It was obvious he had taken great pains in his appearance that night. He was wearing a classic blazer over a v-neck sweater. His hair was neatly styled and even his nails looked nice and clean.
“Hi, I’m Ned,” he said and extended his hand.
I took it. “Tracey. Nice to meet you.”
“You are really beautiful,” he said as he sat down.
I smiled. “Thank you. That’s a nice thing to hear.”
“Really.” He looked at me with nervous sincerity. “It’s hard to believe someone like you would need to do something like this.”
I almost answered with a snarky, “It’s because I’m bat-shit crazy.” But I got the sense that Ned was the kind of person who would be hurt by sarcasm.
He said he was 26 but he looked about 16.
“So Ned, what made you sign up for a Cougar/Boy Toy event?”
His eyes widened. “Oh, I much prefer older women. They’re just so much more interesting to talk to. You know, it’s like the girls my age are all, ‘Did you see what Britney Spears was wearing today?’ and I’m thinking, ‘No. And I don’t care. Can’t we talk about art or politics or the world or anything else besides Britney Spears?'”
“I actually won a contest to get into this event,” he said, his voice rising with pride.
“Yes, you had to write an essay about why you like older women and why you should be invited to this event. And I won.” He gave me a beaming smile and his sweet earnestness pinged at my heart.
“Wow, that is really cool,” I said.
“So my registration fee was waived and I got to bypass the wait-list.”
“Well, I think that’s great,” I said. “So you must really be enjoying yourself tonight.”
He looked down at his drink and sighed. “No, not really.”
“Because some of these women haven’t been very nice to me.”
I frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“Like the minute I sit down, they decide they don’t like me so they won’t answer any of my questions or they just keep looking at their watches, waiting for the time to run out.”
“You’re kidding,” I breathed.
“No,” he said. “I’m not.”
I could feel a strange sense of rage bubbling up in my chest. I leaned towards him. “So you’re telling me, some of these women do not have the common decency to be kind for three minutes and talk with you? Not even for three minutes?”
“I’m afraid not.”
I shook my head and sat back. “I’m really sorry to hear that Ned.”
“It’s okay, thanks,” he said. “Anyway, so what do you do?”
We chatted lightly for the rest of the session. He was polite, articulate and sweet. And obviously totally genuine. I didn’t feel a love connection with him – but I did feel a sort of odd, fierce protectiveness. When the bell rang for him to move to the next table, I grabbed his hand in both of mine. “Listen Ned, you are a wonderful guy. You are going to make someone a great partner someday.”
He smiled shyly at me. “Thank you.”
I tightened my grip. “No, I’m serious. Don’t let these women get to you. We’re not all like that.”
Our eyes met.
“I hope you’re right,” he said.
After Ned, I met two other guys who were having the same experience. I was horrified. I don’t know if it was the residual effects of the Bikram or what, but by the time the event was winding down and I’d talked to the third guy who said some of the women wouldn’t even look at him, let alone talk to him, I was in a rage. It took every ounce of strength to not bolt up and flip over the table like Teresa Giudice on the ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ finale and look around the room with a menacing glare at the other women and shriek, “Who the FUCK do you think you are?! You’re over 35, single, and spending your Saturday night at a Cougar/Boy Toy Speed Dating event! You’re not all that! Get the fuck over yourself and be decent!”
But I didn’t have a chance to do this because Thalia appeared at my side and said, “Let’s grab some pizza and compare notes.”
I took some deep breaths to calm myself. “Okay, okay. Let’s do that.”
Earlier, when I had been getting ready for the night, putting on my make-up and blowing out my hair, I’d looked in the mirror and had never felt so old. I felt foolish that I’d even signed up for the event. I felt it made me look desperate, getting gussied up and putting on a shirt that showed cleavage because everyone had told me that’s what I should do, and going to a bar to try to impress young men. But the truth is, they hadn’t made me feel foolish. Or desperate. Or old. They had made me feel pretty and smart and interesting. It still makes me angry that those other women couldn’t have been kind enough to listen to what these guys had to say. They really missed out. But then again, if you can’t be courteous for three minutes…well, then maybe that’s why you’re still a lonely old Cougar. Bitches.
As I rode home on the subway that night, I spotted three young women, one sporting some serious Lourde eyebrows. They were laughing and being silly and talking about stupid shit. I didn’t envy them.
I realized then that I can’t date younger guys, not because they make me feel old like I thought they would, they don’t. But because they make me feel mature. There is a difference. I am not naive anymore, I am not earnest, I do not have the false dreams I had when I was their age. And I’m glad for that. As I stepped off at my stop and the girls’ squeals faded behind the closing doors, the realization that I don’t want to be young anymore, or be with someone young, made me nostalgic and it made me sad. Like I was letting go of something. I don’t know. But it also made me glad. Glad that I’m not that anymore. I am 43 years old. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I don’t want to go back.
I would absolutely do Speed Dating again, it is a great way to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time. It’s surprising what a sense you can get from a person in such a setting. But from now on, only with people my own age.
Yeah. It’s time to meet someone my own age.