Monday, May 31, 2010

I’ve been told by a few readers that this blog is “sad” so far, and yes, the adventure of yesterday with Rushed Lifestyle Man (I won't dignify him with an alphabet letter) did sadden, frustrate and discourage me. I was feeling quite down when I wrote it, and all day afterward. But hey…according to Emily D., hope not only has feathers but “perches in the soul” --- it’s somewhere in there, or I wouldn’t be doing this at all. And meanwhile, I’m getting lessons on the human mind, and the social construction of gender and age, and good stuff like that. Plus they say that suffering is good for character, and my character could use some goodness.

One thing I do when things go wrong, besides laugh, is meditate on the larger questions, such as: what’s wrong with men, why is human communication so hard, is it my fault, how do we assess what people’s motives and characters are, and what does this all show about the meaning of life?

I’ll leave the last to you, but let’s start with views of men. It’s a given that there are going to be lots of men I won’t like and will find ridiculous. But this doesn’t mean I don’t like men. On the contrary, I find men naturally delicious, if I like them or love them, or even if I’m just attracted to them. I adored my father, I’m crazy about my brothers, feel that my grown son can do no wrong, pretty much worship the ground my three grandsons walk or crawl on, and I probably have more male friends than most women do. And let’s not even start on men I have loved romantically, every single one of whom I actually still love today (there aren’t very many). So I am far from a man-hater.

On the other hand, I do have a built-in suspicion of men in romantic or sexual situations, based on my frequent inability to read them combined with a sense of vulnerability that comes directly from liking (okay, needing) men. I’m being honest here. When it comes to these relationships, a fear of being hurt exists in direct proportion to the pleasure that men can give me, and that produces, at least in the beginning, a certain defensive cynicism along with longing -- you might even call it a hostile edge to hope. I am allergic to men who try to control me, dominate, or criticize me, because of past experience, and so when a man cuts me off when I try to take my conversational turn, or judges how I live, and so on, my tendency is to flee. I know this, but it’s very hard to distinguish when I’m being “too picky” about men, as I’ve been told I am, or just standing up for myself for the first time in my romantic life, as I want to do.

Take the telephone thing, for example: I've almost never had a good conversation on the phone with a strange man. Would it be different on the phone with a woman I've never met? Dunno, but mostly men bore me or talk at length about themselves. I've been told this is just what men are conditioned to do: impress women by showing off their knowledge or boasting about their exploits or credentials. Some of them do the opposite: being nice guys, they conscientiously ply you with questions, but they're boring questions and they tend not to listen or respond to the answers. Both of these make me want to read the New York Times while I'm on the phone with them, or poke out my eye.

It's telling that neither of the men I've most loved have been like this: they were both interested listeners and interesting talkers. But I met neither online.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Thing with Feathers

So last night Hope, that elusive thing with feathers, flapped conspicuously around my tent. I was bored with TV and hadn't talked to a single person all day besides waiters and the man who sells me newspapers, so I went on Match to see if I could turn up a few new candidates. And what I found was that Match has some function I hadn't noticed, in which one candidate is flagged as "special for you," or silly words to that effect.

Sure enough, when I looked at this guy, I was excited, I have to admit. He is about my age, lives in Manhattan, over six feet tall and not bad-looking, agnostic, and liberal -- check, check, check, and check. What he wants in a woman is brains, culture and liveliness. Not to be immodest, but check. His background is in journalism and he's interested in politics and the world --double check. Where has he been all my life? Plus he writes well, probably the best-written profile I saw.

So I wrote a snappy note, insisting that I am the One. I only do this when I'm really interested, and gratifyingly, he responded immediately, with flattering things to say about my looks and profile. The check-check-checks were flying, apparently on both sides! He suggested I call him, anytime between 7 and 11 pm. It was ten o'clock and I considered waiting till the next day, so I could warn him first about my desire for short conversations before meeting, but I knew I would think about it too much and get my hopes up. Better to call right away and see. So I did.

