I am waiting at the bar, my soaked umbrella tucked under my seat, at a trendy sushi restaurant in Soho. It’s the sort of place I used to go with my ex-husband, Adam. It’s now, apparently, the place I go for the first-date-of-the-rest-of-my-life.
My stomach is in knots as I watch the door. I have vague recollections of what Rob Finkleman looks like because he’s the only man who asked for my number at the end of the local synagogue’s sponsored Shmooze and Booze at a Manhattan bar. In fact, he’s the only man who really talked to me at all that night when I showed up fashionably late thinking that a Shmooze and Booze is like a dinner party—you look a little desperate for company if you’re the first person through the door. Turns out that the early birds catch the strapping doctors and the later birds catch the worms.
But it’s been that long since I’ve had a first date.
I sip a glass of wine, trying to keep my hope and anxiety in check. Two years of dating followed by twelve years of marriage and nine months of post-divorce wound licking means that it has been a long time since I’ve had to shave my legs pre-date for maximum smoothness (only up to the knee—I make a conscious decision not to shave any higher until the third date). A long time since I’ve had to worry about who is going to pay or whether I have lipstick on my teeth or if my life sounds exciting enough.
I wasn’t even sure if I was ready for this, but my best-friend, Arianna, gave me no choice once my life-improvement cooking project started trucking along. I called her to tell her that I had made my own pancakes and she hinted that it might be a good time to work on getting myself a man-cake. Arianna is chronically single-by-choice, insisting that she is the dating type and not the marrying type. But I, she has decided, am the marrying type who needs to move away from calling myself post-divorce and start thinking of myself as pre-marriage.
I don’t really have a good reason for not going on a first date up until this point. The fact is that when you’ve been with one man for all of your twenties and half of your thirties, it is difficult to switch gears and start thinking about a different person’s body or the smell of their aftershave or whether they like the toilet paper roll facing the wall or facing away. Which, of course, is getting ten miles ahead of myself since it’s only a first date. But still.
It takes Rob Finkleman a few seconds to notice me at the bar when he pauses at the hostess stand, rain dripping off his expensive Burberry coat. I could do worse, I decide optimistically, for my first-date-of-the-rest-of-my-life. Rob still has a full head of brown hair, an anomaly in the over-thirty-five-and-unmarried crowd. He is tall and athletically built. He has good taste in clothing and even better taste in restaurants.
And to be fair, he could do worse than me. At thirty-four, I’m still carded at liquor stores, which I like to think means that I still look young and vibrant. I’m wearing my brown hair longer these days, almost to my shoulders, and my stomach is still mostly flat despite my newfound love of butter. I might not be the most striking woman in the room, but I tan well in the summer and I’ve mostly avoided grey hairs so far.
“Rachel!” he exclaims, finally noticing me. He comes over to my seat and we do a self-conscious dance where I don’t know whether to continue sitting or stand and he doesn’t know whether to give me kiss on the cheek or shake my hand. We compromise with an awkward half-hug with him standing and me sitting so that my head presses into his Burberry coat belt.
I collect my drink and we follow the hostess to a seat near the window. The rain is coming down harder now, splattering the glass so it’s impossible to see anything more than taxi headlights and glowing storefront signs. I play with the corner of my menu cover. With Adam, we skipped talking until we had both had a chance to glance through the options, but Rob doesn’t even crack the cover before launching into a series of get-to-know-you questions, the sort I had been rehearsing answers to inside my mind all afternoon while I worked out my nervous energy by learning how to julienne carrots.
“So, Rachel,” he begins, “it was so loud at the bar the other night, I missed hearing if you were actually from Manhattan.”
“I’m not,” I answer, “I’m from New Jersey. But I sort of knew that I wanted to end up here after graduate school.”
“Oh, where did you go to graduate school?”
“Yale,” I say, hoping that this doesn’t sound pretentious. “School of art for graphic design.”
“That’s sort of cool. So you’re like an artist?”
“Like an artist,” I repeat.
“I’m from Manhattan. Horace Mann. My family still lives off Riverside Drive.”
I try not to let my scorching case of real estate envy flare up. Nine months in a one-room apartment will do that to you.
“So how did you end up in New York?”
This was the question I was sort of dreading. I mean, I could lie and make it about my parents—both incredibly successful and respected lawyers—living in northern New Jersey and say they wanted me to be close to home like my siblings. My sister, Sarah, is a brain surgeon married and living in Brooklyn with her husband, Richard, and daughter, Penelope. My brother, who could be seen by outsiders as the black sheep of the family because he never holds down a job longer than a few months, has taken his multitude of talents over the bridge as well and lives close to Park Slope. But honestly, my first impulse would have been to move as far away as possible. It’s hard to be surrounded by that much greatness. It makes you allergic to failure. Sans epi-pen.
The reality is that I ended up in New York due to my ex-husband and his job. And maybe getting this fact out in the open is the best way to deal with the big “D.” I wish he was staring down at the sashimi menu rather than inquisitively studying my face and cleavage.
“My ex-husband. He got a job here so we moved here after Connecticut.”
“So you’ve been married before? Wow…divorce…how did that happen?”
I’m not really itching to share my whole marriage saga with the first-date-of-the-rest-of-my-life, especially not the part where I talk about how he was so in love with his career that he essentially was having an affair with his blackberry. This, it turns out, is not a good match for someone who works to live, not lives to work. Adam always told me that I’d feel differently about my profession—see it as a career rather than a job—if I was passionate about the pamphlets I designed for the New York Public Library in their graphic design department, but I don’t think that’s true even though it was the same advice repeated to me by my mother and sister—both confirmed workaholics. I can admire their work ethic, but it’s just not me.
In my opinion, no one gets to the end of their life and says, “I wish I spent more time at work.” They wish they had climbed Mount Everest or seen the Taj Mahal or could have one more day with their husband. But no one says, “I wish I could have designed one more booklet for an exhibit.” I have always wanted to be the type of friend who could be there in a moment’s notice during a crisis, the type of person who takes the time to read books and go to movies and see the latest exhibits at the museum.
And in the beginning of our marriage, that’s what Adam said he wanted too. He told me he was done with the blueblood New York of his childhood. He wanted to sneak out of work and hit the TKTS booth to catch a show. He wanted to read the New York Times with me over breakfast and go out to dinner with our friends and take day trips out of the city. But soon after he started moving up in the ranks at his law firm, Brockman and Young, those ideas evaporated, replaced by longer hours holed up in his office and a quest for a larger salary in the process.
Of course, Adam didn’t have quite the same work-to-live mentality and even if he called his job a “career” to make the hours more palatable, it still stands as fact that he chose contracts over contact; the job over me. Over time, it became clear that we had differing views on money, despite what he led me to believe before we walked down the aisle. I wanted to be comfortable. Adam, who came from a wealthy New York family, worked to not only keep up with the Joneses, but to pass them in owning all the good electronic toys and going on the most exclusive vacations.
Which, as you can imagine, was the downfall of our marriage.
—Life From Scratch will be released December 1, 2010.