They had become good friends, and when my youngest brother-born prematurely-died at a week old, it was Martha, who worked in the neonatal intensive care unit, who helped care for him, and comforted my grieving parents.  

Martha and Kelly loved to travel and always remembered my siblings and I, bringing back interesting little trinkets from their travels (the giant gummy rat and spider delighted my brother and I).  They also enjoyed good food, and the dinner nights with them were highly anticipated.  My mother would set up the “fancy” table that we didn’t use often, get out her good china and silver, and serve the sparkling homemade grape juice which was reserved for special occasions.  But the thing we looked forward to the most was Martha’s cakes.  She put love and time into her cakes and you could taste it.  The Kelly’s were special people, and I learned many important lessons from them.  

The Kelly’s were not members of the church, and Martha frequently exclaimed, “Oh my God!”  As a child who had learned in primary, to not take the Lord’s name in vain, this was initially confusing for me.  After all, Martha was the very best kind of person.

From her I learned that taking the Lord’s name in vain had less to do with the words you said, and more to do with how you treated others, how you lived your beliefs, or what you did in the name of God.  

It’s been awhile now since President Nelson asked us to use the full name of the church rather than saying “LDS” or “Mormon”, instructing us that leaving Christ’s name out of the title was “a win for satan”.  I think he’s on to something.  We should not be leaving Christ out of our worship.  We should not be leaving Christ out of our daily lives.  

There is nothing wrong with asking members to use the full title of the church.  If we insist on using, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in our speech, but our Sunday worship only consists of admonitions on what we should be wearing, who should be allowed to marry who, or on strict obedience to leaders, we are taking the name of the Lord in vain.  

Along with our renewed sense of urgency in using Christ’s name in the title of our church, we must also feel a sense of urgency in carrying out the greatest of all of God’s commandments.  We must say we love God with all our might, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and then we must actually do it.

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Things are zipping along, you’re going on meets and dates and maybe some of your dates are going so well, you’re looking closer at getting to know them at a more intimate level- someone is standing apart from the rest in interest level and developing affection. There’s regular checking in,  a string of good dates, there’s a comfort level in swapping texts throughout the day- you are fairly secure in seeing this person on the regular.

Suddenly, the text replies decline or maybe the response time is delayed in comparison to before. You don’t know the exact reason, but something feels off.  But if you ask, this person denies anything is wrong – they’re just “busy” or “distracted”.

This could be absolutely true.  Whatever the case, it can feel confusing since only week ago, this person was so into you. Maybe you even cared enough to sleep with this person, which even if it was casual, lends a sharper edge to the sudden distance.

There is a difference between being courageous enough to initiate contact and chasing a person who has distanced themselves. Women in general are expected by default to handle the emotional labor of a relationship. It’s worse for the Nurturing LDS woman- LDS men apparently need so much of it, they are promised extra women into eternity, so, I see a lot of Mormon women tripping over themselves to create a constant ego haven for their men in case they might entertain needing an extra wife. So, what I’m going to tell you may be hard to contemplate, because Mormon women have been groomed to accommodate. Something I kept in mind from my two divorces: Resentment grows in the gap between effort level. If you find yourself throwing yourself all in for someone who only makes half-hearted efforts and doesn’t adjust to those things that are important to you at the same level, this is not a partner.

Don’t ever chase. It’s already done in so many ways if you do.

In an earlier post, I addressed ghosting- that’s a really obvious dropping of contact.  In that case, what I did after three days is send a very simple, “Are you ok?” If there is no response within a reasonable time frame (say 1/2 day), I’d send, “It was nice getting to know you. Good-bye.” That was only to demonstrate a civilized leave-taking between two adults.  I promise, if there was an emergency, phone loss, accident, whatever, if you meant something to this person, contact will be re-established with an explanation that makes sense along with an apology.  After your succinct good-bye (and I mean that is the last contact you make!) you may not ever hear anything or maybe you’ll get an apology for the cowardly slinking off. (Trust me, you are better off without a person who can’t maturely close a relationship while dating. It’s a strong indicator this is a person who can’t handle their own emotions or those of others either. )

But the slow demise is something a lot of women have more trouble accepting due to mixed messages. The possible reasons and why you need to take the cue and back off:

