Wednesday, May 11, 2016

RESERVATIONS FOR TWO


Recently I responded to an online profile of a guy who wanted someone who, among other things, loved to laugh. That amused me. Reminded me of old cliché personal ads that invariably sought a person who liked long walks by the beach. Shouldn’t a profile narrow things down a bit? You know,…be personal. Who doesn’t love to laugh? (The guy never replied to my message. I’ll have to laugh it off.)

I’ve heard it stated many times that everybody thinks he’s funny when few are. But, if it’s not all-out, bust-your-gut-and-snort guffaws, can’t we all reach some sort of light-heartedness at-will?

I ask this because it’s rare that I feel funny on any of my innumerable first coffee dates. And the other guy isn’t humorous either. These meet-and-greets have become too serious. Not gloomy like a funeral, but smile-free. I’m not sure if the last three guys I met even had teeth. (It’s coffee, remember? I just assumed that skipping scones was about watching one’s weight.)

We sit and talk politely. He’s nice, I’m nice. Everything is perfectly pleasant. I think back to the city planner I went out with a few times in December. We dug into some heady issues and found ourselves agreeing on most but the conversation was an exercise in academia. We’d both had far too many years of schooling. We’d excelled in that realm. He’d even been a professor. I recall his talking points feeling like they’d been extracted from a lecture. I was supposed to admire them as sage nuggets from a smartypants. I should not have been surprised when, after the third date, he said he felt no spark. I didn’t either. The difference was that I hadn’t ruled it out. I didn’t think we’d let down our guard yet.

And last month I got another “no spark” assessment. We’d been so chatty. But, again, the conversation had all been in a safe zone. So much talk about topics related to work and workouts. Comfortable. Pleasant. Nothing more.

In both situations, I am certain that neither of us laughed even once. After forty (and, yes, even more so after fifty), people who’ve found themselves single once more have experienced a fair share of rejections. (Maybe even an excess of it!) We’re seasoned enough to no longer have first date jitters. For example, I no longer worry about a layer of sweat oozing its way down my forehead and spreading from my armpits. I don’t even think of slipping a towel in my backpack.

But these dates have become routine. Not rehearsed, but the topics rarely stray from the familiar. How do sparks arise when we play it safe? We’re reserved. Too guarded. No wild swings and misses, but no home runs either. So we come off as swell. That’s not what anyone is looking for.

Ooh, I met this guy and he’s swell! He could be The One.

No wonder someone would put “likes to laugh” in a dating profile. We may all like it, but humor is risky. I’m not talking about unpacking an offensive joke. Witticisms, sarcasm and bemusements can miss the mark when we’re unfamiliar with the teller’s tone and nature. The humor can fall flat. So we don’t go there.

I’m not sure how to break what has become a bad habit. Yes, being pleasant is a bad habit when dating. I should save that for the lady at the bakery who has the power to give me the corner cinnamon bun, the one that is stickier and slightly bigger than all the others. That’s when pleasantness pays! I’ve got to figure out how to infuse some light-heartedness, maybe even some playfulness on that next first coffee. It could fail. It could repel. But there is no gaining ground staying in The Safe Zone. If I fail, I can laugh at myself the whole way home. Laughter for one is better than reservations from two.

Monday, May 9, 2016

SAME OL' FISHING HOLE


Go ahead, my inner voice says. Try again.

Hard to know if that's an entreaty or a taunt. But it's been a full week since the last dud of a date. Time to make the rounds.

I log in on Plenty of Fish first. No messages. Two views. No. And no. So I'll have to dig up something myself. I could try my saved search criteria: between 41 and 55, within 50 miles of Vancouver. I know what that will turn up. Same thumbnails, some of whom I messaged in yesteryear, some I even gambled on and met for coffee with typical slot machine results: cherry, cherry, lemon. Makes a tasty summer beverage but lousy date. Most of the profiles I've passed over countless times. There's a point when you know it's pointless.

I dare to glance at the New Users link. Has it always been there? I suppose I've unconsciously trained myself to look past it, like the pop-up ads. I learned years ago to avoid the newbies. These guys are testing the waters. Just looking. Maybe still bruised from a fresh breakup, maybe not even officially broken up. Even the new guys who are fully ready to dive into the Fish pool are off-limits. They have too many options. They are fresh bait. All of the seasoned Fish want a taste. The newbies are primed to get the most messages they'll ever get. They are inclined to keep looking ahead at the next message and the next. No chance of getting reeled in. Maybe it doesn't reflect a high opinion of myself, but I need a guy who is starting to smell fishy in that rotting sort of way. Dejected. Disillusioned. Expectations drastically lowered. My kind of guy.

Go ahead, my inner voice goads. And so I click New Users. Show me some fresh Fish.
Halfway through the second page, I am staring at overly familiar faces. “New” is such a relative term. The gay Vancouver dating pool is stagnant, a thick layer of scum at the surface.

