Roger Angell, a writer for the New Yorker magazine is best known for his essays on baseball but wrote a personal piece entitled “This Old Man” last February, describing life in his 10th decade. I have reread “This Old Man” three times and with each reading, I am renewed with hope and courage. And, of all the books written by my colleagues and the so-called experts on bereavement that I have read after my husband died last year, Roger’s personal essay hit a home run with me. With honesty, humor and a lack of self-pity he describes what we lose after our spouse dies and what we long for again. Roger is an expert on loss; not only losing his wife two years ago, he has lost two grown children, an assortment of friends, family members, his once healthy athletic body and an assortment of fox terriers.
Roger shares his struggles in his therapy, to live without his wife Carol. He writes of physical intimacy in old age that few people under the age of 60 can imagine.
“We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies, or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OKCupid in such numbers.”
“But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize it avidly, stunned and altered again.”
It’s unlikely that Mr. Angell met his new wife of a year on Match.com but he unabashedly encourages us to find another, even if it’s for two years or three months. He reminds us to stay present and not drown in the past. He is what George Bonanno, PhD psychologist and clinical professor at Columbia University would call a “resilient” griever, with most of us falling into this category.
Yet we re-enter our new lives as widows and widowers differently than our younger selves because life has made us different. If we choose to find “another,” then we have to enter the dating game. Our memories of youth include a plethora of available people to date and places to meet them. Now most of the available single people our age have declined, but the bright side is that the age of technology can assist us in dating. The over 65 population is one of the highest users of online dating services today. We are 53 million strong with about a ratio of one man to every three women. While the numbers do not favor women, there seems to be a 17 percent success rate in coupling.
Dating online requires learning how to position oneself with the help of a written profile and photographs. Your written profile has to be genuine, but not weighted down by too many details. Fudging is permissible. Men seem to exaggerate their height and financial success. Women fudge their weight and both sexes shave their ages by several years or more. Most women create separate email addresses for dating and others even choose to hide their caller ID. Some online sights are scams, taking your money with promises of a continuing supply of dates which do not materialize. Other online sights are known to collect scammers from other countries that are dangerous with the FBI setting up a website to cross reference photos and alias’ that scammers use.
Because we have lived long lives there are often complicated life stories with deceased spouses, ex-wives and grown children. And there are the mistakes that people have made that, they have either learned from or repeat. It’s up to us to know our threshold for what we can tolerate.
Dating online is nothing more than going out on one blind date after another, and I am told this is a numbers game…the more people you meet the more chances you have of finding someone. Some approach it like a business; one woman I know blitzed 200 men with the same email and got a 10 percent return and is now in a relationship. Others see online dating as a “sport,” attempting to meet as many people in a weekend as possible. And we soon learn to avoid prolonged emailing and prolonged phone calls, recognizing that meeting in person is the best way to judge a candidate for a potential relationship.
Yes, we are rusty at dating but not at life. Roger reminds us that a caring connection to another still awaits us. “Hook, line and sinker; never mind the why or wherefore; somewhere in the night; love me forever or at least until next week.”
Roger says find happiness and savor its sweetness.