  1. The person really is bogged down at work and home and is delayed getting to messages/texts. If this person is really interested in you, they will catch up with you and explain. 
  2. They are dating too many people at once. If you are not rising to the top of their priority interest list, place them lower on yours too. Or move along entirely.
  3. They are more interested in someone else but keeping you on the back burner. If they’re on your back burner too, no problem, but if you like this person a lot, there will be a lot of pain ahead. Fill your calendar with more responsive dates and don’t initiate contact with texts. The fact you aren’t destroyed by less contact may actually catch their attention. Or, their attention span is so short, you don’t want it anyway.
  4. They feel you getting more deeply involved than they are ready for and the withdrawal of contact is a signal they are worried the relationship will engulf them.  This is especially painful if you’ve had a sexual relationship and they’ve claimed they are looking for something deeper than FWB/NSA. That’s one of the reasons backing off is always a good idea. Maybe they are confused and overwhelmed by the greatness of your chemistry or coupledom and emotionally threatened by the intensity. If you ramp up the pressure, you lose- you’ve just confirmed you can’t give space and they will suffocate. If by any chance you chase this person, they might half-heartedly resume out of guilt for earlier intensity, but will enact a slew of passive-aggressive moves to frustrate you further. This is where I see women go nuts and try even harder, until the person is cornered and finally snarls they’re done. 
  5. They are testing to see how hard you’ll work to keep their interest. I suppose you could rise to the occasion as many Mormon women do so gamely, but is this the dynamic you want in a relationship? Where they’re looking for someone who does all the work? What happens when you get tired? What happens when you need something? You still aren’t wrong for backing off. If they’re interested and you aren’t playing this game, they will understand you aren’t that woman who’s going to do all the work in the relationship. If they don’t understand that, let some other woman do their heavy lifting.
  6. A scammer sometimes disappears to create confusion, worry/yearning and reappears with some very sad story of being mugged or somehow stranded and now needs your help in some way. Remember, this is usually accompanied by distance and claims no one else can help or you have to send funds of some sort. The easiest way to knock them off center is to make some heartfelt statement of confidence in their ability to handle adversity. One of them I dealt with disappeared for two weeks and returned saying he’d been mugged in Venezuela, lost his phone and laptop. I made all the right noises of empathy and condolences and when he hinted for money I simply said, “I’m absolutely confident you can figure a way out of this- you’re a really smart and capable man. I’m sure your company has dealt with similar issues before and can guide you to some resources. And don’t forget the embassy. They have services there too.” This of course, was one of the compelling delays in him travelling to meet me, the moderator who was on to him and watching his tale unfold. Oh, and in case you are wondering, no, authorities can rarely catch these scammers and hold them accountable. I tried in one really interesting case of a scammer ring and got nowhere after months of investigation by a highly qualified professional.
  7. There is a type of internet dater who likes the hunt, the internet connection, the texts/calls, but cannot bring it home. I dealt with a very charming man for over two years, helping him deal with the fact that he was lonely and trying to reach out, but when it came to real life connection, just couldn’t handle it. It’s more common than you think. They want to text regularly and forever but the dating is just wishful thinking- a fantasy that seems to be enough. Maybe the person is actually married and lonely but not bold enough to have a full-fledged affair, but, just as often, it’s an emotionally immature person who probably needs some extensive therapy to overcome the anxiety of actual intimacy. If they back off contact when you suggest meeting, leave it alone. Back off.

So, you might be wondering what you are doing when I say don’t chase.  You are backing off. No chasing texts after one common decency/ benefit of the doubt text of “Are you ok?” and if there’s no response or a delayed one, leave it to the other person to re-establish contact. You are resuming your active dating with people who are interested. You are not obsessing over why this person isn’t texting or calling or contacting you on the site. You are too busy. What happens when you practice this is either you really do get too busy to care about it anymore, or, the person contacts you and finds out you assumed lack of interest since the communication wasn’t there and you don’t stand there pining your life away when someone demonstrates disinterest. That’s simple self-respect. It needs to be a boundary.

If you lapse and decide to chase someone, forgive your programming and try doing it differently when you’re done crying or spending months carrying the emotional load by yourself while you kill yourself trying to convince him what a great catch you are. But he is not a great catch if convincing is necessary. Instead, what works is keeping yourself emotionally open to the person who can actually partner you. When that person comes along, you won’t be waiting to hear from them.  They will be there. They will tell you why they aren’t if something comes up. Their actions will align with their words. There won’t be excuses or withdrawals or convoluted explanations when they pick you back up after the person they were more interested in finds someone else.

There is something to the criticism in there being so many choices in online dating that some people get addicted to that level of attention. I guess that depends on how you conduct yourself according to your goals. If you want to be a ten year member who plays all the time, that is certainly possible. If you want to use it as a tool to bust out of complacency, you can do that too. If the most appealing part is how many people like your profile and the attention is what hooks you, that’s fine as well. But if you are looking for a partner, the best tool you’ve got is boundaries, and that is going to have to include how many people you are going to talk to, meet, date, have or don’t have sex with (and under what agreement), and establish your end game. Do you want to end up married? Girlfriend? Second in an open relationship? Mistress? Sugar Baby? Sugar Mama? Domme/sub? Polyamorous? These things are all possible according to which boundaries you set and your level of transparency.

I found the surest way to find those most compatible with your criteria is to be utterly transparent and let go of the outcome. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a goal. It means you become willing to let your boundaries sort people out of the process and you let them go with the philosophical attitude that it’s better to know up front they are not a good fit than to force it for two years and finally accept the truth.  In those two years, you could have been actively finding your best partner.

So, you might become discouraged at some point. Go ahead and take a break. Inactivate your profiles and concentrate on the connections you have already made.  Or try another site. Or, review your profile, ask friends to review it, and see if how you are presenting yourself seems to attract the wrong sort of person? Is there a mixed message? Are you finding the elusive jerks more appealing than the warmly responsive potentials? Keep track of what type you seem to attract. Start thinking about why. Have friends look at your pictures. Is there something about it suggesting something you don’t wish to convey? Update the pictures. Update the essays. See in what ways you’ve grown in 6 months and adjust your responses accordingly. Check for negativity, switch it to positive. Are you sending mixed messages? Is a higher level of transparency in order?

Another pitfall that needs addressing is sexting and pics. First of all, expect everyone to ask for confirmation selfies when you switch to cell communication. It’s a way to establish your pics are actually you and you aren’t misrepresenting yourself. Most disconcerting for some women is the ubiquitous dick pic. The younger dudes send them like resumes. I used humor in receiving unsolicited dick pics- I’m a nurse and a public health sex educator. I’ve seen a lot of penises, probably more than a prostitute. So, I’d score them on a scale from 1-10. This either amused or shocked the sender into going away in a huff or asking me why I did that. I’d say, “I dunno, I figured you sent it looking for some kind of professional feedback since I didn’t ask you to send it. ” Usually there was an apology. Occasionally, if I didn’t feel like scoring them, I’d send a saved dick pic back to them. Which usually offended them. “What?” I’d ask, “You don’t appreciate getting pics of strange dicks without asking?” Again, usually an apology. Somebody told them this was ok. I’m not one of those women. “I’ll let you know how much of you I want to see,” works just fine. Honestly, because I am an educator, these things don’t shock me at all and I don’t mind the teaching process. You don’t have to handle this the same way I did if that isn’t your comfort zone. But do figure out how you’d like to handle this and stick to it. If you just think it’s gross and want to end contact, then text, “Gross- don’t send unsolicited dick pics, bye!”

