After I had gained a little distance from my divorce, I decided to put my newfound sense of self and freedom to the test and begin dating.
Ready to try again, I created an online dating profile—which was hard to do in my 40s.
Scratching my head, I tried to figure out what to say.
What facts about myself were important? How could I appear to be as attractive as possible? I used my skills from my PR days and painted a clear picture of who I was, and hoping for the best I pressed enter.
My profile was live. Now all I could do was wait and see who responded.
My grandmother told me that I should pretend to like the things that the men liked. If he liked football, I should say I liked football. If he liked “The Three Stooges,” I should also say I liked them.
This way, he would realize the amazing time he could have with me, and he’d always want me around. She taught me to play the “Find a Husband Game.”
I received a lot of interest from a wide variety of men, which buoyed my self-esteem, but little else. They were not who I was looking for. I kept thinking of “Star Wars.” These are not the droids you’re looking for.
Online dating is fraught with dishonest people, so we must be prepared and skeptical. We must set firm boundaries and ask a million questions.
Somehow people—men and women—don’t understand that falsely advertising oneself in an online profile is never going to yield a healthy relationship. But as I learned, that is not always what people are looking for, even if they say it is.
This made me realize a few things.
The most important part of a relationship is honesty, and therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to enter into each relationship as honestly as possible. It is important, as I learned, to be brutally honest with oneself about our feelings, observations, and expectations, and to be open about them with the people we are dating too.
Earlier in my life, in my 20s, I had always dated the same type of men—which proved to be disappointing. My new theory was to enjoy getting to know different men of all types, races, and ethnicities.
I intentionally dated out of “type” to see what these men were doing with their lives, what they were like, and along the way, learn of their interests, passions, music, books, philosophies, politics, and movies. I tried to get these men to like me by trying to be who I thought they wanted me to be.
As I casually dated a wide variety of men, there was a slow but distinctive shift in my perspective.
At first, I was packaging myself to be attractive to them. I always paid attention to my appearance and have always been reasonably attractive, but my main concern in so many of these early dates in my 40s—much like it was in my 20s—was to be liked by the man.
At this point, whether I liked him (or myself with him), seemed almost beside the point. That’s scary, isn’t it?
Over some time, as I went out with these different men, I was offered glimpses into their lives—what they were like, how they lived, what excited them. I got to see them at their best or at least what was the first or second date best for them.
A few ill-mannered cretins said that in person I was too curvy for them, or too fat for them, or too tall, or too smart; what they said was rude, unflattering, and hurtful, but their words said more about them than me.
The “too smart” comment was funny. The guy, who was a real estate agent, said that when talking to me he didn’t know the meaning of many of the words I used in my ordinary speech. He asked me if I could dumb down the way I spoke while I was with him.
I replied, “No, why don’t you stand up taller?” His reply: “What? Am I too short, too?” It was my cue to leave.
One man agreed to meet me at the bar of a steakhouse. It was May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, and I arrived on time and got a seat at the bar.
I waited a while. I checked my texts and emails to see if my date contacted me. I found nothing. When it was obvious that I had been stood up, I left and drove home.
My phone dinged with the arrival of a text message at 11 p.m. It was the man who stood me up. He apologized for not coming into the restaurant to meet me. He admitted to having shown up at the restaurant; he sat in his car and watched me walk in.
He was shocked at how much I reminded him of his dead wife, he said, and he was paralyzed with anxiety and couldn’t get out of the car. He said I was so similar to his dead wife, except that I was much fatter. Then, he said he could try to get past my curviness, and asked if we could go out again. I said “no” in an unequivocal voice and deleted him from my contacts.
I met another man with whom I spent two great dates. We had a great time together. Then, after the second date, he called me at work one afternoon to ask to borrow money to pay off his credit card. What?
I thought I had misheard him and asked him to repeat his question. He asked the same thing. “Can I borrow 4,000 dollars to pay off my credit card?”
I said that I didn’t have 4,000 dollars to pay off my own credit card. I was a single mother with two children and a mortgage, and I worked three jobs. No. He could not borrow money from me. Delete.
I came across a novel with two characters who found true love—a love that transcends the physical body and mortal life, a love that renews one’s soul and motivates one to grow and become the best version of oneself.
That is what I was looking for in my life. I think we all are.
These characters, Will Traynor and Louisa Clark, the main protagonists, and their quirky style of dressing and naive, yet sincerely authentic sensibility, reminded me of myself. “Me Before You,” by JoJo Moyes, gave me the hope that I would find love.
