By John Thomas Tuft

Deena has a profile on Silver Singles, Match dot com, and OurTime online dating services. She is looking for someone to be a little less lonely with, someone who enjoys time outdoors and at the same time likes to stay at home in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine. She is old enough to remember a world without the internet, let alone cell phones, a time when music was discovered by way of the radio, politics was a subject of vigorous debate, not a bloodsport waged against a ‘clearly inferior side of the populace,’ and dating was a clearly defined prelude to casting for the role of relationship partner. In a world divided into generations Boomer, Millennial, X, Y and Z, Deena keeps in touch with Facebook friends, texts in increasing despair with her Millennial children, gen Y and Z grandchildren, and wonders at denominational churches increasingly wandering around in punch-drunk stupors as pillar after pillar of the good old days falls by the wayside.

James is recently divorced, wants to work until he’s 70, thinks living on his own sounds wonderful as he is determined to finally get in shape and eat right, and satisfy all of his carnal desires without consequence, but when you read between the lines of his dating profile online the message comes through, ‘I need someone to take care of me.’ His profile insists, “I’m looking for a strong, independent woman,” but then he spends hours swiping left or right based on how she looks in her photo. When he comes across one who was in the same field of work or profession as him, he pauses. They might have a lot in common, but then what if she was better at it then he is, or made more money? Maybe if he finds someone with exotic beauty, all differences and expectations magically melt away.

Where is the line between storybook love and lost horizons? Or that great divider of the day, what if she’s a flaming liberal and James is a red hat conservative? Even more pertinent is the Occam’s Razor that determines level of social maturity, are you vaccinated or not? Deena leaves a red heart on James’ profile, then keeps returning to the app to look for a response. James notes the heart and can’t make up his mind about taking a chance. His research shows that they are both from small towns, she owns her home, and likes the beach. Deena has been careful to check that James does not live anywhere near the large, upper middle class retirement sprawl in Florida known as The Villages, where the highest statistic for reported visits to the doctor is not heart trouble or prostate exams, but rather STDs. Looking for love has unintended consequences in any day and age.

James finally bites the bullet and leaves a “Hi” on Deena’s profile. As soon as she sees it, she responds, “Would you like to talk?” Foolishly thinking he holds all the cards, James waits an agonizing 24 hours for Deena and finally says, “Sure.” This is not enough for Cupid to unsheathe an arrow quite yet. The two tiptoe onto the stage of the internet maze of finger taps and emojis on backlit glass, making themselves seem as cool and relaxed about all this as they imagine the other to be. All the while trying to ignore the horror stories of internet dating their friends and family heap upon them about money scams, being ghosted, pictures of exposed body parts, ad infinitum. Finally, Deena takes a poll of her daughters, grandchildren, surprised neighbors and FedEx drivers about whether she should meet James, in a public place, of course. Meanwhile James is arranging with his wingman to text him after 15 minutes in case he needs an out.

On the appointed day, James arrived early at Jose’s Taco Emporium. From his seat in the corner, sipping a Corona, he kept an eye on the front door. When Deena arrived, without a smile on her face as her eyes swept the room, he felt a moment of panic. What was he thinking? As Deena took stock of each face, searching for some vague resemblance to the profile picture, she was also asking, What am I thinking? After polite introductions and faint praise of each other’s outfits, they settled in over deluxe taco bowl salads. And then–maybe it was the Corona, maybe it was the extra guacamole, or the tinny mariachi music, or Cupid’s impatience–but a strange thing happened. They abandoned admiring the cover of the storybook and opened it up. They talked to each other rather than at each other.

Deena’s daughter called and James’ wingman texted, but both went unheeded. As they talked and listened, they discovered an eternal lesson of love. It is not accomplishments and glossy pictures. It is not horrible exes and failures to launch. It comes from seeing each other’s vulnerabilities, even their insecurities. And respecting them, nay even, eventually cherishing them. And that is how Deena and James found storybook love…eHarmony or Zoosk notwithstanding.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.