I used to be a star dater. By that I mean, I have been dating for most of my adult life. And before that too. I enjoyed it. I got good at it.
My first date was in ninth grade. I met Andrew at a bus stop on Highland Avenue in Piedmont, down the street from my house. He was my first (and richest) boyfriend, an heir of the Van de Kamp frozen foods empire. Or so the story goes. He never spoke of it.
I grew up in Piedmont, an exceedingly tony community plunked into Oakland, with well-policed borders that ensconce myriad slate-roofed manors, Spanish Mediterranean estates, brown-shingle Craftsmens, leaded-windowed Tudors, all surrounded by expansive (and expensive), manicured gardens.
The town has parks galore, complete with statues by famous artists and soft, emerald lawns bordered by a profusion of violets and daffodils. As one visitor starkly remarked on a local website, Piedmont’s main park “doesn’t represent Oakland parks. If you think Oakland parks are similar you will be disappointed.” The poster continued, “You’ll feel like you have entered Eden’s Garden… you won’t find the homeless camping compared to Oakland.”
The point is, Piedmont is rich, and I got to grow up there. At the time, I didn’t realize that was a privilege. I felt like an outcast in that community. My parents weren’t blue-bloods. I don’t know how they managed to buy a house in that community. Of course, at the time, in the mid-60s, the house sold for $40,000, as I recall.
My father was a merchant marine, my mom, a journalist. We didn’t fit in. It wasn’t necessarily because we weren’t “old money,” though that may have been part of it.
We probably could have made our way reasonably well in the community if my mother hadn’t been a rather colorful, shall we say, and quite serious, alcoholic. By that I mean, she was not a quiet drunk by any means. She was famous for her rages, which were terrifying, and nightly.
Growing up, I learned to keep my head down. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself than I already had trained on me. I spaced out in school, reading library books at my desk while the teacher passed out tests, tests I never saw, which would then be picked up again and returned with a big, red “F” pushed into the paper in pencil at the top.
My mother was called in, of course. All I remember about that day was praying she’d arrive not too drunk. I wasn’t worried about what the teacher would say about me, or what my mother would do about it, but what condition she’d show up in. I was 10 at the time. Fifth grade.
But, I believe I was talking about dating.
Dating was my escape from an untenable situation at home, with an inebriated, belligerent, hyper-critical, fork-tongued mother trailing me around all hours calling me slut and whore.
For some reason, she did this even before I’d had my first kiss.
Once I did have my first kiss, it was sayonara, baby. I was out of there. And boys turned out to offer an incredible panacea.
Andrew was my first boyfriend, and it lasted, maybe, a few weeks. I broke up with him because my friend E. liked him too and convinced me it was wrong for me to date him when she liked him, and didn’t our friendship mean anything to me? This was the beginning of a disagreement that has lasted to the present day. Loyalty to friends versus my love of boys.
Andrew was one year older than I was. He looked great in his 501 jeans. His skin was tan, his eyes were green. He was quiet and serious. He was a good boy, a great boy, probably. He liked photography and attended the best private prep school in the region, bound for the Ivies for sure. I think I heard he went to Dartmouth, in fact. No surprise.
All I really registered though was how fun he was to kiss. It was his friend Mike who taught me how. To kiss, that is. One night, in an empty house which my friend Sarah was house-sitting, Mike gently, carefully, and thoroughly taught me how to kiss. Sarah and a rakish boy with dark hair — a friend of theirs from the prep school — were in a back bedroom.
Mike and I were seated on the couch beside an aquarium filled with flitting, dashing fish and round white bubbles rising incessantly and noisily from turquoise gravel. I was terrified and sat with my shoulders hunched, my hands clasped between my legs. Mike understood everything and took it upon himself to relax me, and to break the barrier between us.
The incredible thing about this encounter is that neither he nor I ever believed we were embarking on a relationship. He was simply doing me a favor. What was also incredible was that he did no more than teach me how to kiss. He made no other moves whatsoever. He was a complete gentleman, and yet, so naughty! I loved every minute.
He kissed me, let me fumble around trying to kiss him back, then withdrew and analyzed my performance. I kid you not. He really did this. “Less force, more gentle,” he said. We’d try again. He’d pull back. “Slower. A little tongue.” And again. “Yes… Like that. That’s good.”
Andrew was his friend, and the beneficiary of Mike’s kissing lessons, for a couple of weeks, anyway.
I don’t remember what Andrew and I did on our first date. I just remember meeting him at the bus stop, a bright clear sun beating down, the pavement warm, the bus drawing up and sighing to a stop beside us. The sound of the door opening, the scent of the rubber floor and whatever else it was that gave AC Transit buses their unique scent, which I can conjure even now.
I remember observing Andrew’s cute behind in his faded jeans as he climbed the stairs of the bus. I remember his nervousness and shyness as he dug for change in his front pocket and paid the toll, dropping quarters into the glass box beside the driver. Andrew liked me a lot. I remember the hurt confusion in his green eyes when I told him blithely that I couldn’t see him anymore. We were standing on the tennis court in his backyard. He was crushed and shocked.
Since then, I’ve broken up with a terrible lot of boys and men. I was rarely left. It was almost always I who did the leaving.
I never had a problem getting a date. I liked boys and men, and many of them seemed to like me back.
From the age of 16 to 19, I dated like a maniac. I had several good relationships with boys who cared, who brought me flowers, gave me rides in their trucks (one very special turquoise 1957 Chevy that smelt of grease comes especially to mind), wrote me love letters, made me tapes of songs. One of my first boyfriends returned to my bedroom window in the middle of the night when I was 19 and proposed marriage to me. I laughed and sent him away.