After that, I started to screen more thoroughly and ask more questions up front. I was learning.
The next man to get through my list of questions lived close to me and was forthcoming with how he felt about me—he thought I was sexy, brilliant, and funny. He said on the phone after our second date that he wanted to court me and make it his business to show me how much he cared.
I was moved by these words and his directness. We had a few really fun nights together, but it soon fizzled out.
Slowly, I began to see myself through the eyes of the men who sat across from me on these dates. This was the first epiphany or aha moment. I got to see what each of these men thought of me.
And the most important revelation was that it was more important for me to like the version of me I got to be with each of these men than it was for them to like me.
Louisa Clark began to see herself and the life she could live through the eyes of her love, Will Traynor. He knew that she was smarter and better than she thought she was, and through his love and encouragement, she changed her life and really started to live as her fully authentic self.
During this time, as I dated the United Nations (as my therapist put it), I met some interesting men who taught me some things about myself. I was having fun and learning about myself.
All in all, I met some interesting, but unavailable or disappointing men who offered me brief, sometimes fun, and sometimes sexy encounters. We ate, drank, talked endlessly, kissed for hours, may have found temporary solace in each other’s arms, and there was some pretty decent sex that kept the loneliness and ghosts at bay.
But only temporarily.
What all these men had in common was that they each, in their own way, taught me about myself. They helped me refine the characteristics and qualities I desired in a future life partner, but more importantly, they helped me refine my opinion of myself.
I learned to appreciate myself and expect to be respected by others. I deserved no less than that. I hoped to discover the new love of my life.
Instead of finding a soul mate in them, I found a soul mate in myself.
When I started really seeing the men I was dating and not idealizing them, I began to see the rest of the relationships in my life with improved clarity and a lot more honesty. This new level of honesty allowed me to really understand who I am in relation to all the others in my life; it allowed me to see myself for who I actually am.
Seeing others, as they are, was a gift, because I learned to turn this new mirror on myself. I got to know me in a whole new way.
For the first time, I began to truly see myself for the exceptional woman I am and to appreciate my talents and gifts.
I learned that my intelligence is deep and varied; I can converse on a wide variety of subjects. I am fun, silly, adventurous, wild, loyal, and loving. I surrendered my questions and uncertainty to the universe and trusted that the answers would come when they are supposed to, when I am ready.
I learned that I am the jackpot, and I had won big!
The thing that I finally learned was that I had my focus wrong for all those years. I think that most women do.
We are raised, culturally indoctrinated, to think we must impress the guy with our good looks, sexiness, maybe other attributes like humor, intelligence, cooking ability, ability to earn an income. Whatever. But the idea is that we are supposed to impress him. Get him to like us.
To do this, we inevitably change who we are, what we like, and what we think is funny. To attract him, we lose ourselves.
My grandmother’s “Find a Husband Game” doesn’t work. It’s not realistic for our generation.
She told me that she never liked football or “The Three Stooges,” but she pretended to like them because my grandfather liked them. She had pretended for over 50 years, so her husband never knew that she didn’t like them. In her generation, I think it was part of the game.
The “Find a Husband Game” is a big lie.
In playing this game—by focusing on the question of whether he liked me—I distracted myself from the bigger question. Do I like him? Am I impressed by him?
On a more personal note, can I be myself with him? Can I tell my stupid jokes, make silly voices to my cats, and cry in front of him without his bolting? Can I be completely me? One hundred percent my own adorably quirky self? Could I even be the me who hates football and forgets that most sports exist? Would I feel that I belong with him or just fit in with whatever he wants?
I began to see that while we pretend to be someone we are not in order to be the person we think the other person will love, we are really lying.
Lying to them about who we are. The person they are in love with is a phantom and does not really exist. But more importantly, we are lying to ourselves about who we really are. We feel ashamed of who we really are because we are afraid. We are hiding our true selves away because, somehow, we feel that she, the real person we are, isn’t good enough to be loved in return.
So, it’s a double betrayal that causes resentment and pain. There is nothing good about that. I wasn’t going to do that anymore.
We need to embrace our quirky, amazing, perfectly imperfect selves.
We need to be one hundred percent unabashedly and unapologetically ourselves.
We need to be strong with our boundaries, our standards, our list of desirable qualities, and deal-breakers.
We deserve nothing less.