Monday, August 22, 2016

MORE THAN A HAIRCUT


I’m a serial monogamist, but I gave up on men after a couple of years in Vancouver. The first was Jean-Paul, a very pretty boy whose mind seemed to drift during our monthly sit-downs. If only I could have read his mind. I’m guessing the flow would have been something like this:

Butterflies. They’re so sweet. I wonder if any have pink dots. Gee, my pores look good. I think I’ll put a mint leaf in my water for lunch today.  

Ah, Jean-Paul. I crushed on him for over a year but we never could meet on the same level. His head was always in the clouds.

So I switched to Ali. It was doomed from the outset. I spotted him in a club, dancing along his best friend, the deejay. Another pretty boy, but thin, lanky. When he showed up at my gym, I thought there was a connection. We’d briefly make eye contact before I’d glance down and smile at my shoes. (All my flirtatious moves were wasted on Nikes.) When I showed up at his workplace, he offered a vague “Hey”. Maybe he hadn’t noticed me before. Maybe the sexual tension was all mine. But I continued to haunt his worksite every four weeks. And I learned not to bow my head so much. He wasn’t any chattier than Jean-Paul, but I don’t imagine he was thinking about butterflies. I’m not sure he was thinking at all.

Seven months into our “relationship”, I called Ali after returning home from one of our sessions. I asked him out and he politely declined. Flattered, he said. Boyfriend in Calgary. I think it was the quickest thing he could come up with on the spot.

I made myself go back to Ali. Yes, crushes are crushing but I knew I’d keep seeing him at the gym and in the clubs, week after week, without any visitor from Alberta. I needed to show I wasn’t as fragile as I truly was. For all I know, Ali had forgotten the phone call thirty minutes after it happened.

A few months later, I finally had a Vancouver boyfriend and I went to Ali one last time, probably just to let that fact slip into the conversation. The announcement was met with silence but it was Ali’s normal kind of silence. Nothing to read into it.

That’s when I switched to women.

My boyfriend called a girl friend who recommended I go to Christina in a trendy Yaletown salon. We clicked. She was chatty and not at all pretentious like the others in the shop. She moved to a different salon in the city and I followed. Over the years, we chatted about her trip to India, her wedding and her first baby. I didn’t have much to say about my boyfriend—just a few thinly veiled rants laced with humor. Yes, he’s difficult, but—ha, ha—he’s mine. She’s was there after I broke up with my boyfriend. Yes, we’re in the middle of renovations so—ha, ha—we’re stuck in the same house for several more months. (A year as it turned out. By then, I couldn’t muster up a single “ha” or “hee”.) Even when I regained my freedom and moved to my rural home, I sailed over once every five weeks. I would stick with Christina no matter what.

But then Christina went and moved to Vancouver Island. Hmm, that would mean two ferries or a plane and a rental car…

I suppose it was good that Christina announced that she was giving up hair. She and her husband had worked it out so she could be a full-time mom to their son and the little one on the way. I put on a brave face, hugged her and wished her well. It wasn’t easy.

I’m more committed to stylists than boyfriends. The ex and I lasted seven years. Christina and I went nine.

CJ's tats were something like this, only with
more orange and green. They grew faster than my hair.
I had no choice but to find someone new, someone along the coast where I lived instead of a person in the city. I’d heard chatter about a gay couple that owned a salon in the closest town so I dropped in. I figured it was time to give men a try again. Besides, I was starved for any gay connection in this land of mill workers, fiber artists and retirees. As luck would have it, they booked me with a gruff, heavily tattooed woman who took over the salon when the boys moved back to The Prairies. If only I’d had one session in either of their chairs. Surely they’d have warned me to flee this place, too.

I stuck with CJ for four years, even as others bailed when she was under investigation for child pornography. Just imagine how widely and wickedly that kind of news spreads in a small town. I’m not sure if my loyalty was a message of support or just a self-centered need to get a consistent cut. I finally had to look for someone new when I arrived for my appointment and found a handwritten note taped to the door announcing that CJ’s was out of business. It was a highly impersonal Dear John letter, but I guess it was understandable. Yes, she was arrested and convicted. There was a moment when I wondered what prison. Could I get a haircut during a scheduled visit? But then I came to my senses. I figured scissors were a banned item in that kind of environment.

