The New York Times does a wonderful thing at the end of each year, a remembrance of notable people called The Lives They Lived
. They revisit their contributions along with asking readers to submit photos and stories of their own losses. It’s bittersweet and deeply human to acknowledge the importance of the people no longer with us. To bear witness, even in death.
One was Jane Juska, who became famous for writing “Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance”, a book about wanting to find sexual fulfillment later in life.
At age 66 she submits a personal ad with the line quoted below. The book, an exploration and retelling of the men she met along the way.
That line struck me, as it did many others. Simple, profound, and wistful. The delay and sudden realization of the importance of a robust sexual life with an intellectual connection. Things left not done that now clamor in your head so loudly they can no longer be ignored.
Juska tells about the lovers she encounters from her personal ad. Each one delights and disappoints, "Next comes Robert from Manhattan. He is 72, tall, slim, a martini drinker. He takes you to the opera, wants to know your fantasies, traces your body from head to toe with his finger and is one of the most skilled lovers you will ever know. You fall in love. But Robert, who struggles with impotence and has another girlfriend, is fickle in his passions.”
I’ve been single most of my adult life with the exception of a ten year marriage where I wasn’t single, but alone. Like Juska, at age forty I flung myself into the world. That was the age I became completely free of self-judgement and impervious to the opinions of others. It was the perfect time to roam.
I flipped from waiting to see what came my way, to actively pursuing what I wanted. The result, a list of experiences uniquely wonderful and flawed. Through each one I am self-contained (save one), my heart remaining firmly in place. The men are characters who affect my life briefly. Like molecules bumping into one another and then being forced away. I learned to get what I needed in bits and pieces, based on what was offered and what was possible in the coupling. To tame the tension between what I desired and what was available.
Juska’s foray later in life is very much the modern version of being single. More often than not, a deeper romance isn’t possible, but it beats nothing. Mostly, sometimes.
More importantly, it sustains. I am still active, relevant, sexy, viable, if not loved.
My second bout of cancer makes it hard to approach dating in this laissez-fair way. There is a gravitas, whether I like it or not. I need to be handled more carefully.
I’m now seeing a man who lost his wife to cancer this past year. On our third date I came clean about my diagnosis and offered him a no-fault out to stop dating me. Amazingly, he stuck around. Men have departed for much less.
So, we sidestep a beloved wife and my cancer to enjoy our time together. I feel suited to the complexities. I’ve yet to have any experience (even wonderful ones) that didn’t require me to dig deep and share, be patient.
I googled, ‘how to date a widower’ which was helpful. He thought it was funny, and appreciated the gesture. I can’t pretend to know how to navigate these waters. Besides, I like research.
Sometimes I lie awake worrying I’m being selfish. Who am I to ask for investment when I’ve fended off cancer twice now? I don’t fully understand what I am signing someone up for when I engage them in a romance, but he does.
I’ve ached for a big love. Now that I see grief up close I’m sobered to its realities.
Still, I’m up for it.