Senior Advice

I ‘ve just received a cool request. The mother of 17-year-old twins is compiling life advice from the important adults in their lives for a book to be presented on their birthday next month. These girls have spent a week at the cottage every summer since they were 6 and I love them dearly. As high school seniors they are in the throes of college apps and all the other pressures of looming transitions. It struck me as ironic that I, too, am a senior, facing the uncertainties of the future and needing to make some big decisions.

Although I usually have lots to say on any topic, I had instant clarity about what to write on the 5 by 7 space I was allotted.

It’s never too late!                                                                                                                                  Nearly all choices can be undone so don’t fret about the ones you have to make.                  This includes: college, major, life partner, city, house, friends, OB/GYN,  career and              day care. It can ALL be changed.                                                                                                        You don’t have to get everything right on the first try.                                                                   I gave birth to my last baby at age 45.                                                                                               I found my dream career at age 50.                                                                                                   I met the love of my life at age 55.                                                                                                       It is never too late to start over.

Although that was all I had room to include, I was also thinking that my mom took up piano at 88, the same age at which my first husband’s beloved Nana (a role-model for aging if ever there was one) hopped a train to Colorado to hang with some old friends. My erstwhile boyfriend would sigh fairly often in the presence of the young and say “My only regret” and yet I could come up with a dozen women by sundown who would be thrilled to carry his child–even at his advanced age.  If you really want something, GO FOR IT, find a way to make it happen. It is never too late to get the life you want.

I see now that this message may have sprung to my pen so easily because the intended audience was actually ME. The future is looking a little scary, a little lonely and fraught with big decisions. But it will be ok. I will make the choices and if they are not the right ones I’ll make new ones. Lord knows, I’ve done it before.

Alyssa loves old people (why not? She’s spent her life with them!) and chose to interview some for a mini-documentary project for school. They shared on camera their life experiences and the changes they have seen in the world. I wonder what wisdom they might have shared with the 17-year-olds behind the camera. What did The Depression, World War II  and other challenges teach them? How were they shaped by these experiences. What would they want younger people to know? What senior advice would they have to impart?

I have seen too many Made-For-TV movies about dying moms leaving videos for their children, chock full of warm wisdom and all the advice they wouldn’t live to deliver. I am not dying (at least right away!) but I still feel a pull to do something like that, to put in words, on paper that will survive me, all the things I would want my girls to know, all the things I would tell them about life —just in case I am NOT here by the time they reach some crucial junction. I miss my dad a lot lately and would love to have a little Bible of Wally’s Wisdom to consult like a Ouija board.  Where should I live dad? How can I be a useful old person? Should I give up on romantic love and just settle in to widowhood? How cool IS it up there anyway? He had opinions about everything and was even surer than I am that he possessed the perfect plan for absolutely everyone’s life. A little of that rock-solid assurance would feel good about now.

But maybe that’s the point. When I turned to my therapist after 5 long years, when I had finally decided to leave Ken, I said, “Jeez Karen! You HAD to have known this was the necessary outcome all along. Why didn’t you just TELL me and save us both 5 years?!?!” But she reminded me that’s not how it works. When other people TELL you how to live your life you resent them or don’t believe them or get mad and decide to do the exact opposite. We have to figure it out for ourselves. Not everything. But a lot of it. We are here to grow our souls–period. And sometimes that is a long, hard, lonely process.

So I hope the birthday twins take in my advice and that offered by all the other adults who love them. But I know they and my kids and everybody else have their own journey to make, distinct from any that’s been made before or will come later. They have to live as they feel moved to live, making mistakes, choosing the wrong detour here and there but getting to the end in the same place we all do.  I hope they have some fun along the way.

Happy birthday K & K. I love you and I’ll be rooting for you.

Advertisements

The Break Up

My favorite non-fiction author, Anne Lamott, had a throw away line in a recent essay: “I had just broken up with a man I loved and who loved me…” My first thought was “HUH?!? How does THAT happen?” If you love someone and they love you, why would you need to break up? Mutual love is a rare and wonderful thing. If you find it aren’t you supposed to hang on as tight as you can and find a way around, under, over or through all obstacles? But now I get it. Now I know first hand that it is possible to love and be loved and still not find happiness, still not be able to make a life with someone.

