Last year, while writing about survival tips for those growing old without spouses or children, I interviewed several single seniors to find out how they were coping with life on their own. In particular, we talked about when they first knew they were going to live out their days alone, and nearly everyone told me the same thing -- age 53.
Considering that I was 52 and single at the time, this was somewhat disturbing news. I realize that everyone's post-divorce dating life is unique to them, but suddenly I felt like I was on a deadline. I had one year to do what I hadn't done in the previous six since my divorce -- find that special someone, build our life as a couple and prove our love by buying long-term health care policies together
It's not like I haven't put myself out there since then. I've met some perfectly nice women who would no doubt provide perfect companionship when dinner out eventually becomes anyplace that offers half-off a second entrée before 6 p.m. Still, for no particular reason, the electricity between us never went from static to lightning.
Ordinarily, such setbacks are dismissed in the pre-marriage belief that there is always somebody out there if you just look hard. But then, I hit 53. And, more importantly, 53 hit back. I finally saw what those people I'd interviewed a year earlier were talking about. Whether it was due to fatigue or frustration, the idea of finally going for that long-delayed first colonoscopy truly seemed less stressful than yet another awkward first coffee date. I started feeling like it was time to simply retire from dating.
After all, people retire from work all the time. Maybe it's not their first job, or even their fifth, but at some point everyone realizes it's time to step aside and live every minute on your own schedule while spending all that money you've saved up. Trying to date after a middle-age divorce isn't really very different. You've put in your time. You've worked hard to achieve your goals. And then, it's time to start wearing a baseball cap instead of worrying about washing your hair since you never know who you'll meet while grocery shopping.
Don't get me wrong. It's not quitting. It's simply realizing that one's energies are better spent elsewhere than checking your Match.com mail every 12 minutes. There's no gold watch when you retire from dating. Nobody throws you a farewell party. On the plus side, though, making your exit official can keep friends and family from asking you why you're not meeting anyone or making certain assumptions about your sexuality.
So there I was, all set to join the American Association Of Retired Dating Persons. And then, I peeked at my teenage son's Facebook messages. It's not like I planned on doing it. (And, if you happen to be a friend of his reading this, you'll get an iTunes gift card if you keep this between us.) It's just that he uses my computer to check his page and sometimes he forgets to log out of his account. Upon discovering this tendency, I did what I like to think any parent would do: I checked out what he talked about privately with his friends.
First, there were no complaints about what a jerk his dad is, so that was a plus. Second, nearly ever message was to a girl. He'd try to engage them with erudite chat like, "I think you're really pretty." Inevitably, each girl responded with a variation of, "I really like you as a friend." His response? "Okay." Then, he just moved on to the next girl. So here I am, allegedly the older and wiser one, ending my dating pursuits just as the child I'm supposed to be a role model for is soldiering on with girls despite a similarly overwhelming lack of success.
When you're a parent considering divorce, the thing that most often holds you back is how the move will affect your kids. You don't want to provide them with a poor example of how to deal with relationships by splitting up. But, as I'm starting realize, the exact opposite becomes true once you're a single parent. This is the time you want to teach your kids how to have healthy romantic relationships by finding one yourself rather than spending your weekends with the dog and a bottle of Chianti. (Not necessarily in that order.)
And yet here I am, watching my 15-year-old set the standard for me with his blissfully unconcerned attitude about dating. There's something just not right about the kid whose bedtime I still control having more confidence in his prospects than I have. I suppose the least I can do is be a responsible role model by emerging from my brief, self-imposed seclusion. Doing so will allow me to show him that life and love can go on after divorce. And to see if the girls he likes have cute, single moms. And to think father-son bonding used to mean throwing the ball around in the backyard...