Monday, August 29, 2011

The online dating game

If you're a woman who has perused the single male talent of Melbourne on one of those online dating sites in the past few years, you may have come across me. Yes, I'm out 'there'. Funnily, in the last year or so a lot more people I know - male and female - have either joined up, or owned up, as well.

It's been mostly fruitless but over the weekend I had my first 'date' or face-to-face meeting... who knows what it really was.

She saw my profile on a site I hadn't visited for a while and sent me a message. Looking at hers I was pleasantly shocked - why was such a gorgeous girl contacting me (finally)?! Of course similar interests are also important ... that was covered too to I felt the urge to immediately reply. Of course, you can't appear too desperate, so I waited an hour or so.

Emails flew back and forth over the next few days and we really seemed to click so arranged to catch up for coffee. Although neither of us actually drink coffee. I was sure we'd be bursting with things to talk about - and said as much - from music to travel to footy.

On the day I was nervous as hell. Showered and shaved, but with an acne outburst that had me worried about a US pre-emptive strike on my face to secure its oil, I tried to scrub up well and wandered down to the cafe. I was fashionably five minutes late, but fashion isn't my strong point and she was later. Sitting outside on Swan Street, trying to look suave, or at least occupied, I wondered whether she'd recognise me given the photos on my profile were a few years old when I had much shorter hair.

When she arrived I knew it was her - a young women alone poking her head uncertainly into the cafe - but pretended I hadn't seen her and looked back at the traffic as I sipped my water. So cool. When I turned back she faced me and we examined each other's face and quizzically said each other's name. Yup, we were each other.

I can be a hopeless romantic. I'll admit to daydreaming and romanticising this a litte; it's been several years and a few disastrous experiences since I've had a good, settled, mutual love-interest. I probably over-imagined how it would all play out. My instinctive reaction was mild disappointment. We didn't hit it off the way I'd imagined we might, her personality didn't quite meet the one I had created in my mind and she didn't even seem to look exactly like the photos!! Clearly, this was a harsh, superficial reaction, so it was pushed aside as much as possible.

Not to mention that she was probably thinking the same thing as I sat there awkwardly, with my hair tucked behind my ears, revealing the minor growth on my forehead.

There were a few awkward silences, but the mood seemed to relax with even a few laughs. After 90 minutes the cafe was closing so we had to call it a date. I paid and refused the offer of reimbursement, she insisted and I took graciously, attempting to successfully navigate the line between old-fashioned chivalry and respectful equality.

Meeting someone for the first time in that setting - where you're measuring them up for potential romance and know they're doing the same - is a little odd; you're strangers yet you know bits and pieces about each other. Yet it feels creepy to go on about things on their profile for fear of coming across like you've been up all night studying it.

We walked out of the cafe, being adorably naive as I am I wasn't sure if a kiss on the cheek was appropriate but she leant in so I went with it. I walked away, saying 'Catchya later,' with genuine intention. She just smiled and said 'I'll see ya around'.

That was that.

There wasn't really much spark, I knew it and it seems she felt the same. I decided it was worth catching up again if she was keen so texted her a day later and suggested lunch in a week or two. After a couple of hours passed without response - given the rapid responses to all previous messages - I knew the message coming, I just hoped it would come. She did reply a day later saying thanks but she wanted to do the right thing and let me know she didn't think I was her type. It was the right thing to do, and I appreciated it. And I wasn't bitterly disappointed. In fact, I was a little relieved. But the little questions still pop up as to why she changed her mind ... what was it about me in person? Even though I wasn't especially keen either, it's still not fun to have an attractive girl say you're not her type after she was quite keen to meet you!

Obviously, its not always easy to gauge a person's real personality from a profile and a few nice photos. And obviously we all put up our best photos. I'm still suprised she contacted me in the first place - friends say I sell myself short but they haven't seen my profiles, I don't think they're particularly good. You have to sell yourself, and one of my major assets is my extraordinary modesty so it's tough to know how to stand out without looking like a cock.

Despite the security of browsing a list of photos and contacting potential dates from a shopping list, I still prefer to meet someone in 'real life'. Where you can start by just chatting without the prospect of evaluation hanging so obviously over your head, and where you maybe move into that realm having established a real connection. Where you meet through some mutual friend, situation or interest, rather than having been randomly placed in a list. But my profiles stay and who knows what's around the corner.

Although, of the 'first dates' or 'meet ups' I've had, the most relaxed have been over a couple of drinks rather than 'coffee' (I don't drink coffee, which might be the first issue). So maybe I should stick to the bars!

Anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; it was an interesting experience.

But if you're an attractive, single twenty-something female well, um ... hi!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Gay Marriage Is Wrong!" and other absurdities

I don’t know about you, but I’m yet to hear one reason why homosexual couples should not be allowed to marry; just one sensible, logical reason. This is something that would make a lot of people happy, so those opposing it must surely have a reason.

