Most people think the holidays are the hardest time to be alone. For me, it’s the High Holy Days. Halloween may be on our US calendar horizon, but Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the ones that haunt me. I still feel the sting of going to the synagogue in my twenties and thirties and sitting by myself behind the same family year after year. First it was the parents and two teenage daughters. Then it was the parents, two teenage daughters and their boyfriends with their arms around their shoulders Then it was the parents, two not-teenage-anymore daughters and their husbands with their arms around their shoulders. Every time I leaned forward to get the prayer book, I got elbowed in the forehead. Then there was a baby… and then another one. And there I sat, year after year, alone, staring at the backs of their growing number of heads, feeling unworthy of my ridiculously overpriced seat, consumed with self-pity and obsessed with that damn button on my blouse that kept popping open.
I was thirty-eight years old and in the twenty-second year of my dating life. Next thing I knew, it was December and I hadn’t had a single date the entire year. Some of that drought was by design. For me, dating is like clothes shopping. When you’re twenty, you feel the need to try everything on before stomping away in a cloud of self-loathing exasperation. When you’re thirty-five, you glance in the store window, mumble: “Nope. Nothing there for me,” and keep moving down the sidewalk without ever breaking stride.
The year before, I’d had three dates, all of which I should have jogged past. One was spent watching Italian soccer on TV in a two-room basement apartment that my date shared with his sister who was there the entire time… with her boyfriend… and his cousin. My old college roommate arranged number two. This one bragged his way through a three-course meal: How indispensable he was at the company where he worked, followed by details of his six-figure income, followed by requesting separate checks. Both of which I handed to him. He also mentioned that his family couldn’t understand why he was still single. I considered calling them on speakerphone mid-entrée and saying: “Here, listen to this” followed by a call to my ex-roommate to say: “Wow… So this is what you really think of me? Wow.”
Number three I met on an online dating site: The one place where you can have zero expectations and still be disappointed. This was JDate, where Jewish singles embark on the daunting task of trying to please themselves and their parents in one fell swoop.
Ginsberg’s profile said he was 5’9″, which he corroborated sometime during our phone conversations. Somewhere between the cell tower and the sports bar, he lost six inches in height. On the tallest day of my life I was 5′ 2 1/2″. So it wasn’t his shortness that bothered me. It was the dopey deception. Maybe you can lie about your age or weight without getting caught, but if I can look you straight in the unibrow without looking up, and when we hop onto our bar stools, your legs are dangling next to mine, several inches off the floor, like wind chimes blowing in the breeze… I thought: “What if the height white lie is only the tip of Mr. Ginsberg’s dishonest iceberg? I don’t want to think years down the road: “I knew I should have nipped this relationship in the 5’3″ (or 5’9”, depending on who you ask) bud.”
Shortly after, I got an invitation from friends to a gay Hanukkah party. Just what I needed: A chance to spend an entire evening with men who were never ever going to be attracted to me. Basically, what I’d been doing my whole dating life. But this sounded appealing. The rejection wasn’t personal this time. It wasn’t me, personally, they wouldn’t be interested in: it was my entire gender. Count me in!
I looked forward to “being Lori” for a change. No pressure. For once, I didn’t have to worry if I’d have more chin whiskers than the men in attendance or if I’d stress sweat mascara into my burning eye, convincing every guy I was winking at him. I got all dolled-up in a sweatshirt and sweatpants that didn’t even have the decency to match. I wasn’t wearing a bra (which at size 34D is ill-advised for both physical and social reasons). If you had to describe my style at that moment, it was the classic “running out to get the mail,” and/or “stopping at Wal-mart for last-minute feminine products” look.
At the gay soiree, I was with my straight girlfriends, dancing like nobody was watching because we knew nobody was. Oddly enough, I was still checking out every guy who came through the door. After two decades plus of looking for Mr. Right, it was a reflex – just like some people turn their heads when they sneeze, I turned my head when a guy walked into a room woman-less. Honestly, it was more than an automatic response. Anxious to get a good crowd, the organizers invited every combination: Single gay men, married straight women, gay divorced women, bisexual separated men living with their ex’s sister… What if… even if it was not more than a Powerball jackpot chance… that not only a single heterosexual man… but a good… nay… great single heterosexual man walked through that door? I was in a cluster of straight single women. I had to spot him first.
After about an hour, in he walked. 5’11” (probably 6’2″ on Jdate) and cute as a koala. One of my friends who ran the group nudged this blushing man toward our unkempt cluster. “This is Lloyd. He’s here supporting his friend who just came out but he’d rather dance with a woman. Any volunteers?”
Not waiting to be plucked from the crowd of waving hands, I made a beeline toward him, catching a whiff of his scent en route: “Eternity.” It was a message from the Universe… or at least Calvin Klein. As we slow danced, confirming the first thing we had in common–that neither of us knew how to slow dance –I processed quickly: Hmmm. He’s shy not arrogant, but secure enough in himself to go to a gay party. He’s a loyal friend. And he smells good? Sign me up.
Hours into our courtship, after momentarily remembering what I looked like and being horrified accordingly, I had a revelation: If I’d been perfectly coiffed with every eyelash standing at attention and a cute hoochie mama skirt-turned-belt when we sat on the steps to talk, it could have taken months to find out why this boy’s interested. But unless he has a fetish for crow’s feet, bird’s nest hair, and mismatched sweats, it has to be, corny as it sounds, just me that he likes. There’s nothing else.
At that gay Hanukkah party, a miracle happened there, and I might know why.
Lloyd confided that he too had been prowling the single scene with little success for decades. But on that night, because neither of us had any expectations of meeting anyone, he smelled of Eternity, I smelled of Arid Extra Dry and neither of us reeked of desperation.
So this season, if you are alone – or, dare I say, even lonely – just think of me sitting there back then, alone in my ridiculously overpriced High Holy Days seat, and please believe what I didn’t then: That if you keep your heart, minds and eyes open, and just live your life as fully as you can, there will be a “Gay Hanukkah party” in your future. It’s cliché but true that love often happens when you’re least expecting it – and when you’re the least dressed for it. And sometimes, that love even leads to triplets… but, oy… that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Lori Shandle-Fox is a humor writer and former professional stand-up comic. Her Laughing IS Conceivable humor blogs and eBook series are designed to de-stress people from life’s anxieties big and small – all things Lori herself has experienced – from infertility to back-to-school. Her humor and non-humor pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Reader’s Digest and on NPR. Lori is originally from New York, where her cheers can still be heard loudly and clearly for all of her sports teams all the way from North Carolina where she currently lives with her husband Lloyd and their ten-year-old triplets.