Tuesday, September 6, 2016

MIRROR, MIRROR


It’s uncomfortable. I’d much rather look down than stare straight ahead. But Vicky keeps admonishing me: “Head up, please.” I’m not sure I’ll ever master sitting in the barber’s chair. I’m still the antsy little kid; only now there’s no green sucker as a parting gift.

There’s no other time during the month when I’m forced to face a mirror for a prolonged period of time. It shouldn’t be so painful but I’m the polar opposite of Narcissus. My image spawns awkwardness, followed by a swell of self-hate.

That nose. So big.

Those eyes. Look at the bags under them. So dark. Coon eyes.

Vicky combs my wet hair back. It’s a rough gesture that jolts my whole head. Is she frustrated? Does she hate her job? Is she wishing she could be pickier about her clientele?

Oh, god. I’m face to face with me again. Aack!* When did my hair recede so far? And the bigger question: WHEN DID I GET SO OLD?

Just last week, my younger cousin—he’s 44, I’m 51—blurted in both exasperation and envy, “How do you keep getting younger?! You look 30.” I hear it from others, too. There’s a consensus that I look considerably younger than my age. But objects in the mirror at close range and under bright lighting look harsh. Every year shows. Every trauma leaves a souvenir.

If only I could look away.

Torture for me would be a room full of mirrors. It’s a good thing I’m not privy to top-secret anything. I’d crumble minutes. Forget waterboarding and cocked pistols; just hold a hand mirror to my head. Aack! What Canadians really mean when they say “sorry” would be known to all. (Sorry ‘bout that, Mr. Trudeau.)

This is a touch-and-go period. It’s only my second appointment with Vicky. As noted in a recent post, I’ve had to find a new stylist now that I am finally living and working in the Vancouver area once again. Maybe I should have been pickier, maybe I should have done more research but my hair was overgrown and verging on becoming a home to paper clips and dryer lint, not to mention a snake or two. Vicky’s salon is but a few blocks from home. It was the perfect confluence of convenience and urgency. The rest is up to the two of us. How’s her chair-side manner? Can she avoid nicking that mole at the back on my head more than once? Can I adjust to twice the price for the same service?

There are, of course, other options. Plenty of salons. For a while, it seemed that Vancouver’s nearby Yaletown was solely comprised of salons and storage warehouses. But most of the places in the downtown area have a certain level of pretentiousness. I always have to fight off the too-cool-for-me complex and I’ve already acclimated to the salon where Vicky works. There is no receptionist, no clear sense of where to announce your arrival and where to stand or sit while you wait. Little dogs that belong to the stylists dart between chairs on a mission they don’t seem to have defined. They have no interest in my gestures to pat them. They’ve mastered salon aloofness.

Barber shops are out. I’m not the kind of guy who can drop, take a seat and wait for the next available groomer to snip and shave. I like my hair—what’s left of it—and I can’t bear to have it butchered. “It’ll grow back” isn’t much comfort in the weeks of waiting. I have bad memories of succumbing to an overeager razor back when I lived in Malibu. And, if I’m being honest, I feel uneasy about how much cheaper a cut is at the barber’s. While I may have gasped internally at what I had to pay the first time I saw Vicky, a price too low makes me feel I’ve gotten a hatchet job…even if I can’t spot the flaws. (This admission would make my father cry. Where did he go wrong?!)

I suppose I’m hair-obsessed. Like Pamela Anderson and her boobs. Newman and his eyes. That Crawford guy and his body. Not that I’m anywhere near the Anderson/Newman/Crawford zone in anything (unless penmanship counts). But most of us are aware of a feature that gets the most—or only—compliments. Naturally, we want to highlight it or at least preserve it.

At 51, preserving is becoming a challenge. Summer toning at the gym doesn’t get the same results. The stomach protrudes too much no matter how many laps I swim. But the hair, well, it was always supposed to be there. I blocked out the history of baldness in the family. I let past hairstylists reassure me that my follicular fountain wouldn’t run dry. (Never trust anyone whose livelihood depends on a healthy tip.)


After the cut...I survived.
The vibrant curls and waves in my hair now look like thinning frizz. I keep switching hair products in a state of desperation I haven’t had since I heavily invested in the acne cream industry in my youth. Alas, the body has a mind of its own.

