“I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog.” – Wendy Liebman
This blog is about what my year of being 60 years old looks like, my meditation practice and getting in touch with my bliss. One question put to me by friends comes up more frequently than any other when I discuss how my year is going. That is, “So, are you seeing anybody?” I have to admit, I am dipping my toes back in the dating waters with happy anticipation and a healthy dose of trepidation. No amount of meditation seems to prepare me for the sheer terror or the disappointment. It does help me keep my sense of humor.
I made my last serious attempt at dating a couple of years ago. Before venturing forth that time, I sat down to review my past experiences. Below you will find my retrospection. Now it’s years later and another half dozen dates under my belt and I am still confounded and amused. The only thing that has changed with turning 60 is that now I am competing with 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, 50-somethings, AND 60-somethings. But, I do love a challenge.
I thought you would enjoy my online dating story. If you are coupled, it will fill you with gratitude. Go kiss that unshaven slug imbedded in the couch, channel surfing the games and rubbing Cheeto dust into his sweatshirt. You could be facing this instead:
“I knew from the first moment I saw you that we were going to fall in love.” My heart beat rapidly and I couldn’t suppress an uncomfortable smile. No, this wasn’t the start of a marriage proposal. That would have been absurd. Not because I didn’t return his affection (I didn’t), but because I had met this man only 30 minutes before. It was our first date.
When he delivered this line, the woman at the table next to us let out a brief, strangled sound. I thought she might be choking on her latte foam but, when I turned to look at her, I caught her staring at us. The look on her face told me she had been listening to our conversation. She’d seen me walk into the shop earlier, stop to look around quizzically before settling on the man whom I almost didn’t recognize as he was four inches shorter and 40 pounds heavier than his profile picture. From where the woman was sitting, she had the perfect view of me girding loins that, in an instant, I had determined would never be breached by this man sitting in front of me. She saw me fashion a smile out of good manners, and possibly noticed that I pulled my cellphone out of my coat pocket and clutched it to my chest as I wove my way to his table.
Later, when I got up to leave with him, I caught her look. She was begging me with her eyes not to go with him. She pleaded with me to understand that I could do better. I got the message loud and clear. But I hadn’t been on a date in five years and I had been no good at dating even then. Fast forward to this corner cafe and I still had no clue how to extricate myself and feel okay about crushing an enthusiastic partner.
I wish I could tell you the date ended at the door with a handshake. However, as a way to get out of the coffee shop, I had agreed to a walk by the lake. I was counting on the Chicago autumn winds to make my excuses for me and hasten my escape. No such luck. As we wandered along the lakeside path, I leaned heavily on the weapons I had in my meager date-dumping arsenal. I incessantly sent text messages to my younger daughter. I talked too much. I talked too little. I talked about my kids, my exes, my cats. But still he bested me. He spoke of astral charts, he gave me a complete list of his depression medications (generic names, brand names and side effects), he sang the praises of his unemployment and he, too, regaled me with cat stories.
When all my attempts to escape politely failed, I admitted defeat and told him it was time for me to go. I evaded his kiss and headed for my car. He walked me to the parking lot and manage to jump into the passenger seat before I could stop him. He reached into his pocket and I was concerned for my safety until, rather than a switchblade, he pulled out a notebook and started reading poetry. His poetry. I stared out the car window and wondered if I had remembered to feed the cats.
I like to think of myself as a nice person when it comes to first dates. I approach each meeting full of optimism. I do this while trying to beat down my insecurities about whether my date will think I’m too wrinkly, too flat-chested, too boring, too crazy. I consciously will myself to ignore my own gremlins of self-doubt as I try to find the key to truly liking the guy. And I attempt to do it all in high heels.
I figure the average man in my dating age range has been emotionally emasculated approximately 15,000 times before he dons that tie and sport coat and walks into the cafe to meet me. By the time he has survived the humiliation handed to him by his high school coach, ex-wife, bosses, co-workers, and the sexy next door neighbor (who the man tells himself must be a lesbian to shoot him down so coldly), he’s been muddled to a fine emotional pulp. I feel I owe it to the world to refrain from adding to the misery of one more guy.
I have never had the nerve to walk into a first date and just say “Sorry, this isn’t going to work,” and then leave. In fact, the less interested I have been, the guiltier I felt about being so shallow and thus the harder I tried to focus on something I could like about the guy. I would stay twice as long, smile twice as much, look interested, give the guy some hope. On the inside I was plotting my mental escape (and also hoping he wasn’t a stalker) as by now he had my phone number and possibly other identifying information.
