I had one of those amazing sunset dinners a few weeks ago — with an orange and pink sky and waves hitting the rocks nearby — at Steven's beach house just north of Los Angeles.
It should have been a perfect fourth date. We are both free, flexible, attractive, established, compatible and looking for someone. Our earlier dates had been punctuated by Champagne and long walks, or, in my neighborhood, by mutual friends. We both wanted to have a partner in crime, someone with whom we could hit the road and dine on the beach, and there we were, trying that out with our dogs at our feet.
Could it have been any better? Well … yes.
I had not hesitated to go to his place, even though I had to drive an hour and a half from my home near Westwood. (His house sits on a long, picturesque stretch of beach north of Ventura, and I'd gone there for a walk a few weeks earlier.) I threw some shorts and a bathing suit in the trunk of my car and brought my scrappy little dog to see if he would fit in at the beach house. I was on the 101 Freeway in no time on a gorgeous Sunday morning.
We'd met online, and when we were together during our first three dates, we got along and smiled a lot. We are both are in our early 50s and have a lot of freedom (which is code for no kids). We enjoyed our independence.
Plus, I'd Googled him, and he was who he said he was, with an impressive résumé and a philanthropic drive. And he lived in a beach house!
All of our communication was clipped and via email, but there was still a little spark. "This is going to be fun. Is it Sunday yet?" he wrote in a flirty email.
After I arrived and we started talking, Steven began to pepper me with questions, trying to get a sense of my taste for adventure. It was clear he was trying to assess our compatibility, which, I thought, looked pretty good based on where we were in our lives and how we lived. "Could you see yourself camping for four months every year?" he asked.
Well, actually, no, I couldn't. I need to work and take care of my responsibilities, but I added that I loved the idea.
"Do you ever stay in hotels?" I asked innocently. I'm all for adventure, but I like to mix it up a little bit with some comfort. Steven didn't respond. So we decided to walk the beach and tried to manage our dogs and our topics. Sometimes, when I launched into a sentence, he would interrupt me abruptly, going off in another direction or calling one of our dogs. There was no hand-holding or other signs of affection.
After we scrambled up some rocks to find a place to walk in a rising tide, I decided a swim was just the thing to show him that I was spontaneous. Adventurous.
"We should wait till we get back to my house," he said. We had a dinner to make.
So we returned and chopped garlic together for the meal and sipped Prosecco. "It is so beautiful here," I said. "What a view you have from your kitchen!"
"Yes," he responded. "It is beautiful, especially with you in it." He smiled. I was encouraged.
As the sun went down and dinner was almost ready, Steven lighted candles on a well-worn teak table. Our dogs sat at our feet. We had all of the trappings of a great love story, yet I couldn't feel any warmth beyond the candles or the warm air. I kept reviewing our emails in my mind, analyzing the compliments and subtle flirting. Maybe he just wanted to be pals?
A few looks of longing caught my attention, but most of the time we talked I felt like I was either being questioned about my ability to fit into his lifestyle or that he was judging my character.
Was is possible that, after all of these years, I was just really afraid of opening up?
Dating in your 50s is, in some ways, like going back to adolescence. It's awkward. Our bodies are changing, and we want to feel safe and challenged at the same time, so we're confused.
Should this relationship be enough? Should I simply be taking what I can get?
No, I am actually savoring what I have on my own.
My journey is a slow and graceful walk. I want to create a bond at this stage of my life, so I will date a man for a few weeks and see how my heart feels and how my head feels.
My man at the beach looked good in his online profile — he sure had a fun house and garden and lifestyle. But I wasn't really having that much fun. At my stage in life, I don't have time for anything less than the real thing. Love.
Wendy Abrams is a Los Angeles based writer and communications consultant.