As Vicky finishes—Oh god, not the blow dryer! We haven’t had that talk yet. Extra frizz!—she offers a hand mirror for me to glance at the back. Are you kidding me?! I already know there’s a spot at the top where hair can’t grow because of a cyst I had removed two years ago. I don’t want to do any more spot checking.

I don’t raise my arms. I shake my head. At this point, after fifty minutes of mirror scrutiny, I’m too despondent to speak. Let it be over. Please just set me free.

Before I leave, I book my next appointment. I suspect it wasn’t any better for her than it was for me, but it’s harder to say no in person. Besides, I retain a foolish sense of denial. No one else sees my head up close. No one else sees how my asset has become a liability. Vicky and I mark our calendars for the next ordeal.

Maybe she’s the one who deserves the green sucker.

Monday, August 29, 2016

STARTLED BY THE ABRUPT GOODBYE


You know that uneasy feeling when you’re in the midst of a job interview that you thinking is going really well and the HR guy interrupts to say, “All right then,…thanks for coming in”? I just felt it again.

Only this time there wasn’t a job on the line. Just another episode of dating. I’m a seasoned veteran of first dates. I’ve been lucky to experience a few really good ones. I survived a few horrid experiences. For the most part, I’ve sat through a lot of ho-hums. I’m not sure I’ve ever had the chutzpah to cut the conversation in an instant and simply indicate that I’ve had enough—I have other things to do…laundry, a run, a little pre-planning for next year’s taxes.

Maybe this is why so many of my first-coffee meetings last ninety minutes, even two hours. Maybe I shouldn’t take the length of a conversation as a good sign. Maybe we just continue to talk because I don’t have an exit plan and neither does the other poor sap. Hats off to Cody for pulling it off.

Still, it’s an abrupt jolt when you don’t see the end coming. It happened so fast that I can’t quite recall how it played out. I’m pretty sure Cody got up while offering his closing remarks. Nothing you can say will make me linger any longer. We both mentioned how we enjoyed the get together and, yes, maybe we can get together again after Cody’s long weekend trip. Still, I have enough sense to know that only one of us meant what he said.

I hate that kind of ending. When it’s sudden and unexpected, I’m five steps behind the other guy’s processing of what preceded The End. And, yes, I take it as a personal failure. I thought things were going well. I felt an attraction. Weren’t we connecting?

Exit Cody, enter self-doubt. What did I do wrong? How did I blow it...again?

I must have talked too much.
I was boring.
My hair’s too big.
I’m just old and tired looking.

And on that “old” line of thinking, I’m left with a clear sense that I’m too old for this. Another date with nothing to show for it other than another bruising. In that way, I’m more banana than coconut. I should be thicker skinned but I just wasn’t made that way.

As Cody turned toward the door, I knew to stand back. I retreated from the patio to return my mug to the plastic tub inside. He was still in view as I hit the sidewalk. And, darn it, he was walking in the direction where I parked my car. I couldn’t walk in his wake so I turned the other direction, still stunned as my brain tried to figure out a destination for my detour.

I came up with raisins. There was a bargain grocery store a few blocks away and last time I stopped in I was surprised how cheap the raisins were. So that became my mission. Yes, I needed to stock up on jumbo bags of raisins. Somehow that made the end of the date feel that much more humiliating. And because no one on the planet goes to the store just to stock up on raisins, I grabbed a bag of ranch-flavored rice cakes to boot. I’m not sure I’ve ever bought that item before, but let anyone else in the express line conclude that the rice cakes were the craving; the raisins were simply an economical extra.

I walked back to the car, certain that I’d created enough distance between What’s-His-Name and me. I had tangible evidence that my drive into the West End during rush hour wasn’t, uh, fruitless. Only now I don’t just feel rejected; I’m downright kooky.

This endless cycle of first-round dating takes a toll. The only good thing to come out of this latest come-uppance is that I’ll be making a sizable donation to the food bank. It means another shopping expedition because there’s no way I can just unload cheap raisins.

