Rule 5: Warning: all cosmetics counters will try to sell you “cleansing” products, “moisturizers,” and “anti-wrinkle creams.” Don’t even think about them. I once urged a friend to get a free makeup lesson from a local department store and I didn’t think I needed to warn her about not getting anything but makeup. Result? She spent over $500 that she didn’t have for products she didn’t need. Not that she was without wrinkles, but those products are a waste of money. Sad, but true. Don’t get sucked into buying anything that claims to “moisturize,” “cleanse,” or rid you of wrinkles. It doesn’t matter if the gorgeous Andie McDowell tells you that “We’re worth it.”
You’re worth it, but those products aren’t. This is the voice of experience speaking directly to you. Who are you going to believe? A highly-paid spokesperson for a multinational billion-dollar cosmetics corporation or me? Your choice.
WHERE TO DO YOUR FIELD RESEARCH: WHERE APPROPRIATE MEN CAN BE FOUND
Rule 6: So, you’re now out of your house or apartment and you’re looking good. Where do you go? Where the boys are:
Where are they? They can be found in (1) hardware stores, (2) men’s clothing stores, (3) men’s departments in department stores, (4) office supply stores, (5) book stores, (6) tie stores, (7) hunting and fishing supply stores, (9) sports clothing stores, (9) supermarkets, (10) gyms, (11) barber shops, and (12) places of worship; in an election year, as volunteers in (13) campaign headquarters from coast to coast; and in (14) soup kitchens, delivering food to the homeless or home-bound. This is not to say they don’t go elsewhere, but those are your top fourteen.
Rule 7: Do this alone. You might think you should go with a friend, but I recommend going alone. Two women approaching one man is a recipe for trouble. Listen to some music that puts you in a great mood on your way. You want to feel upbeat and determined. An annoying fact of life is that men can sense desperation. They’re like dogs. They can actually smell emotions. So you have to go when you’re feeling terrific.
NOW THAT YOU’RE OUT THERE, WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO
Rule 8: Without going out and buying anything new, wear something memorable — a big red sun hat, or something colorful.
Men are a little like bulls: they respond to bright colors. And don’t make it something teensy, weensy like tiny little earrings or a minuscule pendant that’s all of 1/23rd of an inch wide. You want to stand out at a distance. I’m not urging you to wear one of these, unless it is your goal to marry an ardent fan of the Green Bay Packers, in which case, this is definitely the way to go:
Make yourself visible: You want to be memorable, seared in his memory bank for all time. This isn’t the time for beige and gray.
Rule 9: If you have cleavage, don’t show it. Button up for now. You don’t want to look as if you’re cruising for a guy. You? Cruising for a guy? That’s the last message you want to convey in such an obvious way.
Rule 10: Many classic movies depicted women as whimpering dears who didn’t know what to do without a gweat big man to tell them. Even the glorious Ingrid Bergman, who never had a more admiring fan than I, played this card in the greatest movie of all time:
Lesson of Casablanca: if you tell a man to do the thinking for both of you, you’ll end up just like Ingrid, standing on the tarmac of the airstrip outside Casablanca, about to fly into the fog with the hero you don’t love, while the man you’ll love forever walks in the opposite direction into a different bank of fog. Not the way to go.
Rule 11: Think for yourself. Speak up for yourself. You’ve been around for 55 years and you want some action. To get some action, you have to take some action.
Rule 12: Learn the difference between being a helpless dumb woman and a confident but ignorant woman. Ignorance is fine, but there’s a bright line between dumb and ignorant. Learn where that line is.
DUMB: “I can never find my way around here. It’s so big, I get confused. And when I get to the hammer section, I’m even more confused.”
IGNORANT: “I’m going to hang five framed posters on my kitchen wall. What’s the best kind of hammer to use and what kind of nails will work best with heavy glass and frames going into 40-year-old drywall?”
DUMB is a fluttery little butterfly who – poor little helpless dear — gets lost in a big store.
IGNORANT is a woman who knows what she’s doing but just needs some advice to do it as well as possible. Let’s look at how this works in another setting.
DUMB: “I’m just hopeless with melons. I always pick one that’s too ripe or not ripe enough.”
