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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(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

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Katie Sipowicz

It’s no secret that when it comes to binge watching, I am a repeat offender. There are decades old series, and even game shows, that provide me great comfort from time to time. My ability to re-watch and continue to enjoy certain shows and films drove my husband bonkers. It is one of the very rare upsides to being alone that I can indulge in these vapid pleasures without judgement. This past year, my living room has been screening The West Wing and N.Y.P.D. Blue. The comfort derived from a fictional White House staffed with civility, reason and stellar intellect is clear. The appeal of “being back on the Blue” is a bit more elusive. It is not for everyone, I admit that. But for me it is all about the relationships. The dialogue and acting are always so spot on. The directing and editing capture silent moments sometimes far more powerful than the dialogue. There is a realness to it all.

I don’t relate to all of the characters. I have clenched my jaw watching the character of Diane as she uses her childhood and family of origin to justify her weakness and bad choices.  I almost have to avert my eyes as she wallows in widowhood having been married a whole week before her husband dies. I’m always more of a champion of those that don’t bask in victim-hood.. At various times I have various favorites. I like to watch these “people” overcome their demons and evolve.  This go around I’ve been drawn to the character of Andy Sipowicz’s ex-wife. Katie is played by the enchanting Debra Monk and for the first few years is mostly annoying. The loss of her marriage and their only son, shatters her. She finds A.A. and gets in touch with her religion, and becomes a different sort of annoying but not longer a victim. The other night I saw the most heartbreaking moment between her and Andy. The bareness of her need and the depth of history and feeling Andy has for her were evident in about 5 seconds of film. I gulped and let go of a flood of tears. A few episodes later Andy gets into bed with his preschool aged son who is sleeping with “Aunt Katie”. He cuddles the boy and they drift off to sleep. The camera moves to Katie on the other side of the bed and we see that she is awake. Her face registers serenity. The thought bubble says “This moment, all I need is this moment.” For this night she has her old life back. He’s no longer her husband and that is not their child, but it feels familiar. It reminds her of a time she had it all.

It is almost five years since my husband died. I have had boyfriends and relationships and I’ve no doubt that many if not all, have been the result of my seeking to reclaim my old life. I’ve sought comfort in the rhythms of a coupling rather than the dynamic between us. It mattered less how I felt about the person than how I did about the mechanics of our coupling: to wake up and have coffee with someone, to spend holidays together, to discuss the highs and lows of our day. That’s what I craved. I don’t have the sense that these men appreciated me anymore than I did them. I was able to ignore many shortcomings and red flags in pursuit of the rhythm. It is akin to an addiction, the drive to recapture what was lost. Even when I was doing it I knew what I was doing. I am pragmatic and hyper-aware so have never had the luxury of deluding myself. I silently narrate my experiences, no matter how emotionally intense. (You shoulda heard the monologue when I was told my husband was dead!) My most Katie moment came two years ago on a speedboat in the middle of the Caribbean. My boyfriend and I were traveling to a remote island to spend eight days together. The last time either of us had done anything remotely like this was on our respective honeymoons. Before we left for the trip I had already seen the signs. I knew we were not going to go the distance. On paper it really was a great match. But I knew. So there we were on the speedboat and the captain told us to hold on it was about to get rough. Without warning my partner wrapped me in his arms and held on tight. I watched the distant island grow closer and thought; “Remember this feeling, it may never happen again.”

Calendar Man

A few months ago I lost interest in dating. It’s not that I checked it off my bucket list once and for all. It’s that I lost the same interest I once had. It ceased to seem important or even worthwhile. Maybe it was the two thoroughly disheartening experiences I had in May. Maybe after over three years of it, I’ve had enough. Potato Potahto.

