Each spring, Uncle Lou — the director of Camp Tamakwa, where I spent five summers — sent out a "What to Bring" list. The first category, before Clothing and Bedding, was Yourself. It comprised three items: a sense of humor, a desire to learn and a willingness to share. That list, along with three other "must haves" I've since added, has served me well in my adult life, particularly with dating. Here is my What to Bring list.
1. A lack of paranoia
We are who we are long before we date. For example, the guy who ranted about his crazy ex-wife did not just become a candidate for anger management classes after we ordered drinks. And the one who complained about the food, ambiance and service was a kvetch before our scrumptious meal. If someone acts obnoxious or negative or turns you off in other unpleasant ways, do not personalize. His behavior is not your fault.
Now, if all your dates are angry, kvetchy or whatever, take it very personally. You are not picking well.
After a rotten date or six, you might consider getting a cat or additional cable stations. After a miserable date — I had years of miserable dates — I used to call my friends for sympathy and maybe we'd share a few laughs. "I cannot do this anymore," I said at least a hundred times. The truth is, we don't click with everyone. We are not supposed to. Fortunately, I had a mother who expressed disdain for taking the course of least resistance and taking easy ways out. "Good things take a long time to develop," she said about everything, including my being a writer, which meant frequent rejection and a lifetime of honing my craft. Endure!
Endure, but don't wait for "it" to happen. Good things may take a long time to develop. They don't arrive on your doorstep. Despite my saying "I can't date anymore" to my girlfriends, I got back out there and kissed many more toads and iguanas. You have to hang in and stay focused despite wanting to stay home. No one hands us what we want in life. Take charge. Make it happen. You can.
4. A desire to learn
On early postmarital dates, I learned about Tuscany from a seasoned traveler and got a new chicken recipe from an experienced cook. I used this information, but not with either man. Everyone — keepers or not — has something to teach us. With a man I loved, I discovered I liked camping. I discovered two nights was enough. I discovered, too, when I found out there was another woman in his life, that cheating was intolerable to me. Dating expands and enriches us. We can acquire practical information and a deeper knowledge of ourselves.
5. A willingness to share
I don't mean baring your soul about your awful childhood or relationships. In fact, don't. But being open about yourself and finding out about the other person, his passions, pet peeves and work, among other things, helps melt the ice and gets things rolling. You give. You get back. On my first date with the man I married, we exchanged bits and pieces about our work. His strength in business, he said in an unassuming yet confident tone, was seeing where he wanted to end up and not getting stuck along the way. I loved that he did not rattle easily. I prayed he might want to end up with me.
6. A sense of humor
Last, but to my mind most important, this item requires having perspective and incorporating items 1 through 5. When I resumed dating after my divorce, I had a career, flatware for 12 and bunions. As I watched men I did not know pick our wine and their teeth, I thought of my Aunt Lil's Jell-O molds, with fruit cocktail suspended at the top. Her molds were always lopsided. Why, I never knew, but whenever she brought one to a family party, I tilted my head and quietly laughed behind Aunt Lil's back. Tilt and laugh! Tilt and laugh! That was how I learned to view dating. There is no other way.