Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Grownup Date With Heather Dugan

Review: Dugan, Heather. Date Like A Grownup: anecdotes, admissions of guilt & advice between friends. HDC Press, Columbus, OH, 2014.

Heather Dugan does not want to go out with me again. Even though we’ve never actually met, this hurts a little, because, Heather Dugan is a fine looking middle-aged woman. She's attractive. She's fit. She's confident. Heather doesn't walk, she strides. She's lean and muscular. She is successful, smart, strong, and has fantastic hair. I would not ordinarily bring that up, but Heather's looks are pretty much the subject of the cover of Date Like A Grownup: anecdotes, admissions of guilt & advice between friends.

That image is important because it is a picture of the person who is going to be the reader’s friend and confidant for the next 200 pages or so. You'll talk about a lot of things together. Not always easy things. The subject is dating: "grownup" dating. This is not the game you learned in school. This is a business for people with a few miles on the tires and a few mistakes in the rear view mirror… and much less time to waste.

Date Like A Grownup... is a personal book, and for the most part, it seems intended to help smart, beautiful, successful women like Heather to thrive in their return to the dating world. As a 50-something returnee to that world, I figured maybe I could pick up a few pointers.

I thought so, even after I realized that this was going to be a “women’s” book. Imagine Sex in the City set in Columbus, Ohio. There would be trips to the gym, gatherings after work to sip (and sometimes gulp) wine, late night phone calls to manage crises, and struggles with blending a career, divorce, motherhood, and dating. Still, I thought I’d play the eavesdropper for a while. Listen in on what the ladies were talking about. Maybe it would help me to understand what women my age are looking for? I have to confess, a lot of it was a little hard to hear.

According to Dugan, if they are smart, grownup women aren’t looking for men like me. I’m recently divorced, emotionally needy, financially troubled, and I travel with more than my share of personal baggage. It was damned discouraging. There were a couple of times that I just had to put the thing down. I started to get a little mad.

Oh, sure, my friend Heather may smile warmly at me from the cover of her book, but it turns out that behind my back, when she’s with her girlfriends, she spends a lot of time warning them to avoid me. I felt a little betrayed. Stung, you know. So I did what any guy would do. I took another look at that cover photo.

Yeah, she spends all that time in the gym, and is always talking about her abs, but I notice she’s a little baggy around the knees and shoulders too. The smile is wide and bright, but the lips seem tight. Forced, am I right? And it’s hard not to notice that the skin on her face and neck look much smoother and younger than the legs and arms, as if a friend with Photoshop may have helped out between glasses of cabernet. The sort of trick you might expect from a middle aged sorority girl who treats first dates like job interviews….

Was I being bitter? Sure. Also unfair. Definitely not grownup behavior. I started to feel a little ashamed of myself.

So, I decided to try again. Maybe not take things so personally this time. Find a way to get over being rejected by so attractive a woman, and try to learn a little something from her.

Here are some of the things I learned about dating like a grownup, once I got over myself.

Time is precious to grownup women. They have a lot of important things going on. They volunteer. They work. They have kids and parents who depend on them. They have houses and cars and bills and investments and all of those things need their attention. A grownup woman isn’t sitting around waiting for Mr. Right to come along and fill up her dance card. She is dancing already.

Grownups don’t need a partner to “complete” them. They’ve been there and done that. They’ve known sweethearts, lovers, and husbands, and they’ve learned that being alone is better than being with someone who doesn’t treat a you the way you know you deserve to be treated.

Grownups don’t get swept away by personal charm or sexual heat. They decide to date someone because it makes sense, because dating that person fits into the rest of their life, because it moves them closer to their own goals and values.

And here’s a biggie: grownups treat people with respect. They don’t play dumb. They don’t play coy. They say what they mean, and mean what they say. They respond courteously to all but the most offensive or dangerous attention. Grownups don’t pretend to have feelings that aren’t there, and they have the personal courage to say “No,” when it needs to be said.

Of all the lessons of Date Like A Grownup… I think this is the one I most needed to hear myself: grownups, know that trust is the foundation of any relationship. Dating like a grownup… no… LIVING like a grownup means never doing or saying anything that makes you a harder person to trust.

And that lesson of personal integrity is where I found the secret charm of Dugan’s work. Because you see, this isn’t a book about dating at all. Not really. It’s a book about growing up. Its story is about living life with joy and friendship and honor, and choosing the time and people with whom you share that life. Dugan didn’t teach me everything I needed to know about dating grownup women. But she did point me toward becoming a more grownup man. And for that, I am grateful.

Thanks, Heather. Even if I didn’t get a kiss goodnight.

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