How long should a first date be?

Nearly a year ago now,  I signed up with Dating Agency no 2.  Dating Agency no 1 had only yielded comic (or tragic) stories which were the inspiration for this blog.  This new agency was run by an escapee matchmaker from Dating Agency no 1, and she promised a minimum of 6 dates (rather than maximum) and empathised that my experience of wildly mismatched dates with No 1 was a common one.  She seemed to have a couple of people already in mind that would suit, and less than three days after signing up I was booked into a singles cooking class, and matched with my first date.  The beginnings seemed auspicious. As well as being a client, Mr X was a personal friend of the agent’s husband. He was smart, funny, quirky, tall, wanted a family, interested by what he had heard of my weird life.. all promising.

So we met at a swish bar at the classy end of South Bank on the river, and had a lovely couple of hours having a drink or two. He suggested staying on for dinner, I hesitated. It had been a great first date, but I had nearly reached my limit of being on my best sparkly behaviour (while trying hard not spilling anything on myself). But what was I thinking? Here was this kind, fun man offering to take me out for a beautiful meal, and I wanted to go home?  Geez.

So I stayed. The conversation showed no signs of flagging, and dinner was fantastic. Now we were at the four hour mark. Mr X, being the gentleman that he is, wanted to savour the moment. Perhaps we could go for a romantic stroll along the river? Or at least he could drop me home? My insomnia of the last few months caught up with me, I was done. I was happy to see him again, and assured him that I’d had a lovely time, but I needed to go home.

The next day, I received a call from the agency. Mr X was worried that I wasn’t interested, and was concerned that I had gone home so early. After four hours? Isn’t that a marathon innings for a first date? What’s a girl to do?  

The air was cleared, and Mr X was reassured that yes, I was interested, and would meet for date no 2. His suggestion was to pick me up at 4pm, hang out at my place, then take me to a wonderful Japanese restaurant..and so on, with a full plan through til 11pm. It was too much. It’s one thing if a date is so wonderful that it turns out to be 7 hours, but to have a seven hour plan for date no 2? I couldn’t cope. For all of his loveliness, I was about to bail and wait for someone who was lower maintenance. The dating agency convinced me to compromise, to let him pick me up at 5:30pm (still early for dinner!), that he was just keen and being a gentleman. Still…isn’t there something to be said for gradually getting to know someone, and gradually spending more time as you become closer? 

How long should a first date or two be? How long is a piece of string?

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Cougars and toyboys

A friend who shall not be named was fascinated by the idea of Toyboy Speed Dating. It seems he’s not alone, claiming that he could easily rustle up half a dozen friends along for the next Cougar / Toyboy Speed Dating event. While there are usually a dearth of men at these dating nights, could it be that Toyboy speed dating would be packed?  I was fascinated that he was fascinated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that there are some hot young men out there who fantasise about older women and are happy to overlook the odd wrinkle, saggy bit and grey hairs. But still. 

What’s the attraction? Is it the prowess of the older woman? The idea of a mature woman (ahem) in her prime? Or that she is so grateful to have a younger man throwing himself at her? Maybe some Freudian mother fetish mixed in there as well?

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My cougar education continued as I learned about the Pink Piano Bar, in Brisbane’s Spring Hill. As regular readers might remember, Spring Hill is not the most salubrious area in town, and sightings of straight men are rare.  It’s not a place to pick up.

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Except for this bar.  For those in the know, The Pink Piano Bar, now (unfortunately?) closed down, was a notorious cougar hangout. While the website shows pictures of young women and singalongs around the very pink piano,  guys intrigued by older woman knew exactly where to go.

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My friend, a regular at the bar, had one of those nights. A foxy cougar had worked her magic with my young friend, and wanted to steal him away to her place in North Lakes (ie forever away). So far so good. He then learned, that it worked out perfectly because her daughter was out that night. Talking about your kids can be a mood killer for some single guys, but he was not easily deterred. Until…she suggested that they share a cab ride home with her daughter was out clubbing, to split the cost.

So now the daughter was 1. real, 2. of legal drinking age, 3. potentially within striking distance for my friend. This was getting stickier. Catching a cab home with a woman’s daughter in tow? Yikes. Fantasy and reality were becoming a little too close together.

And so ended another night at the Pink Piano.  

There are times when it pays not to skimp on a cab ride.

Otherhood

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Within the first two pages of reading this book, I knew my plans for a productive afternoon were going to be shelved. So many identical conversations I’ve had with dear, well-meaning friends about my single, childless state were there right before me in print.

After the initial probe about whether I’d (still) like to have kids, then the suggestions to “solve” the problem that there is no Mr. Romeo start to emerge. Perhaps I could go out for a boozy night and have a one night stand? (Never mind the unprotected sex with randoms part, or that it might take more than a few of these nights to fall pregnant). Or I could be a single mum and do IVF? Maybe I could adopt?  A friend whose husband is having an affair on the other side of the world strongly advised me that I should get married. Have I frozen my eggs? Am I going to do that before it’s too late? Freezing eggs? Is that symbolic that I’m giving up, or should I have done that years ago?

As Notkin writes, when a woman is in her late thirties (or god forbid early forties) and has not given up the dream of having a child, there are veiled insinuations that she is not “trying” hard enough, or that she works too much (a single girl has to earn a living too, especially without a partner as financial back up). Or that somehow the choices she’s made have led her late thirties singlehood. Friends conclude, clearly she doesn’t really want children if she isn’t prepared to do it alone.

In her book, Otherhood, Notkin has delved into the unspeakable, the awkward. She has given a voice to  the increasing number of women who  “circumstantially infertile”, not childless by choice. There are moving and hilarious stories of fantastic, charismatic, successful, gorgeous women, who have found themselves  without a life partner. Despite the never ending dates, prioritising finding a relationship over that promotion in the law firm, keeping in good shape, watching their diet, dressing well, going to singles nights, being proactive about dating, not being proactive by putting it out to the Universe, and doing everything one is “meant” to do. Tick. We are told to pursue our dreams, of career and family, but warned of being threatening to men who may earn less, or not be as successful. It’s so confusing out there, the gender roles have shifted, and there is no rulebook. 

Like many women in the Otherhood, I have nothing but admiration for the courageous women who choose the difficult path of being a single mum. Yet, I completely related with the desire of many women in this book who do not want to just have a child. I want a family, which means a partner with whom to share the joys and struggles of raising a family. Even trickier, I want this partner to be someone I love, and someone who loves me, not just some  bloke who crossed my path one night, or to coexist in a loveless relationship. If this is being fussy, then so be it. By choosing to wait for a relationship that is right for me, I know that children may or may not happen, which is still something to come to terms with.

I can, and do, celebrate the beautiful small people in my life that see me as an auntie, and am overjoyed with each of my friends’ new little additions to the world. I look forward to the day when hopefully I’ll be a blood auntie (no pressure siblings! :) and can’t begin to imagine how wonderful that day will be.  In the meantime, I have found  a community that Notkin has created, a tribe, connecting women all over the world who can often feel very alone. It’s a fabulous read.