When I was in my late twenties and, after a several years’ long, self-imposed dating hiatus, decided to start dating again, I created a firm set of criteria for men:
Good taste in music
A little older than or the same age as me
There were deeper things as well, of course, such as matters of the soul, heart, brain, and spirit. But shoes, music, politics, age… those were the immediate first impression items that would make or break the possibility of a first date.
I recall getting an email from my son’s baseball coach, Steve, sometime soon after I reached this dating decision. Steve wrote in his email that the team would be getting a new assistant coach (AC) in a few weeks, that right now the new guy was traveling in Africa but would have a lot to offer the kids upon his return. Steve said something (I don’t remember what) in the email that made me realize this new coach was probably my age and the question flitted, unbidden—unwanted even—across my mind: was Africa Guy a dating possibility?
I promise it really was a fleeting thought. I still wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to date, and I don’t recall thinking of it again. Not until I first saw Andy, anyway.
I could tell as soon as I pulled into the parking lot that the new AC had finally arrived. I saw him standing by third base, separated by only a chain link fence and a few feet of dirt from where I would be sitting. He was tall(ish) and thin, but that’s all I could tell from my car. Minutes later, as I climbed onto the bleachers to watch practice, I took advantage of my dark sunglasses and close proximity to take a closer look.
Bad shoes. Terrible, even. Beat up sneakers, laces dragging in the dirt. Just really, really bad.
Oh well. I wasn’t really looking anyway.
If your child has ever been on a travel team, you know that travel teams require a lot of practices, games, and, well, traveling. Parents become very close during these months of game playing and road tripping and hotel staying, and at the end of the traveling season as everyone says goodbye with empty promises to stay in touch over the break, you can’t help but feel a void where those parents had been for so many months, day in and day out, whether you wanted them there or not.
During these forced but somehow magical months together, I was surprised to find myself strategically maneuvering into whatever car this ugly-shoed guy was riding in to whatever hot-as-heck town it was we were headed to at 5am on a Sunday morning. I was even more surprised when I later realized he was doing the same thing.
During these weekend drives, I came to find out that this guy has (present tense) HORRIBLE taste in music, clothes, and shoes, and that he’s five years younger than me. In fact, I found that the only first-impression criterion he met is that he’s liberal. Very, very liberal. (also present tense)
But I also found out that he loves kids and practicing random acts of kindness, is crazy intelligent, and that my son adored him. That I was kind of starting to adore him, too.
If you’re anything like me in this kind of situation, you may agree to go on a first date that turns out to be really lame, but for some crazy reason feel in your heart that a second date is in order. And then a third. And so on and so forth until one day, crazy upon crazy, you find yourself walking down the aisle towards this man who wears very bad shoes and doesn’t even know who the Misfits are.
I promise you, this is what you might find. Of course, you might not. But you might.
And a few years down the line, you may realize that sometimes it really does make things kind of tough that you can’t share musical references, that you sometimes feel a little too irksome over something as shallow as shoes, and that, on occasion, you will make a joke that he is too young to get.
It isn’t a one-way street, of course. Being forced during kitchen clean up time to listen to honkey tonk, British folk, or screaming once-twenty-year-old punk rockers who are now in their 40s and 50s with saggy tattoos probably isn’t too fun either.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to lie and say that these things end up not mattering. They do matter and, yes, it adds a few complications to the already-complicated institution of marriage when husband and wife don’t share some things in common. But it would also be unfair of me to act like these things matter-matter. Because they don’t.
I’m not incredibly old, and I haven’t been married an incredibly long time. But I’m willing to bet that marriage, like the rest of life, happens in stages. In the early stages you simply don’t care about anything other than the overwhelming newlywed love you feel towards one another. In the tired middle years—which is where my husband and I now reside—you care about who takes out the garbage and gets up with the baby. During the initial empty-nest stage, I imagine you might want to be with someone you don’t mind sitting with in a too-quiet and kid-lonely house. Bonus points if you can hit the RV with that person and travel to places unknown without killing each other. And I’ll bet that during all of the stages of marriage, the infamous notion of a helpmeet comes into play far more than my 25-year-old self would ever have wanted to admit. If you aren’t familiar with the notion of a helpmeet, don’t google it. All I mean is: spouses who help one another. A wife who moves across the country for her husband’s job. A husband who endures four-hours of sleep each night for month’s on end so his wife can get some recuperative rest. Partners who, together, agree to tackle finances and kids (not literally) and heartbreaking 2am phone calls and bouts of occasional melancholy.
Shoes and music and even age matter so little when you get a call from the principal’s office. Or the hospital. Or the police.
You know this to be true when you stop to think about it, but thinking in the face of a first impression or first date is typically not done. In fact, I’m willing to bet we’re at our stupidest during the heady early months of dating.
If you’re in those stupid months right now, or hope soon to be, my “old and married” advice for you on this once-religious-now-Hallmark-secular holiday we call Valentine’s Day would be to not get too hung up on the particulars of things you’re not even going to have time for later in life anyway (trust me, you won’t. Unless by “music” you mean the Frozen soundtrack and by “shoes” you mean slippers.) I could see age being an important factor in some instances, but even age may not be as important as you think. I can’t really speak to the politics part of it since that particular assistant coach and I ended up being on (mostly) the same page. I can, however, point you to James Carville and Mary Matalin, who are apparently still very much in love. I don’t really know any other examples of polar political opposites, so take what you will from their odd little union.
My “old and married” love note for my husband this Valentine’s Day will not overflow with flowery and poetic language, but rather will convey the simplest but most important of sentiments: Thank you.
I will write:
Dear Africa/Assistant Coach/Bad Shoe Guy,
Thank you for helping me so much and meeting my needs. For letting me roll my eyes at your clothes and ask you to turn your music down, especially if I’m trying to cook. For sighing when you don’t get a 1970’s punk reference, and for teasing you when you try to pretend that you do. Thank you for using your exaggerated Mark Twain accent to tell our little girl stories of a “Mr. Goldwater who in 1964 went home to fish due to one Mr. Johnson, who probably should’ve been fishing, too.” For getting our oldest concerned with sovereign debt issues, and for getting our youngest to occasionally wear pants. Thank you for loving me, neuroses and bad hair days and all.
If there’s anyone in this world I want to have so little in common with but so much love for, it’s you.
(You can read last year’s Valentine’s Day post here.)