Tripping Over Our Own Baggage

We over-50 singles say we want to be in long-term, committed relationships. We want to find someone to grow old with. We just can't stomach any changes to our own lives.
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We over-50 singles say we want to be in long-term, committed relationships. We want to find someone to grow old with. We just can't stomach any changes to our own lives.

This past year, I shopped for men online as "Ladywriter99," my doppelgänger of dating, on Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and J-Date. It was like going crazy at a discount shoe store when you don't really know what style of shoe you want. Last November, I was dating four guys at once, a cowboy, a lawyer, a Tai chi instructor, and an architect. I didn't see a future with any of them, but for the moment, I didn't care.

Then I realized I would be spending my holidays alone.

Despite my madcap social life, were I to vanish, it would be a long time before anyone noticed I was missing. I dreaded spending years online emailing with guys named "RubberDucky437" and "Speedracer29."

I wanted long-term, committed love, a greedy wish since I'd already had 32 years of true love with my late husband, lasting from my high school prom in 1981 until he died of cancer in 2013. I would never have that again. But perhaps I could find someone who felt a bit like home, someone I could settle in with, a relationship where I didn't want to accelerate the expiration date.

And I did find love online. But it couldn't sustain itself. We were both too unyielding.

Max was a musician with green eyes, spiky gray hair and high cheekbones, but also scattered, unambitious, often sloppy. I'm a former lawyer, a neat freak, and a bookworm. My dating profile said I like Fellini movies and Haruki Murakami. Max likes the TV cartoon "Squidbillies." But we both love Herman Hesse, Wang Chung and the same pizza toppings.

When Max and I first got together, I was transported by the time we'd spend lying around. He'd rub my back and I'd feel my bones relax. Sleeping next to him felt like warm silk. He'd strum folk melodies on his guitar; and I was softened. How lucky we were to have found each other in dreary Internet dating land, even if he did like the TV droning in the background while I craved quiet.

I'd thought I was being adaptable, not whining about crumbs in my celadon green duvet and unwashed dishes on my white kitchen countertops. For a while, I liked trading "nice" restaurants for divey bars, evenings at home for nights out to hear music. In turn, he tried to tidy things up, spend more nights in, go to "my kind of place."

Then we started fighting about money. Max wanted to split the cost of things equally so when we'd go out, I'd hear "isn't it your turn?" But Max had picked a bad, albeit inexpensive, restaurant. Why was I paying to eat somewhere I hadn't wanted to go? Worse, I felt cheapened driving to his house, rolling out of bed, then paying for dinner. Neither of us understood how the other spent money.

We still loved each other, but repeated arguing had chipped away the gloss of our first months together.

I had missed touch in a primal way, but could I deal with the person behind the touch?

My late husband had treated me like a princess. But couldn't I give up my inner princess for a less coddled life? I'd become a modern woman leading a fuller life with more choices. And, I hate to admit, far fewer emotional meltdowns. Excavate the baggage and throw out the princess!

Most of the older singles I've met are too set in their ways for any new commitments. Even though we profess to want them. We can go for dinner, or have sex, or generate dates for someone else's wedding, but we can't move past our own comfort zones and emotional wounds to create something lasting with someone new.

We are too shell-shocked by our upbringings. Or our ex-spouses. Or in my case, by my dead one.

During my year of online dating, I wasted so much time with men who claimed to want new relationships, yet spent most of the conversation bemoaning their old ones, the materialistic ex-wife, the partying ex-girlfriend, the times they gave of themselves and came back with nothing. Yet again, I had applied eye make up for a coffee date so I could be a sounding board for failed romances.

I previously dated a rich 65-year-old artist who'd been alone for three years, telling me how much he wanted to be partnered. I learned I compared favorably to his prior girlfriend socially and intellectually, but failed in meal preparation.

Every facet of his daily routine was sacrosanct. He had to leave for his club right when he finished drawing. He had to have his caffe au lait the exact moment he felt ruffled. I could drive the 45 minutes to see him, but he would not come to see me.

After the artist I dated a disorganized, hyper-busy fellow who told me he wanted "real emotional intimacy." But he couldn't plan his schedule in advance. Ever. He wanted closeness; he just didn't have time for it. I've met many guys online who tell me they want to be in a relationship, but they have no time to meet me within the next month. And the month after that is iffy. What's left, sexting?

Never concede. Do not relinquish one iota of yourself. Even if your current persona has isolated you. Is this strength or inertia?

After my husband died, my grief therapist, a pixyish woman with trailing purple scarves, told me I'd need to be able to change if I wanted a new life.

I can't seem to do that.

Neither can the men I've dated.

We want love. But without any upheaval. We just can't take it.

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