. . . Tired of being the third wheel and realizing the re-sparking love
birds required some space. I headed for the patio and a needed
cigarette. There were 6 or 7 in the pack I'd bought in Mainz. Determined
to quit (again) when they were gone, I'd carved in mental stone the day
after my birthday as my new quit day. Maybe something good could come
out of turning sixty? My last cigarette on my big 6-O.
Awash in meomories of where I'd been my past two birthdays, in my Zurich
lover's bed for my 58th and in my new Philly apartment looking at 42
boxes to unpack for my 59th, one cigarette quickly turned into two. I
considered going back in. But it was hot inside, noisy and crowded, so I
remained outside and people-watched. A few men came and went. None paid
me any attention. Not that I expected otherwise. I am feeling pretty
invisible these days. Some kind of office party in progress created an
interesting, far ends of the socio-economic spectrum clientele: men in
shirts and ties along real working stiffs clad in a variety of
uniforms--Fed Ex, UPS, US Postal, delivery drivers and surprisingly
airline and airport workers. (Apparently only flight attendants and
pilots are subject to the "no drinking in uniform" rule? Women were in a
definite minority. And I was the only one in heels and hose and a
skirt--pretty out of place attire for a blue collar bar. Big surprise.
I'm used to it. I'm out of place most places. In fact, I have been so
all of my life--a byproduct of being a military brat and moving every
other year. In my youth, I rather reveled in it. In my old age, I simply
accept it. I don’t give much of a fuck any more. I even do it on
purpose, I think. A preemptive action, if you will. I distance myself
first, so when the world does it, it’s a lesser blow—which, BTW,
never hurts as much as the one that takes you by surprise.
At least two cigarettes later, maybe three, a guy entered the patio from
the parking lot. Since I was sitting alone at a centrally located table
intended for 4 or 5 and I was watching him, it didn’t take much for
our glances to meet.
“Mind if I sit with you?” he asked, gesturing with the cigarette in
I figured he wanted use of the ashtray. “Sure. Why not?” I either
said it or thought it.
Compared to the rest of the beer-bellied, Philadelphia sports team
logo-wearing salt-of-the earth types that populated the place, he
wasn’t half bad. Really, really short blond hair, broad shoulders and
nice forearms, a black T-shirt sans logo and jeans. He had pleasant,
rather fine features, teeth a little spaced and a certain swagger. It
seemed everyone on the damn patio knew him by name.
He asked if I was part of the office group.
“Nope, just trying to get away from it. It’s crowded inside.” (In
hindsight his presumption made perfect sense. Remember, I was wearing a
skirt, heels and hose—hardly the normal hoodie, tennies and jeggings
look of a local.)
I honestly don’t remember a lot of what transpired next. I remember
the middle and the end. Just not the beginning. But I can tell you this
. . . what I can’t remember is EXACTLY why online dating doesn’t
work for me. It happened instantaneously . . . fast, intense,
unscripted, undefined . . . a barrage of signals and responses, nuances
and triggers. While online dating proceeds in a linear step by step
movement—i.e. attraction begets contact, contact begets more contact,
more contact creates more interest, etc., etc. until the actual
face-to-face meet . . . offline is a star-burst in reverse. So much is
incoming via an only subconsciously readable process that only raw
instinct can respond to it. There is no time to think, to contemplate,
weigh or deliberate. Bam! Fireworks! Explosion! What we all know as THE
For how else can I explain what occurred next . . .
He introduced himself and said he was a mechanic. When he mentioned his
employer’s name, I laughed and pointed to myself.
“Flight attendant, same company.”
He looked deliberately and pointedly at my legs. “I should have
guessed . . . stockings and high heels.”
“Not necessarily,” I answered. “Less actually wear them than
We chatted about travel, free flight benefits and other superficial
stuff. The necessary steps in the verbal dance men and women do when
they first meet, all for the purpose of learning background,
compatibility and availability.
(Pause here for an editorial comment . . . Read the following verbal
exchange and tell me how it compares to sitting in front of a computer
screen, scanning an online profile for “Marital Status.” Go ahead.
Read it. Then then tell me you don’t feel heat.)
I pulled another cigarette from my quickly emptying pack. When he made a
move to light it, I let my touch on his hand linger. Then I took his
hand and turned it to see if a wedding ring was present.
