Relationships

The French Connection

How online dating led to an appreciation of the real world and a real man

There was the scary dude who met me for an hour and talked about guns. I seem to recall he was an ex-police officer.

Um … no thanks.

There was the cherub-faced salesman who got a little too friendly in the parking lot of Starbucks after a first meeting, and then wondered why I wouldn't go out with him again.

Isn't there a rule about no groping on the first date?

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There was the Looks Good on Paper guy who seemed pleasant and harmless — an upstanding citizen — but over niçoise salad he dropped more designer names than I could count, expounded on the features of his new 550SL, and then pointed out that my glasses looked worn. For a woman of "quality," what was my problem?

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So much for adventures in amour, courtesy of Match.com, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish — Round 7. Or was it 8?

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I had just stepped back into the online dating world after a nine-month hiatus — a break is a necessity if you're partial to your sanity — but incidents involving guns, groping and glasses left me ready to take vows of chastity for an indefinite period.

In fact, I departed that last lunch date feeling morose. I wandered to a nearby eyewear boutique I could ill-afford, where I tried on chic frames — Chanels, YSLs and Diors — picturing myself in Paris where the men would never be so socially inept as to criticize a woman they'd just met.

That's when I heard her French accent, and struck up a conversation. I put her at 60 or so, a tiny, vivacious and delightful woman behind one of the display cases. She was the perfect antidote to my moody mix of irritability and chattiness, as we quickly covered a range of topics including the woeful absence of available men in my age range.

Then she said: "I have a younger brother who's divorced. He lives about an hour away. I have no idea if you two would like each other, but I can give him your number if you want."

I have been known to surrender to occasional acts of impulsive hopefulness. I said yes.

He called, we talked and he was funny. Really funny. We had a surprising number of interests in common, including former careers in international marketing and a fondness for multilingual wordplay. He asked to meet me the following weekend, and I agreed.

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As a precaution, I Googled him. Nada. Then I tried LinkedIn. Still nothing. No Facebook. No Twitter. No digital footprint whatsoever.

In the real world, this could be perceived as the sign of a renaissance man. Or, it could spell trouble when you've just accepted an invitation from a stranger. After all, I had little to go on except those twenty minutes of phone time — no picture, no résumé, not even a trail of book reviews on Amazon. This was a blind date in the truest sense of the word.

But three days later, there I was in a local bistro waiting nervously at the bar and sipping merlot, when I was approached by a shortish, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, round glasses that reminded me of Le Corbusier, and a mischievous grin that was utterly disarming.

As he said hello, I felt … something. No, not butterflies in the stomach. Not the coup de foudre as the French call it — a lightning bolt — their version of love at first sight. Yet I experienced an immediate, inexplicable connection. I felt completely at ease. And I could swear, for just a few moments, he seemed bathed in a sort of golden light, like an aura.

On a half glass of merlot, I knew it wasn't the alcohol. An aura? Seriously? Had my cynical self suddenly gone New Age and round-the-bend at the same time? Over the course of the seven-hour date that flew by — yes, seven hours, two bottles of wine and an assortment of tapas — the conversation flowed and it hasn't stopped since. It's been two years of discussion, passion, cooking, walking, shared holidays, getting to know each others' families and laughter.

So much laughter.

I won't call what happened love at first sight, though it was love Pretty Damn Quick, and mutual — minus the aura, which remains a source of teasing. It's the sort of connection that we can't quite define or describe. Naming it, categorizing it or pinning it down seems pointless. What I know is this — it's good, we're good; I appreciate every moment we're together, and I still pinch myself at our good fortune to have found each other.

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