Please don't kick the tires

Sometimes I feel like a 1966 Skylark convertible I wanted to buy a few years back. This machine was a beautiful 60’s turquoise, with a bright white ragtop and interior, and chrome dripping everywhere—classic. The white wall tires and sedate fins had me humming “Beach Baby” at first sight. Turning the key, I could literally feel the engine turn over; my heart skipped a beat when I revved it.

Something about the pulse of this car seemed to step in time

with my heartbeat—a clandestine meeting. The large slim steering wheel felt elegant in my hands. She sparkled in the Florida sunshine. Finding that beautiful Skylark was a dream come true.

Scratch that! After ten minutes, I realized the rumble of the engine was signaling something wrong. Caressing her flank, I realized she was about 30% bondo, and oil was leaking. The way I was sticking to those vinyl seats was so not sexy.

There have been days lately that I feel like I am that car. Sure, I look well maintained, but I realize the scars from a divorce, plus the regular insecurities of heading to my mid-forties, are wearing on my belts and hoses. What used to be my happy hum is a little squeaky—even in the best of times. A healthy self-esteem, like a rare manual window crank, might be tough to replace—demands that passengers on this trip be gentle seem overly fussy, but secretly crucial. I pray the bondo holds the paint in place another day.

Keep me in the garage—I can’t handle the harsh elements!

Please, don’t pretend to be buying, but really just want to take me for a joy ride.

The construction is strong, true, even if a little dented in spots upon closer inspection.

Oh hell! This model is absolutely impractical for everyday use. Sure fun for a weekend spin. But a daily driver?

In other words, I think I’m obsolete. I’ve realized that my workaholic undertones, impossibly high standards and childlessness makes me both very immature, and slightly worn all at once! When it comes to a relationship with a family focused man, I feel absolutely worthless—I don’t understand many of the nuisances of true family life; my childlike wonder is not charming when there are teenagers around. When it comes to a confirmed bachelor party boy, my dedication to work often leaves me arriving too late, or too tired. And then there are my expectations of my life today, and my future…

Where will I—how will—I find the man that is strong enough to guide me; hold me; and care for me? Soft enough to read 19th century poetry and reveal his deepest fears. And just cocky enough to outsmart me; out laugh me; and out run me; all while falling madly in love with me. Mad enough to buy the impractical, patched up, slightly leaky ’66 model that needs more maintenance than she cares to admit.

In the meantime, I’ll be cruising—top down—hair flowing—shades on—singing to Fergie. (Please ignore the safety pins and super glue holding everything in place—for now.)


Chatting with my girlfriend tonight, I came to a realization: perfection is well, too perfect. When I think about what is beautiful: art, nature, laughter--I realize that it is that which is flawed which inspires my attraction. Perfection leaves very little room for humanity, the element that turns impeccable manners into charm, wit into laughter, and measured candor into wisdom.

So, while I continue this solo leg of my journey, I've finally discovered this: it is my flaws that make me--well, perfectly me.

I'm a writer by trade, but I can't spell worth a darn--I've edited books, taught English, and earned almost every dollar in my adult life based on the written word. I have no patience for technicalities--that is why God invented Spell-Check! I'm busy thinking about the cadence of a line, the overarching theme, and striking just the right tension in a passage.

I also know we judge books by their cover. In response, I try to look perfectly put together. However, more often than not, my hair is a wreck because I love driving with the top down--hair blowing all around my face. I've found a tidy french twist is the perfect mask for that wild side. There are countless skirts and suits in my closet that sport unconventional fixes; I like to think of myself as a Fashion MacGyver, able to repair most any garment with the junk floating at the bottom of my briefcase. Tip: highlighters are awesome for touching up pink pumps and Sharpies are a godsend when it comes to the toes of your pointiest stilettos.

The ultimate imperfection is being divorced. A "used" wife. The self-imposed implications as the tossed aside spouse have loomed, like a dark cloud, over my cheery dispositions for too long.

Strangely, it was a rainy, dark Saturday a few months ago when the proverbial clouds broke. Watching the gray morning turn to a stormy afternoon, I realized the rain was actually a cleansing force, soaking the earth allowing new plants to sprout. (Great metaphor for divorce, dontcha think?)

