I have a couple of friends right now who are going through the mid-life dating ritual, and they've asked me for advice and writing help. This is what happens: If you are writer, people think you can write anything. Of course, this is not true, but having someone to call for obituaries, birth announcements, thank you notes, hate mail, and dating ads is very convenient.
Because some of my friends are of a certain age and suddenly single, they want to put their ads up online and commence the dating ritual of the currently separated and divorced The problem for me is that even though I’ve recently come through the other side of a dating spell, I've never been a big dater. My technique was to meet someone and move in with him as soon as possible.
Sometimes, this isn't the best plan, but it always worked for me.
So when I found myself having to go out on dates, I was rusty. Maybe I wasn't rusty as much as completely shiny and never tried out at all in the dating arena. In fact, when I came fresh onto the dating market when I was 43, I think the last "real" date I went on besides to one my former spouse took me on before we moved in together was a date in 1979 with a man named John Gonzalez. He was going off to be a doctor, and I had hopes for a big house and a life of ease, but it just didn't work out.
You may find what I have to say below ruthless and mean. I've lumped whole swathes of men into groups, but please forgive me. I am sure there is a list somewhere with my name on it. Maybe I’m there, right under the title “Neurotic Bitch.” But for the sake of this lesson, I've merged many people into few slots, as a primer for those out there and my friends starting out in midlife dating. Below, I share some of my hard won notes of female/male, heterosexual dating so that when you go through them yourself, you will say, "Why does this feel familiar?" My point would be, you can't escape any of this.
The first date I will detail is the Mr. Perfect date. I had one of these, and from the moment I met Steve, my life seemed magical, a word I should have recognized as suspect after having heard it bandied about in regards to real estate. But meeting Steve was, indeed, magical. He walked into the restaurant, and my heart did a nice little flip of happiness. The photos he’d put up on his Match.com ad hadn’t been lies. He was tall, good-looking, and dressed impeccably in a jacket and pants and slightly purple but not too purple dress shirt. He smiled as he recognized me, and as he took my hand to help me stand up from the couch in the waiting area, the soundtrack of our date swelled.
When seated, he began by appreciating me. My outfit, my looks. He asked me why I didn’t write that I was so fit, “so buff.” He complimented my dating site ad, saying, "It was the best I'd ever read." Of course you can imagine the double impact of that statement on a writer.
And when talking about his past loves, he was considerate, giving me his feelings not railing against the various women. He talked glowingly of his children, one his, the other two stepchildren that he never, ever considered "step" in any way.
At one point, he smiled at me, shook his head slightly, and said, "This date is absolutely delightful."
As the wine began to flow, as the food came in its delicious small plates, I realized Steve was the perfect man. When the meal finally ended, he walked me to my car and gave me the perfect small yet sexy kiss.
I never heard from him again.
Okay, I'd like to tell you that I didn't email or call him after waiting the requisite day or two. I want to fake my dignity, calm, and élan in the face of such a strange and surprising rejection. But I did email once, trying to figure out what happened. I said what a nice time I’d had meeting him (a broken rule right there, emailing the guy first. Steve taught me that). And then I sort of went into my own pathetic little whimper, asking if I had said something wrong. Had I made a mistake?
Mr. Perfect didn't answer.
Now, I think that he was probably a guy who did the perfect date routine as a matter of course. Maybe he has a first date fetish. I am not sure, but don't be surprised to have one of these. In fact, Steve is probably still around waiting for you, ready to take your call.
The next date is The Dumper. I had a couple of these, but the one who stands out most clearly is the man who spent about 4 and 1/2 hours telling me the story of his last breakup. From the time we sat down at the restaurant to the end of the walk we took afterward, I learned the entire history of their meeting, their life together, and their breakup. I learned his past only in order to understand his relationship with Tammy. Tammy this, Tammy that. Tammy, Tammy, Tammy. I knew what she liked to eat and what she hated in the bedroom. I knew her children's' names and her parents' occupations.
As a dating technique, guys, this isn't a great one. Not very sexy.
Because Mr. Dump was local, I ended up spotting Tammy eventually, and I felt like going up to her an asking about the plantar wart on her right foot. But I refrained. I also refrained from further dates with Mr. Dump.