I still keep a hand in (not the best choice of phrases, I know) but do so in a very different manner. I sort through, looking for the one profile/person I might be able to tolerate hearing from; not date, not partner with, but hear from. I no longer consider choosing to stay home a sign of anything but self-knowledge. The world isn’t watching and my worth is not predicated on someone wanting to buy me dinner. Quite frankly I’d rather not eat than sit across from someone uninteresting or unpleasant. I am done feeling as if I’m being auditioned or worse, not being seen at all. None of us walk through life as kind and compassionate as we could be. But if you can’t treat a friend or date with interest and care, what are you doing with your life? Don’t paw me, don’t ask me to wear something sexy, don’t begin a communication (when you’ve never met me) with “hey sexy.” I am not a prude I am a person. Seeing me as a potential conquest is so dehumanizing.

I haven’t joined an order. I am still open to dating from time to time (okay, once a month) but I do so with a very different mindset. I no longer assess men’s characteristics for long-term partner worthiness. I take them as they present themselves. Does a man express interest in me (which is NOT the same, in fact often the opposite of; does he want to sleep with me!)? Does he appear to see women as equals not adversaries? Is he interesting? IS HE KIND? The intangibles are now meaningless. I don’t care where he lives, what his faith is, what ages his children are…it just comes down to; would I rather watch TV or go out with this man?

Thus far this new approach has resulted in two simply lovely dates. Both men were kind, funny, interesting and seemingly emotionally intelligent and engaged. I may see them again, I may not. But to have spent a June evening debating the appeal of Chekov and a July evening discussing gender as a social construct, all while laughing and feeling a kinship, is enough for now.

 

 

 

Not O.K. Cupid, Not O.K.

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. My family had no money, which they liked to remind us kids of as often as possible. But it wasn’t just a lack of money, it was an utter lack of indulgence that wedged that spoon in my mouth. To say it was an adult-centric household would be an understatement. I have no recollection of anyone asking me about homework but I do remember many many nights of asking my parents to quiet their fighting so I could get to sleep. There were more melodic sleep preventers as well, as my mother would practice piano (placed under my bedroom) into the late night. It was the adults’ world, and we were just visiting until aged 18 (of which we were reminded often). It’s fair to say that I was not raised with any sense of entitlement whatsoever.

Fast-forward to my middle age. I’ve worked since I was 11 but haven’t done so since 2011. I don’t live lavishly but compared to some Americans, I live well. I still am slow to “get” that my needs matter (childhood imprinting works!) but despite my childhood, I seem to have developed a sense of entitlement. I am not comfortable admitting it; but since my husband died, I’ve developed a sense of “deserving” happiness. Ick, right? I have always taken people’s unkindness personally. But, now?! Now there is this inner outrage; “do you know what I’ve been through?!!!! Do you know what I’ve survived?! Do you have any idea what it takes for me to wake up every single day and commit myself to my own happiness and being a good person?!” Lemme tell you something: this is NOT a good mindset when it comes to dating. I truly, in my heart of hearts, deep down in the core of my very being, think I deserve happiness. What does that mean?! Who the hell doesn’t deserve happiness? (Let’s not bring serial killers and politicians into this please.)

What happens when you believe you’ve suffered enough (which is what deserving of happiness really means) is that you (and by “you” of course I mean “me”) are utterly shattered when a partner or potential partner is not nice. Yes I get it, everyone has their stuff. Everyone is limited. But there is no way on earth that my husband was the last decent and kind man on the planet. I’m guessing it’s not that I am attracted to Simon Legrees. I have pretty good taste in people (which is why I like very few of them.) I am highly intuitive and can spot crazy from a hundred paces. (I recently pegged a date as a pedophile…pretty sure I was right.) I think what really is at issue is that I’m wounded. Deeply and profoundly wounded and don’t really have the capacity to endure small scrapes and bumps any longer. It’s been four and a half years and I want so badly to feel as strong and as happy as I did with my husband. I want to wake up in the morning and be happy not feel as if I have to become happy.

I once considered it a mark of my recovery and strength that I was willing to try other people on (which is what dating is). I think perhaps I was kidding myself. When your life shatters in an instant. When everything you thought you knew to be true disappears…Well, I think it’s too much to ask of myself to think I can handle any more blows to my heart.