Long ago and in a town far, far away (okay , so it was Merrimack), I penned my very first column for the Nashua Telegraph.  It was published on Halloween, 1988.  Here it is:

Roughing it: Worst part of being single is dating


When I decided to divorce my husband, I realized that there were rough times ahead:  possible car breakdowns, probable check bouncing and lone spider-killing. 

I prepared for these terrifying eventualities by joining AAA, taking a class in budgeting and buying a broom with an extra-long handle.  I felt empowered.  I felt strong.  I could handle anything.  But I hadn't started dating.

I don't know why I never considered dating before I left my husband.  It just never occurred to me.  If it had, I'd probably have chosen to stay married.  If I had known that I would actually dine in public with men who chewed with their mouths wide open and that people I knew would see me with them, I'd have run screaming back into my house and gotten a few more Harlequin romances out of the library.

But when  I moved out, my first thought was not, "Oh great.  Now I can go out with other men."  It was more like, "Great.  Now I can stay in the bathtub reading until I am totally wrinkled."

And, to be honest, the last time I had been on anything resembling a date was when I was 18, and that, well, that was a long time ago.  And dating back then was simple.  The rules were straightforward:  First, the boy called you.  The boy chose the date activity, usually a movie. (I think this was in order to avoid the frightening experience of actually speaking to each other.)  The boy paid for the tickets and, depending on how good you were at making small talk in the ticket line, popcorn and jujubes.  After the movie, the boy expected a little something for his financial outlay.  And there were rules about that, too.

Nice girls didn't.  Ever.  And once nice girls got into college, the rules changed, but nice girls didn't talk about it.  With boys, that is.  Nice girls always talked about it with other nice girls.  In intense whispers in college dormitory bathrooms late at night.  The rationale seemed to be that if you didn't talk about it out loud, you weren't really doing it.

So I had some rules to go by.  But then, by those rules, nice girls didn't get divorced.  And I am a nice girl.  Or I was.  Before I started dating.

Dating just seems to bring out the worst in me.  I go from being a reasonably nice woman to one of two equally horrible date personas: Feminist from Hell or Marabel Morgan Clone.

I'm not exaggerating.  The first date I had during my separation (while I was still squabbling over the financial end of the divorce agreement) I adopted the Feminist from Hell persona.

The date began with a discussion of a newspaper article stating that women make 63 cents for every dollar men make.  I was not in the mood to hear about this, particularly because my ex-to-be had just told me that he was planning on writing a handbook for newly divorced men called "Returning to Affluence: How to Gain Material Wealth Through Divorce."

When my date started to say that he felt women could not possibly earn 63 cents on the dollar, I had to be mistaken, and what about all that EEO stuff, reason left me.  I started viciously stabbing my Peking ravioli and muttering about how I wished I had a man on my plate instead of the ravioli.  Then I started muttering under my breath things like "What would you know about it anyway?  You're only a man because half of your brain cells got sucked away by a Y chromosome during conception..." When we paid the check, I paid 63 cents for every $1.00 he left.

You can see how Persona 1 works:  I usually trot out a feminist issue that I can argue with a man about, and if he disagrees with me, I threaten parts of his anatomy.  If, God willing, he's a feminist and he actually agrees with me, which scares me to death, I ask him to quote his favorite passage from "The Second Sex"  (no one's gotten past this test yet).

I don't know whether becoming the Marabel Morgan Persona is better or worse.  (For those of you who don't remember Marabel, she wrote a best seller called "The Total Woman" which I thought should be called "The Total Doormat."  In it she recommends doing things like answering the door for your husband - all total women are married - in a transparent raincoat and white go-go boots to rev things up.)

Becoming Marabel certainly results in less bodily harm, but it still doesn't represent the true June, and it confuses the daylights out of the men I go out with.  (I also now own a pair of white go-go boots and a transparent raincoat.)

For example, there was a time in my life that I was frenetically dating men that I met through the personals.  (I'm not going to say what personals: not to protect the men involved, but to avoid humiliating myself more than usual.)

I agreed to go out on a date with a man I had met through an ad.  He was a nice enough person, but we had absolutely nothing in common.  And I mean nothing.  His idea of a great weekend was to load up a cooler with beer, go to the Hudson speedway and watch drag racing.

I am a woman of many interests, and I am basically ready to try anything, but I loathe drag racing.  I hate noise.  I hate the smell of exhaust.  I hate sitting in bleachers.  I especially hate people who think tattoos are an art form.

So the thought of going on a drag-racing date was about as appealing as spending a day cleaning out my gutters.  But instead of saying something I would normally say, like, "People who enjoy drag racing have the intelligence level of aphids" I, having adopted Person 2, simpered and said that drag racing must be challenging and sounded terribly exciting.  (To wildly paraphrase Marabel, whatever the guy loves, you love.  No matter how trite.  No matter how stupid.  No matter how many small animals must die.)

I actually drew him out on the subject of drag racing for more than two hours.  (I also managed to scarf down four glasses of white wine during this recitation.) At the end of this date, I breathed a boozy sigh of relief and got up to leave.  Imagine this man's confusion when he said, "Gee, I think I'd like to see you again.  This was really nice, " and I said, "I don't think so.  I don't think that we have anything to talk about."

(At this point some of you may ask, "But, June, what happens when you date someone more than once?"  Get serious.)

I've decided that there's probably a way to make my dating life easier.  I'm thinking of adopting a third persona, perhaps a combination of the other two:  Marabel Morgan Clone from Hell.  Think of the possiblities: Not only do men love her, she nukes spiders wearing go-go boots and transparent raincoats.  But I don't know.  I really don't want to meet any more men with tattoos.