My date first messaged me on Match.com a couple of weeks earlier while I was visiting friends in Portland. My friend Robin and I sat on the couch, our heads together over my laptop and scrolled through the pictures and profiles of the men who were interested in me. “Date the bass player,” she said. “They don’t have to be the center of attention.” After decades with a man who remained at the dinner table or a party only when he commanded the room, I liked the idea of someone who didn’t need to be wailing the melody center stage. The bass player had a solid day job, too and was fit from years of practicing and teaching Tai Chi. He didn’t profess to have any “unusual needs” like the guy in the loafers and the sport coat who explained during our online correspondence that he insisted on being “included” when his girlfriends used the toilet. The bass player didn’t post dozens of pictures of himself poolside in a skimpy pair of Speedos or shots of his pet lizards posed on toy furniture. So I took Robin’s advice and answered his message.
We agreed on a hike for our first date and climbed one of the trails near the Griffith Park Observatory on a December Southern California day when you could actually see into the distance. The ocean was shimmering in the sunlight; storm clouds piled up like a stack of pillows over the San Gabriel Mountains, and from our particular angle the Hollywood sign appeared to read, "Hollywoo." There wasn't really any serious wooing going on though. Both of us were cautious. But conversation was easy, sweet and deep. After two hours of talking and walking we hugged and agreed we’d get together again. Then we got into our separate cars and drove down the hill. At the bottom, as we sat side by side at a stop sign, he blew me a kiss before we turned in opposite directions.
But I wondered if I really would see him again. My experience with Internet dating did not include much forthrightness when it came time for the on-the-spot analysis of the first meeting. “It would be fun to get together again,” I told the stocky curly-haired guy I’d met for coffee after a couple of weeks of emailing back and forth about our favorite New Yorker stories. He had teeth the color of topaz and t-shirt so sweaty that I shook his hand with a fully extended arm and had no intention of seeing him again.
“You’re beautiful and sexy and you have a great sense of humor,” the screenwriter on the verge of his big break told me at the culmination of our expensive dinner. I tried to envision my silver hair glistening in the candlelight like some ad in an AARP magazine, but I saw the way his gaze shifted every time a pretty woman young enough to be my daughter walked by our table. “I’ll call you next week,” he said as he kissed my cheek. I knew he wouldn’t.
Dating at the age of fifty-plus includes the inherent knowledge that we’ve all been broken, and there seems to be an ethic that says, “Do no further harm.” It makes it hard to be honest about the prospects of beginning a relationship. But with a little bit of luck a pleasant hour or two has been spent, and one returns home with a clearer idea of what characteristics might be included in that perfect match. If you are someone that dates with your head and not your heart, that is.
I have no idea what the bass player sees in me, is what my head says as I ride next to him. I ponder his profile while he watches the six lanes of traffic in front of us. We’re so different from one another, I think. Different ethnicities. An age gap of ten years. I’m taller. I know very little about music or eastern religion. But then he glances my direction and our eyes meet. There’s nothing I’d like better than to skate my palms over his shaved head and bring his mouth to mine. How exactly did an online dating site figure this out? Or am I just swept away in the moment the way I was last summer before I got tired of the playwright who wanted to read me a play of his every evening before we turned out the lights?
I’m striving for more candor this time around, and while I don’t think Internet dating requires a brutally accurate assessment of why people don’t especially want to go on that second date, I aspire to some degree of honesty. “I don’t ever plan on getting married again and if we continue to see each other, I’m going to take things very slowly,” I told my date before our good-bye hug in Griffith Park. “It might be months before I’m alone with you in the dark,” was my response after he invited me over to his place to watch a movie. “I’m really glad you came to the airport,” I tell him now, electing to keep my hands to myself in an effort to avoid a fifty-car pile up.
When we get to my place, I invite him in for a glass of wine. I’ve already told him I’m not ready to sleep with him yet, but as we sit in my living room with the lights low, visions of the future stand quietly in the shadows. Through the French doors, I can see the ivy and jasmine vining around my patio, and it’s easy to imagine my roses in full bloom when summer comes. Something is unfurling inside my heart.
In this era of Internet dating, love happens the way it always has. It’s not a laundry list of attributes or an inventory of likes and dislikes that propel us toward one another. It’s an earlobe, the taste of a kiss, or the way someone nods when they understand what is being said. Dating sites no doubt increase the traffic on the freeway to our hearts. The intersection of the data on our screens and the input of our senses is a good place to stop and smell the roses. But love, as it’s always been, is still a happy accident where the palpable world collides with the mysteriously intangible.
My date pats the sofa as I set two glasses of wine on the coffee table. I curl up next to him, pondering the wonders of Internet dating and the small miracle of how, in a city of almost four million people, I’ve been guided to someone I never would have found on my own.