(From my diary. Advice to a recently divorced friend.)
Every generation has its own etiquette. The problem was that when I got divorced, I’d been married for over twenty years, and had no idea what that etiquette was. The last time I’d dated was in 1961.At that time, the big question that raged through the school was whether or not it was all right to kiss on a first date. By the time I was on my own again, the question was whether it was all right to have sex on a first date. I didn’t really believe that until I overheard one of my female students saying, “I always like it if a guy asks you your name first before he asks you to go to bed with him.”
There is this image of the wild bachelor, the married man set free from the bonds of matrimony and let out on the town. A dangerous fellow, inclined to grab other men’s wives somewhere between the pickles and the spices, along aisle four, and ravish her where the mayonnaise and the mustard meet. My experience is if they grab any man’s wife on aisle four it is because they are desperately looking for the mushroom soup and can’t find it. If you see men standing frozen in front of the freezer section so long they’re shivering, it’s because they can’t figure what kind of TV dinner to buy.
You will face challenges. The first challenge I faced was learning where to put a quarter to unshackle a grocery cart. You can laugh all you want but when you have never done it, it’s a problem. My wife always got the cart. My solution was to stand around the grocery carts, glancing at my watch like I was waiting for my wife to finish shopping, and surreptitiously watching until someone took out a quarter and put it in the slot and popped the blue button.
The next challenge came about because there are no clerks anymore. It used to be you could go up to a store employee and ask “Where’s the little jars, you know, of that hot mustard from Europe.” and they’d send you to aisle five, third shelf and you’d discover the Dijon. Nowadays, if you don’t know where something is you’ve got to ask other customers. The third challenge. There’s no point in asking another man. It may seem impossible for someone to be more confused than you, but they are. Most men aren’t shopping anyway. They’re just wandering around until their wife waves for them to come and push the buggy outside, load the groceries into the car and drive her and what’s left of their pay cheque home. That means you’ve got to work up enough nerve to ask a woman.
Fourth challenge. If you do ask a woman where the corn meal is or whether you should buy light or dark Soya sauce, she’ll assume you really want her body. Even if she’s got one full grocery cart in front of her and is pulling another one behind her and obviously has enough kids to eat the contents in six and a half days.
The first time I got a startled response over a question about pork chops, I went home and looked in the mirror. I didn’t seem any more dangerous looking than when I was married. I hadn’t been unmarried long enough for that worn down look to have faded. It’s not like I was jaunty, with an open necked shirt, three gold necklaces, or a tie with a hand painted fan dancer on it. The mystery was solved when I was standing at the checkout counter. One of the magazines blared, “The best places to meet men.” Number one was the grocery store. It had never occurred to me that there could be romance among the romaine.
Most of the men you’ll see in the grocery store don’t look like candidates for sexy looks in front of the celery. They’re mostly bald and short of breath and look like they need their clothes pressed. I once saw a handsome, tall, distinguished man at the deli counter. His arm was in the iron grip of a young, beautiful, frighteningly skinny woman. She’d found him and she was hanging onto him. She may have found him around the focaccia and she wasn’t going to chance his slipping away among the salads. All us ordinary people stood back and stared in disbelief when he ordered three hundred grams of the ham that was on sale. No one expected people like that to eat ham that’s on sale. It wasn’t until they were out of sight that one of the regulars spoke up and ordered three hundred grams of the same ham. That’s two hundred grams more than she usually orders. Before that, I’d heard her say to her friend she was going to get kolbasa. I expected that night as she dined on the ham, she was sharing it with the Greek god who ordered just before her
The problem is that your motives in asking where the cumin can be found won’t be pure. It’s not that you want to invite anyone to come in just yet. It’s just that you need practice actually talking to women who weren’t friends vetted by your wife. And it won’t be long before you start thinking about asking someone out. The problem is that you won’t have the faintest idea of how to go about it. I asked one of the guys I work with. He suggested putting an ad in the paper. He said that’s what he did. I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was a journalist.
SWM wants to meet interesting women. Friendship possibly leading to romance was the ad he put in. He got sixty-five replies. He called fifteen of them. Made ten lunch dates. None of them survived to the dessert course.
“Go to the bar,” another colleague suggested, ignoring the fact that I don’t drink. “Get blasted. By the sixth drink they’ll all look beautiful.” Six Perrier’s with lime might have cleaned out my kidneys but it couldn’t alter reality. In any case, don’t do it. If you are tempted, I’ll introduce you to a friend of mine. He did that some years ago and when he sobered up in a motel bed after a five day drunk, he found he had a wife. And he did have to ask her what her name was.
Don’t click on any of those internet ads offering a romantic liaison with Russian women. Or any kind of women. I’d say let nature take its course. It turns out that magazine at the checkout was right. Grocery stores are great places for women to meet men. And men to meet women. Don’t shop once a week. Buy a few groceries each day. Check out what is in grocery carts or baskets. It will reveal a great deal. A basketful of nothing but heat and serve dinners might be a warning sign.
Six months from now, your life will sort itself out somewhere between the laundry detergent and the paper towels. Or the fruit and the nuts. As we get older, there are fewer and fewer men. If you really do want another relationship, the odds are in your favour. After a certain age, the most inept survivors become a prize of sorts. Even though you are approaching your best before date, you’re not there yet and someone will think you are worth taking home along with her groceries.