Thursday, February 25, 2010

The value of life experience

Once upon a time, many years ago, in the late Nineties, I had to break up with my dentist.

Let me clarify that I wasn't dating my dentist: he just cleaned my teeth. But regardless we got into this weird interpersonal dynamic where he would try to pressure me into having procedures done that I didn't want to do, and I'd say that I didn't want to do them, and then he'd accuse me of not being committed to my relationship with oral hygiene. If you think that is strange, what is even stranger is that I found this dentist by getting a recommendation from a friend. She told me that he was a good dentist, but that sometimes she felt that he pressured her into procedures she didn't really want, but that it was probably nothing. I decided that even though he had demonstrated this undesirable trait to my friend, he surely wouldn't do that to me as well.

I was an idiot in the late Nineties.

After a year and a half I wised up and found a new dentist. I called the pushy dentist's receptionist and told her that I needed my dental records transferred to my new dentist. That evening, the pushy dentist called me at home to yell at me about terminating our professional relationship. He was furious. He kept asking me why I was leaving and telling me why I shouldn't. I gave specific examples and substantiated my position that he wasn't the right dentist for me. But the more I said, the angrier he got. Eventually he shouted into the phone, "I'm not hanging up until you say that nothing is my fault!"

(Someone needed to explain to this guy that the whole phone hang-up trick can be done from either end of the connection. It wouldn't be me though...because I hung up.)

Years later it occurred to me that my ex-dentist had taught me something valuable about breaking up with boyfriends: when you don't want to see someone anymore, you don't actually need to give a list of reasons. "I don't want to see you anymore" is sufficient information. It really isn't necessary to tell them every little thing you've always hated about them. Just tell them something vague and neutral ("we've grown apart", "we both know this hasn't been working for a while", etc.), wish them well, and get on with your life.

Done with that seemingly irrelevant anecdote, I will now return to our story.

Things were going well. It's true that I hadn't met anyone special through the matchmaker yet, but she was sending me out on dates almost every week. I was going to that Italian restaurant enough to have a semi-regular hook-up going on with the gnocchi that had previously bewitched me. Nothing serious. Just friends with benefits. Tasty, tasty benefits. True, the hostess did know me by name.

"Hi, Jen," she said, as I arrived at her podium at 6 p.m. on yet another Tuesday night.

"Hi, Teresa. Back for more and excited to be here," I said.

"Um," she said, fidgeting with her menu and looking worried, "are you sure?"

"Am I sure? Why wouldn't I be sure? Is the gnocchi off the menu?"

"No. No!" Now she looked embarrassed. "I shouldn't have said anything. I'll show you to your table."

What is up with her today? I thought as I followed her into the dining room. But when we rounded the potted palm all thoughts fled my mind: I saw him. My date sat alone at a table, looking out the window at the city skyline, a glass of wine in front of him catching the candlelight. He turned to me as I approached, looked deep into my eyes, and I suddenly realized what had always been true:

   Holy crap! This dude is old.

Internet, before you accuse me of being ageist and narrowminded, let me clarify. I'm 40. I don't date 20 and I don't date 60. I date 40. There isn't anything wrong with 20 year-olds and 60 year-olds, but they are outside the bounds of what I am looking for. More specifically, they are outside the bounds of what I pay quite a lot of money to the matchmaker to find for me. Why on earth am I paying the fancy-fancy matchmaker to find me guys who aren't even my type?

Seriously, even Teresa the hostess knew that he wasn't my type, and the only thing I ever told her about my preferences is that I like garlic bread more than cheesy rolls.

Now I have three problems.

Problem 1: I am on a date with a guy that I have absolutely no interest in.

Problem 2: I need to consider whether I still want to use this matchmaker service.

Problem 3: I will actually spend the evening thinking about problem 2 when I should be dealing with problem 1.

"Here is your table," said Teresa, pulling out my chair.

"Thank you. Hi, I'm Jen." (Why on earth did they think I'd like this guy?)

"Guy," he said.

"It's nice to meet you," I said. (Not that there is anything wrong with him as a person, just because he isn't my type. I should be nice.)

"Have you been here before?" he asked.

"Yes. Many times." (I'm sure he has many fine qualities. And I can still enjoy getting to know an interesting person.)

"Can you recommend anything?"

"The gnocchi is excellent. Carpaccio is good if you like capers. The ravioli is kind of messy. What do you like?" (I like going on a date with a man who isn't old enough to be my father. Damn matchmaker.)

"I tend to like seafood," said Guy.

"There's a salmon fettucini. Very rich." (How many clients does she have total, I wonder. A few thousand men, at most?)

"That sounds good," he said.

"Here is some bread for you. Extra garlic today," said Teresa, looking at me apologetically.

"Thank you," I said. (Oh, sister. You weren't kidding. Why didn't I trust my gnocchi pimp? She's always had my interests at heart.)

"Your server will be right over."

"So, Guy, what do you like to do for fun?" (Need to pretend like this is a normal date. I don't want this guy to think I don't like him.)

"Jen, I don't mean to be rude, but can we drop the charade?"

"Pardon?" (He's onto me!)

"You seem like a very nice girl, but you just aren't my type. No offense."

"None taken," I said. (Okay, I didn't expect that.)

"I can't believe I just signed up with this matchmaker for another year! I don't think they have any more clients that meet my criteria. Such a waste of money!" he said, scowling at his menu. "No offense," he said.

"None taken," I said. (Hmm. My membership is up in a few weeks.)

"But they really pushed me to renew. 'Oh, we have so many wonderful women you haven't met yet!' I can't believe I fell for that," he said.

"They can be very convincing. Tell me, Guy, what else did they say?"

It ended up being a very informative date. And using the intel that my denture-wearing Mata Hari supplied, I was able to formulate the perfect plan for severing my professional relationship with the matchmaker. When my favorite matchmaking minion called a few weeks later, I was ready.

Chirpy Minion #2: Jen, have I got a date for you!

Jen: Excellent!

Minion: But unfortunately, he won't be available for a date for a few weeks. And your membership is about to end. Do you want to renew?

Jen: Well, Chirpy Minion, I've thought about this.

Minion: Yes?

Jen: No, I don't.

Minion: What? You don't? We were sure you would!

Jen: No.

Minion: But, uh, we have so many wonderful men for you to meet!

Jen: I know.

Minion: And we, uh, give all our clients personal attention. Attention to detail! Detailed process!

Jen: I know.

Minion: And, uh, we have quality clients! It's not like the Internet! All kinds of weirdos out there!

Jen: So true.

Minion: So, don't you want to renew?

Jen: As much as I value the service that you provide, I think it is time for me to move on. But I wish you all the best, Chirpy Minion #2.


Jen: I know it's hard. But this is the right thing for me right now. Please give my thanks to your boss for her hard work. Take care.

Then I hung up, and started searching the Internet for some weirdos to date.

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