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The One Thing That's Keeping Me From Finding Love In My 40s

Partly it's because I was born at the wrong time.

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Carly Berry
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Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in my Magnavox dual cassette boom box, and they’re ready to get to work. I’m perched on my sunporch, underneath the windowsill, waiting for Al O’Leary* to walk past. I know his work schedule at Roche Bros grocery store better than I know the quadratic equation or how many lines make a haiku. I mean, who cares about haikus when you’re in love?

I’d been in love with Al O’Leary since our overnight choir exchange trip to our sister parish in Nashua, New Hampshire. The problem with my love for Al O’Leary, other than being 14 and not having much experience yet loving grocery store bag boys, was that I didn’t know how to take my insides and put them on the outside.

I didn’t know how to flirt when I was 14, and I still don’t know how to flirt at 44. My Graceland tape was cued and the volume turned to max. Al walked in front of my house as Paul belted the perfect declaration of love that I didn’t dare to muster: “If you’ll be my bodyguard/I can be your long lost pal/ I can call you Betty/and Betty … you can call me Al.” OK, so forget about the Betty part. I knew that Al O’Leary was smart enough to replace Betty with Mary when he heard our song.

He’d hear “You Can Call Me Al” blasting from my sunporch, and then he’d just know. He’d know I’d filled my diaries with the in-depth analysis of our locker interactions. He’d know that Paul was singing “our” song.

Al walked past the sunporch, and, like Odysseus, he paid no mind to my siren’s call. So, I kept at it. I hid under the sunporch window, nearly every shift that Al worked for the next month. Maybe he did hear the song, knew it was a love overture and felt the same way. Maybe he didn’t know how to put his insides on the outside, either.

Maybe I just wanted Al to know everything. But, I didn’t want to have to tell him any of it.

I was born at the wrong time. Flirting was much easier in the pre-boom box era. Women in the 1800s had a handkerchief flirting code that removed the need for Paul Simon as a middle man. A book called Grandma Libby’s Handkerchief Flirtations lays it all out. If a lady draws a handkerchief across her hips, she is saying, “I am desirous of your acquaintance.” Waving the cloth near her cheeks? She’s screaming, “I love you.” The Al O’Learys of the 1900s must have dreaded the twirl of the handkerchief in her right hand — the Victorian woman’s way of broadcasting, “I love another, and it is certainly not you.”

The more I like a guy, the less I know how to show it.

Flirting feels like forgery. Twisting my hair around my index finger and batting my eyelashes sends a guy the wrong impression. He’ll think I’m carefree and fun-loving. He might even think I eat lollipops. The flirty Playboy bunnies are always eating lollipops, and I am just not that kind of lady.

I don’t have Grandma Libby to help me find love, but I do have a best friend who’s a lesbian, has been married for 20 years and has never been on a grownup date with a man. She is pretty sure I haven’t found lasting love because I never learned to flirt.

“Just rub the guy’s upper arm when he says something funny.”

“And what if I don’t think he’s funny?”

She tells me to giggle and rub anyway. Fake it till you make it.

I find the courage to try the chuckle-and-rub technique on a second date with an app man who had demonstrated early-stage emergency contact potential. As he reached for his pint glass, I went in for the rub and watched as he spilled his beer all over the counter. I drowned in humiliation.

Female cosmophasis umbratica, a type of jumping spider, has palps on the side of the head. Her little appendages turn into bright green, ultraviolet lights when she likes a guy spider. The lady spider likes a guy and — just like that — her whole head turns into a glow stick. What I wouldn’t give to be a middle-aged cosmophasis umbratica.

* last name changed