At my 50th reunion I was the only alum with salt and pepper hair. Every other female member of my graduating class was blonde or brunette. I came home and bought Clairol –Nice and Easy in an ash blonde shade. I lost some weight and rethought my wardrobe of fusty teaching suits.
It was the year after my husband died, the year I retired from teaching, the year the last kid finally left me with an empty nest. Suddenly I was inhabiting a house which for years had seemed small and crowded. Suddenly it had become large and empty. I read to fill the empty house, the empty hours. I wanted to go somewhere. do something, not sit in front of the TV set like someone who’d given up.
In spite of broadband my once scintillating email life became slow, dull. I was bored. I was lonely. My recently divorced daughter told me she’d been dating a guy she met on line (Plenty of Fish!); another friend told me her daughter had met her husband on line. It seems that everytime I turn on the TV I’m bombarded with commercials of kissypooh couples holding hands on a beach and walking into the sunset. No more school dances, no more smoky bars, no more of that old fashioned stuff. The computer has changed all that. Dating is not what it used to be.
I thought I should give it a try. I did not want to wander this 9 room, 100 year old monstrosity of a house by myself. I wanted someone who could hang a picture, reset the pilot light, change a fuse. I was unfit for routine maintenance. I only recently discovered that there were two kinds of screwdriver – a regular one and another called a Phillip’s head. One size does not fit all. I’d done the laundry and the garden. My latehusband did that stuff. A big mistake on my part, I now recognized. So I go on line to find the man of my dreams (nightmares?).
When you go on line at one of the dating sites (or browsing sites) they ask you what you are looking for. I considered that carefully. I wanted someone competent, one who hada leather tool belt (hard hat optional). One who knew how to unstop a sink, start the lawnmower in the spring, and what to do if the car won’t start. The ability to dance would also be great. I did not think that was asking for a great deal but the questionnaires did not have a block to check off for those skills. They had obvious things – age, height, weight, income (optional), and you could write a brief bio about yourself.
E-Harmony had the longest questionnaire and it got into the muddy area of “values”
which presented ethical dilemmas. Should I tell the truth which would reveal up front my personality (edgy, avant garde, intolerant of preset value systems, ironic sometimes sliding into sarcasm honed by years of listening to students lying to you and so on and so on).I decided to be truthful. I didn’t want to have to not be me after all these years of becoming me. Take me or leave me.
E-Harmony considers all these things and sends you a list of matches. I didn’t get any matches. Wow. That’s humbling. The computer suggested I change some of my responses. I drink but don’t smoke, I don’t do church but believe in the spirit, I’m overeducated, underpaid, and worse, I actually put down “poet” as my occupation. No wonder I didn’t get a match. No wonder.
I tried another service. This one didn’t mak e any attempt to match you up. You got pages of photos and short bios to look at. You could put in a geographical preference and that cut back the number of eligibles. You have to wade through all this information and select someone you’d like to make contact with. The service filters the emails – they don’t want to you carry on without paying their fee.
My favorite questions on this service was to rate yourself as good looking, average or plain. There was no ugly category but after a carefully comparison of photo and checkmark, I noticed that ugly or plain men most often described themselves as good lookin’. I considered a study I’d read some years back about girls, strong and competent at 12 or 13, who became tremulous, insecure, teenagers losing all their confidence as they approached maturity. Teen aged boys became annoyingly arrogant and overestimated their abilities.
I’m drawing my own conclusions here totally without evidence and positing that when males hit those teen years the dump of testosterone into their systems makes them over confident, over secure, overweening, teen aged boys, the most dangerous animals on the planet. There’s a reason why 18 year olds go to fight wars. And it doesn’t change as they age, apparently. They remain sure of their abilities even if they don’t have any.
I digress. I checked average in answer to this question, a bit up from the plain I should probably have checked, but if they could do it, I could too. My mother had always intimated that I was plain urging me to practice the piano so that if I never married I would be able to support myself by giving piano lessons. That was her aspiration for me – a piano teacher. I always imagined myself in that painting with the teacher leaning back in an awkward embrace. But, it was my fingers, their clumsiness, how they never arrived at the right time on the right keys, always a bit behind, racing the metronome and always losing which is perhaps why I turned to free verse.
