Over the past few years, I've been on Match.com dates, blind dates, and disaster dates. Some relationships have lasted a few months. None have lasted forever. I've been developing by leaps and bounds as a one-parent family -- right alongside my six-year-old daughter.
At first, I was drawn to emotionally-remote guys because their distance felt safe; I wasn't ready for anything serious. As the years passed, however, and I entered my 30s, what I really wanted was a lifelong companion, a partner-in-parenting.
Moreover, my daughter, Mae, has rejected most of the men I've dated. They were too serious, or they tried too hard to make her laugh. For sure, she doesn't like to share mom very much, either. Until now.
Last year, a woman who read a column I wrote about single parenting wrote to me out of nowhere:
"I have an amazing man for you to meet. He's not my son, nor my grandson, nor my brother. He's my husband's best friend. He has a great job, a home, close friends... but what's missing is a family."
What's missing is a family? Well, that pretty much describes Mae and me. She told me that he "adores kids" and is always looking "longingly at families." But there was a catch.
"I wouldn't actually call him 'nice'," Dianna added. "He's Israeli and he has that tough kibbutznik exterior."
Uh oh. He's not nice. What was that supposed to mean? Still, I wrote his number on a Post-it and told her I'd call him soon, when I mustered up the courage.
The Post-it stayed posted to my computer for a whole week. I was exhausted and had just taken myself out of the offline dating world. Besides, he wasn't nice. A few days more passed. I still didn't call him. Finally, a week-and-a-half later, while Mae happily drew her self-portrait, I dialed his cell phone.
"Hello?" Yossi answered in his thick Hebrew accent.
"Uh, hi," I said. "This is Rachel. Your friend, Dianna, sent me an email --"
"Hello!" he said again, warmly.
And then he laughed. He had the most beautiful laugh I'd ever heard, full-bellied and open.
I smiled. My body softened. I had to sit down.
"You don't sound tough at all!" I said.
"Maybe I'm just tough around the edges," he said.
My heart was pounding. My fingertips tapped on the edge of the sofa.
"Would you like to meet sometime?" Yossi asked.
A man with salt-and-pepper hair in a black leather jacket sits on the border of the concrete walkway in the sunshine. He stands up and opens his arms to me. We hug. His brown eyes are twinkling. He's laughing, and I'm laughing, too. Somehow, I feel right at home.
"Tell me about your daughter," Yossi says.
On a first date, a man can do nothing more gratifying than this. I pause and pull her snapshots from my wallet.
"Oh, just look at her!" he says, taking the photos from me. "What's she like?"
I tell him about how when I left the house just twenty minutes ago she made a deal with me: "Mom, if you're going out, and I'm staying home with Aunt Rebecca, then you need to let me have three cookies -- "
"That's my kind of girl."
Later in the conversation I tell him I'm writing a book.
"What's it about?" he asks.
"My hunt for a man," I say, half-jokingly.
He stops walking. "Are you saying that I'm prey?"
We're laughing again.
When other men discover what my book is about, they get tense and anxious. One man asked if I was tape-recording our date. Another man begged me not to use his name in print.
But Yossi is light and easy. We talk about sailboats, the successful contracting business he has run for over a decade in the East Bay, and single motherhood. He wants to sail around the world one day. He's a great storyteller; he enlightens me about his boyhood adventures on the kibbutz. He's also a great listener. And guess what? He does seem nice, in a sturdy kind of way. He's a Man with a capital M. He rides a motorcycle. He plays pool. He tells dirty jokes to his guy friends. He's a man, man, man--not a boy, thank God!
Our first date ends with a long hug next to his big yellow pickup truck.
"I'd like to see you again," he says.
"Me, too," I gush.
The first time Yossi visits our apartment, I'm buzzing around the kitchen, making rice, a veggie stir-fry, and a colorful salad.
"I don't know how you do it," he says.
"Do what?" I say.
"Everything," he says. "Look at you. I haven't seen you stop."
I laugh. It's true. Single mothers don't stop.
I walk over to him and rub his shoulder. I whisper into his ear, "You know, honey, it's okay to get up and help me."
He laughs -- and he does get up. He cuts the bread into little slices and pours Mae a glass of milk.
That night, Yossi shows Mae how to kill a moth on our ceiling with a slingshot he makes from a little piece of paper and a rubber band.
Ah, this is why I need a man here.
One of his guy friends asked me recently: "Don't you think that Yossi is like the Israeli version of Kramer on Seinfeld?"
It's true: He's just as goofy and sincere as Kramer -- but sexier and more huggable. He makes me laugh. Best of all, my daughter adores him, and so do I.