This is, for the record, enormously sad. To get so far down the field, to make it through casual dating, find mutual attraction and admiration and have that blossom into love and caring, make a scrapbook’s worth of memories together, meet each other’s friends and families and feel their warm embrace and collective joy at your coupling, to do all that and still not be able to seal the deal just seems wrong. John used to say in our earlier, rosier days, “If we can’t make something this good work–shame on us!” But it is not shameful. It is just very, very sad.

It was, perhaps, inevitable. I had filled journal pages with complaints large and small over the past year.  We had already had one actual break up and several near misses. Each time we had hung in by the slim margin of “I’d rather have you in my life than not”. But it now seemed that unhappy together had taken the lead by a hair, that bad times outweighed the good, that the calms between the storms were shorter.

Chief among the woes was our complete inability to problem solve any issue related to behaviors one or the other of us didn’t love about the other.  This still surprises me because John is an actual therapist and I have spent plenty of time in therapists’ offices. But all the rules of civil engagement seem to fly out the door when one’s less attractive qualities are being highlighted, when entrenched behaviors are being challenged, when decades-old coping mechanisms are found wanting.

He had lived alone for 25 years. I was only a couple of years out of a blissful marriage ended by death. Neither of us were young. Neither of us wanted to grow old alone. We both loved old-time ballads, The New York Times and flowers. He was a handsome charmer who was a delight at every social gathering. He whisked me off for weekends in warm places. I helped him choose a headstone for his dad’s grave and tried to organize family photos that made him too emotional to look at. We each loved the heart and spirit, the mind and morals of the other. And our physical connection was profound. But love is complicated. It is full of triggers and land mines. Someone says or does something that reminds us of something in childhood or a past relationship and we are off—spinning into tangents of dissatisfaction and disappointment. (For more on this topic read Alain de Botton’s excellent “The Course of Love”.)

I thought I could side step all this with the brilliant Gary Chapman book “The 5 Love Languages”. When I first read it years ago I swore it could’ve saved my marriage to my girls’ father. If I had known that his love language was “acts of service” and been busy about sweeping the floor instead of try so hard to get fluent in the OTHER languages (words of affirmation, gift-giving, physical affection, time together) we might have made a better go of it. By the time I met John I understood that my love language was time together and told him that upfront. But it did not sink in. He wanted my understanding when he felt he had to work instead of going on a long scheduled vacation, when he went out for dinner with a friend on my first night back in town after a week away, when his priority was to care for the many things in his life rather than the person next to him. But I did not understand. I felt slighted, angry and unloved. I would make valiant attempts at positive self-talk (“It’s OK. He’s a great guy. He loves you. Look at how many nice things he does for you! Quit being so needy.) but they never worked. A little ember of resentment would catch hold and start a firestorm. I would write and write and write and then try to calmly distill my thoughts and talk to him but in vain. He never got it. He had his own unmet needs that mostly seemed to involve being left alone to live exactly as he always had with me in the cameo role of girlfriend.

What went wrong doesn’t really matter.  Now is the time to give in to grief as the unpleasant but necessary first step on the path to healing. In between binge-watching Downton Abbey and binge-eating the very delightful cinnamon sugar donuts conveniently delivered to my door as part of a neighborhood fundraiser (there is a God after all), I have made a very long list of the things I will not miss and a shorter one of the things I will miss very much indeed. John’s coping mechanisms are likely different. At his last breakup he chucked the woman’s pink bunny slippers and complete boxed set of The Godfather movies. But after a year and a half together it is shocking to realize that there is nothing to chuck—-nary a trace of either of us in the other’s home. A bit telling, that.

The lessons to be learned will become clearer as the tears dry. But I can already see that this relationship taught me that my patchwork heart still beats, that I am capable of love even after losing Tom, that you don’t get everything in a mate, but kindness really is the most important thing and is not quite the same as niceness or generosity. And, yes, that my own wilfulness, impulsivity and insistence on my own way might need a little softening to accommodate a partner. Damn. Just when I thought I was perfect.