Conversely, you may be asked to send pictures of yourself in various stages of nudity. My response was, “That’s for IRL with a man who I trust  in a similar state”. If further requests ensue, I will also say I don’t want nude pictures of myself circulating the internet, so, I’ll pass. I will tell them I’ll stop talking to them if they persist. Haven’t had a problem with it because I don’t sound at all unsure of my position on this and I have cut men off who don’t listen. Because that is a man who won’t take no in person either and I wasn’t going to meet him.

If you think the sexting and exchanging of pics in various states of nudity is fun, then realize you do so at your own risk. They can be circulated. Scammers can and do use them to bribe the senders once they reveal themselves.  They threaten to post the pics on the internet or send them to your work. Although,  I had a scammer hacker send me an email threat saying he was going to do exactly that with texts he’d altered and pics that weren’t of me- just body shots of some photoshopped woman. I opted to tell him to go ahead, since  my real  friendships could withstand the threat. I warned my boss and chatted with our tech advisers at work, who promised to show me any pics that were supposedly me if any came through. I posted a warning on Facebook that I’d been hacked through an email I thought came through a friend and if salacious pics appeared, warn me- I’d have FB close the account. I changed all my passwords.  It didn’t come to anything because a scammer can’t scam someone who is prepared and unafraid of their threats.

Another problem can arise from finding out someone misrepresented themselves later in the game. If a person, on further acquaintance, refuses to give you full disclosure on where they live or work, you may be dealing with a married/committed person who got through your filters. If they are reluctant to share their full name, have all these strange rules about not calling, or are only available at strategic times that coincide with when a spouse would be home, you have to let this person go unless you’re up for some pain ahead. If they used their real picture, even if it’s a false name, a suspicious spouse will discover the  deception. It’s very rare odds a married person will choose you- even over their angry spouse.  Keep that in mind.

Really, all these suggestions are about being pro-active on the red flags instead of wasting valuable time where you could be finding high-quality dates, relationships or even a spouse. Dating this way helped me enjoy the process to the max and I met so many wonderful people. I also was able to discover what it takes to make me feel partnered. That was a bit more complicated since the theory on that and the actuality turned out so completely different.

That about wraps up the series on Online Dating. If there’s something you’d specifically like to know, I’m up for questions – even the awkward ones. It’s perfectly fine if you prefer to ask on the backchat in Facebook.

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Since I stuck to the criteria I shared, it was really rare for a date to go wrong aside from the usual things like running late due to work or trying to find an unfamiliar place and having to communicate those things. I went on a lot of meets or dates,  2-3 per week, occasionally more if the introvert in me could take it. I had committed to the process, but I did have to take breaks. I would inactivate my accounts for periods of time while I went out with some of the people I met. Meeting too many new people at once gets overwhelming.

Establishing boundaries goes a long way to heading off rude behaviors. I didn’t play into the apparent norm of repeat confirmations on meets. If I say I’m meeting you at 6 pm on Thurs, unless I cancel, it’s on. I did not cancel plans with anyone to go out with someone else. If someone was miffed about having to wait, I let that be their problem, maybe they weren’t intrigued enough and that was okay. Let the process sort them out. It saves you time and drama in the end. It helps you have better quality meets and dates. Then I’d sift as I went along. It was a ironclad rule of mine that I never strung anyone along. If I knew there was something off or didn’t fit, I thanked them for their time and said it wouldn’t work. Don’t drag out the inevitable- it wastes valuable time on both ends.

Person not as expected.

I showed up at Denny’s looking for my meet. There was only one booth with one person and once I looked harder at his face and he waved at me, I could see that he was the man I expected, quite a bit heavier and older than his photo. He had used an old picture. I walked over and said, “You know, if you had used a picture of how you look now, I still would have met you because I still think you are attractive. But because you lied to me, I’m going to pass.” And walked out. He texted an apology and I told him to update his pic on the website. There would be women who would go out with him just as he is. Dating brings out all our insecurities, of course it does. But it is up to us to work on those and date within that vulnerability. It’s not like you won’t be discovered.

A completely different person showed up at another meet. I just said, “You aren’t the man in the picture.” I got up and left. Figured it was a man seeking an affair.

Otherwise, it was usually the men who had really amazing stories about bait and switch photos. One man told me a woman had posted a pic of her daughter instead of herself. It happens. Don’t sit there cosigning the dishonesty. It’s actually helpful for people who do this to find out why they shouldn’t.

No chemistry.

This is something that’s there or it isn’t. I was shocked how absolutely absent it was in one particular case with a man with whom I’d had such wonderful conversations, so much in common. It was so evident that I brought the date to a close and told him immediately that I didn’t want to waste his time. He was very attractive, an awesome person, but there was no chemistry on my end and that was nobody’s fault. He thanked me for my honesty and for traveling out to see his hometown.

The other times, it was just something that was weakly present but not enough on my end to keep things going. I just named what it was and ended it.

For someone less sexual than I am on the continuum, this may not be a priority issue. So, know what is important to you and be true to yourself.

If you discover your date is more highly sexual than you are or is into practices not to your taste, say so and move on. It’s easier to hear these things early on than to ignore something that won’t go away. Besides, it’s good to exercise your boundaries. They aren’t really boundaries and won’t ever be taken seriously if you don’t enforce them.

