The Dating Game

A couple of months ago, I signed up for an online dating service.  I don’t know what possessed me to ruin a perfectly good life that way.  Well, I do know.  A friend talked me into it.  That’s what they all say, isn’t it?  I was having a great summer – travel to Brazil and Seattle, afternoons spent by or in the swimming pool, tan and blond (an effort to go gray run amok) and feeling invincible.  We were three of us in the pool, and the older of us was telling the other two we’d better get out there and meet people while there’s still time.  Pretty dire.  “Meet people” is a Boomerism, and those weren’t her exact words.  I don’t think she said “catch a man,” but it’s what she meant.  Now or never.  Get going, girls, on the count…one…two…tackle!  Oh, please.

None the less, as I said, I was invincible in those now-past warm months.  I usually do take a dare.  That sounds wild, try again:  I respond to a challenge with a willingness to take risks. I signed up. I chose a service specifically for older people.  The first few times I logged on to the site were discouraging.  Everyone looked so old!  The men seemed to fall into one of two categories: monosyllabic every-day Joes with their ball caps and fishing gear, and the New Age Mr. Perfects, always looking for Ms. Even-More-Perfect.  Narcissus ready to attack Echo for her lack of self-esteem, and imperfect mirroring. Not to mention chipped nails. I knew they wouldn’t even answer my emails.  As for the regular guys, well, I might have to suck it up.

Dear readers, I would like to say that I am doing this for you, but that wouldn’t be the case.  I know you want to know what dating is like after fifty or sixty years of age, after years in a relationship and out of the dating scene.  I know that I have to write about this sooner or later, and I will need some experience.  Seriously, before this I was thinking I’d interview friends for my material.  I am not back out on the dating scene for Boomerage.  I am doing it for me.  Although my last relationship must be chalked up as a total failure, there are elements that I miss:  Someone to share feelings with, to tell the day’s events to a sympathetic ear; someone to laugh with.  Daily hugs.  Dancing at midnight in the kitchen.  I have friends, near and far, mostly women.  Just when I’m feeling alone, the phone rings, and there is one of my friends, eager to know the latest events in my life and wanting to share her experiences.  I get to know that I’m not alone, but it ain’t the same as having a partner at home..  No way, no how.

I finally got some emails from men in my area who weren’t so damn special and weren’t bozos either.  What do you know? I thought to myself, maybe this is OK after all.  I went out on some dates.  I got a hand-shake, followed by more e-mails.  I got a kiss, followed by more dates.  Lord’a mercy, it was working!  I can report first hand on dating after sixty.  My life is getting interesting.

First, let me say, this is something I didn’t envision for myself.  I thought that by this age I would be in a lasting relationship.  I’m willing to bet that other singles my age and older had the same expectations.  Men and women alike, straight and gay, want a secure situation for their old age:  The hug and sympathetic gaze to come home to.  We don’t really want to get dressed up and go out all that often.  It’s too much trouble.  If we were in a long-term relationship, we could mumble complaints to our partner, remind each other to take a nap that afternoon, have someone’s help to knot the tie or zip the dress.  When we are dating, we have to do this more frequently and we are on our own.  Is that tie straight?  Is the dress too tight?  Is what we want to show, showing; and what we want to hide, hidden?

Wardrobe concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.  I have to tell you, dear readers, that dating post sixty is no different from dating at any age.  If anything, it is a bit more nerve-wracking.  The stakes are a bit higher.  More than ever, we want a stable relationship.  The biological clock for pregnancy is one thing.  This is the big biological clock.  We are more vulnerable.  More than ever, we fear a mistake.  We could be abused financially.  A wrong relationship could take us just beyond the age at which we seem datable and attractive.  If we become ill, the person we’re with could fade out or become abusive.  These concerns may not be conscious, but they loom in the background, making the usual dating angst bigger and darker.

