Fifty-something, Single, and Dating

Uggh. I hate the thought of going out with someone I barely know. Dating at sixty is as awful as dating at sixteen. One spends a couple of hours with a stranger, trying to be witty and amusing while conquering feelings of nervousness and wondering - "Is he as attracted to me as I am to him?" - or waiting for the date to end.

Then there's the decision to kiss him or not after that first date. Or, if you are wild for each other, when it would be appropriate to make love without looking easy or cheap. For those of us whose sex lives went from frequent or regular love-making sessions to none, this question carries some weight. At my age, I can count the number of times I've made love to a man in the past two and a half years on the fingers of one hand. Then again, I'm not as nimble as I used to be, if you get my drift. And neither is a man my age, unless he's kept up his fitness regimen. Even then, well, let's just say I am beginning to understand the charms of viagra.

My sweet niece called my one day, all excited. "Auntie Vic, she said, I think I've found you a man. He's funny, divorced, and a wonderful person. And he's 53 years old."

"Whoa," I answered, "Does he know I just turned 60?"

From experience, I know of few men who are looking for women who are older than themselves. True, most people are shocked to learn I am sixty. I look younger and behave and think like a 30-year-old, so that even my relatives are fooled into thinking that this tough old broad still has some juice in her. But I am becoming more keenly aware of my age with each year. I move more slowly, feel arthritis beginning to cripple my fingers, and can't multi-task with the efficiency I was once known for.

Which brings me to the business of looking for someone to date. I simply don't have the time, inclination, or energy these days to go shopping for a man. According to AARP magazine, "Of the 97 million Americans who are 45 or older, almost 40 percent—36.2 million—are on the loose." That's a significant number of people, but I suspect a large percent of them are women, so I would view this information with a jaundiced eye. At a social event last night in an art gallery, the number of mature women outnumbered the men by 3:1. Of the men that attended the event, almost all had arrived with a date or spouse. I didn't even bother to look for prospects but concentrated on enjoying the event with my two female friends. Ok, I'm willing to admit that most men would not be attracted to attending an evening of short story reading at an art gallery, but I've experienced the same phenomenon white water rafting or volunteering in a beer tent at a sports event. Most of the men I met at these venues were already taken.

Had someone told me six years ago that I would have been dateless in 2008 and so far in 2009, I would have called them crazy. After my divorce I was actively looking for a new relationship, but the truth was that the enormous amount of effort this took did not lead to satisfactory results. My last date was so excrutiatingly awful, with my partner talking about himself 90% of the time and evincing no interest in my hobbies or interests, that I literally counted the minutes before I could politely say goodbye. Now I prefer being by myself and calling my own shots. I look forward to a cozy evening with my loyal dog or going out with friends during the weekend. I am no longer ashamed of being single in a couple's world, and rather revel in the strange looks I get as I sit in a fancy restaurant alone, treating myself to a nice meal, and hugely enjoying my own company.

Last week I went to a place called Bark Farm and volunteered to walk rescued dogs and muck out their pens. I was surrounded by volunteers of all ages, each of them eager to help our unfortunate canine friends. Helping these abandoned creatures puts things in perspective. They are experiencing the same feelings of bewilderment and abandonment that I once felt. It breaks your heart to see these frightened and lonely pets, but you come away feeling you've done something to help alleviate their hurt. To me, such activities are more worthwhile and fulfilling than spending an evening with someone with whom I have very little in common. Sometimes I think it would be nice to find a new mate while I'm actively involved doing something I like, but I'll just chalk that up to wishful thinking.
  • Read these fascinating insights about dating in Seeking Love.


I just finished watching Middlemarch and was struck by these quotes:

"Grief is a kind of illness ... it can rob us of vital energies."

How absolutely true. While you are grieving the loss of your spouse, you should make every attempt to take good care of your fragile ego. Continuing the quote from Middlemarch:

"You have nothing - nothing to reproach yourself."

