After my husband had been dead for a year, I realized it was time to “get out there.” In my case, the decision was fairly formulaic–my husband had told me to start dating at six months, I wanted to wait for a year and a half, so I split the difference–possibly our last marital compromise. One year it was then.
My husband’s favorite and beloved aunt had told me following his death, that I would eventually feel like dating again and that I should do so when I was ready. She said I would know when that was–she was right.
But that readiness came with a good amount of market research on my part. At about six months, I realized what I was doing–I was looking at the world with new eyes, the eyes of someone who no longer had a partner. As a result, I would wear my requisite big sunglasses (a pair of large Kate Spade’s with tortoise-shell arms were my favorite “go to’s ) and I would take a few minutes in the middle of what I was doing, to watch other people. Couples, singles, older singles, etc., I was like one of those secret shoppers, skulking behind my cart, pretending to read labels when all I wanted to do was watch them, listen to them, and see if their status was apparent–were they married, was it a first marriage, or a second one? Were they just dating, were they only friends? What did this world look like now and how would I, a middle-aged widow with four grown kids, fit in?
At times, I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge in Ralph Lauren and pearls, being led by some spectral tour guide through my life–what it was, what it could have been and what it still could be. My large sunglasses held the tear that sprang up when I heard a guy call his wife “baby”, or hid the longing look that I held overhearing someone’s playful teasing. It was a weird, but necessary exercise. The culmination of this research came while I was in South Florida with my son at one of those crazy “all you can eat” sushi places. I was staring at a group of laughing ladies, probably all in their 80’s and wondering, “Will that be me?
As my strapping son sat down with his overflowing plate, he asked me why I was smiling. I pointed to the group, who at this point, were wiping their eyes with their napkins over a story one of them had animatedly told. He looked over and smiled too. And then I thought, I would be okay if that was my future–a few good friends, lots of laughs—there were worse things.
With this phase complete, I was ready to embark on this crazy exercise that could conceivably last for the rest of my life.
I had a revelation the night of my first date. I had brought a fresh blouse to wear, since drinks were after work. I changed in the ladies room and was fixing my make-up when a coworker, who is also a friend, popped her head in.
“Where are YOU going tonight?” she asked playfully.
“I have a date. First one actually,” I answered swiping eye shadow, while attempting to maintain eye-contact in the mirror.
“OH…MY…GOD…I was just telling my husband that I feel SO SORRY for you having to do all of this all over again. I don’t think I could do it! Ugh…,” she ended, thoughts of my upcoming fate flashing across her face as sympathy, revulsion, and maybe, just a tiny bit of marital smugness.
As I tried to carefully craft my response (she is a friend after all), I was hit with a true lightbulb moment, where all the unexpectedly happy realities of my situation are revealed in brilliant clarity.
“I’m AWESOME!!!!” I said, holding her eyes in the mirror.
“What?” she was taken aback.
“I AM AWESOME, AND I’LL TELL YOU WHY,” and I so began the catechism of the virtues to being single at 56.
“Think of it this way, as opposed to when I did this at 23, I have nothing to lose. I’m self-sufficient and pay my own bills, I have my kids and my job, and now, thanks to this wonderful thing that has hit me like a ton of bricks only this year called menopause, pregnancy is not an issue.”
“This date can be a dud, a fabulous night out, or it could be the start of something wonderful, but the stakes will never be as high as they were when I was finding my first husband. I don’t have to worry about whether my parents like/approve of him (my father’s “clammy hands” litmus test was a heart-stopper–theory being if the guy shook hands, and they were clammy, hot thoughts were afoot). He won’t be a father to my kids, because they are older–at best he could be a great guy in their lives. Finding a life partner at 56 isn’t as daunting as it was at 23–in this case, forever kind of has an expiration date.”
She blinked hard, processing the unexpected catalogue of virtues.
“Ya know, I didn’t think of that!”
“Yup,” I answered, making it clear that this was the end of the conversation.
The last time I was single, I had a rotary Slimline phone in baby blue. Let’s just say, technology has changed the dating landscape dramatically. Texting, facetiming, calling, location tracking have, at the same time simplified and complicated dating as I knew it. The rules of whether to text, call, and when to do any of those things continue to elude me.
When I began dating again, I knew what I didn’t want–to be part of the “swipe right/swipe left” culture of online dating. I know is right for so many people and for so many good reasons. But starting this journey, there was no way I was going to be part of some algorithmically-based validation or rejection system. And besides, at 56 I know how I show best, and that is in person. I don’t think you get my essence over a carefully curated profile picture, and an even more carefully curated list of virtues posing as a profile.
So, I put it out that I was interested in dating again and that I was referral only–meaning I only go out with people who are referred to me by those I know. Referral only means that I know someone has been moderately vetted, and chances are he may not be inclined to put me in his trunk in order to feed me to his pet python. (Now that would be a “Super-sized meal!”)
Referral only was my way of modulating my exposure. By narrowing the lens, I was able to have more control over who, where and when I would date.
To be honest, it has been very successful–I have had the pleasure, and I do mean pleasure, of meeting some wonderful men–all of whom came highly recommended. Referral only doesn’t guarantee a successful union, or even a successful date, but what it does do is provide the foundation for a solid encounter. And sometimes that solid encounter can be the springboard for meeting other people, by referral.
Set It and Forget It
Before you run out and become a disciple of my referral only rule, I should warn you–it is not without its complications. Right off the bat, you have to let the person referring know that you do not hold them responsible for the outcome–and you have to mean it. The best referral situation I have had thus far, was from a long-time friend of mine who introduced me, via text, to another long-time friend who had divorced and was ready to date. Once the introduction was made, the introducer ducked out of the text thread and we were on our own.
She followed up briefly to ask if we had had a good time on our date, but did not follow up beyond that. As a result, I didn’t call her to “guy chat” understanding that she set very respectable and necessary boundaries to this “set up.”
In another scenario, a very close friend set me up with a family member–we double-dated and by all reports, it was a success. But once on our own, I would regularly pump her for information about our subsequent dates, she would then pump her husband for information and before long we were all involved in a massive information exchange that, in the end, put a lot of strain on all involved. The guy and I ultimately agreed to be friends, which was the most prudent and mature thing to do under the circumstances. (In a later blog, can men and women who started off as more than friends, remain friends?)
Lastly, when you are set-up, be gracious! If someone thinks enough of you to set them up with their cousin Bernie, appreciate the effort, and go out on the date, you never know where that will lead.
I recently had a dear friend lament, “I don’t know how you get set-up so often. When people hear I’m single, no one volunteers to fix me up.”
Looking at her I knew EXACTLY why not. Even though she is a beautiful person inside and out, she wears her situation like a hair shirt. Her divorce may have been in the rearview mirror chronologically, but it could have been yesterday for all that she spoke of it. She would tell anyone that would listen about what an unmitigated disaster her ex-husband was–and although history may prove her right, you just can’t have that on a first date!
We all have issues, and not all of them will be resolved by the time we start dating “after”-but honestly working on a continuation of life, moving on to the next phase, looking like you can still find joy in life is essential for people willing to pair you with someone they know.
The fact is baggage comes with life–the key is making sure yours is a manageable roller bag and not a six-piece set with a trunk
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.