Different expectations.

You have different ideas about where the date or relationship will lead. Even if you have answered a NSA/FWB profile person, it doesn’t mean sex will happen, nor does it mean it happens immediately. Even in arrangements like these, the parties involved have every right to get to know each other well enough to take it further, regardless of where you agree it’s allowed to go. Alternately, if you are dating non-members but are keeping the LoC, clue them in immediately so there are no misunderstandings – so they don’t mistake you agreeing to go to their apartment as an interest in having sex. The clearer you are, the more potential awkwardness you avoid.

Or, you’ve run into someone who misled you on the profile. Once you meet, he either decides he wants to get more serious than you do or he makes it clear he’s not intending to be serious at all when he’d originally posted he was looking for a relationship. He just wanted to attract a broader pool from which to choose. It’s up to you if you want to renegotiate things but when a person says they don’t want to get into a relationship, I’d go with that and not try to create one by myself.

In my case, in the early days of dating, I clearly said I was dating casually. I had a few occasions where the person tried to push getting more serious, at the same time telling me they wanted me to date them exclusively. That was cutting short my experiment and not the stage I was ready for at the time and I reminded them of that. I did not want to meet friends or family- I had 25 years of keeping the peace between in-laws and I needed to not have to do that. Also, my mother had died recently after a 10 year terminal illness with me as her primary caregiver. I made it explicitly clear, I was on a path of self-discovery and if I did end up with a partner, he’d be a man who could tune in to my needs too. The clearer you are willing to be in your communication, the sooner you can negotiate your own experience. One went on his way; I dated the other two for over a year. We all parted under perfectly friendly terms.

Attittude, tone, gut intstincts.

One man didn’t like my dating style. It didn’t take long to see it touched off all his insecurities and he was blaming me for it. He told me I was “ruining something that could go so well by dating other people and it’s insulting”. I told him the definition of dating was meeting other people and going out with them, so I wasn’t sure why he was on a dating site if he held it against me that I was dating. He was free to date others too- I expected it. If we naturally began to prefer each other’s company, we could talk about where that could go. All the while, he was sitting up taller, leaning in towards me, his expression turning contemptuous. He continued to try to insult me into changing my ways. I put money on the table and left.

If I got the creeps, my hair raised on the nape of my neck, I felt something niggle at the corner of my mind, I wrapped it up and didn’t continue the meet or date. Honor your gut, your body language, your instincts. They are correct and you do not have to know why. I learned that from my first really bad date, which follows.

The slow reveal.

No one escapes the mistake. There are people out there who know what to hide and it takes a bit to leak out. (This was the date that taught me not to make exceptions for people for which I have a known soft spot- veterans. The boundaries only work if you don’t make exceptions.)

Such was the case of a man who progressed to a date where he picked me up at home. In his “custom ordered BMW from Munich”, which he carped on for the entire ride to the pizza place. I got the whole story of his “one personal indulgence in a life of charity”.  An ordinary pizza place wouldn’t suffice for the owner of such a vehicle. I was left to reflect on the obtuseness of supposedly progressive men of wealth. We had to pay too much for lousy pizza. I figured the most I’d endure was some pretension for a couple hours but it got worse. He opened conversation in a relatively loud place with his PTSD experience in the military. I have a huge soft spot for veterans, my military brothers, so he got a pass and empathy for his experience (which frankly, he had been out long enough to know not to lead with something so heavy even if I am former Army and a nurse)  but then he started lecturing me on abortion rights. On a date.

I hoped he’d run out of wind and tried to change the topic to something lighter, something that I was less informedly angry about. Finally, he said something so stupid that I couldn’t hold back what any experienced nurse sex educator could speak to in her sleep- never mind that I’m a woman and mother of four who also had a miscarriage, had to consider abortion, and experienced infertility. When he tried to correct me, I’d had enough. I told him no man was going to lecture me, a medical educator with far more knowledge and personal experience regarding pregnancy of any type, given I’m a woman and a mother myself.  Wait for it… he looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t believe you are ruining our date with such a heavy topic”. A topic he introduced.

I asked him to take me home, too angry to even cogently think to call an Uber. I didn’t see him as dangerous, just oblivious as he was trying to convince me how progressive he was in this matter (he really wasn’t). In the angry silence, he says, “I think as far as first dates go, this was really good. It was the subject matter. By the way, do you know you are the first woman to ride shotgun in the custom ordered BMW from Munich?” In a choked voice I returned, “You introduced the topic, not me. It’s not a subject for an early date and you set the tone opening with your PTSD experience. You might want to take that to your therapist.”  “I don’t have a therapist,” he said.  “I can tell,” I said shortly.  My friend called on the phone, I told my date I’m taking it because I am not expecting a call and she is in the middle of a nasty divorce. He looked annoyed instead of concerned. I was glad I took it because it turned out she needed shelter and I arranged it with another quick phone call. Instead of understanding the emergency, he chastised me for further ruining the date. He then told me the sad tale of his ex wife leaving him in pain on the floor when he had a gall bladder attack and for the first time in my life, found myself sympathizing with a person I didn’t even know. I resisted the urge to tell him I never liked BMW’s.  I realized this desperately insecure man didn’t need to hear my petty swipes, but it calmed me down to think it and hide my smirk at the whole idiocy of the Date Gone Wrong. I reminded myself that one bad one was just fine amidst all the good ones.

Getting stood up.

Happened once. He texted after to say he’d chickened out. I told him I appreciated his apology, but not the fact he’d wasted my time. But I already had a plan in case it happened, so, I had a nice dinner by myself. All was not lost. Have a plan and know it’s their problem. My daughter reports two experiences where the guys just stopped talking that day, which hearkens back to what I mentioned above- having to confirm right up to the very day or don’t count on your date with some people- they save your time by not showing up.