Weirdest. Date. Ever. And apparently it’s all my doing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

MORE THAN A HAIRCUT


I’m a serial monogamist, but I gave up on men after a couple of years in Vancouver. The first was Jean-Paul, a very pretty boy whose mind seemed to drift during our monthly sit-downs. If only I could have read his mind. I’m guessing the flow would have been something like this:

Butterflies. They’re so sweet. I wonder if any have pink dots. Gee, my pores look good. I think I’ll put a mint leaf in my water for lunch today.  

Ah, Jean-Paul. I crushed on him for over a year but we never could meet on the same level. His head was always in the clouds.

So I switched to Ali. It was doomed from the outset. I spotted him in a club, dancing along his best friend, the deejay. Another pretty boy, but thin, lanky. When he showed up at my gym, I thought there was a connection. We’d briefly make eye contact before I’d glance down and smile at my shoes. (All my flirtatious moves were wasted on Nikes.) When I showed up at his workplace, he offered a vague “Hey”. Maybe he hadn’t noticed me before. Maybe the sexual tension was all mine. But I continued to haunt his worksite every four weeks. And I learned not to bow my head so much. He wasn’t any chattier than Jean-Paul, but I don’t imagine he was thinking about butterflies. I’m not sure he was thinking at all.

Seven months into our “relationship”, I called Ali after returning home from one of our sessions. I asked him out and he politely declined. Flattered, he said. Boyfriend in Calgary. I think it was the quickest thing he could come up with on the spot.

I made myself go back to Ali. Yes, crushes are crushing but I knew I’d keep seeing him at the gym and in the clubs, week after week, without any visitor from Alberta. I needed to show I wasn’t as fragile as I truly was. For all I know, Ali had forgotten the phone call thirty minutes after it happened.

A few months later, I finally had a Vancouver boyfriend and I went to Ali one last time, probably just to let that fact slip into the conversation. The announcement was met with silence but it was Ali’s normal kind of silence. Nothing to read into it.

That’s when I switched to women.

My boyfriend called a girl friend who recommended I go to Christina in a trendy Yaletown salon. We clicked. She was chatty and not at all pretentious like the others in the shop. She moved to a different salon in the city and I followed. Over the years, we chatted about her trip to India, her wedding and her first baby. I didn’t have much to say about my boyfriend—just a few thinly veiled rants laced with humor. Yes, he’s difficult, but—ha, ha—he’s mine. She’s was there after I broke up with my boyfriend. Yes, we’re in the middle of renovations so—ha, ha—we’re stuck in the same house for several more months. (A year as it turned out. By then, I couldn’t muster up a single “ha” or “hee”.) Even when I regained my freedom and moved to my rural home, I sailed over once every five weeks. I would stick with Christina no matter what.

But then Christina went and moved to Vancouver Island. Hmm, that would mean two ferries or a plane and a rental car…

I suppose it was good that Christina announced that she was giving up hair. She and her husband had worked it out so she could be a full-time mom to their son and the little one on the way. I put on a brave face, hugged her and wished her well. It wasn’t easy.

I’m more committed to stylists than boyfriends. The ex and I lasted seven years. Christina and I went nine.

CJ's tats were something like this, only with
more orange and green. They grew faster than my hair.
I had no choice but to find someone new, someone along the coast where I lived instead of a person in the city. I’d heard chatter about a gay couple that owned a salon in the closest town so I dropped in. I figured it was time to give men a try again. Besides, I was starved for any gay connection in this land of mill workers, fiber artists and retirees. As luck would have it, they booked me with a gruff, heavily tattooed woman who took over the salon when the boys moved back to The Prairies. If only I’d had one session in either of their chairs. Surely they’d have warned me to flee this place, too.

I stuck with CJ for four years, even as others bailed when she was under investigation for child pornography. Just imagine how widely and wickedly that kind of news spreads in a small town. I’m not sure if my loyalty was a message of support or just a self-centered need to get a consistent cut. I finally had to look for someone new when I arrived for my appointment and found a handwritten note taped to the door announcing that CJ’s was out of business. It was a highly impersonal Dear John letter, but I guess it was understandable. Yes, she was arrested and convicted. There was a moment when I wondered what prison. Could I get a haircut during a scheduled visit? But then I came to my senses. I figured scissors were a banned item in that kind of environment.