The deal with The Dumper is that he’s not ready to move on. He thinks he is. After all, he’s asked you out or put himself on a web site looking for a new partner. But he might have to go on 50-100 dates before he’ll be able to stop telling the Tammy story, the tale getting better and more detailed each time.
Mr. Dump and I became very casual friends, and in the three years since I first met him, he’s still bringing up Tammy’s name. Not quite as much, but Tammy is still the wallpaper of his mind.
The next date is Mr. Victim. Oh, how he has suffered, and he's happy to tell you about it.
Everyone is against him. His family, for one. His brother has taken over the family inheritance and ancestral home. For two, his boss is against him and has an evil plot out to get him fired. Everyone at work is involved in this plot, talking about him behind closed doors. And three, his ex-wife wants to rob him blind. His children barely speak to him. Finally, his friends don't pay attention to him even though he moved to this very spot to be closer to them, and dating has been a disaster, everyone hurting him.
One date I had with Mr. Victim involved a car ride wherein he told me the painful and relentless pattern of abuse he faced from everyone forever, starting with his father and ending with his last girlfriend. After one date with Mr. Victim, why would you ever imagine you wouldn’t or won’t be lumped into the annals of “Those Who Done Me Wrong.” Trust me, after you don’t accept a second date, your name is right up there, ready for the telling.
Mr. Head is smart, so smart. He's read everything and likes to argue about politics, literature, science. But Mr. Head doesn't seem to have a body. He folds in on himself like a snail, and it's clear that he doesn't ever really want to get close physically. He actually might not have hands. You will recognize him immediately, and unless you don’t want to ever be touched, you will escape Mr. Head after one date. That is, unless you think you’ll change him into a sex fiend with your abundant charms. My advice? Don’t bother trying.
Mr. Body is the opposite. He doesn't say anything much beyond, "Wow, did you see that shot?" and then he wants to dive under your dress. Sometimes, a nice dive under the dress isn’t bad, but don’t expect him to take you to you about The New York Times bestseller list later.
Mr. Caller won't even go out on a date with you, at least, not for a very long time. Mr. Caller is a bit tentative. Okay, let me put it this way. Mr. Caller is a chicken shit, and sometimes, for good reason. He knows he’s not ready to present himself to the dating world, but he’s out there anyway. He just wants to talk, maybe to pretend that he has a girlfriend to talk with. I once talked with a man for three weeks on the phone before getting him to agree to go out on a date. We decided to go to a play (not a great way to get to know each other in terms of talking), and I recognized him by his orange shoes. Later I found out he had three roommates, no full time job, and no prospects of one. I might have been able to deal with some of that, but then he ate sardines at our meal after the play, and fish bones in teeth, plus orange shoes, plus no job led me to say, "Next!"
Mr. Okay is, well, okay. He’s someone to hang out with for a while until you can gear up to meet another man. Remember that online dating can be exhausting, and it’s nice to find a place to land for a week, two weeks, a month. But don’t stay with Mr. Okay longer than that or you will end up having to break up with someone relatively nice, someone you don’t want to hurt.
My Mr. Okay was a very nice man, sweet, charming, but a man with whom I could not imagine kissing. Not for one second. We had a nice lunch, an interesting excursion to a hockey game, but when I stared at him in the darkened car cab at the end of date two, I knew that if he laid on hand on me, I might flip out.
I wrote to him that night telling him that I didn’t see us going anywhere physically but that I could be his friend, and he wrote, “Okay, well, I don’t need any more friends.”
Either did I, actually. So maybe if you feel okay about Mr. Okay, it’s best to end it all after date one.
I'm depressing myself and maybe you, too. So here's the good news. You have to date Misters Perfect, Dumper, Victim, Head, Body, Caller, and Okay just as a warm up for Mr. Right. Who is Mr. Right? How can I help you spot him? What are his characteristics, abilities, personality traits?
I can’t tell you. Sorry. Mr. Right is someone who may even share qualities with some of the other fellows above. But it won’t matter because the combination will work. But if Mr. Right comes along too soon, you might not be able to recognize him. Contrary to popular belief, the sound track of falling in love does not swell upon first meeting the man of your dreams, and you have to be paying attention or you might miss him. But all this hard and hearty dating (make sure you treat each date like an interview and you will be fine) helps you see the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Perfect. Mr. Right is perfect, perfect for you.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan