I’m in awe of people who marry in their teens or twenties and are able to stay (happily) married for decades, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to make that kind of commitment then. In fact, I stayed single until my mid-forties. It wasn’t that I didn’t make mistakes, I just didn’t marry them.
I needed time to work through a lot of relationship crap before settling down. I dated, tried potential mates on for size with three live-in relationships, and learned to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to a life partner. Suffice it to say, I processed a lot of chaff in three-plus decades of singledom.
But it helped me winnow down the must-have qualities I wanted in a partner—along with the deal-breakers. I learned what it takes to make a relationship work.
I also learned to be self-sufficient, enjoy my own company and feel okay with the idea that I might never get married. In fact, that’s the point I’d reached after a flurry of answering personal ads in an effort to meet someone.
This was back in 1994—the dark ages before online services like Match.com made meeting potential mates more accessible. I was living in the ‘burbs, commuting to the city, had exhausted (or become exhausted by) friends’ fix-ups, and was over the bar scene. So I figured that to increase the flow of potential partners in my life, I’d try answering some personal ads in the Boston Globe.
So I responded to photo-less profiles that attempted to capture the essence of a person in a column inch or two. Based on the guys I talked to by phone or actually met, my ability to choose anyone I wanted to see more than once was seriously impaired, or the dating pool was seriously diluted. Either way, it was a slog.
There was the guy who talked about fishing ad nauseam. The guy with a really bad wig (remember original Barbie’s bubble cut?) who thought my pantsuit was “too masculine.” The guy who, when he learned I’d been born out of wedlock, kept referring to his illegitimate son versus his “real” children. The guy who wanted to give me a sex quiz before we met in person. The guy who thought I dressed “too conservatively” (What was with all the fashion advice? I was voted best-dressed in high school, for cripe’s sake!). The guy who wanted to ensure I wasn’t “one of those women’s libbers.” The guy who kept telling me on the phone that my laugh turned him on. Ew.
But hope sprang eternal—or at least for a couple of months. Then I went to dinner with a guy who turned out to be my final personal ad encounter.
From the moment we met, I felt like a cross between Scheherazade and a gladiator at the Coliseum. While he imperiously sat there with his arms crossed, figuratively speaking, I was expected to put on a good show to earn a thumbs-up or -down. At first, I tried to keep it light, get him to laugh, but he just seemed, well, humorless. Having decided I wouldn’t be seeing him again, I got more flippant (some might say I just acted more like myself). And when dinner mercifully ended, I declined dessert and to see him again (despite apparently having earned a thumbs-up). I also paid half the tab.
And I decided I was done with dating.
Several months passed, during which I put plans in motion to quit my corporate job and become my own boss. I was working long hours, made longer by an hour commute each way. Then, one night I dragged my ass home to discover a message on my answering machine (I told you it was the dark ages).
It was from someone named Donald who said he was a friend of Humorless Guy, that Humorless Guy thought Donald and I would hit it off, and Donald left his number.
Are you shitting me? Why the eff would I want to meet anyone who considered Humorless Guy a friend? Did I have the energy to go through another freakin’ where’d-you-grow-up/go-to-school/what-do-you-do-for-work conversation? Did I even want to meet anyone right now, given everything else on my plate?
I poured myself a glass of wine, made dinner, poured another glass of wine and then thought, “Oh, what the f*ck” (that’s a variation on “Hope springs eternal”). I called him back.
Our first conversation was surprisingly easy. He was bright. Funny. Interesting. He said he’d call me again in a couple of days—and he did (points scored). Another effortless conversation, a lot of laughter. We agreed to meet for coffee. I liked his looks and his demeanor (I found out later he didn’t much care for my then-permed hair, but the rest of me passed muster). We made a date for dinner the day after Valentine’s Day. I invited him to dinner at my house the following weekend.
And we’ve been together ever since.
If I’d met Hubs in my twenties or thirties, I don’t think that would have been the case. Back then, when people would ask me, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you married?” I’d reply, “Just lucky, I guess.” And there was more than a little truth to my sarcasm.
I might have been ready to get married, but not to be married. There’s a boatload of difference between the two. And waiting to get hitched taught me this without the stress and drama of legal entanglements—no small consideration as I watched friends go through often-ugly divorces.
And by kissing a lot of proverbial frogs, when a genuinely good man came into my life, I was able to recognize and appreciate him.
Epilogue: Humorless Man had harangued Donald for months to call me, and Donald had resisted because he wasn’t sure he wanted to meet a woman who answered personal ads. But when it became apparent that Donald and I were serious about each other, Donald’s friendship with Humorless Man ended. Rather than be happy for his friend, Humorless Man admitted that he resented Donald’s happiness because finding someone had been “too easy” for him.
I told you he was humorless. And still single.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t be happier. And I remain grateful for whatever spark of humanity prompted Humorless Man to nag Hubs to call me.
I’m also not sure I’d have the emotional fortitude—or patience—to kiss all those frogs today, inspiring this haiku:
Dating at this age
sounds like a pain in the ass.
So glad I’m married.
What about you? Did you marry later in life for the first (or second or third) time? Are you dating at midlife and enjoying it? Are you happily single? Please share your experience (good and otherwise) and perspective!
Read more of my humor here.