The next night, three of my closest girlfriends burst into my apartment like a fashion SWAT team – high heels clicking on the wood floor, bangles clanging against each other, chic bags slung tightly over shoulders. I looked down at my chosen outfit for the night: a faded, too tight pink Motley Crue t-shirt, black jeans that accentuated my muffin-top and black knock-off Uggs.
This was why I needed their help.
After I finished up my profile, I’d immediately sent out an emergency distress signal to my friends. They’d kindly canceled whatever plans they’d had and showed up toting bottles of wine and enough food to feed us for a week-long sequestering. They knew this was an extreme situation that warranted extreme measures.
An extreme closet makeover was in order.
I hate to shop. I always end up simultaneously dehydrated and also having to pee and never able to find a bathroom. I easily get overwhelmed and so I find myself sweating and breathless, feeling claustrophobic as people shove by me, scratching my arms with their hangers. I just don’t care about clothes and therefore don’t give them a lot of attention and time. As a result, I go shopping about twice a year and try to buy a whole season’s worth of wardrobe in one morning. I’ll find a few things (usually dresses because I am too lazy to try on separates) and then, already aggravated with the whole thing, I’ll just purchase each item in three different colors. Inevitably, I’ll not buy enough so I end up wearing the same outfits for many, many years. Long after they’ve gone out of style. That is, if they ever were in style to begin with. This was not suitable for dating in NYC.
Sheri had elected to cook for us that night. This was a wise idea on her part as anyone who knows me knows I am not a good cook and guests will only get served assorted cheeses and a baguette. I always assume if I provide enough alcohol, no one will notice. I watched her as she moved deftly between burners – pitas in one pan, tomatoes with flavored olive oil in another. A bowl of fresh feta waited on the butcher-block table alongside a tray which displayed a colorful array of olives. Her long dark hair was pulled into a loose bun and her olive skin was flushed with the heat coming from the oven where she was warming spanakopita. My kitchen had never seen so much action. I suddenly felt highly inadequate. Perhaps if I could make traditional Greek food I would not still be alone.
Marlie and Caitlyn had made themselves comfortable on the couch. Marlie used to be my roommate and she is one of the most moderate people I know. She’s the kind of person who can stop after two glasses of wine because she wants to hit the gym early the next morning. I am in awe of this kind of person.
“Soooo, how is it going with Curt?” I asked, as I topped off Caitlyn’s champagne. Caitlyn and I were not so moderate.
“It’s going good!” Marlie gushed. “He is a really great guy.” She tucked a lock of platinum blonde hair behind her ear. “I mean, it’s still early. So we’ll see.” She had that spark in her eye that you get in the beginning of a new relationship when everything seems so bright and sunny. I topped off my own glass as well.
“Oh, sweetie,” Caitlyn said. “I’m so glad to hear it.” Caitlyn had been living with her long-term boyfriend for a number of years so she didn’t have much to report on that front. I often promised myself if I was ever to get in a relationship again I would manage it like Caitlyn. Even in the early days with her boyfriend, she never broke plans with us, never fell off the radar and most importantly, never brought him along to get-togethers without clearing it with us first. I loved her for that. She pulled her dark hair into a ponytail and secured it with a rubber-band. She blinked her newly-enhanced eyelashes at Marlie. “You so deserve to be with a great guy.” I took a strong swig of my champagne.
After way too much time catching up on our current lives, the four of us finally got to the task at hand. I had carefully laid out the contents of my closet, every single item, and we were to designate them to ‘Keep,’ ‘Maybe’ and ‘Trash’ piles. They sat on the couch as I stood before them, displaying each outfit for their review. These were the majority of the responses:
“No! No more stripes!”
“No! No more sundresses over t-shirts and leggings!”
“No! Those boots have a heel from 2009!”
“No! No more of THAT! What IS that??”
I held up a brown crushed-velvet blazer with crimped sleeves. Sheri shrieked and covered her mouth. I thought she might fall faint. “What, I used to wear this with a thin hoodie under it, you know like with the hood hanging out the top?” I gestured to the back of my neck to try to demonstrate what I meant. I was met with silent, wide-eyed, slack-jawed horror from the group. Marlie was fanning herself with a cocktail napkin.