Sometimes I felt that I had too much invested in the situation not to give it a chance. One of the biggest financial commitments I made to a first date was to fly across the country to meet a man. In all honesty, I had a conference to attend in a neighboring city so the date was, for the most part, on the company’s dime. I was only paying for the last night in a swanky downtown hotel. I caught a glimpse of the thinking of a man who shells out $500 for a sushi dinner and expects his date to repay him with a red-stilettos-to-the-ceiling thank you. I was spending $300 for a hotel room; I wanted my date to be charming, handsome and kind – not too much to ask for. I got exactly what that kind of thinking deserves.
I wish I could tell you that ‘Raven Man’ was a nickname I gave him, but it was a self-designated title. I had missed the inferred line in his dating profile where he must have explained how this very white and wizened Scandinavian man had morphed into a Native American shaman. I could hear his Viking ancestors turning in their graves. He was a civil servant with budget deadlines and staffing issues by day, a supernatural healer by night. Still, I thought I could tolerate a little crazy.
The date did not go well. My apparent texting (I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was actually playing solitaire on my phone) annoyed the faux buckskin pants off him. It is never a good sign when I recognize my own passive-aggressive behavior while I am doing it. I found myself angry with him for being one French fry short of a Happy Meal and yet, coincidentally boring.
I’ve learned where I draw my dating tolerance line in the sand. Boring, crazy, or just-not-my-type will still get you a cup of tea. I will even pay for it myself. But meanness is a deal breaker and I will walk out. However a man, or woman for that matter, gets to that place of seething rage, it is never okay to let it out on another human being. I have begun to suspect that there are more than a few people out there who are going on dates as therapy after a bad relationship – the kind of therapy where you use transference to deal with issues. It’s one thing to misplace your daddy feelings by developing a crush on your therapist. It’s a whole other pathology to verbally abuse other women four nights a week and twice on weekends because your ex-wife thought the mailman would make a better drinking partner. I don’t know if I just attract that type or if there are that many broken people out there. I prefer to think the former, which is something I can fix. If it is, as I fear, the latter, the world is in a truly bad place.
My most memorable hater was a man I will call ‘Charlie.’ Charlie was tall, dark and drop dead gorgeous. I could tell he had money by the cut of his jacket, not to mention that I had done my due Google diligence. His voice when he said hello made my knees weak and he smelled better than a simmering pot of chocolate molé sauce.
I should have known something was wrong when we went to take a seat at the bar. There were only two unoccupied seats. One had a jacket draped across the back, but no one claimed ownership. Charlie helped me onto that barstool and took the other one for himself. We ordered beers and began checking out the menu when a young man emerged from the knot of people waiting for table seating. He said, “Excuse me” politely and went to remove his jacket from the back of my seat. Charlie jumped up, grabbed him by the shirt collar and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing trying to fondle his date. The man apologized and tried to explain to Charlie that he was mistaken. Charlie threatened to “beat some manners” into him if he didn’t leave. Of course, I should have left, too at this point, but I needed a moment to digest what I had just seen. Perhaps I’d missed something?
We turned back to our menus as the bartender came to take our order. I’m a vegetarian, which Charlie knew from a previous discussion, and the list of food items available to me were limited. I was there for the company anyway, right? I found a combo plate of fries and onion rings and thought they would do a good job of soaking up alcohol and helping me to keep my head clear and my skirt on. As soon as I finished my order, Charlie turned to the bartender and said, “She’s not eating that shit. She’ll have . . .” and he proceeded to order a large bowl of calamari for me. I laughed. The bartender gripped his pen tighter, but didn’t commit the new order to paper. I suspect that working for years in that profession had trained him to read people’s faces. Mine was saying, “Oh, yeah, Buster, just who the hell do you think you are ordering my food for me?!”
I looked at the bartender and said, “No. Actually, I don’t eat calamari. I want the fries and rings.” The bartender winked at me before moving quickly to the opposite end of the bar to enter the order.
Charlie turned, glared at me and said, “You’re a feisty c**t, aren’t you?” Yes, ten minutes into the date and my well-heeled dinner companion had called me the ‘C’ word! Did I hear him right? Seconds passed as I replayed the mental tape to make sure I had heard him correctly. Oh, yeah, I had; and he did. I opened my mouth, but before I could form my first word Charlie said, “Gotta take a piss,” and he sprinted to the back of the bar. I caught the bartender’s attention as I waved a $20 bill at him before tucking it under my beer glass. I figured that would cover my share of the food and drink and leave a fair tip for the amount of verbal abuse he was about to suffer. I got out of there as fast as I could.
