A few weeks ago, a reader requested that I write a post on the dos and don’ts of dating Russian men. A reader’s wishes is normally my command, and yet this particular one presented a bit of a dilemma. Albeit having spent the initial sixteen years of my life on Russian turf, I have probably dated a total of 1.5 Russian guys in my post-high school life. This is in no way an act of rebellion – trust me, there is nothing I would love more than to bring home a man who would be able to deliberate the (grim) future of Putin’s reign at a Khorosh family dinner. No, it is simply that Russian guys and myself rarely cross paths, for most of them prefer adult restaurants in favor of hipster joints and stay as far from my beloved Nolita as possible. And so, I decided to ask for a little bit of help from my friends.
“How do you date a Russian guy?” A mass alert was sent out to all of my Russian podrujki. A few hours later, I received a dispatch from Moscow.
Halleluiah! Immediately, I knew that my investigation was over. It was like the Russian Man Whisperer had descended from the sky and awarded me with the Ten Commandments of seducing Slavic gentlemen. After thanking my lucky stars for a task easily accomplished, I was hindered by another realization. It dawned upon me that I was nothing like the woman my friend had described in her email. First and foremost, I talk way too much. In fact, I am the kind of person who can easily hijack all the oxygen in the room, immediately diminishing all chances of coming off as cold or “untouchable”. Secondly, I like to ignore nail salons for extended time periods and have trouble conceptualizing outfits that do not revolve around jeans and black crewnecks. Could it be that my penchant for chit chat and Converse was derailing my Slavic-coupled happiness all along?
What I consider a “going out outfit”
Conflicted by these thoughts, I decided to conduct a social experiment and see if I could change my fate by becoming the subject of a Russian man’s fantasy for just one night.
As all great leaders know, no grand mission, particularly one that involves kilos of lip gloss and sour attitude, can be tackled solo. The first order of business was assembling a team. Luckily, my friends are troupers who have been forced to bear witness to years of my brilliant ideas, so it took me about five minutes to round up a small brigade of Russian-Ukrainian ladies for a trip to Mari Vanna, a Gramercy-based Russian restaurant that boasts a very happening Monday night party.
I assume that part of their eagerness had something to do with the potential sartorial opportunities, because they spared no time before delving into an outfit-planning discussion worthy of a Kardashian stylist. Tight black gear was pulled out of the backs of closets, Louboutins were dusted off after years of hiatus.. Suddenly, we were 23 again, getting ready for a night of endless opportunities! Twenty scrolls deep into Lena Perminova’s Instagram, I decided that, no matter what happened, I would go for a Power Barbie look that involved a very short skirt paired with a boxy blazer A tad on the risqué side but still in charge, ya know.
Then Monday came along, bringing on a 80-degree heat wave that forced me to rethink my strategy. Too hot for blazers or booties, I dug up a Dries Van Noten sample sale skirt that only fits me on leap days, pairing it with a lace camisole normally reserved for non-celibate sleeping – because what is a Monday night if not a prime opportunity to wear your lingerie in public? The already questionable chiffon and silk concoction was topped off by an old blazer with sheer sleeves that made me feel even more like the bottom of a Victoria’s Secret bargain bin. While, aesthetically, nothing about my so-called outfit made sense, something told me I was on the right path.
Speaking of excess, my makeup took about an hour more than usual, mainly due to the globs of foundation required to reach that laminated look popularized by the K-clan. I repeated the mantra “kilo of lip gloss” over and over and tried to remember the 2 contouring tutorials I had seen in my life. My newly-short hair felt defiantly unsexy, so I slicked it back in a ponytail and hoped that my pushed-up breasts would compensate.
My friend came over with a huge Chanel Boy bag in tow. Sensing that this was the piece of the puzzle I had been missing all along, I bribed her into lending it to me. Armed with a 5K Fuck You accessory, I finally felt ready to step out into the world of privilege and pretension. Despite being exhausted from all that prepping, I suddenly felt a bout of excitement. The night was young and hot and promising of Russian oligarchs who could potentially sponsor my very own Boy bag, given that I was to remain mum about money and pretty much anything else.
Aware that speaking would soon be off limits, I decided to get my quota out in the taxi. And so, I made a Snapchat video.
As we walked over to the restaurant, my friends realized me that we had overlooked an important detail – apparently, one needed a special key to get in. Normally I would have burst into a radiant smile in an effort to flirt our way into the joint, but this was against the rules. Instead I caught the eye of the doorman and gave him a long, seductive stare. He looked at me like I was a mental patient, spoke to my friends and reluctantly let us in.
