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Ann Marsh
Even if a first date wasn't fantastic, I tended to accept second dates to make sure I hadn't been too hasty in my judgment. About four or five men survived through fourth or fifth dates before I said goodbye. The thing I liked best about my whole dating project was that it validated that nagging sense I'd had for years: Every Saturday night I'd spent alone or with girlfriends, I'd believed there had to be several thousand potential dates out there for me, somewhere. It turns out I was right.

To date so many men, I needed to be honest in a new way. In my 20s, when the wrong man asked me out, I usually lied. I was either (a) busy, (b) dating someone else, or (c) moving to Siberia for a year. Sensing my fib, some men refused to let go. A few talked me into dates or, worse, relationships. I marvel to think I left the nest without ever learning how to verbalize my own needs and desires.

One of my earliest electronic dates taught me about honesty. "It was really nice to meet you," the tall, good-looking athlete wrote me in an e-mail after Date Number Two, "but I didn't feel that indescribable something that would tell me we're a match."

I sat there looking at my computer screen. He had found the words to describe my own sentiments. I didn't feel rejected. I felt liberated by his courage. Better yet, I stole his line.

A handsome telecommunications executive I met over a drink at a restaurant one evening looked and sounded far less alluring to me a few days later in the sober light of day. In a subsequent telephone conversation, my whole body tensed while I told him that I didn't get the sense he was the right one and that I didn't want either of us to waste precious time. I wished him well. He sounded a little startled. But the discomfort was short-lived. We were both free.

It's embarrassing to admit that I was learning the very basics about personal boundaries at the age of 34. But it was also a thrill. Like a suit of comfortable, lightweight body armor, my newly declared boundaries kept me safe.

At times my faith flagged, like when the well-spoken National Guard pilot bought me a single California roll for dinner and called for the check. Phew. Rejection in a bit of raw fish. The best remedy was always the next date. When the soap opera actor or the triathlete didn't call both of whom had looked deep into my eyes and proclaimed their attraction to me I did nothing. I let them go. I wanted a man whose actions matched his words.

The initial frenzy mellowed to a couple of dates a month, and one sunny Sunday afternoon in late summer, I met Johanne. I had, by this time, trained myself to listen closely to what my deepest instincts said in the first nanosecond of meeting a man. "Hmm ... maybe," I thought when I spied him waiting across the Art Deco lobby of a seaside hotel. With every subsequent date, the voice grew surer.

I never expected my man would come from a faraway continent where he was raised on a tea plantation, but he does. We can talk and play and work things out together. We have each finally found a home in the other.

Johanne says he's more confident in my feelings for him, knowing I looked long and hard to find him. He's right. The parade of men who preceded him helped me know myself better. They repeatedly tested my ability to speak up or to stay quiet when I needed to. They certainly taught me to appreciate the man who, in the end, answered not only my ad but my dreams.

Ann Marsh

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