Excerpts

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Fish to Fry

 

Once upon a time I was a bride. For many years afterwards, I was a wife. I would like to be a bride—and a wife—again someday.

My wedding day: February 11, 1989. A bout of stomach flu threatened to deter me, but I wasn’t about to let a virus spoil my big day. I was thirty-one years old and convinced it was time I became a grown-up. The groom was still boyishly handsome at twenty- eight. My gown was a dramatic production representative of the ’80s and had been featured on the cover of Brides magazine. Off the shoulder, with a fitted waist, full skirt, and decorative rosettes, my wedding dress would have made Scarlett O’Hara swoon. In it, I was the quintessential Southern (California) belle. The gown’s fabric was heavy brocade in ivory—not white. Traditionally speaking, I was not worthy of white. I had been living with my fiancé, Mickey— “shacking up,” as my father would say—for over a year.

At home following the festivities, I peeled my dress and undergarments from my body. They’d felt like painful scabs. I loosened my gown and let it tumble to my ankles. Piece by piece, my bridal finery fell to the living room floor: the merry widow (an ominously named item for a merry bride’s wardrobe), stiff petticoat, and veil. Contrary to appearances, my abandoned clothes were not the pell-mell trail of a newly married woman eager to join her husband in their marriage bed. I had left my wedding garments where they fell because I was too ill to pick them up. I was much too sick for sex. During the reception, I’d kept a bottle of Pepto-Bismol close by—taking a swig as needed—a queasy consort’s substitute for the customary glass of celebratory champagne. My new husband assured me I’d feel better once we set out for Lake Tahoe the next morning.

Bumping along in an old Ford pickup did nothing to soothe my nausea. Our second night as newlyweds was spent at the Gunn House Hotel in Sonora, California. By that time, Mickey had come down with the virus as well, but I had mostly recovered. I crawled beneath the crisp white sheets and floral duvet that adorned the antique bed, and ate a Baby Ruth candy bar I’d purchased at the front desk. Green around the gills, Mickey lay beside me and moaned.

The next day we drove the final leg of our journey. We checked into a shabby Lake Tahoe motel room that Mickey had reserved as part of our honeymoon package. He had such fond memories of the place. He and his buddies had stayed there on a long-ago guys-only ski trip. Back then, they’d been a group of drunken college- aged dudes, content with their sordid quarters, which sported orange shag carpet and an array of black velvet paintings. My favorite: a scrawny, sad-eyed kitten that hung above the timeworn double bed. When he unlocked the door to our room, my husband exclaimed, “It looks exactly the same!” I sighed. It wasn’t how I’d envisioned our honeymoon love nest.

The following afternoon we visited the town of Brockway, California. Mickey snapped a picture of me standing in the snow under a sign that read Brockway: my maiden name. Yet, for most of our time in Tahoe, I lay on the carpet outside the tiny bathroom, which was equipped with a pocket door—reminiscent of a train privy—and offered moral support to Mickey as he purged from both ends. We didn’t consummate our legal bond until the fifth day of marital bliss. We’d had ourselves a rocky start. An omen, perhaps?

On our wedding day, my husband had married me. He’d taken me as his wife. He’d arrived at the marriage feast with fewer expectations. For better or worse, he wanted me.

But I hadn’t felt the same way. Being Mickey’s wife was not enough. I had bigger fish to fry. My marriage had been the springboard for what I really wanted: to be a mother. Even before their births, it was my children I was married to.

Although it was a top priority in my life, Mickey and I hadn’t discussed children before we tied the knot. We hadn’t considered what we would do if children didn’t come easily for us. Ill-equipped for what lay ahead, we exchanged “I dos.”

Mickey and I quit birth control. A year passed. I had exploratory surgery. Things didn’t look good—my fallopian tubes were severely scarred. My doctor suggested we try another route. For the next three years, we commuted from Santa Barbara to LA to undergo a total of six cycles of in vitro fertilization financed with the money I earned as a grocery checker. My embryos didn’t stick. None of them ever did. The unsuccessful medical procedures taxed our financial, physical, and emotional reserves.