You may remember the drill:  Will he call?  What if he doesn’t?  What if he does?  What should I say? If I’m too distant, will he give up?  If I’m too forward and affectionate will I push him away?  Why did she say that?  Does she think I’m stupid?  Is she manipulating me? And so on.  I get nervous before a date, depressed afterwards.  For someone who was on a very peaceful, even keel it’s like buying a ticket for an extended roller-coaster ride.  I’m just not getting the “whee!” part yet.  I am in the white knuckles stage.  Perhaps, after a couple of times around the loop, when I’m more relaxed.  On the other hand, I am getting an opportunity to see into some of my deepest hurt places.  In my world, this is a good thing.  I can process and resolve them.

Dating should be fun.  When I was in high school, I remember it was lots of fun.  People in their twenties seem to enjoy dating.  As mentioned, the biological clock appears to up the ante and increase dating angst for many women in their thirties, while guys are still cruisin’.  This sets up a discrepancy that men apparently continue to carry in their cellular memory – the desperate woman, trying to catch any man at any cost.  A very skewed picture, far from reality, but I think it’s in the mix.

For me, I went through a divorce and was unexpectedly on the dating scene once before, in my early fifties.  My experience then was very different from my present experience.  I took it extremely lightly and had a ball!  My thinking was that the main mistake people make in dating is to take it too seriously and fail to have a good time.  I was not goal-oriented.  I was just out of a marriage.  I was in no hurry to do it again. I went out with men I met through a dating service, old friends, people I happened to meet socially.  They say fifty is the new thirty, and, physically, I felt much the same as I did at thirty.  I had already raised a family.  No clock was ticking for me.  Perhaps I was not serious enough, because I ended up in a dead-end relationship.  On the other hand, I might have landed there anyway.  At least I had fun.

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Travel

Retired people travel.  Maybe we don’t know what else to do, maybe we are completing our bucket lists.  It’s certainly easier to travel if you don’t have to tote the kids.  Some just follow the sun – the warmth feels good on tired bones.  You don’t have to hurry back and show up at the office.  Whatever the reason, a lot of the tourists you’ll meet will be middle-aged or better.

This summer, I’ve taken two trips, so far.  I went to Brazil in June, and last week I took my granddaughter with me by train to Seattle.  Of course, to get to Brazil, I had to fly.  In my book, the train compared favorably.  We had a sleeping car, so I could actually lie down to sleep.  What a concept!  The leg room was better and the view was better.  The food was a lot better.  You could get up and walk around.  Both trips were just short of twenty-two hours (There were two plane changes en route to Brazil).  The plane trip was sheer torture.  It’s been quite a few years since my last long flight.  In the meanwhile, I have gotten older and airplane seats have gotten smaller, with less leg room.  Not a good combination.  I’ve always been a budget, adventure traveller.  I think the next, long trip will have to be something better than coach.

In Brazil, we went to out-of-the-way places and stayed in small pousadas.  That’s where I wanted to go and those were the accommodations available.  The beds were slightly less comfortable than the one in the train’s sleeping car.  I think this bothered my younger companions, in each case, more than me.  However, I definitely had more difficulty while in the air than my companion.  I was unable to get comfortable to sleep, and at times, even to sit.  The meals, which were not great (you know airplane food!), sat like a rock in my stomach.  There wasn’t enough room, apparently, for it to travel into my intestines.  The after dinner walk had to wait until the stewards were through serving, and then it was short, just the length of the plane.  After twenty or so hours of this, when we finally landed in Brasilia, I was a real mess.  I had the worst jet lag and motion sickness I’ve ever experienced.  I had planned for a recovery day.  It took me two days to recover.  After that my trip was all it should be: joyful, pleasant, and exciting.