I don’t know if I’ll try again. The “meet cute” of this relationship–having been fixed up almost simultaneously by two people who did not know each other but knew both of us–seemed like fairy dust and was infinitely easier than the time-consuming back-and-forth, pig-in-a-poke of online dating. But I still believe in love. I’d still prefer to grow old with a partner. I still like having someone be my person. And I really need the pilot light lit in my gas fireplace which I’m scared to do alone. Someplace in my head right now is a tune that must be from the 50s “Oh it’s so nice to have a man around the house” and I can’t get it to shut up.

But I could also move to Japan and teach English. The world is a great big oyster and I’m not done exploring it yet. Not by a long shot. But first I’ll need another box of kleenex–and a couple more (dozen) donuts.

Letter to My Love

Hi Sweetheart:

This has always been the place I go when missing you is just too hard and so I return today, in the very wee hours, when the hole you left seems especially big.

Like so many high school seniors in the month of October, our girl is struggling mightily. She wept in my arms for an hour last night saying it was all too much; too much pressure, too many deadlines in such a short time. She is at the end of marching band season, has a job I insisted she get, has hard classes I encouraged her to take and is applying to a boatload of colleges because she will need financial aid and falls in the scary crack of No Man’s Land for both need and merit based. Yes, she is very smart and wise and every bit as wonderful as when you left but carries a sadness about her, a world-weariness that makes her need to shut down just at the times life requires her to lean in. This does not always bring the very highest grades that the schools she’d like to attend now seem to use as the sole predictor of college success. I read the Frank Bruni book and I believe it. I know that in the end it really does not matter a whit where you go to college. What matters is what you make of wherever you go. But SHE does not believe that and after 17 years my mama cred is wearing a bit thin. If only you were here to have one of your famous talks. The ones where the other person does an hour-long data dump and you listen patiently and sift through the rubble to unearth the one important, hopeful, life-giving gem. I would give my eyed teeth for that one gift of yours above the dozens of others.

I sold your beautiful kayak. I wanted to finish it and put it in a charity auction and get top dollar, but it still needed too much work and I wasn’t up to the task. I’m sorry if you wanted me to keep it. I remember so well the winter you made it, in the basement of your rental house while I was upstairs reading or watching TV. It felt so cozy each of us doing our own thing and yet feeling together–a foreshadowing of the sweet few months of married life before you got sick. But when I looked at the boat it just made me sad and I knew I would never use it. People wanted me to hang it from the rafters of the cottage or turn it into some sort of art piece because the strip wood design was so exquisitely beautiful, but you built it to be on the water and I believe that’s where you’d want it to be. Through a crazy coincidence a friend knew an ice boater who knew and respected you and he came and took your damaged ice boat and your sailing suit and the kayak. I am sending his check to Hospice of Michigan as small thanks for all they did for us. I am sure you have already saved front row seats in heaven for every single angel who has ever worked there.

The sibling cruise finally happened with a couple of cousins on my mom’s side coming along for good measure. With our terrible luck in losing David before the first one and you before the second we needed to shake up the guest list and change our fate. When Annie and I saw that our flight returned on Friday the 13th we took big, deep breaths, but apart from catching a really bad cold that sent me to bed instead of Nuremberg, all was well. When the baby of the family is nearly 63 family reunions really can’t wait. I hope we will be able to do more traveling together. I so wish you could’ve been there. You would have loved every minute and been far more engaged in all the history than I was. Such a fine mind you had, my love. You always said your brain processed on a different channel and that was true, but once it had done all its work your insights and special takes on issues were remarkable. I’m sorry that school never felt like a hospitable environment for you, but it didn’t really matter. Everything you wanted to learn you taught yourself or found a mentor.

Speaking of mentoring, I just wrote Will’s college recommendation. I was so pleased that he asked me. Of course my letter was full of you and the special relationship you two shared, despite a 50 year age gap. It is no small thing when people become true friends, at any age. It was beautiful to see how knowing each other enriched both your lives. When Jill and I were sorting through garage things one day after you died she just kept shaking her head and saying “He was SUCH a cool guy.” Will is already well on his way to becoming just such a man. He’s an Eagle Scout, has an urban garden, went to this awesome wilderness program and is still building instruments. It hurts to think how much you could’ve helped him with that.