I continued to fill out the questionnaire. The accomplishments section was a bit of trip.
Should I mention that I wrote poetry? That I was a real poet – not a little ole poet who wrote poems for the church bulletin. Knowing the general abhorrence of poetry did I want to kill my chances right from the start. However, I was proud of my accomplishments, surpassingmy fingering incompetence and actually having magazines and anthologies include my work.
Ah, it was all in the subtle manipulation of language – published “writer” and going with the sin of omission. After all, this was not a resume where about 50 percent of us fudge the data. So I paid up to meet a senior – $21.90 for a month on line. I gave them my credit card number and checked “submit.” As a “writer” I’m used to rejection.
I waited for a reply much like a plain girl at a school dance waiting on the edge of the dance floor for someone to approach. Will I be asked? Will I stand here alone and be publically humiliated? This was like that but here I would only be privately humiliated, but humiliated, none the less.
I did get replies though. Some one out there in hyper space had actually looked at my photo and sent me a message wanting to chat. I looked at his photo. He had a breathing tube on his nose. Why would he have a photo taken with a breathing tube on his nose. I might have overlooked that, but he told me he followed Christ. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings about the breathing tube, but there was no way I’d put up with a born-again ragging on me.
I responded that I was not a Christian and unlikely to become one at this time of life and thought that would be that. No such luck. He responded that he didn’t care. We could discuss it. I don’t think so. I could see I needed to be firm and shut him off at the valve. He was of a type that attached themselves to me like barnacles mistaking my innate politeness for actually caring. Fortunately over the years I’ve learned to be brutal immediately and save myself all the regret about my cruelty and a number of wasted, boring, impossible hours with someone I can’t stand.
Another response came in. This one was working on a memoir and hoped to become a published writer (see, my honesty was rewarded). He said he’d love to have a conversation with me but he’d set 65 as the age limit and he wasn’t going to break his rule. Why write at all, I wondered. Consider – not my photo, but the “Published” that got him. Alas.
My third response was from an organic gardener who raised veggies on a large farm. I thought this over carefully. My ancestors were farmers, working the land and all thatbefore coming to America where they could get a nice indoor job and sit at a desk out of the rain and snow. However, he looked promising and he did own land and lived within the fifty mile radius I’d asked for.
Another response came from a guy who lived a little bit too close for comfort and wanted to jump my bones although he phrased it a little less graphically. And he was 85!
And so the month was going. I decided to go on the offensive (many people have suggested I am offensive so it would not be a stretch). I perused the photos on display. This takes a long time because you have to read the replies to the questionnaires as well as check out the photo. Too many. Like a Chinese restaurant menu! But I did find a couple I thought I’d try.
One was a retired dean from some unnamed college. Being a retired faculty member I knew the academic mind and had spent years finding my way around deans. He said that he loved students. So, unable to help myself, I asked if he really loved students, hoping he’d pick up the smarmy tone in the email. I was doubtful about that claim anyway unless he was some sort of predator. But there were not many academics on the list, or at least any who admitted it). I never heard back from him anyhow.
I tried one gentleman who appeared distinguished with lots of white hair and a tan. He owned a golf course in Arizona and this more than anything decided me. I was even thinking about maybe learning to golf (even though I have always agreed with Twain that golf was a good walk spoiled). I could do it. However, when he replied he said he’d moved back north to be near his family. Wasted effort on that one. Why would someone leave a golf course in Arizona and come this far north? I didn’t like the speculations.
The photos went on and on. Some had pictures of themselves with children and grandchildren, showed photos of their houses and cars. Little lawns surrounded with picket fences, kids climbing all over them. I was looking for a pool, a hot tub, a sauna. Someone doing the tango.
But my month was over and I was too cheap to reup. There were too many photos and too many bios to read through. The replies took too long because the web folks had to censor them and make sure you didn’t pass along your email address so you could communicate directly and without a fee. So I packed it in though I thought longingly about that gold course in Arizona.
My advice? Follow your resume instincts, retouch your photo, go for the blonde shades because you’re worth it.