By Valerie McCarthy
I didn’t have time to take a Spanish class in hopes that one of the eight guys in the seven-week Tuesday night class would be my dream man. I like Rombauer and even a Dark and Stormy every once in a while, but shallow conversation in a bar full of people I didn’t know was not my idea of fun. And college parties were almost 15 years behind me. But I was ready to make relationships more of a priority in my life. So where to next?
With the encouragement of girl friends and ironically my 65-year-old step mom, I tentatively dove into online dating at the age of 34. I did so confidentially outside of my close friends and family. (Did nice girls really meet nice men online?) And as a hobby - albeit prioritized, but not as a full time job like others I knew.
I chose Match for what I expected to be the mainstream and Nerve for those I might not take home to Dad. Then my new online name CardinalRedGirl was chosen, honest profiles went up, and escape hatches – girlfriends lined up to call 10 min in so I could feign emergency if need be - were established. My step-mom even created different personas for me to “try on” with different dates. And in my typical goal-oriented, over-planning fashion, I wrote down a list of requirements for a suitable partner, my personal version of “The Rules.”
Then I started dating online. For me, this meant sorting for the tall, blue-eyed athletes who liked to read the New York Times and enjoyed visiting new places and trying new restaurants. I found a number who, on paper and email, seemed to fit the profile. But I had a zero percent hit rate of reality matching perception. I saw some of their bluffs on the first date. I saw the expected “more bald than the profile picture” and the unexpected “arrival with no legs or arms.” (I’m fine with that, just why not give me a hint in advance?) For others it took a few dates for me to root out deal-killer facts - like that they were actually married but had an “agreement” (yea, right!) or they were really looking for a stay-at-home mom.
The hunt went on and I ventured back every once in a while to date a friend I knew. After all, that was my comfort zone. My first boyfriend in the spring of 1st grade was my assigned seatmate for the year. My last boyfriend before plunging into the online dating world was a trusted golfing buddy. Maybe that was why I was having a hard time with online dating?
The last guy I met online, “RiversCross,” freaked me out by breaking all of “The Rules.” He overcame my “friends first” reflex. Like some others, I liked him the moment I met him at a mellow bar in Menlo Park. It took me one minute to realize he was in line with Rule #1 by being physically attractive. (You can fight the “don’t judge the book by the cover” adage, but if you do, you will waste a lot of time with online dating.) Instead of it going downhill from there, this one showed more potential.
An hour into our glass of wine, it was clear we had an easy rapport with each other and we had similar values and aspirations. (After two years of online dating, we both had gotten better at addressing important deal killers sooner than later.) Drinks turned into dinner. Dinner turned into after-dinner drinks. And after dinner drinks turned into a long, innocent conversation in the parking lot.
After five hours, I felt like we had known each other for a year. Maybe in my pace of dating we had covered a year of dating in one night. But I had no clue who he really was. Shorter term, I struggled with whether he was a pervert for calling me the next morning. My friends assured me he was not. As our dating continued, I struggled with following “The Rules.” Could I live with someone under 5’ 10? Could I live with his ultimatum of not having any more kids? He had been married before, so was I OK living with damaged baggage? Could I live with someone who preferred making a warm home over traveling around the world?
I never seriously dated anyone after RiversCross, even though we broke up twice in the interim. And six years after meeting in Menlo Park, we got married. It took me six years to be ok with dating first and best friendship to follow. And it took me six years to realize some of “The Rules” might have been wrong. A second marriage comes with lots of experience and knowledge of what not to do. A shorter man is actually easier to snuggle with. Dinnertime at a place we have made home is a special treat.
It has taken me four more years to come out of the closet and admit to anyone that asks (they all do) that I met the man of my dreams online. But now that we are old best friends as well as lovers, it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. And daily I thank the lord that one special online man named “RiversCross” was the one to break “The Rules.”