It is my 43rd year, and suddenly--strangely--for the first time in my life--I am getting attention from men. I'm sure it's because I'm finally embracing my imperfections, instead of apologizing for them.

So these days, I'm not fretting so much about the age spots I'm sprouting, the gray hairs that are too numerous to monitor, and the laugh lines. Ahhhh, the laugh lines!

These I cherish because I'm still laughing after the storm, and the wind, and the rain. More than ever. I think the laughter is inspired by wisdom, which of course, comes with age.

It is probably the combination of laughter and wisdom that is the common denominator in this strange equation: a 74 year old man I met at a party, a 55-year old lawyer I met at the car wash, and a 33-year old computer programmer I met at the coffee shop all asked me out in a single week. I'm guessing it wasn't due to my perfectly matched outfit, my perfect manicure, or my perfect complexion. I'm thinking its because my quirky personality, finally untethered from constant apology--made them laugh and think: attractive at--and to--any age.

Better still, I don't feel like I have to go out just because I'm asked--instead, I'm waiting for a perfectly imperfect partner to stumble into my life.

Moving Backwards

New job, new town, new life.

Why not a new exercise program?

Gold's Gym isn't an option in Lexington, so I open my browser and type in "Personal Trainer." My theory: if I pay extra to have someone hold me accountable, those extra inches that have refused to budge since the back-to-back surgeries might finally fall away.

The list gives me plenty of options, as I scan the search results, I notice, near the bottom, something that seems out of place. A dance studio. Intrigued, I click.

You'd never catch me watching "Dancing With the Stars" and I have no interest in mastering the tango. However, I've heard that dancing is a great way to burn calories; I am reminded that the most fun I've had at the gym is Zumba. Why not shake up one more thing in my life? Why not dance?

The next day, I hit the studio for my free lesson where I realize there's much more to "social" dancing than learning a few steps.

Aaron, my 6'6" grad student/philosopher/dance instructor puts his arm out to walk me to the dance floor. I clearly don't know what to do. He's confused that I'm confused. I've been dancing in a group of girlfriends for way too long. I can't recall if I have ever been escorted to a dance floor.

"I can't follow." I declare, "I over think everything and I have to know where I'm going." He laughs and tells me that he'll let me know where to go. I secretly know I will struggle because I like to make the choice. I like to think about the options. It pains me to write this because I am not a control freak, but, yes, I might even go so far as to say: I like to be in control of the path I take. Maybe this isn't such a good idea.

Or maybe it is exactly what I need.

Following is a challenge; but the part I'm having a really hard time doing is looking Aaron in the eye. Why is this so incredibly uncomfortable? Aaron academically explains the origins of the Rumba. My mind drifts over my relationships from friends and family, to co-workers and I realize I have had a very hard time looking anyone in the eye. Am I hiding something?

No. I simply can't stand the intimacy. Further self-inspection reveals this: I'm afraid someone will be able to see into my wounded soul and detect my broken heart that I so carefully mask with cheerful chatter. If I have to look people in the eye, I might very well crack. Perhaps this isn't a good idea.

Perhaps this exactly what I need.

"Stop looking at your feet!" My attention snaps back and I ask about his studies. This must have been a match made in heaven because who else could so easily distract me with a conversation about existentialism--something that truly engages my brain--while guiding me around the floor. I'm so enthralled in the conversation that with each step I feel less and less like a big clunky Frankenstein monster on the dance floor. Better still, I've stopped thinking so hard about which move comes next, that I am simply dancing.

Without having to agree, we move from the Waltz to the Rumba, add a few turns, and even a spin. Before I know it, almost an hour has passed and I've been moving backward the entire time. I even occasionally look him in the eye. Just not when he asks if I have a boyfriend.

As I walk into the parking lot I notice I'm standing taller. Further self inspection uncovers the fact that I feel as if I'm moving just a bit more gracefully. My calves feel stressed but I feel calm. At peace. Cheerful.

So many things in my life have been so insanely out of control that perhaps I've reigned in too much. What if I have overdeveloped my need to see the path ahead? This behavior could protect me from the type of surprises that so destructively derailed me in the past few years.

Do I still need this defense? Or am I ready to let go and enjoy letting someone else lead--even if only temporarily. Even if only for a dance.

First Kiss Bliss

There is nothing as delicious, sweet, and toe-tingling as a truly fantastic first kiss.

