When a strange, far-fetched, puzzling, or difficult thing happens, my first instinct is to create a container for its processing and storage: I write an essay about it. This started out the same way: my mother and I had a thing where I would get a boyfriend, and she—a State Department visa chief, a professional profiler who could summarize a person in five minutes flat—would say, simply by eyeing the dude’s Facebook page, “He’s not right for you.”
“You can’t judge people so quickly,” I told her. “It takes time to get to know someone.”
Within two to three years, the relationship would end for the exact reasons she pointed out. Then we’d break up, I’d tell her why, and she’d say, “That’s exactly what I told you when you started dating him.” One she hinted was unstable ended up shredding my clothes, drowning my laptops in the bathtub, and lighting my boots on fire. Another guy she claimed had to relive parts of his youth he missed out on is currently nomadic; his only permanent address is his colorful van, which is lovely, but obviously he’s not settling down.
Her being right about my relationships time and time again was the seed of the essay I published the summer I was 32 and single in New York City, “When Mom Is On The Scent And Right,” in the New York Times' Sunday Modern Love column. As with all the far-fetched things, I thought publishing the essay would be creating a container in order to put it away. But it turned out I’d opened a Pandora’s Box that would make me feel as if I was living inside a surreal reality show.
The article received some feedback that struck my mother: This mother, someone wrote, has been awfully good at pointing out what’s wrong with the guys her daughter is choosing, but what has she really done to help her daughter find someone who’s right?
And so my mother started a blog to find me the right man. A “Modern Love” column can generate momentum—thousands of readers tune in every week for tales of torment, betrayal, and hope. A solid handful of men had actually emailed me after doing some online sleuthing. They reported that maybe they were “The One,” if I was willing to meet them. I wasn’t going to fly away to the farmer in Ireland, but there were a few local men whose messages I passed along to my mother. She invited them to formally "apply."
I posted a link to her blog and directed applicants there. I thought even the interested men might balk at a formal application process, but to my surprise, they began rolling in. My mother selected three for me to go on dates with: a former doctor who stopped practicing medicine to start his own hedge fund, an international composer who was closer to my mother’s age than mine, and a young diplomat who specialized in conflict mitigation for tribal leaders in warn-torn regions. (You know, an entry level position!)
They were impressive on paper. Good job, Mom!
The Hedge-Fund Doctor asked me to meet him at a fancy restaurant near Gramercy Park. It was a little stuffy and I shifted uncomfortably in my plush velvet seat, but The Doctor was kind. He was also a glass blower, and showed me pictures of his pieces. They were good. He was intellectual, thoughtful, and interested in me—but there wasn’t quite chemistry.
My second date was with The Old Composer. He wasn’t elderly, but he was older, which set him at a disadvantage even though he looked younger than his years. He was divorced, with kids.
We met at a wine bar in the West Village—my choice. Over Sauvignon Blanc and appetizers, he told me of his travels throughout Asia and Europe, his composing work, and his previous life with his wife. I wanted to go home and take a bubble bath. He wanted to go to a diner for cheesecake and coffee. I hated cheesecake. I ordered pie and drank coffee, fantasizing about the bubble bath I would take when I got home. When I told him he should meet my mother, he seemed offended.
The third candidate, The Young Diplomat, was a winner. We were the same age, he was handsome, and we shared a film industry background before going on to other careers—me to writing, he to the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. I left our lively brunch date, biked home in the warm springtime sun, and promptly called my mother. “You were right,” I said. “Profiling worked.” I would happily date The Diplomat. Only ... he never called.
Apparently The Profiler couldn’t predict chemistry or returned interest, but this was the most interesting time in my romantic life yet, and I wanted to see where it would go. Sooner or later she’d find someone for me. The Profiler had always been right, after all…
But while I’d been enmeshed in quick-fire dating, my original article’s momentum died down. Applications dried up. How to solicit more men? My mother and I weren’t sure. We had finally hit on something we could do together, a project we bonded over. But I entered a dating dry spell. I’d made mistakes—and while my mother hadn’t found “The One” for me yet, or potentially had in the Diplomat Who Didn’t Call—at least she was turning up smart, engaging, successful men. I hated this quiet time that followed lots of activity. I decided that until she turned up more applicants, I would practice being happy alone, as if it was my destiny to become that crazy old Brooklyn writer who never had kids and lived with ten pugs. Would that be so bad?
I threw myself into writing, friendships, and my hobby of two years, capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art that’s described as a fight, dance, and game all in one--kind of like dating.The Profiler said, "You won't 'meet someone' in that foreign exercise class." But I wasn't looking.
My friends and I went out afterwards for sushi or wine. I wrote more than I had when I was in relationships or trying to be. It was simple: I found myself, for the first time, happy being single. I didn’t even feel as if I was “single.” It was as if I looked up and finally noticed I was surrounded by people I cared about and had fun with. I wasn’t lonely. This is what I was afraid of?
Of course that’s when I met a guy. Jason was a visitor from California who came to an annual event our capoeira group had. He taught a special-ed class at an elementary school by day and was a capoeira instructor by evening. When he visited Brooklyn two months after my “Modern Love” column about The Profiler was published, something more than friendship bloomed. My mother was visiting, so she met him, but not as a Profiler candidate. She wouldn’t end up having approval rights, anyway, because there was no question. I’ll always remember him standing in the dining area of my apartment that Friday morning, having breakfast, talking with my mother, and reading the essay. He thought it was funny, and I’m sure he thought we were weird, but he fell in love with me anyway.
On my 33rd birthday, we got engaged. Eleven months later, we married in a beautiful redwood grove. We live in a house near the ocean with one pug, and our more eccentric pet, a potbellied pig.
I'd actually met my husband-to-be two months before all that far-fetched dating stuff even began. We were assigned to be housemates at a weekend capoeira retreat in upstate New York. The Profiler essay had been published that Sunday.
So in a roundabout way, profiling had worked. Just not quite how my mother or I expected.