Picked last for dodgeball, I was the tallest girl and the only kid outside special ed with glasses. I was lucky to always have a few close friends, but it was clear I was below average on the popular scale. I gained confidence as a talented nerd in high school. Arriving in college I blossomed among the flock, relieved to find a true home at last, city and country, hippie and punk side by side, caring deeply about Philosophy 100: Socrates to Kant.
I’d never dated much, but I had learned that my assets included a ready smile, a ridiculous sense of humor, and smarts. Fifteen years of a happy relationship were enough to build fair confidence among men. Having a child taught me I could learn things like patience and generosity even late in life, and that there is no end of love in the world. And not to be too flip, but watching my husband die made me feel a wee bit bulletproof. What’s a little rejection from a guy to me now?
At 40, I was no longer thin and strong, and I would never be the pretty one in the room. I still had trouble with grooming and lived in fear of a close girlfriend confronting my always-in-transition hairdo with “And what is going on with this?”
Was I cute? Could I compete? “It’s not me versus Gisele Bundchen. It’s me versus a divorced woman who talks to her four cats,” I’d say to explain my unrealistic level of confidence. After all, my husband didn’t want to leave. My only “issue” with men my age was that they were mortal. Yeah, that sucks, but it wasn’t really avoidable.
My first ad tested the waters: “Wiseass brainiac widow, 41, with one kid, seeks coffee and conversation.” At least it would screen out dullards and cowards.
Books, career, interests… as I started to fill out all the little checkboxes, I saw it was possible to select “brainiacs” and “boldness/assertiveness” among “turn-ons.” As I searched the database, these boxes had been checked by men who met my other criteria. There was no stopping me. I had a niche.
I relished this forum that allowed me to rewrite and edit constantly, to learn how I was perceived, and above all, to pretend all the men in my shopping cart were options. And as I describe in earlier episodes of this saga, I got hungrier and more energetic with each pass.
After many iterations, a bunch of dates, and feedback from prospects and friends, here was my last "personal branding statement:"
Let's talk late into the night over a nice red from my cellar... er, broom closet. About art, necessity, produce (this week, still pears!). Things we've read, things we've seen, things we've felt. Monty Python, Sophocles, the New Urbanism. How disillusioned we are with cotton and vegetarianism. How to balance responsibility and sheer joy, and whether one is useful without the other.
Brainy, silly and sarcastic, I'm committed to growth and supremely interested in having fun. No one thinks I'm boring and I am not fat [full disclosure: size 10/12: is that fat?]. My kid insists that I'm silly, although most people don't get my jokes.
I'm looking for someone to hang with who's worth getting a babysitter for. Please tell me that you read real books and aren't into smoking or drugs. You should be able to hold up your end of the conversation, tolerate my interruptions, and be willing if not able to dance.
I am fun enough to make time together worth it -- and wise enough to know time is all we have. My latest wisdom [stolen]: We all come with baggage -- the question is whether yours can be stowed neatly under the seat in front of you.
Can you believe that ad drew Mr. Wonderful?
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