I ran into him three decades later. He was hot and sexy, stable and kind, a family man, a father of three. He was my first lover, and I was proud. I lost my virginity to him when I was 16. He was house-sitting a sweet Craftsman bungalow in “lower” Piedmont. I remember the room, a big bed fluffy with elegant white sheets and covers. I remember the surprising pain, and the shock I felt. I remember how quiet I got.
I had broken up with him a few days before because I felt pressured to have sex. Then, I decided to get it over with and thought I couldn’t do better than M., who clearly loved me. So, I showed up at the house uninvited. I surprised him and kissed him beside the kitchen door, and made it clear I was there to be with him. He thought it meant we were back together, but I never entertained that notion.
I slipped out of bed, working to hide my disappointment. Not long after, I was in bed with my sister who slept with me nightly, often with my other sister as well, yes, all of three of us in a single bed in my basement bedroom where we’d hide from our restless mother. I woke her up and said, “I just lost my virginity.” She said, “Yeah, right,” and turned over.
From that point on, I was unstoppable. I dated throughout my 20s, with several memorable relationships and lovers in between. I spent my early 30s having and raising my children. Their father and I broke up when I was 36. I thought, cool, I’ve been through some stuff. I’m young enough to still find someone and old enough to know a thing or two about myself. I can find the right man now for sure. It’s a cinch.
Now, at 52, I know better. I know that 1) I’m clearly conflicted on whether or not I really want a traditional relationship or a marriage (my ex- and I never married); 2) I’m more “complicated” perhaps than I realized (this is related to #1, of course; and 3) I am getting older, and the things I wanted in my 30s and 40s may no longer be needed.
For one thing, I don’t need to be rescued. I thought I did. But then I met a man who wanted to do just that. He was even a good man, kind and handsome, and rather well-off. And I was terrified. I made sure that didn’t work.
He was probably my last, best chance at what I thought I always wanted, and I spurned it. I still only partially understand why. All I can say is that when I’ve had the chance to be “saved” (it’s happened more than once) — that is, tie my life to someone who can bring security and comfort to ours — I have backed away as if my life depended on it.
I’m literally terrified of the prospect. When I think of it, initially, I want it very much, or used to. But when it begins to come to fruition, I become petrified. I want nothing to do with security, it turns out, unless it comes from me. Unless I have made it, created it.
And (and I’ve proud of this, I must say), I HAVE made us relatively secure.
We’re not rich by any means, but we are far more secure than we used to be, and that’s because of me and my hard work, not because I finally tied the knot with some rich or well-off or well-employed gent.
All of this leaves me at 52 and wondering about dating. Dating during the pandemic.
I haven’t been dating for a while, truth be told. Since before the pandemic, I have been rather cynical about the whole prospect. I have born so many bad dates, laughably bad dates, dates I should have written down in detail, dates many women would recognize. Appalling dates.
I gave up.
From time to time, though, I think, I need to try again. I want to try again. What would it be like to meet a nice man…? Someone to cook and laugh with, someone to hold. Someone to love and care for. Someone with whom to grow old.
I replaced dating with dance, and I had a lover or two, with no pretense that we were trying to have a relationship. I don’t want that anymore either, though, even though several of my friends claimed they were jealous. They said, What do you mean, you’re going to kill it? You have the PERFECT situation. I could see objectively why they thought so.
But the truth is, I’m not so hard as all that. I don’t want mechanical, transactional sex. I never did. Why bother. I have always loved my lovers, every single one of them. A good deal.
I don’t want to be cold about it. I don’t want to be detached. That makes no sense.
My friend down the street is dating. Yes, during the pandemic. He is having dates in person with women. I guess they are keeping some amount of distance. I don’t pry. They are hiking, as we all are, enjoying our beautiful mountains and trails full of wildflowers.
Last night, he came by for a white sheet to hang on his back fence so he could project a movie in his back garden for one of the women he’s dating. (Yes, he’s dating two. He likes both of them.)
Tonight, he has his date, watching a movie on my sheet.
He is young. He is 36. He wants a family. He still has dreams. As I did at his age.
But, hell, I do too. I have dreams. I have not lost hope.
So. Dating. Dating during the pandemic.
Do I dare?
Probably not. Not yet, anyway. I’m bringing groceries weekly to a friend who is 83. I can’t be cavalier about this.
But how long will this go on? The orders will be lifted, but not for any real reason but that they have to be if the world economy has any hope of surviving. I guess.
Without a vaccine or rigorous, instantaneous testing, I don’t see how we can go back to being footloose and fancy-free. There will need to be a seriousness now. We can’t date multiple people now because we will rapidly multiply the number of vectors… we will need to be careful.
What will this do to dating? Maybe it will render online dating more serious, finally. Maybe we will all stop flitting from person to person to person knowing that we can’t do that anymore. It’s not safe.
Maybe we will take the time to get to know each other before jumping into one another’s beds. It takes a year to know someone, to really know them, to trust them. You have to see them tested.
At least a year.
I haven’t checked out virtual dating yet.
I’m texting with someone from some dating site, I don’t remember which. I’m not taking it very seriously. I haven’t even put his name next to the number. I haven’t saved him as a contact. I haven’t phoned him, and he hasn’t phoned me. We haven’t done, or even proposed, a Zoom meeting.
A part of me thinks, Why bother? His picture didn’t thrill me. Of course, I know I have loved many men whose picture wouldn’t thrill me. Chemistry between two people isn’t like that.
Anyway, I don’t have an answer, and I don’t know what I’ll do yet.
It complicates matters a bit that my ex-, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, is living with us during the pandemic. But it doesn’t complicate it that much. David, the prince I spurned, accepted B. just fine. He loved me more for taking care of my ex-. Maybe I can find a man like that again.