The Divorced Mom's Guide to Online Dating

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Real Date Dilemmas

My first in-the-flesh date is a quick drink with LetsDance, per MultipleOMan's suggestion to keep the initial encounter brief. When I turn from the bar to hand him his glass of wine, he says, "Hey! Be careful pointing those things at me!" He's referring to my breasts. Next. Ron627 is a handsome, preppy lawyer. My parents would approve. But we struggle for conversation. I've been out of the dating scene for so long I've forgotten how excruciating a bad date can be. Perfect on paper does not equal chemistry. "I'll be in touch," he says as we part. "That's the polite way of saying 'I'll never see you again,'" translates MultipleOMan. Ouch!

Over the next few months I have many pen pals and go on one-drink, one-hour dates two to three times a week. I slot them in like meetings between work and home -- the palate-cleansing sorbet course of potential romance between the two demanding worlds I navigate. It's fun! D.C. has a large pool of eligible men. I meet guys who work for the World Bank, the State Department, NASA, and the CIA (a national security expert who didn't know his own wife was cheating on him with their kid's hockey coach!). Everyone's nice, really. The good news for us 40-something women is that there are terrific men out there. Still, I've yet to accept a second date.

Then I hear from Uphill50. His e-mail is witty and self-deprecating and makes me laugh out loud. He's funny in person, too, though not my physical type. (I like big guys and Uphill50 and I could fit into the same jeans.) But as we get to know each other, I discover that we have fun doing not much, like sitting in front of the fire playing Wurdle on my iPad. Since our exes have custody every other weekend (he has a school-age son), spending time together is easy and discreet.

I'm not in love, but Uphill50 is kind and smart. We make it from Halloween to Valentine's Day. Then we put a deposit on a trip to Mexico, and I start to feel trapped. I know in my gut that Uphill50 is wrong for me. He's ready to retire and live frugally after a long career in academia. To be honest, that scenario is too quiet for my taste. Sorry, but I find ambition sexy. I try to explain this to him tactfully, but I hurt his feelings. He returns the favor by leaving a bag of my belongings on my porch.

So it's back to Match mail, which I've barely glanced at in months. Among my e-mails is one from Fishrman62, who has a Ph.D. in biology (smart), a sexy consultant job (ambitious, yay!), and a boat (fun). Plus he's 6-foot-4 and looks kissable. The following Saturday I meet him for the usual one drink, one hour. Fishrman62 is tall and handsome, and he has waited before ordering (sweet). Within minutes we discover that we grew up in the same area of New York state, lifeguarded at neighboring country clubs, and have mutual friends. Good thing the kids are with their dad, because our date ends at 3:30 a.m., and yes, Fishrman62 is kissable. He does raise one red flag: Despite his nine-year marriage, he says, he has never felt a sustained commitment to any one woman.

We date and date and date. His professed inability to commit does not sync with his behavior. Fishrman62 calls constantly, cooks me dinner, and describes our weekends together as "heaven." I introduce him to my friends, who give him an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Then, a few months in, Fishrman62 starts to act aloof. One night, after a three-hour conversation on my front-porch swing, he kisses me good-bye, and I know. I never again want to be on the other end of a blank kiss like that. No woman should. "You don't feel connected to me, do you?" I ask. "I don't feel connected to myself," he mumbles. "I can't help you with that," I say. If my failed marriage taught me anything, it's that I can't change anyone but myself.

This one hurts: Fishrman62 had real potential. I dull the pain by plunging back into my in-box, where I find ActionMan. Over drinks I wonder if he's secretly the 4-Hour Workweek author Timothy Ferriss. He's an investment banker who has studied abroad, has four degrees, and is about to take his company public. I learn all about his seven siblings, his dyslexic son, the messy divorce from his cheating wife.

When he's not talking he's devouring me with his eyes. Unlike Fishrman62, he's not ambivalent in the least. He "loooooooves" my looks, my dress, the way I tell a story. Two nights later we go out for a seafood dinner followed by a nightcap at my place, where we talk late into the night. He mentions that he's house hunting. "Open houses are fun," I say. "Wanna come with me on Saturday?" he says. "You can meet my dog." My kids are with their dad, and ActionMan is a ball of fire. Why not? So two days later I buy dog treats, put on a red halter top and white jeans, and wait on my porch. I'm excited.

One o'clock comes and goes and no ActionMan, no dog, no...nothing. I text and call and don't hear back. Has he lost his phone? Is he dead? I check Match mail to see if he's contacted me there. He hasn't, but his profile tells me that ActionMan is seeing lots of action. Just not with me. I look at the dog treats. Too much, too fast. Sigh.

"It's a numbers game," Amy says when I tell her about my hot, heavy, evaporate experience. "Be patient." Instead, I decide to quit while I'm ahead. And I am, by a long shot. The 15,000 clicks on my profile have given me a confidence with men that I lacked even in my 20s. I've gone on 37 dates, had two semi-relationships, and flirted endlessly. I've also learned a valuable lesson about my unhealthy tendency to jump in too soon. I'm grateful to all the men who took me out, opened their lives, and treated me well. Collectively, the experience was like a defibrillator, shocking me out of my post-divorce funk and back to the land of the living.

But all this dating has taken a toll, leaving me exhausted and resentful that I no longer have time to do things I enjoy, like see my girlfriends, practice yoga -- or sleep. So I'm taking my newfound romantic optimism from the virtual world into the real one. My love life is back in the serendipitous hands of fate.

Signing off, Honeybee.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2013.


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