Is it about religion?
Even if you believe God does not approve of homosexuality, we live in a secular nation and marriage is a legal institution. We, as a society, drew up the legalities of marriage, and, like so much other legislation, we can amend it.

Is it about starting a family?
Ok, maybe it is ideal for a child to have a mother and a father. But if giving a child the ideal upbringing is the pre-condition to marriage then just about every straight person should be prevented from marrying as well – the poor, the old, the unhealthy. Not to mention myself – there’s every chance my offspring will inherit my predisposition to depression. Many others too, but such comparisons unfairly imply homosexuality is an imperfection.

Rather than ask what is an ideal situation for raising a child (and probably doesn’t exist), maybe we should ask what is the most important thing a parent or parents can give a child – I highly doubt sexual orientation is relevant here.

Is it about tradition?
Maybe. The people who feel threatened by this probably would have opposed giving indigenous Australians, or even women for that matter, the vote.

This important change will force people to change the way they see society; as far as I’m concerned, it would force them to catch up and see the reality of contemporary society. It will legally acknowledge loving relationships that we all know exist on the as being equal. Currently there is a class system of relationships; homosexuals are essentially treated like minors.

Is it about definition?
‘Because that’s what marriage is’ is a response I’ve received when asking why only a man and a woman should be allowed to marry. But you still haven’t told me WHY. Again, it’s a legal definition. We, as a society, defined it; we can change it. Even words change meaning all the time; ‘terrific’ used to mean ‘frightening’. Can we get Kevin Andrews saying he thinks gay marriage is terrific?

Is it about protecting society?
If you think allowing gay marriage will push us onto a slippery slope where eventually marriage is allowed between adults and underage children, people and animals, or more than two people, then you probably would never have supported homosexuality being legalised in the first place; because that would lead to the legal recognition of all these other relationships wouldn’t it? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.

Is it about love?
Well I’d hope so. But I don’t know; some married couples don’t seem to show love very well. And some of the most vocal opponents to gay marriage aren’t showing much love.

Some people – straight people (*GASP*) – even use marriage occasionally for personal gain!

So why do they want to be able to marry. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as ‘they’ anymore, but be part of ‘us’ in relationship terms. Maybe they want to share in this splendid tradition, even if a few of us straight people have fucked around with it a bit.

I want to get married. Sure, I dream of it sometimes. But right now I can’t get married because I have no one to marry. If (when!) I meet a girl I want to marry (who wants to marry me as well), getting hitched will not be the most important thing. But it will be a significant celebration and symbol of our love and the status of a committed relationship.

Why does a straight guy care so much? Why have I had passionate arguments with family members about this, dismayed and frustrated by their stubborn views?

Because I don’t understand what the fucking problem is!?!

While some straight couples abuse marriage, there are many homosexual couples putting it up on the pedestal it deserves. They want to be a part of it, to celebrate their love and have it acknowledged on the same level as heterosexual couples. It’s inspiring to see people – gay and straight – passionately standing up for the expression and celebration of love, not fighting to suppress it.

One sensible, logical reason; that’s all I want. That or marriage equality.

You can take this job and re-staff it!

Last week I got a new job!


Thanks, I’m really excited actually. Finally, I’m getting a decent pay rise! Meanwhile I’m helping to reframe my current position description so they can hire someone internally on a higher band.

Anyway, as many have been quick to point out, it has been a long time coming.

It’s been about two years since I decided it was time to start looking around for new opportunities, and closer to three since I started thinking about it. Frankly, I wasn’t too fussed until about eighteen months ago when the impenetrable ceiling of an increasingly dead-end role gradually squeezed the enthusiasm out of me.

About that time, at the first meeting of the newly appointed Social Club Committee (yes, yes) I used my (optimistically phrased) likely departure as an argument against being made President - it was clearly a highly-sought position. Clearly I am too popular – or easy – because I was talked into doing it. Embarrassingly, I saw out the year, plus another five months.

After a few rejections proved finding a job wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped, I got serious about the hunt. I started telling me people about my search (including at work) in case they knew of opportunities. I spent a couple of sessions with – and a substantial amount of money on – a careers counsellor. I registered with job agencies.

The careers counsellor was expensive but worthwhile; she helped me get my resume and applications to a standard that actually got me through to a few interviews.

The agencies were next to useless. Dixons were attentive if nothing else; they got in touch straight away and did find me a few potential roles, but when they called it was usually just to check in and make sure I was still in the market. More than I can say for Hudson or Hays who I never even heard from. I know you need to chase them up, but I was too busy applying for jobs myself.

