In the first installment of Love in the Middle Ages, Lisa, who is facing her 50th birthday, decides to try online dating. After a couple of brief encounters in the Mission, she’s learned one lesson: people lie on the Internet!

I’d already been married to one guy who thought he was perfect and I wasn’t looking for another. Martin always made me feel second-rate because he was a doctor and I wasn’t. And even if I’d been inclined to stand up for myself, it would have been difficult because he was never home.

I should have been more suspicious. If he’d been an obstetrician, I could have understood his dashing off at all hours to deliver babies. But Martin was a high-tech infertility expert, collecting donor eggs and donor sperm, mixing them up and implanting them in donor wombs. If anybody actually got pregnant on his watch, he’d turn her over to an obstetrician.

Even so, his beeper was constantly going off, usually right after dinner. He’d look at the number. “She’s ovulating!” he’d exclaim. And off he’d go at a gallop, Farmer Martin at your service, ma’am, here to gather your eggs.

I found out the low-tech way that Martin was cheating: reading his credit-card statement. He’d sent roses, a lavish—judging from the price—bouquet, to “Dawn.”

“Roses? Who’s Dawn?”

“Oh. One of my egg donors. I sent some flowers to say ‘Thank you’.”

“But doesn’t she get $25,000 as a thank you? And besides, isn’t that a conflict of interest? When I was at the Chronicle, we weren’t allowed to accept expensive gifts from anybody we interviewed. My editor used to say, ‘If you cover the circus, don’t sleep with the elephants’.”

“This isn’t a circus. This is medicine. And I’m God.”

Okay, to be honest, he didn’t really say he was God; I made that up. But all the rest happened. After that, I started steaming open the credit card bills each month. Dawn got roses with every ovulation. As I told the kids later, “The yolk’s on me.”

That was after Martin had walked out of our home in the Oakland Hills, shouldering half-a-dozen designer suits and speeding away in his Benz. I missed being a couple, knowing what you were going to do on Saturday night (with Martin, usually nothing). I missed being a family, the seemingly happy four of us piling into the car on Saturday, eating ceviche at the Ferry Building, taking vacations in Yosemite.

What I didn’t miss was Martin. He was a snob, and wanted a lifestyle that I didn’t—even if could have afforded it, which I certainly couldn’t after the divorce. He squawked when I told him that I was renting a place for the boys and me in the Mission. It was too dangerous, he said, by which he meant—at various times—too Latino, too near the Castro, too hip, too druggy. But when I lucked into a great little apartment on Lexington Street at a reasonable rent that kept down his child support, Martin’s objections suddenly evaporated—particularly after I pointed out that one of my neighbors was a doctor, too. Suddenly, it was respectable!

The boys and I loved it immediately. Johnny had a shorter bus ride to SOTA, and it turned out that a number of his hipster classmates lived in our neighborhood. And Chris was thrilled to transfer to Friends, although Martin was pretty sniffy about meeting. As for me, one of the things I liked best about the Mission was that I never ran into Martin or Dawn. If it got ever got gentrified to the point where I’d see them lining up outside Tartine’s on Sunday, it would be time to move.

After all, when it came to moving on, I was a pro. I had married Martin on the rebound from David, my high school sweetheart. We’d grown up together—or at least I had; David never outgrew what I felt was an adolescent addiction to porn. And in the seven years we were married, he kept ratcheting up the level of the girlie magazines he’d buy, from Playboy (“just for the stories, honey”) to Penthouse (“good articles”) to Hustler (at which point he stopped talking about the writing).

One thing I’ve never understood: When you’ve got the August Juggs, say, why do you need the September Juggs? Or the October Juggs? Once you’ve seen one jug—okay, two jugs—haven’t you seen them all? I used to think of him whenever I walked past the Power Exchange, when it was still in business, although I think David was more of a reader.

Periodically I’d find piles of these magazines under the bed and I’d throw them out. David wouldn’t say a word. But a few months later, there’d be a new stack of magazines, raunchier than the ones before, in the closet or behind a bookcase. I’d pore over them in horror—who ever thought of having sex with a Labrador? I mean, unless you’re another Labrador?—and then I’d throw those away, too.

“We need to talk about this,” I’d say. “It insults women. It offends me. It makes me wonder what you think of me.”

