Tales of an Online Love Quest
Online dating? Many single adults I’ve met have tried it. I’ve even heard of a few success stories. Perhaps that’s why I tried it; the hope that it could work for me. A new beginning.
I was 53, single after nearly 25 years of marriage, and more than a little wary of meeting men through a website. The last time I dated guys, there was no Internet. I likened online dating to the classifieds I’d seen in the back of the free weekly paper. Single White Female In Search Of. Yikes.
For the first year I was single, I resisted the thought of dating anyone, much less joining some seedy website. And then it started getting rough out there when I lost my job. Uncertainty set in. I felt I was starting over from scratch. I began to long for companionship. At the end of the day, I wanted to rest my head on someone’s shoulder.
Naturally, desire and curiosity won out, and I signed up to try this online dating thing.
For the first few months, I behaved much like a voyeur. Well, without being creepy. This was my fact-finding stage. I kept my guard up and my profile to a minimum.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to check out other women’s profiles for inspiration. They seemed to be enjoying themselves so much more than I was. They all “loved to laugh” and were busy “living life to the fullest,” endlessly drinking wine, traveling, and starting their own companies.
So, I mainly read profiles of the men in my dating pool. I also had a knack for scaring off the poor souls who did approach me. If I didn’t ignore them, I hit them with questions, “Why did you say hello?” Or, “Why are you interested in me?” And, “What’s your point?”
Yeah, total charmer, this girl.
Along the way, however, I did strike up an entertaining chat with a lawyer and self-described wine connoisseur. He tried to sway me into choosing white wine over red. Much appreciated, but no. What’s more, this chap was heavily into bondage, which he stated openly in his dating profile. You could imagine the questions I had about that.
While I enjoyed our candid, friendly chats, we never did meet in person. Perhaps because I didn’t submit to his white wine suggestion. Or perhaps I was a little too new to this dating world.
Then Ben appeared. He was 36, which made him 17 years my junior. But, please, I was no cougar. He approached me and he was quite persistent. After a week of chatting online, we agreed to meet at a public location, at a busy city park.
It was a late summer afternoon, when I walked up to Ben. He smiled, then with his hand he tipped my chin up toward him. Not to kiss me, but to look more closely at my face. I was touched at first. Until I felt I was being inspected. I stepped back.
“No. I’m sorry. I mean, you’re real. Just like your picture online. Many people aren’t,” he blushed.
Wait. What? People on dating sites are not always who they say they are?
The thought made me laugh, which broke the ice. We talked and walked amongst the kids on bikes and young parents strolling with their babies. Eventually, we found an open bench and sat down.
He leaned over and kissed me — solid and strong — to assert his desire. Yet gentle enough not to send me running. A perfect first kiss for the woman who had been feeling more like a child, scared to be out on the Internet. To be judged by a photo and a collection of stats before anyone got to know who I really was. Ben’s kiss helped pull me out of hiding.
He suggested we get something to eat and drink. I couldn’t. I already had plans to meet my daughter. We settled for coffee.
Later, when he walked me to my car, Ben took the liberty of sliding into the passenger’s side. He turned, but this time, with me in the driver’s seat, I pulled him close and kissed him. Strong, long, and deliberate.
“Dianne, you definitely got it going on,” he whispered.
Affirmative. And with that, I was on my way.
My dating prospects picked up, and on a Saturday afternoon, I received a message from Steven. I was out grocery shopping, so I held off answering until I got home.
Steven was charming and polite. I loved how he talked about his two daughters. If that weren’t enough, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, we lived in the same neighborhood. We drove the same streets, shopped the same stores, ordered our coffee at the same counter. Even our kids attended the same schools. Well, mine were a few years ahead of his.
Steven was a consultant for a well-regarded international company. He also had a doctorate in chemistry.
What’s more, Steven asked to continue our chat on Sunday. He started comparing our answers on the dating site questionnaire, “Star Wars or Star Trek?”
I answered Star Trek.
“Yes! And you owned a motorcycle?”
“Well, actually, it belonged to my ex-husband,” I typed. “But I loved it, too. And over the years, whenever we were broke and he’d talk about selling it, I wouldn’t let him.”
“Will you be my friend?” he shot back.
I laughed. This was fun, and by the end of our online chat, Steven insisted that we meet. Besides, he said, he had just returned from Paris, and was eager to share the photos from his trip. He also wanted to show off a leather jacket he had picked up there, which he promised would make me drool.
Despite the good feelings, I hesitated. But he kept at it. He was heading to Houston the next morning for work, and asked if he could call me from there so we could make plans.
