"When these older women have 'ready to settle down' checked on their profiles, that's another red flag," the million-year-old guy I found myself at drinks with on a Friday night was prattling on to me about his OKCupid strategy.
There I sat, sweating with my desperate Sex Barbie hair. There he sat, sweating with his desperate Midlife Crisis Ken hairline.
I was staring at this man's second drink hard, marveling at how he was managing to savor it with such drawn-out luxuriance, I almost wondered if he might be trying to compete in some kind of a Slow Living Movement gin-and-tonic sipping Olympics or something. Another 10 minutes passed. The volume of liquid in his cup remained unchanged. This was not good. The sips were getting smaller.
"Mm-hmm," I said, nodding with a glassy-eyed expression on my face, rapidly beginning to disassociate, dreaming about what I would order from my favorite sushi place later that night. "Yeah. Mm-hmm."
"Or!" he continued, finding himself on a real roll now, "if these women check that box, 'Want kids,' I mean, no thank you. Been there, done that."
"Mm-hmm," I murmured, stirring my ice cubes around as if they were the most fascinating thing on the planet. "I hear that."
"It's like, you get these women who are in their forties and they're so desperate to have a family or get married. Not for me!" he said, glad to let it all out, finally free of the heavy burden he had been forced to carry around in brave silence for so long now.
"Ab-so-lutely," I said, thinking how hilariously old dude bro-y this conversation had become while also fantasizing about whether I should get the seaweed salad or the hot noodle soup when I got home.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm young at heart," he said. "I mean I just don't want to be tied down. Is that so wrong?"
As soon as he said them, those three words -- "young at heart" -- briefly jolted my brain out of sleep mode, causing me to abandon the elaborate Seamless order I was concocting in my head. Momentarily alert, I studied this man discreetly, thinking about how this guy had put "49 years old" on his profile but later confessed he was actually 56 years old. ("Don't want to be excluded from the search engines!" he said. "You should see these women in their fifties!" he said. "Everyone says I look 49!" he said.)
His little soliloquy was taking an upward swing. It was now so tragic it was starting to become kind of spectacularly comic. I stifled a smile.
"Oh sure," I said, nodding. "Young at heart. Right."
Now, I will give you -- first of all, if we point the microscope in my direction -- I'm certainly no spring chicken either. As my older sister is very fond of pointing out every time I talk to her on the phone, I will indeed be 39 in two short months.
Second of all, yes, I am the dummy who went on a date with this guy even though I realized he was probably not right for me the more and more we talked online. There were little clues like all the permissions he was giving me in advance that I did not need permission for at all. He said "it was fine" if I wore heels and "it was fine" if I didn't drink ("oh goodness, thank you, kind sir"), but before I realized how much this guy was probably going to drive me crazy, we had already exchanged more than 20 messages. He seemed invested in actually getting together and really following through. And I felt like it was better to minimize the damage and just meet the guy for a hot minute (and shift into my zombie autopilot) than to Shut It Down way too abruptly and risk calamity.
See, I have this weird complex. I've had this happen in a few different incarnations but the most vivid one occurred like this: A guy that I rejected after chatting with him on Skype later texted me after a few months had gone by, "If you don't meet up I'll just keep trolling you online." It was kind of disturbing. So sometimes I decide to triage risk and calculate that a soft retreat, communicated with a two-drink-minimum glazed-on smile where I firmly pop the bubble of any fantasy he might be harboring will be the most conservative approach. It certainly beats creating some new obsessive online enemy who harnesses that wonderful power of Internet anonymity as a means of seeking creepy shape-shifting and relentless psychological revenge.
Then again, let's be honest about the dishonesty I could have employed. I certainly could have used the, "I recently started a relationship, and it's taking a turn for the serious" line. Probably, somewhere in me, I thought: Stop being such a judgmental dick, Mandy. Meet the guy, already.
What's the worst that could happen?
Before my prince had a chance to order his third drink, I said I needed to go record a podcast (lie), and as I exited the bar, I found myself half shell-shocked, half amused because I hadn't gone on a date that wretched in a while. I think my favorite part was when near the end this guy started referring to OKCupid as "OKC."
"Yeah, you see the thing about these women on OKC..." he would begin. (When I left him, I couldn't wait to share this detail with a friend, explaining: "I mean obviously. He's WAY too busy to say 'upid.'")
My other favorite part was when this guy told me -- as small talk -- about that time he forced his ex-wife to get an abortion. And that was before my second diet Coke arrived. Check, please.
But all was not lost. Because I had my glorious "why are men so afraid of women trapping them" epiphany.
Then again, I suppose it would have been impossible not to have this epiphany, what with hearing this guy so vividly describe how he constantly had to seek refuge from these roaming hordes of online dating New York women, all seemingly aging Benjamin Button style, pressuring and swarming, laying engagement chicken after engagement chicken at his feet in respectful silence, lips trembling, heads bowed instinctively in awe.
After awhile, I contemplated how truly and majestically hilarious this entire encounter was.
I mean, I was totally miserable. Praying that he would suck his second drink down faster. Trying to imagine what the bartender looked like naked. Figuring out the over-under on who was going home with whom that night. And all this dude could do was frantically warn me about the constant burden it is to keep women from falling in love with him.
I've encountered this from men before but never quite so acutely as this date. I just think that men are so scared that we will want to be with them for the rest of our lives from the get-go, that the thesis behind this entire interaction is inherently flawed. A lot of the time, all we're thinking about is how we don't even want to be with them at all. Like, not even right at that moment.
In other words: Men. If you are reading this, I want you to know, that on behalf of all women, please stop being so scared we want to lock you down all the time. Because we are not trying to trap you. We're just not. Please stop making that assumption. Sometimes we are just looking to have fun. Sometimes we just want to get to know you. Sometimes we're hesitant about getting married or having kids at all. Sometimes the only thing we want is sex. Sometimes the only thing we want is for you to go away as soon as possible and lose our number.
Yes, sometimes we might fall in love with you. But here's a hint. You'll be able to tell if we are looking for a soulmate. We'll use words like, "I am looking for a soulmate." Or, "I am interested in getting married." Or, "I realized you asked me to brunch but how about we split the difference and you just pay for freezing my eggs?"
You will know, men. You will know.