IGNORANT: “You look as if you know what you’re doing. I don’t buy cantaloupes often enough to know how to tell a ripe one. I’d like to serve one to friends coming over tonight. Which one would you pick?”
DUMB: Describing yourself as “hopeless.”
IGNORANT: You reveal that you have friends and they’re coming over tonight (subliminal message: you’re neither lonely nor desperate) and you’re asking advice from a guy you’ve noticed carefully feeling the cantaloupes.
Now it’s true, you may have found the one guy who’s a little too much into cantaloupes, like Portnoy and liver. But if you look him over and he looks as if he’s actually into eating them, then ask which one he’d advise for tonight.
Here’s a surefire one, unless you’re over 6 feet tall. Find something on a very high shelf. Now look around for a man, alone, attractive to you, who’s taller than you are, and tall enough to reach it. Go up to him and say, “Hi. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to reach something on the top shelf, and for obvious reasons, I can’t. If you’re not in a rush, would you mind giving me a hand?” If he says no, wait till the next one comes along. Tip: cereal is pretty light but is often on a top shelf. In fact, the healthier the cereal, the harder it is to reach.
So Mr. Tall and Nice comes over and reaches for a box. Here’s a chance to say, “Do you ever thank God for your height?” Or “Have you found that your height has been an advantage in your work?” Pretend you’re a reporter, and think up some questions. Be upbeat. Be interested in his answers. Maybe something will come of it, maybe it won’t. But at least you’ll have a box of healthy cereal and maybe a quick chat as he’s reaching up there.
Rule 13: Never overlook the check-out line. Everyone there is a captive. Even if you don’t see a man who looks interesting in the store while you’re shopping, before you get in line to pay, see if you notice a promising-looking fellow in line. If you do, look at what he’s buying. Start a conversation: “You know, I’ve never tasted guava jam. What other fruit does it taste like?” Or “How are you going to prepare that cut of beef?” Or “Those are really healthy foods. How did you get interested in healthy eating?” If he’s wearing a sports cap, you can always say, “A Red Sox fan. Are you originally from Boston or do you like them because they beat the Yankees?” Even without a wedding ring, the items he’s buying will suggest whether he’s a family man, a divorcé, or widower. If you see a box of tampons, try another line. Yes, they could be for his daughter, but still, try another line.
Rule 14: Here’s the main point: Whatever you say to a complete stranger, your words aren’t nearly as important as the spirit that comes through: that you’re curious, alive, interested in learning something even if just for a moment while waiting in a line.
Rule 15: If the effort at the check-out line isn’t going your way by the time he starts getting his items rung up, you can say, “Oh! I just realized I forgot the eggs.” And off you go. When he’s out of the store, find another guy in another line and start all over again. You do this five to ten times, you’re bound to get an email address and a phone number. And it may take five to ten times. But, as Andie McDowell says, you’re worth it, and this effort is worth your time.
Rule 16: Go into a store when men are plentiful and likely to be employed. Let’s try a men’s store. Don’t go during the day. You’ll find men who are underemployed. If they’re employed and on their lunch hour, they’ll be too rushed to chat. So go on a weekend. Go to the tie section, and take a tie, any tie. Then go over to the shirts and take a white or light blue shirt. Thus armed, look around. Look for someone you’d like to get to know.
Rule 17: Go over to see what he’s looking at, and look at it, too. Then hold up the tie and the shirt and say, “Excuse me. My brother’s birthday is next week and I want to get him a nice tie. What do think of this one? Would you wear it?”
Rule 18: When you ask the man a question, what matters is not so much your exact question but rather how you look him in the eye when you speak to him. He’ll be paying attention to the sound of your voice. What he’ll be picking up on is how upbeat you are and how great he’d feel if he could spend more time with you. If he’s wishy-washy and doesn’t perk up when you speak to him, just say, “Thanks so much” and find another guy.
