I admit it. My parents were Republicans, though they came to that same track from vastly different sides. My father grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, part of a sizable extended family of first-generation French all struggling to keep their children fed. He was so far down the hand-me-down line of cousins that his feet were forever crippled by shoes that never quite fit. My mother, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Naval officer, raised in frequently-changing “quarters” where servants cooked and cleaned and manicured the grounds. My mother remembered, with great fondness, how her parents sent the help home each evening and did the dinner dishes themselves, so they could chat about their day.
But my mother and father, born in 1919 and 1920 respectively, prided themselves on their social liberalism. And like all children who grow up with all parents, I had nothing to compare them to, and therefore no idea how truly remarkable this was considering the time and place. My mother worked as a chemist during part of World War II, and never tired of telling me how she and her lab mate shared a beaker to drink water from. He happened to be African-American, though in Norfolk, Virginia in the mid 1940’s, one said either “Negro” or “colored.” She never thought a damn thing of it, as she would have said herself.
I thought my mother might explode with pride when a new child moved into my 4th-grade classroom in the middle of the year, and became my best friend. She was Mexican, from the country itself, and I thought every single thing about her was wildly exotic and perfect – her flowing, jet-black waves of hair, her circle skirts with donkeys and cacti and such. I walked around my house saying her name, slowly savoring each syllable of E-LO-DI-AH. E-LO-Deeeeee-Ahhhhhh. And when Debbie Allison – one of those prim 10-year-olds whose youth is an entirely wasted slog in their march toward the thin-lipped spinsters they were born to be – conspiratorially whispered in my ear, “I don’t like Tommy Whitesong; he smells funny,” I was completely baffled about what she meant. All I could think of was when my father’s cheap after shave (that I had undoubtedly bought for him) was around for a bit too long, it took on some rather rank undertones. I told all this to my mother when I got home; and whereas my mother was not one to throw her arms around anyone or make a show of feeling, she did straighten her skirt and say, “good for you.” Tommy was one of two – count them, two – black children in my elementary school. Even as a kid, I thought it must be kinda hard to have just one other person who was like yourself in an entire overcrowded school, and I thought Debbie Allison was a mean little twat.
My father’s best friend was always “Uncle Bill to me.” He lived at the top of the hill where our street began, and we lived most of the way to the bottom. Every year he brought his whole family down during the holidays so his kids could play with the Lionel trains that ran all around our Christmas tree; and we would go to their house for a dinner of potato latkes (certainly one of the best things ever) and an evening of dreidel. A few times a year, he would come to our house by himself, right around the time I was going to bed, and I knew that he and my father would either hole themselves up in our little den, talking into the wee hours of the morning, or they would set up a card table in the living room and play chess, in virtual silence, for just as long. My parents were involved in numerous bridge clubs and neighborhood groups and medical-related stuff that kept them socially active, but Uncle Bill was the only real friend that either one of my parents had.*
So here I am, 60 years old, trying to gather all the various things one has to gather in order to [re]enter the world of on-line dating. Years ago, I ran into someone who referred to this world as The Wild West – meaning a vast land where there are no rules, a whole lot of very bad behavior, some good souls, and absolutely anything can happen. He nailed it. And, into this maelstrom, one has to proceed with the lowest possible expectations while maintaining eternal, even if faint, hope. You have to believe that whatever it is you seek is 1) out there, somewhere (it is), and 2) you can find it (um….).
At this point, fifteen years after my divorce, I believe myself to be a seasoned and skilled decipherer of on-line profiles. If I may quote from Joan Crawford addressing the PepsiCo good old boys: “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” Perhaps I should add that the line was preceded by her saying: “Don’t fuck with me boys!” What this attitude translates into is that I am very, very selective in communicating with anyone. Believe me, this is not a case of me passing up terrific potential guys, this is a case of me saving both parties additional wear and tear on our fragile sense of hope. When I was an on-line dating newbie, I wrote a nice note back to each and every person who took the time to write to me, just as the daughter of Mary Barbara Mills had taught me to do as a necessary part of maintaining a civil society. What I found was – people will then argue with you, often with frightening intensity! They will badger, bully, name-call, hurl insults – all in response to a very lovely note that wished them all the best! Last week, I forgot my own rule (Do NOT Write Back!) when I received a note from a guy who seemed very decent, and worked in a field quite similar to mine. I wrote back, told him that I really wanted to find someone in an entirely different line of work, for balance, and I wished him well. He completely went off on me. At length, and with a degree of rage and hostility I can’t imagine feeling, let alone directing it at a complete stranger?!
