April 20, 2006
Singles - Operation: Picky
Did I mention I have ESP?
I know what people think. I know what people think when I tell my latest dating story.
I know because some of my "friends" -- or people who call themselves such just for the occasion to chastise me -- say, with rising frustration in their quietly expelled breath, "Now why don't you like him?"
In the life of every single girl, there comes a point where she has to look herself in the mirror and ask one very important question: "Do I look fat?" No, just kidding. That one we ask every day. The other miasma hanging over our heads like impending gray hair is this question: "Am I too picky?"
I suppose it's a compliment, of sorts, to be thought of as picky.
When I was growing up, there were two "old" girls in my shul who were probably only about 27, but caused consternation and concern among the housewives. One was a chubby, plain woman whom I'll call Lisa, but whom everyone referred to as "poor Lisa." As in, "That poor Lisa, do you think she'll ever get married?" The other was a beautiful, statuesque minx -- a bit haughty, if you asked the other jealous mothers in the shul, who also considered her "picky."
The moral of the story?
Single + Plain = Pity Case. Single + Pretty = Picky.
But being called picky can also be an accusation: "So that's why you're not married yet." As if people need to find a reason, an excuse, something to sum you up for their neat little boxes in their world of playdates, tuition and happily-ever-after.
We all do it. Even I do it to others. Is this guy not married because he has unresolved issues with his mother? (Bad example, maybe.) Is that woman dateless because she only wants to date rich men?
I wonder what log-line people tag me with. (Cue in thunderous movie preview music: "In a world of Jews marrying young, this one courageous woman defied her heritage in search of her soul mate....")
And yet, I also wonder whether the world can be wrapped up so neatly. Psychoanalysis gone wild. Must there be a reason? Just one? Is a person defined by her marital status?
Look, when you're single, you're vulnerable. It's all out there. One can plainly see that you haven't had success yet in love. (Success = marriage, for better or for worse.) Other people manage to hide their deficiencies behind closed doors: We don't know whether they're going bankrupt, dealing with infertility, married to an abuser or still smoking crack. We can't ask them, "Well, do you think your husband slept with his secretary because you've gotten fat? Do you think your kids hate you because you're never home?"
No, we don't know these things because they're not available for viewing on the public balance sheet.
Are you too picky? People say this, with their words, or with their eyes. And the question haunts, because maybe, just maybe, it's true.
Maybe I should have gone out with that businessman again, even if he talked about himself all night without stopping for air. Maybe I should have given that accountant another chance, even if he surely is gay (if he doesn't know it, who am I to say?)
Maybe I missed someone along the way, like the crucial clue in a treasure hunt. But maybe that clue wasn't among the ones I've gone out with, and remains among the ones I haven't.
Your Mission, Ms. Klein, if you choose to accept it, is to be less picky in your dating life. This newspaper will self-destruct in five minutes.
And it does, before I can ask my questions: How picky is too picky? Must I go out with everyone who asks me? How many times? Do I have to marry him if I don't like him?
"Go out on one date, it can't hurt," my "friends" say. It can't hurt them, because they'd probably kill to be out at a restaurant talking about themselves with a stranger. But it can hurt. I know it can hurt because when I decide to have an "open-door" policy, I feel like I'm giving parts of myself away, bit by bit, for the cost of a drink or dinner. And what's left? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that if I did meet the right person during those whirlwind weeks, I'd have any of me left to fall for him.
On the other hand, how can I meet the right person if I don't put myself out there? On the other hand, as Tevye the milkman might say, haven't I been on enough dates at least to have earned myself the right to be discerning?
Look, the truth is, and most single people will attest to this, at certain points in our lives we are more open, and at others we are less open -- as is true in other less visible areas of our lives, from careers to finances to real estate. Who is to say which attitude is better for that particular time?
And so, I've spent a couple of months dating everyone, even going against my better instincts -- a politician, an actor, a cat owner, all on my personal list of no-nos. And just as I suspected, they were no-gos. My life's like this country's immigration policy: Sometimes you just have to crack down on the borders because too many riffraff are getting in.
Which leaves me back at the beginning, with my preferences, my instincts, my rules.
I don't want you to think of me as picky. But if you must -- after psychoanalyzing all the insufficiencies in your own life -- go ahead, say it. I'm picky.
I'm choosing a partner for the rest of my life. Don't you think I should be?