After years of struggling to conceive—and an early-term miscarriage—I decided Mickey and I should adopt. I had led the way with our infertility treatments, and it was I who spearheaded the adoptions. It was I who took the reins.

Mickey and I moved from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo. Over the next ten years, we brought home four babies. Each adoption was a laborious yet rewarding experience. We loved our children. But my single-minded determination to become a mom had taken a destructive toll on my marriage. The act of seeking my children and gathering them to me had necessitated my total focus. I chose the full-time occupation of motherhood over being my husband’s wife.

It’s generally assumed that couples fight about sex or money. My spouse and I fought about adoption. To me, adoption was an exciting adventure and a noble quest. But to Mickey, adoption was an overwhelming and frightening unknown. Before each child was sought, I begged and cried until he finally gave in with a reluctant “yes.” My friends said I should be grateful I had “won,” but going to battle over a privilege that came easily to most women seemed unjust. I thought Mickey was cruel to punish me for wanting—needing—children. I don’t think he realized that my adopted babies were lifesavers upon my sea of heartbreak.

A cautious man, Mickey was motivated by financial security, and adoption was an expensive proposition with no guarantees. He wanted us to stick to a ten-year plan of lying low (modest spending), staying put (no home buying or selling), and maintaining the status quo (taking no chances). I tried to convince him that life was a glorious crapshoot that petitioned us to step out and take a calculated risk—to live a little! Mickey tried to convince me that life was fraught with peril and governed by money. His motto was “better safe than sorry . . .” We had little patience, or compassion, for each other’s point of view.

On our wedding day, Mickey had married me—but “me” was more headstrong wife than he had bargained for, and I came to believe I’d picked the short end of the stick for a husband. Neither of us was acutely aware of who we’d married until it was too late.

I want to try my hand at being a wife again. I view the bond of marriage as a sacred thing not to be trifled with. I want to enter into a partnership where we regard ourselves as equals—not in all areas, of course—but in the way we value and support one another’s ambitions and emotional needs. I want to build a life with a man. I look forward to a practical, romantic, and adventurous pairing. That is the reason why, at this stage of my life, I continue to actively date. If I were to give up—throw in the towel—I might never realize my dream. My life experience has taught me that perseverance does win the race. And that’s what I’ll do.

 

 

 

 

645-01740338 Model Release: No Property Release: No Woman in convertible sports car racing down the highway

Date with Serendipity

 

I’d had it. I’d grown weary of the unreliability of dating sites to procure me viable male options. I had become frustrated with the customary cyber-match routine of initial contact, emails exchanged, phone calls received, and plans to meet. Then there’d be the prep of hair, clothes, and makeup—not to mention childcare arrangements. All for a date where more times than not, chemistry and compatibility were nil. When I first began to date online, I imagined it would prove productive. The reality was: the majority of my experiences were downright discouraging. I’d arrive for a first date, smile, say hello, and shake his hand—as if contented with our match—but often, I fought the impulse to break and run. Sometimes my favorite part of the date was when I drove away. I was grateful for my car. My car was my speedy getaway.

Social outings with my girlfriends had proved an equally ineffective way to meet eligible men. The majority of my gal pals had been hitched for years, thus unavailable for a frolic in the land of unbridled testosterone. When I’d hang with the marrieds, we ladies tended to follow our habitual shtick. We would visit a quiet café where we’d hunker down at a secluded table to submerge ourselves in wine, appetizers, and meaningful girl-talk. (Oxymoron?) Occasionally, we’d visit a pub. I’d sit on a barstool sipping my drink and make sly appraisals of men from across the room. Action seldom ensued. It’s a rare maverick that’ll penetrate a fortress of women. I was fed up with waiting for a man to make his move online or off. It was time I put myself out there, without the Internet, or my safety net of one or more female friends.

