(Originally published online in Persimmon Tree, Summer, 2009.)
Any day now, I’ll be 70. I know that’s not the end of the world, or even of my life, but it is old. Not really really old, but old. I was musing about the multiple meanings of 70 in my typically melancholy way and my dinner companion, a woman I have known for decades, leaned all the way forward, thus getting my full attention, and said,
“It’s time you broadened your horizons.”
I waited for her to go on but she had already leaned back and was looking at me expectantly. Squaring my shoulders, I replied,
“What’s wrong with my horizons? I like my horizons just as they are thank you. In fact, I think I have terrific horizons.”
When she didn’t reply, just continued to look at me with that same expectancy, I continued,
“What exactly are you talking about? What precisely do you want me to do– learn to tap dance or something?” this last with all the sarcasm I could muster.
“No fool, she hissed. “You need to meet some women.”
“We’re changing the subject right this minute,” I replied, “and I’m not kidding.”
But later that same evening I began to think about my own personal translation of Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself. I would identify some of the dating sites, describe myself, add a photo and wait for interesting women to respond. Why not? How complicated could such a thing be?
I began my research. While each singles site is somewhat different, there is a template for this process. First you have to figure out your categories and click the links that define what you want and who you are. They are the deal breakers. Yes, that’s what they’re called. Deal breakers. What are mine?
Well, I would prefer a woman. I don’t want her to smoke. Not cigarettes anyhow. She has to be well educated and leftist in her politics. I would like her to be within a 50-mile radius. I begin to worry that the deal breaker categories are getting too long. And I am not in a position to be so categorical. There are not allot of ’70 something’s’ as we companionably call ourselves looking on line for love. Of course some of the profiles, as they’re called, don’t call it love. They call it ‘friendship’ and ‘we’ll see.’ Or ‘just looking for now.’ Or ‘pen-pal.’ But we all know what it really is. We’re all looking for another chance to feel the exhilaration of a new relationship.
My deal-breaker categories grow even longer. I don’t want to live together. One woman seems like a match except when I scroll through her profile she turns out to be 5’2″ tall. I am 5″11″ inches tall (I used to be 6’0 but appear to be shrinking.)
It doesn’t appear I’m flexible about much. I review my categories. Ethnicity. I checked don’t care. Hair, eyes, body type, don’t care. Religion, I checked, don’t care. Actually I do care but decide to wait and see. Can I even imagine having a relationship with a Mormon? Would a Mormon want to have a relationship with me? A cranky political Jew? I’ll wait and see on religion.
Some of the sites have tests that tell you what kind of person you are. They require expanding images, comparing shapes and other Rorschachian tests. I emerge from that visual gauntlet defined as a negotiator/innovator. Like the weekly horoscope, I think, well maybe. All the categories are sufficiently partial, that I can find myself, or at least parts of myself in all of them. But I like being identified as a negotiator/innovator. It takes some of the sting out of all my deal-breaker categories and makes me seem more flexible, openhearted and fun loving than I am.
Joining four sites, I fill out personal profiles; making each a bit different since they are on lists I imagine serve different populations. A little more intellectual emphasis in one. Political activism highlighted in another. Emphasizing my friendship community in a third. I use the same picture with all of them but different “handles” to identify myself. I have read hundreds of profiles to get a sense of how women describe themselves. Most are crowded with descriptive adjectives yet completely opaque. Warm yet private. Outgoing but needs solitude. Reads but loves to play games. Like that. So I settle on generic, warm and only mildly truthful language. Friendly political radical. Warm disrupter of the state?
There are several levels of contact that are part of the package plans. The first step is after someone sees your profile and either (depending on the site) electronically winks or smiles at you. This expresses interest but doesn’t require the interested person to make actual contact. On the cheaper sites, one is able to ignore the winking and smiling but on the more costly ones, there is a link that says “thanks but not interested.” With higher fees comes a bit of courtesy.
I have been winked and smiled at dozens of times by a wide range of potential matches. A European woman wants to correspond. A newly divorced woman seeks someone to “gently bring her out.” A woman in her late 60’s spends two sentences of her allotted profile space assuring the viewer/reader that she looks younger than her years and prefers younger women as well. Then why is she writing to me, I wonder? Many of these winkers and smilers are nearly too good to be true and are probably not true at all. After all, how many people do you know who are playful, funny, intelligent, healthy, religious (or spiritual, a different category) adventurous, loves both opera and country and western and has recently taken up woodworking as a new hobby? I am beginning to suspect that I should revise my profile, just tell the truth and save everyone concerned a lot of time.
