Coming off a 20-year relationship I really, really wasn’t ready for dating. After the comfort and security of living with someone who knew me better than most anyone, was I going to sit in bars across from complete strangers and tell my life story again and again, until even I was sick of hearing it? I was wounded, heartbroken, and sort-of in shock.
I also was lonely. The idea of meeting up with an attractive human male—someone new, someone different—sounded amazing. There was a growing curiosity. O.K., a horniness. I felt like Rita in the movie Bridesmaids. “I need to smell the neck of a man I don’t know.”
On the nights when I wasn’t driving my 16-year-old son to a party in Westwood, or checking out the latest, dreadful Seth Rogen comedy with my 13-year-old, I was alone with two gassy dogs, pondering the cobwebs accumulating in the upper right hand corner of my bedroom and wondering where the single “scene” was these days. Is there a single scene for 49-year-olds, other than the prescription pickup counter at Walgreens?
It was around this time that I started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I loved the idea of cleaning house—simplifying, and particularly her notion of considering what sparks joy in your life. After sleeping next to someone for the last two decades, there was something missing all the time. I still felt the loss every day—like a phantom limb. The walls in our house were still lined with family photos of the four of us through the years.
Marie Kondo says nostalgia is not my friend. The stack of Valentine’s Day cards past, the Ugg slippers he gave me for Christmas, the Calvin Klein wedding china. All of it would have to go. Sigh.
Around this same time, I also timidly waded into the formidable waters of online dating. I joined Tinder, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish. But I would open up these Pandora’s boxes of possibility, and slam them shut again, nearly crushing my fingers in the process. I quit Tinder, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish.
Then, a few months later I was back online. Why not “Marie Kondo-ize” my dating life, I'd decided? I needed to declutter my personal life—clear the inner cobwebs, find the joy.
I opened up the dating apps, scrolled through the endless array of faces, and asked myself, “Does this one spark joy?” If the answer was no, then . . . next! If the answer was yes, I'd put a star or send a "flirt.”
"Scruff and sunglasses?" Usually no, but sometimes—maybe.
"Tattoos?" It depended on the size, the freakishness, the placement.
"Monster trucks?" No.
"Dockers?" Oh, hell no.
Kondo devotes several chapters to tackling categories, rather than rooms. I would do this with dating, too. I put the men into categories, such as:
- Guys who look like their dogs: Guys mugging with their saggy, weathered Sharpes; Guys looking hopeful about their next walk or treat. Guys who were hairier than their dogs.
- Guys with douche-y, sunglass selfies taken in cars.
- Guys in group photos. Which one am I supposed to like? This confounded me. Why would the chubby, “lovable” guy want to be shown flanked by his two young, hot friends?
- Grand Adventurers. The existence of this whole category stuck me as some kind of final irony. One of my biggest complaints about my husband was that he wouldn’t do anything adventurous, or even mildly sporty, with me. He didn’t like to hike, bike, camp or ski. And here on my computer screen were hundreds of extreme adventurers. Not only did they hike, they scaled. They didn’t just ski, they dropped from helicopters into virgin white terrain in the mountains of Vancouver. They didn’t simply camp in some normal scenic spot like Santa Barbara; they camped at the base of a huge peak they had also crested. They had crampons, parachutes, wakeboards, dirt bikes, hundreds of stamps on their passports. These men would see me as a dead weight.
And then, some man asked for my phone number. Was I ready for this? All I could glean from his profile was that he seemed literate. His one photo was nice enough. But speaking on the phone? Giving out my cell phone number? Like Shrevie in Diner, with his B-side quiz, I decided to lob out a few test questions to see if he would pass. And, like Shrevie’s fiancé, he failed. It’s not that his answers were bad. It’s that when he realized he wrote “to” instead of “too,” he wrote another note apologizing with at least fifteen exclamation points. Who uses fifteen exclamation points? He seemed crazy —completely unhinged.
I wrote back to some men, only to never hear back from them. Was it something I wrote? Was mentioning mediation with my husband a no-no? Was it a turnoff to write about my dog’s diarrhea? I would never know.
I finished The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and felt so hopeful. I could see why this book sold millions of copies, inspired thousands of pilgrimages to the Container Store.
It’s because tidying up is a form of hope. It reminds us that change can be positive. If streamlining my closet felt this good, just imagine how great my psyche would feel when I finally purged the hurt, pain, and sadness of my divorce. When I made room for dating, for real.
After spending all this effort wondering if I would find Mr. Right, or at least Mr. Right Now, on a dating site, Facebook came to the rescue—and the hot guy from my hometown who I'd had a crush on since I was ten. He still lived in New York. He worked as an architect. His eyes were bluer and more piercing than I remembered, I noticed, when I saw him. Can a person’s eyes get bluer?
So I had a fling with him on the East Coast. Then a local fling with a friend of a friend, and two OK Cupid first dates. I can now say I have dipped my toe in the dating waters, and the water is fine. I had an amazing stroll through Tompkins Square Park, my first walk of shame in decades in the West Village at 7:00 a.m., a moonlit stroll on Venice Beach during the warm Santa Ana winds—life does go on after divorce.
As for real love, I like to think that after doing as much work on myself as I did on my closet, I will open up possibilities for a new significant other in my life. And like all the new, brightly-colored, perfectly-folded sweaters I now have room for, he, too, will have a comfortable spot, and bring in hope, and spark more joy.
* This post originally appeared on Wendy Paris's website, Wendyparis.com.
Rebecca Cullen is a television writer and mother of two in Los Angeles who recently separated from her husband, after 20 years of marriage. She's now writing about her new single life.