My mom likes to tell me stories about the old folks in her retirement community… how this couple has been married 53 years and is still (or, more likely, again) blissfully in love… how that couple can barely stand each other and is each waiting for the other to die…. how that woman is a “tramp” and will sleep with anyone with a pulse… and how that lovely lady can’t seem to find a decent man.
I love her stories. I love to imagine the octogenarians at the clubhouse dances shuffling around the ballroom floor, cheek to cheek. I love when she tells me about her elderly friend who has fallen in love and giggles like a school girl when she speaks of her “gentleman friend.” So many of her retirement community love stories embody hope and tenderness and the perpetuity of blossoming love.
But the ones that break my heart just a little are the stories of the women who, year after year, attend the dances alone and wait for an attached man to be permitted by his female partner to whisk them around the dance floor just once. These women are the perpetually date-less. They eat nearly every meal alone, travel with their children and their girlfriends, and fill their days with bridge clubs and water aerobics.
But it is their nights that I wonder about. Do they ever lie awake in bed and feel the loneliness? Have they accepted their solitude with alacrity or do they secretly hope that some handsome retiree will come along and sweep them off their feet? Do they miss being in love? Do they get gussied up for the clubhouse dances in the hopes that someone new will be there or maybe a neighbor will bring a male friend?
The poignant and sad truth is that many of these ladies have fallen in love for the last time. To be sure, some will stumble upon a sweet and special love in the twilight of their lives, but for many of them — based on the sheer ratio of men to women in their 80’s — those days are behind them. And here is what I wonder about most: did they know when the last was the last? Or did they think, as we all do in middle age, that there would be another, someday, somewhere down the road….
I suspect the answer is different based on how the last love ended: if it was a long-term marriage that ended in their spouse’s death, the women seem to believe and accept (often incorrectly) that there will not be another. But when the last one was a “gentleman friend” that ended in a break-up, I wouldn’t be surprised if they — like most of us — start looking around the clubhouse for their next dance partner.
What would we do if we knew that we would never be in love again… that we’d danced our last dance with love… that we’d never feel that giddy lightness again…? Just typing it seems blasphemous, and yet….
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?