Billy Erwin was my first boyfriend, and we’re still in touch via FaceBook. We were 14. Billy’s mother drove us downtown to see a Doris Day rom-com. The tune, “Hold My Hand,” figured into the treacly plot, and when his sweaty palm reached for my equally damp paw, the rush was phenomenal. Billy, now Bill to everyone but me, was the first of many fellows who would make my heart race. Some also tried their damndest to break it, and several succeeded.
I’ve dated, and sometimes married, men for almost seventy years, so I have quite a lot to say on the subject. After that sweet evening with Billy (I have no idea why that relationship ended), I moved on to a curly-headed blond fellow, Larry Kelley, who supported his parents by doing paid lip-syncing performances for civic clubs and church groups. We were perfectly suited to endure High School together, huddled on the fringes of the rigorous teenage caste system. I was 5’9”, which was not a good thing since all the tall, beautiful boys who played sports went for short girls with big knockers and toothy smiles. Larry was into drama and music, which kept him on the outside, too. My mother assured me that having small breasts would be a blessing years later when all those big knockers would sink south. As usual, she was right. At eighty, my girls are still able to stand at attention with some assistance.
At college, the boys were tall enough to appreciate my long-legged stature. The first day at the university, I felt like a shopaholic let loose in Nordstrom’s semi-annual sale – where everything was free! I shopped till I dropped or was dropped by a few. My first heartbreak came when my medical-student boyfriend of two years dumped me while I was in Europe for my summer abroad. Richard Baylor, MD, wherever you are, I hope you’re married to one of those girls with the big teeth and now-drooping boobs!
A brief starter-marriage after college ended in less than a year. My father complained about the enormous expense of that elaborate nuptial celebration until he died at 94. It hurt his practical heart to see that expensive, country club champagne reception go to waste.
I married the children’s father a few years later, and, after 11 years of marriage, he admitted that he had been enjoying other women’s company since day one. My children and I moved on. A decade later, I met and married the love of my life, my sweet-natured, warm, brilliant artist, Guy Deel. I was devastated when I lost that dear man to Alzheimer’s.
Then came Tim Martin, a charming companion and a lover from my single days between marriages. We frolicked around Europe, South America, and Mexico for several years. He used to joke that he felt protected because I’d already lost one husband. Surely I couldn’t be twice-widowed. He died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm in 2019, after 14 years of marriage. His passing was a shocking blow, and I faced living alone, without a spouse or children, for the first time in almost sixty years.
For a year, I occupied myself at home. Organizing, minimizing possessions, and other domestic busy-work kept me occupied and sent me to bed exhausted. Then, during one of my shrink sessions, I mentioned that I missed conversations with men. Paul suggested that I try an online dating service and I winced at the idea. “Come on, you don’t have to marry anyone. You don’t even have to see them since the Coronavirus is in full swing,” he continued. “Try it out. You might enjoy yourself.”
I chose a dating site, plunked down the minimum investment, and got to work on my profile. It was harder than you think. Presenting myself as a datable commodity at 80 flung me right back into my anxiety-ridden high school self. Who would want to date an 80-year-old woman, even a well-preserved one? How much of my story should I reveal? Which photos should I choose? Should I talk about my books, or would that be off-putting? I scrolled through likely candidates, and spent too much time writing my profile. Finally, tired of fiddling with it, I pulled the trigger and officially threw myself on the market.
Soon there were“likes” and comments from men in Texas, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Since seeing someone thousands of miles away seemed unlikely, I declined. There were queries from members who rejoiced in their recovery from drug or alcohol abuse – not for me. Many had political stances diametrically opposed to mine, and others exhibited lasciviousness that I found repulsive. Some were avid bikers, extreme hikers, skiers, scuba divers, or gym rats. Now, I like a vigorous walk and crave my low-impact gym workouts, but I knew that those guys would be too much. Jocks have never been my thing. The outlook was not promising, but one day a message from a genuine prospect appeared. He lived a few hours away, was a professional and decent-looking, had a sense of humor (at least on paper), and he thought I was gorgeous. That last part won the day. We had several pleasant phone and Zoom conversations, moved on to Zoom, and agreed to a masked, socially distanced encounter.
At first, I found his dedication to his tiny, yippy dog touching, his devotion to photography and his drone interesting, his enthusiasm for my home cooking flattering, and his professed knowledge about almost every topic admirable. By the second visit, he admitted that he was recovering from an addiction to marijuana even as he lit “just one” after dinner. That worried me. His intense interest in photography was dull and all-consuming. Watching for an hour while he snapped leaves and wildflowers was not my idea of a good time. Letting his hairy, minuscule dog eat from his plate was uber-annoying. I gently extricated myself from further rendezvous.
I soldiered on, and the second Mr. Perhaps appeared. This fellow was a retired Forest Ranger with several advanced degrees. The only Forest Rangers I’d ever met were scowling at neighboring campers, telling them to pipe down. He gave good phone, and we spent time on Zoom, and we decided to meet. His preoccupation with natural science fascinated me, and his solid, stable life seemed appealingly normal. The visit went well until I discovered that he had told so many stories for campers at the state park that he couldn’t resist mansplaining on any topic that came his way. For instance, in one hour-long walk on my country road, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about blue oaks, creek flow, forest conservation, and his only trip outside the country during his college years. I knew his dissertations would never end, so I let renewed pandemic concerns help me extricate myself gracefully.
Next, a man from neighboring Santa Barbara sent a message. He was a professor with an impressive cv who enjoyed wine and fine dining, movies and music. He had traveled quite a bit and seemed sophisticated. We met at a beach and spent a pleasant afternoon exploring our histories and mutual interests.
I invited him to dinner. He asked if he could bring dessert, and I agreed. He appeared with a pint of blackberries in one hand. In his other hand, the one that should have held a bottle of wine from the vast collection he had proudly told me about, he proffered a pint of heavy cream. I decided to let that go because I wanted to enjoy the evening.
The Coronavirus had restricted entertaining, which I love to do, so I prepared carefully. We had good music, drinks, and tasty hors d’oeuvre on my sun-dappled terrace, followed by a delicious authentic French bistro meal in the dining room. Dinner was delicious and filling, so we never got around to the dessert. When it was time to go, he stopped at the door and said, “Oh, I almost forgot my berries.” I fetched the berries and cream, bade him goodnight, closed and locked the door, and sent him out of my life, berries and all.
After lengthy consideration, I concluded that seeking male companionship might just be too damned much trouble and that age-appropriate men were too set in their ways to be fun. Unfortunately, under closer examination, I recognized the same failings in myself. I’m willing to have another go at it once our world begins to open up, and I’m not quite as prickly. Perhaps when we can go to a movie, have a meal in a restaurant, and freely move about the world, looking for a significant other will be less stressful. But for now, I’ll be content in my cozy house, grateful for my good health, my dear friends, and my doting family. I’ll confess that I still check those sites from time to time. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Right Now will appear before the plague ends.
So, you see, a teenaged girl’s quest for a hand to hold seems as important now as it was when Billy Erwin made his move.