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DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: Getting a late start

by Debra Hale-Shelton | November 17, 2019 at 1:50 a.m.

I'm always running late whether for marriage, motherhood or appointments. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that I was late to dating.

I didn't have a single date in high school and only two in college. Those two were such disasters that I didn't date again until I was in my 40s.

If you think I exaggerate, consider my first. I'll call him Individual A.

A girlfriend of mine and fellow Arkansas State University student decided to play matchmaker. After all, I had introduced her to her future husband, who would someday become a federal judge.

My friend decided it would be a great idea for Individual A and me to join her and her future husband at an ASU football game.

Now, he--the judge, not the date--might deny it, but I considered him and some of his friends to be Arkansas' version of hippies in the early 1970s.

So, one Saturday afternoon, Individual A stopped by my dormitory and whisked me away. Whisked might be too strong of a word since the journey from the dorm lobby to his car seemed like hours.

He was wearing boots that topped his knees, not trendy for anyone except for diehard hippies and maybe Buffalo Bill impersonators. Watching from a dorm window, my roommate and other friends saw it all, but mostly they saw his boots. I was humiliated, and we hadn't even gotten to the football game yet.

Thankfully, we stopped by the home of some of his friends. The guys soon decided to run an errand, leaving the women at the house and giving me time to plot how to avoid the stadium crowd.

How could I leave and not have anyone question my excuse? This was the 1970s when a woman's menstrual period was an off-limits topic of discussion in many places. So I walked over to one of the women and told her that I had to get back to the dorm because I had "the cramps." One or more of the women drove me back to Kays Hall, where I quickly recovered and never saw Individual A again.

Individual B came along about the same time when a friend of a friend invited me to join her, her date and their friend, a medical student visiting from another university.

I soon realized that our definition of a good time was quite different. Our date consisted of going to the Jonesboro municipal airport where we parked and looked at planes. This was Jonesboro in the '70s, not exactly an air-traffic hub. I don't recall a single plane taking off or landing that afternoon.

The next time I dated I was in my 40s and living in downtown Chicago. I don't recall if I was motivated by my biological clock nearing midnight, loneliness, a desire for adventure, or all of the above. But I joined a dating service, and an adventure is exactly what I got.

Almost all of the dates were single outings, disasters even. The guy and I usually could tell rather quickly that we were not a match made on earth or in heaven.

Consider Individual C, a man who told me by phone that he was a former Chicago Cardinals player--yes, Cardinals. I have since learned that the Chicago Cardinals was a losing football team that was sold in 1959 and moved to St. Louis. Had I known that at the time, I might have realized the man was none too young. Still, he was a gentleman, albeit an aging and ailing one.

He took me to Lawry's The Prime Rib, a steakhouse located in a mansion just off the Magnificent Mile. He was using a portable oxygen tank, which he seemed to rely on a tad too much for my comfort.

Thanks to valet parking, we had only a short walk to the crowded lobby. Once inside, I soon realized we were going to be waiting longer than even Cracker Barrel diners do on Friday nights. I panicked, made up some excuse to step away and told the hostess that I was on a blind date and feared he might collapse and die if we didn't get seated fast. Whether she believed me or just sought to appease me, I do not know. What I know is that Individual C's party of two was the next one called to a table.

By contrast, Individual D appeared quite healthy. For perhaps our second date, he took me on a hike on a sweltering summer day. I was overweight, perspiring, and short of breath. He showed me how I could cool off by pouring water on my wrists.

The lengthy hike convinced me that Individual D probably wasn't for me. More disconcerting was his family situation. He was divorced and had two small children living with him. His 90-year-old mother also lived with him. I moved on.

There were a few other dating disasters, from the guy who ordered cottage cheese and a pickle when he took me to a Chicago diner to one who, in his 40s, had finally said goodbye to his mother and rented his first apartment but was too frugal to buy a vacuum cleaner.

But Individual E, a suburbanite who impressed me as hard-working, kind and even old-fashioned, was, shall we say, the most unusual, despite his outwardly conventional blue-collar appearance and manner.

I liked him and enjoyed going places with him. We visited Lincoln Park Zoo, went to a movie, dined at nearby restaurants. But there was one big problem, one that left me speechless.

One day, he told me he wanted to show me a shop on Chicago's North Side. I walked in slowly and soon realized that I was in a boutique for cross-dressers. By this time, I was about 45 and simply not in the mood to pursue this relationship.

The last person I dated was also a suburbanite, who later became my husband. We've not had the best or the worst of marriages. But together, we adopted our daughter Annie in 2002.

At 51, I was quite late coming to motherhood. Yet, from the time a Chinese orphanage caregiver placed the 15 1/2-month-old girl in my arms, I knew the wait was worthwhile.

Sometimes, it's best to be late.

Email Debra Hale-Shelton at

Editorial on 11/17/2019


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