"I am a warm and generous single mom seeking a respectful and cooperative man who dreams big with both feet on the ground. I love long embraces, café con leche, and anything curried."
This is my Match.com profile. Actually, this is my Match.com profile after cutting the references to "steam rooms" and "skinny dipping" (which my girlfriends said smacked too much of sex).
Here is one of the first messages to arrive in my inbox:
"Just read your profile and wanted to tell you that I have been looking for someone like you. Something about the strength of a single mother is very attractive to me. Please read my profile and drop me a note if the spirit moves you."
I feel rewarded. This stranger has no idea that at the end of every day, I'm run ragged. There are bags under my eyes, and yesterday's sandwich crusts still sit on the kitchen counter. My daughter is screaming from the bedroom right now: "But I don't want to go to bed like a big girl!"
And here's a man who finds this attractive? Little does he know.
There's a P.S. at the bottom: "My profile says I prefer women a bit older than you . . . and typically I do. But there are exceptions to everything."
I am smiling at my screen. Don't we all love the thrill of being someone's exception?
Yet, when I click on his profile, I'm confused. Next to the space for "Want kids," G. has filled in, "Not sure." If he's not sure, then why is he contacting me?
Still, upon reading about the rest of him, I decide to ignore the "Not Sure" part. He writes, "I'm 40. Happiness is not terribly complicated for me. A warm place. Coffee in the morning with something to read. The observations of someone I find wise." He is a divorced businessman who likes "bluegrass music, movies that make me sad, old things, sunshine on my face, and being warm."
In our first few e-mails, we discover that both of us played the saxophone in high school and often hike through Tilden Park. I notice how often he uses ellipses . . . I do that, too!
G. wants to get together for a glass of wine, but I'm cautious. I rarely drink, and just one glass of wine gets me off balance. I would have to leave my car behind and take a taxi. Certainly, he would insist on driving me home and planting a long kiss on my lips.
Pre-baby, the thought of meeting some man I didn't know -- across town in a small, dark bar -- pumped me up. I would have jumped on a wild night like this one. But nowadays, I've got to get home and take care of my girl. Today, as a single mom, the adrenaline rushes I used to seek from men have to come in safer ways, like winking at the cute cashier behind the counter or squeezing that gorgeous waiter's arm on my way out the door.
I suggest a phone conversation with G. first. He sends me his number. After Mae goes to bed, I call him on my cell phone. There's a loud echo. I'm nervous, and I can't hear what he's saying.
"What?" My voice is tense.
"I said, 'Am I your first match boy?' "
I laugh. "Was it that obvious?"
This is the first time I've tried online dating. I always thought you had to be really desperate to do this, but necessity is the mother of invention. It seems my only chance to meet men over the past few years has been at the grocery store and the pizza joint. Not really hot-spots for true love. I work from home and spend my weekends at kid-friendly places where there are lots of cute married men.
In the photos, G. looks nothing like my usual type. My ex-husband was a muscular modern dancer from Pamplona, Spain. The father of my daughter was a 6' tall African-American construction worker from the Bronx. And here is G., white, 5' 7", with salt and pepper hair, a Kentucky native with a strong southern accent.
After an optimistic round of e-mail, I finally agree to meet G. in person. I can't get to bed. I'm jittery, wondering if he'll like the real me, this overtired, often-cranky single mom. I'm excited, too, caught up in a bedtime fantasy of this businessman whisking my daughter and me off to his castle to live happily ever after.
The night before our date, I check my e-mail one more time. (Okay, I check it three more times.) G. writes, "I keep thinking about tomorrow like it's Christmas morning, and I'm ten. Only with more trepidation."
I'm flattered. G. says that meeting me compares to Christmas morning! And, wow, I even make him nervous.
I get to the coffee shop two minutes before G. and hold my breath when I see him walking briskly around the corner. He looks just like my father did 15 years ago. It's uncanny. They are exactly same height, with the same hair and similar body types. To top it off, I find out they are both headhunters in San Francisco.
At first, I wanted to rush the other way and stand him up. Dating a man who resembles my father? That's TOO weird! But then I'm filled with a nostalgic comfort. Maybe I've finally picked my match. After all, I adore my father.
He has walked right past me -- I'm sitting on a bench outside the busy café -- so I get up and follow him. We hug in the doorway of the café, invitingly, as customers file past us. Then we sit down to eat oatmeal with maple syrup. We talk about our past relationships, his battle with cancer, and my life as a single Mom. He tells me that he's going to be 41 on Monday.
I laugh: "So, that will make you one whole decade older than me!"
"Please don't say that--"
But I want to say so much more. I really yearn to tell him much he reminds me of my father -- the only man in my life who has loved me unconditionally, and the only man who has been there for my daughter, always. It makes me feel weak inside my chest. Falling in love with a man who reminds me of my father? Initially, the whole idea is innocent and sweet. On second thought, it's rather disconcerting.
Then I remember that this is only our first date. My entire life, I have conveniently skipped the dating part of relationships. After the initial oh-this-is-fun-and-he-adores-me, I have jumped into the thick of it. But motherhood has changed me.
That's because it's not just about me anymore. I'm not going to bring a man home after a few dates for some wild passion under the sheets. (Come to think about it, my daughter is getting a "big girl bed" for her fourth birthday.) The truth is, whenever I think about dating Him -- whoever He might be -- my daughter pops into my mind. Would she like him? Would he respect her? Would this man understand that her needs would always come before his?
Now I know I don't have to make up my mind on the first date. Motherhood has forced me to grow up. I am less desperate to be with a man, and more cautious about whom I go out with. I can ask G. questions and process the answers. I can observe our interactions and think about them. I don't have to rush into anything.
I'm not just seeking any man. I'm keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground as I seek a man who is truly right for both my daughter and for me. Maybe G. was right. There is something about the strength of a single mother.