I gave him my number.
Steven called a couple of nights that week. Our conversations were long and pleasing. His voice was soothing and confident. We joked about the difficulties of starting over. He asked about my recent dating history, to which I admitted that there was none. He, on the other hand, had broken up with a woman only about a month before.
I was ready to meet in person. Steven was flying back to Baltimore on Thursday, so we made a date for that Friday.
But he called again late Thursday afternoon.
“I just landed, and I have to stop at a party at Gertrude’s, but I was wondering if we could meet a little later for a glass of wine. I have to get my daughters tomorrow night, so would you be willing to see me tonight instead? I’m so sorry to do this to you.”
No, no, no, you shouldn’t be doing this to me, I thought.
“I’m not ready,” I resisted.
“I understand. But you have some time,” he said. “I can even swing by and pick you up, if you want. We live so close to each other. Dianne, I really want to meet you.”
I wanted to meet him, too.
But pick me up in his car? We hadn’t even met. Is he crazy? Am I crazy?
Well, okay, I was crazy. Despite everything my mother ever taught me, I said yes. I was moving on impulse.
Dressed and ready, my heart pounded as I watched for his car to come up the street.
The white Infiniti approached slowly, stopping short, a few houses down. That was fine, I thought as I walked toward the car. At least he wasn’t sure which house was mine.
I opened the door and settled into the white leather seat. We were silent as I smoothed my clothes. I waited for him to turn to me before I looked up, straight into his eyes. They were dark and intense, but softened quickly.
Remarkably, it felt right.
Yet before I could relax, Steven asked, “Would you mind if we stopped at my house? I’d like to change out of this suit. If you’re okay with that.”
“Well, I’m already in your car,” I laughed nervously.
I stole glances at Steven as he negotiated the narrow, one-way street. He wasn’t a large man, probably about 5 foot 8 or 9. And he certainly wasn’t scary, with his glasses pushed toward the end of his nose as he crouched forward to clutch the steering wheel, fearing that he’d scrape one of the parked cars that lined both sides of the block.
I was amused at his relief when he finally turned off my street. A few more turns, and we were at his house.
“Would you like to come in? I’ll show you around.”
I stepped inside and was impressed right away. Sparsely decorated though tasteful and neat. Steven shared photos of his daughters, and then gave me a tour of his house. He described his painstaking calls to North Carolina to custom-order his living room couch. He also bragged about how he designed the kitchen remodel. I was admiring the countertops when I looked up to catch him gazing at me. He caught himself and told me not to move, promising that he’d be right back.
What I have here is an eloquent man.
Steven returned, wearing jeans, his leather jacket from Paris, and a pronounced swagger. We laughed until he bent down and lightly grazed his lips along mine, back and forth. Finally, he kissed me. Full on. He knew what I wanted.
We lingered until I found the words to speak up, “How about we go get that wine?”
So began my romance with Steven. I had met someone online, and I had struck gold.
We read the same books and shared a love of good whiskey, French food, and football. We went to great restaurants. He cooked for me, too. We matched wits and, yes, we loved to laugh.
We also shared a wariness of online dating. In fact, he didn’t want to tell anyone that we had found each other on a website. He called it a matter of “suburban sensibilities,” which made us both giggle.
Instead, Steven suggested we say that we met at the local grocery store.
“You mean as I was waiting in line at the deli?” I played. “Hmmm, I really needed that pound of Virginia baked ham.”
“Perfect,” he grinned.
Our romance went on for months. Then, one day, the topic of dating exclusively came up. I hadn’t planned on having the conversation. But I also hadn’t planned on it heading where it did. This was not the time to get serious, he said.
“Dianne, you are beautiful, sweet, and smart. I love being with you. But you are not finished yet. There are things you need to take care of in your life. You need to focus on them. And you know it.”
Suburban sensibilities and Virginia baked ham! How could I not see this coming?
I may have been freelance writing and editing, but I still was without a full-time job. I needed to re-establish myself. I hated to admit it, but Steven was right. There were too many questions about where I was heading.
He would reappear and take me out for dinner and cocktails, or we’d meet for lunch. But as soon as it felt as though things were falling back into place, Steven would break our plans.
My sane self knew that he had moved on; I had to make the effort to do so myself. After all, my life started picking up when I got back to work full-time.
I returned to the dating website, wrote a new profile, and retook the survey.
Almost immediately, a message popped up, revealing my top prospect. I wailed out loud when I saw his photo. Nooo! It was Steven, a 98 percent match.
