Dating: A Middle-Aged Widow’s Open Letter To The Man Who Thinks He Wants To Date Her

Happisburgh beach, dating essay
Happisburgh Beach | Photo credit: Melinda Fargo

Dear You,

On Dating Again

Putting aside the state of my lady parts for a moment, the rub with the whole middle-aged dating thing isn’t solely because I have ”become used to a single way of life.” Even in my youth, I was never in a bra-clutching state looking for a mate.

I was, and still am, able to take myself out to dinner without the protection of a good book. Able to do the supermarket run amongst cozy couples thrashing out what to have for dinner. Able to sit at my dining table with a place setting for one without a fat widow tear bouncing up from my soup. Most of the time.

It’s not even I worry my grown-up children will object to my dating again. It would be a bottomless carafe of entertainment for them. Men voluntarily negotiating the complicated menu which is their mother? Cue hilarity.

No.

It’s more whether I have the appetite for it all again.

You know, whether I can be asked.

On Some Recent Dating History

Since 15 January 2010, five men have wanted to date me. Five if we’re still counting the one who could only enjoy fluid relationships. Deciphered to mean he wanted the freedom to enjoy anything that moved.

I had night terrors imagining these potential dates leaving half-caff, double foam lattes to run screaming into oncoming traffic. Or dates suddenly remembering heart bypass surgeries they were late for. Or men who “enjoyed a challenge” then not enjoying it quite as much as they remembered.

Although an American cousin told me on the US dating scene there it’s perfectly acceptable to just abandon dates you weren’t enjoying. Acceptable midway through dinner to excuse yourself, go to the restaurant bathroom and climb out the window. Or, if dining al fresco, to jump over the manicured hedge whilst your date went to the cloakroom to fetch the coats. The takeaway for me is not to wear tight skirts or good coats on first dates.

On the online dating scene here, a girlfriend and I made curious by copious amounts of Prosecco, recently downloaded a dating app. In our age bracket, one Lothario was a “50-something single ready to mingle.” It was hard to reconcile this bold if clichéd statement with the tousled, half-asleep-looking man slouched on his bed in a Halloween costume. We stopped swiping in any direction after twenty minutes, wondering if our dummy profile plea for “No psychos, please” was always destined to attract a certain type. Not sure, but I curled up tight into the sofa wondering if it was me or the Prosecco overthinking things.

Five men, who without the guidance of friends and family (my friends and family), have wanted to hold my hand and walk around the playground with me.

Then there’s you. The you who seriously thinks he wants to date me.

On Me

Born in 1962 into a big family, I’m a projects professional in local government by day, and a passionate business creative when outside of that corporate cubbyhole.

I am also a writer, blogger, photographer, walker, cyclist and perfumista. An avid reader, I enjoy arts and culture, and love to waft around art galleries and museums. I could spend 24 hours a day in these places, closely followed by fabric shops where I could happily spend 28 hours.

On light entertainment, there is little time for TV, but I am a huge Columbo and Inspector Morse repeat-offender groupie. I enjoy good thrillers (Call of Duty, Broadchurch), comedies (Frasier, W1A, Grace & Frankie, Modern Family) and any drama which deep dives into human relationships (This Is Us, In Treatment). TV-lite of choice: Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year, Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Bake Off, Masterchef. Some favourite books: Great Expectations, The Emperor of Ocean Park, The Glass Castle. Movies: How Stella Got Her Groove Back, To Sir With Love, The Colour Purple, The Talented Mr Ripley, Birdcage, Sunset Boulevard. Authors: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Whipple, David Sedaris. Some recording artists: Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Gregory Porter, Roy Ayres, Fleetwood Mac. In the Oldies But Goodies category? Anything with Bette Davis in it.

This condensed list may mislead you to believe I am one of those admiral people who can whittle down a lifetime of cultural choices into a core few. I am not. My real list is 500 items long… in each category.

Personality-wise, I’m something called an extroverted introvert. I love people and am curious about their motivations, I’m gregarious and fun-loving and never balk at public speaking gigs. I’m a riot. I’m also an introvert. An introvert who can only be ‘on’ because of the sustenance I get from being alone. This can be confusing for those who don’t know me well. My intimates put up with this side of my nature for only so long before storming my apartment doors with those concrete bolster things the police use; or smash through my windows SAS style hurling tear gas bombs at my head whilst blasting cold water at my MacBook Pro.

