Untenable Men, Part 1

At least with Hobson’s choice, the option is to accept what is offered or reject it. With Jake, I didn’t even have the luxury of Hobson’s choice, which itself is anything but ideal. I had no idea if Jake and I could become a couple in any romantic sense, but it didn’t matter because he had been clear that what he was looking for was a woman closer to his own age. There was no choice for me to make. Did he have the intellectual robustness I needed in a man, or real depth and breadth of interests, or the capacity to interact smoothly with my friends? I didn’t know, but it was probably irrelevant because there might not be anything more between us than some delightful text exchanges and that one lovely night.

A date with another younger man had already been scheduled before my evening with Jake, and two evenings after seeing Jake, I found myself sitting across the table with that man. This one was attractive and only seven years younger than me, and that put him in what I had begun to consider the sweet spot for me in terms of age from the standpoints of appropriateness and vitality.

Within the first few minutes of conversation, he told me that his life had changed completely some months earlier. Intrigued, I asked how. He leaned back, looked at me with suspicion, and said, “I don’t know you. I don’t talk about this with everyone.”

“I’m safe to talk to,” I replied.

He relaxed a bit and opened up. “I have multiple myeloma. Bone marrow cancer.”

If he had told me that he spent his time conspiring with aliens to create crop circles, I would not have been more surprised. He was pleasantly lean but not emaciated, and he did not have the pasty complexion of an ill man.

He went on to give me details about his situation. He had been through serious chemotherapy and was in remission, but he understood that his condition was not curable. He saw himself as having been pretty selfish in his life, but the diagnosis of multiple myeloma had changed that. He was renovating his behavior and the way he saw the world.

Late in the meeting, he asked if I wouldn’t like to move from my side of the booth to his so we could sit closer to one another and not be looking across a table. I felt myself melting a bit. The last man who had suggested that was Derek. In fact, Derek had been big on sitting next to one another, whether at a table or a booth, so he could be in closer physical contact with me. I had discovered that I was fond of that approach. More than fond. I was a complete sap about it.

When we left the restaurant, we chatted and laughed on the walk back to our cars, our arms around one another’s waists. “I’m going to walk you to your car. Is that weird?” he asked.

Weird? I was thankful that there were actually men out there who wanted to walk me to my car. I assured him that it was not weird.

Once at the car, he gave me a tiny peck on the lips. Without thinking, I said, “No. Give me a real kiss.”

I meant that I wanted at least the press of flesh. Instead of that, he leaned in and gave me a truly proper kiss: warm, open-mouthed, and sweetly gentle.

Then we parted.

On the drive home, I was in serious debate with myself. I had been through it before. I could not see myself being in relationship with a man who had incurable cancer. I had loved my late husband. The slow walk towards death with him had been an honor. Did I want to do that again? No.

I wondered if that made me superficial. If I were a better woman, would I look past it and be willing to date the man? He seemed a lovely man, after all. Surely, my resistance meant that I was superficial.

No, I told myself. That was crazy. I knew from personal experience what being with someone battling cancer was like. It was not unreasonable of me to not want that experience again.

Maybe the universe was testing me. But what was a passing score? Was it standing up for myself and what I thought might be best for me or was it being willing to stand down and support a man through cancer?

I contemplated the fact that any of the men I had dated could actually have cancer and not know it yet. In fact, one of the men I’d dated had, in fact, had cancer. Another thought that thanks to his DNA, he had a high probability of not just getting cancer, but getting prostate cancer, which was what my husband had died of. If I were in my twenties and dating men my age, health would be less an issue than it was for me in my sixties and dating men past the age of fifty. What did I expect? Of course, it also wasn’t a given that he would actually want to date me. The issue might be moot.

The internal debate carried on all the way home and right up to the time I retired for the night. By the next morning, I knew that I simply couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t date a man currently battling an incurable cancer.


Note: The names Jake and Derek are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the men involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall


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