My young traveling companion on the train, who was only eight years old, found the train trip rather a bore.  She liked the dining car and having our own little room, but she was much less enamored of the observation car than I was.  I could have spent quite a bit of time there, watching the scenery, but of course that was not enough for her.  We played quite a bit of “Go Fish.”  We took pictures out the train window.  Many of the better photos were taken by her.  She watched movies on my laptop, while I looked out the window.  I could have done so for hours.  The Coast Starlight is one of the most beautiful train routes in the country.  Even in our tiny sleeping car, I had more leg room than in any airplane.  I look forward to my next train trip, which could be solo.

Going Gray

Going gray, for many of us, is no longer a natural process.  It is a decision, and not an easy one.  It is something we, especially women, have discussed and agonized over for years before taking the plunge.  We consult our hair stylists, our friends, our partners, and perhaps our therapists.  Many of us do not even know when the gray hair actually came in.  I, for example, occasionally colored my hair for fun in my twenties and thirties.  When I was in my forties my hair turned from warm brown to a kind of lackluster brownish-gray, and a few silvery strands showed up here and there.  I started making regular hair color appointments.  I’m not sure when, if ever, my hair became definitely gray.

Eight or ten years ago, I asked my hair stylist at that time whether I should let my hair grow out.  “What would you want to do that for?” he asked.  Since then, there has been a growing trend toward gray hair as a fashion statement.  Cindy Joseph, a makeup artist and model, was recruited as a model after she allowed her long hair to go gray.  Now she has developed a line of makeup aimed at baby boomers, called “Boom.” The makeup regimen she has developed is marked by its simplicity and transparency.  “I wanted to do a line that was not about hiding, but was about revealing.” (Sylvia Rubin, S.F. Chronicle, 7/3/11)

In March, newscaster Dana King started to let her hair go grey.  Viewers had quite a reaction to this change, mostly negative, but King went ahead with her change.  She aired a short segment (this time the response was overwhelmingly positive) exploring the choice many women are making to go gray.  The process of deciding to go gray took place for the news anchor over a period of several years.  She said she no longer wished to “contribute to that kind of lie that fosters the impression that women of a certain age have no value.”  (S.F. Chronicle, June 5, 2011.)

I find myself with a similar dilemma.  Since I worked in Older Adult Services fifteen or more years ago, my position about aging has been to celebrate rather than deny the process;  yet all this time I have been coloring my hair.  I am still doing so, but now the color treatments are meant to lead gently to overall gray hair.  Every two or three months, I go in for all-over highlights, hopefully to resemble the uneven, salt-and-pepper  coloring of my hair.  It seems as if I am going blond, not gray; but each time I get highlights, they are a little bit lighter.  I hope my colorist knows what she’s doing:  She seemed very confident about the procedure.  And I can’t wait to see the new, old me!

Boys and Girls

“Look to the future, because that is where you’ll spend the rest of your life.”  – George Burns

Curiously, when I was in my early 20s, I referred to my boyfriend as my “old man.”  I was the “old lady.”  When I became sixty however, I called the man I was living with my “boyfriend.” For the first time since my early twenties (1967 or so), I find myself referring to my female friends who are my age or older as “girls.”  As you may remember, the feminist movement made a big issue at that time about about referring to women as girls.  Never mind that some of us were girls.  The term was overused, and often used in ways that were sexualizing and demeaning.  Advertisements for Vegas acts shouted “Girls! Girls! Girls!” meaning lots of bare flesh, particularly breasts and butts.  Actual girls, as in prepubescent females, don’t have those, at least not in such abundance.  We started demanding to be referred to as women.

I think I have picked up my present usage of the term from those women among my friends who were of a much earlier generation and didn’t get the memo about not calling each other “girl.”  There is also an element of wishfulness, as if calling ourselves by the name of someone younger could erase the years.  If I didn’t participate in this charade, I might be amused by it.  Going out for a drink with “the girls” does sound a lot more fun than going out with the other old ladies,but why?  Liveliness and laughter are qualities we associate with youth, but they are not the sole propriety of youth.  I have heard gales of laughter arising from groups of people at any age.  Older people have plenty to laugh about, and they often do.  Look at George Burns!

