When I started this blog, I was in my 20s — a woman who came of age watching “Sex and the City”, trying to decide if she was a Carrie or a Miranda (or maybe a Samantha, but definitely not entirely a Charlotte) and whose actual generation had yet to be defined by “Girls.” It was the era of “Gray’s Anatomy,” and not yet “50 Shades of Gray.” Tinder and Bumble had yet to hit the online dating market, meanwhile the bottom had just fallen out of the stock market.
All my friends and I were dating. The longest term relationships anyone had been in had been ones that started in college, when life was easy and a twin bed was good enough. Now, my friends are partnered-up, maybe toddler-totting, and likely mortgage paying.
So, in case you didn’t get where I was going, when I started “They Told Me a Rich Husband,” it was a different time. And I was living through a different life decade.
Putting aside that I’m now more likely to be matched with someone by my thumb than by a friend, I realized that dating in your 30s is different. It’s different not because the dating pool is smaller (to be honest, I’m not sure it’s any smaller… it’s just shallower, and access to the deep end is more frequently denied… and when you are let in, you don’t trust that there will be a lifeguard on duty to throw you one of those red floaty rescue things if you need one.)
By the time you’ve reached your 30s, you’re either frantic for a partner, or accepted that you’ve been single most of your life, are happy and can handle being on your own for the rest of your life… or you vacillate somewhere between the two. Dating in your 30s is different because more often than not, you or someone you’re dating is just getting out of that relationship that was supposed to last forever… but didn’t. No one walks around wearing a sign that says “emotionally damaged, handle with care,” and yet more often than I can count since crossing the decade line, I have found myself trying to date someone who was only fresh to market and suffering broken engagement PTSD.
That was me at 27. I get it. And we often don’t give men enough credit for having feelings, or broken hearts, or for loving deeply.
” Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death,” says Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s final masterpiece Persuasion, a story of a rare second chance at love. “…there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating.”
In one of my online dating profiles (because now I, like, have them all) I close by saying: “We’ve both done this before. It can’t hurt any worse than it did that last time. Let’s give this a go?”
It’s official. I’ve entered that elite circle of New York Singletons — I’m a Time Out New York “Undateable.”
Just in case you were wondering, that’s me on the left. And the swing coat is vintage-ish, circa 1980. Made in Ireland. The photographer, who was great, was totally baffled by what to do with me in it. My date, Lucas is on the right, and he wore a very similar outfit on our date. I’d say, we both look pretty sharp. Thank goodness for that.
I was 2/3 of the way through a nasty cold which was accompanied by a debilitating cough when an email landed in my inbox from “Undateables” writer, Will Gleason. Was I free to go out to a restaurant and a Broadway show (M Butterfly) tomorrow night?
Technically, yes, but I was also a walking mucus factory… perhaps I had better ask for a rain check when I was feeling more myself? It had taken nearly 6 months for my turn to come up in the queue. I consulted my co-workers, and that one friend who I can count on for sage direction…
Reply: M Butterfly? Sign me up!
An hour later, M Butterfly was off the table, but the date was on. A
All I had was a meeting place, a time, and a name: Lucas. It was a blind date in the most extreme sense: No common friend. No over zealous great aunt who fancies herself a match maker and decided her plumber was a viable candidate. No idea what each other looked like. Not the foggiest about age or profession. Not even a phone number. All I knew about him was that he was single, lived somewhere in New York, and that we shared a certain degree of bravery, and perhaps a total lack of ego (or a deep need for attention?)
Dinner at 6PM at Lincoln Square Steak.
I read the Zagat review of the restaurant, and decided it warranted a dress. I pregamed with a Claritin-D, a partial dose of prescription cough medicine, and a puff on my inhaler. Because in the “First Impression” section of the column timeliness or tardiness is always noted, I planned my travel so that I would be 5 minutes early. I planned too well, and was in the neighborhood 15 minutes early. Despite the wintry bite in the air, I took an extra lap around the block, and regretted not wearing nylons. I noted the apartment building where I used to go for SAT tutoring.
Inside the restaurant, I was escorted to an over-sized round table with a sweeping view of the entire space… and the door. I was the first one there.
The clock struck 6PM. I had already read the menu twice. An older gentleman with distinguished white hair and a pinstripe suit walked up to my table looked around like he was lost, then walked up to me and stuck out his hand.
