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“I am sorry,” the overly cheerful young woman beamed from behind her glossy counter, perfectly coiffed and in a starched white uniform. “Great Date has been discontinued.”

I stared at her blankly. This was not possible. What did she mean, Great Date had been discontinued? In the chaos my life had recently descended into, Great Date was one of the few things to look forward to.

The scene happened about a decade ago, in a duty-free shop at JFK airport. I was on my way to—somewhere, probably a book fair, a business trip, always an occasion to stock up on skin products and cosmetics. It happened just after my 40th birthday.

I did not go out much at the time. I was the mother of a very young daughter, battered around by a messy separation from her father. Day-by-day was the best I could hope for, the only way, really, to muddle through. But there were rare nights out—if only visits to the neighbors across the street who made me (lucky, lucky me!) their pet project. And with old friends who happened to visit New York on trips from far away. Rarely was there a (usually uncomfortable) date with a guy. More common, and more comfortable, were evenings spent by myself at the movies.

But if and when I went out—even to sit by myself in a dark theater for a couple of hours—I always, always wore Great Date. I had never been a fan of light, pale shades of lipstick (even though my friend Judy now counsels me that, as we get older, they are more becoming). Among my never-very-large selection, Great Date was the darkest and most dramatic. When I put it on, I felt that it transformed my face . . . made it more mysterious, more attractive. More powerful and in charge of my crazy life. And they had discontinued it?

I left the store, crushed. Had I only known to anticipate this catastrophe, I would have stocked at least half a dozen of those silvery little tubes. But here I was, blindsided, with only half a tube left. I resolved right there and then that I would wear Great Date only on the rarest of occasions: great dates.

Many lipsticks, lip glosses, lip balms, lip liners have come and gone over the last decade, the new ones with ever more eclectic names and packages, from Tenderheart to Rouge Cocoa to Black Cherry to Bamboo. (Do I detect a pattern in these names? Or perhaps not?) And whole years—in fact, many years—went by without my using any lipstick whatsoever. Who wears lipstick to her home office? To the playground? Even though, in hindsight, that seems a gross mistake; no harried mother of a young child should enter the park without wearing lipstick, a sign of self-respect.

But mostly I was too frazzled, too overextended, too sad, too busy, to care about my looks. And then, for a couple of years, I found myself simply too heavy to think that lipstick (or mascara, or any other enhancement to the appearance) mattered at all.

Yes, there were dates over those years, some of them better than others, and some of them even making my heart beat a bit faster. But never, in all these years, did I put on Great Date. There was always a hesitation, a doubt, the fear of wasting my favorite lipstick on something that would not be worth it in the end. After all, my favorite lipstick was not called First Date, or Expensive-Restaurant Date, or Reconnect-with-an-Old-Flame Date. And, of course, it could not possibly be worn on one of those You-Looked-So-Much-Better-on-Paper Dates we all know so well in this ferociously optimistic online dating era. No. The date worthy of Great Date had to be earned and worked for.

For the 50th birthday I just celebrated, I wore a little Patrizia Pepe number I had found, hugely discounted, a couple of years earlier and had bought on a whim—promising myself I would wear it on a special occasion (when slim enough to do so). It still had the price tag attached when I pulled it from the back of my closet a few weeks ago.

I decided to wear Great Date with that dress; I still had that half-tube left! It was the right decision. This was indeed the best date night in a decade, a small seated dinner for some 20-plus of the people who matter most in my life. My daughter, 13 (“and-a-half!”) was wearing way more dramatic make-up than I was, because she came straight from a theater performance at her school, and she looked amazing.  Family and friends had come from near and far, even Europe, from all chapters of my life, all of whom had seen me through thick and thin. Often, thick. Oh, and yes. There was that great date well worth the patience, a man I should have paid a lot more attention to decades ago. (Somewhere in this, I feel, lies an argument for bringing back every woman’s favorite discontinued makeup item.)

But—it is funny how things go. I tried on my revered lipstick the morning before the party (the silvery tube having turned dull, even a tad rusty, over time). To my surprise, I didn’t love the color.  Yes, it is as dark as I could want it to be, but with just a bit too much of a tinge of blue for my taste. With a bit of a metallic tone (which I abhor in lipstick and shoes in equal measure). I stared at myself in the mirror. Clearly, my taste had changed over the last ten years. So had I.

Still, if for sentimental reasons only, that night was Great Date’s night. Plus, I hate to let anything go to waste, even though, ahem, I am really into Black Violet these days (sorry, GD!).  More importantly, my friends 50 and up: Just use lipstick, whichever shade you favor. Every day. Never, ever leave the house without it.  And see what it will do for your self-esteem.

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  • Brenda Segel January 25, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    What a wonderful piece. I had no idea you were such a great writer. Who cannot identify with hearing those awful words — it’s been discontinued. Happened recently with a favorite hair product of mine, but thank goodness for ebay. Your lipstick revealed so much about yourself and your life and the ups and down and changes we go through. Really marvelous. Thank you. Brenda

  • Michael Moss January 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Agnes, fabulous story. It got me thinking of stuff I buy that gets changed on me, and my analogy is the running shoe. Sounds weird, I know, but for 40 years or so the daily jaunt has been my therapy and muse. well, some days, I confess, it’s more than a jaunt. So that over the years, my foot has become molded to the shoe. And, of course, it would have to be Nike, which I started wearing not long after the inventor in Oregon poured rubber into his waffle iron to make the sole. Which means that whenever they change up the model, which they do every year it seems, I have to worry not only about losing the mold and my psychic ties, but also about what new abominable labor source they might be using now. So I have your half tube of Great Date experience on a regular basis. I keep the old worn out shoes around, holes and rips in the mesh, wearing them around the neighborhood until the day when the bond gets broken on its own and I can just easily toss them out, without remorse, and the newest model shoe that I’ve now worn down running, takes its place. It would be tempting to say this keeps me young and flexible, but I have two young boys who work hard on that front. Michael

  • Katie January 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Oh, yes! At 66 I’ve been putting on that lipstick every morning for years, now even to walk the dog at 7AM. It is essential for well being.

  • Toni Myers January 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Agnes, wonderful tale of Great Date and its meaning in your life. It’s the small things, right? After experiencing WWII rationing, my mother hoarded everything she loved. We laughed and laughed (some comic relief after she died) to find all the lip quenchers, Mentos, and tins of lobster, the latter we had to toss. My favorite nail polish, Blue Moon, met a similar fate. I still miss it.