I scroll up again. One new face warrants a second look, even a click to read the full profile. He’s 43. Photos look good—none of those distant shots where you can barely see the face. He’s got a long list of the kinds of things he’s looking for in a guy.


Okay, I’m not a golfer, unless there are tiny windmills on the course. But a score of 14 out of 15 ain’t bad. Above par. Or is it below par? Again, not a golfer. I type a message—carefree, with a bit of wit. And right after pressing Send, Plenty of Fish flashes what feels like a No Confidence vote: “Message Sent! We strongly recommend that you look at the following users as well.” These sites aren’t interested in matching people up successfully. It’s all about clicking and maximizing page views. A business, not a service. I shall not be lured. I log off.

I log in at OkCupid next. I’ve committed to doing the rounds so I need to at least check in. Four visitors since yesterday. New York City, Oslo, Memphis…apparently a layer of scum forming on gay pools is an international phenomenon. There is one visitor from Vancouver. I recognize the user name if not the photo. The thumbnail photo depicts his face sticking out from the center of what looks like a giant rhubarb leaf. Maybe a great pic for a Facebook post but the most flattering shot on a dating site. (Or what if it is?!) This guy has messaged me before on Plenty of Fish and on OkCupid. I’m still not interested, but I make a mental note to pick up some rhubarb at Whole Foods. It’s in season and tasty when cooked with a generous amount of sugar.

I’m not up for another search. One message sent and now I’m spent. (Besides, I’ve got that rhubarb craving.) Let a few days pass. Give it another go on the weekend if The Golfer isn’t looking for a caddy. No “A for effort” today. C- maybe. It’s a bump above failing. Maybe next week I’ll think about moving to Memphis. Or Norway.

Friday, May 6, 2016

TWELFTH NIGHT


Somehow I’d managed to forget the first eleven dates. I suspect they were duly forgettable. How else could I explain Brad’s twelfth date appearance on what was actually a first date? More accurately, it seemed like the kind of get-up you wear twelve years into a relationship, but I couldn’t possibly forget such a chunk of time. Not even with a guy like Brad.

His entire outfit looked like it was ready for the thrift store…or maybe that’s where he got it. The shoes were the worst. Overworn dad shoes, a cross between a hiking boots and slippers. Hideous. Practical for walking the dog—in the dark, on a deserted street—but not first impression material. My commitment to fashion consciousness may be waning but even I know you have to pick out something other than the 70% Off bargain you scored at a Polo factory outlet store…fifteen years ago.

Harsh, I know, but the first coffee is not the time to flash your I-don’t-care attitude. Save it for your coworkers, the ones who got you a Safeway cake with too much blue icing for your last birthday, one of whom keeps eating your peanut butter and banana sandwich in the staff fridge. Let them have to stare at the discount shirt eight hours a day at least once a week—twice if you really want to send them a middle finger. (They’re eating your lunch, after all!)

But Brad doesn’t work at an office. As he told me, “I’m a realtor. When I have clients. Otherwise, I guess I’m unemployed.” Too honest. This I-don’t-care vibe can be so off-putting.

In retrospect, I suppose I pissed him off at “Hello.” He’d shown up with his new puppy and I crouched down to pat Rowley before shaking hands with Brad. It’s a puppy! A golden retriever! It was only once I got eye level with Brad that I realized my own first faux pas. Rowley wore one of those Guide Dog in Training vests. I was supposed to ask for permission. Wait until the pooch was sitting and totally connected with its master. Oh, but a puppy! So cute! I apologized. Profusely. Brad shrugged it off. Clearly he’d already encountered plenty of stupid people like me. Vancouver is such a dog city.

Come on, smokers. You can do better.
We walked half a block. That’s as far as Rowley wanted to go. (Smart dog. He knew this date wasn’t going anywhere.) We sat on a low concrete wall as Brad tried to keep Rowley from putting cigarette butts in his mouth. (Rowley’s mouth, not Brad’s. To be clear, the dog was only beginning training.) The conversation crawled achingly along. Rowley insisted on being the primary focus. When he wasn’t trying to satisfy nicotine cravings, he barked repeatedly and tried to jump up on Brad. I didn’t mind. What can you expect from a twelve-week-old pup? And, of course, I’d established a primary orientation toward Rowley from the outset. Golden retriever! Puppy! Twelve weeks old! Even Ryan Reynolds would play second fiddle.

“Have you had dinner yet?” Brad asked.

“No,” I said. Nothing more. Even if I wanted to extend our twelfth date, it wasn’t practical. Rowley was barking plenty. Just because a guide dog can go in a restaurant doesn’t mean it should. As much as I love dogs, even I know that. Even in a dog city.

Then it was Brad’s turn to bark. “Stop it, Rowley! You’re getting on my nerves.”
And just like that, I was done. You bring your dog at your own peril. A dog can misbehave, but the owner can’t. 