Really, older people are often younger “at heart” than people caught up in adulthood.  That’s actually how I think of it.  Adulthood is like a gritty but romantic movie in which the main actor – the hero – is ourselves.  In adulthood, we must conquer a multitude of opposing forces and acquire the requisite amount of points to obtain the good in life.  Both of these can be external or internal.  For instance, the opposing force might be our own weakness for chocolate or a churl of a boss.  The good in life – always a feeling – can seem to take the form of a great lover, a fine meal, praise from others, or money in the bank.  It is the hero’s journey. We are participants in an ultimately virtual video game, vanquishing the enemy and racking up points; forgetting that the enemy and the “good” both lie within.

Participation in the game is almost mandatory during adulthood.  The job, the family life, the laws of the land set up the playing field.  We have to prove ourselves. When we get older, we get to relax a little bit.  It’s all been done:  The work life ended, the family raised, lovers forgotten or tucked away as precious memories, fortunes won and lost. What more is there to prove?

Sagging Flesh

Our culture is so youth oriented that we focus on how old we look much more than how old we feel.  Suppose I look twenty years younger than my actual age, but I can’t get up out of my chair and on to the dance floor with the “other”  forty-year olds?  Is that better than grey hair, wrinkles, and awesome moves?  I think that, once again, men have an advantage here.  A guy can have some character in his face, greying temples, and still be damned sexy, especially if he has got the moves.  Women feel compelled to nip and tuck, Botox and dye, spend millions on cosmetics that purport to do all kinds of things.  We can be so caught up in artifice that we forget about the real things:  Enough sleep, appropriate exercise, good food.  Happiness.

I hope my male readers will forgive me a few words to the ladies:  A few days ago, I was talking with a couple of my “girl” friends and one woman complained about her sagging boobs.  “They never were like that!”  She insisted.  “They were gorgeous and perky!” Another woman said that our friend was just wearing the wrong size bra, a fact I could easily confirm for myself since the bra was visible through our friend’s white blouse.  I also wore the wrong size most of my life and read an article only a few years ago that explained bra sizing.  Basically, if the back of the bra climbs up your back, the bra is too large.  This refers to the diameter of your chest directly under your breasts.  It does not signify the extent of your endowment.  That’s the  cup size.  When you get the right size bra, you will probably have to go up at least one cup size.  For example, if you have been wearing 36C, you might change to 34D.  You will be surprised how much more comfortable, and how much better supported, you will feel.

Pendulous breasts, which no doubt are one of the disappointments of aging for many women, has not been an adjustment for me.  Mine were always that way.  As a teenager, it was a major problem in my insecure teenaged mind.  My boobs hung there on my chest like overripe mangoes.  They didn’t pop up perkily like posies.  The search for the best, most supportive bra took up a lot of attention much of my youth and my adult life.  Of course, I was buying the wrong size.  But I bought expensive bras with lots of wires for support.  The wires would eventually come out of their casing and poke me under the arm just when I was making a presentation in class.  It was something I suffered with quietly, like heavy menstrual periods.  (Bear with me, guys, I’m almost through)  The poking wires, blood stained panties, and twisted pantyhose were indignities to suffer in silence.  Now it’s the indignities of getting older:  being unable to read signs and menus without digging for my glasses, being unable to run upstairs, being wary of driving at night or traveling alone, being essentially invisible .

Though they may be at some advantage, men suffer the same indignities.  My former husband used to get so frustrated with his reading glasses, he’d throw them across the room.  The choices are rarely advantageous, it’s the lesser of two evils:  bifocals or changing glasses for different tasks.  I actually stopped reading for pleasure for a while.  Reading was not pleasurable when I had to go find glasses and get used to the feeling of them on my face.  Later on, I got acclimated and started reading again.  Recently, I’ve noticed my night vision is not as good as it once was.  It becomes more difficult to sit in one spot for a long time, especially a spot without a cushion.  One stands up and wobbles about for a moment, feeling stiff.

