Must Hate Dogs

I’m no stranger to online dating; I’ve flitted in and out of that surreal world over the past four years. And what a world it is. I have seen and read things I can never unknow. Men (presumably the typers are in fact men) are still able to shock and offend me; bless. A profile is a first impression and the things some grown men (again, we’re assuming they are what they say they are) put on a profile are just extraordinary. Their judgement is questionable at times. Claiming you are 54 and having a profile picture that indicates you are well into your late 70s or have rapid aging disease is odd, as is having a grainy college graduation pic of you in mutton chops and a wide lapel polyester shirt. The latter choice being far to odd for me to tease apart. Is the gentleman proud of once having colossally bad taste or of having graduated 45 years ago?

Someone should make a coffee table book of profile pics. Someday it could be a useful archeological tool. There is no end to the amusement and head scratching that comes from some photos, but the choice of words tell a richer and often darker story. Now keep in mind that what I’ve seen over the years is by no means a scientific sample. I am mostly looking at middle-aged men in my (urban) geographical area who have chosen to use dating sites. That sample will never be representative of all heterosexual middle-aged single men. (Aside: shall we discuss how many of these men are upfront on the site about not in fact being single?! To their credit(?) they flat out say they are cheating on a partner or are separated which is not single it is only a state of mind. You can argue all you want with me about that one but good luck arguing with the IRS; you’re either married or you’re not, end of story.) We can agree that my sample is just that; my sample.  That said, OMG! The most stunning and disheartening takeaway is how openly hostile many of these men are. Their profiles or initial chats are so often combative I’m left wondering what it is they are looking for? A good fight? In what universe does bullying work as courting? Profiles are chock-full of what I should look like, act like, speak like, and think like. All these demands listed in a platform with serious word limitation. This is how they choose to talk about themselves; to list their demands. Charming. I’ve seen profiles that talk about how much money a woman should have. Money! Discussing money before you’ve even met someone. Eeh gads. I’ve seen men require a love of their own dog while others have listed what dogs I am allowed to have. No, I’m serious. I actually saw a profile in which the man stated; “if you have a terrier, swipe left.” Hand to G-d I am not making that up. A terrier. Did he have a Toto trauma as a child?

The open hostility is a mystery to me. I have been bullied more in four years as a dating adult than during three years in junior high (and I was a dork.) “Give me your number” as an opening line is not charming. Why would I give you my number? The app is designed for texting! I don’t want a stranger calling me, or doing a rudimentary google search with my number! When I’ve gently pointed out that we can exchange necessary texts on the app, I’ve been the subject of outbursts more appropriate for having recorded over their winning high school touchdown. Dude, if you have no interest in my needs we are not destined for greatness. How about the guy who did use the app for texting, but only in emojis. True story. He had (what no doubt he considered) entire conversations in emoji. After several of these hieroglyphic exchanges he asked me to call him. I suggested we might try typing words first, so then he began texting me one word communications. Is this a battle of wills or a courtship? When one man with whom I’d exchanged all of two sentences asked for my number, I explained that I don’t love talking to strangers on the phone and would prefer a little more texting. He blew up. No, I mean he lost it. He treated me to a lengthy diatribe on what was wrong with me and why I was destined to live and die alone. Charming, just charming. Gentlemen, first impressions count.

The thing is, these are not young men. Presumably they’ve been at this for awhile. Even if they’re out of practice with dating, they have met other human beings before! I’m not willing to say; well that’s why they’re single, after all I’m single too. I think what we have here is a perfect little storm of; online anonymity mixed with insecure and disappointed men (aka: bullies). I’m a rose-colored glasses hopeless romantic. I don’t live in a Hallmark movie delusional state, but I do presume people show their best self at first and want happiness. Anyone using the biographical portion of their dating profile to say: “You must be fit, petite, no taller than 5’2″, dress well and be well-groomed. Take pride in your appearance. Don’t say you’re comfortable in jeans and a little black dress. Don’t post pics wearing sunglasses. No selfies. Don’t pout. Work-out 5 times a week. Be successful and independent. Know what you want. No needy chicks. Share my interests. I’m not your sugar daddy. No drama. No terriers.” is in pursuit of something but not necessarily happiness.

