So there he was at my door: I knew he was short because his profile said he was 5-foot-5, and yet I'd still pictured those emerald eyes and floppy hair on a frame that was more...well, just more. And speaking of hair, his picture hadn't included it in the close-up, but I'd envisioned a shock of thick hair, not a shaved head that may or may not have been camouflaging a receding/nonexistent hairline.
The whole picture was wholly unlike the one I'd put together. In our month of talking, phone tagging, setting dates and canceling them (the normal course for a blind date in Los Angeles), I'd written an entire storybook of Jay: he had a mellifluous, soothing voice as he read me from his favorite novel. You can tell a lot about a person from his voice -- actually, I'm hoping dating sites will have users put up MP3 audio clips ("Hello, this is Bachelor No. 1"). Jay's voice said he was laid back, sensitive, easy-going.
Except that he wasn't. Over the first hour, Jay revealed that he was a traffic-cursing, coffee-drinking, client-hating, Type-A (Addictive) personality. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might have said, except that, God Almighty, don't you think I should be with someone more ... chill? Soothing? And tall?
This isn't one of those stories about how some guy isn't who I thought he was. (Essentially all nascent relationships are about reality competing with fantasy: eventually you're going to have to decide whether you can accept who the person really is and relinquish the image of what you want him or her to be.) It's not even one of those morality fables whose lesson is that I'm just way too picky.
Because here's the thing: Even though Jay wasn't who I had imagined him to be, or what I wanted for myself in a mate, I wanted him anyway. I wanted him anyway. Despite the fact that he wore a sweatshirt (gray hoodie, circa 1995), completely ignored what kind of food I wanted to eat, ate with his hands (not finger food), and wiped his mouth on sleeve of said sweatshirt.
There I was, leaning forward in my chair, trying to keep my back straight, napkin in my lap, food swallowed before talking (just because he had bad manners didn't mean that I should) I laughed at his jokes, made a few of my own (but not too many). In my head there was a series of negotiations under way, like someone reasoning a bad real estate purchase.
"Well, he's not that short, really, and he does read books, and he said that he's working toward inner peace..."
In other words, I was trying. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Except that it wasn't that I was trying to have a good time; I was trying to make Jay like me. I was trying to make Jay like me even though I had no clue about how I felt about him. OK, I had some clues, but I ignored them, doing the same song and dance I'd been doing since high school. Back then I was so entertaining I'd wish I were out with myself! Now, two decades later, I've learned to sit back and let things happen, but my heart was playing the same old Sally Field tune: I hope you like me. I hope you really like me.
It wasn't just Jay. Before him it was an obnoxious Ivy-educated lawyer, then a rich illiterate businessman, a non-Jewish surfer, a semi-employed actor I met in a cafe. I don't even date actors, and still I'm wondering why he hasn't called me.
My girlfriends tell me similar stories all the time: How they went out with a guy, they are hoping he will call -- actually, they have to get off the phone because that may be him on call waiting -- how he said this and did that on the date and what do I think it means? And the whole subtext of the analysis is trying to figure out how he felt.
"Did you like him?" I ask. Indeed they do, surely they did, they think they did, well, they might have, although, come to think of it, they weren't sure about whether they were attracted to him, and wasn't it a little weird that everyone is out to get him, and also what was up with that way he spoke to the waiter?
What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our egos that we need to be liked by every Chaim, Yaacov and Yankel who takes us out on a date? Sometimes it seems like all the women in America are reading these insipid magazines and self-help books, sitting forward in our chairs, laughing at his jokes, waiting for his call, wanting him to want us even though we're not so sure we want him.
I know, I know. The proper feminist, Take-Back-The-Night, Eve Ensler response is to not care, to empower myself, to have some self-respect and not be so shallow as to base my entire well-being on what a total stranger thinks of me. Look, I'm not a particularly insecure person. At least, I wasn't before I started dating. But you try meeting a dozen strangers a month and see how impervious you can be. Doesn't everyone essentially want to be liked? To be loved?
A day or two goes by and Jay and I trade tepid e-mails. In the end he will not call me, but by that point it won't matter. That's because I will meet someone else at a Friday night dinner who is: a bit old, a tad crotchety, a possible commitment-phobe -- but sweet nonetheless. So I will give him my number, we will go out and, yes, once again, I will wait for him to call.
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