In some ways I have benefited from the dishonesty of my dates online profiles (no, not all my first dates have been plucked from the online kiddie pool, but more on that later). I have set fairly narrow parameters for my potential suitors. If they were all honest in their descriptions, I would find myself repeatedly dating the same man; and they would all be wonderful and compatible with me. But these men, in running from their insecurities have exposed me to many different personality types, social strata and professions. In lighter moments I am filled with gratitude; on the dark days, I wish I could sue them for false advertising.
There was one first date that allowed me a rare view into the cloistered world of commercial airline pilots. Before anyone starts dialing their attorney’s number to sue me for libeling all pilots, take a breath. I know not all pilots are like this guy. Sure, you hear the rumors, and we all know that where there’s smoke . . . But I got a 3 hour lecture that left me chilled to the bone. That was the day I decided I would never go on a second date with this man; and, I would never fly without making sure my life insurance was paid up.
I was stunned to learn how many pilots are high or over the legal alcohol limit when they strap themselves into that cockpit. Should I believe him? I walked him to his car after lunch. He opened the door and a crack pipe rolled off the seat onto the pavement. The color drained from his face as he bent to dig the pipe out of a snow bank. He stuck it in his pocket, then looked at me and said, “It’s my son’s.” That made me feel so much better. Then I wondered, had his 27 year old son been sitting in his lap while he drove to the restaurant? I declined a second date, citing irreconcilable differences.
Some dates didn’t work out because I just wasn’t attracted. I once showed up expecting to meet a handsome gray-haired man in a tuxedo, as advertised. I got, instead, a badly dyed comb-over, orange spray on tan and enough gold chains that Mr. T might have dated him (if it wasn’t for the whole orange thing). I didn’t recognize him when I entered the restaurant and stood at the door until he started waving his napkin and yelling my name from across the room. There was no way to make a graceful exit. I felt as if I were taking the walk of shame at the beginning of the date as thirty pair of eyes followed me to my seat. Only his charm exceeded the impression left by the hair dye streaks down the side of his neck. He regaled me for an hour with a list of every DUI and moving violation he’d ever had. I would have had him arrested for bad taste.
I made my worst dating mistakes early on in my dating career. More than once I broke the cardinal rule – don’t go to their place (or yours) on the first date. That would seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve always attacked things scientifically. I had some burning need to collect empirical data. There was the man who my co-workers, on hearing the story (yes, men, we tell all the stories – even the ones that make us look foolish) named him Mr. Nipps. The date was actually going pretty well at first. He was handsome, extremely intelligent, charming and had a beautiful home. I was excited to get to know him better. He wanted me to know him better as well. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why, after only one glass of wine, he emerged from the bathroom with his shirt off yelling “Rub my nipples, rub my nipples!” I laughed and shuffled backwards out the front door.
I think there must be a men’s dating manual somewhere that suggests a man exiting the bathroom in various stages of undress is all it takes to make a woman swoon. Mr. Nipps was soon eclipsed by Mr. Viagra. Use your imagination. At least he kept his shirt on. And, yes, as cruel as it seems, I laughed then, too.
It’s been my experience that men are no better than I am at a graceful brush-off. No one has ever told me to my face that it just wasn’t happening for him, but I have had my share of sneaky dumpers. One guy slowed his car as he drove past where I was sitting at the front window of the Starbucks. I watched him cruise by, slow down, take a good look at me, and then peel out. Part of me wanted to run after him and yell,”That’s not my good side!” Didn’t he know how long I had spent on my hair and make-up and on choosing my casual, yet alluring outfit? He hadn’t even seen my boots. The fake leather would have showed him that I am politically correct and frugal. He would have liked that about me.
I do have to say that his behavior was slightly less insulting than the man who walked by (same Starbucks) pretending to talk on his cellphone. For half an hour. He would slow, check me out, then walk away. Part of me was tempted to chase after him just to call him out. But it quickly became a game I played with myself to see how long he could keep it up. I’d place bets on whether he would come back for another circuit. Every time he made a pass, I had to take a sip. I went through two tall chai soy lattes before he failed to make his appointed round.
So, we have the men who instantly fall in love with me and those who are so repulsed that they are willing to risk a traffic violation to get away. There are also a number of men who fall in the middle of the ‘should I date her’ spectrum. In the past, these men often felt the need to validate their decision with a trusted friend of whether I was second date worthy – while we were still on the date. One man was a movie director. That is what he called himself. The first half of the date was watching him shoot an info-mercial for a local business. It looked like the kind of piece that was destined to air in the 3am time slot on a local television station. Still, it was gainful employment and he didn’t appear to be struggling financially for his art.
