Photo by Cloris Ying on Unsplash
Quick thinking and self-possession came to my rescue.
In 2017, using the pen name Emma Bruce, I published the embellished memoir, Thanks for Leaving Me. Having firmly established the fictionalization of many aspects of my first marriage, I now declare its authorship.The chapters “Recovery” and “Marriage Two” are all true, except for names used.
I shared my story to encourage those who suddenly find themselves single to develop their own path forward. In explaining the process of finding love again, I described several online dating experiences.
Here is an excerpt from Thanks for Leaving Me.
The next Plenty of Fish candidate was Alan. During our initial phone call, I’d learned he held a PhD in Neuroscience, taught at a university, and did research on the brain. I admire really smart people who have put in the extraordinary effort to achieve advanced degrees.
We met at a Thai place I’d chosen. Over dinner, he made me laugh.
Afterwards I searched online to find papers that he said he’d published, because people who drop out of the sky without any personal introduction can make things up to sound impressive. His academic success was genuine.
A Cross-country Skiing Date
A few days later, Alan invited me to go cross-country skiing, which I adore. When I recommended a conservation area with groomed trails, he said, “Great! I have a friend nearby who has a hot tub we can use after our ski.”
Because I also have a friend with a hot tub in that vicinity, the concept seemed natural. “I’ll bring my bathing suit,” I replied.
“Okay, I’ll bring the towels,” he said. We set a date and time.
The gorgeous snow was fresh and plentiful, and we skied for over an hour. I was a little younger and fitter than he, but he managed to keep up. Back at his car, he produced a flask of hot cocoa.
Then we drove toward the aforementioned hot tub. The January dusk fell as we drove along a country road. I noticed a sign reading “Bare Trees Naturists.” My stomach flipped.
“Are you a naturist?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. It will be wonderfully relaxing to soak naked in warm water after all that skiing.”
During therapy, I’d been advised to venture occasionally outside my comfort zone. I wondered, Am I being a prude to be anxious at the idea taking off my clothes with this man? But this is our first date,
and he never said nudity was on the menu.
We pulled into the parking lot. “See that wing of the building? That’s where the hot tub is. It will feel marvellous to just relax in the warmth,” Alan said.
Through steamed-up French doors at the reception area, I saw naked people lounging about; one woman had breasts hanging down to her waist. I was appalled at the idea of entering the building.
I said, “I’m sorry, but I am just not comfortable doing this. You gave me absolutely no warning. Please just take me to the restaurant and let’s have dinner.”
We drove in silence. I acted my way through the meal, pretending to be engaged in our conversation, feeling stupid and vulnerable.
Basic online dating guidelines include: Always tell someone where you are going, and with whom, and how long you’ll be away. Always take your cellphone.
I’d done none of that, being so enamoured with Alan’s academic credentials that I’d put myself in a ridiculous, awkward situation. (I later realized I’d left a brand-new handknitted hat in his car but had no inclination to be in touch with him ever again.)
The next day I called my son and, in floods of tears, described the date. He remarked, “Mum, it sounds like you’ve pulled a scab off a wound.” He was right.
[An addendum to the excerpt: That day I thought of Princess Diana's fate. The only reason she died in a car crash was because Prince Charles had divorced her. Without royal family security she was in harm's way. And now I had found myself in harm's way. Who knows how Alan would have reacted if I'd insisted on heading straight home?]
It was humiliating to be meeting total strangers online, in my sixties. Because my husband decided to suddenly end our marriage, I had to make a decision. I could give up the pleasures of heterosexual male companionship and focus on being a happy single, or I could put myself out there sensibly, and
keep looking for a new soul mate and lover until I found him. He would have to earn my trust.
If I’d still been working at my engrossing career, I might have chosen the first path. But I was retired, with masses of time to travel and play, and I wanted a loving companion. My five grandchildren were
all in school, so I was no longer needed as a regular caregiver. I was also keen to find an attentive, long-term lover.
About 18 months later, I tried a different dating site and connected with an amazing man. We married three years after the hot tub debacle and couldn't be happier.