“What kind of man are you looking for?” said Jenny as we picked over Greek salads at a neighborhood BYOB.
No one had asked me that for a long time. More to the point, it was something I had stopped asking myself around my 50th birthday. (These days, I tend to do my “looking” on HBO. John Oliver and Bill Maher compete for my affections nightly.) But that’s not what Jenny needed to hear. Recently divorced, new to the dating scene, and 20 years younger than I am, she was riding a fragile wave of optimism and hope. And I didn’t want to knock her off her surfboard.
“Um, I guess I’m looking for someone who’s intelligent, has a good sense of humor, and is a caring person,” I heard myself say.
Jenny nodded approvingly while my inner 26-year-old rolled on the floor shrieking with laughter. See, that isn’t at all what I wanted when I was young. Back then, I literally ran from any man who came close to that description. What I wanted — and, to my horror, got — was Mick Jagger. But without the Stones, the work ethic, the talent, or the fortune. Which leaves just a very skinny, high-anxiety guy with the moral compass of a bonobo.
“I want someone who is willing to work on himself,” Jenny said thoughtfully. She didn’t mean at the gym. She meant therapy. Her marriage had been bumpy. Her ex hadn’t contributed his fair share emotionally or financially. But how could I tell her the truth? That in relationships, as at the Old Country Buffet, what you see is pretty much what you get? Instead, I explained my position.
“At my age, I don’t have the time for someone who is still a work in progress,” I said. “They pretty much need to be fully baked.”
By the time the waiter took away our empty plates, I had convinced Jenny to try to find “a nice doctor on JDate,” fully aware that I sounded like my mother and hers. But it was what I had convinced myself of that was more unsettling. Jenny didn’t seem to think there was any reason why I shouldn’t be actively pursuing a mate. So why had I closed up shop, turned out the lights, and bolted the door?
I think it has something to do with my recent online dating marathon. For one month last fall, I dove into the deep end of JDate.com, meeting as many as four men a week and chatting online with many more. Rather than getting together at a Starbucks for a “quickie” meet-up, as the dating sites recommend, all of my matches insisted upon treating me to a lengthy fine dining experience.
My stomach had a ball! It sampled gourmet cuisine all over town, from Center City to Lambertville. But my brain soon grew weary of awkward conversations with men with whom I had little in common, despite the dating site’s complex compatibility system. Why don’t these questionnaires work? Because people exaggerate, lie, and don’t take it seriously. Which is how I ended up having brunch at Zaget-rated, priced-to-impress, Lacroix with a Democrat for Trump.
I know. I know. According to the actuarial table, four weeks is not enough time to find a mate, win the lottery, or create peace in the Middle East. However, I think I would do better posting a classified ad:
“Reasonably sane, post-menopausal, Bernie-leaning but Hillary-voting, exercise-adverse, naturally thin, congenitally messy, high-strung woman seeks calm, cheerful, financially secure mate for viewing sunsets at the beach and the entire season of ‘House of Cards.’ Only serious applicants need apply.”
Meanwhile, since our conversation, Jenny has gone from brunette to blonde. Clearly, she is following my advice. If only I’d do the same.