I had told them from the start that whatever they decided, I would go along with it, no arguing, no begging. They took this to heart. They were ruthless. They were brutal. By the end of the night I had three large bags of ‘Trash’ and a thin layer of ‘Keeps’ hanging in my closet. The ‘Maybes’ had all become ‘Trash.’
“I have nothing left,” I whimpered as they were packing up to leave. I felt strangely lost.
Sheri moved to me and took my hand. “I will see you tomorrow at 9am sharp at Herald Square.”
I pulled my hand back as if her touch had scalded me. “No. No, I’m not ready for that.” I could already feel my forehead bead with sweat at the thought of the overwhelming retail hub that spanned a number of tourist-clogged blocks.
“I will be there. It will be okay,” she said, as if she were comforting a small child on her first visit to the dentist. “And,” she said, swinging her bag over her shoulder jauntily, “It will be fun even!”
“Don’t you have a brunch date tomorrow?” I attempted feebly.
Her eyes moved over my concert t-shirt which now somehow had a smear of hummus on the sleeve. “Clearly this is more important,” she answered.
NYC may have made me into an early 40’s cat-owning old-maid with many lonely nights crying into my Bud Light but it had also given me some of the best friends I’d ever had. That had to count for something.
It turned out that Sheri was right. I actually did have fun shopping with her. She brought plenty of water to keep me hydrated and didn’t flinch once when I tried to get the same age-inappropriate sundresses I always got. She just gently guided me away without a word. I felt like every time she put an outfit together for me, I was moving away from the person I’d become all these years being alone. That person who wasn’t confident enough to date, who stayed in a relationship for too long with someone who didn’t want to be there, the person who could go whole weekends without talking to anyone but the guy at the bodega who sold her cigarettes.
When we parted, Sheri gave me a fierce hug and said, “Now. Remember to accessorize. And keep up with your mani-pedis. Okay?”
“I will,” I said with a grateful nod. “Thank you.”
“Anytime, my love,” she said. She blew me a kiss and then moved into step with the sea of tourists.
When I got home that Sunday afternoon, I laid out all the outfits on my bed, with the corresponding shoes and jewelry that Sheri had picked out. They were perfect. They could seamlessly go from the office to early evening drinks to late night sophisticated dinners. Sheri was exactly as good as she claimed. There was no excuse for me to not try dating now. In these outfits, I looked put-together. I looked stylish. I looked amazing.
As I stared at the piles in front of me, I could feel my eyes start to well with tears. If I really did this, if I really started seriously dating, it would mean my relationship was really over. I could never go back. If I started dating other people and, in addition, was writing about it publicly, My Ex would never take me back. So with this choice, I was effectively shutting the door on any chance with the person I had loved for 27 years.
My mind spun back to a lunch I’d had a few weeks prior with my visiting high school best-guy-friend, Paul. He’d been in town from California for his cross-country bachelor party, as after 17 years of being with his fiancee, Quinn, he was finally allowed to get legally married. I am the maid of honor and it truly is an honor. At that lunch, I’d confided to him that I thought My Ex was going to break up with me soon. Again. For the twentieth time in six months. My chin started quivering and I could feel my face flushing. The tears were not far behind. He’d put up his hand and said, “Whatever you’re doing here, stop. Just stop.” It was so unexpected it made me laugh.
But it was more than just the end of my relationship that was making me emotional. It was the fear of dating itself. It’s true that my nights alone watching “Swamp Murders” and “Fatal Encounters” were lonely and painful but they were also comforting. They were familiar. I knew how they were going to turn out. I didn’t know how dating was going to turn out. What if no one responded to my messages? What if I met someone I liked and they didn’t like me? What if turned out they were secretly married? What if I drank too much and start doing my impression of Keith Morrison? What if? What if? What if?
I put up my hand and whispered to myself, “Whatever you’re doing here, stop.” I wiped my eyes. “Just stop.” I moved to my computer and waited as it hummed to life. “I can do this. No matter what happens. I can do this. I’m ready.” I sat down and logged into OkCupid. It was time to check my profile responses.