One Saturday afternoon my teenage daughter transformed my long curly hair into a sleek gold mane reminiscent of Malibu Barbie. At my daughter’s masterful hand, I was brushed with bronzer and blush, thick mascara, and smoky eye shadow. I slipped into a black minidress. Next, I pulled on my black suede ankle boots with tassels on the zippers. Their four-inch heels elongated my toned legs. I was glad I’d kept up my daily runs on Cerro San Luis. I painted my lips with sparkling pink gloss and walked through a cloud of Angel perfume sprayed into the air. My mirror on the wall said, “Not bad!” With that assurance, I headed into downtown San Luis Obispo.

Anybody familiar with “SLO-town” will tell you it is aptly named. People live in San Luis Obispo for predominantly two reasons. Either they are a college student attending Cal Poly State University, or they’re an individual who values the outgoing camaraderie and easygoing lifestyle of the small town. Oprah has dubbed San Luis Obispo the happiest city in America. She was definitely on to something. A woman out in San Luis Obispo by herself on a Saturday night has no reason for alarm. In the sixteen years I called this sector of Central Coast my home, I never felt at risk when I ventured out among its population of very contented people.

I met a girlfriend downtown for a happy hour glass of wine. The slight chardonnay buzz helped bolster my resolve to step out solo. I didn’t have an agenda for approaching men in bars because I’d never done it before. I decided to make up my game plan as I went along. I flew by the spaghetti straps of my little black dress.

I said adios to my friend and strolled the sidewalk, stopping in front of pubs that looked interesting. I passed several bars before I spotted one that seemed conducive to a bit of impromptu socializing. A group of men in their thirties sat at an impressive mahogany bar situated just inside the open door. A man looked in my direction and smiled. I accepted his pleasant countenance as my green light. I stepped in. I approached a stool at the end of the bar. It looked like a good place to “belly up,” so I did.

“Hi,” I said to the dude with the friendly face. “Is this stool taken?”

He looked mildly startled. “No, it’s all yours.”

I climbed up. I’m only an inch over five feet. I would have benefited from a step stool to climb on top of my barstool.

“Thanks for being so nice. I’m out on my own to meet single men, and I’m not too sure what I’m doing. This is my first stop. I’m a little nervous.” I ordered a glass of wine.

“Well, I admire you. A lady going out by herself is gutsy.”

“Do you live in San Luis?” I asked.

“No, I’m from San Francisco. Me and a bunch of my friends are here for the weekend. We’re planning to do some wine tasting and go to the beach. My girlfriend is shopping for a bikini.”

Ah-ha! The pesky girlfriend! It was predictable that she’d be hiding in the shadows, ready to ruin everything. A young woman approached and nuzzled her guy. She pulled a colorful mass of strings and tiny swatches of fabric from her shopping bag. The aforementioned bikini, I presumed.

“Well, nice to meet you,” I said as I hopped down from my barstool. Not knowing what awaited me, I felt like I was free-falling.

Back on the sidewalk, I discovered the challenge of distance walking in high-heeled boots. I realized I couldn’t walk efficiently unless I took lengthy strides. In other words, I had to “strut my stuff” to make any progress whatsoever. At first I felt self-conscious about my haughty gait—normally I was a running shoes or flip-flops kind of gal—but I resolved to relax, drop all pretense of shyness, and go for it. I strutted. And it felt really good—actually, empowering. As I walked (strutted) along the sidewalk, a man came from behind, passed me, took several additional steps, and then turned around.

“You’re gorgeous. Can I buy you a drink?”

I guessed him at about fifty: compact body, dark hair, and average-Joe face. He wore a St. Louis Cardinals varsity jacket. It’s mystifying why men choose to wear team jackets of this type once they’ve graduated from high school sports. I wasn’t particularly attracted to the man, yet there I was, out by myself, strutting through town in pursuit of adventure. And he’d said I was gorgeous, so I said yes. We entered a nearby restaurant and sat at a small table adjacent to the bar. The man bought me a glass of wine and a dinner of steamed veggies and hummus. He had insisted. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. I dipped a julienned carrot into my hummus: a creamy beige jacket encasing vibrant orange.

“I’m in the midst of an adventure,” I said.

He stared at me with infatuated goo-goo eyes. “What do you mean by that?”

Before I could reply, the man picked up his phone to retrieve a text message. Then he answered an incoming call. I waited until he’d tied up his business.