Oh, my god. I thought. This is my date. This is Lucas. I am older than their usual undateable candidates, and this is what I get. That’s OK. It’s OK. Right? This is OK.
In a thick Italian accent, he introduced himself: “Hello, I am Marco…”
Phew. Not my date. Just the Owner. He explained to me how to order, suggested a few of the dishes they were “famous” for and then we spoke a bit about Chappaqua and grandchildren.
It was now 6:15. I asked for a Tanqueray martini, with a twist.
At 6:20, I took out my phone and sent out texts to the friends to had been primed for post-date debriefs.
He’s late. Am I being stood up?
I emailed Will.
6:25PM Text : Oh! I think he’s here… he has a beard… and he’s short…. oh. no. not him.
6:35 Text: This must be him. He looks about 20…. No. not him either.
6:40PM Internal dialog: I can’t believe this. I’m being stood up. I should probably leave. Where am I going to go? Maybe I should just go home? I think I have some Kraft dinner… Fuck it. Someone else is paying. I want pork belly. How come a steak house doesn’t have pork belly? Oh! There’s bacon. That’ll do.
I call over the waiter, and order the “Sizzling Canadian bacon” and a “Petite Fillet,” medium rare, with a side of roasted brussel sprouts.
“A glass of red wine?” the sommelier asks.
My martini sits only half drunk — there was too much vermouth.
“Yes, please… what is a good…”
“You will have a bottle.”
“I don’t need a bottle. He’s not coming. I just need a glass.’
“You will have a bottle.”
The somm brought over a bottle of Frog’s Leap cab, and decanted it before pouring me a glass. The bacon appeared, and I unabashedly dug in. Perhaps I would drink the whole bottle. Or maybe I would go to those bars nearby that I used to go to with the guys when I was in college. At least one has a dart board, and I was in the mood to launch sharp pointed objects at something.
I could feel a drop of pork fat slide across my lips as I looked up. I tried not to choke on my surprise or my bacon.
It was 7PM. Lucas arrived.
“I emailed Will and called the restaurant to tell them I was on my way, but the restaurant wouldn’t put me on hold. I was stuck on the subway. I’m so sorry. I just moved to New York from Boston. I’ve never been this far north on the West Side.”
From Boston? That explained everything.
Four hours later, we parted ways. Conversation had flowed as easily as the wine, and I was grateful that he had been both good looking and an easy talker… even if he had been an hour late. While the hour wait had been emotionally taxing, it had turned into a convenient ice breaker. And so the question remains — is there, has there, or will there be a date the second? TBD.
I got a new phone this past October, just before I left for a two week sojourn in Germany and the UK. It was supposed to be faster and have a better camera than my previous phone. It had a lot of improvements and features I expected, and a few I didn’t… like all the text messages from my old phone. It seems that in transferring all my contacts, apps, and photos, I also transferred thousands of exchanges between myself and friends and family and exes.
I’ve said it in past posts, but I’ll say it again: text messages and emails with your exes are emotional landmines. Even when you think you’ve got them all safely contained, you stumble on one unexpectedly, and boom! Some part of you get obliterated in a cloud of smoke and verbal shrapnel.
In this case, I had stumbled on an exchange between myself and Clark. It had been just about a year since we had dated and then not dated, and a few weeks since we had crossed paths and decided to start anew with a different tone. And then there they were — every text message sent from our first to our last.
One thing I’ve gotten very good at is moving on after something ends. With Clark, it was difficult, largely because we ended abruptly. I had allowed myself to fall fast and hard for him, knowing that eventually, I’d hit the ground and that it might hurt. The ground came up on me faster than expected.
I didn’t linger long on or pine for the sweet moments we shared. I stood up, shook it off, and pushed forward… with a visible emotional limp that would handicap me in what came next: a real relationship.
And then I read the texts. All of them. Separated from the exchanges by a year and a serious relationship, I was now a detached 3rd party — a voyeur looking into someone else’s relationship. I was sad for the couple in front of me. There was so much joy and promise in them. The chemistry was palpable. Then the final “hey. You up?” from her which triggered the break up email from him, and then a month later she said: “hey, I have mono. Pretty sure you gave it to me. #SoThisIs30.”
