Q: What inspired you to start writing about your adventures in Interweb dating?
My first experience with online dating was back in 1999. It was far from de rigueur, as it is now. You didn't tell a lot of people, most people, that you were doing it. In that time, I met some of the most interesting and fascinating people I'd ever met. And I had some of the strangest dating experiences of my life.
One man, claiming to be a model from Sao Paolo, Brazil, "missed his flight home" every time we were scheduled to meet. Another hemmed and hawed about coming to the city from Westchester only to call from the train halfway to Manhattan to tell me he was turning around because he was scared. There was a man who'd lost all his hair and found about 50 pounds from the time the photograph he'd posted had been taken, leaving me wandering aimlessly around a bar for more than half an hour trying to find an unrecognizable person. I could go on and on. The point was the tales were unbelievable and outrageous and my friends pleaded with me to write them.
Their pleas fell on empty ears and I found myself in a four year relationship with a man I'd not met online. When that relationship ended, I took some time to heal and then decided it was time to get back out there. Sadly, these things don’t materialize in my living room. I was going to have to make dating my job. And the only way to do that would be to get back in the game. And the game was now being played on-line, openly, without shame or embarrassment.
I still hadn't resolved to write about it, but when the very first response to grace my inbox within moments of my newly posted dating profile was from a married cross-dresser in search of a "special friend" and whose message read:
You are so pretty and feminine.
How very lucky it is to be a girl.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t have made this up. I had to write about it. And so, How Very Lucky To Be A Girl was born, to be the tale of my journey, the catalogue of my misadventures, misunderstandings, mistakes and mishaps, splashed with some successes along the way, and hopefully leading me to the holy grail: a meaningful, loving and lasting relationship.
And there was something else. Something bigger than the writing or the funny story or reflective post. Writing about my adventures in Interweb Dating redirected my focus. It took the pressure off of the dates so that I could actually enjoy them, or laugh at them, or both. And enjoy writing.
Q: What is the best thing about life in New York City as a thirty something single?
New York City is a place that allows me to be single without judgment. I have found this to be profoundly different in my travels around the country and the world, and my heart goes out to other singles in those places who have outside pressures that make it hard to feel the luxury and freedom that accompanies single life. To those people I would say, cherish and celebrate what you have rather than mourn for what you do not, because often times the people you think are so complete and happy? They wish they had what you do.
Of all the relationships in my life, New York stands firmly as one of my loves for all she is. The city is ever- changing and full of opportunities for discovery of all sorts - art, music, food, drink, dance, history, friendship and more. All walks of life wander through her streets, parks and buildings. New York City is amazing because it is rare that one is ever alone, but at the same time, one can sometimes feel horrifyingly alone. In the end, both of those feelings and what we do with them are what shape us. I don't mind feeling alone sometimes because it reminds me that I truly want a partner and love. Other times, sure, it sucks. But I recognize at the very same time, my alone time makes me free to do what I want, when I want.
And so I stroll the city, at times with purpose and others without. I try new restaurants 2 to 3 times a week, I see theatre - some of the best in the world - 3 to 4 times a month. I'm constantly on a quest for new music (my passion) and good venues in which to hear it, always discovering new bars and lounges and striking up conversations with people everywhere I go. Just yesterday, riding my bicycle after work, I stumbled upon a marching band performance in Hudson Square, part of a city-wide free concert series (Make Music New York) and several pianos placed in different parts of the city, stopping to take in the performances and sharing that experience with others who love and live in New York. If the human condition is a constant quest for connectivity, I would be remiss to dismiss such moments as precisely that. And they are beautiful.
What's more, an interesting phenomenon has developed here, and perhaps in other cities. So many of us are transplants. We moved here with a goal and a dream and little else. We left our families and friends to do it. And we made new friends and built what I like to call my urban family. It is a family of what years ago may have been thought of as freaks and misfits - Singles, Marrieds, Lesbians, Gays, and their friends, family and children - all coming together to support and love one another in the same way that a family would, except by choice.
With all of this, I have everything that people with a more "traditional" lifestyle have. In fact, having it in New York City - one of the greatest, most vibrant, freeing cities on earth makes me feel I have more. But that doesn't change the fact that I want a partner to enjoy it with. And I believe I'll find him.
Q: What is the key to keeping it real in this fast-paced city?
The interesting thing about keeping it real is that I think it holds dual meaning. Although both interpretations are to some extent about staying true to oneself, being authentic, one would be a most Buddhist principle of viewing reality as it is, awakening from ignorance. The other is rooted in ignorance, an excuse to stick with one's own way outside of societal, community or cultural expectations or influence. But both are of the self. And very few cities are as accepting of the individual as New York. Non-conformity, one that doesn't harm others, is typically celebrated here, and so, keeping it real is about being honest with yourself and others, and I find most New Yorkers do that wonderfully well. I don't waste my time on things or people in which I've no interest. Everything goes by fast here and there are no do-overs, so I try to do what I enjoy and take on obligations that fulfill me in some way, without regret. I think that's how to "keep it real."