“I think Rowley needs to go home,” I said. “He just needs some attention. So adorable!”
I told the dog to sit. I waited for eye contact. “Good dog, “ I said. “Such a good dog.” I needed Rowley to hear that. The three of us walked the half block back to Starbucks. Brad and I exchanged obligatory “Nice to meet yous” and then we parted ways.

As I walked home, an initial sense of indifference evolved into gratitude. Mr. Date #12 was out of sight, gone for good. I surveyed myself as I waited for a signal to turn green. Yes, I hadn’t gotten my dates crossed. I’d thought about what to wear. Classic casual punctuated with a sense of fun from my light blue Chuck Taylors. Every stitch of clothing was bought in the last six months (and nothing from an outlet mall). I’d even ironed! I’d shown up in first-date mode and departed with the satisfaction that I’d been spared eleven more. In no time, even the first will be forgotten.




Tuesday, May 3, 2016

FAREWELL TO THE IRON AGE


As I ride the ferry to work, I glance down at my shirt. No coffee spills. (It’s sad that I view that as an achievement. Sadder that it’s bound to be temporary.) When did I start wearing t-shirts to work? It’s not even casual Friday.

I’m a school principal. I’m supposed to wear a dress shirt and tie. And a blazer or a suit. Okay, I’ve never been a suit. When I worked in larger school districts, I’d see them all arrive at management meetings, dressed formally yet immediately draping their jackets on the back of their chairs. What’s the point? I’m too practical for that. When I head back to my school, I don’t spend much time in my office. I’m sitting on the carpet with groups of children, coaxing unskilled students off the bench to learn dribbling skills and traipsing through sand and gravel to marvel at the civilizations children have imagined outside with branches and pine cones.

I can justify the t-shirt. It has the school logo on it. All students and staff have one. It’s harder to justify all the wrinkles. I used to iron everything. (Okay, not socks and underwear. That would be silly.) When no-iron dress shirts appeared in department stores, I scoffed. Lower quality. For divorced men with caveman brains who believe ironing is women’s work.

I wear iron-free shirts now. When I’m not wearing wrinkled school tees. Haven’t worn a tie in months. There really is no one to impress.

Perhaps it’s freeing not to care. But I feel a sense of alarm. Is this a sign of aging? First, it’s wrinkles on a shirt; then, it’s wrinkles that can’t be ironed away, even if I bothered. And there’s more to come.

Untamed bushy eyebrows.

Knee-high brown socks with sandals.

Crocs. In bright green. Worn with anything. Matching doesn’t matter.

Gaudy Bermuda shorts that couldn’t possibly match anything. (Good thing it doesn’t matter.) They’re a thrift store bargain. So what if the pocket linings have holes in them.

Fanny packs. A logical response to having cheap shorts with holes in the pockets.

I need to stop there. No doubt it gets worse, but I’ve seen the future. Ain’t pretty, indeed.

And to think it all started with a wrinkly school t-shirt.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MORE & LESS


It's still a few hours until the coffee date. Another one. Not with Brad. This is a first. There have been loads of firsts. Enough for baristas to start mocking me.

"Grande Nonfat Latte's back. The other guy keeps checking his phone. I give them eighteen minutes."

"Should've just ordered a tall."

I ought to have the conversational routine down by now. Funny anecdotes. An obscure literary reference to feign intelligence. Neck stretch warm ups to prepare for generous head nodding. But I'm always unprepared. I'm determined to be authentic. Let each conversation unfold--and unravel--on its own demerits.

There is more at stake as years pass and I continue to have coffee experiences with an indistinct aftertaste. Hints of lemon and oak and casual rejection. Time ticks. I’m 51. The wrinkles will become more prominent. The belly won’t stay tucked in forever. I’m past prime and still searching. Am I stuck in the discount bin with a pile of irregulars? The “As Is” sign sends passersby into a quick jog.

A year back in Vancouver and I’ve already worn out my welcome. Plenty of Fish has a “Meet Me” page where a stream of profiles pop up and you click Yes, No or Maybe. When I checked today, the message said, “Sorry—our Meet Me list shows you users we’ve specifically chosen for you! Sometimes, this list runs out.” This was a hunch I didn’t want confirmed.

It’s all up to this one coffee with Brad. Guy with a new pup. I’m hoping he’ll bring him. Dogs always like me. At least that’ll be something.

There’s less at stake, too. With rejection comes restraint and resignation. Any newness to dating has worn away. The nerves aren’t there either. If I get that it’s-been-nice-meeting-you vibe, I can shrug it off on the way home. I got to pat a dog. Hurrah.

There’s still time to work myself up into a positive, hopeful state. That will come on the half-hour walk to his local Starbucks. Haven’t had a first coffee at that location in ages. With all the hope I stir up, some of it will be channeled into hoping the baristas don’t recognize me. Presumably, I could confuse them and order a Grande Decaf Iced Americano instead.

A fresh start.

Maybe a different outcome.