Now that we’re safely just friends, I’ve been tempted more than once to delete them all — especially the ones where he calls me beautiful or says how much he’s looking forward to seeing me or talks about kissing me in the ocean. I don’t want those around when I’m trying to forget that at one time, I thought I might have found a forever guy. And then I read this one and decide to keep them, because this is a good reminder of how I want to feel with each new “something”:
You can never tell if things are going to work at the start, but if we get to be our best selves for a while, then it will have been worth it. You make me smile.
“How do you feel at weddings? Because I feel pretty fucking awful at them.”
Oliver was hungover and sitting in a Midwest airport, a few days after his 30-something birthday and the morning after a close friend’s wedding. He continued before I could answer, drawing a comparison to being 30 and single at a friend’s wedding to being 80 at a friend’s funeral. Suddenly you’re aware that you’re the one left behind — the loneliness is palpable.
“I love weddings. And I love flying solo at them,” I chirped in when he done with his melodramatic imagery. But then again, I had accepted the possibility of a life lived sans co-pilot. He was a chronic monogamist, who for as long as we had been friends (now more than a decade) was always pining for a wife.
Our conversation brought up a few memories…
Memory 1: When my best girl got engaged, I was terrified about how I would feel at her wedding. I expected to feel a mixture of sadness and jealously — both selfish responses to your best friend finding a happily ever after. I was present when she met her now husband, and as we all joke, I get to take some credit for their meeting (it was my idea to go to that bar, after all.) But there’s another way to tell the story: two girls walk into a bar. One walks out with a husband, the other with a hangover. I never think of it this way, but I was afraid that come her wedding day, I would. I was the only unattached bridesmaid, and wasn’t offered a plus-1. Would I feel all alone?
When the day arrived, I was relieved that all I felt was happiness — happy that I was there, happy that I got to be a part of the day, and happy that the friend who was like a sister to me was happy. (If I was starting to feel low, it helped that one of the groomsmen asked if he could take me to dinner one day…even if he was nearly 20 years older than me, and was rocking a soul patch… soul patches are unforgivable facial hair decisions.)
Memory 2: It was the middle of October and I was milling about the first floor of one of Amsterdam’s most luxurious department stores, stocking up on Christmas cards with yuletide greetings written in Dutch (because, of course.) A text message came through — my Ex with a capital E wanted to know what I was doing on Saturday.
Kat: Flying home from Amsterdam.
Ex: What time will you be back?
Kat: Why, what’s up?
Ex: I wanted to know if you were free to be my plus-1 at my sister’s wedding.
Kat: That’s rather short notice! Suddenly feel like you need moral support?
Ex: Don’t need moral support. Just want someone at my side who I would want at my side at these kind of important things…
I didn’t make it back in time to be his plus-1, but if he had asked me sooner, I would have been willing to book an earlier flight. Not because I wanted to fall back into the role of girlfriend, but because I understood.
When you’re single, other people’s weddings trigger complex emotions. We get a front seat in a real-life fairy tale, and that can inspire in us everything from hope to despair, happiness to loneliness. We can revel joyfully in the moment of the party, or wander aimlessly down memory lane, reliving all the relationships that could have made it to the alter. The ones that got away are specters that hang behind centerpieces and under place cards. For some singletons, all they need to weather that whirlwind of feels is a strong drink (or an open bar) and the right song to dance to (all hail the Wedding Singer!) Others meanwhile need a companion. My Ex and Oliver are of the latter. I’m in the group that hands them a drink and makes them join me in the macarena/hokey-pokey/electric slide. At least, that’s where I am for now.
We were standing on the corner of Houston and Allen Streets. We had covered the entire west side and a good portion of the lower east side. My feet didn’t hurt, my hair still had a few good hours left in it, but the mist was beginning to turn to rain — a signal perhaps that it was time to call it a night.
Should we lyft, subway, or splurge on a yellow cab? Red asked.
I looked around. Houston was uncharacteristically jammed with “ready to hire” cabs. I answered the question by hailing one and said the fare was on me.
Red and I had talked freely all night, and continued to swap stories, each of us sitting as close to the windows and away from each other as possible. Like two kindergartners who were afraid of catching cooties.
As was my luck, I had picked a cab with one of those drivers who decides to pop-in on your conversation, then shares his life story, then offers you advice. He was wearing a powdered blue suit. He had class.
Are you two married?
Ha! No! We both replied.
Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Nope. Again, in unison.
Then Red: We’re friends.