“I’m out on the town by myself, and I’m meeting people I never would have if I’d been out with my girlfriends. I have absolutely no idea what may happen next.”

“Wow, that’s cool, I guess. I apologize for the interruptions. If we were on a real date, I wouldn’t be on my phone. Can I see you again?” His phone rang.

“No, thank you. I’ve appreciated the meal, though.”

I moseyed past a pub opened to the street, where three men sat at a table intended for four. I doubled back. I approached their table and asked if they objected to me joining them. I love this about men: hands down and without exception they’ll accommodate a lady. Undoubtedly, I’d surprised them when I appeared out of nowhere to solicit their company, yet they invited me to sit in the vacant chair.

The guys were construction workers from out of town. One of them was married, one recently divorced, and the third man aimed to break free of the old ball and chain. He said he was currently involved in an affair with a married woman. I raised an eyebrow at my new friend’s confession. One can certainly learn a lot about a stranger by strutting into a tavern and plopping down in an empty chair. The guys drank beer and ate pizza. The divorced member of the trio paid for my glass of wine. I told them I was on the town by myself. I told them I was out to hone my dating confidence by approaching men. All three agreed it was a courageous thing for me to do.

“Would you mind standing on your chair so we can get a better look at you?” asked the happily married man. His request made me doubt the happiness of his wife.

“No, I won’t do that. I’m not drunk enough.”
 They got a kick out of that. They admired my pluck.

When I had finished my wine, I stood—on the floor, not on my chair—and said my good-byes.

“Can I follow you down the street?” said the unfaithful husband.

Apparently, cheating on his wife wasn’t enough. He was itching to cheat on his married girlfriend too.

“No, you can’t follow me! Like I told you, I’m on an independent adventure. How am I supposed to be on an independent adventure if you follow me down the street?”

On the sidewalk again, I encountered two cute Australians in conversation (that’s how I knew they were Australians).

“Hey guys, I’m out by myself. Where are you headed?”

“We’re goin’ over to Frog & Peach Pub. We’ll meet you there.”

Men were falling into my lap. I was the queen of Higuera Street. I just couldn’t lose.

I strutted into the dimly lit Frog & Peach and made a beeline for the bathroom. When I returned from the loo (what I supposed native Australians would call it), I surveyed the bar. The two cute Australians were nowhere to be seen. They had ditched me! Suddenly, they weren’t so cute anymore.

Disappointment and humiliation were lumps of raw dough in my gut. I chastised my ego for being so . . . egotistical! Then I stopped. I regained my composure. So what if I’d been riding tall on my high horse! And so what if I’d been stood up by two down-unders! I reminded myself that the night wasn’t about my expectations of what should happen. The night was about me embracing whatever did happen.

I spotted a handsome guy sitting by himself at the end of the bar. I walked over.

“Hi, my name’s Rebecca. I’ve been stood up by two Australians. Do you mind if I sit with you?”

“No, I don’t mind at all. I’m Sam. What are you drinking?”

I sipped my wine and Sam sipped his beer. We pivoted on our stools to face one another. Our knees touched. Sam told me he was married and had several young children. His wife had decided she didn’t love him anymore. She was having an affair with an older man, so Sam had recently filed for divorce. My town was a den of iniquity. There was no avoiding the epidemic of hanky-panky that ran amuck.

I sensed Sam required more comfort than multiple beers could afford him. “I’m sorry to hear your sad tale about your wife. The road to romantic bliss is sometimes a dead end, isn’t it?”

Sam was forlorn and sweet and vulnerable. I imagined he needed me, and for the moment, perhaps he did. From atop my stool, I leaned toward Sam. Utilizing an elastic band I pulled from my purse, I swept his wavy shoulder-length hair into a David Beckham–style ponytail. Instead of returning to the loo to reapply, I handed Sam my wand of lip gloss and he painted my lips in pink sparkles. We kissed. Sparkles clung to Sam’s five-o’clock shadow and twinkled there like minute stars. We exchanged business cards.

