Love and the Single Life

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Love and the Single Life

October 29, 1999


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This is based on part of a Boston Globe article I recently did about strange adult ed classes. What follows is a much longer and probably much nastier version than what appeared in the Globe.


"Oh, thank God, it's over!" I said with a shudder to my roommate, as I returned home from my Love and the Single Life class. Perhaps I was being overly dramatic, but I still felt the desperate need to lie down the moment I got home.

I had stupidly given up a Saturday morning for this class, and from the very moment I arrived it seemed like a mistake. Little did I expect that most everyone in Love and the Single Life would be at least 20 years older than me. I had naively hoped for a younger crowd, but only three of the 11 there were near my age (28).

It also didn't help that Merritt, our teacher, was fifteen minutes late. He claimed he forgot to put the class on his calendar, but it seemed that he was late on purpose in the hopes that we would all start talking and perhaps even bond. Of course, we were a group of eleven people who weren't all that great at socializing. There would be no bonding. While waiting, we merely stared at our hands or pretended to read. We made a few sarcastic quips about whether he would show up, but that was it.

And when he did show up, things didn't exactly improve, because then we were forced to meet one another. Over the course of the morning, I realized what a strange group had shown up. These were eleven people who simply couldn't get a date, and considering my general dating incompetence, I probably fit in much better than I would have hoped. After a few hours, I started to feel like I was in the middle of that old Judd Hirsch show Dear John. Here was a class of characters that clearly belonged in a sitcom.

There was Donald, who showed up with long, unkempt hair, a worn out tweed sports coat, a green shirt, and orange shorts. From the long pauses in his speech, you could tell he must have taken some serious drugs in his life. Every once in a while, he would break into the conversation to talk about all the positive energy he felt in the room. "You're all good people," he announced at one point. "I wish more people were like you." Once, he mentioned that he felt "at one" with all of us, and as he said this the look on the face of the businessman next to him was absolutely priceless.

There was John, a friendly man in his fifties who wore a short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt, a baseball cap over his bald head, and navy blue pants that were about three inches too short. To me, he looked sort of like what Ernie of Sesame Street would look like in middle age. And when it came to meeting women, he seemed to know even less than Ernie would.

"When I'm in a restaurant, I always try to sit at a bar because then I might be able to talk to someone. But what confuses me is when three or four women come in together and sit down at the bar. I don't know how to go up and talk to them. I'm usually good at connecting with just one person, but with a group of women I don't know how to break into the conversation. How do I do that?"

The answer, of course, is that you don't, but John didn't seem to understand this.

The others weren't quite so odd, but they more than made up for it with their frustration. Jane, a woman in her early forties, hated that she would always end up talking to some guy for five minutes only to find out that he's married. "It's like it's a waste of time," she complained.

Christine, a thirty-year-old woman, revealed that she had once asked out a guy in her office, but was turned down. I'm not sure exactly what happened. All she would say was: "I'm not doing that again."

And then there was Al, an outgoing 50-year-old whose "latest passion" was magic. Al talked often, continuously offering his opinion on the question of the moment. Once, he stressed that it was important for us all to visualize having a relationship, and everyone agreed whole-heartedly. "Well, hell, if I could do that, why bother going out?" I thought, though I wisely kept this observation to myself.

Meanwhile, Merritt gently guided us on this trip through our feelings. He was an incredibly patient and soothing man, though even he grew exasperated with us. Once he blurted out, "Come on, people. Have we forgotten how to flirt?" We all looked at him with a blank expression. Some of us had never learned in the first place.

Merritt began by asking someone to read aloud the class description from the catalog. It sounded for a second as if he had no idea what he should be teaching us. In fact, he was so disorganized that it was starting to appear that he really had forgotten about the class. Soon, he asked us to separate into groups so that we could talk about ways to meet people. Or quite possibly, it was just so that he would have a chance to pop out for a second and grab some coffee.

When he returned with coffee in hand, Merritt was ready to begin in earnest. He started by discussing the best ways to meet people, and his big advice was to "always say something relevant to the moment."

"Gee, I hadn't thought of that before," I whispered sarcastically to the woman next to me, thus testing out the technique for the first time.

In case we didn't understand, Merritt gave an example. One day, in the seventies, he was at a health club. In the lobby, he noticed a woman was having trouble making a call at a pay phone. "So, when I walked by her, I said to her jokingly, 'Did you at least get your dime back?'" It seemed a pretty pathetic opening line, but nevertheless it worked. And all these years later, Merritt is obviously still pleased with himself.

Merritt certainly liked talking about himself. Later, when Al revealed that he felt it was too aggressive for women to approach men, Merritt disagreed. "I think it can be very nice. I remember once when I was in a restaurant in the seventies, and there was this very attractive woman in the booth next to me. I didn't say anything, but she got up and asked me if I would join her. I didn't mind at all. In fact, I must say, that led to a . . . very enjoyable time." From his smug smile, it was obvious that Merritt had scored that day. I cringed. Somehow, hearing about Merritt's sexual conquests of the seventies was not helping at all with our dating woes.

Indeed, Merritt seemed just as strange as everyone else. On the surface, he was friendly enough, but beneath lingered a certain nastiness. Once, out of nowhere, he asked Donald, "Have you ever thought about doing something with your hair?" Later, he made an uncomfortable John talk about his bald head for over five minutes.

And then while discussing how to boost our self-esteem, Christine mentioned that losing weight had made her feel better about herself. Merritt suddenly turned to the fat guy in the group and said, "So, Michael, you have a weight problem. What have you done about it?" I cringed again. This couldn't be helping Michael's self-esteem at all, but luckily Michael just shrugged it off.

Throughout the morning, Merritt asked us to develop a plan of how to meet someone. The idea was to find an activity we enjoyed and try to do it with others. If we were lucky, we might even meet that special someone. At the very least, we would still get to do something we enjoyed.

Merritt went around the room and asked about our interests. When he discovered I was a writer, he suggested that I join a writer's group, and so by default that became my plan. The others also revealed their interests -- yoga, musical theater, wine tasting, even windsurfing -- until it was Donald's turn. Donald did mention that he liked art, but then he also suggested that AA meetings were a great place to meet women.

And for some reason, Merritt and the others liked the idea. I suddenly wondered whether that meant I should take up heavy drinking on my quest for romance. And to be honest, at this point, heavy drinking really didn't seem like such a bad idea.

By now, I was more than ready to go home, but as the class ended Merritt had one last request. He asked us all to share a "seventies-style group hug." There was a long pause. We all looked at each other, paused again, and then simultaneously shook our heads. No, a "seventies-style group hug" was just not going to happen.

At last after four hours of dating class, we had finally bonded. And it was now time for us to leave the classroom and reenter the exciting world of dating. Or in my case to go home and just take a long nap.


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