“Got a wife?” I asked.
“Nope. Got two ex ones though.” He tossed his lighter back onto the
“Where are they?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t give a fuck.” He looked at me.
And so the whole issue of availability was resolved.
(So? Is it just me—or is that not hot?)
Conversation continued and I learned more. He was sure of him, for sure!
A bad boy, who preferred to party in Vegas or Florida. He probably drank
too much, but worked just as hard. Not relationship material by a long
shot, but then . . . I wasn’t looking for a relationship.
“I’ve met you before,” he said.
“No. You haven’t.”
“Yeah . . . I have. I’m sure of it. I’ve met you before.”
Was he talking past lives? If it was a line, it was one I’d never
heard before. He said he was a Taurus. (I wasn’t surprised.) He asked
what kind of music I liked.
“Pretty much anything, except rap. I like R & B and Mo-town,
He talked about rock music’s roots in Blues.
“Muddy Waters,” I responded, “influenced the Beatles a lot.”
He seemed impressed. We talked about education as well. I was impressed
when, after I opined over the lack of relevance our system has for most
teenagers, he complimented me on the perfect word choice:
“relevance.” Who knew a mechanic could be so layered?
My girlfriend came out to check on me. She smiled knowingly. She knew.
“You have to come in and have another birthday drink,” GG said,
before turning her focus to him. “It’s her birthday today.”
“Happy Birthday,” he said.
“Yeah, whatever,” I answered, waving as GG judiciously exited stage
right. “It’s not exactly one I want to celebrate.”
“I don’t want to be as old as it makes me.”
He shrugged. “Age is just a number. I’m 51.”
He shrugged again and smartly dropped the subject. He introduced me to
the bar’s owner, now schmoozing with his patrons on the patio, then
the owner’s wife. They were clearly fond of him. I gathered he was a
regular and hitting on a random female was probably not out of his
ordinary. He went back to his car for his cigarettes, then got another
drink: vodka, neat. I knew something was developing—and developing
fast. The question was, did I let it continue? It was nice to have male
attention. It had been four months since Z. Dr. Sills was whispering in
my ear: “Go for it! Sometimes Mr. Right is just Mr. Right for right
I asked if he’d like to come back inside and join me and my friends. I
half expected him to decline. He didn’t. He sat down and easily
introduced himself to GG’s pilot. The fact we all four worked for the
same airline created a superficial rapport for the quartet. However, it
was the male connection that instantly formed between the men that truly
fascinated me: two alphas respecting the other’s turf as each moved
in on their respective targeted for the night female . . . It was like
watching Wild Kingdom live.
Talking airline, mine leaned in to better hear GG’s over the music. At
the same time I slipped my hand down the table to grab my wine,
inadvertently (or not) creating contact. He touched my fingertips and
played with them for a moment. Casual, natural, physical.
When conversation split again between couples, I turned in my stool to
face him. He did the same, opening his legs to create room for me to
move in closer.
“So which birthday is it?” he asked.
I copped to it, and he shrugged, indifferent as hell to my deep, dark
At least in this vodka/merlot fueled moment, age didn’t matter, I
thought. God bless alcohol—the elixir of equality responsible for
getting fat, ugly and old women laid for centuries!
"Why does it matter?” he then asked.
“Because women at a certain age become invisible.”
“My mother is 72. And my mom isn’t invisible.”
“Ok. Not invisible,” I conceded. “But they’re not desirable.
Even 50 or 60 year-old men are looking at 30 and 40. Why go with a
“Intellect,” he answered. “There has to be something there to talk
Damn! He was earning points and clearly indicating he was interested.
The next move was clearly mine to make—or not.
I leaned in to talk into his ear, above the noise. “So French
Canadian, huh? I’ve never had one of those . . . ever fuck a
(Yeah. I know, classy. And subtle. But subtlety and restraint have never
been strong suites of mine. I’m all in—or all out.)
He answered something I didn’t hear, then apologized. “Too much? Too
I laughed. “I opened the door.”
He leaned forward and gently swept aside my hair. “You’re not
invisible,” he said with a light kiss.
Then he paused. Deliberately waiting for my signal? Whether it was my
half smile or soft sigh or something else on a totally different sensory
plane, I gave it. And he got it.