“It’s not about you, it’s me,” he’d say. Then he’d shut down and I’d cry. I used to cry a lot in my 20s. (That stopped when I had Johnny. The babies were so good at crying that I felt I really couldn’t compete.) Finally David packed up his bags and left. He almost threw out his back carrying all those magazines.

Sighing, I checked my email again. Martin had written to say that he wouldn’t be able to take the boys on Wednesday. At least I thought that’s what he wrote. Martin crafted his emails as if he were submitting them to a peer-reviewed journal; I almost checked for footnotes. “I could take them for an extra day next week, such as Tuesday and Thursday,” he offered, “although noncontiguous days are suboptimal.”

Chris’s teacher emailed to remind me that I hadn’t sent in the art supplies we’d  picked up at Precita Eyes. And—yes!—an email from the guy who could be my soulmate.

To: Bluestocking

From: Ape_Man

Your profile made me laugh. I promise not to talk about the weather. Don’t be put off by the user name. I teach anthropology at UC, specializing in early Neanderthal. But I’m really highly evolved.

Alan

My friends say I’m good-looking, but that’s what friends are for. I guess I’m okay—more Dustin Hoffman than Robert Redford. I’m 55 and reasonably fit; I’ve just returned from a vacation in Colorado, where I climbed all the minor peaks. (I leave the major ones to younger guys.) I love books, theater, new movies, old movies (Casablanca); I’m a news junkie too. I’ve never married, but ready to be committed. I’m looking for a woman who likes flowers and chocolates, loves to laugh, debate, share the arts, outdoors and quiet times; someone who enjoys being together but is independent, with a strong sense of self.

*            *            *

For an apeman, Alan was a bit . . . how can I put this diplomatically? Diminutive. Sort of a Woody Allen type, but less hunky. Way shorter than Neanderthal man; in evolutionary terms, he might just be slithering out of the water. Still, he was bright and funny and had opposable thumbs. We agreed to meet for dinner.

Preparing for my first date in what seemed like one hundred years was a challenge. The last time I went out on a date, I dressed to seduce. Now I dressed to reduce. A few days earlier, Amy and I had passed a demonstration to free Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman who’d been leading the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar for about 25 years. She was about 65 but looked at least 15 years younger than us.

“Maybe it helps to be under house arrest,” I told Amy.

“Maybe it helps to be Buddhist,” she said.

Alan had chosen Papalote’s for dinner—not the best way to jump-start my diet— and he wasn’t amused when I made a joke about gourmet burritos being an oxymoron. But I guess I didn’t offend him that much because after I drove him home—another part of being highly evolved, it seemed, was that he didn’t own a car—he invited me in for a drink. It was what I’d been hoping for. In fact, I’d ransacked my underwear drawer that afternoon for the condoms I’d bought in a moment of premature optimism a few months earlier. They had disappeared. My guess was Johnny had walked away with them, along with the K-Y jelly.

Alan didn’t have condoms. In that respect, at least, he was kind of Neanderthal. So I did exactly what I’d been warning my boys against: I had unsafe sex.

Was it great? Let me put it this way: It was the best sex I’d had in three years. With Johnny and Chris waiting at home, I didn’t have time for foreplay. I tucked the covers around Alan, kissed him goodnight and headed home to my boys and a late meal.

It took two weeks to find out that, despite what Alan had written in his email, he wasn’t that evolved after all. Maybe I contributed to the breakup. But when your period is late after one act of unprotected sex in three years—to be more precise, sex of any kind in three years—are you expected to be rational?

“I’m pregnant,” I told Alan glumly. “You’re the father.”

“You’re almost 50,” he said, with what I felt was unnecessary bluntness. “You’re going through menopause.”

Sure, I’d had a few hot flashes, but my periods had always been regular. Or had they? I drove back to the drugstore where I’d gone for condoms a week earlier—too late!—and bought a pregnancy test. Not pregnant, it stated. So it was menopause, after all.

I knew Alan would be sweating the result, so I decided to let him know immediately that he was off the hook. Since I didn’t have his personal email address on my office computer, I went to Match to click on his profile.

“Active within the last 24 hours,” it read.

