I frequently refer to online dating as “shopping for men.” I have my list of attributes I’d like to find in a mate, and the men have their own lists. The “stores” I frequent are OKCupid and Match.
I have made a concerted effort to fill out my profiles as much as possible, including being up front about being tethered to my apartment because of this crazy rare disease. I am also constantly editing; some days I’m afraid I’m stuck too far on the side of serious, others I just want to let my freak flag fly and admit that I like to eat my food in bite-sized pieces (think M&M’s, peas, berries – all eaten one by one rather than in spoonfuls).
This past week my uncle visited me and we played a couple of rounds of cribbage and caught up on each other’s lives. He has stage IV cancer and has also been using Match.com to meet potential partners in addition to traditional socializing. We agreed that our illnesses have really driven home the importance of seeking out love and quality companionship – we value that now more than anything else that could show up on a wish list. However, our experiences are vastly different.
First and foremost, my uncle has always been very handsome and fit. His dating history has been packed with beautiful, model-type women, and the ladies flock to him like he’s the Pied Piper. His health prior to his diagnosis played a huge part in his experience for the past three years – he is still very active for someone who has been through countless rounds of chemo and the maximum limit of radiation treatments. Luckily he has never had to kiss all of his hair goodbye, and I can say with all confidence that every woman would describe him as a silver fox.
We discussed the response of the women he allows himself to open up to and reveal that he has cancer. So far, they have reacted how we expect most women in this society to react: they stay. They tell him that they understand the circumstances, and they enjoy his company enough to want to continue to spend time with him. My uncle and I discussed the core difference between men and women, and that of course is that females are still raised to be in touch with their feelings and discuss them, and males are more action-oriented.
Bearing that in mind, just know that my love life is the polar opposite of his. First of all, I have never been considered fit by any standards – severe asthma during my childhood prevented me from getting quality exercise on a regular basis, and as soon as I hit my early twenties I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Now that I have added five of the last five-and-a-half years as bed rest compliments of this wacky medical mystery, my body type is more like “body pillow.” I know without a doubt that my hair will never grow back, so though my health isn’t affected by that bit, my perceived attractiveness certainly is.
I’m thankful to the men who take the time to fill out their profiles. I look for key phrases that will clue me into how much a man is likely to be compassionate and empathetic; quite honestly, if I get the impression that he’s going to be grunting a lot or talking about blowing up tree stumps – and that’s all he talks about – I know he’s not going to understand any of what I’m going through and I’ll wear myself out trying to explain it.
With the ones that make it past the initial screening, I proceed with caution. I feel a bit like Sally from When Harry met Sally. I have specific needs, and before we find out too much about each other, I have to put my order in. Sometimes I try to build up to it. Here is a refresher on how Sally orders her food:
Waitress: Hi. What can I get ya?
Harry: I’ll have a number three.
Sally: I’d like the chef’s salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side and the apple pie a la mode.
Waitress: Chef and apple a la mode.
Sally: But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real, not if it’s out of a can – then nothing.
Waitress: Not even the pie?
Sally: No, just the pie, but then not heated.
Waitress: Uh huh.
[Harry stares at Sally.}
And this is me negotiating a date:
Him: Want to go on a date?
Me: Sure, but I have some requests.
Him: Okay, what are your requests?
Me: I’d like you to come to my neighborhood, because I can’t drive, so I want to be able to walk to our date. I want the date to be within two blocks of my apartment – but I don’t want you to know where I live, because safety first!
Me: And I might not be able to be upright for long, so can we meet for a coffee/tea? And if it’s a really bad day for me – and I don’t know if it’s a bad day until it’s actually the day that we are trying to meet – is it okay if we just do a high five on the sidewalk?
Him: [Silence while he stares at what he sees written on his screen.]
Here’s the normal course of conversation regarding my lack of hair:
Him: I love redheads. You are very pretty.
Me: Thanks, but I have to tell you something.
Him: Okay, what do you need to tell me?
Me: I can’t grow my own hair, so I have to wear wigs, and I can’t go on roller coasters or ride in convertibles. And you can’t run your hands through my hair, because it will pop off my head!
Me: And if the relationship progresses and I sleep over, I can’t actually wear my wig because sleeping in it ruins the fibers. But I also don’t want you to see me without anything on my head, so I will wear a scarf. But the scarf will be really uncomfortable because I’m not used to sleeping with anything on my head at all, so I’m probably not going to get any sleep at all.
Him: [Silence while he tries to figure out how to back out of dating a lady who looks like a dude who looks like a lady.]
A concept that I’m still trying to come to terms with is the fact that at forty-one, I am now considered to be a “cougar.” Left and right I have young men whose ages start with a “2” sending me messages to ask if I would consider dating a younger man. The youngest so far? Twenty. Even if I was relatively well overall, I wouldn’t go down that road. But it’s easier for me to say no when I use my diseases as the explanation.
A thirty-one-year-old man (still much younger than me) sent me a greeting, so I visited his profile before responding to see what would be revealed to me. I could tell he was constantly in motion; he even indicated in his profile that he would exchange three or four short notes online, but he wanted to use messaging only to set up a date and time for a meeting, not to get to know someone. I thanked him for his interest, but told him that I did not think we would be a good match because of our lifestyles. He asked me why, so I told him that I was experiencing major health issues and could not socialize at the level he is accustomed to. He wrote back and said, “But you look fine.” As many of you know, this is the kiss of death – telling someone who is chronically ill that they don’t look like it, especially when it’s used in a dismissive manner. I thanked him again for his interest and told him that he was probably a fun person, but we would not be a good match. The further apart we are in years, the less I have in common with these guys. They are not used to having to take pain and fatigue and mysterious symptoms into consideration. They are just now hitting their strides in hangovers and mastering flip cup.
I’m considering a rewrite of my ad:
Sally, 41, seeking unicorn. Must like cats and dogs but not have them because although I love them, I’m deathly allergic. Must be well-traveled but not yearning to go anywhere anymore. Must live within two blocks of me, but not with me, because I want you close enough to visit, but far enough away so I don’t have to be sleep-deprived because of my partner’s snoring. Must know how to swing a hammer but also how to process your feelings. Must know 80’s music well (and there’s no “but” to that one).
Reiner, R. (Director). (1989). When Harry met Sally [Motion picture]. Castle Rock Entertainment.