As a recently-separated and soon-to-be-divorced custodial Dad, clearly I have great anxieties about reentering the dating world and all the vagaries and difficulties of trying to meet someone worthwhile. I believe that much of this is a factor of being single and a little older - I've learned to always expect the unexpected, but I had no idea that I would be single again at this age - and with a 9 year old son along for the ride. While there's no hurry to meet someone, I am conscious of the fact that time is the original avenger, and few of us get better looking as we age, so I do feel a need to leverage my strengths, as it were, and put myself out there while I still have the ability to attract someone to whom I can become attracted. Still, I remember a time when these anxieties were nonexistent - when I reentered the dating pool head-first, confident in the fact that there is always someone for everyone, yet completely unprepared for a surprising result that awaited me.
The year was 1997, and my first wife and I decided to divorce after 16 years together. We pretty much raised each other - cohabiting since age 18, married since age 22, and at 35, we found ourselves more brother and sister than husband and wife. Our split was more than amicable - it was downright friendly and very 90's-TV-show, and we remain friends to this day. Still, on the heels of our separation, in Winter 1998, I thought it would be fun to seek companionship the way most people in 1998 were seeking it - via the internet. Specifically, I registered on a long-since-defunct website called "loveisadogfromhell.com" - the dog from Hell reference being a line from a poem by Charles Bukowski. The affiliation with the Bukowski line was attractive to me - I had long been a fan of his poems and prose, and I thought at the very least I might find someone who also enjoyed his work, and we'd at least have that in common. So, I shined up my self-assessment, and posted an honest and hopeful ad.
I was shocked by the number of responses I received - over 100 in the first 24 hours. To be fair, I was a now-single, 35 year old, heterosexual man in New York City, with an income in the mid-six figures - a valuable and rare commodity. I read through profile after profile - most of the ladies that responded to me asked some off-putting questions very early on - where do you work, what kind of car do you drive - the kind of questions that indicated to me they were more about a person's externalities and less about the heart and soul. And then, there was one reply that was simple, elegant, forthright, and it captured my attention. It read:
"I don't date much - from here or anywhere - but I liked your profile and would like to know more. Perhaps we can meet for coffee and see if we click? -Charl"
She didn't say too much, or ask too much, and she wanted to meet, which was encouraging to me - I think many online courtships can just drag on and on, and that was something I didn't want. So, I wrote back in the affirmative (this was a Tuesday) and we set a date for Saturday afternoon, one o'clock, at a coffeeshop near her apartment in the East 70's.
On the appointed day, I arrived early, only to find that she too had thought to come early - we met on the front steps of the coffee shop, and went inside. Her name was Charl Marmorstein, and she was working in a media company in a creative capacity. Conversation flowed easily - she was as direct in person as she was in her emails, and we both enjoyed conversing. When she suggested that we continue our date by heading over to the Edward Steichen exhibition at the Whitney, I was quick to agree.
We walked through the museum, enjoying the photographs and talking at length about a million things. Before we realized it, 5:00pm arrived and the museum was closing up. "Dinner?" - I suggested, and she replied with the name of a steakhouse near her apartment.
Dinner was amazing - we shared a bottle of wine, a couple of appetizers, and the most amazing gorgonzola-and-peppercorn-crusted rib-eye steak I had ever enjoyed. Dessert, coffee and aperitifs followed, and afterward, with a rosy glow on our cheeks, we left the restaurant and headed for her apartment, for a cup of tea.
And that's where I blew it.
She served us both tea on her sofa, and sat very, very close to me, curling her legs beneath her and leaning into me a little. I don't know if it was nerves, fear, or a combination of both things, but I completely missed her signals and didn't "make a move," as it were. We sat there and talked for almost an hour, and then she yawned, said "It's pretty late, and I have to be up early tomorrow." We parted at her doorway with a hug, and foolishly, on the cab-ride home to Chelsea, I told myself that things had gone well. When I arrived home, I emailed her, and thanked her for the date, and told her I would really like to see her again.
The next morning, there was no reply. Nor that evening, nor the following morning, or the morning after that. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, I called her cell phone, and left the following message:
"Hey, Charl, it's Dave. I emailed you, but didn't hear back from you. It is totally fine if you don't want to go out again, but I'd prefer to hear it from you one way or another - I don't like to leave things dangling. Please call me."
She didn't call, but I did finally get an email, as follows:
"Hi Dave - I had a nice time with you, but I don't think there's any spark between us, and it's been my experience that the spark is either there or it's not, and if it's not, then the whole thing just becomes a matter of time before it dies on the vine. I wish you well. -Charl"
When I considered all the reasons a first date might not evolve into a second date, it never occurred to me that "failure to launch" could be one of them. And it wasn't that I didn't find her attractive - quite the contrary - she was beautiful, nearly stunning, someone I would have loved to date and get to know. It was more that I was unaccustomed to things moving so quickly, and I zigged when I should have zagged.
Now it's 2012 - I am fourteen years older, but little wiser, as the Universe doles out wisdom, particularly vis-a-vis matters of the heart, in small doses. While I don't know very much about dating, I do know myself pretty well, and I have learned that life, and love, are all about the details. If another beautiful woman should be sent my way, I will pay closer attention to her interest level, but I don't think I will act much differently from the way I did back on Charl's sofa in 1998. There are some things that even time cannot change.