I am, as I said before, a cranky political Jew. Think about it. How could one be a political Jew in this day and age and not be cranky? I am bossy, although I don’t mean to be. I am opinionated and while I feel my opinions are, after all this time, hard-won, try to be flexible. I don’t always succeed, but I do try. Sometimes anyhow. I don’t really exercise 4-5 times a week, although each week I mean to. I make little exhalations each time I sit down and get up, and I have to push down harder now when I get up. I wear hearing aids and sometimes they come loose so I have to poke my fingers into my ears and press them back in, which if you didn’t know what I was doing, probably looks very weird, like a demented tic or something. I no longer order salads in restaurants with people I don’t know because the lettuce tucks itself away between my teeth and comes to rest there. When I eat with my old friends, one of us pulls out the toothpicks, passes them around the table and we companionably saw away as we finish our dessert–which we didn’t mean to order but did. I can’t see myself picking my teeth on a date so order softer things. Soups. Quiche. Flan.
Then there is the added problem of the sound level of cafes. As this potential new woman leans forward with her best foot, it would be very unromantic to keep interrupting with “What?” “Sorry, didn’t hear you.” “Boy it’s loud in here.” “Can you say that again?” So I’m uncertain about where to meet. What with my periodontal pockets and sound level, restaurants are not the first choice.
On the other hand, and as a cranky Jew-there is always another hand, meeting to take a walk may mean for this woman, A Walk. That inevitably involves hilly terrain, often a good deal of speed, sometimes even sweating and grunting. Given the arthritis that has blossomed in my left knee and making significant inroads in my right one, this is not part of my profile. Strolling along a flat surface would be much closer to the truth. Sitting down in a quiet place and having a deep conversation would be the absolute truth.
Then there is the matter of my picture. Some of the more expensive sites allow multiple pictures but the choice of the primary image requires clarity about how I want to be seen. Warm and smiling? Earnest and studious? At a political rally? Celebration? At my desk? Piano? Just a standard head shot with no context at all? Is my neck all wrinkled or have I remembered to elevate my chin at the moment the flash goes off to smooth it out? I settle on a standard smiling headshot, one with a moderately smooth neck. Then a second shot of me sitting on the beach, happy, hair looking particularly good as it blows in the wind but my breasts seem to be nestled somewhere near my waist since I’m wearing my beach bra. The really comfy loose one. I hesitate about the breast thing for a bit, and then decide that the body stuff hers– and–mine is the least important part of things. That is, unless she’s 5’2″ tall. I post them both.
Then the waiting begins. How often does one click onto the sites before feeling like one is suffering from an infestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder? My first day, I see a perfect woman. Nearly perfect. Right age, education, politics, even height. I think to myself that this was easy. Why did I wait so long to enter the on-line world? I send what I think of as a warmly effusive email to this nearly perfect woman. Brief but charming, I think. After noting all our points of connection and interest, I propose we meet for coffee. Pleased with myself and the alignment of the dating tooth fairies, I wait for her response.
The first day I check my emails every couple of hours, the second day at fifteen minute intervals, the third day, I begin to tell myself stories that she put her profile on line and went on a long already planned trip. The story continues that if she had seen my response before she left of this trip, she would have been as delighted as I was to find her and would have responded at once. By the fourth day, the story has changed to describe the callous and unkind women who put profiles on line and don’t even bother to respond to women who, if they only stopped to think about it, had bothered to respond. By the fifth day, I was beginning to suspect that this process was going to be more complicated than I had thought. I was drowning in a sea of smiles and winks from all the wrong people. My response was to add a revised profile to a new site, hoping that the women there would be more —-something. And that they would respond to me.
I got a haircut (that drew attention from my neck) and began to respond to the women who were interested in me. Each week I had a handful of breakfast dates–pancakes and eggs are not foods that stick in my teeth. One woman wanted a life partner right away. Another wanted to share her horse-farm with the right woman. Another had just broken up from a 20-year relationship and wanted to make new “friends” although the glint in her eye belied the “friendliness” of her interest. Another an old hippie. Then an old ardent (read rigid) Marxist. Driving home from these breakfasts where I inevitably overate, in much the same way and for the same reasons I used to smoke when I was nervous, just to have something to do with my mouth and hands, I tried to invoke my spiritual practice, wavering though it was.
Be compassionate to yourself, I begin. And to each of these women reaching out for love, I silently intone. Be patient, loving, openhearted and kind in your assessment of them, yourself and this process. Repeat five times and breathe, I tell myself, and then do.
I enter my apartment and open my web browser to see if there are any new smiles and winks that might be the right, maybe even the perfect woman.