Youth Is for the Young

Last night at a cocktail party, my friends and I discussed deal-breakers—the things that turn an initial attraction into utter revulsion. When I was in my 20s, I had no deal-breakers. Basically, as long as the girl bathed regularly, I was game. But, as you age, you become more discriminating. You’ve lived through a sad series of failed relationships, and have compiled a laundry list of character flaws and irritants that you simply cannot put up with again.

My friends and I are in our 40s, and we’ve gotten to the point where we know within the first 10 seconds of meeting a woman whether it will go anywhere. Instead of looking for what we find attractive, we search for flaws. Following are just a few reasons we have cited for ruling out women:

• She has several Celine Dion songs on her iPod.

• She chews her food loudly.

• She never has heard of Dorothy Parker.

• She refuses to speak to her mother.

• She never reaches for the check.

The list goes on and on. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll play out the entire relationship—from first kiss to the inevitable messy breakup—in my head before I even learn the woman’s first name.

In an attempt to stop this cycle, and teach us all a lesson in how to love again, I threw down the gauntlet. I challenged my friends to spend the evening flirting without judgment or expectations.

For my first target, I picked a woman who was about 10 years younger than me. Normally, I would have ruled her out because of her age. I never have been interested in younger women, but considering how everyone my age is cranky and doped up on antianxiety drugs, I felt it would be a nice change.

The kid was, indeed, a breath of fresh air. She was excited about her career prospects in musical theater! (I couldn’t resist giving her some motherly advice by suggesting that she get an MBA “just as a fall back…in case the acting thing doesn’t pan out.”) She loved her tiny studio apartment in a dicey neighborhood! (I frowned and suggested an excellent security system.)

She trilled that the blizzard blowing outside was romantic! (I worried aloud about driving conditions.) She pulled me into the snow, and insisted we make snow angels! (I pointed out that I was wearing a ridiculously expensive cashmere sweater, and the cleaning instructions stated explicitly it was not to come into contact with water.)

She grabbed my hand, and exclaimed that I was “neat and fun!” (I responded that I was actually rather rickety and overly cautious.) She suggested that we go to a cool new club, and dance all night! (I told her that I like to be in bed by 10 PM, and I do not dance.)

She twirled around on her toes, and proclaimed that she never had met anyone like me! (I told her dozens of others exactly like me were back at the party, staring darkly into their drinks, worried over whether they had remembered to program TiVo to record their programs that night.)

She insisted that I take her home! I smiled, and considered it for a moment. But then, I pictured her several months in the future, happily trotting off for an extended run in a dinner theater in another state, leaving me alone, and singing mournful Marlene Dietrich songs to myself.

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