Playing The Dating Game–Friends Version

by Lisa Beach
Two friends smiling, drinking wine and having lunch at a restaurant

At the age of 50 and after 27 years of marriage, I’m dating again. Well, I’m not exactly dating, but it feels just like dating. I’m ISO a BFF: in search of a best friend forever.

My lifelong BFFs—the ones I’ve known since my elementary and high school days—live in the Northeast, scattered from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Rhode Island. These girls have nursed me through everything, from braces and bad decisions to heartbreaks and hangovers. They’ve journeyed with me through weekend parties, road trips, concerts, late-night Dairy Queen runs and 2 a.m. phone calls. My irreplaceable, vintage friends hold the context of my life—the good, the bad and the ugly. (Believe me, with my braces, glasses and all those ’80s perms, there was a lot of ugly.) If I didn’t live a thousand miles away, I’m sure we’d still be meeting every few weeks for drinks or running out to see the latest Magic Mike sequel.

But as a stay-at-home mom and a homeschooler, my circle of local gal pals has ebbed and flowed over the past 18 years. Recently, it’s ebbing more than flowing. (Cue the Friends theme song, with a minor lyric change: “So no one told you life was gonna be this way, your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your social life’s DOA.”) With playdates and mommy-and-me groups just a faded memory now, many of my mommy friends drifted away over the years. And since I recently put my child in public school, I no longer run in the same circles as many of the homeschooling moms anymore. The final nail in my social coffin? As I’m transitioning back to a freelance writing career, I can’t tap into the built-in communal network that a brick-and-mortar job brings. So what’s a socially starved tweenior to do?

Enter “The Dating Game—Friends Version.” No game show host is needed this time around, but the same rules still apply: Meet new people, ask questions and find a match.

Phase 1: Get in the Game

For starters, I joined a few local groups to dip my toe in the searching-for-new-friends waters. I’m an introvert at heart, so this does not come easy to me at all. I need a life preserver or at least a very large pool noodle to keep me afloat in these sink-or-swim social situations, lest I drown in my own anxiety. But I’m putting myself out there anyway. I got this!

Phase 2: Build Anticipation

With two active teens, our color-coded family calendar keeps us all in-the-know of who needs a ride, who won’t be home for dinner and who needs $25 for some event we just learned about five minutes ago. Ironically, my calendar color code is blue (perhaps indicating the sad state of my social life). The calendar, filled with lots of the boys’ green and red entries, shows just one lonely blue entry—my upcoming dentist appointment. Seriously? That’s the extent of my social engagements this month? So I right this wrong by adding “Mom’s Night Out” in big, bold, blue letters on a weeknight! I’m giddy with excitement.

Phase 3: Prepare

The night of my “first date” arrived—Bunco night, a few hours of drinks and dice guaranteed to yield more fun than my typical night doing a last-minute load of laundry or playing Ruzzle on my phone.

As I anticipated my big night out, I faced a first date dilemma. What should I wear? I wanted to evoke just the right image to my potential new friends, one that would strike a balance between age-appropriate and Desperately Seeking Susan (or whatever my new friend’s name might be). Wear the wrong thing and I’ll be grist for the over-50 rumor mill quicker than a hot flash.

So I looked in my closet, wondering what I could pull together that doesn’t scream, “I haven’t been out since the Seinfeld finale.” I glanced at my clothes only to find they can be separated into three broad categories: church service and PTA meeting clothes, former career clothes (dating back to the early ’90s and even a few relics from the ’80s, complete with shoulder pads) and comfortably casual clothes. Did I own nothing fun and trendy? Apparently not. So I opted for a few “timeless” pieces (think striped T-shirt and forgettable pants) from my comfortably casual collection and headed out the door.

Phase 4: Show Up

I arrived at Bunco and did a quick scan to assess the ladies. OK, good, no one looks like a serial killer, I thought. I’m off to a good start. (Of course, two wines later, everybody looks friendly. That’s why weeding out the psychos pre-alcohol is so critical.)

As the night progressed, I got to meet about a dozen or so women, who, just like me, wanted to just get the hell out of the house and have some fun. We exchanged war stories (strayed career paths, divorces, health issues) with a bit of a filter, since we didn’t want to get too intimate on a first date. We shared appetizers and sipped drinks while we rolled for ones, twos and threes. And we laughed a lot.

By the end of the night, a few Dating Game contestants didn’t make the cut, like the lady who didn’t laugh even once all night (C’mon, at least one of my jokes was funny!) and the woman wearing a sling who had (and you could almost see it) a black cloud hanging over her head with all her tales of woe.

But the best part? I scored two phone numbers. It looks like I’m going on a second date.