When I first thought of dating after widowhood, I felt like “A Stranger in a Strange land.” (October 2019) I found myself being intimidated by the process, but thinking I was intimidated by the players. I have since discovered that although the style of dating has changed, the players really haven’t. But let’s start at the beginning.
Putting Yourself Out There
For me, one of the hardest obstacles to putting myself out in the dating world was the ability to look at myself realistically and judge what we will call, for lack of a better term, my marketability. I was confident in the personality and intelligence end of things, but the physical aspect gave me pause.
If you were putting your house up for sale, you would evaluate general conditions, repair what you could, cover what you could not repair, and let the rest go under the category as character. Well, that was much the way I approached dating. Let’s face it, when you have been in the emotional and physical custodianship of someone who loves you, it is frightening to peel away all the blind love and look at yourself with the unchecked frankness of someone seeing you for the first time.
My major problem was that I was looking at dating as if I was going back to the last time I was single, only with this travel-worn body. I was picturing the guys as only slightly older than those I dated in my twenties. It was as if, for men, time and looks, stood still, and time only marched forward for me.
Intellectually, I knew this wasn’t true, but in my mind’s eye, the guys were the same and I was dramatically different. So, jumping back to the house analogy I did the following:
That was scary. I had lived most of my adult life covering up what I perceived as my physical flaws. I am the recipient of the twin forces of heredity–chunky, thick peasant legs inherited from some hill-trekker in Italy, coupled with a complete lack of knee caps, courtesy of my Irish grandmother. Let’s just say my legs were never, nor ever will be, my best feature.
Years ago, when I was happily and healthily pregnant with my first child, my oldest daughter, I went for a regular monthly obstetrical visit feeling just great. When we were finished with the exam, my doctor asked me if I had any questions, “Well yes, I noticed that my ankles are just getting a little swollen.” She looked down, grabbed one the ankles in question and said in her heavily German-accented English, “Well, clearly your husband did not marry you for your legs!”. I was crestfallen, her candid and rather ruthless assessment of my least favorite body part left me feeling deflated and sad.
Recalling the conversation later that evening to my husband, he looked up at me properly outraged and said “She’s right. You should have told her I married you for your great rack.” I started laughing and big legs were forgotten for the time being.
Although my complexion is pretty even, my nose, which was abused by years of unchecked sun exposure and a fair dose of hereditary donation, shines as brightly as Rudolph, when it is without makeup. Again, another physical trait I come by honestly.
Sitting around my grandparent’s dinner table as a little girl, I was inspired as I was musing at my grandfather’s rather bulbous proboscis, “Hey Grandpa! Do you know that your nose looks like chop meat?” My mother shushed me in horror, my father laughed until he cried, and my grandfather guffawed once and continued eating.
I’ve been, at times, called attractive, but I don’t consider myself classically pretty. I remember once jauntily walking up to Notre Dame in Paris, with artists and their easels uniformly spaced on both sides of the plaza.
“Madame,” a painter called. “Come, sit! I will make you pretty,” he cajoled.
“She is pretty,” called the man across the plaza looking to capitalize on his associate’s gaff, “I will make you beautiful, Madame”
“Merci, no,” I said, stung by the exchange.
These small incidences help to shape not only what we are, but how we see ourselves. And when you have a life partner, those small insecurities become insignificant. When we are loved, we develop a candy coating that comes from the person you love, loving all those things that have tortured your psyche your whole life.
So today, I am once again exposed to the elements. On my most insecure days, my faults are recited like beads on a Rosary. Only now they have added droop, stretch marks, and wrinkles.
Look, some things are easier to fix. I go to the gym very regularly for both body and mind, and my “tree trunks,” although not shapely, definitely benefit from a “tightening.” My complexion, red nose and all, gets an organic elixir which does not ameliorate the condition overly much but that, coupled with a decent make-up still allows me to play in the “reindeer games.”
For the “baby pouch”, a ton of crunches and some tighter pants pulls that together a bit.
The Cover Up
I have been blessed with the ability to be confident, even when I, at times, should not be. Any physical shortcomings I have, I have attempted to overshadow with what I would call an effervescent personality. I am not everyone’s cup of tea. But a surprisingly large number of people are drawn to positivity.
And for the rest, let’s just say it’s character.
Sure there are men in their 50’s like Rob Lowe (Yum) and Brad Pitt (Super Yum) who have aged like fine wine, and yet even when they talk about themselves and their age, they are cognizant of the changes that time has wrought on their looks. And then there are the rest.
These men, these wonderful, funny, smart and scared men are in the same boat as we are. Having dinner with a positively gorgeous man, I notice that he is holding the menu almost under the table, he is squinting, while trying not to be obvious. “Are you okay?”
“I, uh, don’t have my glasses.” I take the menu and begin reading the entrees (luckily, not an exhaustive list), and feel, with something almost maternal, a little tenderness for his discomfiture at this shortcoming.
There may come a time that you meet some wonderfully sweet and smart man, and you sit across from him and you see he’s nervous. And when he looks at you, he’s looking over reading glasses. When you look closely, you see that his ears are larger than they probably were in his youth, his hair is thinner, but is close-cropped so as not to look that way. When he gets up, you realize that although he is fit, there is a small paunch that was covered by a jacket.
And that is when, as a woman, you realize the biggest mistake you made in approaching this is thinking that time only moved on for you, and not for everyone else.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.