Too often we play the woulda, shoulda, coulda game, second guessing the moves we made in the past and blaming our actions. Don't. During this trying time try not to beat yourself up. Reward yourself for having survived another day. Buy a new tube of lipstick or tie. Treat yourself to a movie.

Be kind to your grieving self and try to stay healthy. Lean on friends for support. Ask for help when you need it. Don't be too proud to show your vulnerable side to others. The point is to survive the initial onslaught of grief so that you can tackle the things that matter.


Freeing the Clutter

After Bob deserted our marriage I "heard" a constant buzz in my brain. This “noise”, as I called it, was the result of the fears that crowded my thoughts during my waking hours. At the most difficult and emotional time of my life I had to focus on things that mattered, but often I couldn’t. Too many people were giving me advice and my fear of the unknown - of aging alone, of having to find a job, and of taking on Bob's responsibilities as well as my own - added to the confusion.

I simply had no energy left to take on new and daunting tasks. There was the constant pressure I felt from Bob, my counselor, the lawyer, and my family to make quick decisions. I recall losing my ability to take in one more piece of advice during a phone conversation with a loving aunt who would not stop talking. I begged her to stop but she simply kept going. The noise in my head crescendoed and I hung up on her. I had never done that before.

Few spouses in a successful and long-term marriage prepare for divorce ahead of time. We might prepare for the death of a loved one and vaguely think up a Plan B in the event that something unexpected happens, but we simply cannot anticipate all the awful events that unfold after a spouse leaves. If you were unfortunate enough to experience such an event, chances are you were caught flat-footed and disbelieving that your cozy life had vanished.

After I saw Bob drag our guest bed out of the door, my mind went into a constant state of panic, grief, sadness, and worry. I suffered anxiety attacks and didn’t even know it, confusing the pain in my chest for a physical illness or upset stomach. I was forced to make long-term and life altering decisions when I was at my most vulnerable. Recently in Elle Magazine, Reese Witherspoon called her divorce isolating and humiliating. "If it's not painful," she said, "maybe it wasn't the right decision to marry to begin with. Those are the appropriate emotions." Because of the emotional pain, which feels like physical pain, most abandoned spouses switch to survival mode. For me, nothing I did – not sleep, work, exercise, or being around people - allowed me to escape the worries and emotions that cluttered my ability to think straight.That’s why I needed a rational but choice group of relatives and friends in those first few crucial months to do my thinking for me.

Months after I signed the divorce papers and after I had regained the ability to think on my own, I started to live my life again. I realized that so many items that I had accumulated during my marriage were still cluttering my house. Bob had left abruptly. Oh, he'd come once or twice to collect items he wanted, but he left me to deal with the detritus of our 26 years of marriage. I tackled these duties only when I had the emotional strength, and I am still dealing with the junk to this day. Just two weeks ago I ran across an old Valentine's Day card from Bob. "I love you, forever", it said mockingly. Hah! I tossed it promptly in the trash.

Lately I've been facing a different kind of clutter - the clutter that accumulates from simply living one's life. Daily post mail, email, tchotchka gifts from friends, old clothes and ancient possessions, and mementos and souvenirs from trips. All these combine to complicate one's life, take up precious spare time. Clutter tends to get in the way of remembering where important things are stored, like one's passport, will, or car keys.

I've been sorting through my possessions in order to simplify my life and to help my memory, which is not the same as it once was. My new routine has some structure to it so that I can find my purse and cell phone at a moment's notice. I maintain my car to keep it in tip top shape and save money to pay important bills like real estate taxes. This is saying something, for I am a head-in-the-clouds "creative" type who has always depended on my family to keep my life in order. But let's face it, after nine years alone, I can no longer depend on the 'kindness of relatives or strangers' to keep me going. Each step makes me more powerful and in control of my life. It hasn't been easy. One of these days, when I'm 75, I'll get the hang of being organized and staying on top of my daily routine.