Call me Penelope. Here I am entertaining my suitors, being polite, being hospitable. And all the time freaking out over all these men and their wooing.
You remember Penelope, don’t you? Wife of Odysseus, wisest and wiliest of Greeks, so smart he managed to take 10 years getting home from the Trojan War to his rocky island kingdom Ithaca, via the scenic route. Meanwhile his wife found his hall – their home – filled with pushy princes, all insisting her man was dead and she must marry again to secure a protector. To prove their point they exploited her resources, seduced her servants, and bullied her children. But I digress. I do not have children, servants, much in the way of resources – or a man, wayward or otherwise. What I have in common with Penelope is a reluctance to progress the courtships offered me. And maybe some alarm. I’m sure Penelope felt threatened.
Every time I check my cellphone there are more emails piled up on my rsvp app. I’m beginning to get phone phobic. I have anxiety about these men and about the futures they offer.
And it’s scary what I find about me.
For instance, I always knew one big reason I avoid dating is that I have always lacked even basic assertiveness in this arena. How hard is it to say “No”? As in, “No, I don’t want this. I don’t want what you want. I don’t want to meet you. I don’t want to spend my life with you, living life the way you think life should be lived.” Or as in, “I don’t want another cup of coffee. I don’t want to give you my phone number. I don’t want to invite you to my home. I don’t want to visit yours. I don’t want to sleep with you. I don’t want the drugs.” So why is it that at age 52, with the ‘safety barriers’ put in place by the online dating site, I still find it hard to say “No”?
There are multiple choice options for saying “Thanks but no thanks” as ‘nicely’ as possible to approaches. But I can’t count on formulaic brush-offs to protect me from my own unassertiveness. One man bypassed the free initial approach option and invested his $15 on an email approach (it’s his choice to do that, but I feel beholden from the outset – remember that law professor who called me names for “causing [him] to waste a stamp on an idiot like [me]”?). I sent a standard response from the multi-choice templates saying I liked his profile but did not wish to meet him at present. He came back saying I should take another look at his Profile and check out his website. Then he sent me an update on info not included on his website.
Me? What did I do? Having said “No” already, did I leave his response hanging? Did I reaffirm his Profile and website are terrific but repeat I’m simply disinclined? I did not. I suggested we meet for coffee. He replied proposing we meet at Geelong Gallery – my workplace, which btw does not have a coffee shop. (He likely did not know Geelong Gallery is my workplace, but he did know from my Profile that I work in a local gallery, and there are not so many galleries hereabouts, and given he’s an artist who’s exhibited there it’s possible he asked a Gallery colleague about me. Either way, I would not be keen to meet at my workplace for fear a colleague might disclose my surname or other personal info before I had time to decide whether I want to do so.)
So I looked at his Profile again and had a hard think and suddenly I was angry. Partly at him, for being a man, for pushing it; partly at me, for being a stereotypical woman (“I’d LOVE to, milord!”)
I answered him thusly: “[Dear suitor], after I sent my email I looked again at your profile and I must tell you I am very doubtful about us meeting up I am genuinely overwhelmed with approaches at present. I am a non-smoker who specified non-smokers only; I barely drink, but I see you enjoy discussions over a glass of red wine. You’re a smidgen out of my preferred age range, which is not in itself a deal breaker; but I would not describe myself as markedly “easy going” nor particularly as “someone who is able to forgive themselves and others” (I’m not sure quite in what sense you mean that phrase). I do realise this is very discourteous, and I’m sorry, but on reflection I don’t think we should pursue this after all. With sincere apologies, and best wishes, Elly”
I would hate to receive an email like that. I hated sending it. But I’d tried the polite “Not for me but good luck” thing. And having sent it, I braced myself for a blast of hostility like the blast I copped from the law professor.
Speaking of hostility, may I lash back for a moment and suggest that it seems odd and possibly revealing how many men post pics of themselves in uniform? Anything from paramedics to zoo uniforms. Also rugby guernseys. And I have no idea what the bloke who posted a pic of himself standing inside a cemetery intended to convey. Sigh.
I do have two dates lined up for this weekend. One is a sweet-sounding planning and development professional who lives at the end of the Great Ocean Road and advises community groups. His Profile is almost empty but he sent an informative email. (I’ve told him I doubt I’m the only woman out there who’d prefer to see a more fully completed Profile.) He suggested we meet for lunch on Friday. I replied I wasn’t comfortable lunching on Valentine’s Day with a man I’ve never met, even assuming we could get a Valentine’s Day booking, but coffee later in the afternoon is fine.
The other man sounds terrific: a former academic who lives on a hobby farm in the Otways, left-learning, activist, community-minded, into similar reading matter and music. We’ve exchanged a few emails and are meeting on Sunday. But there’s a troubling bit: he identifies on his Profile as a “Born Again Christian”. Seeking, in religious terms, a woman who is “Born Again Christian. Other Christian. Anglican” (interestedly he did not include from the drop-down menu the option “Catholic”.) Now I find myself asking, what does “Born Again Christian” mean to him? To me, it seems incongruent with his claimed embrace of social justice issues, his activism, his concern for Indigenous issues. I hear “Born Again Christian” and I think Conservative. Right-wing. Rigid. Intolerant. Magical thinking. Are these unfounded prejudices?
Every day, Penelope allowed her plague of suitors to put their case. She had to, for fear they’d harm her children, would kill Telemachus, Odysseus’s heir; would seize her property and rape her. She used delaying tactics, telling them she’d make a decision when her weaving project was completed. Every night, she’d unravel whatever weaving she’d accomplished that day.
No-one is threatening to kill my first-born, and yet I feel intimidated. And every night, I unravel, just a little bit more.