A mom vetting a potential boyfriend for her daughter experiences an unexpected connection in Mara Mindell's unique love story.
What if your mom helped choose your next partner? That’s the premise of Parent’s Pick, the titular dating agency in this week’s love story. Julianne Rockwell has an enviable career as the founder of an angel investing firm. She’s cool, classy and confident, but as a sixty-year-old divorcée, Julianne assumes love is behind her. She’s meeting Trevor Johnson to assess him as a match for her adult daughter. But this New York-set non-date may surprise both of them…
I first met Mara in 2010 at famed comedy school/theater, the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, when we were both placed on an indie improv team. We stayed in touch and Mara took my virtual Romance Workshop last year. She was a stand-out student and so I was thrilled when she agreed to write an original story for Heartbeat. “Parent’s Pick” proves you’re never too old to experience a connection, and that age—and age gaps—are no impediment to love. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this week’s story just as much as I did.
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“This is perfect, thank you for accommodating me a little early,” I say, sliding my Chanel sunglasses atop my chin-length, angled gray bob. I open my Louis Vuitton to retrieve a tip for this nice young host, but he puts up a hand.
“No need, Ms. Rockwell. The owner says thank you for believing in his sister’s company.”
The health-conscious soda company was one of my firm’s more recent investments, and we’ve already seen strong signs of growth. “The pleasure was mine,” I say sincerely. I quickly assess the table and determine exactly which chair has the most impressive view of the Midtown skyline. Then I take the space across from it.
“We would love to offer you a complimentary bottle of wine,” the host tells me, holding the wine list for me to view.
This does feel like a date, but only by proxy. Goodness, I haven’t been on a date for myself in…five years? Now it’s my turn to hold up a hand. “Oh no, thank you, sweetie, I’m just here for my daughter. This is more of an interview, really.” And I’ll need to be fully present if I’m to impress.
The host nods, removes two of the place settings, and walks back indoors.
A breeze sweeps across the balcony. The ivy-covered pergola prevents the glare of the early October setting sun, but it’s a bit chillier than I’d hoped on this third-floor space. One thing I miss more from my younger days is my body heat. I pull my periwinkle cashmere blazer tightly over my carefully chosen blush silk midi dress. Then I pull my phone out of my bag for one last study session.
Trevor Johnson, forty-two, Chief Marketing Officer of a national law firm. Stable work history, one previous marriage, no kids.
When the lovely woman who runs dating agency Parent’s Pick sent me this profile, it felt different than the others. His ideal date was “a historical tour of a building, then coffee and cheesecake at any unknown cafe. What I love most about this city is the juxtaposition of the old and new, often within the same ten feet.” The same thought I have almost daily. Definitely more interesting than the others’ “dinner and a walk around Central Park.”
Trevor is the fourth potential match I’ve entertained for my daughter, Sophie, but the first who has made it to the in-person meeting stage. Luckily time is no issue to Sophie, who’s mostly humoring me with her participation in this match-making exercise.
If this man is as wonderful as he seems, I’ll need to be interesting, too.
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Rockwell,” a deep voice says. “You look stunning.”
I place my phone back in my bag and stand. “Call me Julianne. You’re too kind,” I say, pleased at his sweet compliment.
Trevor’s pictures didn’t do him justice, and they were good pictures. His olive skin is smooth, with only the faintest smile lines adorning his cheeks. His hair is long enough that it curls just slightly under his ears, but fashionably, not in a way that suggests it’s time for a haircut. He’s wearing a light navy blazer, striped button-down shirt, and khakis—a sensible combination for the first encounter with a potential mother-in-law. He’s muscular, but not overly so. Sophie likes a strong partner, though she’s always been allergic to exercise herself. She gets the latter from me.
Trevor catches me taking him in and I shift my attention to my wrist. “You’re early,” I say as we both take our seats. “That’s an auspicious sign.”
He looks at my Apple Watch, then points to a slightly larger version of my watch on his wrist. “Latest model, right? How do you like it?”
I look into his smiling, deep brown eyes. “My daughter—Sophie, your potential match—gave this watch to me for my birthday last month. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer watches as fashion accessories. Phones are meant to tell time.”
Trevor laughs. A pleasant sound, not at all like Sophie’s previous boyfriend. That man’s laugh was a bit chipmunkesque for my taste. His whole persona tilted rodent, as further evidenced by the money he squirreled away from Sophie to run off and start a rock band.
“Isn’t technology amazing?” Trevor says. “You can now have a computer in your pocket and a phone on your wrist. Ten-year-old me is living his futuristic dreams.” He smiles.