He placed both hands on either side of my face and kissed me, this time
nipping at my lower lip and slipping his tongue inside as soon as I
allowed it. Oh, he was good! (Later I would learn from GG, who had
gotten it firsthand from SLBS, that the full on and in kiss did not go
After a very enjoyable moment, reason returned. Feeling foolishly on
display, I broke it off and said I needed a cigarette. Without waiting
to see if he would follow, I headed back to the patio. He followed. At a
corner table we took up where we’d left off. Blame it on the wine,
four months of celibacy, five months of rejection or depression over
turning 60 . . . whatever the catalyst, we made out like a couple of
Eventually we came up for air. “So you just walked here?” he asked,
referencing an earlier exchange wherein I told him I lived close by.
“Just down the street,” I answered.
He looked at me. One of those looks that speaks volumes . . . “Let’s
take a walk.”
I went inside to retrieve my purse and scarf and to tell GG I was
leaving. “I’m going to need a little time before you come over.”
She laughed. “Text me.”
“Don’t worry,” SLBS chimed in, “we’ve been talking. She can
stay at my place.”
Normally I would never do that to a girlfriend, but extraordinary
circumstances call for . . . moreover, I was clearly doing her a favor.
She had been wanting to get back together with him for months. Besides,
I didn’t actually figure it would take that long. (Wam-bam, thank you
ma’ams never do.)
We walked down the street toward my house. At some point he laughed and
told me to slow down. I wasn’t in a hurry, I’ve just always walked
Inside my apartment he paused and looked around. “This is nice,” he
said, before pulling me to him. His hands went up under my top as we
kissed. He fumbled with the bra’s clasp, then just yanked. Hard and
Fuck! That was my red Victoria Secret! The most expensive bra I own! I
remember thinking. It was kind of sexy though, I had to admit. (The next
day I bent the hook back and sewed in a new eye.)
Once he had the access he wanted, he was slow, deliberate, tactile,
lusty and dominant. And good. In the middle of it all, the most
ridiculous thought popped into my head, a recently read piece of
horoscope trivia: Taurus is the most sensual of all the signs; “if
anyone can make your skin feel good, it’s a Taurus man” . . . No
Afterward, he said he needed a cigarette. He threw on his jeans. I
grabbed a robe. My lease dictates no smoking, so we stood on the front
porch. The wind was blowing, and it had started to rain. Shirtless, he
pulled me close and held me. He asked if he could stay.
I don’t do sleepovers. It’s a firm rule of mine, yet I said yes. We
headed back inside. After round 2 (even better than round 1), he said he
was starving. He hadn’t eaten. He was going to walk to the corner
convenience store for a sandwich.
“I’ll back in bit. If it’s still ok I stay?”
In the meantime GG had texted and asked if I would leave the door
unlocked so she could come get her stuff. When he came back, we went to
bed. (I never heard her come in, though she told me the next day she and
SLBS had both laughed at the way clothes were thrown around the living
Following round 3 (difference skill set, but just as good), he held me
for a long time. Then he started to snore. I used to hate the sound. But
after so many years of sleeping alone, it was strangely comforting. I
rolled over and fell asleep with the strains of that stupid song running
through my head: “Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me. . .”
For the purpose of full disclosure, I need to tell you now that what
comes next was written several weeks after the fact. I have seen him
since, but that fact is not germane to my cause here, which is to
discuss the inexplicable attraction of sexual attraction as it pertains
to online versus offline dating.
That abstract, indefinable phenomenon of instant visual attraction and
emotional appeal is often called THE SPARK by some and CHEMISTRY by
others. It happens—or not—within seconds of meeting someone in the
flesh. The feeling varies with the individual. It can be a very real
sensation of actual heat, a pleasant flickering in the belly—the
proverbial butterflies—or it can be a mere realization, conscious or
not. To bastardize a famous quote about pornography by US Supreme Court
Justice Potter Stewart . . . I can’t define it. But I know it when I
In a dating advice article posted by eharmony, Melanie Schilling, a
psychologist and dating coach, claims there are actually two types of
sparks: the Wow and the Ahhh. The Wow, which tends to burn hard and
fast, “creates amazing casual encounters.” (Ya think, Melanie?) Yet
it is short-lived, blowing out rather quickly. The Ahhh, on the other
hand, is a slower burning, less intense, more comfortable and sustaining
spark—ergo the type you probably want “as the basis of a long term
relationship.” Ms. Schilling contends that even if initially absent,
the Ahhh “can develop over time.” Thanks, but I’ll pass. Trial and
error have taught me when I don’t feel it initially, it’s “square
peg in a round hole” time. It doesn’t work, and trying is a waste of
effort. (Of course, I’m single at sixty, so what the fuck do I know?)