Q: You recently added your online dating profile to four top dating sites. Which so far has yielded the best results for you?
I've enjoyed OK Cupid and Nerve most of all as far as the quality of the men I've met, and I've enjoyed Plenty of Fish for no reason other than the laughs. E-harmony is not for me, because I am not at all interested in "guided" or extended internet communication. I'm much too busy for this. If you're online and interested in finding a partner, I want to meet. In person. To see if something is there. What I don't want is to go back and forth over a series of canned questions. That's a waste of my time, and E-harmony was a waste of my money.
One thing I will say is that I used to believe that if you wanted something, truly wanted something, you needed to invest in it. For that reason, I thought pay sites, like Match or E-harmony were superior and full of more serious-minded people. I'm not so sure I believe that any longer. I think the investment of time is still an investment.
In the end, I've found the same people are more or less on all of the sites. I thought familiarity bred contempt, but in the world of internet dating, the opposite appears to be the case. Over time, people in whom I once had no interest start to look pretty good. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. But it hasn't changed my status yet...
Q: How has social media shifted your social and dating life?
Well, the fact that I write about dating is an obvious change in my social and dating life. But seriously, I've fallen into a community of others who do the same. And in that I've found a new circle of friends who support both my writing and my dating, offer advice about both, provide support wherever I need it. In the end, the search for a partner is about expanding one's horizons, I think, and this has certainly done that.
Q: What is the number one mistake men should avoid when it comes to online dating?
Avoid telling a person that you want to see them again if you know that you don't. I know that the end of a date where one person feels nothing and the other appears to want more is an awkward, uncomfortable and unenviable position in which to be. But there is a way to handle it with poise and kindness.
All too often I find that men will say what they think we want them to say. Here's what I want you to say: the truth. If you want to see me again, say that. If you don't, don't. Women are not delicate flowers. We've done it and heard it and said it all before. We're not going to turn into a sobbing mess at the end of a date if you don't say "Let's do this again." You don't have to sit us down and say "I don't ever want to go out with you again." But you can easily say, "It was nice meeting you. Take care." That hurts a great deal less than time spent wondering and watching the phone for the promised call that never comes.
They say "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." I'd argue that if you treat a woman with the respect she deserves - and that respect includes your honesty - then you will not have scorned her.
Q: What is your craziest, funniest or most bizarre online dating story?
You'll have to read How Very Lucky to find out, now, won't you!
Q: Despite the millions of people, making friends in NYC can be extremely challenging. Has blogging helped you make connections with new people in the city?
I am an extrovert. I am outgoing and gregarious and have never, ever had difficulty meeting people. But blogging, as I said earlier, has opened up an entire community of people that I wouldn't otherwise have known. I've made some treasured friendships in that, and have witnessed this community unite and stand together in some trying times.
So in a nutshell, my answer is yes - an not just this city. I've met bloggers from all over the world. Although they have yet to introduce me to my future boyfriend (ahem! bloggers, step it up, will you?)
Q: Any other words of wisdom you care to share with our readers?
I'm not an advice columnist. I possess some kernels of wisdom, but am far from wise. I'm growing and learning and working to be a better person on this earth. I'm taking it one day, one step, at a time, and I'm learning as much from my readers and other bloggers as they may be learning from me. One thing I do know is that there's nothing that I can say or do or think or feel that someone else, somewhere, hasn't already said or done or thought or felt. To that end, my writing is for everyone. It is to remind us all that we are not alone, even in the strangest of moments. If someone can cull a lesson from my experiences or if it helps them to cope or understand or appreciate their own circumstances, then I have far exceeded my greatest hopes and I'm luckier than I even imagined.
To read more about Staci's adventures, check out her blog How Very Lucky to Be a Girl
Q: Where do you live?
Wow. Where do I live? That is such a good question. I guess my home is in the rolling countryside of Cambridgeshire, England whereas my feet currently scuttle across the tiles of a house in Melbourne, Australia.
Q: Biggest accomplishment you achieved on your own?
The finances to travel. From day one of my full-time employment, I was dripping Â£250 a month into an account. I overcame several self-sacrifices (lads holidays, latest fashions etc) but seven years later I achieved my dream and hit the highways and sky ways to the east. I've learned so much from my journey so far, including the real value of Â£250.
Q: What inspired you to travel the world?
At fifteen years old, my mum encouraged my little sister and I to visit some relatives in Ontario, Canada. We spent a month in their care, persuading them that we were allowed to do all sorts of things that we weren't back home. One night in Toronto we got lost while riding a tandem bike in search of Baskin & Robbins. We tumbled off the bike when we slipped in a tramline, I was winked at by prostitutes and hounded by a local basketball gang. We were well and truly lost with. No phone, no address and no map in a big strange city. Somehow, we found our way back and I have never lost that sense of adventure. The following week we were camping by a lake when my second-cousin-once-twin-twice-removed-uncle (that kind of relative) instructed us to hoist the food up off the ground, â€œin case bears got itâ€. What more does a teenager need to inspire them into the hidden valleys of the world?
Q: Name the three most memorable places you have seen?
