Not long ago, on a weekend visit to my hometown, my 71-year-old mother was nowhere to be found. It was 2:30 a.m. The smell of Touch wafted in the air as I stepped around the high heels strewn across the floor of her room, trying to figure out where she could be. Had someone abducted her?
It turned out she was in the arms of Louie, her date, a dapper, broad-shouldered 76-year-old. He had been wining her and dining her and asking — no, pleading — with her to let him take her on a first-class Danube River cruise.
“Oh, honey,” my Mom sighed after returning home, mascara smudged around her beautiful green eyes. “What am I going to do with this man?”
Another man madly smitten, begging her to marry him.
As a never-married 42-year-old woman, the conversation triggered a slew of emotions in me. On the one hand, I’m proud to have such a beautiful, dynamic, and sought-after mother. But as a single woman and late bloomer who is, at long last, ready to settle down and build a family of my own, I envy her situation.
While I may not be the ravishing beauty my Mom is, I have never had trouble attracting men. But these days, there is an irony: after many years of career-building, as well as grappling with commitment issues, I have emerged from a season of deep reflection and growth, including work with a wonderful female rabbi, to want a husband. And the men I date run hot and cold. Whereas my Mom’s suitors won’t leave her alone!
There’s Morty, a retired pharmaceutical exec and cancer survivor who specializes in protracted foot massages that my Mom loves. Not long ago, she and Morty traveled to Miami, where Morty’s daughter Cora started bossing them around. Never one to take orders, my mother confronted Cora, saying, “Young Lady, don’t you dare speak to your father and me that way.”
Because he never insisted his daughter apologize, Morty — who remains on hand to escort my mother to parties and the symphony — has been demoted to second-string suitor.
Enter Louie, a retired furniture salesman. So smitten was he when he first saw my mother (he was a student in a continuing-ed class that she, a professor of literature, was teaching), that for several months he regularly sent flowers. When I visited, at odd times I would notice a Lincoln Continental circling the block; it would speed up when one of us came to the window.
“Mom,” I said one night. “I think you have a stalker.”
“Oh, that’s just Louie,” my Mom said with an eye roll. “He won’t leave me alone.”
Then there’s Sheldon, a fit, golf-playing Michael Douglas lookalike whose wife is in a mental institution and to whom I playfully refer as my “weekend stepdad.” A physician, Sheldon attends all my mother’s poetry readings and is the only one who understands every nuance of her writing. Sunday mornings he arrives bearing bagels and lox and together they analyze everything from Obama’s stance toward Bashar Assad to the poetry of John Keats. The fact that the man technically has a wife allows my Mom to fantasize that if only Sheldon were available, he would be The One.
But the reality is, since my Dad passed away, there’s been no one she truly wants to marry. Maybe that is why the men won’t leave her alone.
“All my life I’ve heard about these men who fear commitment,” she said recently. “But I’ve never met any of them.”
My suitors, on the other hand, are a crew of enigmatic bachelors who seem generally disinclined to pursue commitment. There’s Jed, a magazine editor who announced on a recent date that it is “not normal” for a 42-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man to discuss having a child. And Don, a 46-year-old venture capitalist who pursued me ardently, rhapsodizing about how he could see us starting a family and felt he’d finally found his intellectual and physical match. After a romantic dinner and stroll, he asked me out for the next night, then called the following afternoon and practically barked into the phone, “I don’t think I can see you tonight. I’m not feeling well!” — and never called again.
Then there’s Dustin. Sweet, handsome, and 37, with blue eyes, black hair, and a dimple in his right cheek, he is filled with laid-back charm. But we only see each other every two weeks or so, and, in between dates, Dustin disappears. Long stretches pass, I’ll feel disappointed, figure he’s just not that into me, and write him off. Then out of the blue will come a text: “Hi pretty. Want to see a movie this weekend?”
Jewish dating experts say it’s not surprising that I’m having a tougher time dating in my 40s than my Mom is in her 70s.
“When I hear someone in her 70s has more dates than someone in her 40s, I’m not surprised,” said Lori Salkin, dating coach and a head matchmaker at SawYouAtSinai. “Many of those relationships between seniors have an implicit understanding that they are not about marriage. … A lot of the pressure we deal with is done … and dating can just be for pleasure.”
Michelle Frankel, owner of NYCity Matchmaking, a service specializing in Jewish clients, believes that women “in their prime of life” — the 30s and 40s — should take inspiration from older women who date for pleasure.
“Ask yourself, ‘Is this person someone who will make me laugh tonight? Will he be a gentleman?’ not ‘Is he going to be the father of my children?’” she said.
Frankel also advises dating “a bunch of people at the same time” and “being out and meeting other people between dates, so it doesn’t matter if it works or doesn’t with any one man.”
Come to think of it, I have the perfect role model to show me the ropes.