I thought I'd share a post today from guest blogger Marisa Knudsen, who is actually me, but me from ten years ago. So, for all intents and purposes, a completely different person. Disclaimer: No emotionally vulnerable men were harmed in the production of this blog post.
My friend Eric has been very unlucky in love. I won’t go into the particulars because some of the details are considered confidential until the current court proceedings are resolved, but suffice it to say, the last time Eric saw his ex-wife, she was being carted off by the police while Eric counted his blessings that his cats showed no adverse effects from their short stint in the microwave. He was convinced he needed time to recover before he could ever hope to enter into a normal, healthy relationship, but after waiting patiently for nearly four months, I was convinced It Was Time.
I wanted to do something to help him out, but even more than that, I wanted to pretend that I was Patti Stanger from Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker. Except I wanted to find love for Eric, who was more of a thousandaire. Or maybe even a hundredaire.
The first step was to get Eric to acknowledge that there was a problem and that that problem was him. Eric’s low self-confidence and my brutal yet compassionate honesty made that part easy:
“You know this is all your fault, right?” I asked.
“I mean, you married a stripper, for God’s sake. What did you think was going to happen?”
The second step was breaking Eric down in order to build him back up. To accomplish this, I recruited our mutual friend Molly. Back then, we three were thick as thieves. Thieves who were in therapy trying to make sense of our respective failed relationships. We often met over margaritas and tried to impress each other with stories about how much worse off we all were than the other two. Turns out I was pretty normal compared to the issues those two had.
Anyway, I pulled Molly into my scheme because she is great at tearing men down, and that's just what Eric needed. I mean, you can't rebuild something that's still got a leg to stand on, right? It's all got to come down so you can build it back up again. So together, Molly and I orchestrated a rigorous program of degradation targeted at the three major components of Eric’s pride:
The feral grassland he called his beard
(While your mother warned you that “they’re all the same,” a heterosexual male's top three can vary from specimen to specimen and may include everything from his wiener to his dog. Or his wiener dog.)
Eric's breakdown was disseminated through daily emails and text messages. When possible, we tried to incorporate some face-to-face time. We started this his car, reminding him at every opportunity that his white 1998 Camaro, which he was very proud of, was an object of abject shame. I would often casually mention the fact that a conservative estimate of 70% of high school sophomore males drove late 90s Camaros. When it was Eric’s turn to drive to lunch, we would dramatically duck our heads below the windows.
We also made sure to vocally and publicly disapprove of anything Eric wore. We concentrated mainly on his snarky graphic tees, which we’re pretty sure he wore as a defense mechanism--especially the one with a stripper dancing on a pole with the words, I support working mothers emblazoned across the chest.
Another beloved token of Eric’s honor was his beard. While incredibly sexy on men like Chuck Norris and Karl Marx, it did nothing to improve Eric’s image. We complained that it was giving off weird smells and pretended to be worried that mold and other critters were taking up residence. We ran pH tests on hair samples from it and would gaze directly at it while he was talking and then feign innocence when he asked what we were staring at.
At our regular lunch outings, we would laugh hysterically as we snapped pictures on our phones. Eric’s complex grew rapidly as he tried to guess what was so funny.
“Oh my God,” we’d roar. “Lift up your pant leg a little so we can get those shoes in the shot. Oh my God, this is classic.”
“What’s classic?” Eric would demand as he obligingly pulled up his pant leg.
Though we focused on the car, the beard, and the clothes, everything was fair game. We signed him up for reality shows like Tool Academy and asked for his opinions on everything from marriage to The Bachelor to Bret Michaels, and videotaped his responses with our camera phones. Within an hour of returning to our respective offices after lunch, we’d have the videos up and running on YouTube.
If you're feeling sorry for Eric or thinking that Molly and I are horrible people, relax, we're getting to the nice part. The next step--the nice part--was to rebuild Eric's confidence and reassure him that he was a worthy human being that any girl (except for us, ew!) would be lucky to have. Unfortunately, around this time, Molly and I fell busy with our own lives, and so this part of the project fell to the wayside as we pursued new hobbies like knitting and baking cake pops. We bypassed the rebuilding phase and went straight into the Getting Back in the Game phase.
I pitched the idea to him via email:
Okay, so social experiment proposal: I follow you on your online dating journey. You may be asking yourself, what online dating journey? Well, I was thinking that I would set you up with your own eHarmony account. Then, much like Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, I will correspond with ladies of my choosing and set you up on dates with them. In return for your cooperation, you will get to go on dates for free (well, you'll have to pay for the dates, but I'll take care of the eHarmony expenses). Please send me a decent (pre-beard, pre-divorce) picture of yourself ASAP.
Instead of arguing or refusing or even being excited about the idea, Eric sent me a blank email with several digital photographs as requested. I hadn’t thought I needed to specify not to send over wedding pics with the ex-wife very obviously cropped out, but I didn’t complain since he was cooperating. I couldn't believe how easy this was. No need for all my prep work (crafting counter-arguments, threats, and bribes). I immediately set to work on Eric's eHarmony profile, being careful to answer the excruciatingly long personality profile honestly but without alienating him from all decent prospects, which turned out to be a pretty thin line.
A former pro-wrestler, Eric was, at the time of The Intervention, a self-proclaimed hermit living with four cats, each of which was an apology gift leftover from previous relationships. He didn’t enjoy gatherings of more than two or three people because two in every three people annoy him. Following his divorce, Eric had sworn off a social life of any sort. He had also sworn off razors. The bearded loner shit suited Eric well until Molly and I met and befriended him at a Halloween party and decided, as women are wont to do, to change him.
Eric looked a lot like Stephen Baldwin when Stephen Baldwin was on Survivor and at the time had never, ever dated a female who was not a stripper. He claimed that this was not by choice, but by chance--which made sense since strip clubs were one of the few public places he frequented. He refused to talk on the phone unless it was via text message yet he wondered why he couldn’t get a girlfriend that didn’t have a parole officer or unresolved daddy issues. His good points, which I, as his matchmaker, tried to focus on were his good sense of humor, his steady (boring) job, and the fact that he was far too lazy to ever bother cheating on a girl. For his online dating profile, I suavely translated this into: loves to laugh, is settled in a career, and is a serial monogamist.
I was not expecting to find many suitable matches for Eric even though my only criteria were (a) she was not bone chillingly hideous and (b) she was not severely mentally ill. When I saw how many matches were coming in (and actually responding to my flirtations) I knew I needed Molly’s help again. I called a business meeting early into the scouting process:
“So Marisa,” Molly began, “I looked at some of your picks for Eric. Maybe I am missing the point of this exercise. What are we looking for?”
“A girl that doesn’t have battery-operated shoes.”
“Well,” Molly replied, “I'm looking for someone that's not disgusting.”
“We have to be realistic,” I pointed out.
“My self-esteem is shooting through the roof,” Eric commented.
“Well,” Molly said, “Shawna's failure to include a photo is sending up a red flag for me.”
“Wait!” Eric interjected, hands in the air. “What if it's one of those things where the chick is Megan Fox and doesn’t put up a photo and uses a fake name because she wants to find someone who likes her for herself?”
“That's not what's happening here,” Molly said gently.
We were off to a productive start, having established some criteria and ruling out the possibility of Eric and Megan Fox falling in love. We did have one important hurdle to overcome, though: we were disagreeing on the level of standards that should be set for Eric's potential future mate. Molly felt the girl should be reasonably attractive while I felt we should take what we could get and Eric felt insulted. We compromised and went with what I wanted.
Next, we moved on to the tedious process of getting to know the prospective women. On eHarmony, the proper protocol is to complete several back-and-forth Q&A-type activities to weed out the deal breakers before you actually start investing time in intimate email conversations. Although many of the girls were gung-ho in their initial responses, the majority of them flaked out over time.
Gennie, however, was a trooper and enthusiastically replied to all of Eric's* emails within seconds of receiving them. (*Molly and I were actually the ones handling the written communication as Eric could not be trusted to be charming or even appropriate. He used shock–and his beard–as defense mechanisms to push women away.)
Molly shot off an email to Gennie requesting a date in the fashion we figured would be typical of Eric: We should hang out. - Eric. Gennie, playing it cool, wrote back a dissertation on how that would be, like, so totally awesome and here was her cell number and her home number and just in case she didn’t answer the phone and her voicemail and caller ID weren’t working, here was her work number, Twitter handle, and three alternate email addresses. Eric was out of town that day, so we texted him Gennie's number and instructed him to call her.
To our great shock, Eric called us up. “Actually,” he told us, “I decided to try this online dating thing for myself. I didn't want to wait around for you two to pick out my date from the casting call lineup for Girl, Interrupted.”
I was blown away. In one sense my project had failed in that Molly and I were unable to find a good match for Eric. On the other hand, we successfully motivated him to take a more proactive approach to dating. (Which was a pretty low bar, given that his previous approach involved sitting alone with his beard in a corner at the local bar waiting for a girl to be dared by her friends to go talk to him.)
A few days later, Eric called to gloat about a recent date in which the girl seemed to not hate him despite the fact that he was himself. He even warned Molly and I that, "If I end up in a relationship cause of this, I'm going to be pissed at you all."
Months passed, maybe even a year. The three of us stopped talking daily like we used to, but every few weeks we’d check in with a shared meme or random awkward thought. Then, out of the blue, Eric announces via email: So I’m engaged now.
My first reaction was to laugh. Really hard, for a really long time. Once the laughter died down, a flurry of emails ensued, with Molly and I demanding our rightful spots as best women at the wedding. We started planning the bachelor party, at which point Eric abruptly changed the subject. “So I went to the doc the other day for my ongoing stomach issues,” he wrote. “He wants a stool sample, so I have to go in a bucket, then cut it up into four pieces and put them in separate containers.”
“Well, don’t use the same cutting board you use for veggies,” I advised. “What do you think about Nashville for your bachelor party?”
“If I can’t get the samples in on time, I have to freeze them.”
“Eric, focus. Your bachelor party. What is the deal? As best women, we need to know your desires.”
“My desire is to play video games with the cats.”
With that, wedding talk was over and it seemed unlikely that Molly and I would be asked to stand proudly beside Eric at the altar or get the pleasure of seeing his surprised reaction when we hired his ex-wife to strip at his bachelor party, but it was okay. I could rest easy knowing that our efforts had succeeded in revitalizing Eric’s self-destructive romanticism. Just in case I was invited to speak at the wedding reception at the last minute, though, I prepared a little something on notecards:
You know, when I first met Eric, I thought, Ew, I think there’s veggie dip in this guy’s beard. But then I got to know him and I realized that even though his beard is disgusting and he drives that POS Camaro around town like it’s a Bentley, he’s pretty nice. [Pause to sip champagne.] Well, not to people. But he’s great with animals. Not dogs or birds, though, just cats. He’s great with cats. [Really long awkward pause–37 Mississippis?] He’s really good at video games, too. [Pause for more champagne, and to transition to a more serious note.] But on a more serious note, I really never thought I’d see the day Eric would be in a relationship with a girl who worked during regular business hours but here we are, geez, what is it? Like a year after his divorce was finalized? Some of you may think he’s rushing into this–and the statistics will certainly back you up on that–but I think this is going to work. If there’s one thing I know for certain about Eric, it’s that he’s lazy. And broke. I guess that’s two things, but what I’m getting at here is that I think this thing is going to go the distance because Eric’s honestly just too fucking lazy [continue to ramble despite shocked gasps] to go through another divorce and, quite frankly, he can’t afford it. Well, I’m getting some hand signals from the DJ and the groom so I guess that means my time is up, but before I go I’d like everyone to raise their glasses to Eric and his second stab at this whole marriage thing. May they not acquire too many apology cats over the years.