Well, it wasn’t my first date ever, but the first in a couple of decades.
I’ve been set up by the man who cleans my house. “You two have so much in common,” he said.
The questions go round and round in my head. An endless repetitive loop.
How do I do this? What do I wear? What do I talk about? How do I fix all these kilos I’ve put on recently? Can I find clothes that will minimise them?
What if he takes one look at me and says, “I’ve got to go now?” That happened once. I was in pieces for weeks.
A thousand ways of asking one simple question: what if I’m not good enough? I noticed the questions are all cosmetic. I never ask, “What if I can’t discuss quantum theory intelligently?” or, “What if he finds out I prefer crime fiction to Dostoevsky?” or, “What if I let slip that I once flushed a spider down the plughole?” My perceived inadequacies are all about my appearance and my capacity for small talk.
Funnily, however, I never once turned it the other way round. “What if he prefers Dostoevsky to crime fiction?” “What if we have nothing to say to each other?” “What if I just don’t like him?”
These questions never even occur to me. Looking back at them now, in all these questions that I never ask, but might as well have, not one of them is about his appearance. What a cultural statement.
I thought I’d overcome all this. I thought I’d relegated it to my youthful folly. I’m right up there with the #MeToo movement, and yet, at the first test, all my hard-won security melts away.
Over the years of living on the plus-size end, I have pointed out to myself all the women who were beautiful and large, and all the women who found love whilst being over a size 14. Living in London, Dawn French was my role model. But all this pales into insignificance because I have a date at age 62.
Revisiting my past, I noticed the glaringly obvious. The thing that friends tried to tell me, over and over again. The thing that I could never hear, and is that I don’t have to say “yes” just because I was asked. My wishes and preferences count too. I need to lose the feeling that I must continue to see a man just in case no one else ever asks me out because of my appearance. Looking back at pictures of my younger self, I am surprised. I was beautiful, curvy—even voluptuous—with a lovely face. But I never saw that.
I spent countless hours of my life with men whose company did not inspire me, whose interests were so far from mine, and who did not seem good, kind, or attractive. We had nothing to say to each other, but I thought anything was better than being alone.
Now, I live alone with my two gorgeous cats, and I love it. It would take somebody remarkably special for me to want to change that. So what’s with all this outdated self-talk?
It takes a friend to bring me to my senses. “Jo,” he says, “It’s only a coffee.”
Oh yes, only a coffee. I have coffee with people all the time. It’s no biggie. In a rush, I remember that I’m happy being alone. That the cats and I are content with our domestic arrangements, and that we love our quiet life. I remember that I like myself, that I talk to strangers easily, that I am funny, interesting, and likeable. But I don’t tell myself I am beautiful because how on earth is that important at 62? And it’s only a coffee; it’s not an audition to find a life partner.
My date is on Friday morning. But old habits die hard. On Wednesday, I started planning what I will wear. I decided, changed my mind, and then, I decided again. On the day of the event, the phone rang in the morning. Instead of getting ready, I talked to my sister. Realizing that I am late, I flung on my trackie daks and a cardigan smeared with ash from cleaning out the fire, then headed out the door.
We talked for an hour and a half, almost without pausing for breath. I can’t really tell you what he looks like, except that he’s not very tall, and, like me, he has brown eyes and grey hair.
Dostoevsky versus crime fiction never arose. The available time seemed too short.
We agreed that one day, soon, we will have coffee again.