At least seven years had passed since I saw Ali. Maybe more, maybe less, we couldn’t agree. She picked out a place in her neighborhood, and I hopped on my motorcycle to meet her. I hadn’t ridden my bike in a while because (1) I have a pinched nerve in my neck that is extra painful when I’m sitting in a riding position, and (2) it’s been hot as balls outside. My ancient air-cooled machine spits, sputters, and stalls if I sit in traffic too long. And, in this town, traffic is impossible to avoid.
It was a short ride, though, and the bike had no complaints. Neither did I.
I got there early and sat on a bench outside the café. She tried to sneak up on me as I sat there, but I saw her coming and spoiled her surprise. She wasn't hard to recognize; she looked the same as she ever did.
She's going gray and bleached her hair to allow it to grow in surreptitiously. I guess she was expecting me to comment on her gray hair but, to me, she just looked platinum and that's what I said: "Your hair is so blond."
"I feel like people don't even notice me anymore," she said. "I used to feel like a thin, young, hottie and always got at least some attention on the streets. Now I just feel invisible."
"Well, I think you look great," I said, without having to lie.
She works from home and says she still feels pretty good about herself, generally. The only time she feels old is when she goes into the office and sees the kids who work there. It's one of those places where the employees go on ski vacations and beach days together. In fact, that was why Ali was able to meet me in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. It was an office beach-day.
"You didn't want to go to the beach?" I asked.
She looked at me and laughed.
She’s single now and has been for about two years. Her previous relationship lasted eight years before she got the eight-year-itch and jumped ship. “It was stagnant,” she said. “But, I have to say, I am really, really, glad that I was the one who broke up with him.”
I was expecting her to say he was an asshole and was glad not to have given him the satisfaction of leaving her. But, no, he's not an asshole, she said. In fact, they still talk now and then.
“What it is," she explained, "is that he's dating a twenty-four-year-old now.”
Ali is 45, so 24 is nearly half her age.
“We were going to break up one way or the other—sooner or later—it was obvious. But, if he had broken up with me, and started dating a 24-year-old, I’d feel like total shit—like I got traded in. But since I was the one to break up with him... .well... .whatever.”
“Have you met her?”
"No. I've seen pictures."
"You don't hate her?"
"No, whatever. She and my ex babysat my cat when I went on vacation last year.”
When I first met Ali, we were both single. We met on an online dating site in the days when I was meeting a lot of women that way. Although Ali and I never clicked romantically, we hit it off as friends and got together often to share tales of our romantic adventures. Her stories often involved younger guys. She was infatuated with one in particular—a tattooed, bass playing slacker who managed to really get his hooks in her. He was about six years younger than she was. Six years isn't nearly as big a gap as twenty years, but listening to her tell me about the 24-year-old cat-sitter made me think of him. “Remember that guy?" I said. "I forget his name . . .”
“Luke,” she said.
“We still talk.”
Yeah. He's actually one of my closest friends. He’s single now too.”
Apparently, they both discussed it and agreed that they would get together and work out their frustrations—so to speak.
“No kidding. Wow. Wouldn't that be wild if you two wound up together?”
“I know. So funny.”
She's back in the online dating mix—something I haven't done in ten years so I was curious to hear about it, to see what kind of perspective I would have ten years out.
"Dude," she said. "I'm 45, right? So I see guys on there who are the same age as me, but their parameters say they are looking for a woman between the ages of 22 and 35. What the fuck? They are looking for women between ten and twenty years younger than they are. I'm the same age as them, and I'm ten years off their radar. It's crazy."
I told her about a book I'm reading—The First Bad Man by Miranda July. In it, the main character, a forty-something woman, says "That's the problem with men my age, I'm somehow older than them."
"Totally," she said. "Totally."
I asked her what her parameters were. I forget what she said, exactly, all I know is that I fell outside the upper limit.
"Oh, really? Okay. I see how it is."