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COUPLING

My Little Black Book

Why is it filled with more potential mothers-in-law than possible husbands?

Moms and their beloved sons
(Illustration / Christopher Silas Neal)

I met my first Judy while vacationing in Mexico. A 60-something redhead in the beach chair next to mine, she took one glance at my SPF 15 sunblock, declared it insufficient, and pressed me to use her high-octane stuff.

As I lathered, we chatted. It turned out we’d each brought the other’s favorite potboiler novel that day. Judy’s daughter was an English teacher like me. And her son, well, there was much hemming and hawing about her son. As the sun crept behind afternoon clouds, Judy said, “Look. Do you mind my bluntly asking whether you’re single? Because I think you and my son just might hit it off. Now, of course, I’m biased, but I happen to think he’s wonderful, and brilliant, and handsome.”

I peered over her shoulder for signs of a handsome young man radiating brilliance.

“Oh, he isn’t here,” Judy said, laughing. “He’d never travel with his parents. But I’m sure he’d love to meet you.”

So I gave her my number. I never did hear from her son, but she was the first entry in what soon became a little black book full of Judys, Carols, and Nancys. In the last few years, it’s been as likely I’d be hit on at a wedding by a middle-aged woman as by an eligible man my own age. While I was always flattered – what greater compliment is there than being tapped to date someone’s son or nephew? – I worried that I wasn’t attracting the men themselves. Was I radiating “daughter-in-law material” instead of “hot sexy babe”?

“Of course not!” my friends said loyally. But still, the Book of Judy grew fatter, and I didn’t hear from the stepsons, the nephews, the husband’s management trainees. On one level, I wasn’t surprised: Given the pressure men face to appear super-confident, getting romantic help from mommy might rub many the wrong way. But I was disappointed. Their mothers and other self-appointed matchmakers always made them sound so wonderful that no matter how many times these mysterious Bens and Joshes failed to materialize, I was still quick to reach for my business card when the next Nancy came along.

Of course, every now and then a man will be intrigued (or badgered) enough to contact me. Last summer there came the e-mail that read: “You met my Aunt Diane at a wedding. She told me to e-mail you. Well, I guess that’s about it.”

That was, indeed, about it.

Just when I’d given up hope that these female flirtations might prove fruitful, a reporting assignment left me snowbound on the South Shore and dining alone in a pub. The bar area was jammed with men of all ages, but it was Sue and Herb Katz who claimed the table next to mine. Within 20 minutes, we’d established that yes, I was single. Did I want to meet their neighbor? He was cute and smart. Then Herb whispered something urgently

into Sue’s ear.

“What?” she breathed. “Oh. Oh, no. Herb says he’s a – what? A stoner.”

Herb frowned, nodded, and murmured something else.

Sue shook her head and reached across to close her hand over mine. “You know what? We don’t think he’s good enough for you.”

In that moment, looking at their kind faces, I felt a new gratitude. So what if I never met the neighbor? I’d met Sue and Herb. In a dating world that is often lonely and where each of us is looking out for number one, it was nice to feel that someone else was looking out for me.

Given the number of my male friends who say they would never, ever, ever let their mothers fix them up, I suspect Peggy, Judy, and Diane will not be the ones to facilitate an end to my singleness. But I’m going to keep taking their numbers – and liberally passing out mine. After all, my very singleness, which I so often see as a liability, has done me a good turn in arousing these friendly and generous impulses of some wonderful people, people who’ve offered me their care, their energy, their vastly superior sunblock.

There’s something to be said for having a Peggy in every port.

Alison Lobron lives in Concord. E-mail comments to coupling@globe.com.

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