First, my hatred of all things digital is legendary. I print documents out to read them, and edit them by hand. My favorite way to transport data is what software engineers call “sneakerware” — that is, walking over a hard copy. My “mood” on the internal instant message system reads “I find instant messages intrusive.”
Once they’ve gotten used to the idea of me dating online — editing and posting my dating profile photographs voluntarily — my coworkers gasp, “Weren’t you afraid?”
I do have a reputation as a bit of a James Bond, which is more a measure of others’ timidity than of my fearlessness. After years of online dating, the only real risk I’ve faced comes from inappropriately young men persistently pinging me. Which can happen at work, though for entirely different reasons.
But, yes, we met online. His excuse is that he lived an hour and a half from civilization. I don’t really have one, except that I felt like I needed to cast a wide net, and not fish at work.
Like many middle-aged folks condemned to the singles scene, we each had a colorful and varied work history. I started out as a reporter and editor for a small Arizona daily, worked at an investment bank during the biotech boom, took a long swerve through academia including a stint as a Professor of Humanities, and ended up back in my hometown doing entirely unrelated work that only I find absorbing and exciting. Ken, too, had worn an assortment of professional hats: jet engine mechanic, published wildlife and conservation biologist. I remember thinking after our first date that we were both like the Eighties movie character Buckaroo Banzai: neurosurgeon, rock star, astrophysicist. I also felt like he’d be an excellent companion for a post-apocalyptic road narrative.
On our third date, Ken showed me his molding pictures. To understand just how impressive they were, you have to imagine the context: a weekend-long date on a nature preserve deep in the desert. We’d already ridden around on an odd piece of farm equipment like a ruggedized golf cart, he pointing out various restoration projects and swaths of non-native invasive vegetation, me holding forth earnestly on Marx and Engels. He’d led me sloshing up into the canyon through one of Arizona’s rare wet creeks, and shown me various rare desert fish (small, brown, and, to me, indistinguishable). I have a solid practical knowledge of the desert rooted in childhood experiments with prickly pear fruit and mesquite beans, but he’d studied it and lived in it, and knew the Latin names of things. I was impressed long before we got back to the ranch house for dinner.
As I browsed through his portfolio, I thought, “Wow, what incredible, expensive, high-end stuff for rich people!” No matter how many times he repeated the words “affordable” and “easy to install,” I kept thinking, “Wow, what incredible, expensive, high-end stuff for rich people!”
It took me months to grasp exactly how much he knew. Once we got engaged and he regretfully left the wildlife preserve, the finish carpenter side — the downright sexy handyman expertise of it — started to sink in. I’m a sucker for specialized vocabulary, and the talk of pilasters and miter saws intoxicated me. We realized that we shared not only a love for the desert, but a love for history. We compliment each other intellectually — he can explain the architectural principles behind the Parthenon and name its parts, and I can answer with the story of the Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs and fun facts about the Peloponnesian War.
We’ve been collaborating on the house for almost a year as of this writing, and I never get over my profound gratitude that we met, and that he actually cares what color the walls are. He expresses childlike delight at everything I cook — every pizza is the best one yet! — and reciprocates by creating a lovely, orderly workspace. Young love is touching — innocence, infants, that sort of thing — but to me it’s more moving to reflect on how we both came home after such a long search.