Years ago, at 50, I started dating online. It seemed like a good idea.
In our first email exchange, Ben made a point of letting me know right away how many miles a week he ran (50) and how many pounds he could bench press (I forget but it was a lot for a man his age, he told me). Usually stats like this weren't the way to my heart, mostly because when a man started with details about his health regimen it could only lead to the line I got once: "Uh, you know you could stand to lose a few."
But Ben's physical fitness blah blah blah and his loyalty to kale, which was ahead of the times, was coupled with concise, solid prose that didn't make me wince, and -- trust me -- that didn't happen often.
Who knows, I thought as I waited for him at a Baltimore bistro, maybe this is the night. I spotted him down the street, or the person I thought must be him. There's that expectant look I came to recognize, kind of the opposite of Bitchy Resting Face. When you're meeting a date, you make a concerted effort to look open and smart and terribly lively as you walk toward the restaurant. There's always a great chance your date has already spotted you in the crowd and is going through that initial checklist we all keep with us on dates.
Ben's body looked great from what I could see of it though I wasn't much into bodies as my main point of attraction. But from afar, his hair seemed to be too black against his white (SPF 300 sun-screened) skin he took great care of. (Another conversation.)
I swallowed hard as he got close enough and we identified each other and we smiled in the universal, silent dating language of "I am not a hoarder" (him) and "I am not Kathy Bates in Misery" (me).
Once we were seated I got to catch my breath, and I was grateful for the stirring rendition of Ben's morning run around the reservoir (heron sighting and phenomenal weather).
I needed time. Because of what was happening on the top of Ben's head. There lay a synthetic black hairpiece -- a credit to an enduring salesperson somewhere who sold him on a dream. This person had fit this shiny apparatus onto Ben's bald skull and said, "There, sir! I challenge anyone to think this isn't your actual hair!"
I could not look away no matter what I did. I kept thinking, Make eye contact! Make eye contact! but I knew I wasn't. Then he sneezed and I watched as it slid a tiny bit to the left. I realized in terror it was not glued down or whatever it is you do to those things. If it moved another half inch, I was prepared to go to the Ladies' Room and, on the way, find our waiter and send him back to the table with a big heads up for Ben.
This didn't happen. I eventually made some eye contact, but I'll admit it might have been fleeting. We split the bill and he walked me to my car. I was thinking, Poor Ben, pretending he has hair. I was wondering if we'd end with a little hug, which was a nice way to say, Not in this lifetime, but thanks for a dinner I didn't spend in front of the TV or talking to my cat.
Instead Ben cleared his throat rather officially and said, "Here's what I think. It's just best to be honest at these awkward moments. I had a very nice time, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm just not that attracted to you. There's no chemistry here and I have to admit it."
This had turned out to be my second tragic date in a week. It was fair to say, that on the dating front, I was now 0 for 2. A less optimistic person might say I was more 0 for 2 than any human being had ever been since dating was invented. But not me. I had a date lined up for the next night. And his name was Bud.