 

 

 

 

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Dear Deceased

I don’t think I actually know anyone foolish enough to ask me when I’ll be over my husband’s death, but I’ve had the answer queued up just in case: When I stop getting mail addressed to him.

My favorite bits of mail addressed to him are the ones marked: “URGENT”. Sender, I’m calling hyperbole on that. I find the credit card offers amusing, in a sinister sort of way. I like to indulge in the dark fantasy of me engaged in risky or nutty behaviors. Imagine the grief induced spending bender I could go on with all those credit cards and their ridiculous $25,000 limits. Crikey! I’ve also been known to let out a titter or two when receiving life insurance offers in his name. My doorman no doubt has wondered at what my “ship has sailed” mutterings at the mailbox actually mean. Some of these communications to (versus “from”) the beyond have been jarring if not deeply upsetting. I’ve had more than one conversation with development officers explaining; “the customary reply to my news is to offer condolences!” I mean, if you’re going to ask for money from people, particularly dead people, you best learn some social niceties. The other day I received an email addressed to him (odd but true). It was from an NPR affiliate asking for money. My husband and I had not lived in listening distance to the station for fifteen years, so the solicitation was odd to begin with. I hit reply and asked to have my late husband’s name removed from their list. Clearly I unleashed a beast, because I then received several more emails also addressed to him. I replied to them all before I considered that a high school intern was probably manning the mailbox. This morning first thing, I emailed the director of their development office and zippity zappity do, he immediately apologized and took care of it. He was professional and human; a breath of freaking fresh air (get it? Fresh Air!) well done NPR, it’s only April but you’re in the running for 1st Place. (For those keeping score, the loser was determined very early this year: my wedding photographer, also a former colleague, Facebook messaged me asking if my husband and I would like to buy the negatives of our wedding photos. Upsetting? Sure, but not as gut wrenching as when I explained that he died and the response was: “They’re $250.” Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude.)

These communications are amusing or distressing depending upon where I am and what they are. When I’m sad and feeling small and alone, seeing his name stings like a back of the hand across my heart. It feels like a cosmic confirmation that the world doesn’t care. There are times when I’m feeling strong and hopeful and it still stings as it’s a reminder that I will forever be his widow. But there are times when I’m a bit numb, a shadow me, when it doesn’t exactly hurt. It’s more like when you run your fingertip through a candle tip; ah yes, I felt that. Other times, I just have to laugh.

While I never run to the mailbox hoping for a piece of mail addressed to my husband I have no doubt that some day I will and it will be in vain.

 

 

 

 

 

What You Can’t Plan For

I dreamt of him last night. This was not the “I know you’re dead but let’s talk anyway” usual affair, nor the “How could you of faked your death? Do you realize what you’ve done?!”. No, this dream had not even a whiff of death. He was very much alive and the feelings so vivid it felt more like a flashback than a dream. He was telling me that he had Monday off (but would have to work a little from home) and I was so utterly brimming with joy that I ran and jumped into his arms, wrapping my naked self around him. That feeling of joy was so accurate, so real. It’s been a long ass time since I’ve felt it, but I recognized it immediately. I was as happy to see it as I was my husband!

I’m not romanticizing my marriage by saying that I just loved spending time with my husband. He made me angry and sad at times as I’ve no doubt I did him. But for 18 years there was absolutely no one with whom I’d rather spend time. No one. He didn’t take enough time off, so when there were those unexpected days off I really was thrilled. He (almost) always took off for my birthday and every holiday his workplace acknowledged. But when it came to planning time off he was rubbish. My husband was many things, but a planner was not one of them. He was an idea man, and I was and still am a details woman. There were times, I’ll admit, that I really resented his lack of planning. I hated how tending to all the details made me feel like the “mother”. I envied friends whose husbands planned and executed their travel. I remember a particular tense travel dust-up: once upon a time, during the age of mapquest, my husband printed out directions and handed them to me. Once behind the wheel, he kept asking me to navigate. He had not looked at a map before we left and had no idea what direction we were headed. My “you have one job!” outburst was a long time coming. I planned the trip, got the cash, shopped for and packed the picnic, packed my bag, the dog’s bag, cleaned out the fridge, stopped the newspaper, etcetera, etcetera. All he had to do was pack his back and drive the damn car. Our division of labor was much more balanced in every other domain. But anything that took planning? Eeh gads.

