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Discovering Shades of Gray

by Melissa L. White

Monica discovered Peter Gray on and was delighted by his praise for her black and white profile photo in his initial message. In her online profile, Monica had listed Sophia Coppola films as one of her favorite things, so when Peter confessed that he did not care for Lost in Translation when he first saw it years ago, Monica was amused. Especially when he explained that after reading Monica’s profile, he watched it again, and was relieved to find out how very much he enjoyed it this time. Monica was impressed. For a man to take the time to seek out and watch a film which a woman had listed as one of her favorites spoke volumes to her, especially since he’d seen it before and didn’t like it.

Image of an espresso maker, and coffee cup with a woman reading a message on her cellphone.
Image credit: Samantha Borges on Unslash

No one she’d ever encountered through an online dating service had ever done that before. On the other hand, she had on several occasions looked up an author, or a book, or a film listed on the “favorites” column of a man’s profile. Monica did not find this to be a common practice on

Peter contacted Monica one cool Saturday morning in March, and told her of his newfound respect for Sophia, and that he would love the opportunity to learn to appreciate her further— if Monica felt inclined to help him. He was articulate, concise, complimentary, and had listed two authors as his favorites with whom Monica was unfamiliar. So, she went straight to the library that Saturday morning and checked out Richard Russo’s book, That Old Cape Magic and David Guterson’s book, Snow Falling on Cedars. She also found an audio disc, David Guterson’s, The Other, which she popped into her stereo as soon as she got back home. As she lay in bed listening to this story unfold, she wondered what kind of man reads this book and discovers it’s one of his favorites.

After listening to two discs, Monica decided she had infused herself with enough courage to respond to Peter Gray’s message. She replied that she would be happy to share her Sophia Coppola film collection with him as she owned three of her DVDs. Monica also told him that she was unfamiliar with Russo and Guterson, so she’d borrowed their books from the library. What Monica was doing more than anything else was trying to find something in common with this stranger so that they could continue to communicate.

He messaged her back and told Monica that he was impressed that she’d listed “writing short fiction” as her passion. He asked if she’d be willing to send him something that she’d written so that he could read it and get to know her better.

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman’s heart is through her passion. He immediately struck Monica as being a potential match. She wrote him back— asking him for his personal email address instead of the message address. He responded so she sent him a story, explaining that although she’d been writing fiction for over 20 years, she had only published one short story and two poems, years ago, and was apprehensive about sharing her work. But he seemed so intelligent, warm, and interesting that she sent him her favorite story and asked him to send her anything that he’d written, even if it was just a rough draft, an outline, or an idea scribbled down on a napkin.

He responded the next day, gushing with praise for her writing ability and asking if she’d send him another story. He made several astute observations regarding the plot and character development. Monica responded, thanking him for his comments and asking him if he was a World Literature professor as his profile listed his educational level as “graduate degree” and his occupation as Educator. She confessed that since he seemed so articulate and well read, she wondered if he taught college, in which case she would be somewhat intimidated to send him any more of her writing.

He responded that he did in fact teach school…first grade. And that he was the last person whom she should find intimidating. He asked her again to send him another story. This time she sent him a story which was semi-autobiographical about her experience at a high school dance during her sophomore year. He wrote back saying that he loved it, in fact his exact words were, “I sort of fell in love with Miranda, your main character.”

Not only was he articulate he was courageous enough to admit that he’d fallen in love with one of her characters. He then wrote back that he was free this Friday, and was she comfortable with meeting for a drink, or for dinner. He gave Monica his cell number and said that he was looking forward to meeting her and carrying this conversation further. She replied that she was indeed free for dinner this Friday night and suggested Poggio’s in Sausalito where she lived.

He wrote back saying that he’d made a reservation for 6:30 on Friday, and that he was so happy to finally meet her. He then suggested a lingering walk along the docks where they could pretend they were in Paris strolling along the Seine. She replied that she loved pretending to be somewhere else and confessed it was a habit she developed in childhood, and that she still did it even today. She also told him that she’d be wearing a red coat.

After much anticipation on her part, and repeatedly checking her inbox for any new email from him while at work, Friday evening finally arrived. Monica drove down the hill to Poggio’s, arriving five minutes early, and as she walked across the street from the parking lot, she noticed a man sitting alone at a table outside. He wore a camel-colored cashmere sweater and khakis, with really cool-looking sunglasses. He stood up as she approached, and when he held out his hand and smiled, her heart nearly stopped.

He was six feet two inches tall, and quite slender. His smile was electric, with perfectly straight and very white teeth. He was fifty. One year older than Monica, with just a touch of gray, at his ears. Monica had started coloring away the gray in her own hair last year, and several people told her that it made her look ten years younger. Monica felt happier than she’d felt in the past eight years since her divorce. She took a deep breath, excited that Peter Gray was so attractive.

They sat at a table inside, away from the chilled night air, and he ordered a bottle of Viognier, He spoke in a soft voice, laughed easily, and talked about his daughter, Polly, who was a freshman at USC. He said that his daughter had been his greatest joy and an inspiration to him since the day she was born, and that he missed her terribly. When Monica asked him how long he’d been divorced he replied, “Several months.”

He then confessed that Monica was the only woman he’d pursued since his divorce and that he had first joined as a non-paying member, just to view the profiles and “see what’s out there.” But when he saw Monica’s profile, he immediately purchased a full membership so he could email her. She was flattered. He took her hand.

“I was married for just over 20 years,” he said softly. “This isn’t easy for me.”

She smiled.

He kissed her hand.