Never Married Fortysomething White Female. Fit, tall, professional with all her own teeth. Not looking for a perfect match but open to the possibility. Still hoping that not all the good men are married or gay.
This is my friend Mel’s byline. She recently joined an online dating site. She refers to it as I Am Desperate.com. She has always said she could never feel comfortable with someone she met online, that there would be a wall of artifice between them, that she couldn’t be sure he was who he said he was. That he might be an axe-wielding maniac or even worse, a fortysomething man who lived with his mother.
Her change of heart came at daybreak as she walked her dogs along a deserted beach. She felt like the only person in the world. All she could hear was the waves lapping and swirling on the shore and the occasional grunt and snuffle from her dogs. It had been a relief to hear a boy call out to his friend, to see them speed by on their BMXs, and to see the runners gather on the promenade.
‘I’m tired of being alone,’ she said. ‘I’m not necessarily lonely, but I’m tired of being on my own. It is wearing me down.’
Mel understands what my sister went through – how the turgid pull of the loneliness can alter your perceptions, complicate your sense of self until you want to scream out : “I am here. I am a real woman. My heart is still beating. I have all my faculties. Won’t someone look my way just this once? Won’t someone stand in front of me and break the grip of my indifference?”
Mel thinks that married people are a little smug, that we don’t adequately grasp the dangers of the dating minefield singles these days have to traverse. She’s right to a certain extent. I don’t understand what it means to be single anymore – I’ve been married for nearly twenty years. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I suddenly, at 43 years of age, found myself single. I would be terrified. In fact, I think I would either become a nun or never leave the house.
It’s the depth and breadth of us that’s hard to reveal to another. What comes next, not what is. It’s easy to talk about where we went to school, our jobs, even our family. It’s easy for someone to assess us by how we look, or what we wear. It’s harder to communicate the essence of ourselves, the labyrinth of quirks and idiosyncrasies that make up who we really are.
If I were suddenly single I would find it difficult to show my true self to another man. So much of our behaviour is tempered, made easier to swallow by a shared history. Behaviour which might seem like a compulsion when standing on its own becomes a much-loved, endearing habit when viewed as part of the whole. I would leave things out. Edit myself continuously so the rough edges would dissolve and soften.
I don’t think it’s so much that married people are smug about the single life. I think it’s that we are incredibly relieved we’re not the ones standing in the trenches.
My friend Gina has been dating online for about 4 years. She’s had two successful relationships in that time, one which lasted for 18 months, but at 45 he had never been married and she has two kids whom he regarded as a bit of a noose about his neck. According to Gina, some men view the online dating sites as a cornucopia, an all- of- their- Christmases- coming- at -once kind of thing. Let’s just say they’ve got one thing on their mind and there’s plenty of it on the menu.
It works the other way too. Another friend, Ricky, has been dating online for two years and has lost count of the number of women he took out on dates, hoping it would turn into a relationship, only to be told they were only in it for the sex. A shy, retiring University lecturer, he was surprised by the level of promiscuity.
Mel knows all this and then some. She wrote an article about it not long ago. Some of the people she interviewed were hilarious, genuine, warm; others were just plain crazy. Yet she is determined to give it a go. I think I am more nervous than she is because I just want the best for her. She is well-read, well-spoken, well-travelled. She tells me how things really are in this world. I want a man to see in her what I can see. I have always wanted that.
Four men answered her ad. We picked the one we thought was most sincere, with the best sense of humour –
I am not an accountant. I am 46 with a trim physique and all my own hair. I like dining out and watching live music. I work in law but don’t hold it against me because if you’ve had an accident at work that wasn’t your fault I might be able to help. Call me. If a woman answers it’s only my mother.
I love this guy and I haven’t even met him. Mel is having dinner with him tonight. She is wearing a kimono she bought in Singapore. It is blue and red. I imagine her walking into the restaurant, leaving him breathless. I am clutching my lucky rock, a tiny piece of onyx I found in the street, saying over and over again : Let him be kind to her. Let him be kind. Let him know that there is no one else on this earth quite like her. My dearest friend.