I got up to leave, even though what I wanted was to stay with Sam. I got up to leave because I felt myself being pulled by my attraction to him and it scared me. I wanted to stay because I hadn’t felt that pull for quite some time. I hadn’t expected Sam to happen, but once he had, I knew it would go no further. At least not that night.

“Well, Sam, I think I have one more barhop in me before I go home. Thank you for the wine.”

“Maybe you should call it good and end your adventure with me.”

I was disarmed by this man’s unassuming charm.

“Okay, my adventure ends with you.”

I locked my arm in his and we set out in search of my car. I drove Sam to his friend’s noodle shop where he planned to spend the night in the loft above the restaurant. We kissed good-bye through the open window of my car. Early-morning fog had descended on Palm Street and swathed Sam in a cloud of fine mist. I stuck my left arm out of my window to wave farewell. Then, I drove myself home.

I saw Sam once after that. One week later he came by my house at two o’clock in the morning. As the pub had closed, he called me. He assured me he would run the several blocks from downtown to my house. After Sam called, I switched on my porch light and stood in the fog to wait. It wasn’t long before tiny beads of moisture adhered to my arm hair. I supposed I resembled a spider’s web that shimmered with morning dew. Sam ran up, and stopped in front of me. I smiled. Mist clung to his eyelashes and five-o’clock shadow. He was a dew-spangled spider’s web too.

“It’s good to see you,” I said. For the past seven days, I’d been expecting him.

We went inside my house. Warm. Quiet. My son was asleep. We sat together on my living room couch. The only light came from a candle I had lit before I’d gone outside to wait. I told Sam his damp wool sweater smelled like dog.

“I can take it off if you’d like.”

“Nooo, you’d better leave it on. It’s safer that way.”

In the moment, I saw Sam and myself as we were. Me: a petite middle-aged woman, dressed in a black tank top and pink pajama bottoms patterned with gray snowflakes, long hair mussed from sleep. A barefooted woman who often bared her heart too soon—before hers had been satiated. He: a winsome, sad-eyed man, who wanted badly to please, yet had somehow failed to please his wife. We: two well-meaning people who wanted something from the other that the other could not give.

I kissed the man whose sweater smelled like dog.

“I’ll stay here tonight, if it’s okay, but I’m not in a place to get involved with you. I still love my wife.”

“Yeah, I know you do. I think you should go.”

It cut me to say it, to send him away, but I had long before learned it was unwise to have sex with a man who did not belong to me.

I walked with him into the light drizzle.

“Please tell me you’ll take good care of yourself,” I said.

We exchanged a quick hug and a kiss. I watched Sam run down my street towards town and his friend’s loft above the noodle shop. Afterwards, I went inside and switched off the porch light.

* * *

Three weeks after I’d first met Sam, I did it again: I went out on the town of San Luis Obispo by myself. I ventured forth, buoyed with the hope of reliving my serendipitous encounter with Sam—hoping to discover a man who could conjure magic similar to what Sam and I had shared. I was an addict chasing a former high.

But twenty-one days prior it had been summer. When I stepped from my car that second time, I knew fall had descended. The wind, infamous and persistent in SLO, was present that night, yet the merrymakers were not. Dried leaves, dirt, and small scraps of paper flurried in dust devils on top of the vacant sidewalks. Sam wasn’t at Frog & Peach, so I didn’t stay. I wondered how he, his misguided wife, and their children were faring.

Dressed in a sleeveless mini and high heels, I was chilled. I ducked into a swanky bar, drank a glass of wine, and exited. I sat at a wrought-iron patio table in front of a gourmet deli and ate a slice of pesto and artichoke pizza. It had been sitting under the deli case’s warming lights, but they hadn’t done the trick—pizza rigor mortis had set in. I headed for home in my getaway car.

* * *

I’ve returned to dating online because I learned that discovering love in “real life” does not lack drawbacks. I suppose that all avenues leading to love are fraught with various roadblocks.