“Ah yes, does your watch ever make you feel like you’re in the movie...oh, what was the name of that film? You’re probably too young to remember…”
“Dick Tracy?” He suggests.
“Yes, that’s it!” I say, pleased he’s caught my reference.
“I loved it back then,” he says with a grin. “Actually, I think I read somewhere that Apple’s CEO got the idea for the watch from that movie.”
“Really? I suppose most ideas are just built on what’s already out there. It’s just about doing it better,” I say. “What I don’t understand is how we can engineer a wrist computer but not a single umbrella that can withstand a New York storm.”
His face becomes serious. “Oh yes, totally. I think we’ve really underinvested in umbrella technology, as a country. Sure there are the vented models, but is that the best we can do?”
My face spreads into a smile. I take a sip of my water. “You seem to have a sense of humor. That’s good. Sophie is fantastically witty.”
“Like her mother, it seems.” He smiles slightly and leans forward.
“Too kind, too kind,” I say, waving an arm, but loving it. Thinking I’m waving at her, our server comes to the table.
“Can I get you two anything to drink? A cocktail, champagne?” She winks at me, and for a second I consider it. But this isn’t my date. I’m much too old for this man. I’m certainly too old for a new relationship.
“No, thank you, water is fine,” I say.
“Water sounds great,” Trevor tells her and she leaves.
“So, tell me more about you, Trevor. I read that you work for Ellis and Greiner, is that right?”
“Yes, but I’m not a lawyer,” he says in a rush.
“I have nothing against lawyers,” I assure him. “My ex-husband is a lawyer, as a matter of fact.”
Trevor raises an eyebrow. “And you still have nothing against them?”
I shrug. “It was an amicable divorce after many, many years of marriage. We had a good run, for having married in college.”
Trevor looks toward the cityscape behind me. “I definitely understand marrying young. I married right after high school.”
“Oh?” I’m not sure how far to push. But I am here to vet him, after all, so I lean forward and ask, “And is that why you divorced?”
“I guess we’re just jumping into it then,” he laughs.
I grin. “I apologize, I’ve never been in quite this situation before. I’m not sure what the protocol is.”
“You’re doing great,” Trevor assures me. “This is already the most enjoyable meet-up I’ve had yet,” he adds.
“You’re doing great,” I return. “You know exactly what a potential mother-in-law wants to hear.”
He smiles, then shrugs and leans back in his chair.
“My ex wanted kids,” he says. “She thought I would get there, too.” He shakes his head. “My biggest regret is that I waited too long to leave, once I knew for sure I didn’t want any. I have a hard time forgiving myself for that. But that was five, six years ago, I guess. I still see her on social media occasionally. She has a new husband now, and twins.”
Oh. Sophie absolutely wants kids.
“It sounds like your ex-wife is doing all right,” I say, meaning it. Then, carefully I say “Sophie wants children. That will definitely be a deal breaker for her.” I’m disappointed that our evening will end before it’s even begun. I was enjoying our light banter.
He nods. “The kids issue is complicated. That’s why I don’t really go into it in my profile, I find it easier to navigate in person. Turns out not everyone believes it when they read it anyway.”
“That makes sense,” I say. “Well if that’s how you feel then, I suppose…I mean, we haven’t ordered yet so we could call it a night.”
“Trying to get rid of me already?” Trevor laughs.
I smile. “I don’t want to waste your evening.”
“No, no, I appreciate that. I guess I could use the time…” He looks toward the door, and I reach toward my bag.
At that moment, the server returns with our waters and launches into an excessively long specials menu.
Trevor’s eyes meet mine and there’s a silent question: should he stop her or should I? We wait a tad too long to take action, and both stifle laughs at the awkwardness. “Do you know what you’d like,” our server concludes, “or do you need some more time?”
Trevor raises an eyebrow at me and gestures in my direction. I know exactly what he’s asking me.
I nod. I’d actually planned to have the tilapia, but say to the server, “I’ll have the pasta Bolognese you mentioned.”
Trevor squints at his menu. “I’d actually been thinking the tilapia, but the pasta does sound really good, I’ll do that.”
I smile at our similar tastes in food. Our server heads off with our order. Once she’s a safe distance away, we both begin speaking.
“I hope I didn’t pressure you at all—” I’m saying as he says, “If you want to leave—”
We both stop and I smile. “I do have to eat at some point,” I say.
He nods, “I was thinking exactly the same thing. Also can I say, that was damn impressive.”
“She memorized that entire list!” I exclaim.