Potential deal breakers.

On the more casual sites, which don’t allow for extended profiles or compatibility, there is less information available to sift through potentials ahead of time. So, it’s more likely you will discover something unexpected that the more involved sites would have revealed ahead of time. It is more like the old-fashioned blind date, where you might only have the fact you think someone is attractive but don’t know all that much. My daughters used these sites more than I did, and so, naturally, ran into more of the above situations than I did. So they often found out about deal breakers on a date than I did. They learned to go with the flow.  One of my daughters didn’t want to go out with a man with children and found out her date had two and was divorced. She’s going to end up marrying this man, so, obviously, important information revealed on a date doesn’t necessarily exclude a person if the situation is something you can adjust to. But as my daughters and other women have noticed, there are far more surprises involved with swipe sites or those with minimal information. Practice keeping a neutral face and asking tactful questions that clarify things.

Even on the extended profile sites, clarification is in order face to face. Don’t shirk from asking the hard questions because it will come out eventually and may factor into decisions on progressing the relationship.

Ghosting.

You think things are going well, and then, they simply disappear. Communication ends in limbo. It’s a sign of emotional immaturity, not being able to close properly. They are saving themselves pain or not owning their own emotions by exiting. I didn’t even know what it was the first time it happened, and was actually worried because the only way I’d do that to someone is if something went wrong and I was incapable of communicating. I contacted the man with , “Are you okay? I’m worried?” When there was no response, I still wasn’t sure what was going on so I texted, “It was nice getting to know you. Good-bye.” A few hours later, I got a text from him saying he was sorry- I didn’t deserve him disappearing like that. He realized he wasn’t ready to date. I told him that truth was actually far less hurtful than simply dropping off the planet without a word.

I elected to approach every person as another soul. How they conducted themselves wasn’t the determinant for how I conducted myself. The few times I dealt with ghosting, I always demonstrated the correct way to leave another human being, in case they didn’t know how. “It was nice to get to know you. Good-bye.” Nothing fancy, just a leave-taking. My slate was clean. There are plenty of people out there who just accept ghosting as a new norm, like sitting at dinner on their phones while they ignore human beings in front of them. For me, I don’t want my in-person time to demonstrate contempt for another soul. Ghosting is a contemptuous act. I hope you’ll consider not doing it.

Sexual pressure.

If the subject comes up about sex, by all means, talk openly about it and what your expectations are in this area. As a sex educator, I always say if you can’t talk about it, you aren’t mature enough to do something so intimate. State the boundaries. If you don’t even want to kiss, say so. Don’t agree up front to a sex date- you don’t know if you’ll change your mind when you meet. Always reserve your consent and don’t bother having sex with someone who doesn’t know enough to outright ask for it before things heat up. You do not owe anyone sex n exchange for dinner- this is even easier when you pay for your share. You are not dessert.
But anyone who leverages any kind of sexual pressure is a problem. Leave safely. I know too many women who had to cleverly extract themselves when it got too far;  I once had to run through the woods at 2 am to a nearby farmhouse to escape a handsy man who wasn’t taking no for an answer. Another woman had to fight her way out of being raped by a man who made dinner for her at his apartment. You know the #metoo stories, may have one or a few of your own. Be as up front as you can and get out early if your spider senses go on alert. Women can get really creative at extracting ourselves from tricky situations and sometimes our brains are the only way out. Don’t hesitate.

  1. Keep Uber/Lyft on your phone. (And hopefully aren’t too mad to call for a ride.)
  2. Understand you do not have to sit through a date you’re done with.
  3. Know how to put your phone away. Have something to say if they don’t. (“I feel like I’m competing with your phone.” “Is there some kind of emergency going on- do we need to leave?”) If it’s repetitive after speaking up, end the date.
  4. There will be times you are further into the process before you decide it won’t go anywhere. Always end it when you know.
  5. Don’t string anyone along. Some things simply won’t change and it’s better to end it quickly.
  6. Chemistry is either there or it isn’t.
  7. Being stood up is your date’s character problem. Have a plan to turn it positive.
  8. You do not have to behave badly even if the other person has. It messes with how we feel about ourselves and changes the energy of things. Let ghosting stop with you. Don’t stand anyone up; just say no to the date or text to cancel.
  9. Drop any date who tries to sexually pressure you.
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How to know when to meet? I used several criteria.

  1. Does conversation flow naturally? Do I want to know more about this person?
  2. Have they consistently shown up for conversations and demonstrate interest?
  3. I would have felt safe enough to move off the website to texting and they remained consistent with their online presentation.
  4. There was no pressure involved.
  5. Do I look forward to hearing from this person?
  6. Does it seem like the more I talk to them, the more I find appealing?
  7. Does this person know how to adjust behavior if I’ve expressed any discomfort?
  8. Does this person let me lead with my comfort level and respect my safety boundaries?
  9.  Do their actions align with their words?
  10. How far away does the person live if things progress well? Most sites give the general area a person resides and stay within your parameters.

Scammers and predators usually break most of the above rules. They will ask you to leave the site quite quickly. They may demand exclusivity after speaking to them a few times. In the case of a scam ring, the messages may seem like you are speaking to different people (because you are- they run these scams out of different countries and they rotate shifts of people. So you might get poetry, songs and messages, where if you watch the communications carefully, the writing is different). Scam rings intend to get money out of you. Soon you will find out your potential has a job offshore (oil rig, soldier, expat) and they plan to come meet you. Something always interferes with meeting.  Other things keep going wrong. Somehow he loses all his money and that’s where you come in. One solution is he will mail you a check to cash from a friend who stepped in last minute to help. He may even offer that you keep some of it for your trouble.  You go cash it at your bank and wire him money. Your money is real, the check bounces. You will not be covered by the bank. You lose the money. Rule of thumb- if he’s out of the country/state, I don’t care how much you like him, pass. They are professionals who know how to hook you. Filter all your matches by distance and stick to it. If by chance you ignore my advice, then the very first time the dude has an excuse not to show up at a meet, walk away. If you still insist on talking to him, the first time he asks you for money, walk.

