I had to be one of the oldest patrons at the Wilshire restaurant in Santa Monica, completely out of my element, a woman in her 40s in a sea of twentysomethings. I had been divorced for two years and rarely went out, so when my friend asked me to go dancing, I accepted. I entered this adventure with no expectations other than to let loose on the dance floor.
I was self-conscious at first. My body was rigid. I felt clunky and awkward. Then I looked around and realized that no one knew me. I didn't need liquid courage; I had confidence and composure, two gifts that grace a woman with age. I closed my eyes and let my body feel the beat. My hips started swaying flirtatiously, and soon I was lost in the music.
A circle of young men gathered around me. I let them take turns, our bodies undulated to the pulsating rhythms. I was dripping with sweat. The music and the men carried me away, a hiatus from my ordinary life. Inhibitions melted as did my identity as a mom. The layers of responsibility and conformity peeled off with each song, and what was left was my true self, the self I so badly wanted to know again.
I went outside to cool off, and one of the young men followed me. He asked where I had gone to school. I told him UCLA, and he asked me what year. I had to think, because it was so long ago.
"Let me guess: You graduated in '08," he said.
I laughed and caressed his arm, thanking him for the compliment. He had just gotten his masters in business, and we talked about his two-year plan. He wasn't yet working. He lived in Manhattan Beach with two roommates and a cat, and he liked to stay up late watching "Family Guy." I watched as he spoke, envious of his enthusiasm but not of his youth.
We went back inside and danced more, and in the middle of a slow song, he kissed me. His lips were soft and young. He held my hand as we walked through the club, and he introduced me to his friends. They all said what a stand-up guy he was, as though our interlude would go beyond that night.
We sat on a bench, and he placed his arm around my waist, pulling me in close. I didn't want to deceive him, so I told him my age. At first he didn't believe me. He told me I was too "hot" to be a mother. And then, to my surprise, he said he didn't care.
At the end of the night, he asked me to go back to his friends' place where he was crashing. I had to return to my house in the Palisades to relieve my sitter. That's when I realized just how vast our differences really were, differences that went beyond age.
I thanked him for the evening and stood to go.
"So, you're not hanging out with me tonight?" he asked.
"No," I said. "I'm going home."
He suggested that we shake hands. Then he fled into the crowd in search of another woman to take home for the night. I wasn't insulted. I wasn't hurt. Twenty years ago, I would have been. This time, I was humored.
I found my friend and told her what had transpired.
"He was cute. Why didn't you go home with him?" she asked.
Part of me wanted to. I was wildly attracted to him and the energy he possessed, but I was tired and wanted a decent night's sleep. Besides, all I ever wanted to do was dance.
It's true. When I go out, it's not necessarily to meet someone. It's about finding freedom, even if it's only temporary. Dancing does that for me. For a few hours I'm able to unleash the self I keep constrained for the sake of my children. I am able to release and have fun. Going home with a stranger would be a regression for me. I'm looking for finality, not a fling. If I'm propositioned again, I'll explain that I'm just there to dance. And who knows, maybe someday someone will change my mind.
Theresa Heim is a Los Angeles writer and owner of a website on women's health.