February 20, After splitting from her husband of 25 years, Bernadette Murphy wanted companionship, but quickly realized she had no idea how to date anymore.
Men do this, too—even Congressmen. Only, instead of texting racy photos of myself, apparently, I send pictures of homemade soup. I separated from my husband of 25 years a few months ago. After living with bone-crushing aloneness within that relationship for a decade, followed by months actively grieving that loss, I found myself ready for some companionship.
But a date now and again might be a nice thing. We spent three hours chatting, making connections, occasionally flirting, a bit of hand-holding. I found him attractive and decided he was someone I wanted to know better. But the evening ended abruptly. He needed to get home, he said, suddenly slammed with exhaustion. A goodnight kiss so quick I hardly knew it occurred ended things and that was that.
I went home satisfied and pleased with myself. It had gone well; I had experienced my first post-marriage date and had walked through it with impunity. I felt like an adult. He posted a smiley face on my Facebook page an hour after the date; I went to sleep content. The truly flawed nature of my being must have somehow become visible.
I came up with possibilities. He was four years younger. What had I been thinking? Who would possibly want to go out with a woman four years his senior? He was talented, smart, and handsome. Who did I think I was to believe, even for an instant, that someone like that would be interested in me? The litany went on.
Had there been food on my teeth? Mascara under my eyes? I am educated and smart; I work as a graduate-school professor and author. I run marathons and climb mountains. I am interested in life, engaged, and curious. I am not a shrinking violet. So why, then, this instant and deeply convincing I-am-flawed response?
Is this the core shame at the center of every human, that hideous inner knowledge we spend as much of our lives as possible trying to keep hidden? Was I the only one who felt like this? And how, please God someone tell me how, was I to be free of it? I sat with the feelings, talked them out with friends, meditated, and decided that the dating experience was here primarily to teach me about myself.
But I still felt off-balance. I checked email regularly, looked at my Facebook page, hunted for texts that might have somehow been overlooked. Could I have been so wrong about the chemistry? I had foolishly thought that a date now and again would enliven my life, would give me something to look forward to, a reason to buy a new blouse, a more active social life.
I was old enough, experienced enough, and happy enough on my own to not take any of it too seriously. It would all be good, clean fun. My dating history, if all pulled together, added up to about a nanosecond. I had been that girl—you know, the one who thought she needed a man. But now, with 23 years of sobriety behind me, a lot of emotional and spiritual growth to my credit, a very strong sense of who I am, and what talents I bring to the larger world, I still had no clue how to date.
A day and a half after our dinner, he sent another smiley face via email. What was I to make of that? I wanted to reach through the screen and grab him by the throat: I felt immediate and overwhelming relief: No sooner had I heaved a sigh of relief when the caretaker in me kicked in.
He needed chicken soup! I should make some immediately. I would put on my Florence Nightingale uniform and zip over to his place and nurse him back to health.
All this occurred in the time it took to blink my eyes. And lest we lose track of things, let me remind you and me that this was a man I hardly knew and by no means was planning a relationship with. What was I doing? My impulse, during my dating years and all the married ones, was to care for other people, including our three kids. On some level, I had grown to believe that I was loveable only to the degree that I had earned the love. What would happen, I began to wonder, if I put that same nurturing energy I wanted to share with this man into myself?
As long as I had chicken soup on the brain and, I reasoned, the healing properties of this soup might keep me from getting the flu I had marginally been exposed to , I went to the store and bought the ingredients for the best chicken soup ever, along with a baguette of crusty sourdough. I chopped and boiled and minced and peeled. My kitchen filled with the aroma of love: I have cooked hundreds of pots of chicken soup in my life and yet this was the first time I made chicken soup expressly for me.
I enjoyed the soup and then had to email my sick acquaintance and offer to bring some over. I almost went so far as to add a photo of that lovely pot of soup but, thank God, good sense and friends who love me intervened. He can see the flaws! Or maybe this is just the nature of putting ourselves out there. I have no confidence whatsoever that this tactic will work, but I hope to try. When in doubt, I will remind myself of my assets.