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!

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  • Sierra November 9, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I left a long-term marriage feeling independent enough financially and emotionally to not enter the dating arena but to carve a new life out for myself-hoping to make friends and continue new interests. This vision collapsed shortly after when I lost my good-paying job/career of 30 years. I fell under the spell of a bad therapist who systematically put me on more and more dangerous anti-anxiety drugs. I now find myself living on my 401 K at age 58 (this is year 2 out of 10 payouts). I lost my home and my 50% is now down to 23% of my ex husband’s (of 30 years) pension. I am dependent on a man I had started to date and who I knew from my employment. My issue is it is taking the better part of this year to wean off these drugs. I have not worked since being forced out of my 30 year career in 2012. I had an abusive boss and was under the influence of the therapist (who was only in it to line his pockets with money and keep me coming) and the terrible drugs that have caused all kinds of health problems. I am isolated and have no friends and not enough money to rent a decent place for myself. I lost my home in the divorce as well. I feel I did not get the “time” to date even though that was not my intent when I left the marriage. I did not get to pursue new interests that I had started (hand gliding for one) and travel. I was meeting new people and could have fostered new meaningful friendships and all got cut short due to physical, mental and financial losses. I feel trapped in the situation I am in. Does anyone have any thoughts as I try to get myself back. I don’t want to return to the work I did. I don’t have a degree and at 58 working for others is not the prospect it was when I was younger. I have tried to start 2 businesses but it keeps me dependent on this man I am living with and who is insecure about losing me. I lost ‘friends’ to the divorce as well and my Ex is either a narcissist or psychopath which means he has taken over the geographical area I live in preventing me from utilizing resources as he knows how to infiltrate and poison people against me. I am feeling quite stuck and know I am starting to get my mind and health back but it has been a slow torturous hell. Feeling quite stuck.

  • Cat May 2, 2013 at 12:23 am

    I am so inspired by your story. At nearly 47 and dealing with depression most of my life now and chronic fatigue, I often feel as if I am much older on a bad day. After a 4-5 year relationship with an older man by 14 years who was also a narcissist, I never really recovered from him telling me middle-aged women can’t meet anyone after a while. I reminded him that his wife had (in her mid-50’s, while still married to him) and he quipped haughtily, “Yeah, but her beauty faded.” I never got over feeling insecure around this person as he ogled younger women in front of me and then said I was nuts for noticing anything. Being with someone like this hurt my self-esteem and so I really appreciate hearing stories like this – that love can still happen, even if I have to wait until a longer time than I think from now. As I age as well, I am developing spiritually and feel I have so much more to offer someone than I did before.

  • Barb Jarmoska February 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    What a wonderful story from my long time friend Ellen Sue!
    Thanks for sharing these valuable truths, ES. You and Alan have something very special, and others can surely benefit from your experience.

  • Carol Knopf February 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    How sweet and encouraging is this? I am still married to my husband of 54 years, but I hope others who are not so lucky will take Ellen Sue’s advice to heart.

  • hillsmom February 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    A good and encouraging read. Congratulations…

  • Diane Dettmann February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Ellen Sue, I really related to “Silver Romance.” I was widowed in 2000 at the age of 53. After a couple of disappointing dates and missing my husband deeply, I swore I’d never remarry. Then after six years of traveling alone, eating in restaurants by myself and spending winter evenings in front of the TV eating ice cream out of the container, I decided to sign up for Dating rules have changed, but I got lucky and met a great guy. Both of us having lost our spouses, we hit it off, and I rediscovered love at 58. We celebrated our 5th anniversary this year. I agree, take a chance and take it slow, and you may find a golden opportunity for another chance at love!

  • Kimberly February 12, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Loved this perspective. While I’m still in my 40’s, I’ve been single for a while and am frustrated with the rush to sex that many men seem to expect. Thanks for articulating the slower path as a positive one!