Shopping for Men

Six years ago I went on a dating website and came away with the jackpot—Tom. I picked a site for seniors even though I was just 55, because I knew that most men my age would be looking for 40 year-olds. I figured I would look good to some 70-year-old guy. He’d probably be feeble and bald and fat, but at that point simple kindness would’ve been such a relief that I didn’t much care about anything else.

Instead of old, fat and bald I got fit, handsome, loving and kind beyond measure. I can’t imagine for a minute that lightning would ever strike twice. Although I have never believed that people have just one right soul mate in all the world, I do know that I received more love in 4 short years than most people get in a lifetime. But I am only 61. I am healthy. I will soon be an empty nester with a lot of weekend evenings on my hands. I don’t necessarily think Tom talks to me, but I have definitely been feeling a push to get back out there and find some companionship. So I am back on line, back with the senior site for which I now firmly qualify. Back for a 30-day trial of window shopping.

It’s a funny business on-line dating. It’s not like Amazon where you can just plug in what you want (color printer, under $200) and all the choices pop up. Even if you think you know what you’re looking for you might be wrong. Tom found me and it’s a good thing because I had set up my account to screen out anybody who didn’t have kids. I was convinced a childless person would NEVER understand the competing pressures of a parent or the hard cold fact that my girls would ALWAYS come first in my life no matter what. But he turned out to be the perfect person for me, for all of us, in part because he did not have competing priorities and could and did put us first. Watching him with Alyssa was one of the great joys of my life. He got to be a dad to a child who so desperately needed a loving one. Their relationship was a thing of beauty.

But this time I can go shopping just for me. And I honestly don’t have a clue what I want. The website wants you to choose between marriage, serious relationship, casual relationship, travel partner and friendship. Some people seem to check all the boxes. They are even more confused than I am. I would like a travel partner, but my sister is a pretty tough act to follow. I wouldn’t mind having a friend, but I don’t see enough of the ones I have. Marriage does not seem even in the ballpark right now, but I have learned to never say never. I decided to check casual relationship and then immediately had a very handsome and nice sounding man say that he was only interested in someone in it for the long haul. YIKES! Do I really have to commit to that right now? Before I have even met you?

One man commented that he liked on line dating more than meeting someone in a bar because you can do your research first. You can figure out in advance if you have anything in common with the person. You can bring your list of non-negotiables to your computer and weed out the also rans. I actually read a book once about finding the right person. It was written by a woman in her early 40s who was determined to make a match and developed a system that worked so well for her that she wanted to share it. It was called something like “Calling in the One”. I don’t remember much because I met Tom in the middle of reading it, but I do know she wanted you to make an actual list of what you wanted in a mate. I did that and later laughed out loud to find that Tom fulfilled all but one item on a pretty long wish list.  Although this attests to his general wonderfulness as a human being, it also demonstrates that I had finally grown up enough to know that kindness was more important than college, an open spirit more crucial than a robust bank account and that life might, in fact, be richer with someone who was not just like me.

In the novel “A Little Life” one character is an actor and shares a favorite monologue where his character’s wife has just announced she is leaving him, doesn’t feel fulfilled in the marriage, thinks there must be someone better out there. He replies:

But don’t you understand, Amy? You’re wrong. Relationships never provide you with everything. They provide you with some things. You take all the things you want from a person—sexual chemistry, let’s say, or good conversation, or financial support, or intellectual compatibility, or niceness, or loyalty—and you get to pick three of those things. Three –that’s it. Maybe four, if you’re very lucky. The rest you have to look for elsewhere.

I think there is wisdom there. All of life is a tradeoff, what my daughter’s economics text calls opportunity cost. If you become a lawyer you may have to leave stand-up comedy behind. If you settle in the warmth of Arizona, water and trees will not be part of your daily view. If you choose the size 6 blonde bombshell she may not have a PhD in poly sci. When considering members of the opposite sex it is tempting to want everything, but deep down we likely all know our big three. I don’t care how rich he was, how safe his money might’ve made me feel I could never have made Jackie Kennedy’s choice of Aristotle Onassis—no, no, and no. My non-negotiables are attraction and kindness, but that’s if I’m looking for a life partner—which I may not be.

I am reminded of a friend who years ago put forth her concept of situational friendship. I was wanting friends to be everything and she said that was foolish—just take from each person what they have to give. Let your neighbor drive your kid to school, find an exercise buddy, get intellectual stimulation from your book club, have lunch with someone who makes you laugh. Most of us stop finding all we want and need in a “best friend” somewhere between kindergarten and college graduation. It’s ok to spread your needs out among your village. Maybe that’s the same with dating, finding male companionship. I’m not sure, but I’m open to the idea. Maybe I go to the symphony with one person, bike at Kensington with another, have stimulating conversation over dinner with a third and get physical with someone not interested in any of the above. Sounds exhausting!

For those who want a permanent, all-in-one partner you cannot beat the efficiency of a friend’s father-in-law. His wife of many years died and the casserole ladies were swarming like bees because he was a handsome, fit, southern gentleman and a pillar of the community to boot. He set up 5 dates with 5 separate women on consecutive nights. As I recall he got to the second date, found the woman he wanted, tore up the rest of the calendar and was married in the blink of an eye. The speed at which all of this occurred was hard for some of his kids. But his wife had suffered from a lingering illness and he had been caring for her and, in a very real sense, mourning her for several years. He wanted to get back to living and chose a darling firecracker with whom he spent many happy years.

So here’s what I’ve decided: I will not give out my cell number nor start texting. I will do a little back and forth email typing, but only for a day or two. I will accept or initiate 10 dates— coffee, drink, a meal, whatever. I will drive as far as 60 miles if it seems worth it and I will show up looking my best and engage in the most scintillating conversation I can muster. I will ask questions and show interest in the other person and answer his questions with complete honesty. I will stay open to possibilities and will remember that my first date with Tom consisted of him talking for 90 straight minutes because he was so nervous. I was there only to make sure he didn’t seem like an ax murderer (tricky, as Ted Bundy was apparently a handsome charmer) before accepting his invitation to cook me dinner. I will remember that I didn’t really feel drawn to him until the second date, when his strong carpenter hands sliced a perfect onion in his beautiful kitchen.

I will also take a page from the protagonist in The Rosie Project who is on the autism spectrum and creates a questionnaire and spreadsheet for all his applicants. I am not great with names so I will faithfully record who I saw, when, where and any impressions. After date number 10 I will take stock and try to decide:

  1. Do I have the emotional stamina to do this dating thing again?
  2. Did I meet anyone I want to see more of?
  3. Do I want to try to keep multiple dating balls in the air at once?
  4. Do I know any more yet about what I want in a relationship?
  5. Would I have more fun watching Netflix on my computer in my jammies?

In other words, it is just sort of a science project. Do the research, expend the effort, analyze the results. I will coach myself through it like the sales manager who tells the new guy to go out and get 100 “NO”s. Of course what he really wants is “YES”es, but that is a daunting task, whereas merely getting 100 people to reject you seems like a breeze. And if you are making that many calls there is bound to be a YES buried in there someplace. Maybe one of the 10 will take my breath away, give me that giggly school girl feeling, rock my world. Or maybe I will just meet some nice, interesting people. Either way it seems worth the small chance of being hacked to tiny bits. I’ll let you know if by any chance lightning strikes.

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