The coastal combs of Norway left a massive impression on me quite a few years ago. I have a vivid imagination, which was fertilised by the possibility of encountering mischievous trolls and their scheming, slender cousins.
Secondly, Mount Everest base camp. Never has a place been so worthy of the journey. I expected to have seen it all before. I presumed my visit would simply fill in the peak's shadows and highlights. There was something about knowing where I was, with just a handful of other people. I was at the top of the ladder, looking up at the attic, while the world as I knew it was barging past each other at the foot of the stairs.
Finally, southern India; specifically the Western Ghats. I crossed these during an arduous journey by motorbike. I was battered, scarred and rattled aboard that finicky machine but nothing will ever replace the feeling of freedom as we swept by Tamil tea pickers, strands of curious villagers. With my girlfriends arms noosed around my waist, we rose from the heat of the foothills, into the crisp hollows of the Ghats fuelled by glasses of chai, smiles and wallah snacks. This was possible the most incredible journey of my lifetime, and I'm aching to equal it.
Q: Best way to approach new people when you are all alone in a foreign place?
With a smile (and a packet of Marlborough)
Q: Favorite foreign dish?
The pizza in Naples is simply amazing, so much so that once I've secured a steady enough cash flow I will fly from anywhere on the planet to the restaurant where I ate five pizzas in three days! I wish I could remember the name of the pizzeria, but it escapes me (or maybe I'm keeping it a â€˜momma's secret?') The city might have a reputation for reducing once-sane visitors as feeble wrecks, but rest assured an evening sat amongst the saucy Neapolitans on the hard benches of an Italian pizzeria is an instant remedy. Ok, I can't keep this up, the restaurant is called Trianon da Ciro!
Q: Top three destinations for singles?
Southern Sri Lanka; where the surfers learn a trick or two in the white waters licking at the divine beaches. The Gili Islands off Lombok; where textbook sunsets scribe a dozen daily love notes. Kunming, China; a city lit by western-style nightclubs, where tired travellers cheers with locals and shleers with fellow backpackers. But I would say this, it's where I met my girlfriend.
Q: Best places to stay solo?
Europe per se. There are few places in Europe that you can't rent-a-friend with Heineken. You're rarely more than a day from a solitary escape, and rarely more than half a day from a red wine tinted afternoon. You can congregate in the hostels at night, and trace a sole stroke throughout the day. People exchange friends over beers and exchange beers over stories of their favourite solo jaunts.
Q: Funniest, craziest or worst solo travel story?
I rid myself of all companions in Nepal, partly through compulsion and partly through circumstance. As I squinted at the map I decided it was time to descend into Northern India, all that came between me and another passport stamp was a faint border crossing and a few switches of transport. Several hours later I was begging for help on the platform of Gorakhpur train station. I was drowning in my own sweat while attempting to decipher the ticketing system and board the correct train to take me onward to Lucknow.
I was laughed at. Sneered at. I was pointed at. Stared at. I was almost bribed. And I almost cried. I looked down at my ticket (now buckled in sweat) and tried to find some clarity in my moment. My knuckles were white from gripping the stub, and it's fair to say I was desperate. Then a small red dot appeared on the edge of the ticket. Then another. And another. And two more. My nose was bleeding. Curiously however, I became a little calmer though I still vented my anger at the fat briber-controller, and was rewarded by a young hand on my shoulder urging me to follow. Five hours later I arrived in Lucknow, and instantly made another new friend. A barman.
Q: Travel gadgets/products that are always in your suitcase?
My Canon DSLR. I've learned more about photography during the last year and a half than I have my entire life. There are so many awesome photographers tramping around the world, I think it's a shame that people are persuaded their prize camera is replaceable by a snapshot camera. Let's face it, they take up about the same space as a can of deodorant and a shampoo bottle. I smell, but I can take a decent photo. If you love photography, don't compromise because you probably won't ever be in these places again.
Q: What do you love about solo travel?
I love sitting on a train and catching the eye of the girl sitting up the aisle. That moment I wonder â€˜would she do this?' while she thinks â€˜why does he do this?' We smile and convince ourselves we'll never truly know. I also love the reaction from the older generation who tell me how great it is, as â€˜they never had the chance'. I never want to tell my grandkids â€˜I had the chance, but didn't take it'. I love the way my preconceptions of places are hammer by the blacksmith, and forged into something new, something everlasting.
Q: Many people are afraid to travel alone, what words of advice would you give to inspire them do so?
You're never more than a plane ticket away from square one. That's a fact. Solo travelers are a canny kind, and I'd say they're nearly all afraid. They find a hundred friends in the tightest nooks of the world, while failing to find one in the most populated coves and crags. Traveling solo allows the fellow to experience the massive highs and lows of human emotion, while slipping under the skins of cultures far easier than as a duo or triplet. When they are up, they are up and when they are down they are down (and when they are only half way up they are neither up or down). To the majority of Asian's, going solo is a difficult concept to grasp. You become an instant curio, revered and respected while simultaneously feared and judged. To conclude, the moment you lose that fear, is the moment you find yourself traveling with another.