So I started seeing Kat, a new age philosopher whose weight loss grew more and more concerning as she endured a rough breakup—again, in a small town…—, a liver transplant ordeal of the father of one of her boys and the drug dependency of her other son. I listened plenty, always waiting for the right moment to express concern about her weight. I’d like to think I provided a diversion as we often talked passionately about the books we were reading, about how we’d changed since our youth and about how to survive in the quirky coastal area we called home. We lasted four years until I finally had to break up in June. We knew it was coming. It ended in another wonderful conversation in which we each added to our reading lists. I wondered once again if I should express concern about her weight—she’d reached the point where thin turns to frail. I withheld. In every breakup, there are words we wished we’d said. All I did was thank her for the monthly moments of sanity before we hugged goodbye, her bony frame all the more apparent.

And so now I’m at that awkward stage, looking once again, hoping I can find someone to click with, someone with a few things in common, someone who maybe gets me…and someone who won’t butcher my hair with an overzealous razor. (It’s happened.) Time to start a new relationship.

Monday, August 15, 2016

MUST LOVE BEER


Well, it was my chance for an obligatory pint of Guinness. I know when I return from my trip to Dublin, that’s what every will ask about. As if it’s not readily available in Canada. I suppose I could have gone to a pub—people will ask about that, too—but I’m a quirky vegetarian and pub food looked greasy and uninspiring. So I decided to consume my Guinness at The George, a Dublin gay bar.



It was a convenient stop. I’d gone to see the musical “Once” on Friday night—the perfect show to see in Dublin—and the theatre was right around the corner. Still, it took some prodding. Go on. Step inside. You can do this. (I have the same conversation with myself whenever I have to get a blood test.) 



I did it. I paid the cover, wandered nervously into a dimly lit bar and quickly fled to the upstairs area. I stepped up to the bar—no line—and got my Guinness. I sipped. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. (I’m a Chardonnay guy.)



I sipped again. And again.



At this rate, I’d be finished in twenty minutes and then the inevitable would happen: I’d flee. When I’m all alone, I’m a one-drink bar guy.



Slow down, you lush. You’re the new guy here. Let the locals see you.



I headed back downstairs and perched on a stool. Clinging tightly to my glass, I dared to look around. Hello again, junior high. The dance floor was empty. Small clusters of girls danced together, showing off moves they’d practiced in their bedrooms. The guys chatted in pairs. An older single guy—my age—neared. I’d glimpsed him when I first entered. It hadn’t been a matter of interest. I simply needed reassurance that I wasn’t the only loner in the place. He looked at me for a moment, offering his best poker face. I couldn’t help notice a resemblance to Liam Neeson. Only homely. He walked on. Probably made a similar assessment of me—Carrot Top, only homelier.



It’s easy to feel the self-esteem slide when you’re all alone in a gay bar on Friday night. Some things never change.



After the Orlando shootings and during Pride celebrations, there was a lot of talk about gay bars being a safe hub, a place where we can be ourselves. I get that in theory, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been myself in one. With a group of friends, I’m gaiety on steroids, laughing too loudly, sending out vibes that I’m having soooo much fun, doing what I can to cover up feelings of unworthiness amongst hotter men in muscle-flaunting apparel. On my own, I fight the tendency to be dismissive, rejecting people before they reject me. I try to smile but it’s harder to fake a good time when solo. I can’t prove it, but I think an involuntary sneers surfaces on my face whenever anyone nears. It arises from fear of interaction.

It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend or even a hookup when I decided to check out The George. My sole objective was to have a conversation with a gay Dubliner just to get a sense of the city and whether I could fit in here. And have that obligatory beer.



I sipped again and focused on the music. Relax your shoulders. Move a little on your stool. Feel the beat.



Beyonce.

Gaga.

Even Kylie Minogue.



Some things haven’t changed. The gays love the divas.



By the time Selina Gomez was killing 'em with kindness, I’d let go of any hope of conversation with a charming Irish man. Or even a brash, drunken lad. I’d put away my defensive sneers. I accepted my role as the creepy fiftysomething (“young” 50s, but those words don’t go together in a gay bar). I let the music take over, if only for another song or two. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins.



