On my 26th wedding anniversary, my husband stood up from the table where we sat with our dear friends all in various stages of inebriation, pulled me from my chair and put his arms around me. He then announced, “26 years! I could have served time for manslaughter and been free by now!” and kissed me deeply as everyone laughed and then oohed and ahhed and clapped.
Seventeen months later we filed for divorce. He walked away a free man with 27 years time served. I, on the other hand, was like that prisoner on Orange is the New Black, who keeps doing petty crimes so she can go back to jail because she has no idea how to live on the outside. After all those years of marriage and four children, the “outside” seemed a very scary place.
During this time, I had a very cool, young single friend who invited me to a party at her home. “You have to come,” she insisted. “There will be lots of people there your age!” She made it sound as if there would be a group of us sitting in the corner, holding our purses on our laps and sipping sherry. Still, it sounded interesting and I decided to go.
I arrived a few minutes late and the party was in full swing. I grabbed a Chardonnay and spotted an attractive woman about my age who was surrounded by people. She just looked like someone I wanted to talk to. I introduced myself and learned that Sandy was a life coach. She had just remarried and was blissfully happy.
“That’s great,” I said. “How long were you married to your first husband?”
Suddenly, Sandy’s eyes turned black, her hands balled up into fists and she got very close to my face.
“Twenty years. Twenty years until I found out that SOB was cheating on me and you know what I did? I took one of those clubs that you use to lock your steering wheel and hit him with it. That’s what I did!” and she turned around and headed to the closest bathroom.
I was left standing there, hummus dripping from my pita chip, while all eyes glared at me accusingly. Finally someone said, “Well honestly. What did you say to Sandy?”
I felt bad for Sandy and also somewhat concerned for the clients she was “coaching.” Obviously, the outside was not a place I wanted to be. The outside was full of divorced, middle-aged walking dead like myself. We looked pretty normal on the outside but inside we were raw and bloody with wounds that just would not heal.
Finally, one day, I snapped out of it.
At the age of 47 I decided there had to be more. And by more, I meant a nice man out there who could pick up where my last husband had left off. A man who would accompany me to dinner parties, take me on romantic vacations and, you know, go to Home Depot for light bulbs.
The problem was I had no idea how to go about finding this man. Though I was in my forties, I had still never even been to a bar alone. I mean, when I got married at the age of 20, my favorite drink was Tang. As years passed and I went from Kahlua and cream to Chardonnay and on to dirty martinis, my husband had always been there to order my drinks. Certainly, I was not about to plant myself at the bar at Bonefish as I had seen so many other women my age do. Typically they were wearing leopard-skin tank tops and leggings with stiletto heels as they picked at their bang-bang shrimp appetizer while sipping a cosmo, trying to catch the eye of any man who appeared to be there alone.
It was with an air of desperation and a vision of the gray haired version of Richard Gere, only maybe a bit taller, that I entered the world of online dating. Here’s what I learned: My generation is back in high school.
As we approach fifty, trying to get on with our lives after divorce, we are once again dreaming of being the hot cheerleader or the handsome captain of the football team. We are posting pictures of ourselves all over the place: Look! Here I am on a speed boat with my hair blowing in the breeze! Here I am looking thoughtful, yet with an air of naughtiness. Oh! Here’s me in my tennis outfit, and did I mention? I love long walks in the rain!
Men are posting pictures of themselves standing next to airplanes, convertible Bentleys or ski lifts. Sometimes they are standing in front of a stove, beads of sweat across their foreheads while they are sipping a glass of wine as if to say, “Yes lovely lady, I cook. And check out these pecs!” One guy posted a photo of himself taken after he had just jumped from a plane, which I saw as a clever way of not showing his face. Red flag, I thought.
For a little over a year or so, I lived in the world of online dating and it is a world unto itself. Most of us were asking ourselves, “Am I really ready for a relationship now?” even as we focused solely on pursuing one. You get so caught up in it.
There is the thrill of hearing that little ding when you get a new message from a person you find attractive. There is that excitement and dread as you wait at the bar, hoping your date will look something like his picture. There is that moment of sheer happiness when you find you two actually click. It’s fun. It’s sexy. I still remember a date with a handsome man, where we sat at the bar talking and mid-sentence, he leaned into me and kissed me deeply. “Sorry,” he said. “I had to do it. To me a bad kiss is like a bad oyster, just can’t get past it.” Needless to say, we got past it. Way past it.
Then, I was done. Just like that, I had had enough. I was thrilled to be back in college, my children were teenagers and needed a mother’s watchful eye on them and I was feeling in control of my new life.
Of course, that’s when I met him.
Mike and I had a three-hour date over a shared grouper picatta and mashed potatoes. Neither of us ever looked back. There was one time when I expressed my fear to him of being hurt again. He said, “Well, no one wants to be hurt and I have no intention of hurting you, but I think it takes a good six to eight months before the rubber hits the road, before you really know.”
Well the rubber has been riding the road for almost eight years now and it is a much different journey this time around. I learned that in Mike, I have found a true partner, a man I can count on but who has shown me I can also count on myself, that I need to be able to count on myself, in fact.
With seven kids between us and enough baggage to fill all the overheads in a 747, we have found each other in a world where men and women are scurrying around like kids on the first day of summer, where the days stretch out endlessly and they don’t know what to do first. It’s great for a while, but eventually you get bored and wish your parents had signed you up for summer camp so you would have some place to be with other kids around you and a semblance of an ordered life.
Mike and I are not married, and we may never be. Maybe at this point in life marriage is not the goal. We are not old, but we are certainly not young. Time is now a treasured asset, something to be valued and made the most of. I feel lucky to be able to move forward with a man I can call my truest friend. Perhaps that is what my generation can hope for in this next relationship—not to jump from planes, or skip over the waves on a speedboat, but to sit across the table from a person you adore and think, “Yes. I am loved.”
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