Mark and Bernice meet through Find The One, a web site designed to assist people in their search for life partners. Satisfied with what they intuit about each other from their brief emails, Mark and Bernice arrange to meet at a café with outdoor seating, both of them masked.
Mark, sixty-four, is seated and nearly finished with his latte, two shots, before Bernice, fifty-seven, arrives.
Bernice: (sitting down across the table from Mark) Sorry I’m late. (laughs anxiously) I’m a notorious late-nik.
Mark: Not to worry. I’m a notorious early-nik so I’m used to waiting.
Bernice: Uh oh. You come early. I come late. (laughs again) This might not work.
Mark: Maybe not. But since we’re here shall we have a look at each other unmasked?
Bernice: Okay. Hold your breath.
(They take off their masks and gaze at each other for a long moment before putting their masks back on.)
Bernice: You’re very attractive.
Mark: You’re too kind. And you really are attractive.
Bernice: Aren’t we self-effacing? (laughs) So be honest, did you feel insulted by my being late? I really tried to be on time, but I just… I never budget enough time for anything.
Mark: I felt mildly peeved, but not insulted. I’m used to people being late. Everyone I’ve arranged to meet with so far has been late. And almost everyone I know arrives late. It seems to be how most people are.
Bernice: Have you met lots of women this way? Through the web site?
Mark: You’re the fourth. In five months. How about you?
Bernice: (looks up, trying to remember) Maybe… seventeen? Twenty? In three months?
Mark: Wow. Seventeen or twenty. Did any of them get past the first meeting?
(The waiter arrives. Bernice orders a latte, two shots, and Mark orders another.)
Bernice: A few got a second date, but none of them lasted more than two.
Mark: They must have been disappointed.
Bernice: Yeah, I think they were. And I don’t like disappointing people, so this has been hard for me. Were you… did any of the previous women not want to continue with you, or…
Mark: The one woman I really liked ended our meeting after thirty minutes and I never heard from her again. The other two wanted to keep seeing me, but I chose to end things after two dates with each of them. They were lovely people but we didn’t mesh intellectually or sense-of-humorly.
Bernice: Why do you think the one you liked didn’t want to see you again?
Mark: I don’t know. We were having a great time. Or I was. We had lots in common, she got my jokes, we laughed, we both spoke in complete sentences. And then out of the blue, or so it seemed to me, she said, “I have to go,” and got up and left. I think maybe she was looking for someone a bit more fantastic.
Bernice: What do you mean? Royalty? Movie star? Billionaire?
Mark: I think maybe younger. Or seeming younger. Like you. I wouldn’t have guessed you were fifty-seven. I would have guessed forty-two.
Bernice: You’re sweet.
Mark: But you know what I mean. You’re a very young seeming fifty-seven. I’m sixty-four and nobody’s gonna guess I’m fifty-anything.
Bernice: I would have guessed fifty-seven.
Mark: Well now you’re the sweet one.
(The waitress brings the lattes.)
Bernice: So you’ve been married twice. We won’t count the first one. What happened with wife number two?
Mark: Wife number two was ten years younger than I and liked sleeping with other men. And when I finally became aware of that, five years into our marriage, I divorced her as fast as I could.
Bernice: She’d been cheating on you the whole time?
Mark: After the first year. Or so she said. She was a fabulous liar, so who knows? She might have started in the minute we got back from our honeymoon. I trusted her. I believed she believed our wedding vows. Silly me.
Bernice: So how long has it been since you were in a relationship?
Mark: Seven years. How long has it been for you?
Bernice: Seven years also.
Mark: (wistful) Long time.
Bernice: I don’t really mind being alone. I think I’d like to be in a relationship, but not if it isn’t as good as being alone, and so far that’s never happened for me.
Mark: I know what you mean. I long to be in a good relationship, but not just a relationship.
Bernice: Though maybe that’s not fair, comparing a relationship to living alone. They’re so different.
Mark: I don’t think this is about being fair. It’s about really liking someone and wanting to share your life with them. We were designed to share. Evolved to share. Do you know about mirror neurons?
Bernice: Do I know about mirror neurons? I am one giant mirror neuron. That’s my problem. I become whoever I’m with. If I’m with a jerk, I become a surrogate jerk.
Bernice: What does that mean? Ah?
Mark: I mean you’re describing someone who doesn’t have a solid sense of self.
Bernice: Oh I have a solid sense of self. And I like myself, too. What I have is a lifelong pattern, as the child of an alcoholic father and his enabler, my mother, of sacrificing my needs and desires to support the abuser. Which is why I do so much better alone. Because then I take care of myself instead of spending all my energy taking care of the narcissist.