So I started seeing Kat, a new age philosopher whose weight loss grew more and more concerning as she endured a rough breakup—again, in a small town…—, a liver transplant ordeal of the father of one of her boys and the drug dependency of her other son. I listened plenty, always waiting for the right moment to express concern about her weight. I’d like to think I provided a diversion as we often talked passionately about the books we were reading, about how we’d changed since our youth and about how to survive in the quirky coastal area we called home. We lasted four years until I finally had to break up in June. We knew it was coming. It ended in another wonderful conversation in which we each added to our reading lists. I wondered once again if I should express concern about her weight—she’d reached the point where thin turns to frail. I withheld. In every breakup, there are words we wished we’d said. All I did was thank her for the monthly moments of sanity before we hugged goodbye, her bony frame all the more apparent.

And so now I’m at that awkward stage, looking once again, hoping I can find someone to click with, someone with a few things in common, someone who maybe gets me…and someone who won’t butcher my hair with an overzealous razor. (It’s happened.) Time to start a new relationship.

Monday, August 15, 2016

MUST LOVE BEER


Well, it was my chance for an obligatory pint of Guinness. I know when I return from my trip to Dublin, that’s what every will ask about. As if it’s not readily available in Canada. I suppose I could have gone to a pub—people will ask about that, too—but I’m a quirky vegetarian and pub food looked greasy and uninspiring. So I decided to consume my Guinness at The George, a Dublin gay bar.



It was a convenient stop. I’d gone to see the musical “Once” on Friday night—the perfect show to see in Dublin—and the theatre was right around the corner. Still, it took some prodding. Go on. Step inside. You can do this. (I have the same conversation with myself whenever I have to get a blood test.) 



I did it. I paid the cover, wandered nervously into a dimly lit bar and quickly fled to the upstairs area. I stepped up to the bar—no line—and got my Guinness. I sipped. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. (I’m a Chardonnay guy.)



I sipped again. And again.



At this rate, I’d be finished in twenty minutes and then the inevitable would happen: I’d flee. When I’m all alone, I’m a one-drink bar guy.



Slow down, you lush. You’re the new guy here. Let the locals see you.



I headed back downstairs and perched on a stool. Clinging tightly to my glass, I dared to look around. Hello again, junior high. The dance floor was empty. Small clusters of girls danced together, showing off moves they’d practiced in their bedrooms. The guys chatted in pairs. An older single guy—my age—neared. I’d glimpsed him when I first entered. It hadn’t been a matter of interest. I simply needed reassurance that I wasn’t the only loner in the place. He looked at me for a moment, offering his best poker face. I couldn’t help notice a resemblance to Liam Neeson. Only homely. He walked on. Probably made a similar assessment of me—Carrot Top, only homelier.



It’s easy to feel the self-esteem slide when you’re all alone in a gay bar on Friday night. Some things never change.



After the Orlando shootings and during Pride celebrations, there was a lot of talk about gay bars being a safe hub, a place where we can be ourselves. I get that in theory, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been myself in one. With a group of friends, I’m gaiety on steroids, laughing too loudly, sending out vibes that I’m having soooo much fun, doing what I can to cover up feelings of unworthiness amongst hotter men in muscle-flaunting apparel. On my own, I fight the tendency to be dismissive, rejecting people before they reject me. I try to smile but it’s harder to fake a good time when solo. I can’t prove it, but I think an involuntary sneers surfaces on my face whenever anyone nears. It arises from fear of interaction.

It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend or even a hookup when I decided to check out The George. My sole objective was to have a conversation with a gay Dubliner just to get a sense of the city and whether I could fit in here. And have that obligatory beer.



I sipped again and focused on the music. Relax your shoulders. Move a little on your stool. Feel the beat.



Beyonce.

Gaga.

Even Kylie Minogue.



Some things haven’t changed. The gays love the divas.



By the time Selina Gomez was killing 'em with kindness, I’d let go of any hope of conversation with a charming Irish man. Or even a brash, drunken lad. I’d put away my defensive sneers. I accepted my role as the creepy fiftysomething (“young” 50s, but those words don’t go together in a gay bar). I let the music take over, if only for another song or two. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins.