I guess that’s about it from here. Maybe you already know all of it. Maybe you are watching it all unfold? I waited another 6 months for a psychic appointment and then she had to cancel to care for a family member with cancer. There seemed to be some message in that so I didn’t reschedule. It seemed a little greedy to go back anyway. I got the wonderful gift of hearing from you once, knowing you had “made it” there and were ok, busy even, reviewing your life here and learning from it. Maybe she cancelled because at this point I am supposed to figure out my own life and stop leaning on you. That’s hard, sweetie. Very very hard.

In the next year Alyssa will leave and I will need to decide where to live, how much to work, when to take Social Security, how much I can afford to travel. The cottage needs a new roof and the cars are old. Hell, everything and everyone seems old these days! How did I get to be 63? You turned 63 right after we got married and were gone at 64. At least you didn’t have to see Trump. I hope there is no CNN in heaven. It would kill you  🙂

I have a good man in my life. I told him not to fetch me at the airport because I was so sick and didn’t want to expose him. I didn’t know I was setting him up, but I was. He agreed to let me take a taxi when you would’ve come and carried me to the van if necessary, made me soup and rubbed my feet. It is not his fault that he’s not you. You may have had Fred Flintstone size 8-1/2 EEEEE feet but your shoes are unfillable. The more I see other couples the more I know what a rare thing we had. All I really wanted was just to be in your presence. It felt like a gift every day. And the way you looked at me filled my cup to the brim. Thank you for that short, deep drink of amazing love. To be cherished even once in life is to glimpse the face of God.

I think I want to learn to teach ESL. I might be good at it and I could go to cool places not as a tourist but to live and maybe experience life in a different culture. We’ll see how life here unfolds, but you know me. I like having a plan on the back burner. I will never stop wishing that I could grow old with you, move to the cottage, become part of the community. But now it’s just me and I’ll need to figure out what I can do on my own. Hey, might make a good song title. Think I’ll mention it to those Les Miz guys. BTW Hamilton was amazing and you would’ve been blown away. Even my Broadway Bound version was really good. Genius writing plain and simple.

Going to New York for my birthday. It might be the first time since we went for my 60th. You were so sick and still wanted to do everything. It was great, but staying home and hugging would’ve been too.

OK-jet lag kicking in. Back to bed. Thanks for listening. I love you as much right now as I ever did and I will miss you every day of my life. I’ll try to do some stuff to make you proud before I get up there. Please do not give my seat away! With my gene pool it may take me a while to get there but I’m coming. Don’t give up on me!

All my love forever-

M.

 

On the Lazy Susan called Grief

I went to a book club meeting last night. The book was You Will Not Have My Hate, a very slim volume written by the husband of a young woman killed in a senseless terrorist shooting at a concert in Paris last fall. She left behind a 17 month-old son. Her husband made a Facebook post right after she died that went viral. It was addressed to the terrorists and basically said “You may have taken my wife, but you will not take my joy, my hope, my love, the best of me. You want me to hate you, but you will not have my hate. And you will not have my son’s either as he will grow up happy and free.”

I said at the meeting that the cynic in me could just hear the book publishers swarming after the FB post, telling the grieving husband and father that he simply owed it to the world to expand the story and make it a book. Once I ordered the book and started reading I had just a moment of wondering how I would feel, if it would bring my own grief back to the surface. But it didn’t. The circumstances were so different–a young mother cut down in her prime versus a senior citizen lost inch by inch to cancer.

But the discussion last night was different. There was lots of talk of grief, how it feels, how to cope, what’s helpful and what’s not. And THAT made it all come back. Not in a fresh, immediate kind of way or even like a scab being ripped off, but just a gauzy feeling of remembering–Oh yeah, that IS what it was like. This was especially true when the discussion turned to the comfort the author had taken in the daily routine of raising a toddler. You really cannot just sit in your room and cry when there are diapers to change and meals to make. Although I had no diapers, I did have a 14 year-old who was grieving as much as I was. It was my responsibility to her more than any other single factor that got me out of bed in the morning. Somedays ONLY that. I couldn’t die too, even though I wanted to, because that would leave her with no one to grieve with, no one to remember how much Tom loved us, no one to miss him with the same longing. We grieved very differently, but we found solidarity nonetheless and it helped.

In her book Small Victories, Anne Lamott wrote as true a description as I’ve ever read:

Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and                       underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day at numbness, silence.