First I asked where he lives: turns out he is mere blocks from where I am. WOW!! This is my dream: separate apartments but lots of opportunities for spontaneous company and cuddling. But then it immediately, and I mean immediately, tumbled downhill. I couldn't get a word in edgewise or directly, as he rambled on in such an overblown and blurry way that I couldn't understand half what he said. Frankly, I thought he might be a little drunk. I couldn't see this supposed conversation going on for too long, but still, he was so great on paper, maybe it was just that some people aren't great on the phone. I asked if he wanted to meet for breakfast or lunch.

There was a long pause and then a disapproving tone: "Hmm. I'd like to find out more about you first." I didn't think he was going to find out much this way, so I fibbed and said it had been a long day and I was tired, could we just meet? Well, he'd meet for coffee, but not breakfast or lunch, because he doesn't like to eat and talk at the same time. Oh....okay. Whatever. So we made a date for coffee at the time convenient for him. The Hope Bird was winging to more distant forests at this point, but you never know. He seemed peculiar, but as I've said, I think I'm pretty peculiar too -- the telephone thing, for instance.

First thing this morning, an email from him written right after we spoke: "That brief telephone call left me with no enthusiasm for meeting. Best wishes on finding a guy who is both right for you and will appreciate your rushed lifestyle. That's not me."

So not wanting to listen to him talk without interruption is evidence of my "rushed lifestyle"? I think I can safely say that not having asked a thing about me, he knows nothing of my lifestyle, rushed or otherwise.

I was kind of relieved, as well as disappointed. Then I went back to that terrific profile and noticed this: "If you've taken five or ten years off of your age, or lied about anything of consequence, either reveal the details in your first email, or avoid me, as I despise pathological liars." And this: "Serial first-date dinner-daters, please note that I keep permanent reservations at the exotic Grey's Papaya, just for you. If your purpose in being here is to secure free meals, I'll take you instead to a supermarket and treat you to a cart-full of food you can prepare for yourself at home." How could I have not seen these red flags, whose tone predicts so well the controlled nastiness of last night's email?

Bye-bye, Birdie.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Second Phone Call

So, true to my word, I called the 75 year old who was the sole person to contact me so far. I'll call him B (only because I'm going to follow alphabetical order for my pseudonyms, but coincidentally his name does start with B; it must be fated).

I always say these phone calls are 1) not revealing enough to make a decision as to whether you want to go further, and therefore a waste of my time, and 2) eerily like one another, in that the same dull topics are always discussed and worse, almost all people say almost all the same things, proving that we are not as different from one another as you might think. On the other hand, this call reminded me that the opposite is sort of true too -- the tone was very different from the call with A. For example, B did not seem in the least peculiar, as A did; on the contrary, he seemed full of confidence and good cheer, as if he had everything under control, unlike B. This could be related in some way or other to one of the few facts I learned about him besides his age: he lives in a fancy area of the Upper East Side and owns a home in the Hamptons to which he goes every weekend, i.e. is probably wealthy. That would increase most people's confidence right there. In fact, the cynic in me suspects that in spite of his age and lack of looks (at least as far as I could tell from the photo), he is having more success with women than I am with men. He allowed as how he is "having fun" on Match, which almost certainly supports that inference.

We didn't talk long. He started out by saying he was going to keep it short in deference to my dislike of long first conversations, which is nice, but when I tried to make a jokey remark about it ("I know I'm quirky about this, but..") he cut me off, saying it was fine, and then rushed to the topic of meeting. The first date he is free to meet is two weeks from now. Really? I said. Wow, you must be...busy. He quickly explained (he talks with the air of someone used to doing business efficiently by phone) that though he is retired (yes, he was a businessman), he does some volunteer work and is gone every weekend visiting his wife, who is in a nursing home with dementia, quickly (again) adding that if his marital status is unacceptable to me, he perfectly understands. I said it's okay (I have no desire to get married and I'd do the same in his position), so we have a (sort of) date...two weeks from now. Geez.

