After 9/11, I had a floundering adventure travel service and a serious yoga practice. In the cusp of my fifty-ninth year, I was more toned, flexible, and open-hearted to anything (or anybody) than ever. I was celebrating a quarter century of independence: self-supporting in my primary consulting business; freed from a much earlier marriage; surviving several lengthy and disquietly passionate love affairs which inevitably ended in aloneness. The possibility of enjoying a satisfying family life seemed to have evaporated over the years for the sake of experiencing everything else.
I now craved an intimate relationship less based on romantic sturm und drang and more on deep friendship and commitment. My therapist suggested I give online dating a try. Since I had once been a copywriter, I crafted my personal profile to “target” the type of man I wanted. rather than an ego-driven description of myself or the object of my desire.
The major drawback: my chronological age. I was still hot to trot and couldn’t imagine caring for guys over seventy-five. As a baby boomer, I had had to fight uphill all the way: admission into the college of my choice, a lucrative career, and at middle age, my last decent mate. Why should my dating choices be marginalized because I’m a woman of a certain…? So, I lied. I typed in “forty-nine” with sticky fingers, doing the math quickly for my date of birth.
Incredulously I lucked out in a couple of weeks. I learned not to go for handsome headshots, but to read between the lines of the typical aggressive/defensive self-promos. H.B.’s was different without trying too hard. It was well-written and formal (Mr. Darcy-like), yet modest, undemanding, and tender; so was his photo, seated behind an office desk fixed in a corner. Our initial meeting, preceded by a flurry of increasingly expansive emails and meaningful phone exchanges, felt entirely comfortable with a give-and-take about our lives and aspirations.
The second date was high voltage; the urgency of his body impressed without us ever physically touching. I loved the way he searched my face when he asked a question and leaned in while I answered. After he opened dinner that evening saying how integrity was very important to him, I had to confess. He blanched when I told him I had fibbed, but appeared relieved when it was merely about my age. “Oh, no problem, he said, “as long as you’re not ten years older than me.” I looked down at the table whispering ashamedly, “Eleven.” I fell in love after his gallant reply: ”You have more energy than I do. Probably I’ll end up having to follow you wherever you go.”
Following that date, we both stopped the dating search, concentrating on this wonderful thing between us. How fortunate it was to find one’s soul mate at this stage of our lives we’d say to each other. Those friends who were not envious proclaimed,”He’s a keeper”.
Then three months into the “honeymoon,” fate intervened. Initially I developed an intermittent infection that lasted six months; H.B. left a good job to make a home with his children two-hours away. Then money problems added stress to a less than promising work situation for him; severe tendon tears in my foot meant chronic pain and the inability to carry on my business. H.B. had the burden of several people to consider, in addition to long weekend commutes. Four years into the relationship, more tragic twists and turns culminated in H.B. having to re-locate across the Atlantic, back to his birthplace, while I recuperated from a series of surgeries. The strain of relentless disasters coupled with physical separation (and a five-hour time difference) tore asunder the fabric of our partnership. Nearly six years had flown by.
Weighing the benefits and losses, I have few regrets. I experienced delicious bits of what I had most wanted: a special intimacy in which each partner gave pleasure, became the other’s best friend, and in turn, a better person in the world. We made delightful love, played, shared sorrow as well as happiness and a personal history in which the welfare of one another and those closest to us mattered.
Once again, I feel the urgency of time stealing my chances of happiness. I’ve returned to the singles game on the web. But in the interim, prospects appear more dim and ego-deflating. I paid careful attention to screening candidates (eliminating: “separated” or “never-been-marrieds”; men over sixty seeking women between 35 and 50 (which ran about fifty-five percentage); guys who list libidinal fantasies as perquisites. The playing field narrowed to a tiny plot.
Successful internet dating, especially at middle age, requires courage, time, hard work, imagination, fortitude, and surprise, surprise… a great deal of luck. Despite several attractive photos and my earnest, yet fun-loving profile, the majority of my email “flirts” went unacknowledged. During a five-week marathon of phone and face-to-face contacts this is sampling from my pool of respondents:
- A criminal lawyer drilled me as fiercely as he would any adversary, finally relented. ”OK. Let’s give this a whirl, but I must admit I feel like a fat rat in a cheese factory”. “What do you mean?” I asked. He boasted, “Never have I been inundated with so many ladies.”
- An aging hippie retired upstate who has not given up on the “tribal union” and whose frame of reference is pretty much limited to the 60’s (“So where were you at Woodstock?”) and his old lady who dumped him five years ago.
- A recluse in the Berkshires, widowed for fifteen years, who operates a small harem of hens when he’s not the town’s doctor. Favorite egg-layers Sadie and Bess seem to be his true loves. “Chickens are really quite sensitive and intelligent, and rarely disappoint.” His son encouraged him onto singles.com
- A day trader’s recent reversal of fortune forced him to move from his fancy city digs to a share across the River. Doings on his softball team and weekly poker game kept the conversation animated (barely). We agreed, nothing ventured and nothing gained, to go our separate ways.
- A three-times divorced former dentist travels the globe to unearth great food markets and out-of-the way eateries and vineyards. When he’s not roving, he works in a fancy appetizer shop surrounded by the delicacies he adores. His reply to my inquiry about his own kitchen, “Oh, it’s a hovel; never cook for myself. Besides, I’m de-acquisitioning my worldly possessions.”
Did I leave out patience? These were strange encounters of the disheartening kind. What was most irksome was the lack of curiosity shown about me by these “suitors.”
Perhaps it’s that I’m not as striking as I used to be. Decades ago my petite Marilyn Monroe figure, thick long hair, and flashing smile brought men to attention; swiveling heads and catcalls were a source of embarrassment. Paradoxically, I find being ignored nowadays is an assault to my personhood, as though a pod has encapsulated my erotic self rendering me incorporeal and undifferentiated. Coquettishness seems strained.
Of late I’ve been humbled both by the loss of H.B. and the diminishment of my ninety-five year-old mother who has past into the twilight of dementia. Now I’m most concerned about the quality of the last quarter of my life. What’s ahead could mean a series of compromises (financial, physical, and mental), loss, bewilderment, and mortality. I seek a companion who will understand all this: help me laugh, adore my aging body and maverick spirit, kindle the intellect as well as sexual appetite, play health advocate and fellow mourner, savor my good cooking and sense of adventure. I wish to feel valued and ageless with him. And with the same yearning, I desire to reciprocate for my beloved, to lighten his load as we journey on.
Once, early on in our dating, when H.B. showed up early for a movie, I caught a glimpse of him unaware. He looked tense, with a gloomy expression, hunched and smaller than I’d recalled. Suddenly he noticed me in the crowd and our eyes locked. His face was transformed; brimming with a beatific smile that made him child-like, angelic. What pleasure I felt sparking “life” in my mate. I know he experienced the same when he reached for my hand in the midst of our city walks. I would glance up at him feeling such a sense of peace and belonging. I want to have that deep love again.
Share your own experiences with on-line dating:
- What process do you go through preparing your profile (e.g. selection of preferred age range, location radius, your headline, descriptor, and photos)?
- How did you choose your online dating service?
- If you tried more than one, which ones did you find to be best and the worst?
- Describe your most interesting encounters using online dating: emails, winks, phone, face-to-face meetings.
- What would consider a successful online dating experience?
- Have you found a wonderful person/and or relationship as the result of online dating?
By: Susan Dresner