It’s safe to say that giving advice feels far more comfortable than taking it. And yet, a year ago, I decided to take the same advice I’d offered, and the result was transforming.
Following the end of a decade-long relationship that saw me through my 40s, I found myself single and horrifyingly ill-equipped for the world of dating. It didn’t matter, as I was not interested in throwing my hat into the ring. I had every intention of enjoying a few years of being single.
My girlfriend, however, did not receive that memo. She set about plotting my future as though my expiry date depended on it. She had a prospect in mind, and promoted him in a manner that would make Don King appear reticent.
“Nope. Not interested,” I told her. “Too soon.”
She failed to mention that my prospective date had been giving her much the same response: “Not interested.”
Still, she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and our first date was arranged. We were to meet in a parking lot on the edge of downtown and walk together to a restaurant.
I arrived first. I worked off a bit of nervous energy by ranting about exorbitant parking fees to a young parking attendant who probably wished he’d taken a different summer job – cleaning chum out of an aquarium filtration system, perhaps.
I concluded my sermon and returned to my car to display my parking voucher, which had cost more than one of my tires. Seconds later, my date arrived.
After some awkward pleasantries, I went to lock my car. He asked if I needed my sweater, which was sitting on the front seat. “Of course I don’t,” I thought. “I have hot flashes to keep me warm.” But what slipped out instead was some nonsense about an intense boot-camp workout I’d done earlier that day, how it had raised my core body temperature a good five degrees.
I was amazed by how easily the lie slipped out. Understandably, it was too soon for full hormonal disclosure, but my leisurely morning walk hardly qualified as a workout.
At the restaurant, we ordered and the half-truths began to flow. He mentioned he enjoyed cooking. “So do I,” I offered. And gardening, he said. “Me too.” I couldn’t stop. I’ve never been interested in cooking, gardening – or cross-stitching for that matter. The only time Martha Stewart would have envied me was when I was roaming the streets freely while she was in jail.
Half-way through our appetizers, he mentioned he didn’t have a TV, like that was a good thing. The first thought through my mind was: “Can we get our main course to go?” Yet, I heard myself saying: “Good for you. I have one but hardly ever watch it.” Liar.
It wasn’t until we started discussing interests along the lines of travel and adventure that I realized we had differences a white lie might not be able to overcome. I listened attentively as he passionately described plans for a trek with friends. What’s that you say? Your idea of a dream vacation is hiking through the middle of nowhere, pitching a tent, washing down freeze-dried wieners with puddle water, then rinsing out your one pair of underwear – only to repeat this all again the next day?
That’s almost identical to my dream holiday. Just swap out the middle of nowhere for Vegas. Substitute the Wynn Hotel for a tent. Imagine the wieners are bison burgers lovingly prepared by Gordon Ramsay. Then add in a pair of clean underwear for each day.
I could have continued the theme of delusion and said I hoped that one day we could take a trip together because bushwhacking sounded like a whole bunch of fun.
But hadn’t I told my kids on numerous occasions to be themselves? “Be proud of who you are,” I’d said. “Don’t change your beliefs for anyone.”
Maybe it was time to start being clear about my limitations (cooking anything that requires more than piercing three to five times before placing in the microwave) and our incompatibilities (I had no desire to bushwhack through anything, unless it was a crowd of women around the half-off rack at Saks).
I did feel that not owning a TV and lying down to sleep with a sharp rock wedged between your shoulder blades was noble, and that enjoying the finer things in life – reality TV and a proper bed – could be translated as shallow or self indulgent.
I had a gut feeling that, despite our differences, there was a future for us, although not if I misrepresented myself from the get-go.
Hadn’t 50-plus years on this earth earned me the right to own my beliefs? Besides, I didn’t have the energy to maintain an alter ego for any extended period.
So, I didn’t necessarily retract already-proffered inaccuracies, but I decided to offer up the unpolished version of me moving forward.
It seemed to be enough. We have now been together for just over a year. I occasionally catch him watching single-digit TV channels. “You know, honey, you can watch that same program on Channel 200,” I say. “It’s called HD and it’s a beautiful thing.”
But, for the most part, our differences are respected. He does the cooking. We take the occasional separate vacation. And every Thursday I head off to my boot-camp workout.
Okay, I didn’t come clean about everything.
Janet Chahwan lives in Vancouver.