I also have some sort of date with C, who lives in Westchester, and about whom I know almost nothing except he's big on classical music. We have now exchanged about a thousand emails arranging for him to see me when he comes to Manhattan to visit a friend this week. Where can we go around Grand Central Station, how can we squeeze this in to the time period he has and I have, etc. I could use more of B's efficiency, frankly. A fascinating topic for emails this is not. I also pick up that C is not thrilled at having to come all the way to Manhattan, since I don't have a car and truthfully wouldn't want to travel up to Westchester to meet him either. Both of us will probably not want to pursue this unless it turns out to be better than we each think it will: the highest standards will apply.

Other news: a longish email from D, whose photo was kind of cute-looking and who had the only profile that made me laugh and so seemed slightly promising, though he lives hours away in NJ. But D was emailing me to say he regrets to tell me (but is overjoyed) that he has met a woman on Match with whom he is "smitten." I felt a bit bad about this for one second, that is, long enough for me to read the joke with which he concluded his email, "hoping I would find it funny". It was a joke about a pedophile in bed with a nine year old. It wasn't funny, but that's beside the point: why would you send this to a perfect stranger, not to say one you are rejecting? What does this say about him?

I have to remember this when I think of myself as peculiar. I'm not as peculiar as some people.

B is having fun. D is overjoyed. Am I having fun yet? Not yet. But I'm soldiering on.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Few Fish Swim Near the Hook

Last night I had my first phone call, with one to come. The phone exchange reminded me, unfortunately, of why talking on the phone to these dudes is the absolute worst part of this for me, irrational as that is. It bores me to death, which isn't necessarily their fault. You'd have to have exceptional social skills to make a cold phone call to a stranger interesting, and you'd have to be a natural comic to make it fun. I don't pretend to be in the least good at it either. After two minutes I want to get off the phone or die, in that order, though in daily life I could talk forever to people I actually love (you could count those on one and a half hands, though).

I'll call him A: we talked about that ever-popular First Phone Call subject, where we live. Except we mostly talked about where HE lives, which is in a trendy area of Brooklyn. I wasn't entirely bored when he reminisced for a minute about living in that area forty years ago, before it was fashionable. But I can't say I wanted to spend my time doing this. Again I'll use a dental simile: I tried to think of it as brushing my teeth, something tedious you just do even though it's not fun. At someone's suggestion, I forewarned him that I like keeping first conversations brief, and he was pretty good when I said awkwardly after a pause, "Okay,that was nice, but...". That is, unlike others I have known and not loved, he didn't take offense that I was trying to end the conversation.

On the other hand, he wants to meet (and I agreed, because I couldn't think of why I wouldn't, not having much sense of him) next week. I have my doubts: he sounded nice but kind of odd. And since he lives in Brooklyn, I'll probably be trekking downtown to meet him, which means a good-sized chunk out of my day. Sigh. Brushing the teeth, on the other hand, takes only a minute.

Then too there's another phone call with another guy scheduled for this evening. This is B, who has a friendly face and actually emailed me first and lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My doubt: he's 75, and while I'm not a spring chicken, I have to admit that sounds old to me. I picture getting into bed with bones and wrinkled chicken skin. Double sigh.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Replies Start Coming

So out of about 20 emails I sent, I did hear from the majority after all, though not the two or three I was most interested in, who were the best educated. One who replied "just started dating someone else", another finds me "interesting but not a match," a third says No because I'm too far away. One guy thinks I am probably a "fun individual" but says "a romantic connection is not likely". No explanation. He is sorry to have to tell me this, because he knows "this can hurt a little." Thanks, but I would have forgotten all about you if you hadn't gone out of your way to point out how romantically unattractive I am.

