Most advice columnists, I imagine, work from their downtown office, or else from home, interrupted occasionally by their golden-faced kids or their golden retriever. I have no kids; I have no dog. I write these columns from the Angell Hall computer center on the campus of the University of Michigan, where I graduated almost twelve years ago. Why would I still haunt this strange, sad, fluorescent-lit place? The main reason, I’ll usually claim, is the lightning-fast internet connection. But the fact I met Maggie Jones here-the girl I’ve often called “the love of my life”-probably has something to do with it. Maggie now lives in rolling countryside outside of Toulouse, France with her husband, a windmill repairman, and their two beautiful daughters, but some nights, in a 3 a.m. haze, I see her in the same chair where I first laid eyes on her, sitting with one leg folded under herself, leaning forward toward her computer screen, and her apparition seems so vivid and real, it’s easy to believe it’s really her and not a ghost.
I’ve recently developed a big crush on a girl who works here at the Angell Hall computer center. She’s pale-skinned and beautiful, with bright red hair. Every time I walk past her desk I try to catch her eye, but she’s always lost in her computer. It’s a tricky thing, finding a way to strike up a conversation with a total stranger. There’s a million wrong ways to go about it-leaving an anonymous note on her desk; posting on Craigslist’s Missed Connections; asking her for help scanning something-and only one right way, which is to be completely direct. It worked with Maggie. I couldn’t have been more nervous, but that night back in the mid-’90s, I gathered my courage (for 90 minutes) and then walked right up to her.
“Hi,” I said. “I was just working over here… and I, uh, I just thought you were so pretty, I wanted to come say hi. I was wondering if we could hang out sometime.”
She considered me for a long beat and a half. Finally, she asked, “Well, what’s your name?”
“Oh, my name! Right. I totally should have started with my name. I’m kind of an idiot. My name! Hahaha. Yeah, so my name, um, my name’s Davy.”
Moral of the story: Learn from your mistakes. It’s why we study history-so we don’t keep repeating the same gaffes. I always encourage everyone I know to keep a journal. When you’re struggling with a relationship, it can be deeply revealing and insightful to page back through your old journals, see the patterns that emerge, and learn from your previous mistakes.
Eventually I’ll summon the courage to try talking to the red-haired girl here at Angell Hall, and I’ll definitely make sure I start by introducing myself. I’ll let you guys know how it goes. If any of you, dear readers, have ideas about other ways for me to start a conversation with her, please send me your suggestions! I’ve been offering y’all piss-poor advice for the last couple of months, so it’s time for you to return the favor.
Okay, let’s go to the mailbag!
An out-of-town friend connected me with a guy in my area who seems really cool, and we’ve chatted a bit and set up a date for the weekend. What’s your advice for a good first date? What keeps a guy interested without pushing him too much right at the get-go, or getting too intimate too quickly? Anything specific to avoid to keep from falling on my face?
–Gabriella in Berkeley, California
Hey Gabriella, great question. The first date is key. The idea is to do something fun, memorable, and somewhat brief. For example, meet the guy at four in the afternoon, nab a flask of Knob Creek whiskey and two Dixie cups, and go to a little kids’ T-ball game. Bet shots on each batter, if they’ll get a hit or not. Talk to the guy, get to know him, see if you like him. Mostly listen. Guys (and all people) like to be asked questions. Ask him questions. Be friendly and open with him throughout the conversation, but when he asks something seemingly innocuous, clam up and tell him, “I don’t want to talk about that, okay?” Remain a little mysterious. Down the road, if you end up falling in love, you won’t have to hold yourself back anymore, and you can get a big laugh together when you confess that your initial weirdnesses were a ploy from an advice column. When the T-ball game is over, tell him suddenly that you have to leave, plant a ferocious kiss on his lips, and tell him, “See ya around.” He’ll have no idea what to make of the experience, but will be thrilled when you call him four days later. Rinse and repeat.
I’ve been with my boyfriend since grade 10, but recently he moved four hours away and he hasn’t been talking to me very much. He’ll call but only to ask how my day was, and when it comes to anything else he won’t say anything other than “meh” or “I donno.” I am running out of ideas and I am also scared that my efforts to try and get him to actually talk to me are simply pushing him away. What should I do?
–Kat in Winnipeg
Hi there Kat. Wow, that’s a toughie, but I don’t think all is necessarily lost. Look, here’s the situation-your boyfriend’s in a new town, busy with new activities and meeting new people. It’s always hard for a relationship to survive when someone moves away. You need a solid plan for when you’ll be living in the same city again or there’s little hope. Monosyllabic responses on the phone are the first sign that someone’s drifting from you. He may simply be absorbed with his new job or new school, and hanging with new friends, or it’s possible he’s met a new girl. You could try writing him a letter-let him know how much the relationship means to you, and how much his emotional distance on the phone is bringing you down. Sometimes a letter has the power to get through to someone in a way that a phone conversation might not
My gut tells me, though, that a letter isn’t gonna have the effect that you want. Kat, you should take drastic measures and do what I would do-completely disappear. Don’t answer his calls for five days. Don’t return his e-mails. Just drop out of sight. If he still harbors feelings for you-which he probably does-this will send him into a minor panic. It’ll give him a chance to marinate a bit on all the wonderful aspects of having you in his life and how important you are to him. When the week is done, give him a shout and act completely nonchalant. Apologize mildly for having been so busy; tell him how excited you are to see him the next time he’s around. He’ll likely be terribly relieved that you guys are still together. I should mention that this strategy could also completely backfire, but if he ends up in the arms of another girl, it was gonna happen anyway, and you’ve saved yourself the pain of dragging it out.
Okay, readers, they’re closing up the computer center, so I best be out. Please hit me up with your questions about love, sex, and relationships! I’ll be back in two weeks with another batch of wobbly advice… and an update on the red-haired Angell Hall angel.
Davy Rothbart has gained much wisdom from his years and years of romantic misfires. In addition to being the subject of a documentary film titled My Heart is an Idiot, Davy Rothbart is the creator of FOUND Magazine, a frequent contributor to public radio’s This American Life, and author of the story collection The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. He writes regularly for GQ and The Believer, and his work also appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times and High Times. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.