Surely that was a mistake. Alan had been active with me within the last 24 hours. Did that mean that he was actively looking to trade up? Sexually active?!? This was the man who was very nearly the father of my child!

The great thing about not being pregnant—apart from not being pregnant—was that I could drink as much as I wanted. Over my third glass of wine, I sent Alan an email:

ApeMan—

Evidently you’re not satisfied with our relationship. I’m not either. I don’t want to be with someone who’s constantly checking to see if he can move up the food chain.

That’s just the kind of gal I am.

Lisa

*            *            *

Name: SunshineGirl

Age: 44

Attractive, petite, shapely, vivacious. I’m equally happy in a cocktail dress or jeans. I enjoy working out at the gym, bicycling, kayaking and traveling to exotic locales. Friends tell me I look ten years younger than my age. I like long walks on the beach at sunset and fine dining. I’m happiest when I have a loving, committed partner where both are free to be who they are but still committed to togetherness peppered with daily hugs and kisses. Seeking a man who is interesting, intelligent, affectionate and sensual—not necessarily in that order.

Any resemblance between SunshineGirl and me was purely superficial, but Amy said that was okay. “As Nietzsche said, ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’,” she said.

Philosophy had never been my strong suit. But, judging from my emails, SunshineGirl was hot.

Name: GolfNut

I like fine dining, too! Write back and let’s see if we have more in common.

I’m a happy, healthy, active 65 (but friends say I look ten years younger), 5’9” and 175, ready to seek new female friends. I have two grown daughters and one grandson, but I’ve been separated for five years. Now that we have separate Medicare policies, we’re finally getting around to the divorce. (You could call her for a reference!) Landscaping my yard, playing golf (public course) in the afternoon and enjoying a companionable night out is my idea of a great Saturday.

Name: Summer_is_Comming—Are We?

Age: 52

Hi, are we having fun yet? I’m a SWM, sincer, humourous, successful, workaholic. I would like to meet,my best friend, a humourous,sexy free lady, for talk, dinning in, dinning out, cozy walks, trips and passionte love-making !! LOL I havn’t paid to subscrib so can only do winks. Hope you try to find me. I will need a way to find you. I am interested. Are you?

Name: Right_Places

Age: 57

Easygoing, housebroken, fiercely monogamous, soft-spoken guy, with own marketing business. Successful 15-year marriage which unfortunately lasted 22 years. I don’t ski, scuba, jog, kayak in the dead of winter, feel equally at home in a tux and jeans, shoot skeet or kill small animals, race formula 1, spend the odd weekend in Fiji, find typos in books on quantum physics while simultaneously doing the Times crossword in ink, or any of the other truly goofy things I’ve seen in descriptions of the ideal date. Sorry. I do give a great foot rub, love animals and kids, and they love me; I have a clever daughter, an advertising copywriter, who’ll testify on my behalf. I like driving with the top down,  know how to be a gentleman, always pick up the tab, and am the best friend you could ever hope to have if you’ve got trouble. And, obviously, modest to a fault.

*            *            *

Right Places’ name was Stan.

That was the first disappointment. In my experience, Stan was the name for a pocket-protector kind of guy—not a guy who drove a convertible and wrote a devastatingly funny profile.

The other disappointment was Stan’s age. Over beer at Shotwell’s, he admitted to being “a few years over 57, though the picture is recent. If I’d given my real age, you probably wouldn’t have looked at me.”

I didn’t mention that I’d trimmed five years off my own age.

“I have a confession too,” I told him. “I do crossword puzzles in ink.”

“So does my daughter,” he said. “You ought to meet her. You two would really hit it off.”

Stan reminded me of my dad; I apparently reminded Stan of his daughter. By our third drink, he was talking about taking a vacation together.

Back home, I started to sober up and wonder what I was getting into. There were any number of possible explanations why I was thinking of taking a vacation with a man I’d met two hours before. I hadn’t had a real vacation in years. The boys would both be away. But none of them was adequate. Ultimately, I decided, it was the crazy, spontaneous kind of thing that SunshineGirl would do.

“He wants to go someplace neither of us has ever been,” I told Amy. “Portugal, maybe. Or Iceland.”

“Portugal’s romantic,” she said.

“That could be a problem,” I said. “Stan doesn’t exactly inspire romance.”

Chapter 3

Chapter 4