I wouldn’t exactly say that I’ve been unlucky in love. It’s just that I possess the self-defeating combination of fussiness and introversion which, when paired, has led me to the preference of enjoying my own company over that of men who simply don’t measure up to my impossibly high standards.
Newspaper personals ads were popular when, at the age of 30, I met my first partner in 1977. Each of us had not only placed his ad in the same paper, but we also answered each other’s on the same day, lived two blocks apart, worked for the same school district, and had never met.
We began as romantic partners for more than three years and then, after amicably splitting up, we continued cohabiting for nine more. He moved out when he bought his own place.
By then it was 1990, and technology had not advanced; personals ads were still the best option for expanding my dating pool. I met a guy who offered the complication of two children from his marriage. Since I was a teacher and loved kids, I not only jumped right into the role of co-parent, but upped the ante by buying a house in the suburbs.
In 2001, the eleventh year of the relationship I thought was going to last forever, my partner unexpectedly delivered the news that he wanted to be by himself.
Now 54, I didn’t feel that finding love again was in the cards for me, so I shifted my attention towards the direction of retiring from my teaching career while submitting my application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, which was something I had wanted to do ever since President Kennedy had created the program, when I was 13. Fulfilling a lifelong dream was finally within reach, after having been deferred for more than forty years.
Love would have to wait.
By 2005, I was retired from teaching, and now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I came home from West Africa, footloose and fancy free. Online dating was taking hold. I created profiles on just about every website I encountered.
I found the process to be hit or miss, mostly miss. Now closing in on my sixties, I was very much a niche market: most of the men my age were looking for younger guys; the younger ones wanted only either each other or those who were even younger than they.
I took a multi-pronged approach in my search. Some members of my Toastmasters club still remember the speech in which I offered a $1,000 reward to the person who could introduce me to the guy who would become my partner.
That seemed like reasonable remuneration when compared to the fee I had paid a matchmaker who lured me to her service by assuring me that, yes, she had tons of men in their forties who would love to date a man of my age. Ultimately, she was empty-handed when it came to delivering the goods.
The online game was like tedious and unrewarding volunteer work, introducing me to a cast of characters who initiated contact, only to vanish when I responded favorably; who declined the civility of saying so much as, “No thanks” to my inquiries; who were kind enough to respond in the affirmative, only to reveal upon meeting that their online presence didn’t match reality; whom I wanted to get to know better, but they did not feel the same way about me; who wanted to get to know me better, but I did not feel the same way about them.
Men as far afield as St. Louis, San Diego, and New York expressed interest in meeting, should I ever visit their city. They dutifully kept in touch until, one by one, as I made travel plans — a wedding in St. Louis, visiting friends in San Diego, spending time with family in New York — I let them know that since I was going to be in their cities, we could finally meet in person.
What’s that sound? Crickets!
By 2011, the answer to the musical question, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” was a resounding, “No!”
My online profile frequently netted responses such as this: “43-year-old Russian man who does not smoke, would like to meet a gentleman for a serious relationship and marriage. For me it is important to (find) a good man who can support me. I’m in Florida. I do not know English, I use Google translator. I can not send a picture here for security reasons. I have no money to fly.”
And then along came the guy who, when I asked him what neighborhood he lived in, assuming that he was local, replied with the name of a what has become known in recent years as a flyover state — and, even though I travel domestically quite a bit, it was one where I didn’t know anybody.
As I saw it, even a guy in New York would have been preferable. Though it’s further away, it’s a lot easier to get to. I have friends and family there. I visit New York at least twice a year. There are museums and plenty of other things to do in New York. But his was a state of tumbleweed, cattle, and, in my estimation, desolation.
Furthermore, it didn’t conjure up an image of people who are friendly to vegans, gays, and liberals like me. I could be wrong, of course, but that kind of openness is just not the red-state brand.
He had written because he was planning a trip to the Bay Area in about a month to see his family, and he hoped that we could meet while he was in town. He was a Bay Area native who visited regularly.
Though his was not the inquiry I had been hoping for, I had nothing else in the way of possibilities, unless I wanted to crank up Google translate to write to that Russian guy in Florida. Furthermore, he soon distinguished himself by sticking around, staying connected, and, ultimately, following through by showing up.
Things looked so promising that by the time of his arrival on the first day of June, I felt that the best way to proceed would be to meet him at the airport and get a room at one of the airport hotels for the night of his arrival.
The chemistry was mutual. Fortunately for me, he had long been attracted to older men, which made the fifteen-year age difference an asset rather than a liability. I found him to be boyishly handsome, along the lines of Anderson Cooper, but on a larger frame, with longer thick silver hair and a chin dimple enticing me to dive into it.
I have pictures of us from that day. Trust me: day-we-met photos were not common for me.
Where he lived was not our only challenge. He was a bisexual whose relationships had only been hetero-romantic.
By August, we not only got to see each other again, but had established a comfortable level of trust.
Distance remained our greatest challenge. Eventually we were in touch only before and after his visits. Sometimes when he wrote to tell me he would be in town, I was traveling, so we missed each other.
On the 28th of February, 2017, after a period of no contact for more than a year, I received an email from him: “sorry I fell off the face of the planet for a while.”
He continued, “I flew in yesterday and as my plane flew over the city I looked down on your neighborhood and I smiled about the times we shared.
I am sure you are off in some foreign lands but I wanted you to know that I never stopped thinking about (you).”
Anyone listening carefully could have heard the sound of my heart melting.
He had caught me in town, and I wasted no time in responding.
The next morning found me waiting eagerly at the Ferry Building when he disembarked. As always, we shared a delightful day. By the time he boarded the ferry to return to his parents’ place, nothing had seemed to change, in that we had shared some satisfying hours together, and when we said good-bye, we had no idea when we would see each other again.
He was the one who made the game-changing move the next morning. I woke to see his text, explaining his sentiment that it was time for him to relocate to the Bay Area.
Having long held him as my unobtainable Prince Charming, I was gleeful. What’s more, we were both beyond ready to see what we could make of this new possibility.
He planned a visit in May. This time, he didn’t tell his family; I’d have him to myself!
My excitement was squelched on the day of his arrival when I awoke with a low grade fever. Coupled with a bad case of plantar fasciitis on my right foot, I was crippled, dispirited, and lethargic. It was all I could do to pull myself together to meet him at the airport.
The next morning, he swung into action. He authoritatively commanded: “You rest,” and, with that, he was a whirlwind of cooking, cleaning, and catering to my every need. At one point, having dozed off, I was roused by the sound of… the vacuum cleaner!!!
Talk about pulling through in sickness and in health!
Since then, we’ve made rendezvous whenever possible: Memorial Day in Portland, two visits to San Francisco in August, and a weekend Las Vegas getaway in December. The day of our arrival in Las Vegas, his house went on the market.
I’ve always been optimistic, with a tendency to live in the future. After having once been hopeless about the possibility of ever finding love again, I am now 70, going on 17.