I realized I was clutching my glass with both hands, holding it close the way a fearful child grips a teddy bear. Comfort me. Shield me. And that’s when I noticed the Guinness was gone. I’d managed to stick around for almost a whole hour. My mind interprets this as an achievement. I’d given it a try. The gay bar. And the Guinness. I got up, dutifully returning my glass to the bar to make it clear that my nesting ground was now free. I walked on and out, into night air, through the ambling crowds of weekend partiers spilling out from Temple Bar and back to the quiet alongside the River Liffey, ready for the long walk back to my hotel, a trek only made longer by my complete inability to master the layout of this city. It’s another chance to see more of Dublin than I’d ever intended.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

YEP, IT REALLY, REALLY IS ME


A hundred coffee dates. Probably more. And I’m no closer to extending dating—can’t even call it a relationship—into a second month, let alone falling in love. Ninety percent of the encounters end after the last drop of the first latte. Probably before the barista has even finished making it.



I craft this blog. I have full control. So it’s easy for me find fault in the other guy. Too this, not enough that. Clearly there’s too much algae in the single gay pool.



But every so often, I look inward. I actually hear myself. Too this? Not enough that?! When did I get so selective?



There was a time when it would have taken next to nothing to stick with a guy. If he showed the slightest interest, I’d hang on until he finally shooed me away. I was a dating gnat.



"Friend of Dorothy" added another layer of meaning in the '80s.
It’s true. I had terribly low self-esteem. As I’d sip my first Tom Collins with a friend at Rage or Micky’s in West Hollywood, I’d rattle off my list of what I was looking for in a man. It was a two-pager, at least. But then some guy would glance at me a few times and, after bowing to glance at my shoelaces, I’d find the guts to glance back. Eye contact. And that basically meant it was a match.



If we actually talked and he said he liked “The Golden Girls”—or that he’d even heard of it—I was his for life. Or at least until the packed thong go-go boys came back from break and their come-hither gyrations refocused his attention.



He could have had me.



I’d have torn up my list and burned it for good measure. I was a low maintenance guy who thought he was high maintenance.



Now all that’s completely flipped. And I shouldn’t be at all surprised.



The brutal truth is that all relationships have become harder for me. I’m an acutely introverted guy who somehow managed to fake acceptable social mannerisms in my twenties. I laughed frequently and notoriously loudly. Within my group, I could even be outrageous. In my thirties, I took cover in an abusive relationship. Feeling trapped and utterly stupid, I pulled away from everyone. And then in my forties I found my way out and escaped to rural living where all my introverted ways came rushing back, exacerbated further by a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder.



Now in my fifties, I’m trying to start over. It’s like going back to junior year in high school, the time when I began to get a clue over How to Be Social. I once again remind myself to smile. I try to carry on the chitchat initiated by the barista or the bank teller or the store clerk. Invariably, I’m the one who shuts it down. The talk is trivial and I can’t sustain it.



I’ve been back in Vancouver for over a year and I’m not sure I’ve made any progress. Weekends come and go. I have no desire to phone anyone. A text takes at least an hour of contemplation or even the whole bloody weekend.



When I do meet with an old friend, it’s hard for me to stay interested after thirty minutes. In my mind, I get critical. I tire of this conversation too and my thoughts wander as I long to get back to the book I was reading or go on a three-hour bike ride. Solo, of course. I don’t want anyone else to slow me down.



It should come as no surprise then that date after date is a failure. As a concept, I’m keen to date. And yet when I actually sit down with another guy, I’m looking forward to getting away. As my psychiatrist noted, “Social interaction takes a lot of energy out of you.” The mysterious piece is that I’m skilled at the conversation. The other person cannot see that I’m drained. That’s why it is rare for a coffee date to end before an hour. Ninety minutes is typical. I continue to listen well enough and to encourage the other guy to talk about himself. I can’t recall ever being the one who says, “I have to go.”



So is every coffee doomed? Is dating pointless? Is it time for me to download solitaire apps on my phone? Or whatever happened to macramé? It was the only thing in sixth-grade art that I was moderately good at. Maybe the world needs more macramé. And I shall find fulfillment.