I’ll take you through a scam artist who worked alone. He had more than one profile and had hit me up three separate times. I answered him and in the course of early conversation, didn’t care for his demand that I switch to calling him. Told him I preferred to get to know him better on the site. After a break, he contacted me again. Said he was a very busy person and didn’t have time to “endlessly talk on this site”. I asked him why he chose an email dating platform then and why he was exaggerating when we’d only exchanged three emails. This annoyed him. He said he was a doctor. What specialty, I wondered? A cardiac surgeon. (I am an RN Case Manager in the critical care realm- brain injury- which takes me through every possible specialty. In my job, I am in nearly every hospital in my state. It was highly probable I would either have run into him or someone he knows in any hospital he worked at.) So, he makes an angry comment that I think I’m too good for any but the very best of men and I’d be making a mistake not taking this off to the side and getting to know him. I told him a high paid profession wasn’t enough to place him in the highest category of men. Plus, I could pay for my own manicure.  My definition of the best man had nothing to do with his salary, just that he work hard and loves what he does. He pitched a fit and ran off for a bit. He returned and said he had spoken to someone who knew me at the hospital he worked at and she said I was a difficult person who thought too highly of myself. (Scammers chip away at self-esteem to try to undermine defenses.) I have an airtight network of resources across the state. I’d already know anyone I’d had tense dealings with because that would stick out. It’s not how I operate and that’s not how I’m described in my professional realm. But it was interesting to me how he was becoming more personal, more invasive, more emotionally manipulative. He mentioned my age and how I wouldn’t stay attractive much longer and couldn’t afford to be quite so choosy. I’d be sorry some day. Sooner than I thought. I told him not to confuse me with his own insecurities. Advised him to try his luck with a  more impressionable woman.

Now that he’d brought my work world into it, I actively investigated at the hospital he claimed to work. I went to the Cardiology unit and asked the nurse supervisor if she knew the man in the picture I showed her.  She did not. Neither did any of the Case Managers, other surgeons I knew, security personnel or the staff in diagnostics. Now that I was armed with the knowledge this man was posing as a doctor to engender immediate trust and was trying to pressure me off the site, didn’t speak like a surgeon, lied about where he worked, I could get his accounts closed. This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t crop up again in a different guise. But, I’d made things more difficult for him anyway.  These are the things to be alert for. Many of them are far more charming. I met a few of those too.

How to know when a scammer is lying about living relatively near? Some of them realize women are on to them and they will put their location in the states, close enough to give them an opportunity to take advantage. Later they will say they are travelling – there will always be some excuse. Or they will give themselves away through small mistakes. I caught one guy who said he was bringing his kids to school on MLK day. It is usually a sloppy mistake that reveals they are not really here. They will have a rare job they expect you can’t check. One was a naval architect.  However, I am former Army, and continue to work and mingle with veterans and his description of military life had a lot of errors I picked up. Since I was a monitor/moderator, I just talked to these guys forever, keeping them on the hook so they weren’t bothering someone else. I asked them a zillion questions to get a handle on how they operate. Then, I’d get them banned off the site the best I could. They are professionals, charming and emotionally manipulative. If you find it hard to let go, remember you are probably not even talking to just one person, but up to 8 people running the ring. And that you aren’t letting go of a real person, but someone too good to be true because they are not real.

When meeting:

  1. Only ever meet in public the first few times until you are reasonably comfortable.
  2. I mean busy public, busy open, well-lit parking lot, lots of people to turn to for assistance if necessary.
  3. Someone knows where you are going, the information you know about your date (site you met, screen name, name he gave you, pics they sent) and you set check-in intervals.
  4. You tell your date that you are checking in with someone by arrangement and have to do so for set intervals on a first meet.
  5. If your date is offended by this, try reminding him of what is obvious to women. Only one man asked why I was being so cautious and I simply said, “We are strangers. The people in my life who care about me expect me to do this online dating thing sensibly. So, I check in with a friend or one of my daughters so they know I haven’t met a serial killer.” No one else ever seemed surprised by my caution.
  6. Take your own car/transportation, do not give out your home address, meet out of your own town.
  7. Pay your own way if there is a cost. Cost of meets should be shared. Future date costs can be determined as you get to know each other better.
  8. If you are on a tight budget, meet at a book store with tables or a park that is in wide open space with a lot that is visible. You can even meet at an open courtyard. As long as it is public and you are totally visible.
  9. Wear something you feel good in. Something that makes you feel comfortable, attractive and represents your own taste (in other words, don’t let someone dress you in something you normally would not wear). Few people have the resources to buy a new outfit for every meet. In creating a good first impression, you don’t want to wobble over in heels you usually never wear, don’t want to be lifting your neckline if it exposes cleavage you don’t usually expose.
  10. If you’ve changed something, like your hair color or style, do send or post an updated photo so you aren’t catching the person by surprise.
  11. For conversation, it’s always easy to open it with asking how the online dating experience is going. There can be some incredibly funny stories. It’s a great time to ask how this person’s day went, inquire further into some of the questions you both answered. You aren’t fully responsible for maintaining conversation. Pauses are fine, see if you can live easily in those silences with this person.
  12. Aside from explaining your check-in agreement, leave the phone put away. If I was with someone who didn’t know how to stay off their phone to be with another human, it was done. I’d usually already brought this up in online communication- the way people these days let technology come between them in person. So, it was already unlikely I’d be out with someone who didn’t know how to put the phone away.

