In the previous installment, Lisa’s romantic life (such as it is) suffers additional setbacks. She gives up on two new dating sites that match her with losers, and rejects her ex-husband Martin’s remarriage proposal. But through classmates.com, she sets up a meeting with David, the childhood sweetheart she married—and divorced—years ago.

“Happy birthday, Lisa!”

My dentist’s receptionist, a woman with an unreasonably cheerful disposition and a voice that resonated like a drill, called every patient on their birthday. It must have been in the “How to build your practice” manual.

“It’s not til tomorrow,” I protested feebly.

Shelly said she knew that, but she wouldn’t be working on the weekend. “And I didn’t want to miss the big five-oh!” she shrilled.

It wasn’t the most auspicious way to start the day. But things quickly got better. I drove Martin back to his house. I think we both knew it was time. Then I took the rest of the day off to celebrate.

Okay, to be honest, I took the day off because I had plans to meet David. He was in town for a sales convention—David, the nerdiest boy in high school, turned out to be a super salesman—and we’d agreed to get together for lunch at the Top of the Mark. It’s just lunch, I thought; we’ll have a drink or two and see what happens. I’d never had a fling with someone else’s husband. But he used to be my husband, too.

David had acquired a few pounds and wrinkles, and we both lied valiantly about how neither of us had aged a day. But pretty soon it really was like time had stopped. He still had the same dry wit, the same sharp blue eyes, even behind bifocals. He had all of his hair, though it was mostly gray. He said he was married, but not all that happily; that he had two teenage daughters who were moody, and a chocolate Lab. I had an instant flashback to those black Labradors fornicating in all the copies of Hustler magazine he used to collect. (“Why are they always black?” I could almost hear Joe say. “Why isn’t it ever a white Labrador?”) Maybe David had retained a fondness for the breed.

But I pushed that thought away—surely he would have outgrown porn by now? especially with two teenage girls?—and focused on the guy I’d fallen in love with 30-odd years ago. He ordered us another round of drinks.

“We should celebrate your birthday,” he said. “Fifty!”

I was touched that he’d remembered. I was also appalled. “Not for hours,” I said.

David excused himself to make a phone call and, as he stood up, he rested a hand on my shoulder. He’s going to call his wife and tell her that he’s in a meeting, I thought. We’ll go up to his room. It’ll be just like it was when we were 20 years old. Except we’ll stay together this time.

I didn’t know whether it was his mention of the chocolate Lab that made me do it, or just a journalist’s nosiness or an ex-wife’s instincts. But I reached down and opened David’s briefcase. Magazines tumbled out. FHM. Maxim. Hustler. I shoved them back in and closed the briefcase. When David came back to the bar, I said that I had to go home. I said I’d look forward to seeing him at our next high school reunion.

“Take the wife,” I said. Thinking, what’s the line from The Godfather? “Leave the Labrador.”

* * *

My 50th year dawned chilly and gray.

I put on exercise tights and an over-sized T-shirt—I was finally depleting Martin’s hand-me-downs and would soon have to buy my own—and headed off to the gym. I had weight to lose, and I wasn’t getting any younger. Valencia Street Muscle was filled with the usual sad sacks who didn’t have a reason to stay in bed on a Saturday morning. On the way home, I stopped at Bi-Rite to contemplate the options for my solitary 50th birthday celebration. Drinking alone would be a bad idea, I thought, and I walked out empty-handed.

But at home I found a party waiting for me. Johnny and Chris had hung crepe paper across the living room, in homage to my décor for all the kids’ birthdays I’d organized, and chipped in to buy a huge bouquet of flowers, with not a rose in the bunch. Amy popped a magnum of Champagne. She’d rounded up some old buddies from the Chronicle. Even Martin dropped by, accompanied by a curvaceous blonde.

“You brought a date to my birthday party?” I asked.

“She’s my nurse, Lisa.”

It was hard to be angry, even with Martin. A few tender shoots were coming up on his scalp. After all, it was spring.

I’d lived in dread of this day but, now that it had finally arrived, it wasn’t so awful. I was spending it with my favorite people in the world. If I weren’t 50, I wouldn’t have felt compelled by my biological clock to have had these two wonderful boys all those years ago. If I weren’t 50, I wouldn’t have become the person I was—which, after a couple of glasses of Champagne, I discovered that I liked. A lot.

Best of all, 51 was an entire year away.

I raised my glass. “To 50!” I said.

“Lisa, you look fantastic,” Amy said. “You really ought to go online again. There are some sites just for people over 50.”

* * *

Lisa_Forever
Petite, shapely gym rat with two teenage sons and plenty of baggage but the strength and energy to do my own heavy lifting. I’m 50 years old but look ten years younger—don’t we all? I work in journalism, love books, crosswords, words and sometimes music. Right now, my favorite song is “Hey Baby Hey” by Greg Brown: “I want to plant a little garden with you now/Take care of a piece of the earth somehow/and tend it when we’re old and gray and/try to straighten up and say, well/I’m so glad to see you today/hey baby hey baby hey baby hey.” If I’m playing your tune, let me hear from you. And here’s an offer that’s hard to refuse: If we really, really get it right, both of us can get off these dating sites!

With my birthday, I had graduated to a new online matchmaking service—fiftyandupdating.com. The site was free, probably because the company that operated it figured we were spending all our disposable income on cat food and hemorrhoid cream. I decided that I would give it my best, last shot, and made a pact with myself that I would meet anyone who answered. This was no time to be picky. And if no one replied, well, that would be the end of my career as a serial online dater. If I didn’t stop now, the next step—I’d checked—would be corpses.com. I envisioned the profile I could write: “Enjoys romantic burials at sea . . . ”

Out of idle curiosity, I surfed the profiles. The men I’d seen on other sites typically thought they could attract women ten to 15 years their junior, so I suspected that the guys on fiftyandup were way, way up, in a stratosphere from which a 50-year-old woman looked like a chick. A remarkable number seemed to be boasting merely that they were alive. “Fit as a fiddle—a Stradivarious!” one bragged. “Have own house, car, hair and teeth!” declared another.