I know I have my own work to do, but I also know it is possible to find the right guy. All this reflection has helped me realize I still do have a type, only now the list is short. He’s sexy, gentle, flirty, affectionate and funny. These are the qualities that both make me invested and keep me relaxed. With this type of man, I easily shrug off the flaws and I don’t care what we do. It’s just about being together.



I know this because I’ve met this kind of man three, maybe four times, in the past two years. I’d have stuck with any of these men, but alas, I didn’t fit the other guy’s list or there were insurmountable obstacles. I can find encouragement in this. I’m not looking for something unattainable. My kind of mate does exist.



So I’ll continue to squint and skim through the algae. If I keep my eyes open, something surprising may rise to the surface.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME…REALLY

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It’s the copout line for dumping someone. There’s a reason—maybe a list of reasons—to reject the guy, but honesty can hurt or prolong things with denial and an argument. The easy way out is to say, It’s me.


I’m at a bad place in my 
              life right now.

I’m not a good enough person.

I’ve got to spend all my spare time   
cleaning the closet in the den.
(Something may have died there.)


In my last blog post, I turned down a guy after a second date that was no better than the first. Initally, I’d found his opinions too harsh. In his profile and on both dates, he’d acknowledged this as a common perception but dismissed the criticism with a Fuck that. Everyone is too intent on being politically correct. Maybe, maybe not. All I know is political correctness keeps my blood pressure on an even keel.

My gut had been to decline the second date. I’d had enough…heard enough. But occasionally—and, indeed, after the last post—a blog reader has the guts to raise an uncomfortable I Wonder.

I wonder if you’re being too picky.

Oh, how I brace at the comment. (It’s probably why only readers posit this while face-to-face friends and acquaintances keep mum.)

I’m not too picky. I’m not too picky. I’m not too picky.

As if repeating it makes it true. A three-year-old’s approach.

And then I hear Harry’s voice. Harry, aka Billy Crystal, talking to Sally, aka Meg Ryan in my favorite move, giftedly penned by the late great Nora Ephron:

                        HARRY:          There are two kinds of 
                                                 women: high maintenance
                                                 and low maintenance.
                        SALLY:            And Ingrid Bergman [in 
                                                 Casablanca] is low
                                                 maintenance?
                        HARRY:          …Definitely.
                        SALLY:            Which am I?
                        HARRY:          You’re the worst kind. 
                                                 You’re high maintenance,
                                                 but you think you’re low maintenance.

I would contend that I’m a low maintenance date. I have no list. All I ask is that a guy show up on time, dress in something slightly more fashion-forward than a favorite sports team jersey, put away his phone and engage in a genuine back-and-forth conversation. Okay, there’s a physical attraction piece, too, but that’s mostly out of our control. I’d say I’ve been passed over on looks just as many times as I’ve passed. Few of us are objectively, universally hot and by “us” I definitely, conclusively do not include myself.

It’s the conversation piece where things froth or fizzle. And based on all I’ve sat through, eighty percent of fizzled chats come from too much talking, not enough listening. A first date may feel like an interview but it’s not. You’re not trying to cram everything great about you—every trip, every detail of your last dinner party and every itty-bitty dimension of your job—into a roughly forty-minute sit-down.

Don’t forget there’s another guy who showed up, hoping to share an anecdote or a factoid about himself. If you don’t have Barbara Walters’ interviewing skills—for the record, I’d be an arbutus tree—then pause every two or three minutes and simply say, “And what about you?” Order a scone with your coffee so you have to stop and chew once in a while. (You don’t talk with your mouthful, do you? Maybe that’s another of my conditions.)

I should wrap up this post.

If I keep writing, I fear that more conditions will surface.

Too picky.

Am I more Sally than Ilsa? Does my blog leave a trail of damning evidence concerning my unrealistic expectations? Am I too quick to dismiss?

                        SALLY:            I don’t see that.
  
What if there are grounds for a class-action lawsuit against me, brought by the masses of single gay men in Vancouver who have been disparaged and dismissed in this blog without any counterpoint? Am I guilty of a pattern and practice of dating defamation?