I realized I was clutching my glass with both hands, holding it close the way a fearful child grips a teddy bear. Comfort me. Shield me. And that’s when I noticed the Guinness was gone. I’d managed to stick around for almost a whole hour. My mind interprets this as an achievement. I’d given it a try. The gay bar. And the Guinness. I got up, dutifully returning my glass to the bar to make it clear that my nesting ground was now free. I walked on and out, into night air, through the ambling crowds of weekend partiers spilling out from Temple Bar and back to the quiet alongside the River Liffey, ready for the long walk back to my hotel, a trek only made longer by my complete inability to master the layout of this city. It’s another chance to see more of Dublin than I’d ever intended.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

YEP, IT REALLY, REALLY IS ME


A hundred coffee dates. Probably more. And I’m no closer to extending dating—can’t even call it a relationship—into a second month, let alone falling in love. Ninety percent of the encounters end after the last drop of the first latte. Probably before the barista has even finished making it.



I craft this blog. I have full control. So it’s easy for me find fault in the other guy. Too this, not enough that. Clearly there’s too much algae in the single gay pool.



But every so often, I look inward. I actually hear myself. Too this? Not enough that?! When did I get so selective?



There was a time when it would have taken next to nothing to stick with a guy. If he showed the slightest interest, I’d hang on until he finally shooed me away. I was a dating gnat.



"Friend of Dorothy" added another layer of meaning in the '80s.
It’s true. I had terribly low self-esteem. As I’d sip my first Tom Collins with a friend at Rage or Micky’s in West Hollywood, I’d rattle off my list of what I was looking for in a man. It was a two-pager, at least. But then some guy would glance at me a few times and, after bowing to glance at my shoelaces, I’d find the guts to glance back. Eye contact. And that basically meant it was a match.



If we actually talked and he said he liked “The Golden Girls”—or that he’d even heard of it—I was his for life. Or at least until the packed thong go-go boys came back from break and their come-hither gyrations refocused his attention.



He could have had me.



I’d have torn up my list and burned it for good measure. I was a low maintenance guy who thought he was high maintenance.



Now all that’s completely flipped. And I shouldn’t be at all surprised.



The brutal truth is that all relationships have become harder for me. I’m an acutely introverted guy who somehow managed to fake acceptable social mannerisms in my twenties. I laughed frequently and notoriously loudly. Within my group, I could even be outrageous. In my thirties, I took cover in an abusive relationship. Feeling trapped and utterly stupid, I pulled away from everyone. And then in my forties I found my way out and escaped to rural living where all my introverted ways came rushing back, exacerbated further by a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder.



Now in my fifties, I’m trying to start over. It’s like going back to junior year in high school, the time when I began to get a clue over How to Be Social. I once again remind myself to smile. I try to carry on the chitchat initiated by the barista or the bank teller or the store clerk. Invariably, I’m the one who shuts it down. The talk is trivial and I can’t sustain it.



I’ve been back in Vancouver for over a year and I’m not sure I’ve made any progress. Weekends come and go. I have no desire to phone anyone. A text takes at least an hour of contemplation or even the whole bloody weekend.



When I do meet with an old friend, it’s hard for me to stay interested after thirty minutes. In my mind, I get critical. I tire of this conversation too and my thoughts wander as I long to get back to the book I was reading or go on a three-hour bike ride. Solo, of course. I don’t want anyone else to slow me down.



It should come as no surprise then that date after date is a failure. As a concept, I’m keen to date. And yet when I actually sit down with another guy, I’m looking forward to getting away. As my psychiatrist noted, “Social interaction takes a lot of energy out of you.” The mysterious piece is that I’m skilled at the conversation. The other person cannot see that I’m drained. That’s why it is rare for a coffee date to end before an hour. Ninety minutes is typical. I continue to listen well enough and to encourage the other guy to talk about himself. I can’t recall ever being the one who says, “I have to go.”



So is every coffee doomed? Is dating pointless? Is it time for me to download solitaire apps on my phone? Or whatever happened to macramé? It was the only thing in sixth-grade art that I was moderately good at. Maybe the world needs more macramé. And I shall find fulfillment.



I know I have my own work to do, but I also know it is possible to find the right guy. All this reflection has helped me realize I still do have a type, only now the list is short. He’s sexy, gentle, flirty, affectionate and funny. These are the qualities that both make me invested and keep me relaxed. With this type of man, I easily shrug off the flaws and I don’t care what we do. It’s just about being together.



I know this because I’ve met this kind of man three, maybe four times, in the past two years. I’d have stuck with any of these men, but alas, I didn’t fit the other guy’s list or there were insurmountable obstacles. I can find encouragement in this. I’m not looking for something unattainable. My kind of mate does exist.



