The Dating Game

If a beautiful woman walks into a room, she has a reasonable expectation that a majority of the men who are there will find her attractive and want to talk with her.  Some of them may even be attracted enough to ask her out on a date or, instantly smitten by her beauty, beg her to marry them (or whatever).  Her life (as portrayed in the movies, at least) is one long series of people wanting her attention.  She is always surrounded by admirers and lovers, and she simply expects people to smile at her because they always do.

Women like me have a rather different experience in life.  Sometimes, unexpectedly, men randomly smile at us in that way, but for the most part, we are simply ignored unless we are the only one in the room.  Then we might get someone coming up to us and wanting to talk, but rarely is anyone smitten simply by being in our presence.  We learn other ways of holding their attention, but we are always on guard against expecting a favorable reaction, which, if we get it, we tend to distrust.  Until we don't.  Then, we are in for it.  Someone smiles at us and, for the moment, we are entranced.  "Could he really be interested in me?   But he's so handsome, all the other women are after him.  There is no way that he could ever possibly like me.  But he's smiling.  Maybe it's worth the risk."

But it almost never is.  He probably smiles at everyone, that is the kind of person he is.  Friendly and approachable, maybe even a gentleman.  He has the courtesy to be polite to everyone, not just the beautiful ones. While others are flocking round the beauty, he stands aloof, apparently immune.  But he isn't.  He's just biding his time until she gets bored with the easy ones, confident that she will come to him eventually.  Meanwhile, he carries on small talk with us, but it is never really serious, not to him.  He is just more skilled at hiding his interest in her.

I had a talk with my priest yesterday, which we had in fact scheduled at the beginning of the week, but as it turned out hit in the middle of the storm.  After I told him about my rejection by that handsomest of men (a prestigious publisher), he asked me, quite sympathetically, why it mattered so much to me as a scholar to get the kind of attention I seemed to want.  He compared it with priests always chasing after the numbers of their congregants.  "Can't you just be satisfied with doing your work well?" he asked (or words to that effect).  "Why does it matter so much how popular you are?"

Call me shallow, but it does.  It just f*cking does.  I will never be the beautiful woman at whom publishers fling themselves, I have to accept that.  Nor will I be the one whom other departments lust after, begging me to join them.  Every courtship I go through with a publisher will be fraught with uncertainty, and I will be the one begging.  That is, every courtship I go through with a handsome publisher.  Which is the problem here.  Managing expectations.  I want to be the beautiful woman who can capture the attention of the handsomest men, but that doesn't mean nobody is interested in me, just not necessarily the ones that I want.  I could publish my translation this instant by putting it back up on my blog, just as I could satisfy my romantic longings by, oh, I don't know, doing it myself.  But it wouldn't be the same. 

I wish I were beautiful.  I wish that I had a publisher, like a real author.  You know, a married one, with, I suspect, all the tensions and frustrations that real marriages entail.  But I am not good at this dating game.  I get my hopes up too much, I go for the handsomest man rather than the one who actually loves me.  But I am so shallow, I actually care what others think.  I care whether my colleagues will be impressed at the men who want me.  I care about having a reputation for attracting the best offers, the most men.  I realize that that might make my colleagues envious (although they'd never show it), but I would prefer for them to be envious of me than that I should be the homely one standing in a corner while the beaux flock around them.

Do I really mean that?  Actually, I'm not sure.  I hate when people get left out of the party, and I hate when someone is able to dominate a room in that way.  And I don't actually like being the center of attention (except when I'm teaching, which is different--or is it?).  But I am sick of feeling like the ugly sister in a room with Cinderella.  I want to be noticed by the prince and swept off my feet and given a palace to live in, not spend my days cutting off my heels and toes in the hope that maybe if I mutilate myself enough, the shoe will fit.


  1. I don't really experience the relationship between author and publisher as being all that much like dating or marriage. I certainly don't think I'm a terribly big deal scholar, and I don't have presses falling at my feet begging me to publish with them. But that's fine--I never imagined that I would. I also don't have much comparison to draw upon from the dating world, since I've been married for over two decades to a guy I met when I was 16 years old and then dated until we got married when I was 21!

    I have, though, published with two different presses, so perhaps I'm a contented bigamist in publishing terms? Both were / are good experiences in terms of the author / editor relationship. I think both are also strong presses in my field, though I imagine some would argue that there are better, more prestigious presses.

    The book I am writing now is definitely a better fit for one press than another. So the choice to work with Press X rather than Press Y feels perfectly natural, and not at all like a betrayal of Press Y. I think the book I have in mind for my next project once this is done might be a better fit for Press Y than Press X, so I will likely try to work with Press Y for it.

    With both Press X and Press Y, though, even though we have an ongoing relationship, my work still has to go out for peer review and pass muster with the editorial board etc. And I would not expect things to be otherwise.

    So for what it is worth, whatever went wrong with the press you had in mind might well not be about you as a scholar or the quality of your project per se, though it's definitely hard to depersonalize. It's not that you won't find a good match--this one just was not the right match. Or maybe you just got the wrong reader for your project. Sometimes that happens. But as with dating, to quote the old saying, there are plenty of other fish in the sea--and good ones at that.

  2. "It's not that you won't find a good match--this one just was not the right match." Exactly. This is why, it seems to me, the dating analogy works: you can spend all sorts of effort dreaming up ways in which you and he (to stick with my gendered experience) will be perfect together, but it may really all be in your head. It doesn't mean that there isn't someone out there for you, it just means he wasn't it. I am happy to hear that you have had good author/editor experiences with your presses; I have had very good experience with the editor for my first two books (including the edited volume). But you have to get past the editorial board before you get an editor, and trying for a new relationship is risky. Judging from the feedback I got, I clearly misjudged all sorts of things (and am going to go into the next round of negotiations much, much more skeptical, even hard to get). This was not a case of, "Oh, we like your project but you might want to rethink this or that and resubmit," but a flat-out NO. What I had expected (clearly, wrongly) was to get criticism and advice and to be given a fairly hard time of getting my text ready. What I had not expected was to be told that there wasn't a chance, no matter what I did. I actually had a whole board of readers, so it was a pretty comprehensive rejection, not just one wrong reader.

  3. I've always thought (and still do) that you must have a defective mirror. It's telling you pernicious lies. Toss it out and get a new one (or just stop looking in the bloody thing!)

    And as for both our professional and personal relationships we tend to be idiots.


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