A local shopper peruses the gourmet selections at Bi-Rite Market. Photo: Sarah McClure

Middle Ages by Sandra Salmans was first published on October 24, 2009. For those of you who missed Love in the Middle Ages, here it is again. Enjoy. 

Chapter 1

It was when I began lingering over the cucumbers at Bi-Rite that I realized it was time to start dating again.

It’s not like I was doing anything outrageous—not actually fondling the cucumbers, for example. And if I’d actually been looking for something a little more realistic, I would have been eyeing the zucchini. Or maybe those thrillingly purple Asian eggplants. But, frankly, I’ve never cared for eggplant, and the only way I like zucchini is when it’s chopped up and sautéed, which wasn’t really what I had in mind. Unless it was my ex-husband’s zucchini.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t going to be one of those stories packed with sex and recipes. Cooking isn’t something I’m passionate about and, as for sex . .  . well, by the time I found myself contemplating the cucumbers, sex was a distant memory. So was dating.  Unlike my ex-husband, I hadn’t dated during our marriage. And before him I hadn’t dated much, either. I’d gotten married, in a haze of puppy love and hormones, right out of college. When that ended I was alone for about two weeks before I met Martin. By then, my biological clock was ticking so loudly that it practically drowned out his conversation, which I think is what preserves the species: If you can actually hear what the guy’s saying, you might not go out on a second date with him, late alone get married.

But, standing in produce, I realized that it was time to get back on the market. I knew Martin was getting remarried because my friends were always calling to say they’d run into him and Dawn at Chez Panisse, and they’d been blinded by the rock on her finger. The only gratifying thing they’d said was how old he looked next to her, like the way new parents look haggard next to their babies. Probably Martin wasn’t getting enough sleep, either.

It’s amazing how easy it is for men to rebound from a breakup. When Martin left three years ago, people were clamoring to fix him up. Of course, he’d already been fixing himself up for months, though I didn’t know that for a while. Meanwhile, I was withering on the vine.

As if on cue, Bi-Rite’s produce clerk, a child about the same age of Dawn, spritzed the vegetables into a post-coital glow. The cucumbers leered at me.

It was time.

*            *            *

Name: Bluestocking

Age: 49

This is my first appearance on match.com—so be kind, please!  Where to begin . . . I could tell you that I’m attractive, but everybody seems to say that in these profiles. I have salt-and-pepper hair—not many women say THAT!—and I’m in reasonably good shape for someone who earns her living hunched over a computer eight hours a day. Friends—actually, it’s my second ex-husband—say I have an acid wit. My ideal Saturday is breakfast at the Stable Cafe followed by some serious browsing at Dog Eared Books. Maybe a picnic in Dolores Park, if it’s not raining, or soup at Los Jarritos if it is. If that appeals to you, and you’re smart and funny—or at least get my jokes—drop me a line. Don’t talk about the weather unless you can do something about it.

* * *

If I couldn’t write a good advertisement for myself, who could? I’d been writing for a living all my life. I used to work for the Chronicle, but years ago I’d gone freelance. It had become too tough to meet the demands of a daily newspaper and raise two little boys. I figured that if they were going to have one parent, it would be me, and working from home would let me spend more time with my sons. Now that they were teens, more time looked less and less attractive.

But as an editor, I knew that everything needs a second pair of eyes. So I emailed the profile to my friend Amy.

“It might be a little too acid,” she said. “And why ‘Bluestocking’?”

I reminded her that “bluestocking” was—I quoted from my sophomore English seminar—“a derisive term originally applied to certain 18th-century women with pronounced literary interests.” Supposedly the first bluestocking wore blue worsted stockings instead of the black silk stockings the hot girls were wearing. “What’d you think, that it was something out of Victoria’s Secret?”

“You might get more replies if it was,” she said.

Amy is a lawyer, so probably I shouldn’t have expected a literary sensibility. I reread the profile and, barely flinching at the irony, clicked on “Submit.”

* * *

Omigod! A match! Granted, it wasn’t a feeding frenzy, but this was only day one. I clicked on the message.

Hey, Bluestocking,

Bet you’d look great in Victoria’s Secrets!

