Ms. Manners (or The Perils of Dating)
Mary Fairhurst Breen
The first time I sought out women for purposes of dating, it involved actual letters, handwritten on paper. People placed ads in the back of Toronto’s NOW magazine (earnest ones, not the kind that require the pixilation of nipples and anuses), and I answered one. A smattering of dates resulted, but the letter-writing proved the most enjoyable part of the whole endeavour.
There was a self-imposed dry spell, while I supported my children through the loss of their father, before I felt I had a spare ounce of energy or emotion to offer anyone else. One day when she was a young teen, my daughter Maggie ventured the opinion that it might do me good to get laid. The cheek! It’s possible I had built up some discernable tension.
Off into wild lavender yonder I went. I had one date with a woman who told me she specialized in bedding both halves of a straight couple, either together or separately. It was a pastime with an extra element of challenge, I suppose, like the Globe and Mail holiday crossword. I thought I’d prefer the crossword.
I took myself downtown to a venue in the gay village for a women’s dance one night in Pride season, to meet up with a jazz singer. Just that one detail was intriguing enough to get me out of the house. We located each other on the patio, and she told me she just needed to take her vitamins before we went inside. I wasn’t sure why she needed to announce this, until she hauled out a giant tote bag, and set a good fifteen bottles of assorted natural supplements on the table. It turned out she was big into alternative medicine, which is fine with me, but the inordinate amount of time she spent actually ingesting all the items she felt she required was simply bananas. She did not, it became apparent, believe in deodorant, natural or chemical. And she told me with some satisfaction that she owned Crocs in every colour. I feigned an early morning.
At a coffee shop, I met a woman who had indicated she’d recently left her husband, but had been in previous same-sex relationships. I was curious to note she was still wearing a wedding band and honking great diamond engagement ring. She and her husband were still under the same roof, and she told me he spent his evenings sobbing outside her bedroom door. I beat a hasty retreat.
I had dinner with a one-armed electrician, who had chosen her career field after losing her arm in an electrocution accident. I thought that took some hutzpah, and was fascinated that she had started learning Hindi because she was so moved by the films of Deepa Mehta. She ordered for both of us, which was off-putting, but it was an Indian restaurant and she basically asked for (and paid for) one of everything, so I chose to be gracious about it. I was interested enough to invite her over for a game night at my house, where she initiated a screaming argument with another guest who merely expressed a difference of opinion. Lesson learned: always introduce a prospective suitor into a group situation very early on.
At that time, in the mid-two-thousands, online dating etiquette demanded that if someone sent you a message, you replied with either an inviting “tell me more” or a polite “no thank you.” Ten years later, when I waded back in, such was not the case.
After the disillusionment of my first longish lesbian relationship, I came to the conclusion that my picker was broken, and until I could somehow repair it, I should stop trying to use it. I vowed to live alone – for the first time in my whole life – and to take proper time to recover from a truly horrid break-up. But that is not what I did. I had barely weaned off my daily forty-minute crying jag when a friend asked if she could introduce me to a woman who’d been divorced for about a year (from another woman), and lived conveniently close by. Against my better judgement, I agreed. As always, fear of loneliness was insinuating its way into my decision-making process.
Brenda was lovely, and attractive, and extremely attentive. I didn’t feel a deep connection, but I didn’t want one. I told her as plainly as I could that I was rebounding and had to take things at a crawl. Within a month, she had told me she loved me and started planning our summer holidays. I felt terrible when I broke her heart a little, because I know how easy it is to ignore evidence and cling to hope.
I really did keep to myself for a good long while. Every now and again I would peek at the popular lesbian dating sites, where some of the same characters from a decade before were still looking for love. I would log off without uploading a profile. Fortunately for me, menopause had dragged my libido down to a normal range, from its previous setting of “nineteen-year-old boy.”
My daughter’s best gay friend (I call him my fairy godson) gave me a demonstration of Tinder one spring day while we were sipping Americanos in a park, and told me everyone of every age was on it, and not just for hook-ups. I took a peek and quickly shut my computer right off in abject fear of the unseemly swiping. But the exercise motivated me to try a paid online dating site, where I assumed I would find a more mature clientele.
It was better. There were about a hundred women in my vicinity and age range. After culling those who couldn’t use punctuation, those passionate about sports, and those who posted pictures of their pets instead of themselves, my prospects shrunk to about a dozen. I sent out a few feelers, determined to get my money’s worth.
One was directed to a woman whose photo I recognized straight away. She was a well-known author; I’d read all her books, so I knew we had some experiences in common. I thought it would be odd to use her pseudonym and pretend I didn’t know who she was, so I addressed her by her real name and referred to her writing. She took down her profile immediately. I feel badly that a deserving Canadian author may not be getting any action because of me.
Clearly, protocol demands that one not “out” someone from their photo. I had also sent a very short, casual message to a woman I had met a few times, using her real name and mine, and she did not reply. Now it’s going to be awkward when I bump into her. It would be much less awkward if she’d simply written, “Oh hello. Can’t say I’m interested, but good luck on this site,” or words to that effect. I always made a point of saying, “thanks but no thanks” to women who had the gumption to contact me. To ignore a greeting, online as in person, seems needlessly callous. These people haven’t affronted or insulted you. You’re all on the damn Internet for the sole purpose of connecting. The routine rudeness flummoxes me.
I had one encounter that was a primer in poor manners. A woman contacted me and suggested we talk on the phone, which she felt was a suitable commitment of time halfway between chatting online and hauling ourselves to a café. I don’t really enjoy talking on the phone, but I agreed. Her first questions were, “Is that your real picture?” and “Is that your real age?” I thought perhaps she had reason to be skeptical, and let it slide. Then she wanted to know which paper I read. I told her. She said, “Well, that article on Wednesday about the link between the mayor and the transit lobbyists was based on information I uncovered and made public.” I had to confess I had not seen the article in question. She snarked, “I thought you said you read the Star.”
It got worse. She told me her real name, so while she prattled on about all the many causes she supported and injustices she fought, I Goggled her. There she was, looking drop-dead gorgeous, holding up signs at various and sundry protests, or sometimes in a very small ragtag group, admonishing everything from the treatment of chickens, to the plight of refugees, as if each situation was equally egregious. When a bit of clicking linked her to the anti-vaccine movement, I was done. I started playing online Scrabble while she kept talking. She finally wrapped up with, “Unless you’re a full-time activist, I don’t think it makes sense for us to get together.” I wished her luck in her quest for such a person.
Honestly, I would rather never have sex again until the day I die than be forced to go on even one more first date. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way. New stats have revealed that something like thirty percent of Canadian households contain one lone person. For a lot of us, the cure for solitude isn’t to pair off. Many of the old ideas about coupledom are in disrepute, and family is being redefined, which is all to the good. That’s what feminism is for, among other things.
I have lamented the tiny size of my tribe, for the sake of my daughters, though. At various times in the past, I’ve tried to semi-formally add members to my family, especially when they were younger and so bereft of blood relatives. As adults, they’ve been collecting their own mentors to fill some of those voids. My chosen family at this point includes a fine assortment of folks. As long as I have people to love, I’m in pretty good shape.
About the author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.