Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of dating. For one thing, I was trying to heal after more than a decade of care-taking and the subsequent loss of my husband, who suffered from dementia, in 2012. In the two and a half years following his death, my healing took the form of writing. As a retired professor of English and a writer, this was the only way I knew how to do it. During that time I worked on a memoir and a novel, both about grief and loss. I sat in front of the computer for 10, sometimes 12 hours a day, compulsively writing my way out of what I now realize must have been some variation of PTSD.
When my projects were done, I made a decision to leave behind my solitary lifestyle in favor of a more sociable one. Mustering up as much enthusiasm as I could, I signed up for Zumba classes, lined up walking partners, and joined Jewish study groups. I made plans to go to museums, films, concerts, and the theatre with friends.
I was doing not great, but OK, and keeping busy. But unlike most of my widowed and divorced friends, at 70-something years old, I was not busy looking for a man. I listened to their sad but often humorous accounts of dates with men they met on the internet and felt grateful for my exclusion from those endless rounds of raised expectations and dashed hopes.
It may be hard to believe, but the most memorable conversation I had on the topic of dating was with several of my grandchildren in an ice-cream shop two years ago. One of them remarked that she had overheard her mother say I wanted to remarry. I quickly explained that she’d probably misunderstood—that, most likely, my daughter had said that was something she wanted me to do. A lively discussion ensued, in which the children, ranging in age from 7 to 13, solemnly discussed my marriage prospects and offered advice on the subject. Some urged me to find a husband so I wouldn’t be lonely, and one or two went so far as to offer advice about clothes and makeup that might increase my chances of finding one. Others said it wouldn’t be fair to Grandpa and were relieved to hear that they needn’t agonize over this question, as I had no intention of looking for a mate any time in the near future.
That’s how things stood until this past spring, when I ran into a friend at the Israel Parade. She introduced me to her sister-in-law, who asked if I was interested in meeting someone she knew. I couldn’t have been more stunned by the question. This is not to say that I hadn’t occasionally—and fleetingly—thought about how nice it would be to have a man in my life. This occurred most often at Shabbat dinners with friends, when I listened to the men singing Eishet Chayil to their wives, or at a wedding, when, during the cocktail hour, I found myself drifting alone amidst a sea of couples, all of them neatly matched up like salt and pepper shakers. A sense of sorrow would wash over me as I realized I was no longer the most important person in the world to anyone, but this feeling did not last long and never translated into action.
It was, after all, absurd to imagine that I could ever find someone who would measure up to Jack. Besides, I’d heard endless accounts of how men my age were looking for much younger women. If, by some miracle, I met someone suitable, he would probably be old, and I was deathly afraid of becoming a caregiver once again. I’d done that for 12 years and didn’t think I could survive another round.
I would have laughed off the suggestion that afternoon at the parade, but, once again, my family had something to say on the subject. My daughter rushed in before I could respond. “Mom,” she insisted, “why can’t you be a little flexible? Take a risk for once?” She looked at me fiercely. “When do you think another chance like this is going to come up?” My son’s oldest daughter, barely able to contain her excitement, asked if she please, please, could walk down the aisle if I got married. Their words, so urgent and, in the latter case, so utterly preposterous, caught me off balance. I agreed to go out with Dan.
Because he was leaving for a trip to Europe, what ensued was six-week interval to second guess myself. Did I even want to meet someone? After half a century of loving Jack, how much and what kind of love was left for someone else? Was I crazy to even be considering this? Yes, of course, I was. All I had to do was look in the mirror. The last time I’d dated I’d been slim and attractive. Lots of men had pursued me, and more than one had proposed marriage. And, now? I agonized, among other things best left unmentioned, over my wrinkles and blemishes. And the neck? Let’s not go there. That I even considered the discreet application of makeup, which, for most of my adult life, I thought a silly affectation, speaks volumes.
I was glad Dan was in Europe. Maybe he would meet someone else on the trip, and all of this would just go away. But when several weeks passed and he hadn’t called, I was surprised to feel a little prick of disappointment. I’d fantasized about this mysterious person more than I’d care to admit. I’d begun to wonder if being in a relationship would help me reconnect with the vibrant, upbeat person I’d been before becoming a caregiver, a widow, a chronicler of loss and grief. And now, after all of this exhausting self-examination and anxiety—and that little flutter of hope—nothing!
Just when I felt all was lost, he called.
We had an interesting conversation and then, the next day, another. Our date—lunch followed by a few hours at the Morgan Library—went well, and we decided see each other again when I returned from my trip to Alaska. Most amazing to me was the discovery that, like riding a bike, dating is a skill that isn’t lost through disuse or the passage of time. I was nervous and self-conscious at first (trust me, this is an understatement), but I learned some important and empowering things about myself that afternoon.
I may be half a century older than I was the last time I went out on a date, but some things have remained the same. I’m still smart and engaging enough to carry on a lively conversation with a man I never met before. With a lifetime of experience behind me, I have even better and funnier anecdotes to relate this time around, and it’s nice, for a change, to share them with someone for whom they are not numbingly familiar but actually interesting.
Most of all, and most empowering, is the realization that although I may be an aging specimen, I’m not yet fossilized. I’m still capable of taking emotional risks, and not so rigid as to have foreclosed the possibility that, in addition to knee and hip replacements and cataract surgery, there might still be some unexpected adventures and pleasures down the road.