We both know what we want. Check me out.

In his photo, Willy_Ten-Inch had a mullet and a tattoo for every tooth. His profile—like, presumably, his willy—was one-size-fits all.

Hi, ladies—

Let’s take a sensual stroll along the beach, the sunset reflected in our eyes as we hold hands and enjoy the tide. Then back to my place for the best night of your life.  Here’s what I’m looking for: You’re beautiful and busty, with legs that go on forever.

Okay, so the first guy wasn’t Mr. Right. Did you ever buy the first pair of shoes you tried on? Still, maybe I was going about this whole Internet dating business half-cocked—sorry, Willy!—if this creep was my only match. (Note to Willy: Women who are 5-foot-2 do not have legs that go on forever!)

My cell phone rang. “Cruella,” Caller ID read. Against my better judgment, I picked up.

My sister and I have had a problematic relationship all my life, which began about three years after hers. When we were kids, she bossed me unmercifully; now, she still seemed determined to run my life.

“Lisa!” she shrilled. “You’re on match! Bluestocking? Cute, but I don’t think most guys are going to get it. Though I guess it beats Thunderthighs.” That had been her fond nickname for me when we were growing up.

I needed to put up a better picture, my sister said. Be sure it’s retouched, and cover up the gray. While she prattled on, I checked my email. Two guys popped up! I could marry one of them, move to Europe and never see Lynn again. I clicked.

Dear Bluestocking,

I enjoyed your profile. Send me your photo.


I’m tall, trim, handsome, warm, kind, au courant, romantic, cultured, spiritual retired corporate executive. A young 75, very fit, athletic, virile, with joie-de-vivre, dry humor, savoir faire, class, integrity, but regrettably not affluent presently due to the economic crisis. If you’re a slim, feminine, distinctly upscale-affluent woman UNDER 50, I’m your guy.

Delete. And click.

Dear Bluestocking,

You sound interesting.


1) I have owned my exterminating company for the past 15 years. Business is good—bugs are recession-proof. 2) I am also the president of the California pest control association so get to do some traveling. 3) I have been divorced for five years. 4) I have two children and three grandchildren. 5) I am generally in good shape, although sometimes I have upper respiratory problems due to the chemicals used in exterminating. 6) I have no STDs or credit card debt. 7) I have two tickets to the Yanni concert next month. Want to be my date?

                                                                        *            *            *

Damn, I looked good.

My crow’s feet had magically disappeared, my jaw line had firmed and I had a smile that, if I were describing it in one of my magazine pieces, I would have called “frankly sensuous.” My hair had a swept-back, running-into-the-wind look, and in a black-and-white print, it looked almost blond.

Within an hour of uploading my new photo, I was being treated like the new girl in town, the one everybody wanted to meet. I deleted about a dozen guys over 70. In my own age bracket, I also eliminated one guy with abominable spelling (“seeking someone who will put on no HEIRS!) one who was either asleep or dead in all three of his pictures, and one with a mop-top haircut who said he played Paul McCartney in a Beatles tribute band. I liked Paul McCartney, but I suspected that Mop-Top was into it because he was bald, and I’d done bald with Martin. I was looking for hair.

That left me with two guys who looked pretty promising: Tom, a 54-year-old architect who said he was an avid reader and “fit but carrying a few extra pounds,” and Jeff, a 45-year-old attorney who, judging from his picture in a throng of people, liked to party. I had qualms about both: Tom was a widower, possibly still pining for his late wife; Jeff was four years my junior but professed an openness to older women. I agreed to coffee with each of them.

*            *            *

Tom was guzzling an “I am luscious” smoothie when I walked into Café Gratitude. His choice helped explain the “few extra pounds”—about 50—he was packing. Clearly, I needed to take a crash course in the language of online dating.

Tom turned out to be an architect for the U.S. Postal Service.

“Really!” I said, visions of red-brick boxes flashing before my eyes. “I didn’t know the post offices even used architects.”

That avid reading? Would you believe Tom Clancy?

The waitress came over. “What are you grateful for today?” she asked. Not much, I thought, but I’d be damned if I’d tell her. I ordered an “I am worthy” tonic.

