My dating posts (rerun): Pregame. Perfume, Window Shopping, and Flamenco

I thought people could use a little humor, and I have boatloads of completely new readers who will never (I hope) wade through my archive, so I'm rerunning my dating posts from 2009 (which I "lived" in 2007). Old stories x 2. You can read the old posts in order if you prefer starting here. 

* * *

We went around the circle in grieving group. What happened in your life this week? I was all a-giggle. “I BOUGHT PERFUME! Here smell this!” I oozed manically, extending my cleavage to Viv.

I’d never bought a perfume before. Sure, I used to wear sandalwood or musk oil, smearing it through my hair before martial arts class. But I’d always been skeptical that the marketplace could come up with a fragrance that really suited me, me, me, and it seemed that every perfume I tried smelled like my Grandma, mostly half-rotten lilies, at least on me.

I had lost a man. I had a child, a job, and a graduate degree. Maybe I could admit I was a woman in the marketplace – the perfume market at least. I could, I thought, settle on a single product, or two or five, and let go of my artists’ dream of inventing my perfect personal fragrance (which might take till after my death). Maturity meant dealing with reality and the limits of the mere 1,000 fragrances that are manufactured commercially. Enough perfectionism, let’s dance.

I asked girlfriends how they had selected:
“My friend who picks my haircolor told me what to buy… and ze men love it.”
“I’ve always worn White Shoulders, I don’t know why.”
“I had a hip aunt who wore this and I wanted to smell like her.”
“My grandmother told me Chanel means you’re classy.”

It was not useful and I was scared of the lilies. Then one week I sat so close to a cute Jewish lesbian at church that I joked I could smell her perfume. (Yes, it was a flirt, but given my state, she would know I was not serious). She said, oh, do you like it? She schooled me about the fragrance families. Yes, of course I like vanilla, musk, woods, spices. Must be an Oriental amber.

Tried several at the MegaBeauty on the way in to work each day. They were all so powdery – it was just wrong -- I am not a dry person in any sense of the word. Sniffed around and decided Oriental Spicy for sure.

Opium smelled fantastic at first but faded to a soft smell of Gillette shaving cream, definitely not what I was after. Went through 10 more, at least, many of which completely disintegrated on my skin.

But I fell in love with my own arm the first day of Versace Crystal Noir. “Oh man,” I told Emma, “I smell like a cake, HERE” – a vanilla cake made mostly of gardenias. Gavin and I had honeymooned in Oaxaca where they sold gardenias from the zocalo for a peso, there were always some in the room. Each day I stopped at the store and respritzed; I couldn’t stop sniffing the crook of my elbow. And it got better, peppery and floral with none of that old-lady lilyness I so abhor. Faded to something that was still seductive, even to myself. While I was sniffing I noticed, hmmmm… that arm tans rather beautifully, and has a little tone left in it… and oh the other one. Quel arm! Nice.

Sixty bucks later it was mine and I was its.

I’m pretty sure that was when I started to think of myself as a single woman and not so much as a widow. All of a sudden there were men in the streets, and in cars, and even in meetings with clients. They looked at me. I looked for empty ring fingers. (How strange to be on the make after 15 years.) Friends said, “you look great, have you lost weight?” and “what a great haircut.”

It would be another 5 or 6 months before I had my hands full of flesh, but now I was moving through air that had been charged. It wasn’t just the “aerial notes” and “headspace of gardenias” (with a touch of clove and vanilla) but those were a constant subconscious reminder of where I was and where I was headed, if slowly.

* * *

Lil and I were sitting in her SUV outside a senior’s home after grieving group. “OH MY GOD!!! I can’t believe he said that.” We giddily scrolled through replies on her phone. She had posted an ad on an online dating service a week or so before. She’d had a few winks, and some brief conversation, and was now exchanging innuendo-laden phone calls and text messages with a young divorce in a somewhat-distant suburb. I was pretty sure texting was too sophisticated for my cheapass phone.

“I’m sure Dan is thinking, ‘who is this woman?’” Lil said of her late husband. An introvert, she’d been married many years, contented, devoted, a good Mom.

