A month after my ex and I decide to split, my friend Debra and I go to dinner at a steakhouse in Orem, Utah. While we wait in the lobby, I run into one of my students.
“Smithey!” she says.
We greet each other with smiles, and I think, the kids won’t be calling me by that last name much longer.
I say hello to the girl, and she introduces me to her dad. He has a rugged handsomeness about him, which emboldens me to engage in a conversation. After a few minutes, I catch him noticing my naked ring finger. His is emancipated, too.
I retreat with an awkward: “Well, I’m going to go sit back over here. See you later!”
Back at my table, my mind is full of questions: Is this guy ex-Mormon too? Would I date an active member of the church? Are there any qualifying single men in my neck of the woods?
For weeks, this thread of questions lingers. Eventually, I’ll be ready to date again. As a single, left-leaning feminist in conservative Utah, will I find any available men with whom I’ll see eye to eye? To quell (or confirm) my fears, I sign up for Match.com. On my profile, I post photos of me, grinning in all the cliche places: the car; in front of the bathroom mirror; with my best friend, whom I’ve spliced out of the frame. At the end of my self-description, I add: “Trump supporters, swipe left.”
In a matter of minutes, messages flood my inbox, and, as it turns out, many of the interested men share my politics. There’s a fire suppressant engineer with a scruffy beard. An attorney with three small kids. A guy who owns a motorcycle and, I’ll soon learn, has posted extremely outdated photographs of himself. I have a lot of choices, but I know what I want: excitement, energy and something casual.
In our emails, the attorney matches my witty banter, so when he asks me out, I say yes.
“What do I wear?” I ask my best friend Lisa.
“Show some skin,” she says. “Short dress and heels.”
My mouth twists at the side. I don’t have the wardrobe for this. Newly separated from my spouse and my faith, Mormonism, I have little more in my closet than sweater sets, jeans and skirts longer than the knee. I drive to Nordstrom Rack and try on a wrap dress with a low neckline. My calves tighten. I’ve been training for a half-marathon, and my legs seem carved out of marble. Looking at myself in the mirror, I feel like someone else. Someone who’s sexy and desirable. I’m not sure I want this. A part of me wants to crawl back to my drawer of yoga pants and sports bras.
I have my hair highlighted and nails painted navy with silver glitter. Back at home, I send selfies in my new dresses to Lisa.
“Gorgeous,” she texts.
On my date with the lawyer, he brings me red roses and buys me dinner at a Thai restaurant. His eyes are dark and intense; and even though he’s bald, I’m attracted to him. We discuss work, our childhoods, supporting the LGBT community, and our dissatisfaction with the election results. He has a wavering Southern drawl, and when he pronounces my name “Raina,” I don’t correct him. My skirt slides an inch up my legs when I cross them.
After dinner, he invites me over to his place to listen to him play piano. I agree to go, but text Lisa his address just in case. His apartment is sparsely decorated; white walls and worn couches draped with blankets.
“Tell me about a pivotal moment in your life,” he says, sitting at the keyboard. (He must’ve lost the piano in the divorce.) “I’ll play the notes to represent your emotions and the intensity of the event.”
I tell him of my daughter’s birth. The hours of labor, the pulsating contractions, the epidural lancing me in the back, and the slow way the drug rolled into my body. He plays. Scores my life. I sit on his couch stroking his dog, Daisy, and feel as though I could lie down, tell my stories, and listen to him make Hans Zimmer-style soundtracks of my life until morning.
But nothing is normal about tonight. I haven’t been out with another man in 15 years. I was a virgin the day I knelt across the temple altar and agreed to honor and obey my spouse for eternity. Now I’m sitting next to a new love interest and drinking wine from a child’s plastic tumbler. The decade and a half between wedding and divorce was, like most failed marriages, an amalgamation of suffering, hard work, illusory hope and exhaustion. Dating is a respite.
In a week, the attorney invites me out again, and I schedule two more dates with single men who meet my criteria. I think I’ll do just fine, dating here in Utah.