So I’ll continue to squint and skim through the algae. If I keep my eyes open, something surprising may rise to the surface.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME…REALLY

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It’s the copout line for dumping someone. There’s a reason—maybe a list of reasons—to reject the guy, but honesty can hurt or prolong things with denial and an argument. The easy way out is to say, It’s me.


I’m at a bad place in my 
              life right now.

I’m not a good enough person.

I’ve got to spend all my spare time   
cleaning the closet in the den.
(Something may have died there.)


In my last blog post, I turned down a guy after a second date that was no better than the first. Initally, I’d found his opinions too harsh. In his profile and on both dates, he’d acknowledged this as a common perception but dismissed the criticism with a Fuck that. Everyone is too intent on being politically correct. Maybe, maybe not. All I know is political correctness keeps my blood pressure on an even keel.

My gut had been to decline the second date. I’d had enough…heard enough. But occasionally—and, indeed, after the last post—a blog reader has the guts to raise an uncomfortable I Wonder.

I wonder if you’re being too picky.

Oh, how I brace at the comment. (It’s probably why only readers posit this while face-to-face friends and acquaintances keep mum.)

I’m not too picky. I’m not too picky. I’m not too picky.

As if repeating it makes it true. A three-year-old’s approach.

And then I hear Harry’s voice. Harry, aka Billy Crystal, talking to Sally, aka Meg Ryan in my favorite move, giftedly penned by the late great Nora Ephron:

                        HARRY:          There are two kinds of 
                                                 women: high maintenance
                                                 and low maintenance.
                        SALLY:            And Ingrid Bergman [in 
                                                 Casablanca] is low
                                                 maintenance?
                        HARRY:          …Definitely.
                        SALLY:            Which am I?
                        HARRY:          You’re the worst kind. 
                                                 You’re high maintenance,
                                                 but you think you’re low maintenance.

I would contend that I’m a low maintenance date. I have no list. All I ask is that a guy show up on time, dress in something slightly more fashion-forward than a favorite sports team jersey, put away his phone and engage in a genuine back-and-forth conversation. Okay, there’s a physical attraction piece, too, but that’s mostly out of our control. I’d say I’ve been passed over on looks just as many times as I’ve passed. Few of us are objectively, universally hot and by “us” I definitely, conclusively do not include myself.

It’s the conversation piece where things froth or fizzle. And based on all I’ve sat through, eighty percent of fizzled chats come from too much talking, not enough listening. A first date may feel like an interview but it’s not. You’re not trying to cram everything great about you—every trip, every detail of your last dinner party and every itty-bitty dimension of your job—into a roughly forty-minute sit-down.

Don’t forget there’s another guy who showed up, hoping to share an anecdote or a factoid about himself. If you don’t have Barbara Walters’ interviewing skills—for the record, I’d be an arbutus tree—then pause every two or three minutes and simply say, “And what about you?” Order a scone with your coffee so you have to stop and chew once in a while. (You don’t talk with your mouthful, do you? Maybe that’s another of my conditions.)

I should wrap up this post.

If I keep writing, I fear that more conditions will surface.

Too picky.

Am I more Sally than Ilsa? Does my blog leave a trail of damning evidence concerning my unrealistic expectations? Am I too quick to dismiss?

                        SALLY:            I don’t see that.
  
What if there are grounds for a class-action lawsuit against me, brought by the masses of single gay men in Vancouver who have been disparaged and dismissed in this blog without any counterpoint? Am I guilty of a pattern and practice of dating defamation?

Too picky? Me?! I have no reason to be, no right to be. But then I hear a certain movie character again.

SALLY:            Well, I just want it the way I want it.

And, as much as I could pick that apart, it sounds about right.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

CAN YOU SHAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION?

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Not actually me. I don't look this good in a dress.
On occasion, a reader will suggest that I am too picky. How could I possibly go on so many coffee dates—Is it beyond a hundred yet?—and come up empty? I ask that of myself, too. Am I brushing people off too quickly? Should I settle for something less?

I think I give people a chance. It’s rare, however, that an initial meh turns into anything better. There are stories of people being repulsed at first sight and somehow finding love. I don’t find that unreasonable. There’s some truth to that expression about a thin line between love and hate. These are people who at least get our attention. But it’s hard to move anywhere from meh. It’s a relationship gutter. Nothing grows there.

