woman smiling at man across the table
Buffalo News
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Section: LIFESTYLES Edition: FINAL Page: F1

Finally last month, the reasons for taking drastic action had piled high enough to make me message a friend for the name of a dating service.

For a start, my 40th birthday approached. And, I was getting a divorce. And, in the two years since I moved back home to start my life over and take this job, I'd had dates with two men.That's it. Two. No future in either. One intriguing fellow vanished. He flirted with a smile and a joke at an outdoor concert. He was so tall and handsome that I stood transfixed. My friend, annoyed at my shyness, tapped his shoulder to offer my card. Then, poof! Gone in three dates.

The other, an acquaintance of a friend's brother, talked of his affection for slow dancing to Karen Carpenter songs and his dislike for travel. He had a passion for gluing plastic bits into model planes, a collection he hung from his basement rafters. I craved Miles Davis's trumpet, played loud, and a ride on a real plane to the hot springs of Iceland.

That's how it goes in the quest for that elusive thing called chemistry. It can happen in an instant. Or life in a metropolitan area of nearly a half-million single people can go on and on. And on. Until it seems like a soul mate is definitely not just about to bump his shopping cart into mine.

I dialed the number of the dating service. Perhaps this would unravel the mystery.

Word is half of all marriages end in divorce. So how do the not-all-that-old-but-wiser-and-more-interesting-and-confident people my age meet each other?

Once inside the service's suburban industrial-park office, I sat back in a chair upholstered in studiously hip chartreuse. I admired the framed newspaper stories about happy couples who met on dating setups. I sipped the free bottled water.

To the attentive gray-haired woman interviewing me, I explained what I was after. Getting all picky about my interest in blue-eyed brunets, brown-eyed blonds and hazel-eyed, bald-headed men seemed dangerous. Dangerously limiting. I wanted someone cute and in shape. Curious about the world. Smart. Funny. If I could have all that, I figured I'd have chemistry.

Already I'd been working by myself on the project. I threw parties. Started a cooking club with old friends. Made new ones. Made occasional appearances at my mother's church. Joined one art gallery. Attended chic-sounding openings. Joined a second gallery. Attended more chic-sounding openings. Forked over $600 for a health club. The busy downtown branch helpfully forced members to get close and ride to the main floor in a wee, slow elevator. Still nothing.

I took tennis lessons. I went to cool new hot spots for drinks with friends. I went to concerts and plays and opera in Toronto. I adopted a policy of never saying, "No," to an invitation. Even if I didn't feel like skiing on a bitter cold night after work, I bought a pair of sock liners and went.

I had a lovely time, but men did not ask me out. So at $1,000, the dating service seemed a bargain. They guaranteed 16 prospects.

The first was a blond, rosy-cheeked man who had once lived abroad. I was too nervous to drink anything but water with lemon. He put me at ease by making eye contact and regularly flashing a smile. He asked me to talk about me. That I liked. We discovered we'd grown up on the same block of the same street! But he'd moved away a few years before I arrived. Near as I could tell there weren't any tantalizing sparks.

The second man was equally appealing. Distinguished with gray hair. Funky wire-and-plastic glasses. He was an energetic sort who loved skiing the West. In a past life, I skied those mountains. When I fished olives and onions out of my salad lunch, saying my mother would disapprove, he laughed sympathetically. His mother was the same. "But," he said with a smile, "neither one is here now."

No. 3 was tall and nattily dressed in a suit. I was his first date. He marveled at the wonder of having someone else fix this awkward business for him. He thanked me for agreeing to lunch, as if this wasn't an arrangement we'd both paid for. The hour was pleasant. But our mutual interest in Scandinavia didn't seem to be enough reason to remove his business card from the zippered pocket of my purse.

If I felt this way now, would it be fair to try a second date? The thought of hurting a good person's feelings makes me cringe. A dating service staffer reminded me that IS part of what a person has to do if she wants to date.

Out of the game for a decade, I'd forgotten. That is, until I was face-to-face with three kind, smart, interesting, successful men who failed to light a spark.

A woman at the service said she would call soon with someone new, but an old Maine friend says I have this all wrong. I should be taking the shopping cart thing more literally.

"Don't they have a co-op in Buffalo?" she asked. Sign up for work shifts. Maybe while arranging cans of Alabama black bean soup, bunches of kale and the latest issues of the Utne Reader, I'll feel that electric tap from a soulmate pushing the real thing when I expect it least.