When I opened the door, I saw my date dressed in black clothes and a white tie. I thought of Johnny Cash, even though the man before me had gray hair and bifocals. I liked his engaging voice and the way he took my arm as we walked to his car.
I hadn't dated much. Maybe I was still trying to please my family. Maybe I didn't want to risk putting a man through their scrutiny and rejection. Maybe I just didn't have the know-how to build a relationship. I didn't find the right man in my twenties or thirties, and if you fail enough, you stop trying—at least I did.
I told myself that relationships were optional. Books, TV and movies were my company. I kept busy with work as a drama and English teacher. Either I had a low sex drive, or I never recognized it, or fear of disapproval suppressed it. I was a 62-year-old going on a date with a stranger and experiencing the same butterflies that I had on both of my high school dates.
As I got into his Mazda, I noticed that the passenger seat had a slash and the yellow foam was exposed. So what? This was just dinner. It wasn't like I was going to marry him, even though he'd already told me he was looking for his third wife. We seldom recognize life's turning points when they happen.
I'd gone to Craigslist to look in "Platonic Only" after spending the Fourth of July alone. Three years earlier, I'd met a wonderful man there. He was a pancreatic cancer survivor who had neuropathy in his feet, an amazing sense of humor and an unending love for his second wife, who died five years earlier. I told him I had no kids and had never been married. He didn't ask why. I wrote about him sometimes in a free writing group that I had been with for years. The other writers' tales of family life, including some titillating bedroom scenes, awakened my curiosity. I wanted to tell equivalent stories, but men ignored me until I met Warren.
We sometimes talked about going away for the weekend. I knew what he was implying, especially when he said he wasn't going to waste a $50 pill. How could I tell him I was completely inexperienced? The best I could do was to change the subject.
After two years of phone calls, lunch dates, hospital visits and dog walks, he didn't call for three days. Then the phone rang, I saw his number, and I knew before I said hello that his son was on the other end. The news didn't surprise me. Warren had passed away in the company of his best friend, Charlie, a 75-pound German shepherd.
It took me about a year to go back to Craigslist. I returned to the "Platonic Only" section; nothing interested me. A little voice said, "Look in 'Men Seeking Women.'" Amidst the ego-tripping ads, I found one with "Classic" in the subject box. I opened it and read:
1944 classic roadster with many miles left!
Motor humms, transmission smooth and all the gears work!
Smokes a little but the amenities make up for it.
Two-tone, white with a gray top.
P.S. This car is at church every Sunday so if that is a problem with you this car is not for you.
Love your ad.
I suppose I'd be a 1949 classic roadster.
Motor hums unless it hesitates. Transmission and gears probably need a road test.
Has never smoked.
Two-tone, white with a reddish-brown top.
This classic roadster could be parked next to yours on Sunday.
Our roads aren't perfectly parallel. Might make life interesting. =)
When I got up the next morning, he'd sent me his picture. He was leaning against a Mazda with his arms folded across his chest, a newsboy cap on his head, and a face that looked more determined than friendly. Even so, I couldn't stop smiling. He sent his picture because he wanted mine.
Richard had been married to his first wife for 40 years. She passed away from a massive heart attack in 2006. He married her caregiver, who had a pacemaker; she died three years and one day later.
He told me he was the pastor of a small Baptist church and added, "I see that you have never been married. Are you at the point in your life that you would like to find the love of your life, get married and spend the rest of your life together? Obviously this is important to me because that is what I want."
The butterflies in my stomach fluttered and the muscles in my neck tensed. He was going after what he wanted without any games or pretense. His directness convinced me I could trust him. I asked myself if a two-time widower of 66 could find happiness with a 62-year-old woman who'd barely dated, to say nothing of never having had sex. How much would we have to compromise to make this potential relationship work?
Richard put down the top of his Mazda before he drove me to Walnut Creek on our first date. The wind felt wonderful in my hair. We ate at Black Angus, where I ordered the rib eye, as he suggested, even though I didn't usually eat red meat. It was yummy.
He told me all about his seven children, and I relaxed as I listened to him. His voice was both confident and soothing, and I didn't even think about the fact that I was on a first date with a man who picked me up at home instead of meeting me at the restaurant.
That Saturday, after breakfast, we sat in his car and he asked, "Have you had any boyfriends?"
"I've had friends that were men."
"Have you ever been intimate?" He said it without a hint of judgment.
"No." And just like that, my most embarrassing secret was out. He was not turned off, even though he'd told me he was looking for a woman who was experienced. Maybe this could go someplace.
He reached across the stick shift, put his hand on my arm and said, "Maybe you were saving yourself all these years for me." I wanted to roll my eyes, but some instinct stopped me.
We headed up the coast, and about three hours into the trip, I needed to stretch and walk around. He pulled off the road and together we walked up a dirt driveway until we came to a green metal fence at the edge of someone's ranch. There he stopped, turned me toward him, and embraced and kissed me. It was long and slow and deep, and when we pulled apart, his eyes were shining. The next day, he introduced me to his small congregation, who smiled as he told them to make me feel welcome. I had a role: I was the pastor's lady friend.
Within a week, he said he was falling in love, and I should break it off soon and gently if I wasn't interested because he was going to make me fall in love with him. I would have laughed, but I didn't want to hurt him. I wanted to date, but how could I be a candidate for love? Would I even recognize the signs?
Six weeks later, we took a day trip across the San Joaquin Valley and into Yosemite. We were waiting for a tram tour when he offered to take a picture of a twentysomething man and his girlfriend. Afterward, Richard asked the man to snap a photo of us. When I looked at the picture of the two of us in the lens of Richard's camera, I saw the most amazing, heartfelt smile glowing on my face. I finally knew what love looked like.
On Valentine's Day, he took me to an Italian restaurant and as we waited for our meal, he said, "If we aren't going to get married soon, it's time for me to move on."
I understood. Sort of. I'd had a wonderful seven months. I had a whole new life filled with appreciation, respect and love. I didn't want it to end. "We can get married in the eyes of God," he reminded me. Earlier, he'd suggested a paperless marriage, conducted by an ordained minister. Even so, I worried: If I had to say "for richer or for poorer," he could make me live up to that vow.
I weighed the risk of financial loss against losing the only man who ever said he loved me. I knew I'd never find a replacement for Richard. There was no one else like him, and we both wanted this to work. All I had to do was stand up for myself. I had to be prepared to say no if he asked for more than I could give.
I'd found a giving man who loved life, loved God, loved his work, and loved to shower me with affection and respect. In so many ways, he was exactly what I was looking for. He taught me that it's never too late to fall in love as long as you remain open, honest and accepting. I wanted to know what marriage was like. Take the leap, I told myself.
We had a simple ceremony in a wedding chapel in Reno. We were married in our jeans. I was scared about having intercourse for the first time, but my husband knew my secret and couldn't have been kinder about it.
Once the pain was over, I felt such relief. I had done the deed. I was normal—not that there has ever been a measuring stick for normal. I was not asexual.
In my heart, I was no longer an outcast. I had a partner, and our partnership as sexagenarians extended way beyond passion. We found a variety of ways to satisfy each other. I didn't want to get married as much as I wanted to be married, and I got exactly what I wanted.