Another server comes by and drops some bread on the table. We both reach at the same time, our fingers briefly touching. I’m surprised at the electricity I feel and reluctantly pull my hand back. Trevor tilts the basket toward me and I take a piece, suddenly filled with the need to consume. Trevor takes a piece and begins chewing. After a couple bites he says, “Tell me about you, Julianne. Are you from the city?”
I love the way he says my name, just two syllables: Ju-lann. “I’ve actually lived in several cities. My father was in the army,” I tell him. “But I’ve been in New York for a very long time.”
“What brought you here?” He asks.
“Oh you don’t want to hear all of that,” I say, waving a hand.
“Actually, I do, I’m curious,” he says, looking into my eyes. Something in his tone makes me actually believe it.
I tell him about coming to NYU for college, marrying someone and after many years of marriage, mutually deciding to call it. I tell him about having Sophie and how she was the most amazing thing to have ever happened to me, until I found success with my own angel investing firm a decade ago, a personal dream of entrepreneurship come true.
“I’ve heard of your company!” Trevor exclaims when I tell him the name. “I remember reading an article in the Times a few years back. You were one of the first to focus on women-owned businesses, right?”
“That’s right!” I say. “We’ve expanded our focus since then, we’re really looking to support any oft-marginalized group.”
“Incredible,” Trevor says. “That’s one thing I truly appreciate about my firm. We do a lot of pro bono work specifically for those groups. That’s pretty much why I went with them over a couple of the big international firms,” he says, and my body feels pulled toward him.
When our pasta arrives, we’re both too busy talking about our volunteer efforts to eat much of anything.
“I think our food’s getting cold,” I mention when our conversation eventually slows for a moment.
“I think you’re right. Okay,” he says, “let’s make a deal. I’ll talk for five minutes and you can eat, and then we’ll switch. We’ll just go back and forth until we’re done. Go ahead, set a timer on your watch.”
“Oh no,” I say jestingly, “I’d prefer to use my phone.”
Dinner couldn’t be more fun. In chunks, Trevor tells me about college, how he’d thought he’d be a track star before hurting his knee badly enough he had to quit the team. He tells me he he’d always loved TV ads that pushed the envelope, like an old hilarious jeans ad that took place in a hospital, and how he wanted to be the person who thought up those campaigns. He tells me that everything in his career perfectly aligned, while everything with his wife went completely askew. And he tells me that no matter how badly he feels about how things ended with her, he was relieved when they did.
I use my chunks to tell him about the many companies I’ve invested in, and how proud I’ve been at their success.
I’m full before Trevor is, and he asks me to talk more about my divorce, if I’m comfortable with it.
“We were unhappy for a long time,” I say. “We stayed in it for Sophie, at least at first. Then we were just a habit we didn’t know how to break. It actually took Sophie sitting us down a few years ago and telling us it was time before we seriously considered a divorce. She’s always wanting to make sure everyone is truly happy.”
“My sister is a lot like that.” Trevor twirls the last noodle around his fork and puts it in his mouth. I find myself focusing a little too long on his lips before looking away. When he’s done, he says, “The whole Parent’s Pick thing was my sister’s idea, actually. She thought an agency might be a better fit for me, and her friend had just started this one, so here we are. Was joining the agency Sophie’s idea?”
I shake my head. “A friend of mine found a match for her son through the agency a few months ago,” I say. “Sophie’s been out of a relationship for a while and, well…I thought perhaps I could help her find someone suitable.”
He chuckles. “I see. And what drew you to my ‘suitable’ profile?” He asks, eyes smiling.
“Oh goodness, you know I didn’t mean—”
“I’m just teasing, Julianne,” he says. Ju-lann.
“Are you from the South? I mean, I know you said you went to Notre Dame, but originally?” I ask.
“Yes, I grew up in Georgia. Why do you ask?”
“The way you say my name, it just reminds my of my time in the South.”
He blushes, a deep red in his ears and cheeks. “My Southern comes out when I’m nervous,” he admits.
“You’re nervous?” I say, surprised. “Why?”
He takes a breath, then looks into my eyes. “I get nervous when I’m with a beautiful woman.”
My face flames, and for the first time this evening I feel too warm. He can’t seriously be interested in me and even if he were, it would never work. The age gap is too big, almost two decades.
But…I’ve felt a connection with Trevor tonight. It’s all been so easy being with him. And right now, Trevor looks so earnest, so interested…For the first time in years, there is someone in front of me that I want.
I can’t fully commit to going after him, but I can be completely—overly—honest with this man for the rest of the evening and see what happens.