Recently I met up with a handsome man who grew up in Venezuela and Spain. He’s traveled the world and speaks many languages. Seems to have a lot going for him. I typically get along extremely well with people from different backgrounds. The differences in culture and perspective fascinate me as well as the commonalities reflected in good people regardless of where they were raised. And, while I contend I don’t have a type, I am easily enchanted with Latin men.

On our first meeting, it was a warm Vancouver day and the bakery was not air conditioned so we grabbed our drinks and sat on a shady bench in a nearby park. We talked for a couple of hours. Mostly, he talked. Much of the talk was ranting. For instance, when I said I worked in education, he immediately went on for ten minutes about how unmotivated teachers can be. Sure, he had some good points based on personal experience, but it’s generally not a good idea to attack your date’s profession right after “Hello.”

The opinions continued to fly over a range of subjects and I realized I had shifted my body into the arm of the bench, as if trying to get away from him. Not a good sign. But it was clear that he was attracted to me and I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was talking too much because he was nervous. Maybe he was trying to impress me with his thinking. Maybe he didn’t normally drink coffee.

And so when he called and left a message a few hours later about how much he enjoyed our time and how he’d like to get together again, I shrugged and said sure. With the introductions out of the way, maybe things would get better.

But they didn’t. As he rambled on, I felt awful for extending things. He clearly dressed up for our lunch and, yes, he continued to give off signs of being attracted to me. I buckled down and tried to get invested. This is a guy that actually likes you. Give him a chance. Even when we talked about things we had in common—writing; running—I simply couldn’t connect.

We walked and Ralph suggested a drink after lunch—no caffeine whatsoever. Sure. Could he see me shrug? It got to the point where I was biding my time until the alarm on my phone would go off, reminding me that I’d reached the two-hour limit on my parking meter. My escape. But even then, I didn’t bolt. We ambled sloooowly toward my car. Was he trying to prolong things? With a hug, we parted ways and, as I started the ignition, I felt relieved to be alone once more. (The loneliness seeps in later.)

An hour afterward, I received a text. “Hi, James! Just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed my time with you today. Hopefully you did too. It would be great to meet again. Enjoy the rest of the day!”

Two exclamation marks. (I don’t take punctuation lightly.) I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach, the same kind I felt whenever a professor would pass back assignments and I had a sudden fear of a big red “F”. This was a worse kind of failure because now I had to be the messenger. I fretted. I mopped my floors. I ate a bag of popcorn. I even returned my mother’s phone call.

And then I texted: “Hi Ralph. Nice to see you again. You’re an attractive man with a fascinating background. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite feel a connection. Wanted to, but sometimes it’s not there. Good luck with your work application. Really seems like a great path for you.”

No exclamation marks.

I pressed “Send” and sighed. The deed was done. Hopefully he didn’t feel as badly as I did. But I know how rejection stings. I am all too aware how it butt-kicks already fragile self-esteem. Ralph is in his forties. I know how another polite “No thank you” disheartens. What if “meant to be” refers to alone rather than with Mr. Right or with Mr. Tolerable or with Mr. Who Happens to Be Breathing?

So I listened to the “too picky” accusation. I gave a guy another chance. And now I only feel worse. Like a heel. I hurt someone, however temporarily. I feel no closer to finding a soul mate. Just farther off-course. The pickings get smaller.
  
 

Monday, July 25, 2016

NEVER AFTER (Part 2)


No family friction over refusing to invite my brother. No tiffs over chocolate cake versus a lemon vanilla triple berry cake (my choice). And no agonizing as I scratched up the twenty-third incarnation of my vows. I’m a writer. They have to be heartfelt, original and memorable. No wedding. Whew.

Everything was fine until July 20, 2005. I’d come to accept the realities that came with living outside the institution.  Without the ceremony or the formal commitment, I could rationalize that my relationships were more inclined to end when things got tricky. No obligation, no incentive. We were free to be fickle.

But then Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. I could propose or be proposed to, I could elope or have a big wedding, I could get a fancy certificate, shop for a ring, plan a honeymoon. But ever since that remarkable enactment, I’ve had a pronoun problem. Always I, never We.