There was no picture in her ad, and she was fierce about keeping her intentions from her teenagers. It’s the neighborhood pool, she said. There is so much gossip – I just know they would make mincemeat of me. I hear about everyone else, so I know…

But we were totally high on it. It seemed a little scandalous: me, feeling still married, and with a 3-year-old, with an estate to handle -- I could flirt? Then again, I’d just selected a fragrance. Could I really do it? Was I ready?

“Why can’t you go online and browse? It’s free and it really gets you revved up. You can at least see what is out there. That’s how I got started.”

It seemed possible. “Well, I do like shopping online… I suppose it can’t be that bad.”

I started on Plenty of Fish. My, there were a lot of men out there. Several of them might have been incarcerated… they’d say they were "on assignment" and would return to the area in 18 months. But you could search the database using all kinds of screens… marriage status, age. Many were clearly older than they said. Probably one-third had photos they’d taken with their phone held out at arm’s length. Or in the bathroom mirror. Shirtless. They were not hot. The literacy level on POF was low.

“It’s like window shopping at Wal-Mart," I told Lil. “But even Wal-Mart has some good things if you look hard enough.”

I decided to post my own ad. Who was I? More importantly, who was I not? I didn’t want to have to screen out too many guys who’d hate me. There were thousands of men there.

A direct approach would suit my brand: “Wiseass brainiac widow, 41, with one kid, seeks coffee and conversation. About me: No one thinks I'm boring and I am not fat. My kid insists I'm silly, although most people don't get my jokes. Please tell me that you read real books and aren't into smoking or drugs... I'm not overly concerned about politics and I love to dance.”

My pseudonym would be "Lynnette" (The result of my taking a “Which ‘desperate housewife’ are you?” quiz).

I had dipped one toe in. How deep could it get??

* * *

This will be, sort of, my last post about pre-dating. The next one on this subject starts with the best sentence I’ve ever uttered.

But this short story describes the last step before I could really “put myself out there.”

At our church in the summer, services are organized by members. This August Sunday the service featured a gorgeous flamenco dancer on the hardwood of the choir loft, in two of the intervals in which we normally would have just music.

She transfixed all of us. We looked to the choir loft fastly. She stamped her declarative feet. She held dramatic poses, Spanish arabesques. There was as much pause as guitar and those silences held us rapt. The music was plaintive and joyous, her dancing was full of life. Her belly showed, gorgeous chocolate skin. She knew exactly how beautiful she was.

How often do you find a single point around which other aspects of your life have turned? The lever or wedge, the first slow domino?

That could be me, said a voice. During her second number, it said, HANG ON, that is me. I can move. I can strut. I can command attention with a slight curve of my pinky or a thrust hip. I can be subtle and I don’t mind making a statement.

I remembered Marie’s search. Who am I? What do I like?

The flood took me by surprise. I ignored the sermon, responding to the wave:
I love fuchsia and red and black.
I love the shawl I bought at Teotihuacan.
I love music, I love to dance.
I love my perfume.

Through the hour it swelled:
I love my child.
I love my body.
I love beans.
I love dark chocolate and all kinds of wine.
I love talking late into the night about intense and light lovely topics with someone cute.
I love to kiss.
I love watching the leaves fall, and my hammock.
I love to read.
I love Dave Eggers, though he doesn’t deserve it.
I love the New Yorker and This American Life.
I love a good movie.
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I love yoga.
I love that I can do anything when I start with a chopped onion in olive oil.
I love the equity in my home.
I love creating art and mixing materials and gazing at what I’ve done.
I love the feel of wood.
I love the smells of metal.
I love my pointy black boots.
I love rice...

I can do it. I knew in my heart and I felt it in my feet and my belly. The next evening after storytime I looked for all the flamenco classes I could find. Maybe that would take too long; I looked up salsa meetups, but those people were young. Then I realized if I was out learning to dance I could as well be out flirting with boys instead of just browsing at them. And some of that might lead somewhere. I already had a sitter every Thursday for support group; if she could handle another $28 a week, my kid would not suffer.

I was off.

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