The film shoot was fascinating, we shared a beautiful dinner at a chic Gold Coast hot spot and I was really enjoying his company – right up until the point when he pulled out his cellphone and called his daughter to join us. He looked me in the eye as he told her he wanted her to come check me out. She showed up at the restaurant a few minutes later with eight friends in tow. Five of these friends just happened to be members of a world famous rock group. Our evening deteriorated into me watching my date and his daughter as they joined the alcohol binging, pill popping, raucous antics of their entourage. I’m not exactly a prude, and I won’t say I didn’t have a great time. I sucked down my share of Jameson and I laughed in all the right places. However, at the end of the evening his daughter took my arm and steered me down the street. She told me she had decided I wasn’t cool enough to date her dad. I thought she was right.
At least she was a human being. I had one date who took me out for drinks. We hit it off so well that we moved on to dinner. And more drinks. That is my only excuse for going back to his house with him on the first date. I know, I know. But wait. When we got to his house he rushed in excitedly, saying he had to call his best friend to tell her the date was going well. He was upfront with me and said he wanted to get her approval. He dialed her number and put her on speaker phone. Then he said, “Hello, this is George. May I please speak with Leslie’s vagina?” Yes, you heard me right. He then pushed me over to the phone and insisted that I hold a ten minute conversation with this woman’s talking vagina. I had not consumed enough alcohol for this. Still, I soldiered on and apparently made a good first impression. A squeaky voice rose from the speaker and said, “You’re a keeper.”
I could continue listing my 50 first dates from hell. After all, there was the lawyer with OCD who continuously cleaned the counter top with Windex – while I was sitting there eating my salad. There was the journalist who showed up for the first date at the restaurant with a shoe box filled with photographs of all his ex-girlfriends. There was the 6’10” 400 lb gentleman who was dressed as if he realized at the last moment that he had nothing to wear, so he ripped the sheets off his bed and wrapped himself in them. He spent the entire date bragging about making it through 5 years of undergraduate studies by living in the basement of the school’s architecture building and showering in the gym. One resourceful dude.
I didn’t always resort to online dating for my potential love matches, but meeting people has become much more complicated. My friends and family do a lot to help. I’ve been given dating site subscriptions as gifts – JDate netted me the Day Glo stunt driver. I’ve been through the cattle call of Match.com and Plenty of Fish. I have Become One with Dharmamatch, and I have been humiliated by eHarmony. According to their system, there was not a single compatible man for me. I was surprised the rejection didn’t come with an offer to refund my fee if I promised to put it towards counseling. I can honestly say “It’s me, not them.”
Whether I am too picky, too shrewd, or just plain too tired, I am not sure I can face one more first date. Of course, first dates can lead to second dates – good and bad. I actually went out again with the guy from the coffee shop who wrote bad poetry. He spent the entire evening running down a comparison of the bra cup sizes of every woman he’d ever dated. I started fake texting my daughter. And the man who showed up with the box of photos of all the women who had dumped him? He took me to a Bob Dylan concert for our second date and we had a great time.
Over the years I’ve turned into a dating wimp. I can’t recall the last time I got up the nerve to dip my toe into what has become a very shallow dating pool. But, I know in my heart that I haven’t given up completely. I still put on mascara to go to the grocery store. I join social groups and do volunteer work where my altruistic sensibilities compete with my hope of meeting someone to date; and, I realized the other day that I still check the ring finger of every man as he walks through the door at the neighborhood coffee shop. The fact that I still sit in coffee shops is a testament to my eternal optimism.
Let me leave you with one final story. There was a young woman who agreed to a fix-up first date with a friend’s ex-boyfriend. The friend thought he was a great guy, just not for her, so she offered to pay it forward. It was supposed to be a casual meeting at a party where they would be surrounded by spinach dip trays and old friends to greet if a diversion was needed. She got to the party late and her friend was nowhere to be found. She opted for a drink and turned to make her way to the kitchen. There, leaning against the doorframe, stood a man who took her breath away. Normally shy, she felt compelled to approach him and start a conversation. He was perfect – his smile made her weak-kneed. He was smart, charming, and handsome. He never took his eyes off her. The whole world seemed to fall away until her friend emerged from the crowd and said, “Oh, great, you guys found each other.”
I was the besotted young woman and that date was pure magic. I would do it again.