Selecting who to contact is the part I find most arduous. You're given almost no information in these profiles, besides a picture, a short statement, and a few facts and interests. Most men who are in the age range likely to respond to me (65-75) are not adorable to look at, and I can't help noticing that, pace evolutionary psychologists who claim women are genetically disposed to be less interested in looks compared to resources, the better-looking men of this age ask for younger women and rarely respond to me. Plus you're not supposed to judge the book by its cover and the man by his photo, or the psychotherapeutic police will punish you (a lot of P's in there)for being too neurotically picky (another P).

If the profile picture is not allowed as an index to the wonderful man he could be, the profile statements are almost all the same: everyone's funny (if not witty), everyone wants a companion with great values and has great values himself, everyone loves museums, music and dining out, everyone wants a travel companion, and so forth. Actually the best indicator is the list of facts: I look at 1)height -- here's my second indefensible prejudice -- I'm not attracted to men shorter than I am (though I've shrunk to 5'4" now, which helps), and the taller, the better 2)religion -- I can't take a devotee of any kind, but I'm trying to include "spiritual" as part of my broaden-the-scope policy, and 3)politics -- arrest me, psychotherapeutic police, but being intimate with someone on a daily basis who is way to the right of me (okay, even fairly to the right of me) is just beyond the pale (still another P word). Beyond these, it's all up for grabs; you have no way of knowing at all who these people are. I suppose you could see this as exciting if you're a glass-half-full type, but not being that, I find it exhausting. Still, there are a few who have replied who are sort of okay. More on that later.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Did it. I updated my profile by taking out the last few lines. Why? Because they sounded defensive, or maybe even confrontational: something like "If what you want is glamour and pointy shoes, go elsewhere; I'm an Upper West Side shlep." Men don't like that chin-out sort of line. So out it goes.

Then I decided to broaden my search. A colleague my own age recently told me she met her current live-in boyfriend online. She lives near me in Manhattan, and he was living in one of those Jersey towns right across the river when they met. I have to admit I have not been open to searching outside Manhattan. This is not just Manhattan snobbiness and/or prejudice against Jersey or Queens; it also had to do with a fantasy of having a companion, preferably in my neighborhood but at least in easy commuting distance, to go to dinner or the movies with. But my colleague changed my mind about that -- if I'm going to do this, I have to cast the net more widely. After all, I'm not a twenty-something who is going to be flooded with choices. So I did: I changed the search to within 20 miles of where I live. And I will not just confine myself to men who have graduate training. This didn't work in the past anyway.

I sent out 18 emails to prospective men, far ( two hours away in NJ) and wide (not too much, hopefully). The only criteria I'm rigid about are: 1) they must not be repulsive looking, and 2) they must be to the left of "middle of the road" -- I've learned from hard experience that I just don't want to deal with the unattractive politics of someone I might be intimate with. Both of these disqualify them from sleeping with me.

So now we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Start Dating

Here we go again. I'm going to start dating online, and I want to keep a record of the experience, because I don't know many women over age sixty who have the courage to do this. I've just joined Match because I'm tired of being alone for years now, and like so many others in my position, I don't know how else to meet men.

It's not like I haven't done this before, and that's what scares me. I'm all too familiar with the rising hopes, the sadness when I confront the reality of who's out there, the humiliation of rejection before I'm even given a chance to meet, and the sheer boredom of wasting my time in trivial conversation with men who don't attract me. Too bad. It's part of the process, and it has to be done, like check-ups at the dentist. Except that's not a good analogy, because after my teeth are cleaned, I feel good, healthier than before, having gotten a concrete result with minimal time and effort (though more money). I can't say that about dating: on the contrary, I often feel a little dirty after these encounters online. And I don't mean in a good way, because I wouldn't touch most of the men I see with the proverbial ten-foot pole. It doesn't raise my opinion of mankind much, either.

But hey, hope is that thing with feathers that flaps around no matter what nasty and pessimistic thoughts I have. So here goes, and we'll see if my experience this summer lives up to my cynicism.