A Numbers Game by
(184 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

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I never dated in high school, and since meeting my sweetheart almost 20 years ago, haven’t dated as an “older” person. But in between, I spent a lot of time in the singles world, dating in various ways. Some ways appealed to me more than others, but all worked to an extent.

I think we both kept Starbucks in business by having our first "meet for coffee" dates there.

In my 20s I met men at work, checking them out in person. As I approached my 30s, social and activity groups became more important, because by then I had my own business and didn’t want to date my clients. There were groups that held large dances, but as an introvert, I could last about an hour before I saw spots in front of my eyes and there was roaring in my head, so I gave up on them.

In the 1980s there were many groups for young(er) Jewish singles, and although the stated objective in the community was to get us married off, which I didn’t like, the groups were fertile ground for dates. Despite there being more women than men in these groups (and the women doing all the organizing work), I felt I must have dated every man who showed up at an event. After dating at least 20 men, I ended up meeting my former husband at a singles group sponsored by a local Jewish community center.

The most challenging time for dating was after my divorce, when I was in my early 40s. By this time I was certain I didn’t want children, which eliminated men who did, and I didn’t want to raise someone else’s, which eliminated men with small children. The only men I was meeting were my clients. This created a numbers issue. Luckily one of my friends, “Nora,” who also was single, was extroverted and introduced me to some new options: voicemail personals and dining clubs.

Voicemail personals were great, and I mentioned them in one of my other stories. I wish online dating hadn’t obsoleted them. I liked the fact that you didn’t know what the person looked like initially. You heard their voice first. Here’s how it worked: first, you looked at classified-type small ads in the Palo Alto Weekly newspaper and in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin (now the “J”). Each ad had a code number, and by calling a 900 line, you could listen to the person giving more details about who they were and who they sought. If you were interested, you could leave a recorded reply and see if you could connect. Or you could reverse the process by placing an ad and recording your info. The major downside was the 900 number charges, which could add up.

This is when I learned that different people had different approaches to this type of dating. Nora would answer many, many ads. I was a lot more selective, answering two, perhaps three, each week, and put a lot of thought into my recorded replies. Nora did get calls back, but they were a low percentage of the ads she answered. Almost every person behind the ads I answered called me back. I think we both kept Starbucks in business by having our first “meet for coffee” dates there. Although most of my dates didn’t lead to romance, I did have some great male activity partners based on our common interests, and I did have one long-term relationship as a result of these personals.

Although Nora had to drag me to a dining club the first time, after that I found it rather fun. Two local women ran these “clubs” to help men and women from ages 30 to 50-something connect. Nice dinners were held at local restaurants, where four women and four men sat at tables for a single course, and then one gender moved to a another table for the next course. The women were fortunate, in this case, because the scenario enforced a gender balance, and because we were in Silicon Valley, where there were a lot of single men, this was possible. We overcame a numbers disadvantage.

I learned quickly not to compare myself to other women as they were asked for their phone numbers and I wasn’t. Nora and I had different experiences. She got lots of business cards and requests for her phone number, and I considered getting one “ask” a good evening, and two excellent. But, as with the phone personals, nearly all of the men I gave my number to called. I met two really nice men through these clubs, but our timing, given divorces and life, wasn’t right, so I eventually moved on.

In my mid 40s I had one serious relationship for a few years, but by the time I was close to 50, it had broken up. The internet was taking hold, and I tried match.com, only to find it overwhelming and rather shallow. It probably would seem more natural now. Between my business and helping care for my ill father, I had no time for dating. After a few months, I volunteered to help at an event for my small synagogue, which is about 80% women–the last place I would go to meet someone. A man who had seen an announcement of the event online came up to me and started talking, and … almost 20 years later, here we are.

All the dating experiences taught me that you have no control over exactly whom you meet, or when, and timing means a lot. However, there is “luck” in numbers, and whatever methods you use, being out there, virtually or preferably in person, will make you luckier.



Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    It is hard for introverts to get “out there” but it is wonderful when life creates opportunities and we take them. Your description of mid-life dating reflected evolving technology and social structures that have opened up how people meet, unavailable to our parents, just as kids now have their own ways to meet up. So good that the last twenty years have been happy for you and you could leave that stress behind.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your dating life has encompassed a vast array of experiences, Marian. You have been smart and selective about how you’ve approached this, particularly in the digital and app-driven age. I like your concluding thoughts: “luck” in numbers. I think one has to just plain be lucky, one way or another.

