It was my thirty-third birthday and I decided to have a big celebration. I am notorious for celebrating my big day, but for some reason this particular year was going to be different. I could just feel it. I rented a room at my favorite bar and invited all of my friends to attend.
I had spent the previous three months doing the online dating thing. While I met some very nice men, none of them were quite what I had in mind for a long term relationship. With a new year on the horizon, I decided to end my online subscription and just let nature take its course. And take its course it did.
I must confess that I have very high standards when it comes to dating. I believe women should be courted. Men should ask us out — by phone, not by text message or e-mail. And while I don’t believe a suitor should spend lots of money or show up with five dozen roses, I think it’s nice if he tries to make a woman feel special. Something as simple as having a specific plan for a date means you’ve put thought into what she’d enjoy. Little things count and we tend to forget that.
Furthermore, dating seems to have dissipated in the past few decades and this, in turn, has created a lot of confusion between men and women. By dating, I mean a man and a woman going out alone and getting to know each other. These days, there’s a lot more “hanging out” in groups and “hooking up” with various partners. All of this leads to ambiguity and lack of commitment. If there are no formal one-on-one outings or conversations of an exclusive nature taking place, nobody is held accountable for their actions and authentic relationships are never formed.
While I may be chastised for believing this, in many ways I think the sexual revolution hurt women. Men and women certainly are equal in human dignity but we are far from being indistinguishable. Yet, in today’s society there seems to be a merging of the sexes. We have received such mixed messages about our roles in virtually every aspect of life that we don’t know how to act or what to do anymore. Many men tiptoe around their instinctive chivalry because they feel they will offend a woman. And many women act in an aggressive manner because they feel that is what men want.
All of this circumnavigating creates such perplexity that finding a mate becomes more like a tedious job rather than an enjoyable evolution. He’s thinking to himself, “Should I open the door or pay for the bill?” and she’s thinking to herself, “Should I call him to ask him out or do I invite him to my apartment because he paid for dinner?” Between the second guessing and expending of emotional energy, many people just give up and decide it’s not worth the effort to date.
At 32, I had gotten to this point. Part of me was convinced that my standards were too high, but the other part refused to give in. I deserved a gallant guy to sweep me off my feet but all that seemed to be getting swept was my kitchen floor. And so I embarked upon the eclectic and exciting world of online dating. I had sworn I would never do it. I insisted I could meet “the one” by going to every party, reception and book signing I was invited too. Alas, hundreds of passed hors d’oeuvres later, I logged onto my computer and began the search for my soul mate…
I quickly realized that online dating can be just as intimidating as walking into a room full of complete strangers. There are a million dating websites and once you actually choose a site you like, you need to devote what seems like a year to filling out 10,000 questionnaires. But, fill them out I did and within days I was making plans to meet the new “virtual” men in my life. Without even trying, I was going out on three or four dates a week.
While none of these encounters materialized into anything, they did teach me how to date. I learned how to ask the right questions about what was important to me and what I wanted in a husband. By the end of my three month stint on the net, I could give the guy a thumbs up or thumbs down over a mere glass of Cabernet. But, after 90 days, the fact remained the same: I still awaited the gallant guy who would sweep me off my feet. While all the men I met were really charming and surprisingly courtly, none of them seemed to be my knight in shining armor. My subscription was up, the summer was coming to an end, my birthday was right around the corner and I decided to put dating “on hold” for a few months.
And so, on August 30th, 2007, my friends and family gathered at my favorite bar and raised a glass to me. I was laughing and happy and felt good about my life. While sipping on a margarita, I noticed a handsome young man. He was the friend of a friend and, without any hesitation, he came right up to me and asked me to dance. A few days later my phone rang and he asked me out on a date. Knowing that I had lived in Rome and missed it terribly, he took me to a wonderful Italian restaurant. He ordered a bottle of wine and we talked for hours about everything and nothing at all. With him, there was no confusion as to whose role was what. The weeks passed and he would always call, plan our dates, open the doors and shower me with compliments.
On my thirty-fourth birthday my friends once again gathered to raise their glasses. This time, however, they didn’t just toast me but my husband as well. We got married a year to the day we met. We look back on our dating days and smile. He was looking for a feminine woman with a hard head and panache. I was looking for a masculine man with an outgoing personality and a kind heart. We had both thought we had high standards — perhaps too high. In hindsight what we actually had were traditional values that we refused to compromise on.
Guiomar Barbi Ochoa lives in Washington DC and works in the arts. From 2001 to 2003, she lived in Rome and worked at the US Embassy to the Holy See.