An attractive woman working in the company where a friend works wears an ambiguous ring on her left hand -- it doesn't look like a wedding ring. Rings as semaphores of romantic status used to be clear – engaged, married, or single. The ambiguity of this ring reflects the ambiguity of the social situation for a divorced father who would like to find a companion. Is the ring announcing that the woman is committed but not married, committed but gay, a single mom raising a child without a father, divorced, married, or just a single woman who liked the ring and it fits best on the finger where wedding rings usually go? Alternatively, the lack of a ring does not always mean the person is single – some married couples feel branded by wearing a ring. Dating sites provide this information up front, but meeting in person (which is where he would prefer to meet someone) is a thicket of social brambles. Being a man who spends part of his life as a single parent and eschews babysitters when possible, he’s not likely to meet a woman at a bar or a party; more likely at work, or a children’s soccer game, at church, at the gym, or randomly over the broccoli in the supermarket. If he likes her, what is the acceptable opening gambit? He thinks there should be a ring which signals divorce. He has provisionally called it the Maiden Ring, which sounds nice, but isn't quite right. Divorce Ring is too fraught. Somewhere there is a perfect name for such a ring. The suggestions have poured in: people divorced one year or less might wear a red ring, people divorced 2-5 years a blue ring, and people divorced five years or more a green ring. Someone suggested a white band across the ring for each child. Or it could be a ring worn the left hand or a different finger, or a ring of a certain configuration or material. The counterargument is that half the fun would be in unearthing this information without offending the person. It would build social deftness to try, but maybe there is enough to learn about people deftly without having to negotiate this opening barrier. Pity the poor person looking for a mate, or even just a date, in the actual, rather than the virtual, world. It’s a minefield out there.
The only thing I know about Japanese dating is what Ritsuko told a group of us the other day. She's a young woman teaching Japanese in and near New York, and she would like to get married but hasn't found the right man yet. She regaled a group of us with stories about dating in Japan. According to her, boys ask girls out, and vice-versa, and parents sometimes arrange dates. It sounds like a more wide open dating scene than in the U.S. Her bombshell announcement was that bosses often arrange dates for their employees! The date is a command performance which is often, according to Ritsuko, awkward and unpleasant. She says that Japanese women formulate stories to deal with this forced situation: they say that they are going to be engaged soon or are in a relationship with someone, or cook up some other excuse for refusing further dates. This excuse sounds problematical to me. It says to the man that the ONLY reason you are out with him is that you were required to do it by your boss. If you follow the logic, why else would you betray your significant other by going out with another man? A woman who would go out with one man while committed to another man might not be a very good bet, in our way of looking at things. Different cultures have different expectations of each other, different required behaviors, and different power structures. All I know is that I wouldn't want any of my former bosses to set me up with anyone. If one of them had done so, and cajoled me into accepting the date, I might have contracted the Plague on the way out the door.
If my friends and acquaintances are any measure, women commonly seek out dates only in a safe venue. They don’t feel safe on the Internet, so they follow the advice of best practices articles and listicles, “Get out of the house. Go to a place where other people are doing what you enjoy doing.” So they troop to the local library, the adult school, volleyball night at the YMCA, a conference on a promising subject, or the local church of choice. They complain that the people they meet there are other women who have read the same articles. So where are the men? They are in bars, but if you go to bars you meet men who like to go to bars and if you don’t share that pleasure, the odds are high for a mismatch. At a reading at my local library one man gave an answer. “They are everywhere. In the supermarket, on the street, on the bus. You just have to smile and talk to people.” He said that he objected to making dating a project; he just wanted it to happen naturally and claimed that making natural connections in his daily life was commonplace. The “men are everywhere” answer was reassuring. The “just smile!” elicited grimaces of discomfort from the women; but maybe we should consider being more generous with our smiles and comments about the weather. It depends what streets you are walking, at what time of day, and for what purpose, but what he says makes sense to me. One of the women in this discussion had just met a man after her nose started bleeding while she was in front of his house. He came out to help her and they struck up a conversation – he gave her a kiss on the cheek after the bleeding stopped. That would be a story to tell their grandchildren!
Some young people have been asking me for dating advice lately. Good heavens! My first advice would be “Don’t do what I did,” because until my 2007 marriage, which has turned out to be a peaceable, loving, and productive union, I would have been a very unlikely advisor. Now that I have THAT out of the way – I did learn a few things, and am gratified to be able to share them. A while ago I posted Ten Things I Learned Along the Way to my web page, and I stand by what I wrote in those, especially number one: First Learn To Live Alone. But deeper thought was necessary, and I’ve been thinking. Years ago, I went to a social media workshop – how to sell your book through social media, you know the drill. Something the speaker said stuck with me, “People don’t buy from people who are selling things; they buy from people they like.” Another catchphrase comes from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” When applying to love the spirit, as I understand it, of these two observations, here’s what I found: “You will find not what you want, but what you are.” I don’t mean to be trite with such a broad-based observation – you will make of it what you want. It’s not easy to change one’s focus from the outside to the inside, but it will pay off. You can use some of the other “things I learned along the way” to feed this attitude – find your deal breakers, do your triage early, monitor your dating investment of time and money, take care of yourself, and learn to meditate. But this is the overarching principle – you’ll get not what you want, but what you are.