By Christine McBurney.
So, Cleveland is your Paris? Ok, I get that. We share a sophisticated arts and culinary scene with the city of light. We’ve got killer croissants and even our own I.M. Pei pyramid. But if Cleveland is my Paris, where is l’amour? Where are the lovers sitting on park benches? Where are the dozens of public display of affection spottings? More important, where is my lover?
This is not a question of civic engagement. This is about personal engagement. Specifically, my engagement.
I am looking for a man. There, I said it. There isn’t a day that goes by when I say to myself, “Where is he?” Will he be at a gallery? A festival? A bar?
I love Cleveland. I’m just not in love in Cleveland.
To be honest, until recently, I was one of those Rust Belt ex-pats who didn’t dare claim her roots. A closet Rust Belt Chic chick. Full of Rust Belt shame. When fellow Belters found out that I grew up in the Youngstown suburb of Struthers, literally across from the steel mills, filthy window sills until the mills shut down in 1979 and all, I’d whisper, “Oh, I don’t like to talk about that,” and gently refocus the fact that I was born in New York, and lived there until I was five, visited every summer thereafter, and moved back for eight years for college and beyond before relocating to Cleveland.
I used to be as desperate to get out of town as one of Chekhov’s pining sisters: “To Moscow, to Moscow” — or in my case, “To Soho.” But to be honest, these days, on my few yearly pilgrimages from the north coast to the east, I’m more energized by the re-urbanization of Cleveland than the suburbanization of New York.
But where are the men?
They certainly aren’t online. A recent browse for who is online in Cleveland, after the obligatory sorting through photos of shirtless guys in baseball caps taking bathroom or garage selfies accompanied by their various pet reptiles and/or motorcycles, produced nil. There was the guy who had white hair but whose photo showed him with dark hair some twenty years younger. There was the great guy who matched me in all his sensibilities, but with whom there really was no chemistry. Fair enough.
Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing men in Cleveland. They are real. And they are usually — wait for it: married. Or gay. Or both. Or well beyond my late 40s. The reverse brain drain seems to be working to keep 20-somethings in town, but so far I don’t know that I have any cougar tendencies.
The last blind date I had with an online guy ended as quickly as it began. Turns out the potential paramour in question found out that I was his nephew’s teacher. Thanks, Google. In what can only be described as a grueling 45-minute job interview, I found myself leaving in a huff, exhausted, as if I’d just worked eight hours and then had an evening of parent-teacher conferences.
I feel alone more acutely now than ever, since my only child went away to college. Nothing says you will die alone and with cats like an empty house. And a cat. Another debt I owe to Cleveland. Where else could I, after a divorce, with no money and only part-time adjunct and creative work, raise a child alone, exposing him to all this area has to offer? Not in New York. It wasn’t until my son was a teenager that he realized he spent the majority of his early childhood hovering around the poverty line. Thank you Cleveland for helping me create another entitled middle-class kid on a lower-middle-class income.
And I am not alone. Well, I am, but I am not alone in my predicament. I have several girlfriends — incredible, strong, smart, caring women — who are in the same proverbial boat. We don’t want to leave Cleveland, but if the city doesn’t start attracting some available, viable middle-aged male candidates soon, we will. While Cleveland is in the news, as being hot and coming back, I as a single woman, can only cheer half-heartedly.
You’ve got me, Cleveland.
Is it asking too much to want to share you with someone?
Christine McBurney is a theatre artist & educator in Cleveland Heights.
Top image: Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Karin McKenna)