The possibility of marriage remains nothing more than a vague hypothetical. And I’m okay with that. As much as I’ve whined and pined, wanting to fall in love again over the past dozen years, marriage is not a goal. Once I stopped imagining marrying Karen Carpenter, there wasn’t a wedding equation in which I fit as a variable during my years growing up. In my mind, the best I could hope for when I came out in the late 1980s was to fall and love with a guy and have neither of us die of AIDS. Gloomy, but such were the times.

Of course, I have neither blond nor brown hair.    
The first time I heard a gay man lobby for the right to marry, I thought he was a shit disturber, a mere agitator who created a distraction from legitimate, viable issues such as increased funding for AIDS research, legislation to make gay bashing a hate crime and protection from employment and housing discrimination. Two grooms on a wedding cake? Don’t be silly.

I remember the possibility of same-sex marriage being readily repudiated by gays and lesbians as the marriage “joke” started to grow legs. Why would we copy the heteros? Look at the divorce rate…why push to be part of a failing institution? Why be conventional? Shouldn’t we create our own culture and traditions? 

But enough of our “community” kept pushing. Maybe “No” served as a motivating force. Maybe gay and lesbian couples that were deeply in love actually wanted a wedding. Heaven knows we’ve bought enough waffle irons and gravy boats for straight couples. We’ve attended plenty of receptions where we’ve watched dance-challenged masses pantomime “Y.M.C.A.”

So the definition of marriage has changed. I’ve had the right to marry for eleven years now and Americans just marked the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing gay marriage. That’s great in terms of a step toward equality, understanding and acceptance. If I were to fall in love again with a guy in his fifties like me, I doubt my partner would have dreamed of marriage during his adolescence and after coming out. Idle time was better spent imagining living on Mars. (Is that still in the works? I don’t get it.)

So, yes, I have the right to marry. I do. I also have the right to raise chickens in my backyard, assuming I could ever afford a home with a yard in Vancouver and assuming I develop a constant yearning for “farm-fresh” eggs. Both rights remain the flimsiest of hypotheticals. Truth be told, they are also beyond my control.  

But I think I should work on getting that lemon vanilla triple berry cake. All mine.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

NEVER AFTER (Part 1)


I wasn’t the type of little boy who, given a box of crayons, madly drew scenes with superheroes and fire trucks. I didn’t get in trouble with my teacher for adding bombs and guns and gushing blood to what would have been a happy family picnic picture. At school, I drew the typical house with a typical road out front and colored in a typical grassy area, a typical apple tree and a typical yellow ball of sun—always in the left corner—floating on a blanket of blue sky. Same picture. Over and over. Even at five, I knew I sucked at art so I played it safe. I stuck with the conventional.

At home, I dared to draw something different. Instead of an ordinary house, I drew castles. Big boxy gray structures with gapped teeth running along the top. It never dawned on me to add a portcullis or defenders peeking above the parapet. My castle would never be attacked. I didn’t have that kind of mindset. The moat had goldfish that peacefully coexisted with alligators that never craved human flesh (or goldfish). The alligators always unseen, stuck to the bottom of the moat, not because they wanted to wage a surprise attack; I just couldn’t draw them.

In the top window of the castle tower, I always drew a smiling princess. She had blonde hair spilling out from under her cone-shaped blue hat that matched her long blue dress. She smiled but she was lonely and sad. (I was taught that everyone had to have a happy face.) This was the woman I would marry. This is where I’d live. Poor thing would be sad ever after!)

Along with my Karen crushes—Ms. Valentine from “Room 222” and Ms. Carpenter from the “Close to You” album cover—the Princess in the Blue Dress was as close as I got to thinking about marrying.

After that, I sometimes imagined having kids—six, of course, like “The Brady Bunch”—but I could never picture their mother. It didn’t concern me. I suppose I figured I could hire a kooky housekeeper. Maybe even Ann B. Davis if she wasn’t doing anything.

I don’t know why I gave up on the concept of marriage when I was so young. It’s not like I got distracted with marathon, recurring games of Cops & Robbers. (I played alone underneath the sycamore tree in my backyard with little animal figurines that came with Red Rose Tea.) First-Grade Me just had a vague yet unmistakable sense I was not the marrying kind. I assumed the reason was because I was too ugly, with all my freckles and untamed curly red hair. That or I was too dull—after all, I played with animal figurines—and too fearful of any human interaction. Funny how the brain accepts things before the reasons are apparent. So no marriage. It was utterly inconceivable.

And that was that.