Funny thing; one of the first things I did after he died was to cancel all our plans. (Psychological aside; he canceled my happily ever after plans by dying, and I responded by canceling all our immediate plans.) Just hours after he died, I enlisted friends to cancel the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans I’d made for us. The four days at the beach making turkey with our best friends? Gone. The Christmas show at Birdland? Poof. The New Year’s Eve dinner cruise with friends? Over. All of it, over. Really and truly over. I’ve been on a dinner cruise since then, and to the Birdland Christmas show. I’ve been at the beach since New Year’s Eve this year. They’ve all been fine, sometimes pleasant and always monochromatic. For as long as anyone would listen I’ve maintained that a happy marriage makes life technicolor. Last night in my dream I saw all the colors of the rainbow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Don’t) Look, up in the sky!

What’s your superpower? Whenever the chatter (virtual or real) runs out of steam, someone is bound to ask; what would be the superpower you would choose? These days of course I would wish for time travel. Any day from the mid 1990s until late 2013 would do. If I must winnow, then it would be my wedding anniversary in 2013. That was a great day. But before my husband died I would’ve answered “invisibility”. Oh how I long for a cloak of invisibility. I don’t want to spy on people unnoticed, or roam bank vaults or jewelry counters. I just prefer not to be seen.

I know what you’re thinking…”aren’t you the woman who showed up to a fundraiser dressed in a snakeskin suit?!” Yes, that was me. I stand by that fabulous suit and the knowledge that I wore it because I loved it, not because I wanted to be noticed. The (very, very) few moments in my life when I knew all eyes would be on me I dressed as neutrally as possible. My wedding dress was a simple satin column with long sleeves, and even that pained me. I hated the idea of a gown (something I would never don in real life) AND of being the star of the show. I wore a knee-length, boat necked, long sleeved dark green dress at my husband’s service. Believe me, if there was a way I could have produced that event for the people who wanted and needed it and sat it out, I would have. Having to be at the center of that show was agony for me. The comments people made about my appearance still echo in my head. I have just never been comfortable with people’s asesment of my appearane.

Let me be exruciatingly clear, right now and right here: I am delighted with my own appearance. I think I’m pretty and have a lovely body and in my age class am at least a 9. So let’s not confuse other people’s unwelcomed attention with any insecurities or body image issues I may have…I don’t. For most of my life not being seen was not based on my appearance but rather by the fact that I’m actually an introvert, a closeted one, but one nonetheless. I lived in a small town for ten years and going to the grocery store was my Nam. I would keep my eyes down and push the cart with a force and determination usually associated with manual lawn mowers. The football field sized store was a small talk landmine. (Have you ever noticed that the lack of cultural opportunities of a town is reflected inversely by the size of its grocery store?) I would sneak a glance down an aisle, making a split second determination of where to turn my cart. It was exhausting. You may be wondering; “Good G-d woman, why didn’t your husband do the shopping?!” Oh he was there. He was standing at the entrance talking to any and everyone. What can I say; opposites attract.

