July 3, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Moderate rain 26°C

Smitten

By Madeline Klosterman
Published: 2015-06-19

New York City is anything but a dating paradise.
A

t a party last night the topic turned to dating. Sarah, the young woman seated beside me, beamed. With bright eyes and radiant smile she told me she was smitten.

I asked her where she'd met him.

"Where else do you meet anyone these days, online," she replied. She cocked her head with a bit of an "oh-well" expression.

"I like him, but he's out of the box of who I date. He's from Mozambique and I usually stick to white guys. But we had fun, we laughed, it was easy and I'm just going with it."

We all agreed it was a good plan. When dating in New York City, so oddly different than other places, it helps to have a plan.

Sarah wiggled in her chair, clearly pleased at our support. Nearby was Madge. "Madge has met someone," said Sarah, bringing her friend into the conversation. "They've been dating for two months." By New York standards, that's forever.

Madge nodded shyly and admitted it was true. But she looked tentative, not what I would expect from new love.

"I met Tom online too," she said. "He's a recovering alcoholic and maybe that's why he seems more grounded than the other guys I've dated. He lived the wild life, hit rock bottom, and had to look at himself."

I couldn't help thinking how bad the dating scene is when being a former addict is considered an asset.

"What was really different," she went on, "was that Tom came out after the second date and said it. He just said it. And it was so refreshing that he could be so honest and frank."

I couldn't figure out exactly what the "it" might have been.

Madge explained: "He told me he liked me. He didn't play the cool artsy dude, disengaged and above it all. He had feelings and he shared them. He likes me. How often do you get that? Like never, ever."

I couldn't help seeing the irony. Dating is meant to bring out feelings, to create a bond and generate emotions. It's a simple building block in the creation of intimacy and long-term companionship. Madge explained it as if she'd stumbled on an exotic rainforest plant a world away from her urban life.

She then turned to all of us and shared her newly acquired insight. Now it was Sarah who listened closely. "If you really like a guy, the trick is to tell him," said Madge. "Let him know how you feel. New York has lots of guys but there are too many beautiful women to compete with. If you want to stand out, tell them how you feel. That's all I can say. I've been single a long time and it's the only thing that's worked for me."

Sarah took a drink and passed the chips and guacamole. She reveled in Madge's conviction. Maybe Madge was onto something. Still, I couldn't get over her detached demeanor.

Then it happened.

Madge's tone changed. Discontent entered her voice and she turned quiet.

"I really want to settle down and have a family," she told us. "I'm even ready to leave New York to have that. But the thing is Tom is between jobs and doesn't know what he wants to do next. He may go back to school. If we had kids, he'd be the one to stay home with the baby. I'd need to be the working partner. It's not what I envisioned. Maybe it would work. He really likes me, you know. You can't just give that up."

Sarah and I were silent. Madge was clearly trying to convince herself she'd found all she wanted when in fact it wasn't quite so clear.

"I hope it works out," Sarah finally said. "You have a good start. Now you have to see where it goes. Don't get too ahead of yourself. Just enjoy it."

As the party ended, we toasted to love and wished each other good luck. We came out of the party with little more than a commonplace axiom: share what you feel, pretty basic wisdom. I could only smile.

But I recognized the smile. It's the kind that makes an appearance after friends and acquaintances sit down and discuss the challenges of finding something resembling a regular life in that strange metropolis known as New York.

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