This is a men’s store. There are other men. Try not to let the first guy see you going up to the next one. You may have to wait a few minutes until the coast is clear. But eventually it will be clear, and then you’ll try another guy. If a salesman asks if he can help you, just smile and say you’re thinking it over or that you’re fine and will come back to him after you’ve made up your mind. Then again, maybe the salesman is Mr. Right. Maybe he retired from his accounting business and then his wife died and he likes getting out of the house, so he got this job. You never know unless you ask. The main point is not to say to your possible next husband, “I’ve always been terrible making decisions,” or “I can never make up my mind about anything. Does this tie go with this shirt?”
Rule 19: Don’t think you have to apologize or, worse, run yourself down, in order to ask a total stranger a straightforward question. It’s a free country. Under the first amendment you have freedom of speech. Just ask. You could always start with a compliment, “You look really sharp. I’m getting a tie for my younger brother’s birthday. What do you think of this one?”
Rule 20: A woman can say something positive about a man’s looks in a way that a man can’t about a woman’s. Any kind of opening line that sends a subtle or not-so-subtle positive message is not a bad thing. Examples: “You look as if you know what you’re doing, ” “I’m going to ask you this because you look as if you’re really good at this,” or “Excuse me, but you remind me of one of my best friends from high school. You’re not, by any chance, Bryan Preston, are you? I haven’t seen him in 20 years and I was just thinking he’d probably look a lot like you. Whoever you are, you look great.” Or you could say, “Wow. What a great Panama hat. My brother would love one just like that for his birthday. Do you remember where you bought it?”
Rule 21: This whole enterprise involves playing the odds. Even if they’re one in 100, your job is to find that one. I have a highly-motivated friend who found a truly spectacular apartment. I asked her how she did it. “Oh,” she said, “I looked at 214 apartments before I found this.” See? That’s what I mean by motivation. Did she give up because she didn’t want to live in the first 214? No way. She moved right ahead and took a look at # 215.
Rule 22: Let’s try the hunting and fishing store. Only go there if you want to camp outdoors, fish, or hunt. If your idea of a good time doesn’t include any of the above, skip this stop. It will only guarantee that instead of that cozy bed-and-breakfast you wanted to visit in New Hampshire, you’ll be the one in a sleeping bag, swatting the mosquitoes, and looking forward to a whole day of waiting for a fish to bite. If that’s your idea of heaven, go for it. If not, don’t.
SPECIAL RULES FOR THE GYM
Rule 23: The gym: This is a good idea. He’ll see you in action, he’ll see that you care, as he does, about keeping healthy. The one problem is what you wear. Do not believe that just because this is a gym you have to expose your entire body. You don’t. Let’s say your upper arms have seen better days. Then cover them up. Now. Don’t wear a midriff-baring top if you have rolls of fat on your midriff. You’d think this advice would go without saying, but I’m saying it because I go to gyms and I see how women dress. If they’re married, it doesn’t matter. But if one of their reasons for being there is to meet someone, then they should cover their problem areas and highlight their best points. At a gym, as opposed to a hardware store, it’s OK to show some cleavage. It’s a gym. But upper arms, upper thighs, and, in many cases, lower thighs (thighs in general) are better left unbared if you’re over 50.
“Well,” you could say, “won’t he see them at some point?” “Presumably yes,” I’d reply. “But by then he’ll be smitten by your sense of humor, your gumption, your strength of character: your upper thighs won’t be uppermost in his mind.”
All I’m saying is don’t reveal your least-appealing body parts at the start. You’re wearing a cool, loose work shirt while 20-something women are wearing next-to-nothing? So what? Not every 65-year-old man is looking for a granddaughter to call his own. Some would really prefer a woman who has actually lived a good fraction of her life.
YOUR GOAL: INCREASING YOUR ODDS OF FINDING MR. RIGHT
Rule 24: Go where the odds are highest in your favor. Most advice columns would recommend taking adult education courses. I’m not against them, but my problem with them in this context is that you’re playing the odds. If there are six students in the class, what are the odds of there being one man in your age group who isn’t married and is taking this course?
Rule 25: Place yourself in settings where you can have an actual conversation. Given that even the longest of lives are short, I’d rather see you in environments where the chances of finding Mr. Right are as high as possible. So, would that argue in favor of getting season tickets for a sports team? No, because you want to give yourself the chance to exchange your first few words without 50,000 people shouting at the top of their lungs and looking right at the field or the court. That’s the same problem with meeting someone at a large theater (although there are intermissions) or anywhere where the main attraction is going to claim too much of the other person’s attention. You need a setting where you can strike up a conversation.
