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Guest Writer

It certainly beats sitting at home ...
The little match girl
by Rachel Freed

ong nights at home – on the couch watching "The Bachelor," holding onto my pit bull and knowing that every friend I have is married, engaged or coupled for life – left me wondering how a 45-year-old woman gets a date in a city filled with Nike moms pushing Swoosh strollers as they jog to play-dates with moms on maternity leave from Adidas.

For years I'd considered writing a personal ad. I wrote down witty phrases and headlines: "Pit bull Princess seeks Pomeranian Prince" ... "45 going on 15" ... "SWF ISO Anyone Who Knows How to Form a Complete Sentence" ...

I queried my girlfriends on what I should say; they got together and wrote down my best traits on a yellow legal pad: Insightful, Honest, Vulnerable, Passionate. I carried that crumpled piece of paper around for years, coming across it every so often, reading the words and wondering if they were true, then why was I still alone?

Yet I hesitated, convinced that to place an advertisement for myself was to admit defeat. To finally accept that whatever I'd had in my 20s and 30s – boyfriends and admirers swirling in and out of my daily life – was gone. That I had lost "it," whatever "it" was. And therefore I, like the other daters marginalized to the back of a newspaper or the screen of a computer, was a loser.

Then something shifted. One by one the happily coupled, engaged and married people began to confess. Shyly they whispered over drinks at 820, dinner at Pambiche and coffee in the Pearl, telling me stories of online love.

Susan swore me to secrecy then went on to tell how she'd met husband David through the personals. Although he seemed pleasant, she confided, chemistry didn't catch till date three, when they met up at the Space Room and permanently bonded over martinis.

Colleen broke down and shared that her perfect love was really just a guy she'd met online. She wrote an ad looking for a kinky guy who owned a sailboat. Up showed Rick, all in black and carrying a picture of his boat. They married eight months later.

Finally I ran into Sarah of the creamy complexion, amber hair and perfect girl-next-door nose who, without apology, admitted she'd been online dating for a year. "It certainly beats sitting at home and waiting for someone to knock on your door," she laughed. "And when's the last time that ever happened, anyway?"

And at that moment I knew – if these amazing women were losers then I wanted to be a loser, too.

The following night, during a "Survivor" commercial break, I placed the TV on mute and left my couch behind. Straightening my shoulders, I raised my chin and headed into my office. I'd decided to go online to a Web site given thumbs up by my bible, The New York Times, with the idea of meeting as many men as possible. Dating would become a numbers game and I would finally be the one holding the winning hand.

I logged on and pulled down profiles of at least 100 men in their 40s. Some had faces with wrinkles and hairlines that crept backwards. Some wore wide, half-moon smiles, their faces stretched and distorted from trying to hold a digital camera at arm's length as they snapped a series of self-portraits. Some stood next to their children, others next to their children's children.

I looked into the faces of the boys I had grown up with and realized that somewhere along the way their chins had softened and the waists on their Levi's had widened. In the time since I was last dating, the boys had not only turned into men, but into middle-aged men. I began to suspect that the wrinkles and circles under my eyes might be from more than just lack of sleep.

And so I signed up.

I set up automatic monthly withdrawal on my debit card, found myself a made-up name to identify myself without identifying myself, had friends take pictures and argue over which looked most like me and wrote an essay listing my various jobs (waitress, marriage-license clerk, grad-school professor), travels (Tokyo, Botswana, Poland and Paris), traits positive (charming, funny, articulate, direct) and negative (won't share at Chinese restaurants, watches reality TV).

Three months later I'm still online.

I haven't fallen in love or met my soul mate. I've sipped coffee with approximately 15 men between the ages of 40 and 48. I've been told I was beautiful (he choked it out at dinner in between the hush puppies and the blackened catfish), intelligent, sexy and complex (I'm not sure that was meant as a compliment). I've heard 15 different stories, watched 15 different faces and heard 15 different laughs. All first dates have lasted approximately one hour – several felt like five and a couple went by too quickly.

I've kissed one man and cried with another, been taken out and have taken out. I've met Sigmund, the cat who can open a locked cat door, and Mathilda the golden lab who half-sat in my lap outside a Starbucks. I've scanned bookshelves and baseball trophies, analyzed business cards and discussed the finer points of the Intifada. I've eaten chicken Paprikash and snacked on Chex Mix. Drunk champagne and guzzled grapefruit soda.

I've made some friends and found that a little softness around the chin and belly is sexier to me than flat abs and a face without lines. My walk has turned into a strut and my married girlfriends confide that they envy my newfound social life. Suddenly I am a sexy trendsetter, encouraging friends at work to sign up, offering help with profiles and advice on the best coffee shops for a first meeting.

Will I find my match? I don't know. I'm not sure I even care. But right now I like watching my in-box fill with new faces and profiles; new messages from men I may never meet telling me that I am the one they've been waiting for. I like meeting for coffee and deciding whether or not I want dessert.

Right now, I like looking in the mirror and realizing, for the first time in years, that I am still a desirable little match girl.

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