SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue

By Linda Collins

By keeping a (very) open mind, I discovered how wonderful intimacy could be

I am 71, and I just spent half the night making love. I had thought I was dried up, done, dead. Apparently I am not. I have fallen in love and am totally turned on by and tuned in to another person for the first time in well over 20 years.

But that’s only half the story. The really big surprise is that the person I have fallen in love with is a woman.

This is after two marriages (to Roy and Mike, five and three years, respectively) and living with two men (Ed and Don, 10 and five years, respectively), not to mention a number of “tweeners.”

I will confess to having had the occasional girl crush over the years. I can even recall their names: Terry in high school, Ginny in college, Lee and Penny as an adult. But if they had looked at me twice, I’m sure I would have run the other way. On the other hand, if any of them had kissed me then the way Sybil kisses me now, I probably would have been a goner.

Yes, Sybil is her name. She's one of several high school friends I reconnected with when I moved back to Brooklyn in 2001 after living in California for 28 years. I knew her only tangentially through another friend, Hedy, and didn't realize she was a lesbian.

About a year ago, I was having lunch with Hedy, and Sybil came along. Hedy and I had been in Leaders Club together at Erasmus Hall High School, playing and coaching sports and helping out in gym classes. That's when I learned that Hedy and Sybil used to be lovers/partners but broke up after about 10 years. Hedy went on to enjoy multiple relationships with women, Sybil to not enjoy a long-term one, but they managed to remain friends through it all, for more than 50 years.

After that luncheon, the three of us developed a friendship that grew on us. At first we’d just go to movies and plays, but gradually we started to see each other more regularly. Then Sybil began saying things like “I need my Linda fix.” I was feeling the same way about her, and it wasn’t long before a steady weekend ritual began for the three of us.

One day last February, when we were alone together, Sybil told me that the past year had been the happiest of her life. To which I replied how glad I was to have been a part of it. In March, we were making bucket lists, and she announced, “I want to have an affair.” I felt butterflies in my stomach.

In April she invited me to an all-women SAGE dance in Manhattan, and I boldly asked, “So do you see anyone here you’d like to have an affair with?” She looked me straight in the eye and said “yes,” and she took my hand and led me onto the dance floor. At a late dinner after the dance, she asked if I wanted to stay with her that night, and I said yes. And then in her apartment we had that kiss, and I knew I was where I wanted to be.

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The Love That Dared Speak Its Name

Sybil and I have been “an item” for half a year now, and though we haven't taken the move-in-together plunge yet, it’s been wonderful.

Oh, we have our baggage, and the commitment we are making to each other isn’t going to be easy. I’ve been single and free for the past 20 years, I’m still working, and I tend to hide from conflict. Sybil, on the other hand, is retired and stayed in an unhappy relationship with an alcoholic for more than 30 years. Even though my M.O. is to bolt when the going gets tough, I don’t want to walk away from this one. I want to stay with her and for us to experience happiness together.

It’s hitting us hard that our years on earth are limited, and we want to make the most of them: traveling to places we’ve both longed to see, experiencing musical and cultural events that are so much richer when shared with another.

And, yes, responding to each other physically. It’s powerful. It’s also comfortable. She happens to live in the (LGBT-friendly) West Village, where we can hold hands or walk around arm-in-arm. It’s liberating and a first for both of us. Yet even now, I do not see myself as a lesbian. I don't know what I am or what label there is for me. But I do know that in this instance, I am definitely in love with this particular woman.

My family, friends and even co-workers are very happy for me. My sister and brother-in-law in particular are wishing us well. I don’t know how they would have reacted if this had happened years ago. I’d like to think they would have been okay with it, since I came from a supportive and loving family. Mostly they’re just glad that at this age, after so many unhappy relationships, I’m with someone who cares about me and that I’m experiencing deep joy and love.

I am constantly amazed that this has happened, that it has been so easy to consider a relationship again, that I’m so attracted to this woman -- and at this age! I suppose it’s being at this stage of life that makes societal “norms” seem way less important and following my heart way more so.

Linda Collins lives, loves and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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