“My First Post-Divorce Date”

Here, one woman shares how she coped with her jitters—and the important lesson she learned by the end of the evening.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

counted it up: It had been about 16 years since I’d been on a date. Even after my 12-year marriage had broken up, I’d managed to avoid the whole dating scene for a few more years by becoming ensconced in a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, with whom no real dating was necessary. But once we broke up, it truly sunk in: I was middle-aged, single, and absolutely clueless about the mechanics of dating. A few months later, it happened: Someone asked me out.

Guess who's got a date?
He was a friend of a friend I met at a party. I hadn’t even thought of him as
I was nervous about this freefalling sensation of not knowing the rules.
someone I’d go out with because he’s stunningly good-looking in an Eddie Bauer skier-boy sort of way, the exact sort of guy my high school (yes, it was a million years ago, but some memories have a way of lingering) was overrun with, and the very sort who had absolutely no interest in me. To boot, he’s several years younger than me. Unthreatened because of what I thought was his “untouchable” status, I was able to talk to him without panting from interest or nervousness. A few weeks later, he asked me if I wanted to go to a costume party with a James Bond Casino Royale theme.

I should’ve been excited, right? Instead, I felt more panicky and insecure than I’d ever felt in high school. Only now, there was no I’m-just-a-schoolgirl excuse for such a case of the jitters. I’m old enough to have voted for Jesse Jackson. I’m a homeowner, a writer, a mother of two amazing children. I can speak in front of large crowds with confidence, but what—I couldn’t talk to a guy on the phone without my voice shaking? I can’t look a good-looking man directly in the eyes and smile? I felt like a newly arrived immigrant — successful in my native land, sure — but now stumbling awkwardly through a foreign language and landscape.

I wasn’t so much nervous because of him, but because of this freefalling sensation of not knowing the rules, much like how I felt in high school playing basketball when I wasn’t sure which basket my team was supposed to be heading for. Do I invite him in when he comes to the door or just run out? Are we going to kiss at the end—and how’s that going to work? I searched through my experiences for times I’d felt this out of my element and found one: my first real job interview. The magic formula for confidence back then, I reasoned, had been good clothes and research. Maybe, I thought, that’s all I needed now as well.

Inventing my new image
I started at my closet. I’d ruled out emulating the Vesper Lind character from the 2006 re-release of the movie and decided to go for the 1967 high-glamour Ursula Andress look. I tossed aside a few vintage cocktail dresses, and there it was in the back of my closet—this silky, cut on the bias Pucci-esque silk dress I’d bought in New York a few years back and had worn a total of once. This dress inspired a vision: A pair of silver sandals, a faux-fur stole from my daughter’s dress-up box, hair teased up into a Ginger-the-Movie-Star ’do, and big eyeliner a la Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl. I even decided to have a manicure—an amazing indulgence that seemed to change the very molecular structure of my self-image. I tried on the whole get-up on the day
I tried to remember that a date was just supposed to be fun.
before the party, and I almost scared myself when I looked in the mirror. Who was she? She didn’t look like she was scared of nothin’.

Next up? Research. I began badgering my friends who’d dated quite a bit with tons of questions about expectations people had about dating and the logistics of a date. The surprising thing I saw in both of them — one a decade older than me, the other a decade younger — was how lightly they treated the whole experience. A date was just fun. It didn’t have to mean anything. You wouldn’t be betrothed or beholden to your date by the end of the night; hopefully, you’d just have had a good time. Fun? A good time? OK, I hadn’t thought of that.

On the logistical question about inviting him in, my friends came in on two sides of the fence. My younger friend said, “Absolutely not; he doesn’t get to see inside for at least three dates.” Wow. Three dates? I might be getting social security by then. My older friend said, “Of course he’s coming in. It’s the only civilized way to go.” Mind you, she’s a chef and hostess extraordinaire, but she even added, “A chilled glass of Vouvray or a better Pinot Noir and a cheese ball wouldn’t be at all out of line.” A cheese ball?? O-kay, that’s not happening. I did resolve, though, that I would ask him in. The idea of going to a party with someone I’d barely spoken to just didn’t seem right.

On you mark, get!
So the big night finally came. He arrived at the door looking gorgeous in a tux — not a little like Bond himself — and I did manage to get us glasses of wine without breaking anything or hurting myself. We talked for a good while, and I knew two things pretty quickly: He was very nice and not right for me. He still has a building-a-family life ahead of him, and mine has already been built, dismantled, and reconstructed. But I thought of my friends’ advice—there was no reason not to have a very good time.

The party was in this amazing apartment perched above the harbor, the sort of place I’d never have reason to be in if it weren’t for this date. A uniformed woman glided by with canapés on a silver tray. While my date got my drink from the bar, I stood at the huge floor-to-ceiling window for a moment watching an illuminated ferry shuttle between a nearby island and the ferry terminal practically right at my feet. I had traveled a great distance, but I was a citizen here now in this new country, slowly but surely learning the ways of the new world.

Theo Pauline Nestor lives and writes in Seattle. Her memoir, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, is available now.
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