Take the pressure off yourself. I was talking to and meeting a lot of people. I kept notes. I’d refresh myself with the notes I kept and would add to them after a meet with my impressions. I kept a detailed, ongoing journal. I had friends who were kept in the loop at all times as I became closer to certain people and dated more seriously. It helped me to keep my options open. I did not go exclusive for a very long time. I made it clear that the entire purpose of dating was to meet a lot of people and figure out what kind of relationship I needed and what compatibilities were most meaningful.  I let go of the outcome- there was no forcing the issue of any kind, other than the fact I was not ready to date exclusively. Keeping it honest like that was something the people I met appreciated. It had nothing to do with how interested I was, it had everything to do with giving myself time to heal after my divorce, learning to trust again, finding my way back to my essential self, expressing my needs, discovering my happiness.  Anyone who had a problem with allowing me that process was obviously someone not concerned enough for my recovery. What was interesting is that there were only two men who had a problem with it and they got over it, both of them saying my honesty was refreshing and it made them rethink the double standard imposed upon women. Naturally, I expected and accepted the men could continue to explore their options as well.

I relaxed and totally enjoyed the process of meeting each person, figuring out what we had to teach each other. I recorded what I learned about myself in relation to the person I just encountered, even if we didn’t click, I added to my discovery bank. If we did click, I analyzed what it was I found appealing. I like complex people because I am a survivor of many things. I’ve had a very productive and experience- packed life. I like people who have overcome circumstances and are scrappy survivors. I can relate to that type of person, we can exchange empathy in full measure. You may discover just the opposite- maybe you enjoy an uncomplicated person who grew up in stability and predictability. These are the things you can allow yourself to figure out. I found out I don’t really have a “type”, meaning, I don’t find one body type attractive over another, I dated all sorts and loved the variety. It was far more weighted towards characteristics for me- resilient, bold, intense, intelligent, witty, expressive, active, and most important for the introvert in me, able to give me my personal space without taking it personally.

Keep track of what pulls you in, so you can also take some time figuring out the dark side of it and how that figures into the attraction. A bold man might walk the line of aggression. An intense man could walk the line of possessive. A man’s wittiness/humor/expressiveness could walk the line of cutting sarcasm or verbal abuse.  His intelligence could lend to manipulation. I maintained a sense of awareness and my response.  I kept myself as authentic as I could be and it was vulnerable. But it was incredibly rewarding. I encourage you to give yourself the full opportunity to explore, negotiate and rework your perceptions. Give it all the time you need.

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I took it to heart that I should initiate contact when a profile caught my attention. Statistics showed that men had success with women who were above their attractiveness level simply because they demonstrated interest and asked them out and those women gave them a chance. Women who passively waited for men to make the first move, sometimes never got an opportunity to go out with a man who drew their interest if he was shy or had no idea she liked him.  Many men also said they wished women would approach them more often. Contrary to what women are taught, men surveyed said it did not reflect negatively at all when women make the first move and I found that to be true. There is less risk when a site allows you to like a profile – taking the next step to say hello isn’t a big leap. A study done by OKCupid found that women who approach men are 2.5 times more likely to get a response than a man is in contacting a woman. In my case, no one ever didn’t respond.  Every time we refuse to initiate contact is an opportunity lost to actively choose a man to whom we are attracted instead of attracted to us first. Less risk to wait around, but also less reward.

How to say hello? I’d read their profile, including their questions, check compatibility, read their essays. I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy. I remember my first attempt. He was an artist and he had some pictures of his work posted. I studied them, chose one that I liked and sent him a message commenting on the piece with a question regarding the medium he used. It was low risk- he lived in NH, which was out of the locus I had chosen, but I was experimenting. He responded almost immediately and we talked for months. Although distance kept us from connecting in person, it was a good lesson in overcoming a reluctance to remain in old patterns and getting to know someone I found instead of discovering me. It’s empowering.

It works best (either sending or receiving a message), when it’s evident you’ve bothered to read the profile and choose something specific to either compliment or inquire about.

Notice “You’re hot!” just doesn’t evoke the same level of response as “I noticed your expression in the third pic- you look amused. What were you doing?”  While most people don’t mind being seen as attractive, the second message denotes an interest in who they are. Give the person an opportunity to respond with more information. Usually, they will check out your profile and respond in kind. Humor works. “I’m dying to know how someone living in New England is an Oilers fan.” Usually there’s something interesting in how people choose their teams because it’s personal to whom we give our support and loyalty.

I had decided to answer everyone. Just to get used to using the sites and accustom myself to talking to a variety of people. I had blogged and monitored in large social media groups, so, I was no stranger to speaking to folks I didn’t know in person- but not flirting/dating. I also decided I would deal with whatever behaviors came up, just as I do daily in my job as a nurse. A lot of people are socially awkward and I wanted to give people courageous enough to approach first a chance to move past a mistake. Even if the approach was misguided, maybe even obnoxious. One of the sites noticed I was adept at dealing with difficult interactions and even turning them into positive connections. That’s how I was approached about becoming a monitor and I enjoyed that experience too.