Because sexual attraction often occurs seemingly upon reception of
specific triggers—we all know what floats our boat—we tend to think
there is an actual template—a certain set of desired characteristics
like hair color, height, intellect, personality, body type, etc. which
can manufacture it. Ergo, online dating sites’ lists of preferences
and the boxes we mentally check off when considering someone we
Herein lies the fundamental problem of online dating, as I see it. We
humans possess five senses, in addition to our brain, with its powers of
thought, analysis, deductive reasoning, etc. While the online dating
method is able to beautifully tap into our brains and all their
technical and analytical abilities, our senses are pretty much left out
of the selection for a mate/date process—except for the sense of
sight. Semi-satisfied, at best, by a one dimensional photograph. (Big
whoop!) Even eventually adding in the sound of someone’s voice via a
real phone call does not provide the full panoply. Furthermore, only a
small percentage of the human brain processes verbal communication. We
are wired for more and function thusly—sending and receiving wordless
cues in a conscious and unconscious encoding and decoding process that
cannot be recreated in virtual reality. “In living color” is more
than an expression or a 90s TV show!
Think body language: facial expressions, gestures, eye contact,
posture, distance proximity . . . According to the experts (and
Wikipedia), these nonverbal behaviors comprise 75-85% of all human
communication. Factor in tone of voice (hearing is 11%), touch (2%),
taste (1%) and smell (3%), and now you have the full picture of human
interaction and communication. The look in his eye, the crook of his
smile, the tilt of his head . . . sure. Those can be relayed on a
computer screen. But what about the smell of his skin, the taste of his
kiss, the touch of his caress . . . how do you get those from a profile
or a photo? Oh, you could—in person, of course! But chances are either
or both of you will eliminate the other long before that final stage of
online dating can be reached. For here’s the curse of online: The
numbers, the sheer volume of choices, create a “what if there’s
something better out there?” mentality that is a constant plug-puller
on countless flickering interests. Before true current can flow, the off
switch has been flipped. It is the exact opposite in organic dating. The
face-to-face meet is offline’s first step—not it’s last.
The dating sites have sold us a bill of goods, convincing us we are
“communicating” online. No. We are not. At least, not very much. We
are typing on a keyboard, texting and emailing. There’s a reason we
had to invent emojis, people! Absent tone, inflection and accompanying
visual cues, the written word is an ineffectual, ambiguous, subject to
false interpretation means of connecting to an emotional end. Certainly,
anyone who has ever had a text message “taken the wrong way” can
attest to my point here.
Give me a man in the flesh. Let me read the nonverbal signals—how long
he looks at me, how close he holds me, the fact he rinsed out his coffee
cup the next morning before he put it in the sink . . . I’ll take
that any day over staring at a text and trying to decide if his use of
ellipses indicates continued interest—or not.
In a nutshell . . . a keyboard is a means of contact. It is not a means
For now, I know what I want--and what I don't. I don't want to be hurt
again. I don't want to give up my independance or lose my identity. I'm
not interested in ever being married again. I don't want to play house.
And I don't need a travel, dinner or social companion. That's what
girlfriends are for. But most importantly, I don't want to ever settle
again. Particularly if I think "less than what I want" is as good as I
can get. Maybe It's just another form of preemptive action? perhaps. But
at this space i time, as of this chapter's close, I am more secure than
when I started.
A final thought regarding who you find online . . . as opposed to
stumbling across in life . . .
Online you know a lot--and feel nothing. Offline you know nothing--and
Excerpted from "I Still Want Fireworks: A Single-at-60's Odyssey Through Life, Love & Online Dating" by Judith Hill. Copyright © 2017 by Judith Hill. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.