Early in the week I stop on my way home for something to eat after working late. About halfway through my meal a couple sits at a table nearby. They seem mismatched, both in size and style. I check myself for making this judgement; after all I’d like to think I’m deep enough to remember that human connections have nothing to do with size or style; that they’re made up of much more interesting and mysterious things than that.
Still, humour me. He looks younger than her, at least by way of style. He looks to be the kind of guy who shops at the mall for clothing and assorted electronica and other boy bling with his buddies. That kind of guy didn’t exist when I was his age, in my little world anyway. Boy bling was only popular among the white polyester pants and open shirt set of my parents’ generation; and electronic toys came in really large boxes with really large woofers and tweeters that took up whole corners of living rooms or was installed in the doors and rear windows of the shaggy-haired owners’ beat up Monte Carlos.
This guy has perfectly trimmed hair and a nice shirt and expensive looking jacket and has just set his expensive phone on the table after checking for messages. The gal is not the kind you’d imagine our guy and his buddies cruising at the mall. She doesn’t look like she goes to malls much. Her hair isn’t modern; neither are her clothes. She doesn’t set a phone on the table upon sitting down.
But it’s not the appearance of the two that gets my attention, it’s the expression on his face: a bland smile, which is not a smile; the kind of face you wear on a first date when you’re trying to hide your disappointment, trying to pretend you’re up for a good time when really you’re counting the minutes to the moment when you can call an end to the evening and chalk it up to experience. His eyes match the insipidness of that not-a-smile, trying to look at her as if she were somehow interesting but seeing through her instead.
I can’t see her face but I expect it is either (1) wearing the same bland mask of resignation, or (2) wearing a face of an eager, insecure not-a-smile, not quite covering a furious search for something clever to say.
She takes a long time to order a drink and the guy and his bland not-a-smile are patient as the gal discusses options with the server. I'm taken back to a time when I was about 15, sitting in the corner of a car with a bunch of kids having skipped school on a gorgeous June afternoon. We stopped at a drive-through window and I ordered a large pop because I was thirsty but was mortified to discover just how large the large pop was, and I spent the rest of the glorious June afternoon feeling miserable and embarrassed about having ordered a bucket of pop (no doubt puny by today’s standards) and thinking I must look so ridiculous. Of course the only thing that made me look ridiculous was the embarrassment over a stupid cup of pop which nobody noticed. That moment of insecurity ruined the experience of the afternoon which should have been fun, with boys and skipping school and early summer and all.
My mortification over that pop is probably the only thing that keeps that memory alive in me. And what gives me compassion for that girl who seems to be trying hard to order the right drink. After she finally makes her decision, he orders a craft beer in a fancy bottle without hesitation.
I can’t bear to watch as she considers the food menu and turn back to my book, ironically, 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life, a memoir by Kristen McGuiness who embarked on 51 dates in 50 weeks. Looking up now and then I see the couple’s conversation slipping in and out of the air between them. When it’s not sliding off to the floor in a heap, the talking is quiet, serious, polite. He nods kindly at something she says and then it slithers away again. Between bites she watches the filler content running on the hockey channel right above their table. He looks around for something to be interested in.
No doubt I’m in tune with the couple because of this book I’m reading which is all about a whole bunch of first dates. I’d heard the author interviewed on the radio a year or two ago, and quite possibly it was she who inspired me to embark on my own Year of Dating Fearlessly. Certainly I’ve had my share of bad first dates, more of them than good ones and like McGuinness I was searching for some kind of flaw in me that was hindering the success rate.
In the end, my year of dating was more successful than hers – on one level. What we both got was a little more self-understanding. For me, it was a reaffirming of my awareness in knowing what I want and what I don’t want and being secure with that. I’d venture to say that wouldn’t be far off from what I knew back when I was 15. At least when I wasn’t agonizing about what boys were thinking about my drink choices.
As I ask for my bill, things seem to be warming up, the conversation more animated and relaxed. Maybe it’s the drinks loosening them up a little. I’m hopeful for them.
But then as I walk past them to leave, she’s watching the hockey channel with a bland not-a-smile and he’s talking on his cell phone; and my hope for them slides to the floor along with their failed conversation.
