Eight years after my husband died, every man I saw had a checkbox beside his face. Would I or wouldn’t I? Under the right circumstances, I might. I probably could. I probably would. If he loved me. If he at least seemed like he might love me. I told myself parables of waiting for love, poignant tales of delayed gratification. I dreamed, I flirted, I bought some high heels and flashed some cleavage, I hid the sharp pointy parts of my personality and tried to be feminine and demure, I spoke softly and carried a big stick, desperate to be part of a couple again, to disappear into another person’s life, to make their mission my mission, their world my world. I wanted a man to distract me from myself.
As a last resort I went looking for a boyfriend on a matchmaker website and set up a coffee date with a cute guy my age who had a very well written profile. He seemed smart. He was interested in classic cars and bluegrass music and lived a half hour away. Then over cappuccino he told me he had four children from two previous marriages, and he was looking for his soul mate. My brain seized up. I didn’t know what to say. I lacked the social skills for a completely phony conversation. All I could think of was, Give me a break, asshole. But I didn’t say that. I just politely cut him loose.
On the matchmaker website sliding down the page through search results for my ideal guy was like scrolling through a list of vacation destinations. I tried to imagine being there, what I would wear, things I would do, how good I would feel in this fantasy place. I imagined being rescued from my life by another person with a much better life. I could just disappear into him and leave my own world behind. It would be like never having to do laundry again. All my dirty laundry would just take care of itself.
But after my one coffee date, scrolling through lists of men on dating websites was more like looking at used cars. I checked their age first and I was skeptical of anything that looked too perfect. I wanted to see a complete report of the physical condition of the vehicle and the repair history of the engine. I wanted a clean bill of health, a full body scan that showed no weird shaped moles, no fatty liver syndrome, no diabetes, and working plumbing. The worst thing that could happen to me would be to get into a new relationship with a cool guy and have him breakdown and kick the bucket.
When I finally found a guy and contemplated the possibility of a new relationship with someone my own age, I could see the journey was fraught with peril. The clock was ticking and there was no time for years of dating. Couplehood served a practical purpose. It was a safety net. Caregiving was expected. Chronic illness was part of the deal. When we tried to share living space, our boundaries and expectations repelled. Old habits died hard or didn’t die at all. Forgetting was tainted by fear of dementia. I learned that sex, intimacy, sleeping together, and actually sleeping, were each discrete functions. Elder cohabitation was a bumpy ride, not the easy flow of youthful synergy. It was a process of negotiation and compromise. Concessions were measured risks. Romance is a drug. Some of us are addicted. Some of us are allergic.