In the last few years there have been a hand full of first kisses, mostly really dreadful.

I can recall a kiss accompanied by a very scratchy pair of lips, pursed so tight they reminded me of how my granny used put on her lipstick. Can't recall the guy's name.

I tried to forget the salesman who caught me by surprise and shoved his tongue so far down my throat I couldn't breathe. Even better, he had such a grip on me I couldn't get away. Not quite the "take your breath away" first kiss a girl dreams about.

The most memorable first kiss came with a simultaneous first grope. I should have known something was seriously wrong when munitions manufacturer insisted on buying me a beautiful Tommy Bahama Bikini just moments before. I still haven't worn that bathing suit--I feel so dirty! That was my last first kiss a whole year ago.

Imagine my surprise, when, after a very long time, and at a completely unexpected moment, I had one of those sweet, perfect, absolutely dreamy first kisses. Better still, it was from someone I had a crazy crush on for a very long time--making the experience even more delicious!

It was probably best I had given up on the crush and made up my mind that "just friendly" was the most I could hope for--just hanging out and chatting left me no room to get frantic and find a reason to excuse myself, say something stupid, or freeze up.

In fact, I didn't even see it coming! I had just closed my eyes and leaned back, giggling and thinking of the next question I would ask in our game of 20 Questions.

For the first time in a very long time, I just felt so relaxed and safe--no pressure to entertain someone. Finally, I didn't have to explain myself or my singleness. No pressure to look perfect, or be perfect. Giving up on the crush gave me freedom to relax. Working too much, and a nice Vodka Tonic made it easy to sink into the couch, and giggle while joking around with a funny guy. A kiss was the last thing on my mind.

Imagine my surprise, when I suddenly felt this exhilarating feeling of warm, sweet lips on mine. It was an absolutely toe-curling, knee weakening, experience. It was one of those perfect-together kisses, nothing awkward. Just right. Right away.

Like a pat of butter on warm bread, I absolutely melted into the couch. I was trying to figure out if I was relaxed or giddy. Then, as the second turned to minutes, I just...let...go. My brain stopped thinking--for once. I stopped worrying about my breath, or how my hair felt, and if I'm too dorky to kiss. I simply enjoyed the blissful moment.

I melted into the moment and felt sooo good to just be kissed.

Finally, a perfect first kiss, a purely relaxed evening with a cute, funny, great guy. Can life get any better?

The dating gods are still having fun with me. I must be paying for some past karmic indiscretion (my penance for the Nissan incident?); to put it simply, I can't seem to have a perfect moment without a tragic ending.

Imagine my absolute horror when I have to get up from a warm snuggly situation, where I've been perfectly wrapped in strong arms; legs intertwined in total bliss. I had to leave that cocoon of yumminess to puke my guts out! Yes, you read that right!! I was praying to the porcelain god!

Noooo! This is not fair! But it's my own darn fault...silly me was running late going into the evening, so I skipped dinner. Those two vodka tonics--or was it the three shots of black vodka-- were sloshing around in my empty stomach. My sweet, wonderful, perfect moment interrupted. No make that--cruelly destroyed!!

Eventually, I had the strength to make my way home, where I promptly puked again--this time from the horror of what I had done.

WHY? Why, why is my life a comedy of errors?

So, now, I have spent the day with my head under the covers. Quite literally. There are moments of bliss, thinking about how wonderful it was to be kissed and feel the sweetness of lips against mine. Then waves of shame flow over me, lapping at my toes at first, then overwhelming me, knocking me over. Then the memory of being cuddled on the couch let me relax for a moment. Then, I realize that the best moment of the year, so far, will forever be partnered with my worst moment of the year (at least so far).

Maybe someday, one day, I will get this right.

From We to Me

Quiet. It's deafening. The empty halls that promised the pitter-patter of little feet scream an empty echo of my stiletto heels as I head out for the day. Dust puppies are the only thing growing here.

I find myself turning on the whole-house stereo, and the TV (the one that is left), though I never listen to either.

It's too hard to listen to music these days. Where did all the happy songs go? Studied under the microscope of a break-up, they are painful ballads set to a bouncy tune.

It's not the man I miss, it's the companionship. Just as one who has experienced the loss of a limb, I feel the ache of the missing partner that is no longer there. I don't even remember the face, but I know deep down I used to be part of something more.

