by Constance Garcia-Barrio
I told myself 11 years ago, newly widowed after a tough marriage, that I would sprout fur and feathers before I would have another man in my life. In the time since, I’ve traveled abroad alone, kept up the house, embraced semi-retirement and weathered much heartache. Now, with my life calmer, warm stirrings have sideswiped me. I’d best whip out a knife and fork to eat my words. Dare I seek romance this late in the game?
Psychotherapist Susan K. Martel, Ed.M, who works with individuals and couples, egged me on. “We live longer and are healthier with love in our lives,” she said. “Go for it!”
I can barely answer email, but a friend urged me to go the online route. “The Internet is the new bar/café,” he said. “It opens up new possibilities, but it also leads to more rejections. You need a thick skin.”
Having a buddy about my age clinched things for me. She and I would both sign up for an electronic manhunt and cheer each other on. I plunked down $89 for six months of Match.com. I later learned about OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish, both free — and plugged facts into my profile: age 67, 5’9”, slender, nonsmoker, post-grad degree, African heritage. I checked off “other” for religion. If I wrote, “Yoruba, a sister tradition to VouDoun(Voodoo),” it could send guys shrieking to the hills.
Certain items, like “Name some hot spots,” flummoxed me. Sidelined for years, I could only say what appealed to me: an indoor picnic on a rainy day, a puppet show where I could clap and howl with the kids, or a champagne toast deep in the woods. My ideal date, I wrote, would be 60-75 years old, on the tall side, and a nonsmoker. He would have a sense of humor, enjoy travel, books, movies, plays and “coffee and conversation.”
Men’s profiles swamped my mailbox, about 80 a week. Intuition helped me winnow down the number. Race also came into play. My profile says that I’m of African heritage, but I received information about men who only sought “white/Caucasian” dates, even after I alerted Match.com to the problem. That annoyed me. It also disheartened me. If ever we’re going to break free of such strictures, now’s the time. For the price of coffee and a Danish, you learn about another, perhaps far different, life. On the other hand, men who checked “no preference” as to their date’s ethnicity seemed more open as people.
I nerved myself up and hit the “wink” button, the equivalent of flirting, when I saw someone appealing. At times I sent emails telling a man that he had a good face or a nice, quirky profile. It was like being in a candy store.
Sometimes good possibilities fell through. A Princeton faculty member and I had academia, writing and other things in common, but with a teenage son at home, he felt that we lived too far apart.
Just before my first date, women friends mothered me with advice, as if I were a teenager: “Pick a public spot to meet him; keep your expectations low; see him during daylight hours; choose a place and activity you’ll enjoy, no matter what.”
We met at the High Point Café, attractive with its homey ambience and good food. He was 69, of Russian and Caribbean heritage, and he’d led a full life. A good guy, but he didn’t set off starbursts and tickles. “How do I tell him that I don’t want to go out again?” I asked my manhunt buddy. “Tell him the truth, that you’re just starting out and that you want to meet lots of people.”
Still another girlfriend told me about a retiree in her 60s who did three coffee dates a week for a year and a half and finally hit the jackpot. She met a 72-year-old gent, and now “they’re having a blast,” my friend said.
Butterflies zoomed through my stomach on my second date. I knew from our emails and phone conversations that I could like him a lot. Sure enough, I felt a zing with the guy, a triumph in itself at this age.
I wanted to call him a few days later, but I hesitated, afraid of seeming forward. “That’s old-school thinking,” my manhunt buddy said. “Get with the program. It’s not the man who takes all the risks nowadays.”
As things progressed with the “Zing-Man,” the excitement and questions of my teen years arose again: “Did you all kiss? Did you go toward the big enchilada?” my buddy asked. Given the vagaries of old bodies, the hors d’oeuvres — a long embrace, an inviting kiss — are treats in themselves. “Whatever you do, be gentle, be slow,” Iris Wolfson, a Mt. Airy certified nurse midwife whose specialties include menopause, said. “Above all, be honest.”
I look forward to more dates, my sciatica permitting. I keep the words of 19th-century British politician Benjamin Disraeli in mind. “Most people go to their graves with their music still inside of them,” he wrote. I want my epitaph to read, “She flung herself shamelessly toward love at age 67, with an assist from Match.com.”
Contact Germantown resident Constance Garcia-Barrio at firstname.lastname@example.org