I don't date often. My friends say I'm too picky. They tell me I find fault with a man before I know him. They tell me no one is perfect. "You need to give a guy a chance," says my friend, Dee. I don't agree. "Why should I settle for less than what I want?" This talk has been going on between my friends and me since my divorce ten years ago. Sometimes when I'm lying in bed between two and three in the morning pondering the problems of the world, I wonder if they're right. After all, up until last Friday night, there have only been four dates and two affairs (I thought back and counted them the other day.) One affair was for love, one was for fun, and the four dates were a waste of time. Then I have a date like last Friday's and I know that I'm right and my friends are wrong.
There's no other way to put it: the guy scared me. In Night of the Hunter, an old black and white movie with Shelley Winters, Robert Mitchum plays an evil preacher who rides into town, cons poor Shelley into marrying him, and then kills her. That movie kept popping into my head the whole two hours and fifteen minutes I spent with this guy. I should have trusted my instincts.
My antenna went up as soon as he asked me to dinner in front of everyone in the office. The girls in the office are grinning. "Oh, go for it," they say. I try using age to decline. "How old are you?" I ask. He answers that he is about to turn forty-two and guesses me to be in my middle to late forties, not that it matters. "Well," I reply, "I'm fifty-seven, and a fifteen-year age difference is too much."
Now from across the room, one of my coworkers offers her opinion that we're both adults and it doesn't matter how much older I am. The pressure is on. I feel trapped, so I say yes, but I'm thinking something isn't right here and it's got nothing to do with age.
This guy walks in to fix our computers and in less than an hour, he's asking me out and trying like hell to impress me. While my computer is defragging, he tells me his life story. And the more he talks, the edgier I feel. With a heavy southern accent, he tells me he's only been on the job a short time. He spent some time in Canada, and ended up here because of a chance rollover accident on the expressway as he was passing through. His voice lowers in sadness when he tells me he lost his wife six years ago and he's "been kind of floundering ever since."
It seems this man has lived everywhere including Waco and Oklahoma, done everything from training Rottweilers - he proudly shows me a nasty scar on the palm of his hand where one of them attacked - to the mysterious "trained by the military" statement with no further explanation, to extensive experience with huge corporations as a computer "engineer." He calls himself a redneck and feels it necessary to define the term for me. "A redneck is a guy who's gentle enough to powder a baby's behind and tough enough to stand and kick ass when necessary," he drawls while looking me straight in the eye.
Yet with all his experience and confidence, he lives in a motel efficiency apartment with weekly rates. "It's just temporary 'til I find me a house," he explains. "I don't believe in mortgages, I believe in workin' till you got enough money to pay cash for what you want." There is a slight pause. I get the feeling that this statement is supposed to make me consider him superior to other men.
A little later he tells me he's living in a motel because his friends embezzled a quarter of a million dollars from him. He offers no further explanation. I could ask him how, why, and what he has done about it, but since I have already stopped believing most of what he says I don't ask any questions. The more he talks, the more contrived and insincere he sounds.
Good Lord, how long does it take for a computer to defrag?
We make arrangements for dinner on Friday. Because he's a gentleman and his momma raised him right, he wants to pick me up at my home. "Think of a nice place to go," he says. I smile on the outside. Just before he leaves he asks if I like country music. "No," I answer unequivocally. He persists. "What kind of music do you like?"
"I like blues."
"That's even better," he responds and now I know that whatever I say, he will agree because appearing agreeable is part of the con.
"I like big band too," I offer, more to see his reaction than anything else.
"That's the best of all," he agrees.
Why do I feel like prey?
The next day I call him at work and tell him that I will meet him at the restaurant instead of allowing him to pick me up. "I don't know you," I explain. "I'd feel more comfortable if I had my own vehicle." Of course, he agrees. I don't want to go but the voices of my friends play in my head: Maybe he's really a nice guy and you're just stereotyping him. Maybe you shouldn't be so judgmental. Maybe you've watched one too many episodes of America's Most Wanted. Just go and have dinner and keep an open mind.
He's right on time. I watch him walk toward the door of the restaurant for a minute before I get out of my vehicle and call out. Dressed in faded black jeans, scuffed alligator cowboy boots with worn down heels, and a black and blue check sport coat that's just a hair too small, he walks with a strut. He holds the door open, makes small talk, sizing me up all the while. Already I'm thanking God that I didn't let him pick me up at home.
