I am sixty-five years old and dating again. Way too old for starting over.
The rain lashed down on slick San Francisco streets as I drove across town to meet my fourteenth online date through OkCupid. Dating was the only way I could keep my mind off Kenji, my on-and-off partner for the past twelve years. I missed him fiercely, but he wasn’t coming back. Cheetah, one of my closest girlfriends and the high priestess of advice, kept telling me that the only way to mend a broken heart was to distract myself with someone new. When I complained about the wimpy coffee dates I’d gone on, she explained online dating like this. “It’s a numbers game. You have to put in your time. It’s best not to expect a whole lot. Just think of it as business. That’s the only way to do it.”
I navigated through the streets while hunched over the steering wheel. I squinted, the wipers clacking back and forth. A perfect night to stay at home and read a book or watch one of my favorite French videos. A perfect night for anything but this.
When I’d buckled my seatbelt and left the Richmond district, I stationed my cell phone on the passenger seat next to me. I texted my girlfriends before and after meeting someone. It helped to ground me, helped to give me the confidence I sorely lacked and make me feel I wasn’t all alone. The fab four, of which we called ourselves, would soon be receiving my group text. The three of them would hear from the one of me who communicated thusly: I am going in.
South of Market. Thirty minutes later and the cafe still eluded me. The windshield fogged up and I turned on the defroster and cracked a window. Unfamiliar with the directions of the one-way streets, I kept getting lost. Was it Folsom Street that shot away from downtown or was it Harrison? Or both? And if I was on Bryant Street did that mean that I had gone too far? I drove in circles, looping around the rainy streets while trying to find the Epicenter Cafe. I couldn’t seem to get my bearings.
The guy I was about to meet: Italian, divorced, a New Yorker fairly new to the city. He had written me first, and his email sounded light and funny. I liked his photograph, his dark hair and eyes.
As I drove around, more lost than ever, my mood spiraled. One minute I could be fine and slip into my grief the next. How was I ever going to have a relationship with someone new when I was emotionally unavailable? The idea of having sex with someone new horrified me. Could I really move on? Move on. My hand found its way to my heart. My breath caught.
At a stoplight, someone honked when the light turned green. “Sorry,” I said, as if they could hear me. I hooked a left and once again hunted for Harrison Street. I felt myself sinking, spiraling out of control.
“I can’t do this,” I said aloud. “I’m not ready and I may never be. I have to go home.” I was far too old for online dating and even if this guy was nice, I couldn’t stand the possibility of getting my heart broken again.
Moments passed. I actually found the cafe. Shock of all shock I also found a parking space right across the street. I pulled into it, turned off the engine and unbuckled my seatbelt, sitting quietly for a few minutes while rivulets of rain streamed down my windshield. “You can do this,” I said firmly. “You can do this and you will do this. Pull yourself together.”
With this I managed to open the door. The cold air swirled around me. I grabbed my purse and umbrella, eyeing the cafe across the street. A dark-haired man sat near the front window. Maybe it was him. Poor man. Look at the mess he was about to meet.
I hoisted myself up to a standing position, giving myself a pep talk. I was attractive enough. I could be funny sometimes. I had a lot to offer. As I was almost ready to lock my car I remembered my cell phone. Sitting back down in the driver’s seat, I momentarily thought of fleeing, of starting the engine and driving the hell away. Get out while the getting was good.
I waited a few moments and then reached across the seat. In a burst of courage, I grabbed for my cell phone. I texted my girlfriends. I am going in.