The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For years, I pursued men and got nowhere. Then I learned how to sit in the passenger’s seat.


“Do you want to get married?” “Do you want to have kids?”

During my 30s, I tolerated these “well-meaning” questions.

By the time I turned 45, these questions were increasingly delivered in past tense with the sympathy usually reserved for someone with terminal cancer: “Did you want to get married?” “Did you want to have kids?”

My perpetual singledom was not for lack of trying. For two decades, I had been on and off dating websites, where I initiated communication with countless men.

Thanks to my parents, I abhorred the idea of marriage. My mantra at the time was: “I’m never getting married.” However, I was trying to fool myself — I was looking for a husband.

My mother married in the 1950s, and my grandmother didn’t like that my mother worked and paid the bills while my father attended dental school. He could figure out how to pay for school himself, my grandmother said. A man was supposed to take care of a woman, not the other way around.

For the next 15 years, my mother stayed home and raised four kids, while my father built his dental practice. Then came the young dental assistant and the divorce. My mother walked away broke. My grandparents were deceased by then, but I’m sure my grandmother was looking down, saying: “I told you so.”

My mother’s financial struggles scared me. I promised to never let that happen to me. At age 26, I started investing in real estate. I scrimped and saved, accumulating significant assets over the next 20 years. As I aggressively built my net worth, I continued my proactive search for a husband. I wanted to love and be loved.

By the time I hit my 40s, dating apps like Bumble were specifically encouraging women to make the first move. I had already been doing this for two decades. Their encouragement motivated me to step it up a few notches.

But that did not lead to success. The more men I pursued, the more I was ghosted or ignored. Men my own age didn’t want me because I was “too old.” When a man did contact me, he was often much older than me and was looking for a “younger” woman.

In the hopes of landing my desired date, I suggested places to meet that were convenient for the men and often promised to pick up the tab. I look back now and cringe.

In late 2014, I was 48 and single, never married. Downtrodden but not giving up, I once again logged onto a dating website. The “new email” button was flashing. I clicked and read five straightforward words: “Would you like to meet?” he asked. I skimmed his profile and squinted at his one photo: A fuzzy image of him in the distance on a golf course. I moved the cursor over the “delete” button.

But then I paused and thought for a moment. He was close to my age — one point for him. He didn’t describe himself as “good in bed” — two points. He didn’t warn that he only wanted a hookup — three points. He proactively contacted me — a big four points. Maybe I should give this man a chance.

I took a deep breath and replied: “Yes.”

I would not have said yes if it weren’t for what had happened a few days prior. A friend handed me a book called: “Getting to ‘I Do,’ ” written by Patricia Allen. I planned on shoving the book to the back of the bookshelf next to “The Rules,” but instead I read every page, and it spoke to me.

Allen does not insist that you act like a prima donna, as “The Rules” authors do. Rather she stresses that women should stay in the feminine energy in a relationship, allowing the masculine energy to take the lead. I wasn’t fully clear on what she meant, until my second date with Larry.

Larry and I met at a restaurant. Our first date was normal, uneventful — a welcome change from some of the horrible dates I had experienced. As we left the restaurant, he asked for a second date. As promised, he called to make plans.

Rather than meeting somewhere neutral as we did on our first date — the norm in this noncommittal, Tinder era — he insisted on driving 30 minutes to pick me up. I accepted his offer with discomfort. I was perfectly capable of getting there on my own, and I knew I risked my feminist friends berating me for accepting his chivalry.

The date didn’t have the makings of a romantic comedy. There were no awkward moments, no fluttering heart tripping up my tongue. I was completely lucid. As he paid the check — which he insisted on doing — I was contemplating whether he was worthy of a third date.

That is, until we got up to leave the restaurant. We hadn’t noticed that it was pouring outside. As I was preparing to dodge the rain drops, he stopped me: “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll pull the car closer.”

As I waited, I calculated the best way to run and avoid getting drenched. As I took a first step into the rain, I could barely see him through the heavy downpour, but I noticed that he was getting out of the car holding an umbrella. I stepped back and watched as he ran to me. He took me by the arm and escorted me to the car, making sure I didn’t get wet.

When I met Larry, I was living in “girl power.” I was proof that women don’t need men to survive, to prosper, to pay the bills, to be happy. But on that run through the rain, our arms entwined, protected by this man I had just met, I felt relieved of the burden of always having to protect myself.

I agreed to a third date.

Almost a year after we met, Larry and I took a day trip outside the city. I offered to share the driving. On many occasions I’d said I could drive. Each time, he didn’t respond — not with a yes or a no. Just with silence.

With each passing mile, my anger grew. I couldn’t hold it anymore. Maybe this chivalry thing wasn’t so appealing after all.

“Why don’t you ever let me drive?” I huffed.

I had prepared my arguments. Woman are just as good or better drivers than men,” I would say. “If I want to drive, I’m going to drive! Doesn’t what I want count?”

I didn’t need to say any of that.

He took a deep breath. “Because it makes me feel like a man to take care of you,” he said timidly, apprehensively. “You are taking away my masculinity.”

I was stunned. What he said to me was politically incorrect, and he knew it. No wonder he went radio silent whenever I asked to drive. He was avoiding what he had come to expect in his decades of dating — outrage at his need to express his masculinity. When he dropped me off, I pulled Allen’s book off the shelf and read it again.

Twelve months after we met, Larry proposed marriage to me, kneeling down on one knee. I said: “Yes.”

Larry still does the driving. He also cooks. On most nights, he’s in the kitchen making dinner. I always ask if I can help, and he insists that I sit and relax. Cooking his famous peach-glazed chicken is another way he takes care of me, shows his love for me. It’s another way he exercises his masculinity as a provider. I happily allow him that pleasure.

I often think about our second date: the pouring rain, the umbrella. I told that story at our wedding. When single women ask how I met my husband — or more precisely, how I landed a husband who cooks for me — I say that I met him the instant I gave up control and assumed a more passive, feminine role. As the words come out of my mouth, I know what’s coming next: They’ll accuse me of being anti-feminist.

But here is what I’ve learned after decades of searching for a mate, and what I’ve learned in my marriage: Waiting for a man to approach you and allowing a man to take care of you does not take away from the mission of the feminist movement — to achieve political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

My husband wants for me what I want for myself: Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Equal voice. Equal splitting up of chores. But there are some things that we don’t divvy up. He always insists on holding the umbrella over me, driving the car and cooking my favorite meals. He is less concerned about himself and more concerned that I am happy.

I can hear my grandmother up above, saying: “I told you so.”


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