The lessons I’ve gleaned from my nights out solo are simple gems of great value to me. They included taking stock in the mirror to acknowledge that, even with the passing of the years, this old girl’s still got it. I dared to reach beyond my comfort zone—without any guarantees—toward the pursuit of unknown adventure. I celebrated my small successes with gusto, and I lassoed the resiliency to rebound from my disappointments. If my main task was to arrive at a place where I honored my own needs—which included recognizing when I should refrain from my momentary desires—I believe I handled myself with aplomb. No speedy getaway necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

batstarfish

 My 151st First Date

 

You can’t change the beast. You can only change yourself. This had become my new mantra. I was determined to cure myself of gravitating toward the men I’d been habitually attracted to—charismatic commitment-phobes—because the men I’d been attracted to cannot be changed into the man I needed them to be: my husband.

I’d aim for a surer bet this time. Somebody who was understated and steadfast. A man who knew what he wanted, and was ready for what he wanted: a relationship with me. I would make a smart choice and select a man who could at least afford to buy me dinner. Match.com offered up Michael. He was my first date in five weeks. I hadn’t been out with a man since my time with Zuri. And Garrett.

Michael’s online photos were attractive. At fifty-three, he retained a boyish countenance and a full head of dark hair. He was short, but I’ve realized, I can’t have it all. I understand this by now. Boy, do I understand it. Some people assume I’m single because I’m too picky. The truth is, I don’t want to have it all, and I don’t expect to have it all. I only want enough.

Michael made reservations at upscale Café Fiore in Ventura. We planned to meet at six. I allowed myself plenty of time to drive the forty-five minutes from Santa Barbara to my destination. I ran late because I missed the Thompson Avenue exit and ended up in Oxnard. I pulled off the freeway to call Michael.

“Hi, Michael. I apologize, but I’m going to be late. You may as well know this about me, sometimes I daydream while I’m driving. I forget to pay attention to things like off-ramps. I’m getting back on the freeway headed north. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”

He was nice about it. He said it was no problem. That’s how I expected he would respond. Prior to our date, Michael had told me he prided himself on his “genteel” manners.

I arrived to the street where the restaurant was located, but I couldn’t find parking out front. Finally, I parked on the fourth level of a nearby public garage. There was no elevator. I’d worn heels that hurt. I walked down four flights of stairs. I was glad I’d had my hair straightened at the salon earlier that day. Even with the evening’s frantic change of pace, I remained confident that my hair looked fantastic.

Twenty-five minutes after I’d called Michael, I entered the restaurant. I found Michael sitting in the lounge sipping a glass of red wine. Not only was he short, he was plump. I pictured him on a rotisserie with an apple in his mouth. When Michael spoke he gestured with his hands: two stubby starfish that grew from his wrists. I can’t have it all.

“Hello,” he said. “We lost our reservation, so it may be a while before we get a table. Would you like a glass of wine?”

My nervousness spilled out of me in a rush. “I’m sorry about my lateness but I spaced out and I’m not familiar with this area and it was so hard to find parking—have you ever heard of a parking garage with no elevator?” I willed myself to slow down. “Yes, thank you, wine would be great.” My feet ached. They wanted Uggs.

After ten minutes, the hostess seated us in a booth. I slid into the seat across from Michael.

“The proximity of the table to the seat reminds me of the safety bar on an amusement park ride—it’s such a snug fit,” he said. Michael blamed the booth, not his belly. In marked contrast, our booth had afforded me ample room. A truly snug fit is the backseat of a police car, but I knew better than to take our conversation there.

When I stood to go to the restroom, Michael stood too. “I like to honor a lady,” he said. Though foreign to me, I thought his manners sweet.

Michael’s Match.com profile had been well written—definitely above the norm. Although, the first time I read it, I’d found it slightly odd that a portion of his bio featured numbered paragraphs that stated the key components of a healthy relationship. He had capitalized on his online profile to expound his beliefs. He was trying too hard. Michael’s bio lacked heart. But I shrugged it off. I can’t have it all.

I returned from the restroom. Again, Michael stood, and remained standing, until I was seated. The second time around, I was slightly embarrassed by his over-the-top manners. Sit down already!

“I like to attend relationship seminars and workshops,” said Michael. “Often, I’m one of the few men in attendance who isn’t gay.”

