Last week I made a new friend, and found out — the way that two women can learn 768 facts about each other in 18 minutes of conversation — that she, too, writes a blog.
Unlike me, Dia’s got a fantastic focus for her site: misadventures in dating. Her title is clever: How to Lose a Girl in Ten Text Messages. Go read it!
Dia’s tales got me thinking about an essay I wrote a hundred years ago, or twelve, to be exact. In fact, the piece is the only thing I’ve published in print to date. It even has a Library of Congress Card Catalog Number. It’s a part of a book called, “Around & About L.A.: Creative Nonfiction by Emerging Los Angeles Writers”.
Mark my words: I will publish again or die trying. I know that my fetish for the printed word is antiquated, that publishing is exploding into a whole new beast, that I need to keep an open mind. My motivation is not merely to have a collection of paragraphs bound on paper, it’s the precursor to that — it’s to create work that is worthy of being endorsed. If I can’t do that yet, then I need to learn how. Meanwhile, I love the process — the process of writing, the process of expressing, the process of sharing my work with other writers.
Anyway, want to see it? The essay that’s in the Library of Congress under my name? It’s hard to believe I wrote this seven years before my first blog post. So much has changed. Perhaps later this month, I’ll do a follow up post about the love I did eventually find. Until then, enjoy.
p.s. Dia, you better keep blogging!
Cotton Ball Countdown
Nearly two years ago, I promised myself that I’d be in a happy romantic relationship with a wonderful man before it was time to buy a new bag of cotton balls. I remember standing there in the grocery store Personal Hygiene aisle giving it thought. Resolving to find love before 100 cotton balls ran out seemed like too much of a challenge. On the other hand, allowing myself the leeway of 300 cotton balls seemed like committing to nearly another entire year alone. Surely, I’d luck out before then. So it was an easy choice, I went for the bag of 200 and vowed that the next time I bought cotton balls, they’d have Mr. Right’s shaving kit to keep them company in my bathroom cupboard.
I don’t mean to make it sound like that’s my only goal in life. Fully believing that men were just desserts, I spent my twenties feasting on the main course of happy adulthood doing what single women do. I developed hobbies. Flea markets, poetry classes, soup kitchens, water aerobics, book clubs, pottery throwing. I practically flaunted my singularity; there was nowhere I wouldn’t go alone: Saturday night movies, restaurants, pubs, dinner parties. It got to the point that it took my shrink to remind me, “Save a little room for dessert.” And then the good doctor added, “You might want to consider joining a dating service.”
Dating service? Me? I didn’t give the notion any consideration at all. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t need to resort to such measures. I would meet someone the old fashioned, organic, natural way. It could happen at any moment. I could be standing in the Eastern Philosophy aisle of the bookstore, or choosing strawberries at the farmers’ market. I’d keep doing what I do, and I’d be found. No need for a dating service.
And then I ran out of cotton balls. Replacing the bag was easy. The difficult part was coming to terms with the fact that merely waiting for Mr. So Special was getting me nowhere. This time around, I gave myself the luxury of the 300 count bag, renewed my vow, and decided being proactive might not be a bad idea, after all.
My friend, Lisa, had been telling me all about her experiences with an online dating service. Sure, I’d heard the news stories cautioning women against the dangers of weird, if not perverted, psycho killers using the internet as a tool to find victims. But Lisa’s tales of getting out, meeting men and having fun intrigued me. She showed me that normal, even fabulous people score dates via the internet and there are common sense precautions that make it at least as safe as meeting men the, “Come here often?” old fashioned way.
Thoughts of Lisa’s busy social calendar and waking up to a mere 289 cotton balls led to a slight detour away from my weekly surf at Amazon.com. Two innocent clicks of the mouse and I found myself browsing a “Men Looking for Women” page. It’s like any online shopping experience, only instead of typing in my shoe size, I listed the height of my dream date (six foot three). Instead of entering the author of that hard to find book, I checked the boxes marked “Protestant” and “Ph.D”. Computer technology allows dreamers to be specific. And living in a city as large as Los Angeles provides that 168 non-smoking, heterosexual, white males who all like hiking, Italian food, and the films Goodfellas and Breakfast at Tiffany’s live within a 20 mile radius of me. I know this because upon pressing the word “search” these neighbors of mine appeared on one list, photographs and all. I e-mailed a couple of these wonder boys to test the waters, but eventually decided to place my own ad. As fun as shopping can be, I preferred to have the satisfaction of being chosen.
