The Mating Habits of the Mature
Suddenly, I'm single. I'll probably never stop grieving the loss of Diane, but I've committed to myself, my son and daughter, and my best friend Bruce to get my head out of my ass, as the latter called it, and to start to enjoy the world again.
I'm very left brain – analytical, logical. I was a systems engineer for NASA, and segued into middle and then upper management, but always with large, multi-million dollar technical aerospace projects. I guess I was good at my job, because Diane and I ended up able to retire when we were both fifty-seven. We moved to Palm Winds, Florida, bought a condo near the beach with a fabulous view of the city's marina, and settled into a new lifestyle.
Diane was a schoolteacher. She taught eighth grade social studies in a suburban school. She was good at her job too. Four years ago Diane found a lump on a breast, and that led to what turned out to be a never-ending series of visits to various doctors, hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, and eventually a hospice center, and then Diane was no more of this world.
We were married for thirty-six years, birthed two kids in that time, and raised and launched them. They're both married now, and graced us with four grandchildren – two apiece.
Bruce asked me to write about 'my situation, ' and the first couple of tries I made read like a report on a replacement software system for at Atlas rocket. I've made an attempt in this version to be a little more humanistic instead of instructional, such as 'put left thumb in left ear.'
I did not take to retirement as well as I thought I would. I was restless. I tried a whole string of hobbies and athletic endeavors: golf, tennis, bike riding, fishing, wind surfing, kayaking, painting, piano, and there are another dozen I could list. In parallel, there were a dozen charitable and church groups that I engaged in: Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Red Cross, Head Start, SCORE, and Boys Club, to name a few. This attempt at being an author is also part of this story thanks to Bruce.
Why did I leap from hobby to hobby? At first, I was looking for my niche, and something that was satisfying and that contributed in someway to society. I took classes, went to many meetings, mentored others and got mentored, and slowly I realized I was trying to reestablish all my old office routines and schedules with new activities and under new banners. Bruce told me I was a 'retirement failure.'
Diane's illness pulled me out of my 'retirement failure, ' although I seemed to be productive and having fun. I devoted myself to her, and that wasn't hard. I'd been doing that for almost forty years. I became almost more involved in her cancer and treatments than she was. I knew more, learned more, and talked to more people. I wanted to be sure we left no stone unturned. I don't think we did, and the result was that we milked two extra years from the Grim Reaper.
Diane's death was almost festive. She insisted we all celebrate her life instead of mourn her death. We tried. When we shifted to palliative care, our kids came down, and a steady stream of friends and neighbors poured through our doorway to offer support and eventually condolences after Diane slipped away. Bruce and his wife Mindy became my mainstay. I cried a lot, they held me, and then got me somewhat whole again, and back up and running on my own. We had a celebration of life party, and many of our friends and I waxed eloquent about the high points in our memories of Diane. I laughed and cried the day was so special. After that I felt so empty.
I cried myself to sleep for month and then slowly got over the pain of loss. At first I couldn't even believe that she was gone. I'd go to the kitchen expecting to see her puttering around there making breakfast or cleaning up some dishes from the night before, but she wasn't there. After that, I got mad at her for leaving me, and then mad at the doctors who seemed impotent in what they could do for her. After that stage, resignation set in.
Mindy struck fear into my heart while I was having dinner with them with one simple sentence, "Jim, I think it's time you started to date again. Diane made me promise to get you back on the circuit, and ... it's time."
I sputtered and spit around for a week thinking about that possibility. I tried to visualize 'dating' at sixty.
In one daydream I hang out at the local 'meat market' where I've seen attractive younger women. Several of them dance with me, and eventually I invite one of them to come back to the house. She does, and we start a torrid romance. The romance turns to a sudden pregnancy, and, oh my god, I face another twenty years of child-raising. I am not a 'hang-out-in-bars' kind of guy.
In yet another, I decided to start to attend church again. This dream turned on me. Instead of hot, young women, I am suddenly surrounded by over a dozen of gray-haired women – all from the quilting circle. They vie for my attention, but elderly thinking, plump or even obese in form, vapid in intellect, I find myself in a little shop of horrors. I also am not a 'churchy' kind of guy.
I kept waiting for a rational daydream to arrive, but none ever appeared to me. My 'visions' were really nightmares materialized in the daylight hours. I didn't allow any of them to haunt me. I just decided to do little about dating.
Two years before our planned retirement Harry, my husband, had a massive heart attack in his sleep. One minute he was there, and the next gone. I missed him, but in a way felt glad I didn't have to suffer his long retirement. Harry was a perfectionist, and I knew as soon as he started to spend a lot of time around the house, I'd become the focus of his time and motion studies. He'd have an unlimited number of recommendations for me about improving the laundry, cooking, arranging my closet, consolidating my shopping trips to save energy, and more and more. That was what Harry did.
Thus, I found myself at age fifty-eight single, yet with many friends – most of them divorced females. Since I wasn't divorced I didn't have the bitter, anti-men, love 'em and leave 'em mentality most of them had. I'd had a reasonably happy thirty-year marriage, and figured I'd used up my allotment of happy times with a member of the opposite sex.
Harry had been not only a good provider, but also had often referred to himself as 'over insured.' Thus, as a widow I was suddenly the beneficiary of a small fortune, more than I ever realized. I would never have to worry about money again, and neither would our son and daughter.
I stopped working only a few months before I'd planned to stop anyway. I'd been in charge of running a branch of an international modeling agency. The older I got, the younger the girls we represented appeared. I was always amazed when one of them told me she had trouble parking her car; I couldn't believe she was old enough to drive. I'd look at their portfolios and drop my teeth; they were nearly pornographic.
Once I'd been in their shoes, enjoying the travel and being the center of attention as I modeled various lines of clothing or just my own skin. I'd started in my teens, and then even competed in a few beauty queen contests, ending up winning a few major contests. Those efforts were a natural segue into a modeling career. The industry changed so much over the years. For a while I did some modeling when I wasn't running part of an office, but then I eventually opted to work on the placement side of the business instead of being a model.
Despite having stopped work when Harry died, I saw men friends – most always the husbands of some of my married friends and neighbors when I'd be invited to their home for dinner, but I had no inner voice telling me I was an incomplete person without a man in my life. I was still able to hold my own in mixed company, and enjoyed the diversity in my circle. In fact, I found it odd that the women that felt needy for a man appeared to be all my divorced friends, who opined hourly about their lack of male companionship. They often wondered why I didn't feel the same way. Of course, two minutes later they'd be bashing their ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends and then generalizing to all men. If I'd been a male in their presence, I would have run the other way at top speed.
My friend Rita Styles and I had coffee at Starbucks late one morning. She was married to a really nice man, Hank, and happened to be the smartest woman I knew. I guessed her IQ had to be well into the genius range. Rita could have been a model, except she started a computer programming business and made some real dough in her career, particularly when she sold one of the businesses she'd formed.
Rita said, "Edie, you are a gorgeous woman, and I know you've become fiercely independent since Harry died, however, I think you should think about going out on some dates ... and I don't mean with your divorced friends hanging around either."
I laughed, "Why would I want to do that? I gave up dating when I fell in love with Harry. I let him get into my panties back then, and from what I hear from the girls that's what they guys still want to do despite being over thirty years older. I haven't ... well ... Harry and I weren't very active the past ten years or so. I would be panic stricken to start all that over again."
Rita smiled. "The men still want that, and if they're good, it's worth the effort. Whether you have sex or not is beside the point – well, sort of. You, my dear friend, are becoming very insulated in your thinking and in your social life. You may have regained your virginity, but I think it's time for you to lose it again."
.... There is more of this story ...