After years alone, on the cusp of my 35th birthday, I was serious. I'd learned that letting myself kiss the wrong guy set in motion a sort of unwitting hormonal bonding stronger than rational thinking. If I was going to meet the right man, I decided, I needed to remain chemical-free, to think clearly, to get to know him first.
I didn't understand this in my 20s. Back then, I'd followed the Hollywood movie model wherein men and women tend to tumble into bed, then into love, and finally into marriage. The string of breakups I endured demonstrated that, for me at least, this strategy wasn't working.
My frequent experiences with the Wrong Man also taught me what I wanted this time around. I was looking for someone who could see my best self despite my imperfections. A gentle but strong man with the capacity to become as deeply devoted to me as I would be to him. In a word: available. I suspected it might take awhile to find him in greater Los Angeles, and I was right.
To get started, I posted an ad on an online dating site. I asked a girlfriend to take a picture of me bathed in late afternoon sunlight and wore the most glamorous smile I could muster. I stated that I wanted a man who "somehow manages to strike that tricky balance of being both dependable and spontaneous. Or who can happily tolerate both of these aspects in me."
I got a lot of responses right off the bat. Some were ludicrous, like the 50-something guy in a Hawaiian shirt who offered to fly me to Vegas for the weekend. I deleted far more than I answered. But Week One still found me on dates with 14 men at local coffee shops. In Week Two, I slowed down to seven. I shook hands with a Danish architect and an hour later zoomed across town to meet a swoony soap opera actor. The next day was tea with an airfreight handler, followed that evening by a walk with a real estate lawyer. I dated aerospace engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, an oceanographer, film animators, a romantic man who lived impecuniously on a boat, and a self-proclaimed gazillionaire who resided atop a mountain.
"Are you insane?" my astonished girlfriends said, laughing.
I was overwhelmed but exhilarated. And I overdid it. At the end of Week One, I startled friends and myself by bursting uncontrollably into tears. A lifetime of pent-up loneliness came unglued all at once. Then I hit a groove. No matter how the date went, I reminded myself I was taking a stand for what I wanted.
And I tried to relax. I steadied myself right before each new hello. Nothing was worse or more exquisite than my date's first flicker of disappointment or approval. If he clearly wasn't interested—like the swing-dancing entertainment lawyer or the Harvard-educated wine expert—then he was simply another woman's catch. I got out of her way. I knew I'd meet someone else tomorrow. Even if a first date wasn't fantastic, I tended to accept second dates to make sure I hadn't been too hasty in my judgment. About four or five men survived through fourth or fifth dates before I said goodbye. The thing I liked best about my whole dating project was that it validated that nagging sense I'd had for years: Every Saturday night I'd spent alone or with girlfriends, I'd believed there had to be several thousand potential dates out there for me, somewhere. It turns out I was right.