The party inside hadn’t yet commenced for most of the attendees were still wrapping up dinner. Having spent dinnertime layering lip gloss, we were left with no choice but to make our way to the bar. Assuming that this presented an excellent platform to test my commandments, I perched myself near the bar, narrowed my eyes à la our next First Lady and gave the crowd a sexy sweep-over. A minute passed, then five, then ten, yet nobody had even looked in my direction. I wished for a water pipe (hookah?) but it’s not something I normally carry around with me, so I grabbed a cherry from the bar and stuck it in my mouth instead. Instead of falling victim to this display of oral fixation, the bartender turned around, gave me a dirty look, and told me that I had to order or clear out the space for other patrons. I asked for three Moscow mules and a plate of pickled vegetables, the least sexy food on the menu that tasted like heaven and constituted as the best ten minutes of the evening. I even let my guard down for a few minutes to bless the joint with a smile.
Suddenly I heard the familiar Russian words:
“Devushka, zdravstvuyte” (“Hello, young lady.”)
I turned around to see a good-looking Russian man standing in front of me. He looked like somebody with a criminal record, exactly what the doctor had ordered. I gave him a cold pout, yet he did not look deterred.
“Menya zovut Dima, a vas?” (My name is Dima, what is yours?)
I momentarily considered giving him my name, then changed my mind. After all, I was a woman of mystery, a Russian spy, an oracle with no name and no past! Digging up my Russian literature course circa 9th grade, I decided to interact with some Pushkin.
“Cho v imeni moem?” (What’s in my name?)
He looked confused. I continued:
“Ono umret, kak shum pechalniy..” (It will die as does the melancholy rumor..”)
I don’t know whether it was the Moscow Mule or all that makeup seeping into my brain, but I had actually half-expected him to be intrigued. After all, how often do you bump into a girl in the middle of Manhattan who speaks like an 18th century literary heroine? Instead, he just looked confused.
“Vi otkuda takaya?” (Where are you from?)
“Iz daleka..” (From far away..) I wished I had another poem to quote.
“Ponyatno.” (Gotcha.) With that, he just turned around and walked away. I could have sworn I heard him mutter “otmorojennaya”, a word in the Russian language that stands for an idiot-moron hybrid. I was clearly doing something wrong.
I went to the bathroom and layered on some lip gloss. As I came out, the DJ turned on some 90’s Russian tunes and I was suddenly transported from Pushkin’s Russia to another kind of nostalgia, marked by the familiar melodies of of Ivanushki International and Ruki Vverh. Unable to resist the blast from the past, I broke into a dance, pumping my fist like it was 2002 all over again.
Suddenly, Dima was back. Together, we grinded our way to six antiquated pop songs until finally retiring back to the bar. At this point, my lip gloss had melted and my entire Ice Queen persona had fallen. Defeated and drunk, I decided to confide in him about the experiment, even showing him the list. I expected him to reassure me that it was all a crock of shit and that I was better off just being myself. Instead, he read it and nodded.
“Your friend is smart,” he said, handing my phone back to me. “But you should smile. You have a nice smile. Otherwise you just look like a constipated bitch.”
I vaguely considered slapping him, then decided he was too good of a journalistic resource and refrained. With some further prodding, he went on to explain that over the past years Russian men had become extremely spoiled and now looked for way more than a pretty face. With the rise of strong females like Miroslava Duma, they now wanted women who actually had something to show for themselves in the professional sense. which is probably what my friend had meant by “be busy doing your own thing”. Basically, Russian men were now exactly like New York men, armed with unrealistic standards for supermodels with PHDs. So much for my free pass oligarch fantasy.
Speaking of supermodels, or rather the opposite of, I decided to show Dima a picture of myself IRL, with no getup or makeup. He looked at the picture, then back at me with confusion.
“Why would you look like that, when you could look like this?”
Valid point. While the feminist, Pantsuit Nation part of me wanted to spit in his face and tell him that I would not be made into a walking mannequin to fit his Business Barbie fantasy, I could not help but recognize the sense of confidence that looking somewhat more “done” had bestowed upon me that evening. At that moment, I decided that I would start making a tad bit more of an effort, if not even for others, but for myself.
Alas, just like you can’t change a leopard’s spots, you can’t change a girl’s normcore fetish. Unfortunately for nobody other than myself, my newfound sartorial resolve lasted roughly about as long as my text relationship with Dima, who is now safely back in Moscow where he belongs. I am proud to report I have not veered away from denim ever since.