I’m dating again, after the dissolution of a hobbled four-year relationship followed by the implosion of a passionate yet deceptive one-year fling. I’m more cautious than I used to be, more jaundiced. But also, I hope, wiser. I no longer want to try things for the sake of trying them, winging it to see what happens. That’s the way I conducted my dating life for over a decade, and it’s clearly not working. I’m more careful now. I hold back. I make no commitments. I dabble. I see. I watch. I wait.
Is it a better tactic? I honestly don’t know.
Last year, I met a guy I’ll call Mitch. We met for a picnic lunch at a local marina. We found a weathered wood table beneath a comically wind-bent pine tree. The halyards on the boats clinked rhythmically in the warm spring breeze. He was funny, smart, and thoughtful. He brought good food, cloth napkins, and a nice bottle of white wine. He had sparkly eyes and an infectious laugh. He was kind of sexy.
We started going out. We both have kids home pretty much round the clock so our prime make-out spot tended to be the back of one of our cars. I know. This is a shock for my single friends who don’t have kids. They look at me incredulously. You make out… in the car?! They ask. But, trust me, many divorced, separated, single, or widowed parents will understand what I mean. At least, I hope they do. I can’t believe I’m an isolated case.
Anyway, we’d gone for a drink at a local bar owned by some former rocker, where we’d encountered a voluble Cape Verdean man complaining about all manner of family hangers-on who expected him to send quantities of money home, having “made it” in America.
As the man spun his various tales, I noticed Mitch looking at me. I could read his eyes exactly. He was transmitting humor, compassion for this man, and a question to me: What did I want him to do? Should we keep engaging this guy or try to shut him down? Was I having fun? He was asking me.
The fact that I could read the question in his eyes was sexy to me, as well as the fact that he had the mental agility to give this guy his attention while capably and wordlessly checking on me. We shared this interesting, complex moment.
Not long after, we were making out in the back seat of Mitch’s van. It was going well. It was fun. I was straddling him, my mouth locked on his, when a hot flash hit. The car immediately steamed up — to the hilt. Condensation began rolling down the insides of the windows, fast. My face and neck were slick with sweat. I couldn’t breathe. I detached myself from my amour’s face and croaked, “Open the window.”
“Can you open the window? Please. I need air. Having a hot flash,” I added, as an afterthought.
He jumped backwards like a cat on a hot tin roof. If he could have catapulted himself through the seat, through the floorboards, and out of the car itself to the asphalt below, he would happily have done so.
“You’re in MENOPAUSE?!”
He recoiled in horror, as much as is possible when you have a girl, er, I mean, a menopausal woman, in your lap.
I froze. I felt like I’d been caught committing a crime, and a heinous one at that.
I hadn’t realized my hormonal fluctuations could trigger fear and disgust of this caliber. I was already sweating buckets, could hardly breathe, and now began blushing hotly on top of it, shame and confusion cascading from my pores.
“Not menopause!” I cried desperately. “Peri-menopause! I’m in peri-menopause! That means…” my voice trailed off. What could I say? I was guilty as charged. How dare I parade myself as date-able when I was afflicted with this horrid condition called aging.
I tried again. “I’m 48. So, I’m not in menopause exactly. It’s like my body is getting ready for menopause… I still get my periods… I mean, I get them less often now, like every three or four months…” It was hopeless.
I realized with dull confusion how totally unsexy this was. How totally unsexy I was. I looked around the car desperately. Cold blue light filtered through the wet windows from the hideous street lights above us. Vast expanses of asphalt undulated beyond the car windows. The painted white lines of empty parking places mocked me.
My date said accusingly, “My ex is older than you, and she’s not in menopause!”
Tears stung the backs of my eyes.
I wanted to say, “Fuck you. What a jerk you are. Have you any manners? Do you have any self-control?”
Suddenly I realized he was afraid.
And for good reason. I was walking, talking proof that the grave is rearing up before us sooner rather than later. That aging is real, that we’re not young, hot, and sexy anymore. That we shouldn’t be making out in the back of a car. Either of us.
No one wants to hear that news. And who can blame them.
I’m afraid I didn’t say any of these things. I didn’t confront him about his faux pas. I didn’t tell him how he’d hurt me. I pretended everything was fine. I acted as nonchalant and normal as I could. In other words, I let him off the hook. I absorbed the injury, completely.
I did, however, get myself home in short order. It was easy to do — the passion had fizzled.
I fixated on the incident for a number of weeks. I ruefully acknowledged that I am now dating as a solidly middle-aged women, that it’s different, that trust is paramount now, that I need to protect myself.
Needless to say, I crossed that one off the list.