After an entire adult life as part of a we, it's so hard to be just a me.

Filling my days and nights with endless meetings, projects, and work is only tearing me down; my weary head aches to lean on a strong shoulder. When will I learn to stand tall--alone?

Karma is teaching me a valuable lesson: You must be happy alone before you can move on. Here's the strange part: I find myself wanting to be alone more--even though the sadness drifts through my days. I think I want to retreat from the friends wanting to make me happy--I'm tired of trying to reconcile why I am still alone. Still: quiet, stagnate, stark. I am still. I am alone.

Here's the good news: I know better than to jump into a relationship with someone, anyone. I'm an addict that needs to stay away from the hug drug. It's so tempting to let faceless arms hold me. But I'm afraid, very afraid.

Instead, I continue on this path. One foot in front of the other. Day by day. I will make it through Valentine's Day and my Birthday and my Anniversary. Please let this journey take me down a path that reminds me how to be me. Just me.

My life just took a 180.

"This will be, an ever lasting love!" the song rings in your head, the ads are everywhere, everyone says its fantastic. I know three people who are married from their participation. So, I plunk down $30 to try a month of this virtual virtuoso of matchmaking.

After all, Polk County's dating pool is pretty much a cracked, leaking structure according to my boss' secretary and "Sugar, you better get to work before you get any older. You're pretty now, but youth is waning. I know you deserve something sparkly--but the boys are scared of you, so you better work on tracking one down. And you are going to have to leave your comfort zone to do it."

Sure it stings, but she's right. Hence the humiliation of filling out an online profile, selecting just the right pictures and spilling your guts out in 1400 characters or less.

I anxiously await my matches. Visions of an adorable man that was kissed by the dating angels, absolutely perfect for me waft across my mind's eye. Finally! I'll find my soul mate!

The next day I am paired with 7 bachelors, half-way across the country. The next day, the same. The next, two are from Tampa. And so on it goes.

This morning, I have new matches and one is very interested in starting the e-mating dance. I check out the profile, I'm a visual thinker, so naturally I go for the pictures first. He looks a little older, but I can't quite tell, so I zoom in.

I ZOOM in.


Heart plunges.





The dating gods are punishing me for the Nissan incident!

Yes, that is a Shriner hat--the telling Fez with long gold tassel we all know from years of parade watching. He proudly displays a big curved sword and red vest.

"Leslie! Shake out of it!! He's a good man!! They raise millions for children!!"

I didn't think I was vain, but I am!! Images of being picked up for a date in a tiny race car, zipping the wrong way though traffic skid to a halt in my nervous brain. Flash forward: I'm sitting side-saddle on a teeny motor-bike, with my skirt dragging the ground. My job to honk the giant clown horn as we circle other cars at the stop lights! Cut to: I'm playing Chinese Fire Drill on Cypress Gardens Blvd; Bernice from Pompano Beach and I switch places, she gets on Herb's Chopper adorned like an Arabian horse, while I squeeze into Melvin's tiny yellow race car. I hold a Fez full of bubble gum and throw it to the homeless as I'm driven down Central Avenue in Winter Haven. Is this my dating destiny?

It is official. There is not Leslie-style man in a 50 mile radius. Am I only attractive to men who eat with the 4 O'Clock dinner crowd and those who stay up till 4am playing X-Box.

This year was supposed to be about balance, yet I am holding on for dear life as I swing through these two extremes!!

Shameless or Shameful?

I've heard that the big difference between men and women is that when it comes to dating someone younger--much younger--men think they are dashing, while women, at least, know how foolish it looks. I was so judgmental--declaring my former spouse absolutely disgusting, tip-toeing in child-molester territory, when, at 42 he was bedding an 18 year-old girl. It was absolutely ridiculous. He pleaded with me to understand that she made him feel so young and vibrant. Of course, in my mind, he was sucking the youth out of her neck each night.

I've now tasted the sweet nectar of youth. Granted, it was merely sucking face and he was much older than 18, but still, I am so ashamed. Or am I? I have been mulling this over and over in my mind. Like taking a kaleidescope to light, I keep turning and turning this, and the crystals change the impression from shameless fun to exhilarating, then to disgusting, then to shameful, and back to silly. But after a most stressful--and absolutely action-less year of feeling very old and lonely, I almost almost convinced myself I deserved this gift of youth.

