Part Three: What is a relationship supposed to look like at 59?
Get caught up on the journey with parts one and two here.
Relationships. My relationship history has been, what…successful/not successful? Not unusual? A crooked path? Win some, lose some? I was married for 12 years. For many, the first year can be the most difficult, but for us, it was the best. We were crazy poor — he was a graduate student, I was working — and crazy happy. The next few years were good. I did my graduate school thing and we had two babies. Babies change things, mostly I think because everyone’s so brain sucking tired all the time, but still, there were few complaints. Then, as happens, we drifted apart and after 12 years, called it quits. The pain of that process was immense even though our divorce was one hundred times easier than most. I soon concluded: a) marriage is hard, b) I wasn’t particularly good at it, and c) I wouldn’t do it again.
The value of honesty
There was huge value in being honest with myself about my failings in the relationship. I did not see in the ongoing day to day life of my marriage how poorly we communicated…so cliche, so true…or how uneven the power balance. I took control of almost everything which left us very out of whack with each other. He was more comfortable in the world of academia so I made all the decisions and secured my world exactly how I wanted it. The demise was more complicated than that of course, but it became clear to me that moving forward with other relationships, I would have to pay more attention to the balance of power.
The first post-divorce relationship has become the hallmark of what I advise other freshly divorced people not to do. I took it way too seriously as a real relationship. Post-divorce relationship judgment is not to be trusted for the most part. I learned that later. I went for opposite man. Not a terrible person, but a terrible decision for me. It lasted longer than it should have because I had also become opposite woman and didn’t take charge for a while, trying to find the right balance. For the record, balance will not fix a mismatched relationship. After that, it was time for a break. I had kids to raise and a demanding job.
Fast forward through some years and false starts the few times I did wade into the world of men. At 49, I decided to give it another try. Resulting from an online post, written late one evening in response to a girls’ night out wine induced challenge, I met a man. We were together for over seven years and it was good. For the first several years of our relationship, we thought we would be life partners. Over time, and more intensely for him, we drifted. We never did live together and perhaps that makes drifting easier? Neither of us had been looking for space sharing or marriage and what we were doing…seeing each other a couple of times a week, hanging out with friends, traveling…was working. Until it didn’t. There was enormous sadness with this breakup, but little drama. We’re still close.
Just thinking about it
A year after we broke up, we briefly talked about getting back together. At that point, I was good with my life alone. I had re-integrated myself in the world as a single person. In most ways it felt easier. Now, two and a half years later, I wonder about another relationship. I’ve been thinking about it for about six months. Not talking about it, not putting myself out there…just thinking about it. I’m not convinced I want to go there again. I’m not convinced I don’t. In my head, dating at my age looks different than before, even more frightening, even more work. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just chicken.
These are my questions:
How much does the way my body looks (not my body in clothes, my actual unclad body) matter?
As mentioned in part one of this series, gravity has taken a toll. Clothes are as much about camouflage as they are fashion or function. Skirts are longer. Running shorts are now a fashion don’t. My arms aren’t as tank top worthy as I’d like. I can talk all day long about how good relationships are built on so much more than how we look, but I’m not going to pretend this whole aging body thing isn’t at least to some degree, a visual dilemma. Not a concern for the first coffee date, but since we’re grown-ups, we know that if a coffee date turns into a relationship, it will be an issue at some point.
Hmm. That probably shouldn’t have been my first question. Seems kind of shallow?
How do people over fifty meet if not online?
I’m pretty sure Tinder isn’t my go-to source for dates. Yes, match.com is the most obvious but I’m not crazy about doing the online thing again. I used e-harmony twelve or thirteen years ago and it was a lot of work. The results were meh. I also used Craigslist, which I never in a million years would use now. It was worse than meh even then, although I have some weird and oh so funny stories from it.
Meeting people online is hard. So, meet up groups? How would I, for example, find the right hiking meet up group? There are about a dozen hiking meet up groups in Nashville. Do I ask on the facebook page the average age and marital status of the regular participants to pick the right one? Church? I don’t go to church. I think magic would be nice. I’d like to put out to the universe to steer an active, healthy, emotionally and financially secure, not needy, artist type my direction. Too much to ask?
I went to a hair stylist years ago who told me once he was so tired of dating, he wished someone would spontaneously appear and say, “hey, let’s agree to be a couple for six months to see if it works.” There are a dozen potential problems with that idea, but in concept I get it.
Is it OK to need as little from another person in a relationship as I need?
I don’t know how to say that without having it sound so weird. When my boyfriend and I broke up a couple of years ago, one comment I made was if either of us ever did decide to go for another relationship, we would be hard-pressed to find someone who needed as little from another person as either one of us need. What I mean is, I like being in a relationship, but I don’t have to be; I don’t depend on a relationship for identity. My life is good and I like sharing it with someone, but there aren’t big holes in it waiting for someone to come along and fill. My job can be demanding. I’m committed to my time at the gym. I cook and eat with other neighbors three times a week. I write (and want to write more), make jewelry, travel. I spend time with my son who lives in Nashville and get out of town when I can to see my mom and my other son. I want to get more involved in the art community. I have a bucket list that needs attention. I’m not looking for marriage.
Thirty-five years ago, I was looking to build a life with someone, write that story together. Isn’t dating at this age a little bit like taking two already published biographies and write a new ending that works for both stories? It can be done, but it’s not as clean as starting with the first chapter.
I thought about avoiding the topic of relationships altogether, but that would be both not transparent and chicken. The purpose of this series, you will recall, is for me to be as transparent as I can be to expose this angst about aging, one topic at a time, with a little humor and hopefully a little grace.
Visit Donna at BensonStreetStudio.com.