This morning I’m standing in the bathroom looking at a can of shaving cream on the counter while I’m brushing my teeth. That can of shaving cream gets me thinking that even the most loyal of my readers are going to stop visiting me here if I don’t start writing again.
It’s no secret I get distracted. I should probably come clean and say it’s likely more a case of being self-absorbed. Because when you can’t see beyond the end of your nose, you stop paying attention to what’s going on around you. And that’s the death knell for your writing if what you write about is the world that goes on around you.
The current self absorption, indicated by that can of shaving cream, isn’t a bad thing at all. However, unlike my luminous blogger friend PENolan, I lack forthrightness that could enrich my own stories, even behind this veil of faceless internetdom. That missing candour is the thing that will always keep me a few steps outside the realm of GOOD memoir; but I carry on.
One thing PE and I do share is recent adventures in online dating. Me, I’ve called 2011 "The Year of Dating Fearlessly.” I wasn’t afraid exactly – though dating at my age is not for the faint of heart. PE blogs openly and humorously about her dating adventures; I do not. Maybe I should. Maybe if I’d written about it more I’d have learned how to do it better.
PE may or may not have told her dates about her blog, but I always did – it always came up. My obsession with personal stories is part of who I am; it forms how I see. And pointing a bloke to my blog is a quick way for him to understand me in an initial sort of way. So I didn’t feel free to write about the fellas that came in and out of my life, even though most of them weren’t much interested in reading the thing anyway and would probably never know.
I ventured into the Year of Dating Fearlessly with purpose last December because over time it got so much easier to not date at all because of the chances of really finding a connection with someone seemed more and more minimal as the years passed. I don’t mind my own company; I’d rather be alone with me than be with someone simply for the sake of not being alone. Being alone was never my preferred state though, and so around this time last year I determined I’d gotten too sensitive about all the dating failures and that sensitivity had turned into complacence. I was about to turn fifty; the chances of staying complacent for the rest of my life were probably increasing with every day.
Outside of complacency is my dislike of first dates. Some people think bad first dates are inevitable, and you just need to move on to the second date or even the third in order to really know if you click. The Year of Dating Fearlessly was about me soldiering on through as many bad first dates as it took to get to some good ones. And there were some pretty good ones, as well as some really bad ones and all manner in between.
If I learned anything in the Year of Dating Fearlessly it was something that I really knew since I was a teenager: my judgement is pretty good. If the first date isn’t good, then the second one isn’t likely to be so either. What a good first date comes down to is talking. Not just talking – communicating. Communicating is what gets you to a good second date.
What a good first date with lots of communicating comes down to is chemistry. I believe in chemistry – I’ve had it in the past and I want it. It’s more than shared interests that instigates communicating. If all the atoms are jumping in the same direction then there’s a mutual WANT to share and WANT to know and that’s what makes one conversation lead to three others in the space of a half an hour.
And it’s all those atoms jumping in the same direction that issue that YES suddenly discovered in what starts as a polite little hug and turns into an electrical current that stops time for a moment.
So where does all the PE style candour come in? More forthrightly, when does a new person become a bloggable member of your world?
It might start when he leaves things like, say, shaving cream in your bathroom because he knows he’ll be around needing it again soon, and suddenly, bad first dates are the furthest thing from your mind.
… for getting back into the dating world.
I'm thinking it should be a reminder – that maybe I should play it before every date. In other words – "stay down here on the planet Jennifer."
(Oh, and well, how had I gone for so long without thinking about Paul Hyde and the Payolas?)
I don’t know how to do it
and I’ve always hated doing things I’m not good at
at least until
I got good at them
and this particular dance makes me feel
like I’m falling over my feet
we walked a while
I never was a good multi-tasker
of this particular dance
but when we walk
I can think
When I’m mucking about having to focus
on getting the moves
and when I’m dancing where I should be walking
all I can think about
is finding the damn road map
since no map-following
would likely be the better
in this journey
meandering back roads
tripping up surprise hills
into hidden trails
dancing is for eyes closed
and not thinking
“truth” in something
outside the dancer
especially when it doesn’t exist
dancing is for
in that thing