Applications are fucking tedious. The biggest relief is probably that I no longer have to write responses to Key Selection Criteria! The same criteria come up time after time, with just subtle differences that make the copy-and-paste method fraught with danger. A couple of times I found mistakes and anomalies in text I pasted in from an application already sent off. That’s not a good look when your resume boasts excellent editing and proofing skills and you are applying for communications roles! But sometimes there was plenty of time to spend on an application, other times there were multiple due within a few days and the rush was too much to avoid the temptation of short cuts.

Maybe it cost me an interview or two, who knows. Anyway, eight interviews were enough.

The first few were intimidating, yet I found myself surprisingly relaxed about the last couple, for which I did almost no preparation. If you actually have the experience for the role and know yourself reasonably well, unnecessary preparation might just build anxiety.

Interviews involve lots of bullshit; the worst workplace kind – HR bullshit. Questions about relevant experience where you indulge in a little bullshitting of your own (or the crucial ‘self-sell’) to give examples of times you used your initiative / creativity / negotiation skills to solve a problem / resolve a conflict and how wonderful the outcome was. I slowly got reasonably good at this – after all, I’m an Arts graduate.

Good interviewers make a huge difference. If they’re easy-going and have a conversational style it helps bring out everyone’s real personality and facilitates genuine discussion. Bad ones read the questions and take notes while you waffle on for fear of an awkward silence indicating an inadequate response. I was told after one interview I’d gone on too much. Just a polite ‘Ok, shut up now,’ would have been nice.

After my seventh unsuccessful interview I slumped into a rut and took a few days off the search before getting back into it with a flurry of applications. And fuck me if things didn’t turn around faster than Brendan Fevola could spend a dole cheque.

Just seven days separated the day of application and the day of offer, with two interviews squeezed in the middle. I almost didn’t apply either, the deadline (and I always work to deadline) being a Sunday, making it more difficult to find time to prepare the application than on a work day.

So after nearly 40 applications in 12 months, it felt good to be able to resign. I was more tactful than when I resigned Dan Murphy’s a few years ago where I told my manager, in front of other staff, that we needed ‘to talk about my future here – in that I don’t have one.’

And now I am actually moving on, I’m starting to realise all the things and people I’ll miss, and getting a little nostalgic about my five and a half years at this workplace. It has been a good place to work, I just outgrew my role … a while ago.

And while my hunt felt like an epic journey, I got some perspective last week via a friend who knows someone in Spain that has put in 3200 applications in 12 months and still not found a job.

I am feeling pretty lucky right about now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Progressive new standards in suicide reporting

Everyone in Melbourne knew the West Gate Bridge was a hot spot for suicide.

Strangely, almost eerily, you never heard anything reported about it though, despite the fact, I once was told, that people jumping off the bridge was a weekly occurrence (hearsay: citation needed). This attempt to brush the issue under the carpet may well have been well intentioned, with the aim of avoiding the promotion of self-harm to susceptible individuals, but was severely lacking in understanding of the general issue of mental health.

Someone who is in the mindset where they are contemplating self-harm is dealing with thoughts and feelings the majority of us can barely comprehend. It is not a flippant decision, inspired by a newspaper report or Emo song.

Overlooking these all too common tragedies does nothing to prevent them. Neither might I add does the installation of ‘suicide-proof’ barriers on the bridge, as if that is the only option for someone in a suicidal state of mind – or the ‘cool’ option – and they’ll change their mind and get it together if they can’t jump.

Thanks to the great work of several organisations, who have worked hard to bring the issue to light, rather than hide it away, according to today’s laudable Australian editorial there was “35 per cent reduction in the suicide rate between 1999 and 2009”. However, “2000 Australians a year choose to end their lives”.

The Australian Press Council has now issued new standards that take a more enlightened approach, acknowledging that in some cases reporting may “help to improve public understanding of causes and warning signs, have a deterrent effect on people contemplating suicide, bring comfort to affected relatives or friends, or promote further public or private action to prevent suicide.”

Instead of encouraging the media not report on suicides, they will be encouraged to report – “there should not be a taboo on reporting of this kind”. Hear hear.

After all, we can accept its portrayal in movies and literature, often based on true events, so why can’t we discuss the everyday tragedies?

The media do need to be sensitive when reporting individual issues, and I hope The Australian stands by the standards its editorial outlines, but we will only enhance understanding of the various forms of mental illness by discussing it openly and honestly – to help the wider public understand why someone acts a certain way, and to help individuals who are battling personal issues understand that they are not alone; there is help available and they can get better.

Avoiding the issue only creates isolation for those in need of support.

As someone who found himself in the dark depths of isolation once or twice in his life, not seriously contemplating but certainly thinking a lot about suicide, I believe this is a step in the right direction.

Let’s open up the discussion, and fuck off the stigma of mental illness once and for all!

ps. coincidentally, a friend brought this heartbreaking story to my attention recently. Precisely the kind of outcome we want to avoid in future, and that takes understanding from all. It's 'depressing' but it's real, and with action and inspiration we can turn such potential tragedies into stories of hope.