Frankly, I was finding it hard to care. Turning 50 marked the end of my sex life. My fading libido reminded me of poor Tinker Bell after she’d drunk the poison that Captain Hook intended for Peter. Only the faintest fairy twinkle remained. Could it be saved? Maybe I should call out, “Clap your hands, everybody, if you believe in Lisa’s sex drive.”

My computer announced that I had mail. Obediently, I clicked.

To: Lisa_Forever
From: CHARON

CYNICAL BOATMAN LOOKING FOR FEMALE PASSENGER TO CROSS THE RIVER STYX TOGETHER. LOVE IS OVER-RATED; SO IS LUST. AT THIS POINT, I’D SETTLE FOR COMPANIONSHIP. IF YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO KNOW WHAT GLUCOSAMINE IS, DON’T WRITE BACK. I HOPE YOU WON’T BE PUT OFF BY THE OXYGEN TUBES IN THE PHOTOGRAPH—I DON’T NEED THEM ALL THE TIME.
• THE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITIES I’M LOOKING FOR:
BREATHING. PREFERABLY ON YOUR OWN.

• HOW DO YOU ENVISION YOUR LIFE OVER THE NEXT TEN YEARS?
ASSUMING YOU ENVISION TEN MORE YEARS. I’M NOT GETTING ANY AWARDS, THAT’S FOR SURE.

When we got together for drinks at Cafe La Boheme, Charon confessed that he’d written in upper case because his vision wasn’t that great. Apparently there were other shortcomings, too. He leaned toward me and started telling a convoluted story about a friend of his who uses a pump.

He was whispering, so I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Pump?” I said. “Like an insulin pump?”

No. His friend, he said, barely audibly, needed a vacuum pump to get it up. And he hadn’t told the woman he was dating until they went to bed. So when the friend—here his voice sank so low I had to read his lips—started pumping, the woman freaked out, hustled into her clothes and tore out of there.

What he wanted to know, he said, was did I think that was unreasonable?

“Well,” I said, “I think he should have warned her. I’m sure there are some women who could accept it.” Thinking, maybe a Girl Scout leader. Or someone into hydraulics.

“Would you?” Breathlessly, leaning closer.

“No,” I said firmly. “Sorry.”

He nodded, shakily. “I’ll tell my friend,” he said.

* * *

That clinched my decision: I was going to declare my independence from all those Internet dating sites. I’d had it. I might go back to them someday, but I really needed a vacation from the whole sorry up-and-down business of computer dating, from the offers to “Find your perfect date even if you’re not perfect” and the queries, “Is someone looking for someone like you?” and the reassurances that “Being over 30 doesn’t mean you can’t meet your match.” (What about over 50? Huh???) I had reached a point where I had a more intimate relationship with my computer than with any of the men I’d met on it and, as my kids would say, that sucked.

When I’d started online dating, everyone had said, “You’re getting a life at last.” But as it turned out, I already had a life, a perfectly good one, and dating or not dating didn’t change that. I had great friends. I had two great, mostly, sons. For the moment, I had a job. Sure, it would have been nice to have a man in my life. But man or no man, I had a life.

Plus, even my computer was betraying me. I didn’t know which of the dating sites did it—it was a little like STDs, when you’ve had multiple partners—but my computer was so riddled with viruses that it barely let me sign in. And then, every time I tried the most innocent transaction—to check the weather, say, or the time of a movie—I got a thousand pop-ups:

1 Men are interested in you!

6 Men in your Neighborhood

Huge singles site.

We promise that we can get you laid.

Want a #%&^friend?

I stopped in at the Coffee Bar at Florida and Mariposa and asked one of the kids behind the counter if they knew of anybody who fixed computers and made house calls. I called the first name they gave me.

* * *

When Mike showed up, I did a double take. I’d been expecting some hipster, not much older than Johnny, and in walked a grownup, a guy in his 50s without a wedding ring.

“I know,” he said with a nice smile. “You thought I’d be younger. By, say, 30 years.”

He said he’d lost his job in a restructuring a few months ago, and had decided to try working for himself. So far, it was turning out okay. Then he got down to work.

Mike said he’d never seen such a variety of viruses, or a history of so many dating web sites. He finally shut up about that when he noticed how embarrassed I was. Then he told me that, in addition to all the viruses that were slowing it down and multiplying the pop-ups and would have ultimately wiped out my hard drive, my computer had been hijacked by spammers who were using it to send out their own junk. I felt violated. He installed all sorts of virus shields, and said it wouldn’t happen again, or at least not until the spammers upgraded their own technology.

“Now you can go back on match.com,” he said.

It felt a little like being treated by a gynecologist for an STD and being sent back out into the world with a gentle reprimand and an admonition: This time, use protection.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m taking a break.” I paused. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

So we shared a bottle of wine, and talked about computers and books and being self-employed and teenagers and ex-spouses and dating and being 50-something. Three hours later, Mike said he’d better be getting home. His son would be expecting dinner.

“Maybe we could get together sometime,” he said, tentatively.

“I’d like that. A lot.”

“Great,” he said. “I’ll send you an email.”

“Actually, I’m staying off the Internet for a while,” I replied. “Just taking a break. Would you mind giving me a call?”

Previous Installments

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6