My birthday is the same week as Valentine’s Day, so there’s a lot of pressure. And it almost never goes well.
I was turning 34, a sort of non-descript age. Having any number follow 30 while single weighed heavy on myself, but more so on my coworkers. Some of them called me at home telling me how I needed to settle down; others made promises of dates that never came through. But one teacher in particular decided to take the matchmaking thing into her own hands. She could get her own role of Yenta in the rendition of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
I had just started working at a middle school in Borough Park, a religious Jewish section of Brooklyn, which attracted a handful of conservative teachers. I, a reform Jew, with a flower child way about me, felt out of place at this minyan of the workplace. One day, Abbe, a coworker, started laying into me thick on the need to get married, to get over my romantic notions and views on marriage and settle down before it was too late.
“Stop this mishegas about waiting for the right one already,” she shrilled, her head scarf bouncing all over her face. “I know you like these other guys, but you need to find a good Jewish man—these other men won’t settle down.”
Something in her voice frightened me. Perhaps she was right. I was tired of the endless trysts. With my close friends all married with children, I needed to try different a tactic. Maybe I should let the yenta set me up.
A week later, Abbe found me and pulled me out of class while I was teaching to tell me she had found my match. Her sister met a guy at a gym that was interested in meeting me.
Hmmm, her sister, another very religious Jew whom I’ve never met, is at a gym in Manhattan working out in a long denim skirt and a wig and is talking to a man? That in and of itself was odd. Anyway, I thought, this is quite possibly the strangest way to meet someone that it might just be worth it. He was described as a Southern man who just moved here, and I thought the accent could be fun.
Our conversations on the phone allowed time for him to tell me anything we needed to get out in the open. I learned that he was an accountant and that he worked out often. We would meet on Saturday after his workout, sweats and all. I told him that I don’t work out, so if that was important to him, he should know. Uncomfortable silence. I was living off Luna Bars and coffee but not quite comfortable in spandex just yet. We agreed to meet for coffee.
I walked into the coffee shop and saw a man that fit the description, but not really. This man didn’t look 35 (the age he told me he was); his face resembled a burnt-out rock star trying to hold onto their youth. But that is Wall Street for you—men aging rapidly. I thought of leaving. He had no idea what I looked like other then that I did not work out, so it would be an easy getaway.
Then I thought of Abbe, how she had taken me under her wing and had so much passion for me to find my partner, and I reluctantly entered the café.
I walked over and he seemed pleased. We made small talk for about five minutes, when he spoke of working in San Francisco in 1990. I screamed, 1990!!! What kind of prodigy was he? That’s when he told me he was not 35; he was fifty—5-0! For an accountant he sure was bad with numbers.
“I knew you thought I was 35,” he said, as if that made it OK to lie. Now what? Can I get up and leave? I started to plan my exit, but I just couldn’t go through with it. Instead, we spoke about the same banal bogus. When I couldn’t take it anymore I suggested we walk for a bit. I kept pointing out the plethora of ways he could get home.
“There’s a bus stop and there’s the subway entrance, oh and look, there’s the bus right now, they don’t run often, you may want to go for it,” I said desperately. He got the message. This was the first time I had been on such a set up and wished I figured out a way to end it earlier. I now see why people go speed dating.
Finally, two polite people said goodbye, pretending that we were both not highly disappointed. Then we said the two nicest words anyone could say when you never want to see that person again: “Take care.”
I watched as my date grabbed his gym bag and went on the bus home with his head down. I felt a pang in my stomach when he left, wishing I handled myself better. Thinking how a stranger was so desperate to connect, he would lie about his age just to meet someone. I knew that Abbe would be disappointed, that she wanted a more traditional life for me, like she had. But a part of me was not ready yet.
I walked home holding back the tears. I wanted to be like Abbe and my friends, but not like this. Not so forced. And in all honesty, I see a bit of myself in that man. I, too, sometimes lie about my age and hope that somehow I will find that special person. That there still will be time to make a family of my own. And while I no longer work with Abbe, I am still open to have a caring person set me up. Even if it means playing with matches and getting burned.