I have also heard it described as waves on the sand, but I like the spinning analogy more. Like Wheel of Fortune where the poor player is sitting on a ton of money and suddenly lands on the bankrupt spot. THAT is exactly how I felt. Sitting on top of the world one moment, late in life, improbably, and then watching it all disappear like cotton candy–too soon just a sweet memory.

It is helpful to remember all this on days when the spin is rough, when you are brought to your knees by something small you find in a drawer. Also helpful to remember to be grateful for ever being loved so well. Like the Winnie the Pooh quote that says how lucky to have had something so wonderful that you will miss it when it’s gone.

And good to remember things said last night about the need to show up for others, that there is nothing more meaningful than knowing other humans care enough to do SOMETHING, anything to help you along the way.  John is better at that than I am, visiting the sick and elderly, going to the funeral home and actually engaging with the family, attending funerals even if just to get the collective numbers up and let the family know their loved one was valued.

Those lessons apply outside of death too. Putting an arm around a sad child, having a pleasant exchange with the grocery clerk, helping an old person up a staircase , not honking when the guy at the stop light fails to move on green.

We are here to love. In grief, in sorrow, at death’s door, on sunny days in August. No matter where the wheel of fortune lands. All the time and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

Still Sad After All These Years

I found myself weeping unexpectedly this morning.  People gave money when Tom died to fund a scholarship for a graduating senior at his high school alma mater. This year’s recipient sent me a lovely thank you note and I felt compelled to write back, proving once and for all that I am the daughter of Irene Robertson who was once accused of writing thank you notes for thank you notes!

I always feel vulnerable this time of year as it was right about now in 2014 when we got Tom’s diagnosis. He stayed positive throughout, but I was steeled for certain defeat from the get-go and watching chemo sap his strength and joy did not help a bit. Early June is such a beautiful time here, iris and peonies in full splendor and the temperatures usually perfect, but I still remember walking around in a fog for weeks. How could my strong, handsome, brand-new husband have cancer that was “treatable, but not curable”? It seemed like a bad joke and in some ways still does. Wait 55 years to find true love and have it snatched out of your tight grasp while still a honeymooner.

I wrote to the scholarship girl about Tom. I told her he would be pleased to be helping someone headed for a career in Interior Design as he had the soul of an artist. I told her a few stories about him and the beautiful house in Davisburg that he designed and built with his own hands, the watercolors he painted, the exquisite boats and guitars he made. I told her he could fix anything and shared the story of  our trip to France where he immediately endeared himself to the large family group we were staying with by fixing the broken dishwasher. Didn’t matter one whit that he couldn’t speak a word of French. They loved him anyway, as pretty much everyone did.

Just last week my niece told me some great stories about her boys, both of whom loved Tom dearly. She found her son singing away on head phones to the song “My Old Man”. He asked her if she could guess who it reminded him of and she said “Your dad?” but he said it was actually Tom. He has also stopped playing tag because Tom once played it with him and now it makes him sad. The amazing thing is that these boys were tiny when they knew Tom. The fact that they remember him at all is miraculous and that they remember him so fondly is a thing of beauty and makes me feel so much less alone in my grief, which has more staying power than I ever would’ve guessed.

So, when exactly do you stop loving someone you have lost? The answer, of course, is never. Love has no beginning, it has no end. I’m sure that’s a song lyric, but it’s true. I will love him until our souls do their happy dance in heaven and will then love him all the way through eternity, whether that means coming back to earth as a bird or a cow or an Oak tree or if it means floating somewhere like a wisp of cotton. I don’t care, just as long as we are reunited in one way or another. Because this love we had, this great big huge, breath-catching, life-giving love is not over. Not by a long shot.

It felt ok to cry while I wrote about him. It is very sad that he isn’t here anymore. Not just for me. For his friends and his family and Alyssa and my niece and her husband and boys. For the neighborhood boy he wanted to help make guitars. For his best friend who could talk to him about anything. For the family he lived next to briefly and impacted forever.  Every life he touched he made better. His core of calm and kindness just made you want to be and stay in his presence. I knew it when he was here, but I know it more now.