OK. Onward. Wild west. Expectations sub-low. Hopes, um, in tact enough, I hope, to be awakened if there is reason.
Last weekend, I received on on-line approach from a guy who seemed…pretty good. Cute, a bit off the beaten path, fun-loving and witty, and seeming to be genuinely seeking something of substance in both a woman and a relationship. I responded. We emailed back and forth, safely and anonymously through the site, throughout the afternoon. At one point he asked me what I do for work; I responded that I was a clinical social worker in private practice. He wrote back: “It’s completely unhealthy to spend time with people less fortunate than ourselves.”
Earlier in my life, I would have assumed that he was joking. I probably would have laughed. But, lo these many years of life later, instead I wrote back and asked: “Are you serious?” He replied: “Absolutely, yes. That has been my experience.”
We were, as of that moment, done. Out of curiosity, I went on-line and started researching. I wondered just what percentage of the people in my own country, and then the world, I should shun from here forward if I followed this credo. Using income alone as the determining factor, this handy rule would save me from any further pesky interaction with more than 65% of my fellow citizens, and wow, certainly well over 80% of the people on the planet. While I was pondering the complexities of the term “less fortunate,” and the multitude of things that covers beyond money, my phone indicated that a new message had come through.
Yep. New note from The Guy. “I mean, these people have undoubtedly stolen from you, right?”
Is this guy seriously suggesting that the “less fortunate” will eventually steal from you? No! He’s suggesting that they have already! Somehow what came to mind was shoplifting, a frequent rite-of-passage in the upper economic brackets. I mean, my daughter’s acquaintances who did a very brisk business in shoplifted Abercrombie merch out of their middle school lockers were among the wealthiest kids in the school.
I did the on-line equivalent of un-friending someone on Facebook – I un-favorited his ass!
Deep breath. Wild West. Onward.
Next morning, approach received from a cute guy with a wonderful, open smile, looking for a Real Relationship. He had lots of pics of himself at various charity events looking very dapper and sincere, a give-back sort of a guy who made himself interesting by being interested. We exchanged emails back and forth, both of our interest clearly piqued. He indicated he would like to talk on the phone, thereby taking our relationship to the next on-line level; and though I hate talking on the phone with strangers, I agreed that it made sense. He suggested that I text him when I was free to talk later that day.
I did, and even though he had originally said he’d wanted to talk, he immediately blew up my phone with a flurry of texts including additional photos of himself in various locations, various tidbits of news about his day, and a number of questions for me. Hey, I’m pretty flexible, and I hate to talk on the phone, so OK, texting it is. After flitting across various topics, such as his workout routine (de rigeur for men on-line and over the age of 50), he said: “Hey, both of my parents were born in Italy. I’m 100% Italian. What’s your background?”
I said: “My father was 100% French, first generation. My mother was essentially a WASP.”
He: “Are you Jewish?”
Wait, are there people who honestly don’t know what WASP means? Is he double-checking if I perhaps converted at some point?
He: “I don’t get along with Jewish women.”
Here I am again, saying for the second time in as many days: “Are you serious?”
He: “Because they’re whining, nasally, pretentious, drama filled, high maintenance, boring women.”
I am…utterly dumbfounded. And sad. So sad. There is certainly nothing I can say to a gent in his late 50’s that can possibly alter his views, and this is neither the time nor the place. The only thing to do is…move along.
Ding! A new text comes through: “…also, they never ever take their wallet out to buy a man a drink. In other words they’re cheap as shit.”
So, no, I am not surprised when I go to my computer each morning, and see the headlines that summarize the latest unimaginable tragedy. I’m shocked. I am filled with grief. I am disheartened to varying degrees of near-paralysis. But I am not surprised. In the world of on-line dating, where one might easily expect people to be on their very best behavior, a murmuring level of anger, blame, prejudice, aggrieved bitter rage – all of these lie barely below the surface for so many people.
I am sure that each of the men I encountered believed that their perspective is entirely justified.
And that is how it begins.
*My parents remained unshakable in their Republican ideals, in the way of a woman born into great privilege whose much-adored parents never missed an opportunity to decry how FDR had ruined an entire nation, and a man born into a fatherless home of endless want who had lived his very own American Dream of rising from the great unwashed to become A Doctor; and who therefore believed with all his heart that this was, indeed, a land of opportunity where anyone with a whit of determination could pull himself up by his bootstraps and succeed. And, perhaps he was right, for his time. If “anyone” was white. And male. And not needed to work from such an early age that dreams could not even form.