I hid his profile and kept going.
I wish I could say I was swept off my feet by someone new, waiting just around the corner. Really, I really do wish I could say that.
I read somewhere that making a first impression had only a seven second window upon first meeting someone. Also, according to a British survey, a woman knew if her date was a potential partner within 90 seconds of their first date.
No doubt, I leaned more toward the seven-second rule. I might chat constantly with someone for days, but with the next step — the actual first meeting — the moment of truth came instantly. Also, to be fair, I was sure that many of the men whom I met had sized me up just as quickly.
Take Larry, the high school teacher. Originally from Maine, he had been living in this area for only a few years. We had both just watched a PBS biography on J.D. Salinger, which kept the conversation going.
In fact, we chatted online nightly, for hours, throughout an entire week.
Larry was the first guy in whom I found any interest since Steven, and I was excited to meet him for coffee. I knew what to wear by the time that day came. My hair and makeup were flawless.
He was already there when I walked in. I picked him out right away, and immediately I realized it wasn’t going to work. What was it about that mysterious chemical response that could light up your insides, or shut them down cold? Mine went dark instantly.
Damn, I had wanted this to work.
But wait. Larry didn’t look so thrilled either. Standoffish, even. And when he sat down with his coffee, he didn’t open his coat to get comfortable. I could only surmise that his pilot light went out, just like mine did.
This was pointless. I had to be polite, and stayed a little while. But I hardly remembered our conversation. I was too busy kicking myself for getting my hopes up.
On the phone, I told my mom about my disappointing evening. She said I should get right back up and find another date.
“The quickest way to get over somebody is to replace him,” she said.
That’s when Joseph, the accountant, messaged me. He seemed pleasant enough. His picture wasn’t too clear, but what the heck. We agreed to go for coffee. He’d meet me directly from work.
I was taken aback when I first saw him.
Fine, he was no slave to fashion. His overcoat couldn’t hide the wrinkled shirt and bagged-out pants. And I resented him for the minutes of my life wasted on trying to look good for our meeting.
I fixated on his tattered Sperry Top-Siders. Did he really wear those shoes to work?
I spent much of our conversation inside my own head, telling myself that I should’ve been more discerning when, wait, what was he saying?
“I do have a girlfriend,” he ventured. “But it’s an open relationship sexually. I like to meet women who are single, but want sex.”
By then, my coffee was as cold as my disinterest.
“Umm, yeah, I’ve got to go.”
He reached toward me, but I was too quick. No touching this girl, Sloppy Joe.
Then I met Jude.
I may have strong political views, but I don’t like them to interfere with my relationships. I wouldn’t talk to half my family if I did. Too bad Jude felt differently.
We’d been chatting all week when we agreed to meet for a drink that Friday. Tall, good-looking, and well-traveled. This was going to be fun, I thought.
Friday evening, I was first to arrive at the bar, and I watched him walk up the street. Something was off. I picked up his vibe a block away.
I waved him over when he walked in. He said hello then blurted, “I looked at your profile again before I left, and it says you watch Bill Maher. BILL MAHER?!”
I was stunned. The bartender threw me a sorry glance.
“Yeah, and then I had to fight the Beltway traffic to get here!” he spewed. “I suppose you also voted for Obama.”
Simmer down, rude Jude dude. I’m just gonna sip my Old Fashioned while you pull yourself together.
I tried to keep my cool. But when he insulted the bartender, I was done. And gone.
Then there was Marco. He was Italian. Molto bene. I made the first move and messaged him.
We soon met over coffee.
Sadly, despite his beautiful Italian accent, Marco brought me down. He spent much of the conversation telling me about the shady women he had met online. How one was still living with her husband. How another tried to swindle him out of money.
I was disappointed with our date. I was disheartened with humanity.
When he walked me to my car, I mentioned that I was flying out of town the next day to visit my family. That I’d be gone for a week.
“You’re just trying to tell me you don’t want to see me,” he pouted.
I started to deny it, but then gave up.
Ciao, Marco. I hope you find happiness.
I got into my car and thought how I’d like to find happiness, too. All these bad dates I had been having. It was time to reevaluate my profile. Or maybe take a break from it all. Steven was right about me not being finished. I was still just beginning. All over again.
© Dianne R. McCann
Dianne R. McCann currently works in outpatient care for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Cardiology. Apart from her day job, she is a freelance writer and editor. Prior to this, she was editor of the award-winning publication Baltimore’s Child for 12 years.