My date isn't listening to a word I'm saying. It's not that he's not paying attention; he's looking straight into my eyes. But he can't hear me. He's thinking about how he's attracted to me and enjoying our conversation, surprising himself. He hadn't expected to be this smitten; I can see that in his eyes looking into mine. And I'm wondering if I might be a little smitten, too.
He snaps out of it when the bartender serves us our second round of drinks, my now-monologue interrupted as my date and I toast our meeting for the first time. "I've made a decision," my date says, focused again on what he sees behind my eyes. "I want to go out with you again. This week."
There are good dates, bad dates and forgettable dates. And there are dates that feel ethereal. They are rare, rarer than a much desired sun shower on desert-hot day. And sometimes, they last just that long, just long enough for us to remember a connection with someone can exist. For some, these first connections can last the rest of their lives. For me, I have learned to appreciate the potential all of these rare connections offer.
What I've learned about love in my 40s is that love isn't meant only for those in their 20s. Or 30s. It isn't that if one hasn't found love by the time it seems reasonable to most, that they are not capable of love, or that love is not capable of finding them. It's that love comes when it's meant to come.
At 44, I see love breaking up into pieces for some who married young and I see grandparents falling in love for a new "first time," stronger now than ever before. I've learned that love is not a gift for those who are deserving, but a reward for those who wait for it.
I've learned that love can last a short time, all in, but not all able. I've seen love last for decades, all in, all able, and all-knowing love changes.
I've learned to love the measures of love I have had. And indeed, I have had several beginnings of love. Some broke quickly, without warning and without notice. Some tore down as the edges frayed. Some were never balanced, on either side. Some will always be in my heart, if not in my sight.
I've learned that love can feel different depending on the man and collective circumstance. Sometimes love is easy, with not a beat missed. Sometimes, love is a struggle, beating down on one, not the other. Sometimes love is like a bad massage; it feels good but you need something stronger, deeper. Sometimes love is a torrent; it comes on strong, but often it ends in a trickle, without ceremony.
I've learned that men want love too, but are sometimes unable to be vulnerable to it. I've learned that women want love too, but are made to feel vulnerable by it. Men in their 40s are better able to show vulnerability. And women in their 40s are better able to let go of the walls they had learned to build up, buoyed now by a man's open vulnerability, and fall in love because of that.
I have not had what some say is successful love, meaning love that lasts long and strong enough to be announced under a wedding Chuppah or signed into a legal agreement of any sort, not even a co-lease. But I've had love. And I will have love again. And I hope I have the kind of love that isn't compromised, not to say we both won't make compromises to keep it and to guard it. We've both learned how hard it is to find love.
I've learned that love is no game of musical chairs meant only for lucky ones who find a seat when the music stops. And I know that love lasts as long as you are both willing to remember the music that played when you first met.
At 44 I am more unwilling to give up on love than I have ever been, because I know that look of his. I know that feeling. And I know that a man is meant to be in my life, no matter if others have given up on my behalf.
I'm thinking this when my date takes my hand as we walk uptown. He stops in mid-sentence, interrupting himself, and turns toward me. There's that look again, I see. "Something is happening here," he says, confidently. I agree.
I don't know that love will truly find us, him and me. But I know what beginnings feel like. And at the very least, I have that. And if not this man, then another love is coming. Another new beginning will begin another time.
I know in my 40s that love exists. And whether it exists as potential in a new beginning or forever in one that began long ago, I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. I know more than ever that love is meant for me.
If you look at me closely, straight into my eyes, you'll see that truth behind them.
Postscript: There were a few lovely dates... but unfortunately, no love story in the end.
Melanie Notkin's second book, Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, lightly based on some of her posts here and on on Huffington Post Women, will be published March 4, 2014 by Seal Press and Penguin Canada.
Melanie Notkin is the national bestselling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)