Neither Losers nor Toads
This article is by Alex Newman:
The ink’s bone dry on the divorce papers, the kids are launched, even Covid’s winding down, so I tell friends I’m ready to bare my soul and wade into the dating pool. They’re full of advice: get professional photos; figure out what’s lacking in your life; write a catchy tagline.
Middle aged woman desperately seeking carpenter? Too transactional.
Someone to sail off the ice floe with? A little morbid.
“Single Christian man with a sense of humor.” Perhaps a contradiction in terms but I send it off to friends.
One sends it on to her friends and, within an hour, emails back: “You’re being asked to define Christian.”
Attached was a 17-point definition of Christian with things like “bathed in the blood of the Lamb.”
“This isn’t exactly low hanging fruit,” I whine back. “Let’s not make it harder. But if you need some guidance, think C.S. Lewis meets Tim Hawkins.”
A month passed and the friends turned up nothing. I decided to take the romantic bull by the horns and try online dating.
Never one to leave any stone unturned, I signed up for three sites. Before my profile was completed, likes, smiles and messages poured in. They came to a halt once I added the church-going preference.
Undaunted, I signed up on two more sites, this time for Christians. While that prompted a frenzy of activity, the men lived hundreds of miles away. When I pointed this out to a fellow clear across the country, he replied: “love knows no boundaries.”
It’s slow but I start making connections. I also seemed to be working my way through the denominations:
A former Mennonite who liked my profile but suggested I tone down the religious preference.
A retired Baptist minister from a tiny town in northeastern Ontario, still bitter seven years after his wife had run off with a parishioner. He dumped me after the second video call, saying we wouldn’t mesh. I agreed.
Next came a lovely United Church guy whose chronically ill wife of 40-plus years had died six months before. I suggested it might be a little soon to date. He said he’d done his grieving the last few years. Then added that his PSA levels were “terrific.”
Next came a tall Anglican whose response to nearly everything was “Jesus Murphy” — an expression I hadn’t heard since high school.
After him, the seas parted for the Salvation Army, a couple of Catholics, and a Missionary Alliance.
A former Pentecostal now attending a Presbyterian church checked off two denominations, but had such serious ADD, I was confused by his rambling life story and suggested he go chronological. So he did — beginning in 1972. It took him an hour to get to 1978. I calculated it would be nightfall by the time we got to the year 2000 so I told him I had to go home and feed the dog.
I moved on.
And into a spate of tragic life stories.
One man who has a mechanical heart valve had lost an astonishing number of family members to heart and lung disease. Another told me two brothers and a cousin died in a car crash when he was a kid, that he married his high school sweetheart who left him after three children, and that those children then experienced a range of disasters from illness to overdoses.
I spoke to a gentle man whose wife left after they adopted four special needs children. At 68 he was still paying child support, driving deliveries with a bad back, and living in a basement apartment.
When I told my daughter about him, she shook her head: “Too much drama Mom.”
Angry men? I’ve met a few.
One guy with four-day old stubble, a black eye and a cut lip, messaged: “Let’s take this offline. Here’s my number.” I ignored it. Eight days later he messaged again: “Fine then. Good luck on here with that attitude.”
One man named Michael sought someone who would “simply go to an end of the couch.” He also played harmonica and followed horse racing, had a varied career as missionary, Bible school professor, rock concert producer, taxi driver, and “successful drug dealer.” And then there were his non-negotiables: no sex until marriage, a BMI in the normal range, no chronic untreatable disabilities, and extensive compatibility testing which he would pay for.
One man sought a “good Christian woman” as replacement for his not-yet-deceased wife.
Among the dross, though, there was some gold: a nice man I had great conversations with, who offered to pick up after my dog on our first walk. But he was quite overweight and I admit to being shallow. Paul was another, a sensitive man who cried on the phone about an incident with the dog he rescued that brought him to his knees in prayer and to faith. But his very wealthy lifestyle scared me — when I told my daughter about that one, she rolled her eyes: “That was pretty dumb — he’ll be snatched up right away.”
She was right.
Vacillating between depression and hilarity, I regretted signing up. Dating was hard enough in my 30s, what made me think it would be easier in my 60s?
The sites were also becoming a bit of an addiction — constantly checking messages, hoping the One would be in there. As I grew more discouraged, I was reminded of that scene in As Good as It Gets when Helen Hunt, who’s being courted by Jack Nicholson, asks heavenward: “Why can’t I have a normal boyfriend?” And her mother, looking down from the second-floor window, calls out quietly: “Everyone wants that dear. It doesn’t exist.”
It’s possible my therapist had something when she told me a few years ago that I would not likely marry again, sealing my fate with these words: “It will probably just be you and Jesus from here on in.”
To which I wailed: “Don’t get me wrong, Sue, I love Jesus but was hoping for a relationship with a little flesh to it.”
Perhaps I should take a leaf from other writers — create the dream guy you cannot find. Jan Karon did it with her Mitford books, Dorothy Sayers with Lord Peter Wimsey. And I’m willing to bet that Jane Austen’s hot brooding male protagonists were wish fulfilment.
Instead, I decided to take a break, pausing all accounts.
On reflection it hasn’t been all bad. I’m only four months into a two-year commitment, and while I haven’t met anyone — YET — I have learned how to communicate better and to say no gracefully. I’ve learned that time and physical presence are critical to relationships, that two or three dates can’t determine compatibility, and that boring conversations have their place.
I’ve learned to accept compliments. There’s gotta be a study somewhere that shows a correlation between being told you’re beautiful and becoming beautiful. One man wrote a song “in the key of C” for me, another told me my smile could stop a war — it didn’t stop a divorce but who’s quibbling — and a lobster fisherman off the coast of Maine said: “You’re gorgeous what’s my chances.”
Note to younger self: Try to enjoy the compliments; they are lovely in a way. Even if they are lies.
I have learned that people make bad choices that backfire, and good choices that backfire equally spectacularly. And that at this age, everyone has baggage — it’s what we do with it that counts.
The remarks from friends, though, really surprised me. When I lamented how challenging this had been, I heard one of two things: “You gotta kiss a lot of toads before you find your prince.” Or: “All guys online are losers. The good ones stay married.” NOT TRUE! Anymore than I’m either a loser or a perfect princess. After all, divorce equals failed marriage.
Apart from the scammers — and they’re out there — most are neither losers nor toads. They’re just regular people trying to get to the finish line with intact self-respect and maybe someone to have their back as they sail off the ice floe together.
But that requires adjusting expectations. And some of those things I thought were critically important? Turns out they’re not so important after all. What I’d like now is someone who’ll share responsibility for our lives. Who’ll make me laugh to the end.
And if I’m really lucky — hold my hand in church.