wedding_054-1 Ellen Sue Spicer and Alan Jacobson under the wedding chuppah.

In my fifteenth summer I stayed with my maternal grandmother in that fifties retirement mecca, Miami Beach. An elderly gentleman named Alex was courting my grandmother, MeMe, who was widowed twice.

At the brink of boy-meets-girl myself, I watched with fascination and bemusement as my grandmother and Alex “dated.” I was there on one delicious night when MeMe was waiting for Alex to call for her. She was still in her underwear. That, in her generation, meant corset, garters, stockings, and a full slip.

Alex rang the bell. My grandmother assumed he was downstairs in the apartment house’s foyer.  She planned to stick her head out the door to call down that she’d be ready in a few minutes. But when she opened the door, there was Alex. She screamed, put her hands to her face, ran into the bedroom, and slammed the door like an embarrassed schoolgirl, not like the seventy-something woman she was.

Alex had seen her in her undergarments!  Nevertheless—or possibly because he had—Alex asked MeMe for her hand; they married and stayed wed until her death several years later.

When I became single in my fifties and started dating again, I reflected back on those days of my youth, days when I could not imagine my parents or grandparents having sex.  Heaven forbid! But now that I am in the heaven-forbid generation, I have found that romance is alive and well in our “golden years,” and even into our nineties. (I spoke with a man on my part-time job who told me that his wife had a friend in her early nineties, and that her 98-year old husband was still “bothering her.”  I love it!)

Divorced at 52 after nearly 30 years of marriage, I found the transition to dating . . . awkward, at the very least. For one thing, the men who were my peers often date women much younger than I. I can’t begin to compete with their tight buttocks, flat stomachs, and firm breasts. While I exercise and keep in shape, gravity and childbirth have taken their toll.

For another, all the dating rules have changed. When I was first married, being a virgin was expected, and if you weren’t, you kept it quiet. Now, many men who date divorced women expect to go to bed soon after the first date, if not on the first date. (One man I had dated told me that he always went to bed on the first date. Too bad I had to break his record!) They assume that you are lonely and desperate—which many of us may be, but that’s not a license for sex.

What I was looking for in this stage of singlehood, I realized, was romance, companionship, and sex, in that order. Jumping between the sheets because I was lonely merely wiped away the loneliness for a few minutes (if that long!) and left me empty-hearted. I am not minimizing the importance of love, affection, touch, and intercourse.  I am just saying that sex shouldn’t be rushed—nor should romance.

When a woman meets men after a painful divorce or widowhood, there are a lot of defenses around her heart. Women (as well as men) shy away from dating lest they be rejected or hurt, for their hearts are recently mended. In some cases the stitches are still intact, but the need to connect is so strong that dating begins even before the heart is really ready. (One man I met very soon after I separated from my husband said he would not date me, because I was still bleeding!)

What I am requesting to those reading this article is that when you start to go out with someone who is divorced or widowed, be kind. Go slowly enough that you don’t overwhelm the other person.  Give her/him time to adjust to a new face, a new set of hands, a new voice.  Assuming that you “connect” on the first date because of your own unique chemistries, let the romance flower. Go dancing and hold your date close, but don’t crush him/her, physically or emotionally. Take time to know your companion.

A few years ago, when I lived in Seattle, I frequently attended an afternoon dance that was held every week for men and women.  Everyone was over 55 and had free time to enjoy something during the day, instead of watching TV alone. The men took turns asking the women to dance, so no one was a wallflower. As I looked around the room, I couldn’t help feeling strongly that women in their fifties and sixties, and beyond, have a lot to offer a man. Most have weathered childbearing, divorce, or widowhood, loss of income, and more. They are twice as strong and wise as women half their age.

So why not give yourself at least half a chance at romance? I did, and found love at 65 through an ad in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent. He answered my ad and we met right before Valentine’s Day 10 years ago. After two dates, we dated exclusively. After 13 years of being single, I knew a keeper when I met him. I moved from Central Pennsylvania to Philadelphia and married my sweetheart in 2004. I took a chance on silver romance, and won!