This article was originally published in the March 2018 Princeton Echo.
It took seven years to get over the fact that I no longer lived in New York; it’s taken me many more years to get over the fact that I’ve found myself single, again. Like most people who get married, I was sure it would last forever. When you’re in love with someone, you think that it will be your superpower.
At the time I met my now ex-husband, I had put myself through college in Long Island, by first attending a community college, working two to three jobs simultaneously, and then transferring to Long Island University/C.W. Post. I was the first college graduate in my family. I was living in an illegal sublet on Crosby Street in SoHo and working as a publicity assistant at Viking Press in New York City.
He was doing freelance jobs as a computer programmer and still lived at home, composing ethereal piano music on the side. Because I fancied myself a singer, performing with the New York Grand Opera alongside my day job, it seemed like we were a great match. Our relationship took off. Forced out of the sublet, I moved to a studio in Brooklyn Heights and accepted a position at Mercury Records, still trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. He got a full-time job in New Jersey.
We got engaged and so it began: the suburban exodus. We crossed the bridge, moving to New Jersey. We got married when I was 27; our daughter became a spectacular reality when I was 32; and our divorce was finalized when I was nearing 37. Though it seemed like we took our time, there were issues that were never fully addressed. Things were swept aside until they could no longer be ignored. We became another divorce statistic.
I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s resolutions for finding love in 2018, but if you’re going to find love and you’re over 40, you may have to look further than Princeton. This town is known for a lot of things, primarily its spectacular public library (which also happens to be my employer), and a certain university.
What it is not known for is for being a hotbed of romantic opportunities. According to article from Prevention Magazine, “The 8 Best Cities for Dating Singles Over 40,” the top towns include Tampa, Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, Atlanta, St. Louis, Portland (Oregon), and Boston.
If I began researching the top worst places to be single, I’d wager that the list could include Princeton, Hopewell, Lawrenceville … Of course, this hypothesis is decidedly unscientific and could possibly be misconstrued as fake news, but after almost 10 years of drowning in the local dating pool, my pruny skin could certainly be the basis for some kind of scientific data. (Now, there’s a selling point in the dating world if you’ve ever heard one.)
Surely, I have gone on dates over this last decade with Princeton serving as the backdrop.
There was the first (and only) date with someone whom I met through eHarmony: a man who rode his motorcycle from New Hope to meet me at Small World. The moment I opened the door and assumed my place in the regular queue, I scanned the crowd and was mildly overcome by an unpleasant odor. My date had gotten there ahead of me, and came over to introduce himself and offer to pay for my coffee. Sounds like a good start, right?
Let’s just say that I am not perfect. I was so put off by trying to place the smell that I declined his chivalrous offer, not starting off on the best foot. As we settled at a table near the front of the storefront, the odiferous mystery was solved when he told me that he had gotten stuck behind a garbage truck most of the way from Pennsylvania. The smell must have clung to his leather jacket so that it was now being shared widely. After some conversation about “bladders” he constructed for elaborate cakes he enjoyed making, the unfortunate word choice, paired with the foul scent was just too much to bear.
Ah, Princeton. There was a series of dates with people I met through Match.com: a date with an out-of-town lawyer who liked the idea of the sexy librarian stereotype; someone who met me at Starbucks whose face quite obviously changed as soon as I opened my mouth and let out what might be a distinctive laugh. “You know, I actually made a plan to get some shopping in while in Princeton. It was great meeting you,” and he bolted out the door. Apparently, we can all make quite an impression. The trick is finding that person who will appreciate the special qualities that only you possess.
I have found a few people with whom I’ve had more than one date. The first person was someone who lived in Princeton, whom I would see regularly around town. After getting to know each other as acquaintances, he became the rebound relationship after the divorce from whom I learned, literally, how to get back out on my bicycle. A good chunk of the time we spent was riding along the D&R Canal towpath. We had a great 15-month run, and I managed to burn off quite a few calories in the process.
I had met the second person through OKCupid, and we had great banter before we even met. That is a rarity. I’ve found that since I’ve hit my 40s, my attempts at actually meeting people through online dating is challenging. It’s difficult to get someone to agree to an actual date. I soon found out that there were some risk factors (he was a recovering alcoholic and was sober for the last year), but he was very earnest in wanting to pursue a relationship. Six months in, I felt that there was something amiss and knew that our shelf life was limited. The fateful call came on a random Monday afternoon:
“Hi Kris. I’m on a plane.”
“I’m on a plane on my way to Florida to rehab.”
“I had a rough weekend, but I didn’t have that much. Maybe a case of beer…anyway, work is paying for it… Kris?”
The words blurred together, and I knew that I wasn’t ready to further invite this situation into my life on a longer-term basis. Being a parent makes you more protective about who you decide to let into your world than if you are completely on your own.