While we're looking at the menus, he talks non-stop. "I want to ask you something before we order," he says, looking at me earnestly across the table. I wait. He launches into a five-minute explanation of how country music derives from the blues and what a good dancer he is and he found this country western dance club and would I do him the "honor and privilege" of going dancing with him after dinner. I say no, I would not feel comfortable doing that. He tries to talk me into it for the next five minutes and finally accepts the fact that I'm not going to go. I can tell he's not happy about it.
As we sit there I listen and observe this guy trying everything in the book to push the right button, to say the right thing. I can almost see the rapid calculations going on inside his brain: Okay, she didn't seem that sympathetic when I told her about my recent broken relationship with that crazy woman and her three kids; she didn't shed a tear over me losing my wife, daddy, and mother-in-law all in one year; and she didn't bite at the embezzlement story, so let me try the line about how I have always been attracted to older women. I try to be a good listener while keeping my distance. Distance is good - he's wearing way too much aftershave.
After he gives me his story about liking older women because they're better in bed (although, he confides, "the young ones are frisky like bunnies"), he pulls out all the stops and tells me what a rat he was until he found Jesus. Our meal comes. He takes both my hands in his, bows his head, and in a voice loud enough for all the other tables around us to hear, prays over the food. For the rest of the meal, he keeps talking. After he tells me an aptitude test he took years ago said he should pursue a career in writing or counseling, he begins an in-depth analysis of my body language. He says the way I'm sitting indicates that I have a wall up. But he understands. "Feelin's is jest feelin's - they ain't right or wrong, they just are," he says as he looks deep into my eyes. I feel like this is supposed to be my cue to say, "Wow, what a sensitive and perceptive man you are. I think I love you." Instead I respond that I sit the way I'm sitting all the time. It's got nothing to do with walls. It's got to do with being comfortable. He gives me a patronizing smile.
From there he moves on to a variety of other subjects. I am amazed at how he can quote scripture and say four-letter words in the same breath. My mind is already working on ways to end this amicably. I'm actually missing a new episode of Providence for this. He's still talking - now presenting his views on child rearing (although he has never had children), his two marriages, abortion, and the roles and responsibilities of men and women in relationships (guess which gender comes out ahead on this one?)
The dishes are cleared away, my coffee cup is empty, the check is on the table, and he's still talking. Now I learn that I remind him of his dead wife "except she wore her hair longer, and her lips were a little thinner, and her nose was a little different . . . ." I'm looking at my watch and putting my jacket on. "It's been a long day," I say. In my head I'm wondering how long it has taken him to write this script and perfect his routine. He sighs and lights his fourth cigarette since we sat down. "You know," he says offhandedly, "As I was showerin' and shavin' gettin' ready to meet you tonight, I said Lord, it sure would be nice if I got laid tonight, but I'll leave that in Your hands."
Now that's a first date line that's sure to be remembered. My skin is crawling and I want to run out the door but I say nothing. I don't acknowledge the comment and I allow no expression to cross my face. I get up, smile, and tell him he needs to find a woman who likes country western music to go dancing with. "My life is very full right now and I'm happy just the way I am," I say in a friendly but impersonal tone. He walks me to my vehicle. I'm on high alert for any unwanted moves. I picture myself inside with the doors locked and windows rolled up. He's still talking as I unlock the door and slide behind the wheel. As I'm putting my key in the ignition, he leans through the open window and plants a kiss on my cheek, says goodnight, and walks away.
I put my truck in drive and pull out of the parking lot. It's over. I'm free. I'm thinking about the hot shower I'm going to stand under for a half-hour when I get home because for some reason I feel dirty.
There are some lessons here that I don't want to forget. First is to trust and respect my instinct in spite of other voices and my own self-doubt. Second is that the old saying, "opposites attract," is a myth. And third is that a date should be with someone whose company you enjoy, not someone you want to escape from.
I pull into my driveway and feel welcomed by the lamp I left burning in the living room. The cat is sitting in the window waiting for me. I'm glad I don't date often.
© Elizabeth Accordino
By day, Betty is a PR coordinator and grant writer for a rural health network in Western New York state; since she doesn't date much, she has time to be a free-lance writer by night (and on weekends).
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