When I was 50 I bought a pair of jeans with the brilliant brand name, “Not your daughter’s jeans”. I bought them because I liked the name and the way they fit: Rather than being made out of a handkerchief and designed for the micro pelvis of a teenager, they were still low cut, snug, and well, admit it, “sexy.”
Later in my 50s, when I became single after three decades of marriage, I realized that I had no idea how to “date,” and that any available men would not only be nothing like my daughter’s boyfriends, they would also be nothing like the boyfriends I had dated in my 20s, before my marriage. Now, several years after my divorce, I am ready to report back to my fellow mature single women from the front lines of dating. Note that we’re talking here about men in what I call the “appropriate” age group: 50s, 60s, and 70s. I draw the line at anyone even close to the age of my adult children. I was rather surprised to realize that a nice variety of single men exist in this age group who combine some or all of the following qualities: 1. Intelligent; 2. Interesting; 3. Witty; 5. Amusing; 5. Attractive; and 6. Interested in dating me.
I also learned that the differences between these men and my twenty-something dating experiences fall into four simple categories: 1. Food (Romantic dining while keeping out of the emergency room); 2. Dating Activities (Maybe it’s time to hang up the hang gliding); 3. Sex (Alternatives to those pills); 4. Ghosts of the past (Time to finally let them go).
The Food (romantic dining) category is actually part of a larger category, called *Actually paying attention to what goes into our mouths.* Those of us who have passed sixty and are lucky enough to have fairly manageable health issues still need to devote more time to maintaining our bodies than we used to. At this age, if you’ve got a body, you’ve got a condition. So if you like to cook, as I do, how do you make a romantic meal for your honey? Well, if he has diabetes, watch the honey and freshly baked bread. He may also be gluten free, lactose intolerant, vegan, or go into anaphylactic shock if he eats shellfish or nuts, requiring a trip to the ER. He may be unable to digest tomatoes and other “nightshades,” or certain kinds of fruit. If he has a history of kidney stones, even the holy grail of dark leafy greens may be off limits (oxalic acid). Add to these dietary requirements things that he may actually hate: One former beau is one of thousands of people who have a genetic anomaly that makes cilantro taste like soap; so ditch the pesto and guacamole. You begin to see the complexity in what should be a simple, nurturing activity of feeding your lover. I have found that a fresh piece of wild-caught (never farm-raised, chemically-drenched, overcrowded), salmon with a (non-oxalic) salad, rice or roasted red potatoes (except perhaps for the nightshade thing) goes over well with most men. If he has a fish problem, and is not vegan, I might substitute a grass-fed steak (or buffalo—if cholesterol is an issue and if he can deal with the home-on-range, playing with antelopes national nostalgia); or free-range chicken, all of which deftly head off any antipathy to the commercial beef and chicken industries. If he is vegan, fresh pasta with non-parmesan pesto–assuming cilantro is OK and he is not gluten free–would work. There is, of course, gluten-free pasta that is not bad, but perhaps safer to stick to roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil. Dessert is a gastronomic minefield of potential disasters, and will require a follow-up article.
The Dating Activities category is filled with hopeful news, at least for me. What I have always loved most to do is theatre—drama or Broadway; concerts—early music, or oldies, sixties-era performers; fine dining—obviously with the above “Food” restrictions taken into account; interesting lectures, you get the idea. I was born with a genetically non-Amazon body, so skiing, hiking, tennis, boating, and other outdoor activities were never in my wheelhouse, so to speak. The good news is that many men of my age, even if they were once athletes, seem content to dial back the muscle-flexing now, so romantic ambles on the beach or through the forest, or among quaint shopping areas seem to suit quite nicely, in between cultural events. One formerly avid skier took me up and down a mountain in a cable-car gondola, just to show me the spectacular view.
Moving right on to Sex. This is a big category, since women in our generation, especially if we have been in long-term monogamous marriages–or at least thought we were–have had no youthful experience with the reality of STDs. So when we become single, we have to learn the very information that our children learned in third grade. I am not emotionally *wired* for multiple sexual partners, so my post-divorce pattern has been serial monogamy, with regular STD testing and safe sex, which can include very enjoyable snuggling. Having only one lover at a time has of course limited my capacity to generalize about sexuality in men of this age group, but I do have some opinions based on my own admittedly small sample, and augmented by frank discussions with other women my age. (Yes, gentlemen, women do talk to each other about such matters, as well as many other subjects that may surprise you.) The near-constant television ads during football games touting male sexual performance pills seem actually like overkill. Yes, a man in his sixties or beyond may not be sexually the same as he was in his twenties, but many such men have so much more to offer: They can be patient, tender, skilled lovers who respond well to enthusiastic encouragement. I think the emphasis on “performance” misses the point, makes too many men feel nervous and perhaps inadequate. Instead, we should be focusing on the emotional connection, the realities of our bodies, and the delights of discovering mutual pleasure. This can be achieved even when dealing with illness, chronic disease, cancer treatment, or serious injury. At least this is what my co-author and I found when we interviewed couples and experts for our latest book, In Sickness as in Health: Helping Couples Cope With the Complexities of Illness. We learned that couples can create satisfying sexual connections when they look deeply into each other’s eyes; ask questions (“Does this feel good? How about this?”), and develop the courage to speak truths that may be hard to say out loud.
What many women (and men!) really want is a “heart-to-heart” connection, in which the true nature of each person is seen and respected without judgment; a relationship of trust, honor, and integrity: and a nurturing, caring love that transcends the body; all while sharing laughter and the joy of being alive.
Which brings me to Ghosts of the Past. I would wager that there is not a single person in our age group who has not suffered pain—emotional and/or physical; deep regrets, loss, grief, disappointment, or other “slings and arrows” of life. But I think what women want out of a relationship (described above) is what all humans want. Despite histories of suffering, sadness, and trauma, we can finally drop the role-play and bravado of youth. We can come together to support each other with understanding, acceptance, and kindness. We can help each other feel safe at last, within the haven of nurturing relationships that help heal body and soul. One of the stories in our book is about a couple that had been unable to either commit or let go of a stormy, 20-year relationship. Then she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The tempests suddenly subsided, and they decided to marry at last, spending the last several months of her life peacefully and happily re-discovering the abiding, deep love that had been holding them together all of those years. After all, if we can’t love each other, why else are we on this planet?