By Amy Alkon
Watching paint die
I've been dating a girl I really like for six weeks. She pays her rent with a 9-to-5 job but studied painting at art school and wants to make it her career. Unfortunately, I don't like her paintings at all. They are abstract and don't look like they take much craft, and they just don't aesthetically appeal to me. (Maybe I'm missing something ... who knows.) I haven't told her my real feelings. But as we get more serious and as she talks about her aspirations, I'm finding it more and more uncomfortable to keep playing along. I worry that we won't have a future because of this. — Philistine
There are questions you long to ask her about her work, such as, "What did you do in art school, spend four years playing Angry Birds on your phone?"
Abstract art is an easy target for ridicule. The thing is, somebody who went to art school most likely had to learn formal principles and show they could draw figuratively before they could venture into abstraction. But to the untrained eye, an abstract work can look like somebody made a big mess with some paint and then stuck a mythical title on it — "Androcles And The Lion, No. 4." You can't help but wonder, "Sorry, but is that the lion's paw on the left, or did somebody at the gallery opening trip and let their appetizer go flying?"
Because your girlfriend's artwork is more than a weekend hobby, your disliking it probably is a big deal. A painting is basically a striptease of the artist's self on a piece of canvas, reflecting who they are, what they see and feel, and what they want to say. Also, it's hard enough to try to earn a living as an artist without sharing a bed with one of your detractors. (Imagine Edvard Munch's girlfriend seeing "The Scream" and nagging him, "Come on, Eddie, 'The Smile' would be so much nicer.") And even if you can hide your true feelings for a while, there's a good chance they'll poke their little heads out during an argument, à la "Wanna vastly improve your work? Incorporate gasoline and a lit match."
For a relationship to work, it isn't enough to have the hotsies for somebody. You need to have a crush on them as a human being. Fortunately, you may be able to get to this, even if her paintings don't speak to you (save for saying "I'm ugly"). Admit that you don't know much about art, and ask her to tell you about her work: the thinking behind it, her painting process (color, form, why she includes certain elements), and what she's trying to say or evoke. You might find that you respect where she's coming from and believe in her on that level, which could mean that the two of you can make a go of it.
If so, keep in mind all the ways she's just like any other girlfriend, and be prepared to fake a seizure when she asks the artist's version of that classic lose-lose question: "Do I look untalented while painting in this dress that makes me look fat?"
Last month, I hit it off with a girl on an online dating site. The problem is, my written banter is much better than what I can achieve on a first date. I do poorly when just staring across a table at somebody. I'm worried she'll be disappointed when she sees how bad I am at being witty on the spot, so I've been reluctant to ask her out. — Stalling
Maybe as a preliminary step, you could make plans to go to the same Starbucks but hide behind your laptops and email each other. We need to start calling online dating sites "online meeting sites" so people will stop thinking they can get to know somebody while spending a month sitting miles away and staring deep into their computer screen. They typically end up filling in the blanks with who they want the person to be and believe they're getting attached to them when maybe what they're most attached to is how witty they feel while leaning on a thesaurus the size of Rhode Island.
Sure, it's tough sitting across a table from a near stranger with "SAY SOMETHING ALREADY!" ringing in your head. So don't sit on the first date. Do something. Go somewhere you can pluck subjects of conversation out of the atmosphere: a street fair, a flea market. Play pool; go bowling. And lighten up on feeling that you need to be funny. You'll ultimately be funnier and more likely to get a second date if you approach the first date as if your goal is getting to know a woman instead of getting her to book you for your own Comedy Central special.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.