Tom told me that he still thought about his wife every day; I said I thought of my ex frequently, too. What I didn’t say was, I wished Martin were dead. I’d have been a really great widow, in slimming black—gracious, loving, full of fond memories. I’d have forgiven all his little quirks, like forgetting to flush the toilet after taking a big dump. Now I would never get the chance.

Tom told me that his wife had died of a brain aneurysm. He’d come home from work one day, after designing another brick box, and found her staring blankly into space, with a parakeet perched on her head. She died a couple of days later.

“Why a parakeet?”

“What?” He looked at me blankly.

“The parakeet? Is that part of the syndrome?”

He explained that they’d kept parakeets, and that one was flying around the room when the aneurysm ruptured. Then he took his smoothie and left.

Left alone with my blood-red tonic, I had plenty of time to do the math. If Tom’s wife were still alive (no aneurysm, no parakeet), she’d be his age, 54. Which meant, since he stated on his profile that he was interested in women under the age of 50, that he’d have screened her out as a match.

I was learning quickly that almost no man wanted to go out with a woman his own age. In fact, most of the guys seemed to think that women 20 years younger would be thrilled to date them. Not me. What if I did meet a great guy who was 20 years older than me? He’d be dead in a few years and I would have to start this process all over again.

For that reason, I was hopeful about Jeff. At 45, he wasn’t likely to drop dead on me anytime soon; I wouldn’t even need to worry about his prostate for years.

When I met him at L’s cafe the following afternoon, he looked a little older than the fun-loving guy in the photo—but who didn’t perk up at a party? I told him that I’d liked the photo he posted on the Web.

“Thanks,” he said. “It was taken at my dad’s wake.”

Okay, I could deal with that. I told him how impressed I was that he would go out with a woman who was a few years older than he was. He beamed. He talked about growing up in the Midwest, coming to San Francisco for college, being drafted and sent to Vietnam.

“You were in Vietnam?” Me, doing the math (again).

“Yeah. Oh, you figured it out. Okay, I lied about my age.”

Only by a decade. I wasn’t thrilled about the deception but relationships are full of compromise. Someday when we were old—assuming Jeff got older—he and I would laugh about his little fib.

“What were you doing in Vietnam?” I asked him.

“I can’t talk about that.”

I blinked. “Sorry?”

“I can’t talk about that. When I joined the service, I took a vow that I wouldn’t discuss operations.”

“But that was 30, no, 35 years ago,” said the human calculator. “The war’s over.”

“I took a vow. That’s just the kind of guy I am.”

Although I hadn’t been e-dating very long, I’d already heard that line—“that’s just the kind of guy I am”—half-a-dozen times. And it was always said in the same self-congratulatory tone, as in, “I’m perfect, why would I change?” When change was exactly what was called for.

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I provide editing support for Mission Local from New York, about 2500 miles away from SFO. (I just looked it up.) This allows me to retain my journalistic objectivity and fussy adherence to East Coast standards of punctuation. I got involved with Mission Local a few years ago through Lydia, whom I met in the early 1980s at The New York Times, where I was a business reporter. Since then I've been in and out of journalism and nonprofits, and have also tried my hand at fiction. A couple of years ago I contributed Mission Local's first fiction series, a comic novel called Love in the Middle Ages.

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  1. I have been looking into online dating…thank god for being allowed to remain anonomous. It looks scary out there…but reading your portrayal of your experiences is very close and real…I needed every word of it and laughed a great deal. Oh my gosh…Life is such a mix salad of ingredients. Thanks for the laughs…I needed every one of them…life is far to serious but extremely interesting.

  2. So, so funny! So wonderful to read fiction online, especially such good fiction. Can’t wait to keep reading.

  3. E-dating is e-punishment, just like regular dating.

    (Romance makes me want to take a nap. Or sucker punch someone. How on earth can one stay buoyant AND date?)

    Thanks for the piece.

  4. This is some of the most refreshing and honest portrayals of online dating disasters and absurdity. I love the writer’s wit and sensibility. I can’t wait for next week’s installment. Thank you!