I miss you sweetheart.  Alyssa’s playing your guitar and singing Cat Stevens while I type this.  Just another way your love lives on in our lives. Keep spreading love up there. Or maybe that’s all there is up there? Just love. Endless fields of love. I hope so.

Behind the Wheel

I live in Michigan and we have something unique besides a mitten shape. We have the Michigan Merge. I thought everyone had this until I read an article by someone who moved here from elsewhere. It turns out in other states (and possibly the rest of the civilized world) people approach merging far differently than Michiganders. In other places folks use all the lanes provided right up until the point where one is being eliminated and then they take turns merging into the remaining lanes. What a concept! Everybody just keeps driving as they normally would until they need to do something different.

In Michigan we are both paranoid and overly compliant. The very SECOND we see a sign that our lane will be disappearing at some point waaaaay down the road, we honor the contract we signed at birth (or whenever we moved here) to IMMEDIATELY move over. Never mind that this causes a huge slowdown in the flow of traffic and leaves perfectly good pavement empty for miles.  We are worried that failure to move now will result in being stranded at the point of the actual merge. We have been taught that merging at the merge point is rude and that others will resent us for it and will drive bumper to bumper in order to prevent us from entering their lane. And, in fact, anyone who dares to ignore this sacred custom may be subjected to harsh treatment including horn blowing, third finger raising and in some cases a particularly aggressive form of shaming where a car that has already pulled over comes back out just far enough to keep custom-breakers from using the perfectly good lane.

I have tried to discuss this insanity with otherwise intelligent and reasonable people who will not budge. When I admit that I always drive in the soon-to-be-eliminated lane right up to the merge point, there is a collective groan and the occasional hiss and boo as they shout “I HATE those people!” The collective wisdom seems to be that I think I am better than everyone else, special, not required to follow the rules. But there are no actual rules in effect here except to get over before the lane goes away. I have received my fair share of tickets over the years, but have never once gotten one for “failure to merge three miles early”!

This leads to the broader topic of Road Rage. Having driven on the unbelievably congested 6 lane freeways in southern California I can certainly appreciate how people would lose their minds and start acting out all over the place.  The relentless sunshine alone might put me over the edge. I get it. But here in sleepy, gray little Michigan my biggest commute is about 5 minutes, so on the rare occasion when I am out in rush hour traffic it is a shock. I had to go to the dentist at 8 a.m. this morning and truly feared for my life. People drove 85 miles per hour in almost bumper-to-bumper conditions. Once when I tried to create a little breathing room between my car and the one in front of me, some guy came barreling up on the left and swerved into my lane nearly taking off my front bumper. I honked at him briefly and he gave me what looked like a well-rehearsed finger salute, first with his right hand in his rear view mirror and then with his left out the driver side window. WOW. Equally troubling was my powerful urge to skip the dentist and follow this jerk to work to give him a piece of my mind or maybe shame him in front of colleagues or customers.

My daughter was driving to a certain large university (the identity must be kept secret for fear that certain relatives might become overly excited and start sending her T-shirts and cup holders) on a look-see trip and was cut off in this fashion twice. She had thankfully taken my nimble small car with great brakes as she is convinced she might be dead if she’d been in her slow old Chevy.  I recently watched a guy in a fast car weave in and out of very heavy, fast-moving traffic causing nearly every driver he cut off to have to brake. This crazy behavior is what gets people killed as happened last week when I-75 was completely shut down due to a double fatality case of road rage.

The answer here, of course, comes straight from Buddhism. Detach. Get in your car with nothing invested in the trip save your safe arrival. Let the anger, frustration, speed and bad behavior of your fellow drivers stay right where it belongs–with them. Breathe and keep your eyes on the road and your mind on something pleasant–like living long enough to eat dinner with your family that night. And remember that whatever is making these drivers so bat-shit crazy has NOTHING to do with you so don’t take anything they do personally. They are either having a bad day, week, (life?) or trying to punish everyone else for the troubling fact that some people refuse to observe the Michigan Merge.

Love Over 50

I just had lunch with a woman I like very much. I see far too little of her and always look forward to our infrequent meetings. I told her that I was watching her carefully for clues on how to make love (and life) work after 50.  The last I knew she had survived the end of one senior relationship and moved into another with a guy who came highly recommended by mutual friends, was just retiring from a good job, had kids and grandkids, was physically active and nice-looking and seemed to want to make a life with her.

