WOMEN
09/26/2011 04:29 pm ET | Updated Nov 26, 2011

Sometimes, It's Not You

On my first date with Mark, he asked how long it had been since my last relationship.

I looked at the table, cupping my hand around my beer. I had always hated this question. It seemed so brazenly evaluative — an employment counselor inquiring about a gap in your résumé, a dental hygienist asking how often you flossed.

I knew he wasn’t appraising me. We had worked together for two months, and in this crowded bar we spoke with the easiness and candor of good friends — he told me about the pain of his divorce, the financial strain, the loneliness. He had been hanging around my office, sending flirty e-mails and — most adorable to me and mortifying to him — blushing whenever I spoke to him. He was kind of in the bag.

But still I didn’t answer. I didn’t want him to know the truth: that I was 39 and hadn’t had a serious boyfriend in eight years. I had seen men balk at this information before — even when the numbers were lower. They would look at me in a cool and curious way, as if I were a restaurant with too few customers, a house that had been listed for too long. One man actually said it: “What’s wrong with you?”

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