We both remained silent and looked out the window. Our hazy night was reflected back to me in the silhouettes of NYC’s buildings zipping past.
Your date is so seeeeexxxxy! Red’s friend Leanna drunkenly announced when we dropped in on her Cinco de Mayo party. Keeeep herrrrrr!
Marry her! Another random party-goer said to Red when I sourced ladles as shot glasses.
We looked the part of couple, but were d-level actors at it.
It was a second date that should have been a home run given the success of our first and a long list of shared interests. I hadn’t been this excited about someone since Clark Kent, the museum exhibition manager with the kryptonite touch from the summer before. This one felt written in the stars. And yet, everything fell entirely flat. We were having a good time, but we would have been having a good time whether or not we were with each other. We were out together, but not really together.
The man should chase the woman, our dapper taxi driver said at one point.
It was perhaps his wisest remark of our northbound drive. I had quasi chased Red, and while I don’t believe in following all the standard rules of engagement in love and lust, experience had taught me to let the man take the lead.
Outside his apartment he gave me a firm hug.
I like you. I had a great time. You’re really sweet, but I don’t think we have much in the way of chemistry.
No. It seems we don’t.
We have a lot in common, and we should totally keep in touch.
Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
As I walked to my car, I remembered I had a two-bite brownie in a hidden pocket of my purse. I sat in the driver’s seat. Cranked up some Beyonce. Ate the brownie in four bites, then drove off into the rain.
It was the patriot cluster of red, white, and blue that caught my eye as I walked past my office’s mail/copy room. The lone envelope in my mailbox was stocked with enough forever stamps to take it to the moon and back. When I saw the return address, I smiled warmly as I thought this was just like him. He never wanted to let me down or disappoint me. He would do whatever he had to to make sure the USPS wouldn’t fail me.
Inside the envelop, wrapped thoughtfully in a paper towel was my missing earring. A giant peridot-like stud that he had given me for Christmas and that I had left at his house weeks earlier, before we decided to part ways. The post of the earring had been bent in transit so it lay flat against the crystal (or perhaps he had bent it before he sent it? Another precaution so it wouldn’t poke through the envelope and get lost en route? That was also just like him.) I started to try to unbend it… it wouldn’t budge. Just then, my boss walked into my office.
“I have a jeweler who can fix that for you.”
“I have a pair of pliers.”
“You’d better heat it up then. Wouldn’t want to break it.”
That would have been ironic. I dropped the earring into a cup of boiling water and sat at my desk. I played our time together through my head as I let the metal warm.
Had he been different, had those earrings been different, I might not have asked for it back. Given how long we had been seeing each other when he gave them to me, they were the gift I least expected. Not only were they jewelry (remember the ex boyfriend who refused to buy me earrings?) they were the exact pair I had been stalking at the Kate Spade store near my work. It seemed that at only two months in, he had already figured me out.
And maybe he had since day one. Our first date had been 5-star, after all. He had worn a suit and tie. I had worn my favorite Milly skirt and red patent heels. A refreshing change from the oh so many swipe-started first dates where I almost didn’t care if I had shown up in sweat pants.
The relationship that came before him had been defined by a lack of communication. Ours had been defined by intimacy — we had been open about our relationships past and our fears entering this one, about our personal short comings, and about the road blocks we had faced that had in turn made us strong. We lusted after each other for the superficial things, but admired each other for the things that mattered. We weren’t afraid to take the risks that come with opening up. He was the first guy I’d dated who ever showed any genuine interest in all the parts that made up my life — from the gallery to my family to my sport to my blog.
I took the earring out of the cup and bent the post back into place. I’d been carrying around its mate in my purse and immediately, I popped the reunited pair into my ears. When he and I broke up exactly two weeks earlier I didn’t cry. When we broke up, I don’t know that I felt the feelings that make you want to cry. I don’t know that I felt anything but relief — I wasn’t making him happy, and let me tell you, being unable to make someone happy can be exhausting.
Later that night as I went to put the earrings into my jewelry box, I cried. Running through it all — from start to last text message — I realized just how final our good-bye had been and I was sorry for that. But at least I had this new favorite pair of earrings, and to always wear with them, a cache of warm memories and lessons about life, love, and Legos.
In something of an ironic twist, about two weeks later I lost the earring again, at an art fair. This time, it is clearly for good. Lesson learned: somethings are just not meant to be.