I'm on my fourth date with different men in two weeks, sitting across from D., a never-married mortgage broker.
He emailed me last week after reading a column I'd written for a San Francisco newspaper about being single in the Bay Area. My editors had slapped this headline on my first-person piece: "Why's a good man hard to find or already married?"
How embarrassing. But it did provide me with a flood of emails from local available men. I'm dating more than I ever have in my life.
From the first line in D.'s email to me, I loved the intimacy of his writing. He explained that after coming home from the movies, he'd opened up the newspaper, and "fell into your column. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your picture plus your thousand words could be worth a fortune."
I smiled to myself: here was a guy who not only praised me, but he was a damn good writer. And if that wasn't enough, just listen to how he described himself:
"I'm tall, athletic, good-looking, with extraordinary wit. I have a huge heart and a good soul. I own my own washing-machine (and home). I love kids. I have to learn to give myself a break once in a while."
What kind of woman would waver about responding to a note like this one?
Not this one. I feel as if I've fallen in love with him on the computer screen. I'm hopeful and enthusiastic. Please, Mr. Life Partner, be there for me. I'm ready for you.
Tonight, if you peek through the window of Downtown, Berkeley's classiest restaurant, you'll see me across from D., perched on a stool, with my knees crossed under my tight turquoise sequined skirt. He's tall and slender, and dressed conservatively in a tweed wool jacket and ironed khaki pants. But his face is emotionless. I can't tell if he's always this cool, or if he simply doesn't like me.
Tonight I'm wearing what my friend Arden (who's watching my daughter tonight) calls my "first-date skirt." I've had this skirt for a few years now -- a girlfriend in Manhattan sent it to me for my birthday -- and I feel absolutely at ease in it. As she's noticed, I seem to wear it on every first date I have. But it is starting to fray a bit at the edges.
When she first commented about my "first-date skirt," I laughed. Oh, isn't this hilarious! Arden had giggled, too: "Yeah, every woman should have a first-date skirt!" But tonight, I'm tired of this skirt. I'm tired of all these first dates. No wonder this skirt is looking so worn out. I wish I could give it a break. Maybe I need a break, too. I'm starting to fray, too.
Right now, I should be focusing on D., who sips frequently from his glass of wine. But my mind is elsewhere. I'm thinking about the fact that the milk carton in our refrigerator is almost empty. Will there be there enough for Mae's oatmeal in the morning? Did I forget to turn on the washing machine? I hope she has some clean underwear for tomorrow! Oh darn, I forgot to check her school's "lost and found" this afternoon for her missing jacket.
It's not easy crossing over from Mom to Single Mom Seeking.
A mother is nurturing, soft, and sometimes frumpy. A mother doesn't wear tight skirts and black boots. She doesn't have one-night stands, or flirt with random men while grocery shopping. She most emphatically does not own a first-date skirt.
With all this dating I've been doing lately, you'd think that I'd be good at making this transition between domestic and nurturing Mom to sexy and available Single. But it's not easy crossing over. Right now, my focus should be on the man before me, but I'm wondering whether my daughter is eating dinner right now. I imagine her eating two small bites of pasta before jumping up from the table to play with her friend. When I pick her up, I wonder if she'll say (as she often does), "Mommy, I'm hungry!"
Besides, D. is not quite as good-looking as I'd hoped. He has tired, deep lines under his eyes, and he seems self-conscious. When I'd asked by email how old he was, he didn't want to say. When I ask him again now -- "So, how old are you?" -- he shakes his head.
"It doesn't matter to me!" I say, trying to massage his ego. "I like older men."
He laughs, but he still won't tell me. "Guess," he says.
But I don't want to play this game on a Tuesday night. I want to get out of here. I want to drive away in my car and pick my daughter. I want to hear all about her day at school. Still, I'm drinking Chardonnay and eating sautéed eggplant. Fine, I'll do this.
"Early forties?" I ask.
No, he's 48, which makes him 15 years older than me. I smile. I like mature men. I definitely deserve one.
But he doesn't seem very comfortable with the number. "That's quite a gap," he says.
I take the final sip of my wine, and for a split second, I slip away into a carefree void. I almost forget that it's dark outside. I almost disregard the fact that it's bedtime for my five-year-old.
"Do you know what time it is?" I ask casually.
D. looks down at his watch: "7:30."
"Oh!" I gasp. "It's a school night!"
"You need to go?"
Outside, D. and I give each other a quick embrace. I feel like we could be cousins, not lovers. He's cute in a boyish way, but he seems awkward and withdrawn.
During the drive back, I feel guilty. What a waste of time! I could have eaten dinner with my daughter, and heard all about who she played with today, and which book her reading buddy shared with her. I could have relaxed at home with her, instead of scrambling to find childcare. When I pick her up now, she'll be exhausted, like me.
By the time I reach my friend's house, the Mom in me is back. I hug my daughter and we head home, where she goes straight to the bathroom. "I have to poop, Mom," she tells me.
I'm so proud of her: I've just taught her how to wipe her butt all by herself, and she's doing it.
Do you see what I mean when I say that I'm at odds with myself?
I climb into bed with her and read a story. When I gently wrap one arm around my girl, I silently wish that I had another arm, strong and muscular, wrapped around the both of us. She has no memories of her biological father. She doesn't recollect sleeping in between her parents, like a warm hot dog tucked into a bun. One bun is missing, honey, I'm sorry.
I close my eyes and breathe, catching a whiff of D. on my forearm. His cologne must have rubbed off on me when we hugged, and this feels wrong. I shouldn't be cuddling up with my daughter, reeking of a man who's not part of our lives, a man I've only met with briefly for a drink.
Still, as I hold my daughter close, I can't help but wonder if, one evening, the scent of a man I love dearly will rub off on me. When that happens, I'll breathe him in tenderly.