It's natural and polite to believe a new acquaintance
Finding myself suddenly single after a long marriage, the concept of searching for love by “putting myself out there” is both exciting and terrifying. Being retired and living alone, I have excess free time
on my hands. My grandchildren no longer need minding; my parents are deceased, so I have no responsibilities in that realm. My pastimes do not include time-greedy pursuits like Bridge, and I miss having a man in my life.
Hearing my new rheumatologist’s encouraging story of later-life-love, I try the site she used – SciConnect.com – for people who enjoy science. That includes me. My first experience on this site is mediocre, but not dangerous. I believe everything Mr. Nuclear Scientist tells me – like the reason his marriage failed and details of his current lifestyle. We fizzle within weeks.
A female acquaintance found success on PlentyOfFish.com, so I carefully develop a profile for that site. Messages from men begin to flood my Inbox. Both flattered and intrigued, I scroll through photos and profiles paying attention to each candidate’s geographic location.
I’ve always felt that long-distance romances might be built on quicksand: “Do I miss him because we only see each other once in a while, or is there really something there?” Living in a huge city, I refuse to
look elsewhere – no matter how tempting a man’s “estate beside a vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake” sounds.
Meeting a Candidate
I select an interesting, good-looking man I’ll call Joe, and after a couple of emails sent via the site (at arms-length for privacy) I give him my phone number. When he calls on a grey January afternoon, we have a delightful, relaxed chat. I sit on a loveseat in my new bedroom watching the sky darken.
“I’m especially happy that we’re talking today,” I say, “because it was exactly one year ago my husband announced our marriage was over.”
“No kidding!” says Joe. “Well then, we simply MUST meet in person today, to replace that sad memory with a happy one.” Isn’t that a welcome attitude! I think. I have an outstanding memory for dates, and I like that they matter to him, too.
He explains that he has to work this evening, so we arrange to meet at a Tim Horton’s for a coffee, at an intersection between our locales at 5:30 pm. I hustle down there on the subway and he’s nowhere to be
seen. We haven’t exchanged cell phone numbers, so I’m mystified. Perhaps he meant the nearby Timothy’s Coffee instead, I think, so I hurry there picking my way carefully among the icy patches on the sidewalk.
At Timothy’s, I spy a man standing alone as if waiting for somebody. His hair is dirty blonde, unlike the dark brown in his profile photo. He steps forward, greeting me by name with a pleasant smile, so I ignore the dissonance.
“You remember I can’t stay long because I have to work, but instead of coffee, can I buy you a glass of wine at the pub?”
“Lovely idea!” I answer, so we head outside to cross to the opposite corner. Stepping into the crosswalk, he takes my right hand in his left and tucks both into the pocket of his leather bomber jacket. Rather a
sweet gesture on this cold winter’s night.
During that first rendezvous, I learn that he’s a mining consultant, his marriage ended about three years ago, and he has two grown married sons living in small Ontario towns . He rents a condo down near
Toronto’s harbour front, and volunteers at the palliative care unit of St. Michael’s Hospital. So far, so good. He asks about my life and interests, so conversation is not just one-way.
I don’t share my home address with a stranger until we’ve met in person, and I’ve decided he’s worthy. When Joe invites me to dinner, I share my condo address so we can eat in my neighbourhood. Insisting that I pay half the bill, I produce my credit card while Joe uses cash. A surprise, but I give it no further thought.
After walking to my place, I invite Joe up for a nightcap. I use the bathroom, and walking into my living room, I see him closely perusing each of my paintings, reading the artist’s name. Well, I guess he appreciates good art. That’s cool, I thought. In my new dating process, I keep a subconscious pro/con list in my head for each man I meet. Interest in art and music were, of course, on the pro side.
Seeing Each Other
Over the next weeks, we have a few more outings in the form of brunch or dinner and conversation flows easily. I don’t feel any strong attraction towards him but he’s comfortable to be with. The concept of dating several men at a time doesn’t appeal to me. How would I remember what stories-of-my-life I’d shared with each?
That month Christopher Plummer is acting in a one-man play, “Barrymore,” at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. I’ve always admired his work and have read his autobiography, so I’m keen to attend the play and see him in the flesh. After inviting Joe to join me, I buy expensive tickets. Joe says he’ll pay for dinner.
When we meet, I’m disappointed to find he’s not made any dining reservation. A naïve mistake in the theatre district. Producing my best “never-mind-we’ll-find-something” attitude, we locate an ordinary
restaurant for a mediocre meal.
The play is perfection. We periodically hold hands. During intermission I return from the washroom and notice Joe in his seat, staring intensely at me. Are those emotional tears in his eyes? What’s that about? It feels like an act.
As my first single Valentine’s Day approaches, Joe and I discuss what to do about it. I’ve always felt that February 14 is crassly over-commercialized, but this year I think of all the Valentine’s cards,
flowers, and special dinners I’d shared with my ex-husband during our decades together. I long for distraction. Joe suggests booking dinner at one of my favourite places.
About noon on Valentine’s Day, two dozen long-stemmed red roses are delivered, which, though a cliché, make me feel good. Our dinner plan falls apart when I develop a terribly sore throat. Ever the fixer, I buy a fancy two-course prepared meal from a high-end grocery store, and we eat it in my condo at opposite ends of my dining table. It’s Monday evening.
The fact that most of our dates are on weekdays slowly dawns on me, but I choose to ignore it. We have good times together, but neither of us display any longing for the other. We share a few kisses and hugs
but nothing intimate.
When he’s coming to my place for a Saturday dinner, I expect him to drive so tell him where to park. Instead, Joe takes the subway and attends a 5 pm mass at the Catholic church nearby, then arrives on foot. When I ask him the exact whereabouts of his condo, his address seems to keep changing.
Setting up a Sociability Test
Gatherings of up to three couples are my favourite method of entertaining. In spite of these nigglingly odd behaviours, I enjoy Joe’s company, so after about five weeks of dating, I decide to test his sociability at a dinner with friends.
I invite widower Gavin and widowed cousin Marjorie to come for drinks with me and Joe at my place – then the four of us will go to my sports club for dinner. Will Joe talk too much? Too little? Be
obnoxious in any way? If the evening is a dud, at least my two widowed friends have met and perhaps sparks will fly between them.
On a scale of one to ten, the evening was a six. When Gavin offers to drive him home through a snowstorm, Joe insists on taking the subway. That odd choice, coupled with Marjorie’s comment, “He’s a nice enough guy, but not exactly your type,” whittle away at my affection.
The Penny Drops
In over a month and a half of dating, I have never seen Joe’s car or his home. He takes ages to return my voice messages, explaining he’s been tied up at the hospital while comforting a family at the bedside of their dying loved one. Who can fault such saintly behaviour? Still, it feels like an alibi.
When I look up his sons’ names in the towns they supposedly live in, I find no one with their unusual surname. By paying cash at restaurants, he avoids leaving a paper trail.
After I decide he is very likely married, I stop corresponding with Joe. I’m dismayed to think of the money I’d spent on him, and the fact I’d been impressed by his careful perusal of my paintings. He’d never repeated that pose.
In fact, when I’d once asked him where his online profile photo (posing in exercise shorts and tee shirt) had been taken, he couldn’t answer! That was likely a fake, too. The face was in shadow, and too small to properly examine features, so was likely lifted from the Internet. No wonder I didn’t recognize him at Timothy’s Coffee.
Months later, Joe leaves me a short voice message. I do nothing.