By Roberta Russell
Of those who have lovers, long-term marriages, and other trusting bonds, half will ultimately be abandoned—by chance or by intention. One partner either dies first (usually), or leaves the other. As the growing population ages, friends and family perish and depart. Life is a veil of tears.
The Covid quarantine also separates us from the sustenance and affirmation we get from the familiar people we see during the hum of life. Loneliness erodes meaning and vitality. Isolation can be more harmful than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
When I go swimming in the double Endless Pool in my basement, without Harold, my husband of 27 years, the Mozart CD that he put on the last time we swam together, more than six years ago, still plays. The miles of swimming I continue to do every week fortify me to take on the trials of high-stakes, male-skewed, online dating in my seventies. Thus buttressed, I find myself able to engage in this venture, which is not for faint-hearted or embittered women.
I am widowed, alone, and ever-hopefully immersed in the tumultuous world of online senior dating. At age 70 and older, there are many more single women than men, because women live about five years longer and men often prefer younger women.
I met Z (as I will call him), age 78, on a dating site about three years ago. He entered my life, online, as a swashbuckling presence—traveling in Europe—describing his adventures at leading medical conferences. Age notwithstanding, Z was a prominent doctor and leader in his field, an alpha male. He re-awakened me to passion with his numerous sexy texts. His artful language and literary references were matched by my own, which were of a more philosophical bent.
All the while, I was home alone in New York City with my fantasies, awaiting Z’s next missive. Online dating is a breeding ground for fantasy. Enthralled with Z, I would check my phone when I awoke in the night. Unfailingly, there he was, dreaming of me, he said.
Weeks later, when he arrived back in New York City I could not wait to feel his touch. (Although we had enjoyed pillow talk on Facetime, we had never met in the flesh.) That was electric.
But after a couple of passionate encounters, he left, abruptly stopping all communications. We never had a real “date.” He was apparently an accomplished lothario.
Remarkably, undaunted, I re-contacted him three years later. He was the last new man I had met. We started texting again, sometimes 20 texts in a day. Before long we were once again communicating every few hours, no matter where he went. “Dance with me till the end of love,” he once typed. By now, our texts were again punctuated by live visits.
Weeks ago, at his most impassioned, while he was away, Z texted me in the wee hours: He wrote that he feared falling in love with me, although I had not been aware of that possibility. Conflicted, he expressed concern about hurting me, giving me notice so that I could get away. His internal turmoil, which he laid bare in the dead of night while he resisted the powerful prescription drugs that he used (ineffectively trying to give himself the peace of sleep), drew me further to him like a moth to a flame. I wanted to save this brilliant, tormented and divided self, who claimed to be happy. But by the time the sun rose, his memory of our closeness had faded.
Z was still handsome, fitter than when I first met him, and hot. He neither wanted me to become his life-partner, nor to save him. I, besotted with him, wanted to heal him and, in so doing, heal myself.
A craggy-smart psychologist I consulted by phone, who was about Z’s age, told me to think of a passionate relationship in my senior years as a gift, if it did not harm me. He sounded envious. And so, on I went.
I could not stop thinking about Z. We were tethered, night and day. Then, I had an epiphany. The travails of aging, with one body part after another expiring, call for a companion who is actually there for me. I knew I had to somehow break it off to open myself up to that possibility.
Z seemed relieved. He had a replacement within days. Dating sites work well for him. He texted that he is on pause, but would never be finished with me.
I am still looking. The demographics may favor men, but action favors the bold.
Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017). She has also been a contributor to various international magazines and journals. Occasionally, Roberta hosts a New York City cable television show, called Lifetalk, which has featured interviews with movers and shakers in controversial areas.