    • Marian says:

      How true, Betsy. I often wonder about friends who met their life partners very young, some in high school, and what role luck played in that. I know timing, as in the circumstances of my and my dates’ lives, played a huge role in whether or not we could make a go of a relationship.

  3. Suzy says:

    Marian, I’m impressed at the wide variety of dating techniques you have tried. I especially like the idea of voicemail personals and dining clubs – both seem better than the modern online dating apps. You can tell a lot about a person by his voice, I would think. And eating a meal, course by course, with different men, with the security of having another woman at the table too, sounds like a lot of fun (as long as you don’t get spinach in your teeth).

    • Marian says:

      I agree, Suzy, that the voices and also a group interaction at a table can tell you a lot. I would observe how a man treated a woman whom he was clearly not interested in, and wanted to see if he was still polite and kind. You could also tell right away if a guy was interested in a trophy or packaged type of gal. Those evenings were interesting and also very efficient.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Your story was fascinating for me, Marian, since your dating experiences so did NOT mirror mine. I dated in high school until my first year in law school (1971), but since then have only been in serious (even when humorous) relationships. And, as you note, you didn’t begin to date until you were in your 20’s. So everything you wrote about — and so well — was new to me. And, as an extrovert myself (and a male), who knows how my experieinces would have been different, even at the same stages of life.

    That said, your advice seems very wise, especially about the importance of both sheer numbers and sheer luck. Though, as to the latter, my now-cousin (she eventually married my cousin when in her 60’s, having put a personal ad in the Harvard alumni magazine and then going out at least once with over 50 responders), has also told me that she was amazed by just how many jerks there are out there.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, I echo your cousin’s thoughts, John, and I’m guessing about at half of the men she dated were true jerks, and another 10 to 15 percent were really quirky. One of my favorite “jerk” experiences, funny now but not at the time, was the guy who suggested an expensive restaurant for our first meeting and spent the whole time bragging about how much money he made, and when the bill came, told me that I should pay the entire tab!

  5. Brava for your persistence Marian. despite your self-described introversion.

    And how wonderfully sweet that you met Dick when you weren’t even trying!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your conclusion, Marian. Meeting people to date is always so random, with the exception of the fix-up, which rarely works. I had never heard about the voicemail personals, but that does seem like a good way to find a compatible date without all of the fakery of social media dating.

  7. Great story, Mare! I’d never heard of voicemail personals but it “sounds” like a good idea to me. As others have mentioned, I think you can tell a lot from a person’s voice…including warmth or insincerity though, as you mentioned, deception is possible — but then that’s possible in any dating scenario (believe me!). And there are definitely some voices that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate for long…so it would be nice to know that up front.

    I remember a friend joining a dining club…the thought of watching people (1) eat and (2) “operate” just didn’t appeal to me so I never tried it. And then there was “speed dating” — as a fellow introvert, my idea of hell!

    I have often wondered how so many people I know met their mates in high school or shortly thereafter…and why I didn’t. After my high school sweetheart broke my heart, he immediately had another girlfriend and ended up marrying her, and they were married until just recently when she passed away. They were just meant for each other. It took me another ten years to meet my first husband and, as it turned out, we WEREN’T meant for each other.

    Synchronicity (or timing, or even coincidence) does play a role in whichever way we find — or don’t find — a good mate…it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time. You and Dick, me and Garth…just lucky, I think. Very lucky!

    • Marian says:

      Oh, my, Barb, I totally blocked out speed dating because it was hell. I know I tried it (maybe twice?) but I can’t remember a thing, and certainly no dates from it. I do believe in soulmates, but the trouble is finding them! I am very lucky and grateful.

  8. Having been a serial monogamist for so long, I have missed out on all the esoteric evolutions of encounter mechanisms. And yes, soul mates are such good fortune. I’m guessing you’ve found a good one.

    • Marian says:

      I wouldn’t regret too much what you missed, Charles, although occasionally the dating experiences had their charms. It took till I was close to 50, but I did finally find a good one!

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I love hearing how other introverts deal with our peculiarity. Introverts unite! But not for too long….

    • Marian says:

      It took a lot of practice, Dave, especially if/when I wanted to date and meet new people in social situations. Most of my sweetheart’s large family are extroverts, which is challenging when we visit each other, but I have come up with a scheme called “the introvert’s room,” a space (even a corner), where the three self-identified introverts can go for quiet. We read, nap, etc, but don’t talk.

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