After my brush with drama, I wasn’t in the mood for more. My third try at a relationship came as a surprise when someone I had known as an acquaintance struck up a conversation with me about cookbooks. Being a librarian, this is not an infrequent occurrence. I was surprised when I thought I heard him say, “Would you like to have dinner tonight?”
I said, “What?” thinking I had misheard him.
“Are you free for dinner?”
Am I free? The image of me nestled up on the couch, with a bowl of cereal flashed into my mind.
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
We agreed to meet for dinner, but I wasn’t positive he meant it as a date. I mean, that’s weird, right? Why wouldn’t it be a date? It’s striking how much I relate to my teenage self in terms of knowing where I stand with the opposite sex.
Our mutual friend who suggested to him that he ask me out was right about thinking we’d get along well. We did, even though I got up and walked out on him during one of our earlier dates at the now-defunct Infini-T, because he couldn’t tear himself away from his phone. We had a lot in common — a love of theater, jazz, sarcasm. But, in the end, it seemed we would make better friends than partners.
So where does one find an eligible person to date in this town? Before we get to that, I’ve discovered a few places where you should not go looking for love. In the spirit of generosity, I feel compelled to help my fellow single compatriots, wherever you are (where are you? I could use some wing-people).
Your child’s school. Clearly, there are some unfortunate nuclear families that combust. But step back and consider what you might be getting in the middle of, especially when you consider what a small town this is. Who wants to willingly jump into drama? Not cool. Leave the single dad (or mom) alone, at least until your kids go their separate ways. Besides, can you imagine the embarrassment you might cause your child if you were to date his or her friend’s parent? (“Gilmore Girls,” anyone?) I’m a firm believer in leaving your child out of your dating life. They’ve got enough to deal with.
Church. Have you been to church, lately? When my daughter was much younger, we went church shopping. Raised Roman Catholic, I had long foregone that path, but I found myself missing a spiritual center. We attended Unitarian, Presbyterian, non-denominational, and Episcopalian services and never truly felt welcomed into the fold. Granted, that could have had something to do with my own degree of openness, however, across the board, nuclear families remain the central focus of many of these communities. At the time, I was, with all sincerity, searching for spirituality, not a date. That’s not to say that I wasn’t keeping my eyes open. The prospects, readers, were few.
Dinner (or other such festive) parties. One would think this could be an ideal opportunity to meet a potential suitor. In Princeton, one would be wrong. I have gone to more than several parties solo. For a self-assessed extroverted introvert, this takes a lot of courage. Ultimately, I have a fine time, but it is usually in the company of many, many couples.
Yoga class. Think about it. It’s just kind of weird given the ratio of men to women in a typical yoga class. Your goal in yoga should be yoga, not scoring a date.
The landscape isn’t completely barren. After all, people do find each other… goodness knows, the popularity of the New York Times Modern Love column attests to that. But for every family, friend, or gynecologist who tells you that you have to do online dating, know that there is no one sure approach for everyone.
At an event at Grounds For Sculpture, famed 75-year-old author Isabel Allende was asked if she had used Match.com to find her partner. She laughed and said, “Who would want to date a bossy 75-year-old grandmother?” She met him the old-fashioned way: he heard her on NPR and wrote to her endlessly until she finally picked up the phone and arranged a lunch date during which she asked him, point blank, what his intentions were. As of this past fall, he was packing his things and moving from the east to the west coast to live with her.
Being solo on-and-off for entirely too many years, I had far greater success in terms of meeting people through online dating before I was 40, probably due to my age and willingness to be a bit more relaxed and open to the process. These days, interested parties are either 10-plus years older, men in their 20s looking for older women, openly married men with anonymous lewd profile pictures, or men who repeatedly ask you to send them pictures before they’ve even met you. Anyone with a dating profile is already rationalizing the simplistic objectification of judging people on the photos they post, but when they have already provided several for the world to see, why would you ask for more? It’s hard to be open about a process that feels more like a minefield.
In determining what places may still have potential when it comes to looking for love in Princeton, there are some that I have yet to try. For instance, I have never belonged to a gym. (Although I have had a very short-term relationship with someone who was so health conscious that he offered to pay for a membership for me. We did have one gym date because he had to get in a workout each and every day.) Let’s not rule this venue out as a possibility.
There are bars, I suppose. Just because I’m not comfortable sitting on a bar stool, looking for love, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Then there’s meetup.com — if you’re not familiar with this site, give it a chance. It’s not a dating website but it lists dozens of groups that meet in the Princeton area on a regular basis to discuss everything from current best sellers to advanced technology.
Who knows? Not only might you meet people with whom you have things in common, you might just meet someone you truly click with. If nothing pans out, then maybe it’s time to go back to that magazine and review the recommendations of top cities for singles over 40. Maybe it’s Tampa or bust.