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French Lemons and Older Cowboys

By Kellie Purcill

“I should tell you,” my date says, pulling some cellophane noodles onto his plate, “that if you want to keep dating me…” a pause while he pushes up his glasses and seriously watches me eat a bean sprout “… you should know that I’m going to France to apply to the French Foreign Legion.”

I’d been bracing as soon as “I should tell you” drifted across the table with the lemongrass steam, and chomped down hard on my laughter. My eyes watered, straining not to snort or let the giggles escape.

Chronically placid, my date tilted his head, considered, and calmly assumed the wrong conclusion.

“I’m sorry you’re disappointed, but -” a gallant breath, lifting his shoulders and chin high “but it’s something I have to do.”

Our first – and, incredibly, last – date finished after the meal, and I drove home trying to say “French Foreign Legion” and laughing until breathing hurt.

I should have married Lou Diamond Phillips when I had the chance.


I was going to marry Lou Diamond Phillips, once a upon a teen-aged dream. His cheekbones were a revelation, their edges slicing through my isolated country upbringing, bringing a flush to my imaginings and a fizz to my chest. On screen, he repeatedly hurtled into danger, lived wild, thoughtful and gorgeous, while on my side of the tv I attended mass twice a week, won fist-fights and had boys tell me “You’re too smart to be a girlfriend”. I soaked my grazed knuckles and heart hurts while watching Young Guns countless times, my best friend finding boyfriends who smirked just like her movie heartthrob, while I memorised French verbs, searched other fictions for characters to date, and ultimately decided I’d just marry Lou Diamond Phillips one day. One day, when my freckles faded and my brains got me out of my cramped tiny life, away from my brawling family, escaping to somewhere greater, metropolitan and unspeakably sophisticated over the familiar rural horizon.

Decades later, my freckles have faded but my imaginary boyfriends have not. I was married for 11 years (not to Lou Diamond Phillips but to a blue-eyed man), have been divorced for nearly 8, and my dating approach is still in transition. Or maybe in transmission, where I’m currently idling in neutral, trying to gear myself up to another series of firsts instead of avoiding the quiet, dusty siren call of shifting permanently to park. Dating in your 30’s, after divorce, is as different to youthful dating as a souped-up motorbike is to an armed cold-war submarine; both get your pulse racing but for very different reasons.

I don’t think it’s too much to want someone to travel through life with, even now when the “riding into the sunset” visions have canted sideways, the training wheels having well and truly fallen off the bike. If romance was a horse, my divorce bucked me off, danced wildly on my bones and revealed itself to be a close cousin to the horses of the apocalypse. Since then, it’s bitten me repeatedly on the butt, planted horse apples aplenty, and the nag sure hasn’t had Lou Diamond Phillips (and his cheekbones) loitering with intent nearby to help me.

I’ve been married, engaged, fallen in (and crashed out of) love, had several perfectly yawnful first dates, and am wondering if it’s worth the hassle and bravery. Currently averaging one date every 18 months or so – which have provided such embarrassments of riches like the French foreign legion hopeful – I believed myself content to park my desires and leave them garaged, metallic and abandoned.

Or so I thought.

“You have to watch Longmire,” my friend urged. “It’s kind of a western, but not really, and the characters are kind of old… well not really, but… yeah. It’s really good even if I can’t describe it properly.” I watched the first ten minutes, then shrieked joyously – Lou Diamond Phillips was right there, in my lounge room, twenty years and half a continent from my first crush.

I settled back into my chair, set my pulse on cruise control, and drank in my imaginary beau. He’s older, obviously, but age is meant to haul along wisdom, and in my mature opinion he was better looking now than at 20. Where’d he get that scar? Smile-carved crinkles around the eyes are sexy. What had he been doing with his life since Young Guns II? How many seasons of Longmire are waiting for me?

I don’t know where – or when – my next date will happen. In the used car-lot of Single Adult dating, there are many duds and lemons lurking. But, thanks to a full throttled reminder from my imaginary boyfriend Lou Diamond Phillips, I’m not quite ready to give up my search for classic laugh lines, untraveled roads, and someone to share the journey with.

Who was your first fictional crush?  What’s your ratio of awful:good first dates?  How has your view of dating changed as you’ve aged?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

3 thoughts on “French Lemons and Older Cowboys”

  1. Kel, your writing always tickles and delights my brain. So many fun moments in this piece. I was smitten by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark which I saw on an awkward blind double date with a friend's cousin.

  2. We really need to sit down and chat next time you're in the U.S. (if this country survives the next four years. If not, I'll come to your place.)

    I can't recall any of my imaginary boyfriends or celebrity crushes, but the ratio of bad:good first dates during my 20-year-single/divorced life is around 10:1 for me. I don't know what that says about me, but in the end it didn't matter. My beloved Jeff showed up a few months after a BYU civil engineering professor admitted – on the first and only date – that he had considered not keeping our lunch appointment because he realized I was a feminist. Fortunately(?) his young-adult daughter convinced him to put his fears aside. "Just meet her and give her a chance" she told him. Good, Lord! I have so many stories. . .

    Also, your story-telling skills are world-class. This is a beautiful essay. I don't comment much, but I enjoy stopping by and reading your words. God bless your journey, Kel. Life is good.


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