It was my therapist who insisted on the online dating account. She said it wasn’t healthy to never date again after divorce. I disagreed, but opened the account to show her that I was a healthy, balanced person who listened to professional advice.
I never planned on actually dating anyone.
My sister helped me with my profile. We uploaded a classic post-haircut selfie taken in the front seat of my mom-mobile, checked the boxes that applied to me (non-smoker) and some that didn’t (outdoorsy) and sat back and waited for the true love brigade to roll in.
I hadn’t been on a date in more than 15 years. The last scene I was a part of involved beepers and 143 codes. The dating pool I was dipping my toe into was vastly different from anything I’d ever known.
Two days later, the messages overwhelmed me. Men 20 years my senior asking to be my sugar daddy. Men offering, somewhat indelicately and with unbelievably poor grammar, to father my next baby. Men asking about my listed hobbies, and preferred cuisine. Ever the good girl, I responded to them all with polite declines.
Until my therapist found me out. “You can’t decline everyone. We agreed you would try dating, not that you would open a profile and practice rejection.”
A quick glance at the overall list of messages in my inbox told me that my search for a date would have to start elsewhere. Always the data junkie, I turned to a more scientific method.
The website I was on sent out a weekly email with potential matches. Using some unknown dating algorithm, the site matched me with new potential love interests and ranked my matches. “Mark is your 93% match!” the email would proclaim. I’d pull up Mark’s profile and try to discern what baggage he carried by studying the picture of him grinning at the beach last summer.
The email match list introduced me to men I with whom I had something in common, and I began talking to a few of them. The attorney with two daughters in the next town and a penchant for cooking had a wicked sense of humor. The recently separated pediatrician shared my affinity for B-list black comedies. The contractor volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in South America and liked the same books I did.
It wasn’t terrible, although it was occasionally awkward. We live in a small town, and sometimes my matches were people I already knew. Old colleagues, a mortgage broker, my former dentist: all made an appearance on the weekly email and, for the most part, I ignored them.
One morning, I opened the email and found a face I knew well smiling out at me. He was the ex-husband of a couple Billy and I had known for years. We’d socialized often, and he’d once helped me sell a business I owned. In fact, he and I had recently spent an afternoon together with our children.
I wanted to show them another example of a family post divorce. I’d reached out to this former couple to ask if we could get the kids together, and learned my weekends matched the dad’s custody schedule. He and I had taken the children to a local park together, and let them run around in the sunshine for a couple of hours. The kids enjoyed the time, and we’d talked about getting them together again.
On our next outing, I waited until the kids were out of earshot before bringing up the email. They didn’t know I was dating, and I wasn’t ready to talk about it. It was barely real, after all.
“I got you on my Match.com email this week,” I said.
“Me too,” he replied. “You’re my first 100% match.”
“So weird, right?” I exclaimed. “I’m going out with my second highest match next week.”
We continued talking as the kids played. I learned that he’d been out with an old high school friend, and it had been less awkward than he thought. I told him about the date with the doctor and how when he hadn’t held the door for me I’d spent the rest of the night thinking about how Billy always had. We talked about how weird it was to be dating, and how hard it was to even think about romance when the kids were so front and center for each of us. We talked about how we never thought it would be our marriages that ended in divorce.
And so we went on that way, meeting with the children on the weekend, talking about being newly single and swapping stories from the dating trenches. It was comfortable and genuine and fun.
Years later, it still is.
I wasn’t looking for love when Gabe arrived on the scene. In fact, I made it hard for love to find me. I missed the trumpets announcing its arrival (I never did get another 100% match). I was so uncomfortable the first time he asked me to dinner without the children I didn’t even respond. I insisted we see other people for longer than he was comfortable with because I was sure I wasn’t supposed to be with this man I’d known for years. I turned down his first proposal.
Gabe’s and my partnership is richer than I ever would’ve imagined. He courts me with red roses and early morning dishwasher emptying. He quotes poetry and builds chicken coops. He is a steady, calm presence I can depend on, no matter what this eight-person adventure delivers in a day. He is the love of my life, and I nearly missed him.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the woman who was never, ever, ever dating again after her divorce. Ever.
I’m so terrifically grateful the universe had other plans.