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VERY FIRST PERSON

It's Just a Date

That's the New Mantra of Newly Single Robert Rabinowitz. But Rejection Still Hurts, Even (or Especially) at 50.

March 12, 2000|ROBERT RABINOWITZ | Robert Rabinowitz is a TV writer in Los Angeles

Standing in the receiving line at my friend Marilyn's wedding, I'm trying to recall the receiving line dialogue from "Four Weddings and a Funeral." The only thing that comes to mind is, "The bride looks pregnant." I guess I'm a little tense.

I'm wearing a tux, my first since Senior Night at Curtis High School on Staten Island. I was 17 then and everything was about sex. If you got a French kiss good night, you were floating on air. Now I'm 50, and as I overhear people trying to reassure themselves that they're headed in the right direction, I realize the air has become much heavier for all of us.

This wedding is my first social outing since I separated from my wife of 12 years. I manage to get through the receiving line muttering how lovely and happy everyone looks. Then I reach Marilyn, who looks like a beautiful porcelain bride: the smile, the kiss, the hug, the word of thanks, then on to the next. This perfect rhythm is broken at the sight of me. Her whole face changes from porcelain doll to Jim Carrey in "The Mask." With great urgency and purpose, she leans forward and whispers in my ear, "I sat you at the singles table."

I'm puzzled. Then I remember: I'm single! And I'm horrified. I'd been thinking I was divorced, separated, but now I find out I'm also single. I rack my brain. Singles, singles, how do they act? Have I seen any recently? I have. They're always talking on their cell phones. At Blockbuster, the supermarket, Tower Records. The one thing they all seem to have in common is an air of self-assurance. How did they get this way?

In a moment of lucid panic, I decide to act like myself--or my past self--but before I can take my newfound confidence to the singles table, Marilyn hits me with the second gut punch: "I sat you between two interesting women. One's older. One's younger."

I manage to locate Table 15, a.k.a. the singles table. As I turn to scout for the closest exit, my crazed gaze is met by patchouli. The scent, not the person. Oh, it comes with a person all right--a very, very attractive person. "I'm Terry," she says. "Bob," I reply, taking her hand. Terry sits down, checks out the gathering members of our table and then gives the entire room the once-over.

Just then the band starts to play. Terry has to whisper in my ear to be understood, which literally sends chills up and down my spine. I'm still alive to a woman's touch, although at this point I don't know if that's good or bad. Meanwhile, I can't hear a word that Terry is saying.

The soup hits my plate at the same time the empty seat next to me is filled by a 35-year-old Sophia Loren, with hair, demeanor, face and cleavage to match the real thing. (I'm guessing this is the Younger One.) She introduces herself as Monica, shakes my hand and promptly starts scoping out the room. For a single, a social setting is a war zone. Since I'm new at this, I decide I'll just be Switzerland for the evening.

Even though Terry and Monica don't seem especially interested in me, I have a great time. I eat a meal I didn't cook for my kids. I mingle wth singles. I drink their wine, talk their talk, walk their walk.

But am I ready for a date? "Don't worry," says my friend Rick, who is setting me up. "Kate and I will double with you. In case Kelly doesn't like you, she'll have us to talk to." He laughs. I don't.

Date night. My first date in 15 years, and the reality of the evening hits me. What do I wear? Do I have first-date clothes? Never mind that--do I have enough hair? Is my body hard enough? Do I look too old? Do I look beaten? Do I look bitter? Do I look like a poor slob who's been dumped by his wife of 12 years?

I shower and try to think of what the 90-year-old mother of my best friend Bob said to me: "Well, you certainly are a good-looking man." It's my mantra. I repeat it over and over until I'm standing in front of Rick as he introduces me to Kelly. She smiles, shakes my hand and returns to a conversation with Kate. Not a good sign. The evening continues in this manner until we're at the restaurant and Kelly touches my arm to emphasize a point. She does it more than once, and I decide this is good. Outside the restaurant, while waiting for Kelly's car, she actually talks directly to me. I can feel the tide turning. Her car arrives. We shake hands. Not a kiss, but I'm still optimistic, until Kate calls the next day and tells me Kelly isn't interested in going out with anyone right now.

I decide to put dating on the back burner until my friend Michael calls and asks whether I remember a woman named Anita, whose son was in my daughter's kindergarten class. I actually do remember her, and Michael will ask Anita the same question: Does she remember me and (more important) does she want to go out with me?

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