Composing a personal ad is no easy task. Gone are the days of newspaper personals where a hook is baited with a mere 35 word lure. The mating ritual that begins in cyber space allows suitors thousands of words to feather their wings with buoyant alliteration and properly punctuated personal statistics that would make any perspective escort click for more. Lucky for me, I enjoy writing. I came up with what I felt was a sincere description of who I am and what I’m looking for without resorting to using the words pina colodas, midnight or cotton balls. That was 16 blind dates, three Steves and two heartbreaks ago. I have become the poster child of internet dating. Like it or not, I’ve learned some things along the way.
I’ve learned there is no shame in going for what I want. For years during my early adulthood, I was unable to utter the words, “I want a partner in life.” I thought that admitting it, let alone trying to do something about it, was an act of desperation. How do the sayings go? “There’s nothing more unattractive than a desperate woman.” “True love comes when you aren’t looking for it.” I didn’t turn off the shame-inducing voices in my head over night. It was a matter accepting an ounce of shame, and going forward anyway. Even the act of writing my personal ad forced me to admit my true desires: yes I want a man, and come to think of it, I’d like one who is as oblivious to major sporting events as I am. It was only through the weeks and months of having my wish list posted on the internet for thousands to read that I realized the judging voices in my mind got quieter, not louder. Meanwhile, lots of interesting, well-educated men wrote to me admitting, “I’m looking for someone, too.”
It usually goes like this. On a typical day, I get about three to four e-mails from new men introducing themselves. I skim and delete most of the mail. Typos, a fondness for N’Sync, usage of the word “anyhoo”–the easiest thing to do is delete without a second thought. So that leaves about four to five keeper pen-pals a week. We volley some notes back and forth discussing where we’re from and congratulating each other for having the good sense to prefer Tom Waits over Tom Jones. Sometimes the correspondence trickles to zero; other times, we decide to meet in person.
That first date is an audition. Sure, there are other ways to see it: an informational interview, small talk over coffee, a chance at friendship. But actually, it’s an audition. One positive thing is that I’ve learned to acknowledge my job as casting director while I’m simultaneously reading for the role of leading lady. We meet, we talk, and nine times out of ten, it’s fun. We say good night. And then the hard part begins. The part when I check my e-mail every 26 minutes for three days straight waiting to see if I’m going to get called back for a second audition. I didn’t study statistics in college, but I’ve been out on enough of these dates to be able to tell you that 80% of the time there is no call back.
It’s a grand opportunity to practice being gentle with myself in the midst of rejection. I used to have an urge to critique every nuance of the failed first date. I shouldn’t have worn black. Did he see my double chin? Was I too chatty? I’ll never know what he thought of me, besides, it’s probably irrelevant. What I do know is that I showed up and I was myself. And I strive to honor myself for that much.
I’ve learned to I enjoy the time I spend alone more than ever. The other night, I spontaneously went to my favorite pub. I didn’t have plans to rendezvous with anyone except my good friends J.D. Salinger and Sam Adams. With a little help from a cheeseburger and a few quarters in the juke box, I had myself the best date in weeks. Sam didn’t ask me if I’m a morning person and J.D. didn’t have me tell him about my childhood. We just sat and relaxed and waited for the next song to play.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that I’m learning, gradually, to release my attachment to outcome. “What does that mean?” my mother asks. It means that mascara filled cotton balls filling up my waste basket day by day do not actually measure time running out. It means that sometimes happy romantic relationships with wonderful men only last 74 minutes. It means that even if I never call myself a “homemaker,” I have a home; I made it, and I’m enjoying it. It means that I can buy more cotton balls.