- On December 20, 2017
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By Laura Stassi
Not all who are seeking a romantic partner find one. Then again, not all who are seeking are actively looking.
Meet Lucy, who’s 58. She’s among the approximately 10 percent of American women ages 55 to 64 who’ve never been married. (About 12 percent of men in this age group have never been married, according to Census data.) Lucy says she wants to be in a committed relationship, but she hasn’t had a date in almost 20 years.
“Dating’s always something I’m going to do after I lose weight,” she said. “I don’t think these double chins would photograph well for an online dating profile.”
Besides, Lucy said, she’s been devoting all her energy and money into helping Pat, the child she adopted from overseas who’s now a teenager with emotional and behavioral issues.
“I know it sounds like a bad excuse, but I can’t even think about adding someone to the picture until Pat’s more stable,” Lucy said. “I want somebody in my life, but I don’t want just anybody. I didn’t wait this long to take whatever I can find.”
Lucy’s a wry and witty artist. When I told her the subtitle of this writing project –Memoirs of Seeking and Finding Romance, Love, and Marriage at Age 50 and Older – she suggested something zippier: Profiles in Courage.
Lucy was raised in a large, conservative family in Virginia. After graduating from high school, she moved to North Carolina to attend a small college where women outnumbered men four to one.
“If you wanted to date, you pretty much had to compete sexually, so I mostly avoided dating,” she said. “And I was a sponge for everybody else’s misery. Anytime one of my friends had a problem with their love life, they’d come to me for advice and I’d think, I don’t want this to ever happen to me.”
After graduation, Lucy moved back home. She didn’t expect to be there long. “I wanted the traditional path: marriage, children; maybe continue working after that, but maybe not.” She dated but nothing clicked, leading Lucy to compare her search for a long-term partner to the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders.
“You go a little bit up; you hit the wrong thing, and you’re all the way back down on the bottom again,” she said. “And usually, you fall on your butt and it hurts. Plus, you’re no closer to marriage than you were when you started dating that person.”
When Lucy was in her 30s, she rented an apartment with a high school friend who also was single. Tired of receiving annual holiday newsletters from longtime friends announcing marriages and childbirths, they sent out their own newsletters with fabricated stories. One announced they were dating twin brothers who were semi-professional bowlers. Another included a photo of Lucy and her roommate sitting on the couch, wrapped up in matching comforters and wearing bridal veils. The caption explained their New Year’s motto was “Be prepared.”
Then there was the time Lucy and her roommate changed the message on their telephone answering machine. It instructed any male callers to leave their names only if they were “single, have some semblance of hair, missing teeth have been replaced, and hands come clean when washed.”
“My dad thought we were humiliating ourselves,” Lucy said. “But you’ve got to laugh.”
After about five years, Lucy’s roommate started dating a work colleague and soon became engaged. Lucy, who longed for a home of her own but was waiting for a husband before committing to such a large purchase, decided to quit waiting. She bought a townhouse that needed some cosmetic work, and expertly tackled the projects.
Around this time, Lucy met Rod, who was divorced and had solid income as a government contractor. Longtime friends of Lucy set her up with him, but the friends didn’t know Rod very well.
Lucy saw red flags almost immediately. But she was close to 40, and Rod seemed like her last chance to get married and have kids. So when Rod said Lucy needed to always pay for her own drink or movie ticket because he was plowing most of his money into his retirement fund, Lucy paid. Whenever Rod said he preferred eating at Lucy’s house instead of spending money to go out, Lucy cooked. Whenever Rod said he wasn’t interested in sex because sorry, Lucy, you’re not attractive, Lucy accepted it as truth.
Then Rod stayed at Lucy’s house while she was on business. When she returned, she discovered evidence he had a sexual fetish. Nothing illegal, thank God — but also, nothing compatible with Lucy’s own desires.
Her head was still spinning over Rod’s secret when he told her he felt so comfortable in her home, he should move in so he could plow all of his paycheck into his retirement fund. Or, he could take an unpaid sabbatical and fulfill a long-held dream of writing a novel loosely based on his dysfunctional childhood.
Lucy took all this news to her therapist. The therapist, who didn’t usually express her opinion, said, “I can’t see this relationship working out.” Finally, after a year of dating, Lucy found the courage to break up with Rod.
“You have a beautiful home,” Rod snarled to Lucy as his parting shot, “but you should have spent more time working on yourself.” Lucy laughs as she relays this story, but she winces as well.
With Rod out of the picture, Lucy decided that just as she didn’t need a husband to buy a house, she didn’t need a husband to become a mother. She adopted Pat from overseas when Pat was 2 and Lucy was 42.
Single motherhood was challenging, so Lucy didn’t even think about dating. Then, when Lucy turned 50, she got laid off from her job. She found another position but after a few years, decided to quit and start her own business so she could work from home. Pat, who had a learning disability and attention deficit disorder, was starting to act out. Pat stole credit cards and money from Lucy’s purse. Pat, who didn’t even have a learner’s permit, took Lucy’s car for midnight joy rides. Pat punched holes in the walls of the home Lucy had lovingly fixed up.
After countless sleepless nights and consultations with health care experts, Lucy found a full-time residential treatment facility for Pat in another part of the state. Lucy visits every weekend, and they have family therapy as well as individual sessions. Pat seems better, but Lucy worries about continuing on a positive path after Pat returns home.
“Imagine walking around all day, every day, with a bucket of stinky slop that’s close to overflowing, and you’re trying not to spill it,” Lucy said. “That’s what Pat’s life is like. We’re just trying to get the level down to where it will stay in the bucket all the time.”
As for Lucy finally meeting someone special, “I don’t even look at anybody anymore and feel a spark,” she said. “And I don’t see anybody looking at me with any interest anymore — which pretty much makes you feel like you’re invisible, you know?”
Still, Lucy’s given thought to what steps she’d need to take to find Mr. Right. “I’m going to have to change my lifestyle,” she said. “You can’t meet somebody working at home in your pajamas and braless all day.” A full-time job would provide opportunities to meet people as well as more financial stability.
“A kind man would be good,” Lucy said. “Employed would be good, too,” she added, and we both laughed. “Or someone with a nice retirement fund.”
Indeed, one of Lucy’s concerns about dating is getting scammed.
“I’m at an age where my expected work time is 10 to 15 years, so I don’t have time for financial recovery,” she said. “What I’ll have in my retirement account 12 years from now is what I’ll have to live on for the rest of my life. When you get married young, you build assets together and have a long time to keep building them. And you don’t have to worry about whose kids are getting what after you’re gone.”
“Even in a committed relationship at this age, you have to have your own money,” she said. “You can’t allow someone to have full access – or can you? I don’t know. It seems complicated.”
Lucy understands most people at this stage of life have so-called baggage, whether it’s related to finances, kids, elderly parents, or something else. “But you know how the airlines will let you carry on only so much baggage? Well, that’s my philosophy with men,” Lucy said. “If your baggage doesn’t fit, don’t carry it on! Everybody has baggage. But it has to fit.”
“I want someone who’s committed to be there until the very end, to go through the hard times and the fun times together,” she said. “And I’d like to think it’s not too late for me.”
“I’d like to think,” Lucy said wistfully, “that I am going to meet the right person, and that it was worth it to wait all this time. You know – finally, the stars align.”
Do you have a story about searching for romance and love at age 50 and older? Contact Laura.