Monday, September 26, 2016

Elder Dating

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Sept. 28, 2016] ©2016
When you see a newspaper photo of happy nonagenarians at their wedding, the first reaction (aside from being happy for them, and wondering what their scheming children think) is “Are they really going to ‘do it’?” 
Society in general has a true aversion to the concept of old-people sex. Unless, of course, you’re an old person. You didn’t get old overnight. You’ve had a chance to work into this body.
As people age and more of them end up widows or widowers, the specter of dating raises its problematic head. Some of my friends who are considerably older than I am – late 70s and 80s -  note that this is not an uncommon  topic.
What’s immediately clear is how different the parameters for romance are once you’re in the Social Security set. At 20, you’re just looking for love. When I was divorced at 35 with two preschoolers, a friend looked around my property and observed that what I really needed was a lover who liked gardening and pool maintenance. 
In my book, in the chapter entitled “Dates from Hell,” I chronicled my disheartening experiences doing laps in the dating pool, watching my list of requirements for dating partners slowly dwindle to “hasn’t been in prison.” If Olof, with whom I’d spent my senior year in high school as an exchange student in Brazil, hadn’t fortuitously come back into my life, I’d be single to this day.
Olof and I married when we were both 47, after an eight-year commuting relationship from the Bay area on Olof’s part.  He has always maintained that I married him for his skills with a sewer augur, but that’s only partially true. Olof, who was also divorced but had no children,  maintains that it was far easier to woo women who were in their 30’s than it had been the first time around when they were less interested in his prowess with a pipe wrench and more interested in romance. 
When you’re a thirty-five year old single women with two little kids and The House From Hell, it’s amazing how fast the definition of romance changes. There’s nothing sexier than a guy with a pipe wrench.
Among my older friends is a woman who is 91. She has a stronger back and clearer mind than either Olof or me. She still lives independently. But my friend does admit that suitable romantic male companions in her dating range (which she considers to be 80-100) are limited. So she was delighted to be introduced at a fund raiser to a fellow nonagenarian.  The spark was instantaneous between them. 
They are very compatible, she reports, and he checks off every box on her list including and especially “still drives at night.” (After “doesn’t have dementia” and isn’t imminently dying,” that’s a strong third.)
And then you get down to the desirables: Are they presentable? Do you have compatible interests? When you see older men marrying women decades younger, you realize that they have none of the same reference points.
She and the gentleman have gone out several times now and she’s thinking it might be heading in a more romantic direction.  Her body isn’t bad for someone who is 91, she says.  In fact, she’s probably in the top 2% of hot 91-year-old bodies.  She’s taken good care of herself. But, she confesses, the top 2% of terrible probably won’t win her any points. Still, she has very much missed an intimate life since her husband passed away and despite what 20-year-olds think, the spirit CAN still be willing even if the flesh is weak.
Will pharmaceuticals of the hot tub variety be required, she wonders? Since they must be taken in advance of romantic episodes, how is this broached?  This is all so definitely not in the acceptable parlance of her youth when women wore white gloves and panty girdles.  (And good riddance to both!) 
One could, she allows, have a more intimate relationship without going “all the way” as it was termed in both her and my generation.  “In fact,” she mused aloud, “at my age, penetration is probably overrated.”  (One can hear everyone under thirty charging for the nearest bathroom. Get over yourselves, kids, OK?)
She’s not looking to remarry at this point. She’s financially well set. He is too. So hopefully there won’t be too much blowback from their collective “kids” (who are in their 60’s).
As with all stages of life, there’s always some new challenge, even if the challenge is simply staying alive in reasonable health for one more year. But the desire to connect emotionally to another human being doesn’t ever get old. So I’m rooting for my friend to have the well-deserved time of her life, hot tubs and all.