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Rule #1: When I feel the impulse do something for “him” (whomever he might be), I will look at my own life and ask if that nurturing thing is something I need to do for myself.

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It was only recently, since I’d been living on my own and encountering my friends and colleagues as a single person, that I had begun to see how deeply loved and appreciated I was by the people in my life, love given to me as a grace, without merit. As long as I had chicken soup on the brain (and, I reasoned, the healing properties of this soup might keep me from getting the flu I had marginally been exposed to), I went to the store and bought the ingredients for the best chicken soup ever, along with a baguette of crusty sourdough. My kitchen filled with the aroma of love: love for myself.

I have cooked hundreds of pots of chicken soup in my life and yet this was the first time I made chicken soup expressly for me. I enjoyed the soup and then had to email my sick acquaintance and offer to bring some over.

But when he didn’t call or text the next day, I started to stew. I soon decided that pending illness hadn’t ended the evening brusquely. I found this odd and disconcerting because in my regular life, I’m a content and competent woman. So why, then, this instant and deeply convincing I-am-flawed response?

The truly flawed nature of my being must have somehow become visible. Who would possibly want to go out with a woman four years his senior? Who did I think I was to believe, even for an instant, that someone like that would be interested in me? I am educated and smart; I work as a graduate-school professor and author. Is this the core shame at the center of every human, that hideous inner knowledge we spend as much of our lives as possible trying to keep hidden? And how, please God someone tell me how, was I to be free of it?

Rule #3: The next time I’m tempted to go too far, I’ll try texting myself a photo of my glorious chicken soup.

It may not help with fighting sickness or bolstering self-esteem, but honestly, it can’t hurt.

Alcohol and drug addiction didn’t help the toxic brew.

But now, with 23 years of sobriety behind me, a lot of emotional and spiritual growth to my credit, a very strong sense of who I am, and what talents I bring to the larger world, I still had no clue how to date.

He’d glimpsed it over those three hours and had high-tailed it out of there as fast as he could. With no warning whatsoever, I was 13 again, certain that the “cool kids” would never let me join their group, listening as they said, of course they’d love to come to my birthday party while harboring no intention whatsoever of showing up. I’d asked him some pretty blunt questions; writers are always looking for the story behind the story. My students think I’m amazingly cool because I ride a Harley. I sat with the feelings, talked them out with friends, meditated, and decided that the dating experience was here primarily to teach me about myself. I checked email regularly, looked at my Facebook page, hunted for texts that might have somehow been overlooked. I had foolishly thought that a date now and again would enliven my life, would give me something to look forward to, a reason to buy a new blouse, a more active social life. I began to consider how little experience I’d had in this realm.

I was certain I’d made a fool of myself, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how or where. I was already learning what I might one day want in a partner (if I were ever to decide I’d like to be partnered again), what I didn’t want, what I found attractive, what bored me, and had come to appreciate how much I enjoyed my own company. I was old enough, experienced enough, and happy enough on my own to not take any of it too seriously. My dating history, if all pulled together, added up to about a nanosecond.

Currently writing Don’t Call Me Biker Chick, a book about women, risk-taking and motorcycles, Bernadette Murphy has published three books of narrative nonfiction and teaches creative writing at the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program.

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