How awkward/threatening can it get? I’ll use one that deserved blocking/reporting: a younger man who greeted me with, “Can you take a pounding?”  I took a deep breath and responded, “Hello. Does that opening usually get you somewhere? Introducing yourself and remarking on my nice smile, showing an interest in me as a person, might get you closer to an answer to that someday.”  I waited patiently and wasn’t disappointed. “I’m so sorry! You actually do have a great smile and I am a total jerk. I haven’t dated in seven years and I’ve had too much to drink. I’m lonely and stupid. Thanks for being nice to me anyway.” He ended up leaving the site after a week of chatting back and forth and deciding he was trying to date too soon after a break up.  I had too many of these conversations to count. You have the option to ignore/report/block a person like this, but it is a good example of letting someone’s terrible approach be their problem and understanding it’s not you. Don’t internalize that garbage, put it back on them if you decide to respond. I wasn’t kidding about how important it is to prepare yourself psychologically for online dating and the broad experiences that happen.

Respondents who approach with unwanted rude overtures usually haven’t read your profile- they just skimmed the pictures and randomly hit on you. You can ignore it or, as I decided, I’d reply, “Not up for that. Read my profile.” Seriously, I can’t tell you how often they actually would and come back later with an apology and a much better opening. It’s like someone gave them terrible advice or a bad manual and some direct course correction worked wonders. You don’t have to have the patience for that, but I felt like I had all the time in the world because I was only exploring and immersing myself in the experience. I had let go of the outcome and was vitally interested in figuring out what I wanted. I had never had a time in my life where I had the luxury to do that and I allowed myself to have it.  If, as an LDS woman conditioned to defer to men without retort, you decide you’d like to practice assertiveness, you might decide to respond with something that puts a rude person in his place and then report and block. It’s up to you and the experience you need.

Decide how open you will be to the unexpected. For me, it was dating younger men, something I had not figured would appeal to me and I certainly hadn’t suspected was an option. It was only a day or so after I posted a profile that I began getting their messages. After a few times asking, “Did you read my profile and see my age?”  I’d forget about it, amused at how they impulsively contacted a woman 15+ years older. To my surprise, it hadn’t been impulsive, and yes, they had read my profile. In a bit of a panic, I jumped off the site for three days. I usually went out with men older than me. I thought these younger men were punking me- not because I lack self-confidence, but, I had difficulty seeing where it could lead. I wasn’t having more children and, I was going to be old way before they were. I decided to get back on the site and legitimately talk to them and find out what they were up to. I’m a very active woman, hiking and cycling. Frankly, a lot of men in my age group or older couldn’t keep up with me and dating the younger men worked out very well in many respects. I had plenty of options for getting serious if I wanted to, which surprised me further. So, don’t write off something that takes you by surprise. Your preconceived notions might get challenged. Exploring it might take you on a wonderful detour.

There is one glaring exception I had to answering everyone. The pick-up artist may use an approach to watch out for. It’s called negging. It is supposed to manipulate emotions to elicit a response. It is a compliment couched in an insult and meant to alternately annoy you but intrigue you. A narcissist will do it naturally, but there is a contingent of men who have deliberately cultivated it as a pick up technique.  It’s meant to undermine your confidence, chip away at your defenses to let them in to seek their approval. These are the comments I’ll tell you to ignore because any response opens up conversation with these manipulators and rewards their behavior and backhanded compliments. The one used on me was this: “Your body might be average, but there is nothing average about that smile.” Some other examples I’ve seen and educated women on why they feel so twisted when it was said:  “I usually hate red, but you make it work in that dress.” “So many things in that profile turned me off but I still can’t get you out of my mind.” “You have a bit of broccoli in your teeth, but I just told you now because it’s charming.” “I had no idea what a knock-out you can be until you had make up on.” “My ex really had the sex part nailed down, but I like the way you take care of me.” This is a technique to gain control and maintain the upper hand. It’s meant to unsettle you and make you work harder to convince this guy you are worthy of his admiration. Ignore and move on. It will get worse- this is a person who needs to undermine your confidence out of his own insecurity in attracting others. It’s dysfunction, it’s mean, it’s verbal abuse. I mean it. Do not reply. Not in person either. Get up and leave.

Scammers and predators will try to get you to leave the monitored email platform and switch to a personal device immediately. Don’t do so before you are comfortable and definitely don’t leave under pressure. Some excuses they might give are “I’m leaving this site soon and don’t want to lose contact”, “I don’t like the email platform”, “I don’t have time to talk to lots of women so if you’re interested, let’s take this offline”.  Some women get pre-paid cell phones so they never give out their personal cell until they are seriously dating someone. That’s not a bad idea. But, hold your ground on the length of time you want to engage online under surveillance of the site. Don’t be afraid to remind them they signed up on this platform and that’s how online dating happens- online. Scam artists and predators want to leave the site as soon as possible to get at your devices, possibly hack them or drive the relationship into access to you that you do not have to give them. Any disrespect of that is a huge red flag, even if it’s just some ordinary guy who wants to text in the middle of the night. But it could also be a way to initiate exchange of sexts and pics you’d rather not receive. Also do not agree to inactivate your account under pressure to speak exclusively to one person.

  1. Consider making the first move; lose preconceived notions that don’t serve you in this medium.
  2. Practice reading profiles and picking out something you can respond to sincerely. Include an inquiry of your own if you were greeted first. If you initiate, ask a question that requires an answer.
  3. Decide ahead of time what you want to do about obnoxious hits. Several options exist: ignore, report/block, engage assertively, accept an apology gracefully and disengage or continue talking if you desire.
  4. There are so many choices. You can change your mind at any time, but consider the unexpected. Reroute and be flexible if there is an option to explore. It might change your life, as it did mine- or at the very least, your perspective of yourself and others.
  5. Follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel right (and I don’t mean merely unfamiliar), disengage and report if someone is creepy.
  6. Don’t leave the email platform before you are comfortable doing so.
  7. Once you identify negging, either don’t reply or end it. It will only get worse.

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