Mark: (bows his head) Amen.
Bernice: I’m much better than I used to be about getting involved with self-serving narcissists, but I have to be very careful or the pattern begins to assert itself and blinds me to what the other person really is.
Mark: (nodding) I’m an enabler, too. And I’ve never been in a relationship with another enabler. I’ve met a few I was smitten with, but we were like those magnets that get close and then repel each other. I mean… how would that even work? How does an enabler enable an enabler?
Bernice: I suppose we could enable each other.
Mark: What a concept. The mind boggles.
Bernice: Yet you seem so confident. So easy in your body. Surely someone along the way enabled you.
Mark: (nods) Yeah, I was a happy kid with some good friends who had parents who were wonderful to me, and my father didn’t become terribly abusive until I was ten and I became some sort of threat to him. I had a few excellent teachers who encouraged me. And I’ve been alone and not in a relationship for most of my life, and I’ve had some wonderful friendships. It’s only in relationships when I’m unconsciously attracted to abusers and my enabling takes over. Took over. I’m done with that.
Bernice: How do you know?
Mark: I know because I woke up. After fifty-six years of living under that terrible spell, I woke up. And now that I’m awake, when the tendrils of the trance touch me, they no longer entice, but rather make me physically ill.
Bernice: Good for you. I’m not entirely awake yet, but I’m getting there. And I’m actually amazed and happy we’re talking about this on our first date. Or on any date. None of the others… I don’t think they could talk about this. Even on the fortieth date.
Mark: This being?
Bernice: What really runs us. The problematic parts of who we are. Or in your case… were. On my other dates at this point we’d be naming our favorite movies and favorite ethnic cuisines.
Mark: Young Frankenstein. Mexican Thai Chinese Indian.
Bernice: Mostly Martha. Mexican Thai Chinese Indian.
Mark: I love Mostly Martha.
Bernice: I love Young Frankenstein.
Mark: Nor have we delved into our occupations. You manage a theatre company.
Bernice: And you are an editor for a publishing company. But more importantly your favorite movie is Young Frankenstein, the ultimate enabler’s fantasy about a decent likable man who, through persistent kindness and a series of miracles, transforms the abusive monster into a sweet loving person.
Mark: (his jaw drops) Oh my God. How did I never get that?
Bernice: Too obvious maybe. Or maybe you were distracted by the beautiful lab assistant enabling the enabler.
Mark: (nods in agreement) And Mostly Martha is about a woman terrified of intimacy saved by an Italian chef versed in the arts of sensuality.
Bernice: Exactly. Speaking of the problematic parts of who we are.
Mark: Are you afraid of intimacy?
Bernice: Terrified, though I crave it.
Mark: And sensuality?
Bernice: I get a two-hour massage every week from an earth goddess. My way of practicing safe sex.
Mark: (frowns) Sex? What is this thing you call sex?
Bernice: Naked with another in a bed.
Mark: Tell me more. A memory stirs in the dark recesses of my mind.
Bernice: (laughs) So now you want to talk dirty on the first date, too?
Mark: No. I’m too shy, but… dare I hope to see you again?
Bernice: (takes a deep breath) Yes, I’d love to see you again. What do we do for a second date?
Mark: How about a walk on the beach?
Bernice: I can’t tomorrow, but the next day is good for me.
Mark: Okay, so…how about we leave it that you call me? That way if you have second thoughts, etcetera.
Bernice: Okay. I’ll call you.
Mark: And if you don’t call me, that’s fine.
Bernice: (perplexed) Why would it be fine? I said I’d call you. Don’t you want me to?
Mark: I do want you to. Very much. But…
Bernice: But what?
Mark: I want you to feel free to change your mind.
Bernice: Do you want me to change my mind?
Mark: No, but…
Bernice: But what?
Mark: (quietly) Part of me expects you will.
Mark: What does your Ah mean?
Bernice: My Ah means you’re a person who drills the hole in the bottom of his own boat and then wonders why his boat sank.
Mark: (considers this) I think you misjudge me. And if giving you my blessing not to call me sinks the boat of our newborn connection, so be it. I said what I said to let you know you don’t have to worry about my well being should doubt overtake you. We have confessed to each other what we were in our previous relationships, and we have told each other what we don’t ever want to do again, which is be dependent on someone else needing us.
Bernice: (nodding) I get it. I do. And… are you hungry? I am. They have excellent guacamole and chips here. And the enchiladas are superb.
Mark: (smiles) Funny you should mention being hungry, for I am very.