When I contemplated who I was, what my strengths were, and what I thought I needed to develop, I came to the conclusion that I was not all that great at love relationships. I had been in a loving relationship with my late husband for twenty-four years, but when I teased out the strands of that relationship, I found myself lacking. Surely, I could have been a more loving wife. So I invited my guidance to help me develop my relationship skills.
I later reminded myself that I needed to be careful about what I invited guidance to help me with. I was first sent to a man I’d known years earlier, a bookseller I was acquainted with and who I trusted to take a look at my large book collection and make a fair offer on anything he might want.
The years had not been kind to him. Cigarettes and marijuana had taken a serious toll. COPD had robbed him of any robustness he might have once had. He came to the house and bought some books. At one point, as we were side by side on our knees, looking at the books on a low shelf, we turned to one another and I spontaneously said what I was thinking: “It’s such a pleasure to spend time with someone else who loves books.”
The look on his face was somewhere between wonder and abject fear.
Later, he sent me a message saying that he was smitten with me. And despite the fact that I was not attracted to him romantically and did not see him as a likely companion, we began a daily e-mail exchange. The message exchanges reminded me that one of the things I had missed since my husband’s death was having a witness to my life, someone who gave a damn and with whom I could share ordinary, everyday happenings. That he was into poetry didn’t hurt either. It seemed to me that I could work on my ability to relate with a man in salubrious ways through contact with this man, and it was clear that he enjoyed the contact. We later expanded the contact through occasional phone conversations.
But he became increasingly more taken with me and I became increasingly annoyed with his unhealthy, depressing lifestyle. He had a right to whatever lifestyle he wanted and he had a right to that lifestyle without the palpability of my annoyance. It was a very bad idea to be developing a friendship with this man, and we eventually ended our regular contact with one another.
A woman in her eighties who was the mother of a gym friend believed that what many men past a certain age were looking for was a nurse or a purse. It seemed like a pessimistic attitude, but not only did my friend with COPD need financial help, he had admitted that what he really wanted was a nurse to fall in love with him. And he wasn’t kidding about that. Surely, most men in their sixties and beyond didn’t want a nurse, a purse, or both, but I had to admit that in my own experience, at least one I knew did.
I was sent an even more challenging relationship on which to practice: a man who had been my lover when he was in his early twenties and I was in my mid-thirties, before my marriage to my late husband. Over the years, he had been in my life as a friend, on and off. The fact that he lived out of state and was married for most of that time made it feel safe. But when he was divorced and my husband was gone, he made gestures to suggest we should, perhaps, reconstitute the relationship.
I did not see that happening. After knowing him for almost thirty years, I’d seen many facets of his personality and, making an amateur psychological assessment (based on my background and education in the field of psychology), suspected that he had borderline personality disorder–easily one of the most crazy-making personality disorders for the people who have to interact with this type. I attempted and failed to eliminate him from my life multiple times before finally getting the job done. Needing to develop my relationship muscles did not, after all, mean that I should be developing those muscles in interaction with someone that dysfunctional. And I knew that good things and good people often don’t come into our lives until we clear out the problematic things and people.
It was not until more than five years after my husband’s death, right before my birthday, that I felt a switch flip internally. I didn’t see it coming and it surprised me. I was being nudged to reconsider dating sites. This felt wholly unnatural to me. I had never been on a dating site and I had not had a date with any love interest other than my husband for thirty years.
But on my birthday, I logged on to the dating site my intuition told me was the one to use, created a moniker for myself, and completed the beginnings of a profile that not only told the truth about my age, but also made who I am and what I was looking for very clear. I didn’t say, “Writer and editor seeking single male,” or “Shaman seeking serious relationship,” but when I hit “enter,” that’s what I was thinking. I felt strangely embarrassed and more than a little ridiculous, but I was out there.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall