Are you feeling good-on-paper?

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by Colette Davidson • 9/21/08 • Picture the scene: you’re sitting at an outdoor cafe, gabbing with your girls, when the inevitable question comes up – “So, when are you going to start dating someone?” You pick up your coffee up with a sly smile and mutter, “I am.” Immediately, questions start flying: What’s his name? What does he do? Where’s he from? And the old stand-by, “How old is he?”

Kolet ink is the blog of Colette Davidson, a freelance writer for the TC Daily Planet and a former assistant editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News. She recently moved to Perigueux, France to work as an assistant editor for the monthly English newspaper French News.

And so, you ripple off the facts: His name is Matt (likable, right? Just like that all-American charmer Matt Damon), he works as an investor for a top international bank, he’s from New York City (or London, or Tokyo or some other major world city) and he’s the same age as you (maybe even a few years older, if you’re lucky). You quickly add in the side notes that he’s never been married, doesn’t have any children, but wants both in the near future. He’s recently been mercilessly dumped by his cheating, bitchy ex-girlfriend and is just a nice guy who’s, up until now, been dealt a bad hand. Oh, and he’s gorgeous.

Your friends can’t keep their gaping mouths closed. What an amazing twist of events, that a tragic spinster such as yourself should be able to hold down a man like that! You go on to say that this guy is “the real thing,” treats you the best of any of the others in the past, always makes you laugh and just seems to genuinely care. You can’t wipe that sickeningly sweet smile off your face even long enough to describe him. Of course, they instantly want to meet him.

The next week, you all go out for drinks for everyone to see “the boy” in the flesh. It’s so loud inside the bar that no one has the chance to ask nosy questions, so everyone just ends up talking about politics or sports or some other neutral, non-invasive topic. As the drinks flow, so does the conversation, and the uproarious laughter rises and falls in swells. “The boy” is joking easily with all your friends as they do the same. He’s charming the pants off of everyone. A perfect fit.

The following day, your friends can’t stop gushing about how great this guy is. He’s so mature, he’s got such a great job and is just so cute and nice! Your one friend goes on and on about how there are no nice guys anymore and that you may have indeed nabbed the last one.

Except, wait just a minute. This all sounds too good to be true. Maybe because it is. In fact, you’ve just pulled a huge fast one on all your friends. You’ve lied because you know they can’t handle the truth. And because you’ve grown up in a culture where “What do you do?” always comes before “What do you like?”, and how a guy looks on paper always has more merit than how he makes you feel.

In fact, the guy’s name is neither Matt, Joe or Nick, but instead it’s Steve, or some other dreadful old man’s name. He’s not a banker at all – in fact, he could use some friends at the bank right now because he’s been working as a server in a restaurant for the last four years. Oh, but he does have the potential of pulling his struggling rock band out of the doldrums and gaining international famedom someday. And forget about New York. Puleeze. He comes from a small, podunk town where the only happening thing in sight is catching glimpses of the escapees of the nearby mental institution. And, the kicker, instead of him being your age, he’s 7 years younger – making him legal and starting with the same first number as yours – but just.

And in a flash of truth telling, the next lovely day out with the gabbing girls immediately turns into a therapy session: “He’s too young!” (A nice, obvious first statement to get the conversation rolling) “There’s no way he’s mature enough for you.” (And how would you know? Look at your boyfriend and his three shelves of Play Station games) “But look at his job! He doesn’t have any money or real ambitions!” (Because this is America, so we must live to work, not work to live). And, just to throw everyone off, someone sputters, “But I bet the sex is good!”

And from there, the conversation goes from civilized to just plain sad, with the people who have known you your whole life counseling you on your “big mistake”, and rubbing your shoulder with a much pained, “you deserve better.” They hesitate when you mention everyone going out again next week for drinks, and when the night does actually happen, all your friends spend it looking awkwardly into opposite corners of the bar while you fight for your life to make some shards of conversation.

And just like that, the guy gets sent to the chopping blocks. Unlike Mr. Investment Banker, your new younger, bad-on-paper guy can make a comment witty enough to make Jim Carrey blush but he still won’t get a laugh. He can put his arm around you and kiss your cheek all he wants, but it will never compare to when Mr. Investment Banker announces loudly that he’s paying for everyone at the table. In the end, the nice guy always finishes last.

Unless he’s the good-on-paper guy, in which case he can do no wrong. Choking on a chicken bone? Never fear, Mr. Investment Banker just happens to be making an important phone call on his blackberry at that perfect moment. But he’ll (smile) be back in a sec. Never mind that your Bad-On-Paper guy has his Heimlich hands at the ready – everyone’s already forgotten about him. And don’t even think about trying to explain that new song you’re writing, BOP – Mr. Investment Banker is in the middle of telling everyone how he landed a huge promotion at work yesterday.

Ok, so we’re not all judgmental. And not all investment bankers are cold-hearted, money-grubbing a**holes. Of course, not all server/artists are so nice either. But the truth remains that no matter where you’re from or what you do, it’s always a matter of what looks good on paper. Does your date make you happy? We don’t care. Does your guy make you smile? It doesn’t matter. Have you thought about the future? NO. (and don’t ask again).

As for age, thanks to Demi and Ashton, and Madonna and Guy, the world is just a little bit more ready to accept older woman/younger man scenarios. But we’ve got a long way to go before the stigma of the “other way around” situation flies smoothly with the masses. Just think of the last older man/younger woman couple you heard about. You probably muttered something to the effect of “disgusting” or “whore” under your breath, but you also probably ultimately accepted it. Because that’s just the way things are. Men are immature, silly, sex-loving creatures who trade in old hags like beat-up beemers. And the old hags who try to bag a young’en are just sad, dried-up and pathetic. Late bloomers. Settling. Mrs. Robinson cradle robbers.

Who knows how long it will take to change society’s mind about age, wealth and what these factors mean about status. Do they truly have a relationship with integrity, authenticity, humor or likeability? Does what you represent mean more than who you are? And is this truly an American phenomenon?

The truth of the matter is, Mr. Investment Banker could be a money-grubbing, emotionally-wrecked, verbally abusive prick, and he would still get more air time in a family or friend conversation than sweet, caring, poor, young Bad-On-Paper guy. Why? Because although what’s inside does count, it doesn’t garner as much as respect as what’s on paper. In the end, we spend lengths of time trying to convince people into liking a Bad-On-Paper guy, while Mr. Investment Banker passes through the gates without ever buying a ticket.

And frankly, that’s just sad. I think I’ll go find my Bad-On-Paper guy to brush my tears away. That is, unless Mr. Investment Banker is off his blackberry and can hand me a kleenex…