First, it started with actually, formally being asked out. I was absolutely NOT going to go out with the very young man, but gosh, I hadn't been asked out in a very long time. But when he said, "I've had such a crush on you for such a long time, I promised myself I'd ask you out the next time I saw you!" I was touched. Then I was so impressed that he actually planned a real date instead of, "you wanna hang out??" that I had to say yes. I reconciled the acceptance with, "I promised myself I would not pass up any chances this year. It is all innocent fun." After all, when I made that promise, how was I to know my first opportunity of the year would be with someone who was born roughly the same time I was learning to drive?

Isn't it absolutely shameless to be my age and having a mad face-sucking session in a Nissan coupe? I mean, it was weird enough to be sitting in a movie, and have his hand creep onto my knee, then take my hand, so soft and sweet. Then put his arm around my shoulder as we leave the movie. Finally, we settle in the car. He just stares at me for a minute without saying anything, but wouldn't let me look away, his hand on my chin.

Oh my gosh, is he actually going to kiss me!? Paralyzed with fear, I convince myself that I've forgotten how to kiss--flashback to an 8th grade slumber party, with one friend saying, "Where do the noses go?" This is not really happening! He's really coming at me. No, I can't do that! I promised myself I wouldn't kiss him.

Hhmmmmm, that is nice--not like that 50-year old guy I went out with last year who actually tried to blow in my ear. I don't care if he was a partner in a very large law firm, and liked me so much, and had Bucs season tickets--that was so gross.

Wow, I didn't forget how to kiss! Ok, I am having a dream, right? No, I can do this, there is nothing wrong, he's well into his 20s, it's OK. Just stop thinking and enjoy! Mmmmy gosh, this kid is trying to feel me up! I cannot believe he's going for it! And the old reaction to do the stealth hand re-direct kicks in, and I hold his hands down with mine, and he groans, "Oh yeah!"

"What?" I giggle. He squeezes my hands and kisses my nose.
"I like when you hold me down." Uhhhhh ohhhhhh, I better be careful. S
Oooooohhhh my goodness, this is nice. Oh man! Don't nibble on my neck! Uhhhhhhhh, ohhhhhhhhhhh! I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy and my defenses go down as he pulls me onto his lap and my stiletto heel is caught in the cup holder, and suddenly I'm laughing out loud.

"What's so funny?" he pushes me back to look me in the face, my hair is in his mouth.
"Come on! This is fun! I'm laughing because I'm having fun." And I'm not lying, I'm having a hellofa lot of fun--hmmm too much fun. Silly fun.

Am I generating bad Karma? Am I sucking the youth out of this poor boy? The thought is gone in a split second and I'm getting more comfortable, as he plays with my hair, and whispers in my ear, even though my knee is shoved against the door handle. I'll surely have a bruise there tomorrow.
"Ohhhhhh Mommie, you are so sexy," I freeze. Did he just call me mommy? Ewwww! He must have felt me tense up and now he's laughing. "Its just an expression! It means you are hot!" I let this bounce around my brain for a moment, and it evaporates as I am lulled into a sinful pleasure that comes with being kissed by a very cute young man.
Classically, between lucid moments, I feel myself falling into an endless spiral of pleasure. Nothing is even X-rated--it's purely that delicious feeling that I was worth an effort, and pretty, and that somebody actually had a crush on me for the last year, all while I was feeling so ugly.
We are giggling again, he's tickling me, and we are both a bit too pent up and my face is raw and my lips are sore, and we look up and the windows are completely fogged up, my favorite silver hoop is missing.
I hop into the driver's seat and look into the mirror out of habit. First I notice my eyes are sparkling, and my skin looks a bit younger. Then I notice...
"You gave me a hickey!" I'm horrified--I've got a meeting with the VP of our company on Monday. But then a wee bit of delight seeps in and I'm at least half delighted with my badge of honor.
But mostly, I feel like I get to start all over again, and the dating gods have pulled me back to 16, to give me a fresh start. And this time, I will remember what Coco said, "Own it girl!"

This leaves me with one tiny dilemma: do I wear turtle necks all week, or do I let people whisper about what shameless nonsense I've been up to?