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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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.

 

 

 

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and in NYC that means; Fleet Week! The streets of New York are awash in men and women in uniform. If the light (and your alcohol level) is just right, it’s as if you’ve been transported into the film; On The Town. A person (ahem; ME) could spend the entire weekend sailor spotting. I’ve been known to chase down a uniform from two blocks away. I accost these poor visitors with thanks for their service and for brightening up our city for the weekend. Oh, and sometimes I ask for a photo.

By Friday morning I still had not posted any photos on Facebook and began to get concerned messages. Seriously. Some of the queries were from the same friends who had sent “Happy Fleet Week” messages (it’s nice when your friends “get you”). I assured them that all was well and I simply hadn’t found the right opportunity. To prove my reliability I posted old photos; photos my husband had taken of me with our men and women in uniform. It was a warm and wonderful reminder of what a champion of mine he was. Anything was possible with him as my cheerleader and biggest fan. Oh how that man loved me! “You want to work? Fine. You don’t want to work? That’s okay too! You want to try the stage again? WOOHOO! Buy the snakeskin suit, it looks great on you. Splurge!” (Almost) anything and everything was okay in his book. He was always so proud of me and so open to new adventures. I doubt he would’ve gone to as many drag shows, gay bars or straight theatre if I hadn’t wanted to. So there he was, behind the camera as I cozied up to our resplendent men and women in uniform; loving my red, white & blue outfit…and my legs.

I miss the man so often, but I miss that feeling always. I felt strong and brave and seen. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again. But even if I never do, I did. For 18 years I had everything I needed and more than I ever dared to dream.

False Victory

What a sense of victory it was; all those firsts! Each time I survived a holiday or milestone I did so with shock and awe. When I made it to the first year anniversary of his death I felt as if I was crossing a finish line. I did it! And I did, gritting my teeth and with white knuckles. Each and every little thing that I had to do by myself for the first time, shook me to the core while filling me with pride. I did it! I made it through the birthdays, anniversaries, lawyer’s appointments, financial decisions, travel, health issues, and holidays completely on my own. Twelve months of firsts and I made it.

Over four years later it occurs to me that those firsts may have been the easy part. The adrenaline of “I can do this!” mixed with my shock and numbness helped ease the way. Now it’s no longer about “getting through” anything, it’s about the stunning and cruel fact that this is my life. Doing it all on my own; the financial decisions, the legal affairs, my health and happiness, all of it, are my one-woman show. It shouldn’t really be so startling to me. I didn’t marry until I was a ripe old age of 32. I had lived on my own for a decade, coming home to an empty house and being my own counsel. If anything it should be easier now. I was stupider then (isn’t everyone?) and had zero professional or financial safety net. I certainly did not have the confidence acquired sometime in my 40s. So you would think that now; devoid of the unflattering perm and having a modicum of security I would find it if not easier than at least comparable. Alas, no.

If you’re a math person you’ll have no doubt noticed a bit of a mathematical formula in the paragraph above. Call it the Happiness Formula if you will:

Youth – knowledge – confidence – resources = 20s Happiness

Experience + confidence + resources + knowledge – perm = 50s Happiness

But there’s a factor missing, one that can’t really be quantified: my broken heart and spirit. I may be stronger on paper but I’m less than whole in reality. I am wounded. It’s that simple. Yes, I am capable of love and happiness, but I am fundamentally bruised and changed. Each difficult task or setback feels bigger and darker now. It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are times I feel I’m owed a break and even happiness after what I’ve been through. I feel that every time the world is not nice to me that it’s personal. I feel resentful that on top of everything else, I still need to fight with the co-op board about my cable bill. I know it’s utterly absurd and unpleasantly self-absorbed but it is how I feel.

I’m disheartened to realize that I did not in fact cross any kind of finish line. That victorious feeling of surviving the first year was a false victory. There is no benchmark, there is no end point. I am not owed a happy ending or even kindness. There is no epiphany waiting around the next corner. For each day I wake up and think; I’m okay, I like my life, there will be an evening that I cry myself to sleep. This is my life now.

 

I Shouldn’t Have To

I was a turtle without its shell after my husband died. The air outside stung my skin during those first few weeks. I felt so exposed, so porous and so frightened. The first time I left the house alone at night, I could barely breathe. It was one month after he had died and my lovely and loving friends had come across the country and were taking me to dinner on Christmas night. My doormen eased me into the cab as if I were made of glass. He told me to call him if I wanted him to come get me. The look on my face must have frightened him. I arrived at the Central Park South hotel a bit too early and took a seat in the lobby. There was a piano player and I thought; “maybe I can do this”. I heard the first notes of “Christmas Waltz” and started to tremble. I should’ve been hearing that song at Birdland, as I did for the past five years. I would’ve been sharing a bottle of champagne with my husband, both of us looking better than usual in the table’s candlelight. By the time my friends came to swoop me into the dining room I was walking like a newborn colt.

Those days are far behind me. Thank God. I have forged ahead, making new friends and adventures. There are times I’m exhausted from the efforts. But I’m not scared anymore, and I no longer feel exposed…that is until recently. In the space of just one month I have felt, not so much like a turtle without its shell, but like I was being shown to my cell past the lifers. I’m not a prude and I certainly don’t take it personally when men gaze. But to have a man (I’d Just Met) grow angry because I didn’t want to have sex with him? That I take personally. When another man, after a first coffee, grabbed my breast; that I take personally. Chalk these up to bad dates. But then I was out of town and took an Uber, and the 28-year old driver spent the 20 minute drive hitting on me. No, there is nothing remotely flattering about this. And if you think there is, just picture that first walk to your cell. I was trapped in the Uber with a man telling me how hot I was. I arrived at my destination shook. I found a seat in my favorite restaurant, near enough to the piano bar and far enough from anyone else. While I ate, my waiter brought me a drink “from this really great guy and his girlfriend.” I declined but my waiter insisted that they’re great people. Fine, I’ll keep an open mind. Fast forward an hour when I ran out of the restaurant and hid waiting for my Uber. Yes, my 50-year-old self did not see the request for a threesome coming. The next day I could not shake the feeling that I had brought this on myself. I rarely go out to dinner by myself, but I was traveling and I just love this restaurant. I looked at the dress I had worn and actually wondered if I had “asked for it”! I spent the entire day feeling a bit sick and very very sad.

The next night I went out with two couples. I had never met one of the wives before and she had decided, before meeting me, that she hated me. I was dressed like a country club matron, and mostly kept quiet. In other words, there was nothing remotely threatening about me. But then I remembered my 20s: a single woman was either prey or a threat. That was the law of the jungle. I’m hopelessly naive, particularly for a cynic, but I just didn’t realize this was still true at my age. I’m not willing to stop being me so that other people can feel secure or treat me with respect. I will wear what makes me feel strong and happy. But I’m not sure I’ll go where I want to go. I have no desire to feel so exposed, so porous and so frightened ever again. The feminist in me rages against this decision, but my well-honed sense of self-preservation will prevail.

I am a homebody and an introvert by nature. It takes an awful lot to get me out that front door. But I do it. I do it all the time. Sometimes it’s fabulous but often times it’s not. But I still keep forging ahead. I don’t know what else to do to feel as if I’m still alive. The thing is, it takes so much strength to fight my own nature and participate in the world. I don’t have the strength to fight everyone else. And I shouldn’t have to.