(This essay appeared in different form on AARP’s website.)
Each spring, Uncle Lou, the director of Camp Tamakwa where I spent five summers sent a What to Bring list. The first category, before Clothing and Bedding was Yourself. Under Yourself were three items: 1. A sense of humor, 2. A desire to learn, and 3. A willingness to share. Here are a few words about Uncle Lou’s three and about three more I have added. These six items have been useful throughout my entire life. I needed them–big time–while dating. (My AARP columns are about love and dating.)
1. A lack of paranoia – We are who we are. The guy who ranted about his crazy ex-wife did not just become a candidate for anger management classes after we ordered drinks. And the one who complained about the food, ambiance, and service was a kvetch before our scrumptious meal. If someone acts obnoxious or negative or turns you off in other unpleasant ways, DO NOT PERSONALIZE. His behavior is not your fault. If all your dates are angry, kvetchy, or whatever, take it VERY personally. You are not picking well.
2. Patience — After a rotten date or six, you might consider getting a cat or additional cable stations. After a miserable date—I had years of miserable dates—I used to call my friends for sympathy and maybe we’d share a few laughs. “I cannot do this anymore,” I said at least a hundred times. The truth: WE DON’T CLICK WITH EVERYONE. WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO. Fortunately, I had a mother who expressed disdain for taking the course of least resistance and taking easy ways out. “GOOD THINGS TAKE A LONG TIME TO DEVELOP,” she said about everything, particularly my being a writer which meant rejection and a lifetime of honing my craft. ENDURE!
3. Persistence — Endure, but don’t wait for “it” to happen. Good things may take a long time to develop. They don’t arrive by UPS. Despite my saying I can’t date anymore to my girl friends, I got back out there and kissed many more iguanas. YOU HAVE TO HANG IN AND STAY FOCUSED WITH ANYTHING YOU WANT. No one hands us what we want in life. There are no shortcuts. Take charge. Make it happen. You can.
4. A desire to learn – On early post-marital dates, I learned about Tuscany from a seasoned traveler and got a new chicken recipe from an experienced cook. I used this information, but not with either man. Everyone—keepers or not–has something to teach us. With a man I loved, I discovered I liked camping. I discovered two nights was enough. I discovered, too, when I discovered another woman in his life that cheating was intolerable to me. Dating expands and enriches us. We can acquire practical information and a deeper knowledge of ourselves.
5. A willingness to share—I don’t mean baring your soul about your awful childhood or relationships. In fact, DON’T. But being open about yourself and finding out about the other person, his passions, pet peeves, and work, among other things melts the ice and gets things rolling. You give. You get back. On my first date with the man I married, we exchanged bits and pieces about our work. His strength in business, he said in an unassuming yet confident tone, was seeing where he wanted to end up and not getting stuck along the way. I loved that he did not rattle easily. I hoped he might want to end up with me.
6. A sense of humor – Last, but to my mind the most important item throughout our lives, requires having a perspective and incorporating Items 1 through 5. When I resumed dating after my divorce, and decades after Color War ended, I had a career, flatware for twelve, and bunions. As I watched men I did not know pick our wine and their teeth, I thought of my Aunt Lil’s Jell-O molds with fruit cocktail suspended at the top. Her molds were always lopsided. Why, I never knew, but whenever she brought one to a family party, I tilted my head and quietly laughed. Behind Aunt Lil’s back. That was how I learned to get through bad dates and the hard parts of my life. Laugh and tilt! Laugh and tilt! There is no other way.