There was nothing private about my divorce, in final draft after two years of haggling. Friends and neighbors witnessed the unraveling of my marriage and the doormen placed bets on which one of us would wind up with the co-op (I did). When the dust finally settled, I realized I’d lost a lifetime of routine along with half of the assets and I was really, really wounded. Afraid to get into yet another long-term relationship, I began putting the pieces of my marathon journey in place and resigned to finding joy in limbo
In limbo, it’s easy to stage a fantasy … “dating” is fun: dressing up for the compliment, going out for dinner, planning a picnic in the park or a bike trip to Coney Island … We all lead busy lives so it takes weeks/months for a relationship to go from ‘curious’ to intimate, and as it grows, it’s huge to realize you’re home alone and can do whatever you want…
Chilling the champagne and treating Surfer Dude to a Jacuzzi with strawberries on the side, I set the remote in the master bath to Norah Jones … “Piece of cake” I sing to myself, fluffing the pillows and slipping in to a ‘sophisticated sexy’ big shirt (mostly unbuttoned), waiting, lights dimmed, for him to join me, his hair still wet, towel around his waist – but when the towel drops, I freeze.
Aging is seriously more than a mental thing and as we’re looking ahead to tour sexy sixties, we’re talking more about teeth whiteners, sagging skin and how to handle the inevitable “reveal” now that we have men in our lives we want to do the shimmy with. Add to the pile of external physical change we’re suddenly uber aware of, the internal malfunctioning caused by C-sections, knee surgeries and hammertoes … There aren’t enough lubricants in the world to eliminate scar tissue or narrow the gap between what was possible then and just isn’t physically possible now.
The guys, of course, are made of the same aging flesh and blood, which makes it a little more bearable and explains the fact that they too seem slow to strip down to their birthday suits. “Wine first” Karen advised when I panicked over my first pre-meditated shower ensemble with Surfer Dude, “then use a few candles in the bathroom…he’ll think it’s sexy.” Armed with soap in one hand in case I needed to blind him, I readied myself, opened the glass door and let out the steam … by the time his eyes adjusted it wouldn’t have mattered if I were the bride of Frankenstein, he was one happy feller and I felt victorious.
Tool Man earns major points in guiding Karen through the process of loving and accepting her body as beautiful, but despite an occasional triumph, I know I’m not quite there yet. They’ve both been single for a few years and are ready to go beyond with each other. I’m still fearful of daylight and hoping to “just say no” to the next hot fudge sundae and “yes” to more grapefruit, doing sit ups and taking belly dancing classes (if I can’t lose it, maybe I can mooove it).
It’s surprising, really, how much “age appropriate” men seem to appreciate the romantic effort, enjoy being pampered, spoken to softly or “just snuggling.” … No jumping jacks or cartwheels necessary (although I suspect garter belts will come into play at some point) in the beginning, we’re dancing slowly, gently massaging away insecurities accumulated over a lifetime of living with too many un-removable stains and healing wounds inflicted by disappointed partners hammering away at what we didn’t do right … guilt, blame … unhappy endings.
So I stare out in Limbo … a place between then and now, when I no longer want to hide beneath an oversized sweater or yesterday’s morals and so see myself literally peeking out from under. I was enjoying Surfer Dude’s philosophical perspective, easily spending more and more time together – spontaneous lunches, weekend bike rides. I realized pretty early on that part of my initial attraction to a guy with a temporary visa was the fact that although he would leave, it would be for reasons that had nothing to do with me – and in the meantime provide me with a band aide to cover my wounds so they could start to heal.
But after several weeks of sharing music and joyfully adding bread and avocado to my daily diet, Surfer Dude pushed back in the final month before his visa expired. There were outbursts of frustrations, days of not talking and then one or the other of us reconnecting with a humorous text or funny email, but still, he remained distant. As much as he wanted an excuse to stay, he had a job waiting for him back in the UK and two girls in their late teens looking forward to having dad back on their side of the Atlantic. I asked him on our last perfect night together if he didn’t like my body, if that’s why he had backed off and preferred the occasional snuggle instead. “Oh God NOOO,” he laughed … and then he got quiet and added, “it’s easier for me to leave if you hate me.” “Well, I replied matter-of-factly “that’s not going to happen.”
I take his hand. I stroke his stubbled cheek. I accept his moods and understand they’ve been acquired over decades of not living up to someone else’s fantasy – or his own idea of whom he should be at this age. I ignore the voices in my own head, questioning my ability to connect, my sexuality — and at the end of that next and last perfect day, we say good-bye.
During the workdays in those final weeks, deals are negotiated and dates set for the openings of both shows on Broadway (one in September and the other in October). I update my travel plan and decide to leave the country mid-November, lining up an apartment swap with someone in Paris and another in Rome… I also tell a friend who’s producing a musical on the West End next year that I could be available to run his London office …
Note to self: Download Skype.