Woman sitting at cafe table with three glasses of wine. Caption, I was better off alone.
I was better off alone.

A sampling of what I heard from the men I dated over the years:

“You’ve only known the suburbs, I want someone who can travel the world.”

“You haven’t been listening to me. I need more attention. You never bring food when you come over. We need to work on that.”

“You don’t pay for enough. I have to plan things. You’re so selfish.

And so it continued. Apparently, my dates thought I needed an overhaul. Like an old Oldsmobile with engine problems.

Since I had started dating for the first time at age fifty after a thirty-two year partnership, I gave these men the benefit of the doubt. Maybe more was required of me, more listening, more meals, more check book, more wanderlust. And they felt free to tell me, even though we’d been dating less than a month.

I was so naive I didn’t realize I should have just run after hearing the first, ”You need to be more giving” or “You need to expect less. “ Most importantly, I should have noticed that they never said how they were going to change to suit me.

But I was raised at a time when girls were taught to be pleasant. Yes, that noisy boy is going to steal your ball, so why don’t you just share it with him? You must accept your boss’s criticism, but you can’t be like him, you need to get along with everyone. Relationships are based on compromise. You can’t have everything you want.

My basic nature is to be conciliatory. It served me well in my marriage. It even worked in my job as a defense attorney. You put in a little more than you wanted at the settlement conference, the other defendants did too, then the plaintiffs took less than they wanted, and the case was resolved without going to trial.

But compromise didn’t work in the dating arena. I was the only one who was up to change.

There seemed to be some new phenomenon in middle-aged dating where your date got to tell you what what was wrong with you. It was the era of the whining man. My dad was single in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, and he and his single friends didn’t criticize their dates. But then, that was an age when people were more courteous. Being a man seemed to come with a code of conduct involving opening doors, offering to buy the first drink, and walking on the outside of the curb lest the horses break free.

It was pre-online dating, before people became disposable.

It took me awhile to realize these complaints weren’t my fault–my dates and I were just incompatible. More insidiously, it felt like they were trying to take advantage of how inexperienced I was. They were pushing me to accept things I didn’t want. Look, a blank slate, let’s mold her into a doormat!

So I went out several times with a guy who went on endlessly about his past loves, but was upset that I was still seeing other people. I spent a couple months with a wealthy man who, approximately every other date, would launch into an uncontrolled rant about how I didn’t do enough for him. Then there was a busy politician who wanted a travel companion who’d conform to his schedule, and deemed me an unadventurous suburbanite when I didn’t.

Each time I spent far too much time considering–was I being unreasonable, what could I compromise on? Of course, I didn’t expect the politician to come see me, or the cheap guy to pick decent restaurants, or the wealthy guy to be kinder. That’s just who they were. If I wanted to be with them, I had to adapt.

Until I finally realized, these guys were completely solipsistic.

And there were so many of them. Since being widowed, I’ve heard from so many men who’ve said they want what they want. And I’ve heard so many middle-aged women say they’ve given up on dating because what they want doesn’t even exist.

All I could determine is that the girls of my generation were taught to get along with others while the boys were taught to assert themselves. So I’ve heard from the men who left their wives because “they weren’t in love anymore and deserved better.” (No, their wives did). And those seeking women far younger and more health conscious (read that as slim) than they are.

Women are always asking ourselves what’s wrong with us. Most men don’t do that.

You don’t have to accept your date’s criticism. You’re not there to satisfy their wishlist. I wish I’d been better at reeling off my own list of demands: I wanted a guy who understood I was worried that my home was suffering from years of deferred maintenance because I had a partner with cancer. No, I’m not an unadventurous suburbanite, I’m maintaining my primary investment.

I wanted someone who’d come to see me sometimes instead of expecting me to always make the forty-five minute drive to see him. No, I’m not selfish, I want somebody who cares about my time too. And I was tired of being put down. No, we don’t have to work at this, we just don’t like each other.

You don’t have to listen to dates who put you down. You can just leave. I wish I had.

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