Too picky? Me?! I have no reason to be, no right to be. But then I hear a certain movie character again.

SALLY:            Well, I just want it the way I want it.

And, as much as I could pick that apart, it sounds about right.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

CAN YOU SHAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION?

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Not actually me. I don't look this good in a dress.
On occasion, a reader will suggest that I am too picky. How could I possibly go on so many coffee dates—Is it beyond a hundred yet?—and come up empty? I ask that of myself, too. Am I brushing people off too quickly? Should I settle for something less?

I think I give people a chance. It’s rare, however, that an initial meh turns into anything better. There are stories of people being repulsed at first sight and somehow finding love. I don’t find that unreasonable. There’s some truth to that expression about a thin line between love and hate. These are people who at least get our attention. But it’s hard to move anywhere from meh. It’s a relationship gutter. Nothing grows there.

Recently I met up with a handsome man who grew up in Venezuela and Spain. He’s traveled the world and speaks many languages. Seems to have a lot going for him. I typically get along extremely well with people from different backgrounds. The differences in culture and perspective fascinate me as well as the commonalities reflected in good people regardless of where they were raised. And, while I contend I don’t have a type, I am easily enchanted with Latin men.

On our first meeting, it was a warm Vancouver day and the bakery was not air conditioned so we grabbed our drinks and sat on a shady bench in a nearby park. We talked for a couple of hours. Mostly, he talked. Much of the talk was ranting. For instance, when I said I worked in education, he immediately went on for ten minutes about how unmotivated teachers can be. Sure, he had some good points based on personal experience, but it’s generally not a good idea to attack your date’s profession right after “Hello.”

The opinions continued to fly over a range of subjects and I realized I had shifted my body into the arm of the bench, as if trying to get away from him. Not a good sign. But it was clear that he was attracted to me and I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was talking too much because he was nervous. Maybe he was trying to impress me with his thinking. Maybe he didn’t normally drink coffee.

And so when he called and left a message a few hours later about how much he enjoyed our time and how he’d like to get together again, I shrugged and said sure. With the introductions out of the way, maybe things would get better.

But they didn’t. As he rambled on, I felt awful for extending things. He clearly dressed up for our lunch and, yes, he continued to give off signs of being attracted to me. I buckled down and tried to get invested. This is a guy that actually likes you. Give him a chance. Even when we talked about things we had in common—writing; running—I simply couldn’t connect.

We walked and Ralph suggested a drink after lunch—no caffeine whatsoever. Sure. Could he see me shrug? It got to the point where I was biding my time until the alarm on my phone would go off, reminding me that I’d reached the two-hour limit on my parking meter. My escape. But even then, I didn’t bolt. We ambled sloooowly toward my car. Was he trying to prolong things? With a hug, we parted ways and, as I started the ignition, I felt relieved to be alone once more. (The loneliness seeps in later.)

An hour afterward, I received a text. “Hi, James! Just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed my time with you today. Hopefully you did too. It would be great to meet again. Enjoy the rest of the day!”

Two exclamation marks. (I don’t take punctuation lightly.) I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach, the same kind I felt whenever a professor would pass back assignments and I had a sudden fear of a big red “F”. This was a worse kind of failure because now I had to be the messenger. I fretted. I mopped my floors. I ate a bag of popcorn. I even returned my mother’s phone call.

And then I texted: “Hi Ralph. Nice to see you again. You’re an attractive man with a fascinating background. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite feel a connection. Wanted to, but sometimes it’s not there. Good luck with your work application. Really seems like a great path for you.”

No exclamation marks.

I pressed “Send” and sighed. The deed was done. Hopefully he didn’t feel as badly as I did. But I know how rejection stings. I am all too aware how it butt-kicks already fragile self-esteem. Ralph is in his forties. I know how another polite “No thank you” disheartens. What if “meant to be” refers to alone rather than with Mr. Right or with Mr. Tolerable or with Mr. Who Happens to Be Breathing?

So I listened to the “too picky” accusation. I gave a guy another chance. And now I only feel worse. Like a heel. I hurt someone, however temporarily. I feel no closer to finding a soul mate. Just farther off-course. The pickings get smaller.