I’ve lived in a city for almost 15 years now. Mercifully, forced social interaction is no longer a weekly occurance. However since my husband died, I’ve discovered what a lot of women have always known. We are really really really judged on appearance. Was I clueless when I was younger? Was I married to the last evolved straight man? I’ve no idea. My husband, and the world I inhabited as a married woman, never made me feel that my appearance was the most important part of me. My husband thought I was beautiful and would have prefered if I never put on clothes. However he was my biggest fan in all regards. I understand that online dating is a visual medium. Of course we judge potential dates on what they look like. When I was engaged in swiping, I would nudge right when his eyes looked kind, or he had the smile of a man who got the joke. As long as he appeared to be in good health, I had no interest in his body. I mean, they’re over 50 for crying out loud! If they have all their original parts that’s a win! It was the rare, really rare, okay, nonexistent man who felt the same as I. Whether in messages or face to face I have had the pleasure of hearing a stranger’s opinion of my appearance. How charming. How utterly romantic. Before we get all uppity about the superficialness of online dating, let’s me state that this has happened many times in real life as well. I’ve had less than a handful of relationships since my husband died and each one of these “gentlemen” talked at length about my body as well as voicing their preferences as how I groom or dress it. Ick. Seriously, ick.

I’m a middle-aged woman with interests, opinions, experiences, ideas, beliefs, and hopes who lives inside a body. Ninety percent of who I am is what’s inside. I am blessed with a strong vessel and the desire to keep it strong. I am lucky to be a late bloomer and have come into my prettiness after I was (almost) fully formed. To be valued for something that is the very least of who I am is offfensive and disheartening. Receiving compliments is not a problem, feeling like an accessory is. I want to be seen. Signed – Invisible Woman

 

 

 

 

 

Make A Wish

My husband’s birthday is in a few weeks. I’m not yet sure if I’ll acknowledge it in any way. The first year after he died I spent weeks, if not months, strategizing how I’d observe the day. I remember a well-meaning person telling me; “planning is a good coping mechanism”. But it wasn’t about that. Planning birthday celebration has always been important to me and at least half the fun. I grew up in a house where birthdays were a big deal, he did not. I loved planning small surprises and meaningful celebrations and presents for him. The last few years of his life I had designed the perfect decadent birthday breakfast. Watching his delight at I placed the “challah french toast nutella and jam sandwich with homemade syrup” I would grow giddy. So planning how I’d honor his first birthday after his death was more of not being in any hurry to relinquish that particular joy. Which is why just four months after his sudden death, I dressed up and took myself to the Bemelman Bar for a drink. I sat in a corner sipping a glass of champagne, a jumble of anxiety and sadness. Within earshot was a young woman celebrating her 21st birthday with her parents. I did not burden her  with “OMG it’s my late husband’s birthday too!” but took delight in the observation nonetheless.

Since that surreal first year, I’ve made less of an event of his birthday. I do remember cringing one year as I realized I was consummating a new relationship on my husband’s birthday. (By the time I realized the supreme tackiness of it, it really was too late.) I like to think I evened the cosmic score by making him a birthday cake last year (but who am I kidding; I was the one who ate the cake!). I suspect that this year on his birthday I’ll be at the dentist getting my new crown. It’s kind of funny considering how dental work played a minor recurring role in our relationship. When it became apparent we’d be getting married, I sat my future husband down and said; “I need to tell you something; you are signing on to HUGE dental bills for the rest of your life.” One of the first presents he ever gave me was while I was recovering from oral surgery. Perhaps as the hygienist straps on the nitrous (yes I get nitrous for every single procedure, did you not read that part about the dental bills?!) I will think; “This one’s for you, husband!”

If I’m not nursing a nitrous hangover, I suspect at the very least I’ll pour a drink and toast to him. So much has changed in the past five years. The first and the fifth year have been life altering. Truly. I do not recognize my life from two years ago any more than I do the life six years ago. My husband is part of my life now in a way he never was. I talk to him and think of him constantly. It’s not a Vaseline on the lens kind of view of him. I think of him the way he really was. I cannot conjure what he’d think or say about all things, but it’s surprising how many I can. There are many areas of my life in which I feel confident and am my best counsel. But there are some that make my knees buckle, and I ask myself WWHD (what would husband do). I freely admit to narrating some of life’s most joyous moments to him as if I’m watching a play seated next to a visually impaired friend. He’s a genuine part of my life now. Like an imaginary friend. I did not see it coming (like his death) and never dared to wish it, but am delighted beyond measure. This is the sixth birthday since he’s died, but the first that I’ll truly feel he’s with me.