In spite of all this, recent studies suggest that older folks are generally happier than young people.  Now that’s interesting.  We have lost many things – people, possessions, professional identities, health and strength.  We have less time on the planet to anticipate and many things behind us.  For these reasons and more, the instances of depression among older people is high, yet overall we are happier.  Perhaps it is the fact of the losses in itself  that brings about the happiness.  We relax about things.  We realize we aren’t our bodies, our houses, our cars, or our professional identities.  How could we be?  They are gone and we are still here.  Thank goodness for that.

Springtime and an Older Woman’s Fancy

From my second story apartment each window looks out on a tree in a different stage of re-leaving.  The sycamores across the parking lot are almost fully bushed out and the redwoods, of course, have been green all year.  I don’t know the names of the trees that are planted closer to the building, but two trees of the same variety, one of which I can see from my office, have shiny, small, red-tipped leaves that first appeared a couple of weeks ago.  The tree outside my living room window, on the corner of the building, has feathery leaves that are just beginning to appear.  I can almost feel the life energy bursting through the woody layer on the end of the branches.

I have just passed what to me was a rather significant birthday.  You might think that passing a birthday would make me feel old, but the opposite happened.  Since my birthday is in the spring, I have always associated my special day with the perennial themes of rebirth and regeneration.  The joyful, childlike energy of the birthday celebration arranged by my friends, with balloons, cake, and presents; helped me feel younger.  I still enjoy the feeling of being the center of attention, if only once in a while.  I had my hair and nails done, and dressed up for the occasion in a brightly colored, bejeweled top.  I felt excited and exciting.  All you need is the feeling.

Many of my neighbors plant gardens way beyond the official allotment of five plants. Getting our hands in the earth and fostering growth is as much a part of spring as getting out our flip-flops and sleeveless tops.  Some of the young women I see on my walks are wearing short dresses.  They remind me of poppies with long stems and colorful, billowy skirts.  I pick bright colors to wear, even if I’m not going anywhere.  We are, after all, a part of the planet, made of the same materials as the plants and butterflies.  That push to come out and blossom is in all of us, young and old.

May Day is upon us.  This holiday has been all but forgotten, and I wonder why.  Is it the association with socialism?  Perhaps we’re no longer repressed enough to celebrate a fertility festival without stripping down and going at it?  Most likely, it’s a simple matter of revenue.  You can sell more stuff by emphasizing Mother’s day and even Cinquo de Mayo, than May Day.  Hallmark has become the arbiter of our cultural manners, mores, and celebrations.  Would Bali let that happen?  Could a profit based spiritual calendar be established in Tibet? I doubt it.  But I digress.

Mayday is an ancient feast day dating back to the earth-based religions of Northern Europe.  It is indeed a fertility festival, based on the obvious connection between our own increased randiness at this time of year and the blossoming plants producing fruit and eventually seed.  The decorated Maypole represented – ahem – an erect phallus, and the dancing was intended to celebrate, join with, and bring about the fecundity of the planet so that everyone would have fat, happy, beautiful babies and plenty of food to eat.  The old Soviet May Day parade, by the way, was only incidentally related to what I have just described.  It dates back to a general strike that happened in the United States in the late nineteenth century.  It happened on May Day.  The children of that time no doubt danced around the Maypole without any idea what it represented.

May Day was a pretty big deal when I was a child in Berkeley in the 1950s.  Almost everyone had  calla lilies in their gardens in those days, and we all brought them to school.  We practiced our dances for months.  The lilies were dyed various pastel colors and used to decorate the school, the poles (usually used for tether ball) and a huge float.  There were thousand of them.  Crepe-paper streamers were hung from the poles and we danced in and out around them, each holding a streamer, in a complex pattern that resulted in a weave of colors on the pole.  It was beautiful.