When I told her she was my role model she rolled her eyes. She told me she had been with this great-seeming guy for three years and had sold her house in anticipation of moving in with him. As the date approached for that, he got cold feet and told her he needed more time and just wasn’t ready. My reaction would’ve been to scream a lot of hateful things and dump him, but she marched off and rented a place of her own and hung in there, thinking he was worth the trouble. As it turns out he was addicted to watching porn, which as she pointed out to me, would be a little awkward with your partner sitting next to you on the couch. Oy! She said they had been to couples therapy but he did not seem to be able to give it up.

This woman is beautiful, smart, funny and kind. She has already been through more bad life events than any one person deserves. She is resilient beyond all reason and as we kept talking it was clear that she had STILL not given up on love and she admitted she would likely start looking again as soon as she and porn guy finally moved irrevocably into the “just friends” category. She expressed relief at having not gone in with him on a vacation condo.

Although this is an extreme case, I have several other friends who have struggled to make romantic relationships work later in life. It makes me wonder if it is even possible. I understand that one of my very favorite writers, Anne Lamott, has found happiness in a relationship after decades on her own. I intend to investigate further to see how she’s done it. The truth is that we all have a TON of history at this stage of life and all those experiences and memories and times we were hurt/burned/disappointed rear their ugly little heads and swim to the surface when our new partner leaves a dish in the sink or a sock on the floor or speaks in a snarky tone or forgets to call for a couple days.

My poor sweetheart can barely make a move without reminding me of someone or something. I finally realized: I am 62 years old and have been married THREE times! It stands to reason that the poor guy is going to exhibit some characteristics of one of those men from my past every now and then. The trick is not to get triggered but instead to stay focused on all the traits that are uniquely his and make my heart sing. But even so, blending well-established lives is just plain hard work.

I know plenty of people my age, especially women, who have no interest in pairing up. They lead busy happy lives filled with work or fulfilling volunteer commitments, time with grandchildren, travel with friends, golf or tennis leagues and other hobbies like painting or writing, bridge or mah jong. They don’t want anybody in their space and certainly don’t want to be asked “What’s for dinner?”  They may occasionally wish they had someone to hold hands with on a walk or at the movies or someone to escort them to weddings but those infrequent longings are not strong enough to make them seek a relationship.

And many older folks who are in good relationships choose not to marry or even co-habitate. As one friend said when I told her I was getting serious with John, “Nobody needs to move in with anybody!” She is a very cool person with a full life and a stable long term relationship with a man she does not live with. The economics alone make that hard for me to get my head around. Two mortgages or tax bills not to mention water and heat and electricity, just so you can each have your “own space”?

I am just old-fashioned enough to believe in marriage. I like the idea of saying “husband” or “wife”. It sounds committed and permanent. But it is also true that many relationships seem to be very happy right up until the point people say “I do.” I am certainly not privy to any Brangelina relationship details, but it did all crumble pretty soon after the wedding, right? I love the Joni Mitchell line from “My Old Man” that goes “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall keeping us tied and true”. But there are practical considerations like having the right to make decisions if somebody is hospitalized and …..ok I can’t think of any other reasons to get married right now, but it still seems like the right idea!

I think mostly I want to believe that something can still be permanent in a world where people don’t even RSVP to invitations for fear they may change their mind and not feel like going after all. We seem poised to forever be looking over the shoulder of the one we’re with to see if something shinier is there for the taking. We are terrified of settling. We are convinced we need to keep our options open. I don’t care. I know better than most that marriage is not necessarily forever. In fact, it is usually NOT forever. But I like the hope contained in the DESIRE to make a lasting commitment. I think it is like yoga class where they ask you to set an intention for your practice. You might not keep it, but at least you spent a moment focused on what you really want. Saying you want to spend the rest of your life as the committed partner of the person you love is a big step. I like grand gestures. They are hard and I have always liked doing hard things. Anybody can do easy things. Why not take a chance? As a man I was once married to  said (like THAT narrows it down!!) “This is your life! There are no dress rehearsals.”

So, love after 50. Pro or con? Discuss with a bend towards hope. Because what else is there?