“I loved everything about your profile. You were someone I would choose for myself,” I say and his face registers surprise. “You’re in Marketing, so you care about how things are presented, at least to some degree. You’re in a stable industry—god knows there will always be lawyers,” I add and his cheeks widen in that full smile that makes me smile. “You’re divorced, which was a bit of a red flag at first, but I completely understand marrying too young. And—” I take a gulp from my sweating glass of water. “You’re extremely attractive. For a younger man,” I can’t help adding.
His eyes twinkle. “So you think I’m attractive. But you have a problem with our age difference?”
“I’ve had a full life,” I tell him. I gesture to the server for the check and she nods. “I have a business I love, a daughter I’m proud of. But I’m sixty-years-old. Sixty.”
“Sixty,” Trevor repeats, “Witty, and incredibly beautiful.”
The server drops the check in the middle of the table. We both reach for it, our hands on opposite ends of the bill holder, close. I feel the electricity from before, but this time my hand stays put. All of my doubts are still there, but their grip on me is loosening.
“You must let me cover this,” I tell him, “I invited you, after all.”
He looks into the now darkened sky, his hand also not moving. “How about this.” His eyes meet mine. “There’s a bookstore a couple avenues over from here with the best coffee and pastries in the city. You can get that one.”
Trevor takes his hand off the check, and brings his other hand up to meet mine on the table. He picks my hand up and holds it. My heart pounds forcefully. Does my watch notify anyone if I have a heart attack?
“Julianne, I don’t care about your age,” Trevor says. “What do I care about is that you’re in place where you want to be in a relationship with someone. And if you are, we can take things from there. I’d love to see where this goes.”
My breath catches.
“I love a good croissant.” I hear myself affect a French accent on the last word, feeling foolish and loving it.
We walk to a good-sized independent bookstore on Eighth Ave. Our bodies are close, my breath speeding up every time we accidentally touch.
We order pastries from the cafe up front, then walk around the bookstore pointing at the books we’ve read and the books we will never read. And Trevor’s right, the pain au chocolat is to die for.
“What about this one?” Trevor asks, pointing to a staff’s pick on the Fiction shelf. “She’s a wonderful author. From the South, as a matter of fact.”
“Not yet,” I shake my head. “But I did read her last one and it’s definitely on my list. For some reason I’ve been more into non-fiction these days,” I tell him.
“I have just the rec,” he says, offering me his elbow. I’m giddy as I take his arm and we make our way to an aisle in the back.
“Now this is a good one,” he says, pointing to a large tome in the “New History” section.
A loud laugh escapes me. “You can’t be serious!”
Trevor laughs. “I’ve been reading it to fall asleep at night,” he tells me. “But there are some interesting things in there. You know, if you’re into Vice Presidents.”
He does come up with two shorter non-fiction books that I add to my list, one memoir and one on the secret history of the New York subway.
It seems like no time has passed at all when a voice over a loudspeaker says the store will close in five minutes.
“I’m not ready for the night to end,” Trevor says to me as we walk outside onto the street. “Maybe a glass of wine next door?”
I’m silent. Most everything in me would like to say yes, but a dust storm of thoughts and doubts again rolls through my brain. When everything has cleared, I have a thought. I like this man. I haven’t felt like this about someone in forever. And I want to keep feeling it.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done any of this,” I say carefully. “Are you okay with taking things slow?”
“I’m reading a thousand-page book on the Vice Presidents. I’ll be fine.” Trevor laughs and I join in.
I shift to his side and take his hand in mine. Still clasped together, he takes my other hand and faces me. His head lowers slightly and his lips meet mine, wanting but tender. I allow my cadence to match his and soon there are parts of my body tingling for perhaps the first time in all of my sixty years.
Our bodies pull apart, still connected. Trevor smiles. I raise my wrist up slightly, barely glancing at my darkened watch. “I think we have time for a drink.”
Next week on Heartbeat, get ready for a short story from Loan Le.
Follow Heartbeat on Instagram at @storiesbyheartbeat for upcoming behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at Loan’s story!
Three quick things from Georgia:
I’m thrilled to be hosting the Gala event for the Australian Theater Festival, 9/26/22, here in NYC. The festival’s aim is present diverse theatrical content and cultivate the development of Australian artists. Aussies + theater fans, come on out!
This diehard drinker is experiencing a life-changing mindset as I read Quit Like A Woman, by Holly Whitaker. It’s a pretty confronting read, but I’ve already made some changes that prioritize my physical and mental health.
Please join me in congratulating Heartbeat’s co-founder, Hannah Orenstein, on her fabulous new job! After five years at Elite Daily, Hannah is now the Deputy Editor of Lifestyle at Bustle. Mazel tov Hannah: you’re a star!
Thoughts on this week’s post? Drop them in the comment section below!