One of the good things about dating again several decades after the prom is that we are clear — or clearer, at any rate — about what we can and cannot tolerate. His refusal to set foot inside a museum? No longer an issue! (The same goes for his mother's ridiculous fashion sense.) Ah, but his character quirks: Those just grow larger as the years roll on.
The five defects noted below can easily become deal-breakers. How many have you encountered in your own dating life? (Me, I'm 5 for 5!)
1. He suffers from selective hearing
During my first phone conversation with Rick, he mentioned he was taking a poetry course at the college where I teach nonfiction.
"I'll bring you some poems to read and critique when we meet," he said.
"Uh, better hold off on that," I responded. "I teach four courses, so I stopped reading my friends' and relatives' writing ages ago. I barely have time to read my students' work these days."
When I arrived at the restaurant, Rick sat at a table piled high with poetry — 200 pages of the stuff.
Did I throw them in his face? Did I "accidentally" drench them in water or ketchup? No, I did not. I merely (and calmly, I like to think) reminded him what I'd said on the phone.
"Just read the one on top," he pleaded.
I read the one on top. It was about his dog. His dead dog. I praised my date's dead-dog poem. Then I chugged my drink, told Rod McKuen I wasn't feeling well and hurried home.
Imagine what a turn-on it was, months later, to encounter this as the first line in my (eventual) husband's profile: "I am a good listener."
2. He is spoken for
I met a man on vacation. We clicked. He lived an hour away. He started visiting me, usually for half a weekend. Whenever I suggested returning the favor, he put me off. Finally I asked why.
"There's something in my house you might not like," he said.
"Termites?" I hazarded.
He laughed but said nothing.
"Another woman?" I asked next. Of course. He started to explain. "Don't bother," I told him. I may not have known exactly what I wanted in a relationship, but I knew a triangle wasn't it.
3. He doesn't understand kids
Many years ago, when my daughter was about 10 years old, I dated a calligrapher. He presented her with a set of calligraphy pens. Promising, right? She grabbed one and eagerly began drawing. The artist went berserk, shouting that she was "doing it all wrong." She flinched; I bridled. "Don't you dare talk to my daughter like that ever again," I told him.
He and I were wrong together for reasons I'd been able to ignore until then. But raising my daughter was the most important part of my life, and I realized I wanted to be with a man who had experienced parenting too. After that episode, I steered clear of partners who did not have children.
4. He has no sense of humor
Humor was my family's religion. We had big problems, but even bigger laughs. The men with whom I've connected since then aren't exactly stand-up comics, but they have all had a finely honed sense of the ridiculous.
I won't cite specific men here, but I think they know which camp they fall into. Those who never learned how to laugh quickly revealed that flaw — and were dubbed The Kiss of Dating Death.
5. He's a substance abuser
Sometimes it's in the eyes, sometimes in the lies. I once dated a man who was still taking Percocet for a root canal he'd had five months before. Having grown up in a family that would not go on vacation until we had polished off the milk in the fridge, I thought little of it at first: Might he simply have the same Waste-Not-Want-Not mentality?
Wasted he was: On our second date he left the movie theater for the men's room four times.
"Did you like the parts of the movie you saw?" I asked him afterward.
He sniffed and nodded.
"As much as the white stuff under your nose?" I said it loud enough for everyone in Cinemas 1 through 6 to hear. "Your coke is showing."
He smiled. "It offsets the Percocet. Wanna do a line?"
I did not. I left him standing in the lobby next to the popcorn, and never looked back.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes about dating after 50 for AARP.
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