Rule 26: Don’t go anywhere where people are always in a rush to get out. Like where? Like a rush-hour bus where people just want to get home ASAP. It’s true that some people are always in a rush, but I think most men, when they’re in a store on a weekend, have allowed themselves some extra time to browse.
Rule 27: Speaking of which, bookstores: you can browse for more than books there. Try the political science, economics, business, or current events sections, unless you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a man with those interests. If you see a man who looks interesting to you, you could see what book he’s looking through and ask quietly, “Have you heard good things about that?” Or something along those lines. A bookstore is a little like a library. You don’t want to be noisy, but a quiet inquiry isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a man in a bookstore.
Any and all places of worship are superb places to meet a man. If you’re already a member of a congregation, by all means, make an appointment with the spiritual leader and tell him or her that you’ve grieved for your late husband, but now, after four years since Jack’s death, you’d be delighted to have an introduction.
In addition to houses of worship, another fine place to spend some time, and very possibly to meet Mr. Right, is the campaign headquarters of your favorite candidate. You’ll be among people whose political views are congenial, which is always a plus, as I’ve discussed here, here, and here.
Rule 28: Get up every morning and repeat this to yourself: the man I seek could be anywhere and is somewhere. He could be filling his gas tank at the same gas station where you’re filling yours. If that happens, ask him for directions even if you know the area like the back of your hand! It’s not so much the question as your openness and self-confidence.
COPING WITH GENUINE SHYNESS — YOURS
Rule 29: What if you’re shy and don’t have so much self-confidence? Don’t let that stop you. You had enough nerve to write to me, so please have enough nerve to improve your life.
And remember this: all these casual chats at supermarkets, hardware stores, at men’s clothing stores, and at your place of worship (you don’t have one? Join one!) will be excellent practice in the event one of your friends does come through with an introduction. Consider it all experience that will have been very helpful when you do meet Mr. Right. You’ll be conversationally looser, more confident, and less fearful.
Rule 30: A final point about shyness, which is a genuine problem for many human beings. This point comes from the remarkable Ingrid Bergman. As a young actress, she found herself both frustrated and fearful that she couldn’t give the director, the great Alfred Hitchcock, exactly the performance he was demanding of her. As she later told it,
“I said, ‘I don’t think I can give you that kind of emotion.’ And he [Hitchcock] sat there and said, ‘Ingrid, fake it!’ Well, that was the best advice I’ve had in my whole life, because in all the years to come there were many directors who gave me what I thought were quite impossible instructions and many difficult things to do, and just when I was on the verge of starting to argue with them, I heard his voice coming to me through the air saying, ‘Ingrid, fake it!’ It saved a lot of unpleasant situations and waste of time.”
This is not like faking an orgasm (a bad idea). It is like sucking it up and understanding that you are responsible for finding that man. It’s important that you go out at a minimum of three times a week to look for that special man. No one, not your closest friend, has any greater interest in making your life what you want it to be than you do.
Even the best of friends and family members have their own problems. If you consider it important to find a man to follow Jack in your life, you and you alone must work the hardest to meet him.
There’s a great quotation from Rabbi Hillel, one of the great sages of Judaism who lived in Jerusalem during the rule of King Herod and is relevant here. It has three parts, each of them pertinent to your situation today:
If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?
It’s disappointing that none of your husband’s friends made good on their promises to him. But you’re alive and ready to find the second Mr. Right. He’s out there. Go get him. And do so now. The sooner you find him the more time you’ll have together. If not now, when?
And when you feel shy, play this, over and over again until it plays in your head without the need of a computer or anything but your own wonderful mind:
Cue “Whistle a Happy Tune”:
Do you have questions? Belladonna Rogers has answers. Send your questions or comments about politics, personal matters, or anything else that’s on your mind and Belladonna will answer as many as possible. The names and email addresses of all advice-seekers will remain anonymous and confidential. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org