I laughed. Given some insight into the situation, it was all beginning to make sense. His relationship philosophy was directly patterned after what he’d learned in class. It was good, I supposed, that Michael was a man who was intentional about dating and commitment, but his overall manner seemed contrived. I wondered if his “honoring a lady” line was something he’d picked up in class as well.

Michael slid his cloth napkin from beneath the tableware and placed it in his lap. A waiter approached, took our order, and left a basket of bread. My date slathered butter on a slice of warm sourdough and took a bite. His lips glistened with greasy residue.

“Modern women claim they want a relationship,” said Michael, “but most of them are too caught up in their own independence. Independence has become their god. The Bible says a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Women fear giving up their autonomy to join with a man.” He positioned his elbows on the table and intertwined his starfish fingers—an illustration of a man and woman cleaving, I presumed. “A relationship is based on a choice, not a feeling,” he said.

The waiter returned with our meals. I enjoyed my chicken ravioli with fresh mozzarella. I finished my glass of wine. I yawned. Above the din of restaurant conversation, I could detect my car’s siren song beckoning me toward a speedy getaway.

“I agree with some of what you’re saying, Michael. I frequently use the word choice—it’s empowering. But I get the impression you’re trying to sell me something. Your verbal delivery reminds me of a PowerPoint presentation, not a conversation, so it’s difficult for me to connect with you. A woman needs to feel she wants to choose a relationship, not that she’s being pressured to choose. People want to buy a product, not be sold a product.” Never before had I been so candid on a first date.

He bristled. “I don’t like the term ‘PowerPoint.’ It seems outdated and boring.”

Boring, yes—I agreed. I suddenly remembered I needed to replace the brush head on my electric toothbrush.

“I don’t mean to offend you, Michael. Maybe ‘PowerPoint’ isn’t the right word. Falling in love is not an exact science, and that’s why it’s tricky. Love is not arrived at by making a determination, although choosing smart is—well—smart. Discovering romantic love at midlife requires a combination of chemistry and good judgment. It’s an elusive butterfly.” I was tempted to sing a few bars from the classic Glen Campbell riff.

The bill arrived on a plastic tray. Michael put down his credit card. I followed suit. I was certain he’d hand my card back to me. After all, he was genteel. But my credit card remained on the tab. “Thank you,” he said. “This was just a meet-and-greet. If I had asked you on a real date, I’d pick up the entire tab.”

Apparently calling to invite me to go to dinner at a restaurant where he’d made reservations did not qualify as a date. In spite of all his “women need to give up their autonomy” talk, Michael still believed a woman should carry her half of the bill. He’d said he liked to honor a lady, but his words were as cheap as his pocketbook.

We walked out together. California Street was brightly lit and bustling with the weekend crowd. I put on my jacket although the night was not cold; I hadn’t wanted to carry it. Michael and I walked to the parking garage where we’d both left our cars. I was eager to leave. I began my ascent of the stairs.

“Thank you and have a good night!” I called to Michael. He started up the steps behind me.

“Don’t worry, I’m not following you. I’m parked on the second level. I’m trying to act the true gentleman by seeing this date through.”

I’ve always held to the belief that if a man is a true gentleman, it’s not necessary he announce it. I rolled my eyes. If I was one to wear bangs, I would have stuck out my lower lip and blown a stream of exasperated air, lifting them slightly. Michael had gotten on my last nerve.

I drove home to my sweatpants and my Uggs and my independence. I replaced the brush head on my electric toothbrush. I brushed my teeth. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Why has it been so hard for me to find a decent man? How many more dates like tonight’s will be required before I meet somebody suitable? Is there Häagen-Dazs in my freezer? If there is, I can have it all.

I turned off the bathroom light and stood in the darkness. I listened. The refrigerator motor turned on. I heard a cricket outside. I switched on the light. I smiled at my reflection. Crow’s-feet appeared at the corners of my eyes, and I noticed my mascara had smudged a little during the evening. My gloss had worn off and my lips felt uncomfortably dry. But my hair still looked fantastic.