On the looks front, I’m still an attractive black woman, I think. I haven’t been stoned in the street recently as a witch, a measure I find as arbitrarily useful as any other. Physically fit, (I walk everywhere), I carry at least 2 stones over my ideal weight. This is due in part to the breast cancer pills I have to take for a while longer, and partly because I came off an exhausting 40-year diet. On the breast cancer gig, I am clear and grateful.

My hair is Peter Pan or condemned-prisoner short, although I used to have very long hair. However, with a three-hour drying time, I went rogue some years ago and cut off “all that good hair” and never regretted it. It suits my face shape, which is prosaically round or charitably heart-shaped.

My lady parts haven’t completely fused over, although like holes in ears you do have to keep the thing open with a piercing or two. Bananas come in handy. It’s also not so much a Brazilian down there as a Namibian. Namibia is one of the ten driest countries in the world behind Sudan, I think. Being said, my ‘lady purse’ is somewhat fashionable if grown women with bare pre-pubescent parts is still in vogue. Mine got there by default when the hairs took a date-night vote to travel south. To Brazil probably.

I’m comfortable in my 5’ stature, but prefer tall men. My husband was around 6’,4.”

On Him

I won’t always bang on about my late husband, but no narrative about me is complete without him. If my ride on the love island merry-go-round ends with him, I will consider I haven’t done badly at all. Maybe that’s the rub of dating again? The sure knowledge that this man will be a hard if not impossible act to follow.

There again, I’m not expecting you to open doors for me, stand up when I leave the table or offer to take my coat, but those things were a turn-on in him. Raised-right, good old-fashioned New England manners. For sure, a faction of the feminist community is now hailing a taxi to come burn down my bedroom curtains, but I’m a woman of my time and that woman finds certain care and courtesies attractive.

My husband wasn’t around for my breast cancer drama, but this man knew how to take care of me when I was ill. In an excerpt from my blog:

“He fetched medicines and scrambled eggs and cold compresses. He ran hot baths and changed bedding as I cried into soapy bubbles. He negotiated my workplace, friends and family and shielded me from cold callers. He cooled rooms down or warmed them up on a fever whim. He found spoken word books or played my favourite recordings of the ocean. He touched my forehead when he thought I was asleep, pulled the covers up to my neck, tip-toed out of the room and closed the door quietly. He would check on me an hour later.”

Know though, I am a strong woman able to do most things for myself – as I did when my husband was alive. Indeed, he once told five burly Lifeboat men we didn’t need help carrying a six-person sofa up two flights of stairs. “S’okay,” he said, “Melinda’s home.”

He always called me Melinda.

On Them

But no matter how strong I am, my children prefer I don’t do “daft things.” They consider carrying six-person sofas or pushing a table under the loft, putting a chair on that table and then a ladder on the chair to hoist myself into its inky innards doing “daft things.”

They’re just trying not to lose another parent early, I guess.

Yes, I am a mother and stepmother to four feisty grown-up children, each occupying this earth and my soul in their own inimitable and inspiring ways. They are like four jigsaw pieces who have each cut out a different shape in my heart where one can’t take the other’s place, but together make my heart whole. If these humans were not related to me, they are people I would choose to be with. They too are as essential to my core narrative as breathing is to air.

Would it be a problem if they didn’t like the look of a potential dating partner?

Yes.

Not only have I come to trust my own instincts about life and people, these guys are also pretty good sniffer dogs. If they smell a suspect package, I would at the very least have to stop and do a bag check.

Like I said, my children prefer I don’t do daft things, which may include doing you.

On You

The question of you started to pop up around year five. “Are you seeing anyone?” was no longer considered a crass or too-soon question for my widowed state. Although these were not sentiments which troubled one advice-giver who thought I “should get back out there right away.” They meant well, but I drew the line at scouting for talent whilst walking behind a hearse.

So the thought of you never comes to mind really until thrust upon me by the outside world. Occasionally, I see a rom-com which makes me think it would be nice to face some of life’s slings and arrows with a partner by my side. There again (spoiler alert), I have come to enjoy my life without the complications of another person’s needs. Gosh, have I become emotionally selfish? And is An Emotionally Selfish Extroverted Introvert a thing?

Clearly, to have reached this far in my narrative, you possess a sense of humour, a strong stomach, and morbid curiosity. Points which are definitely in your favour.

On you, I guess I wonder what traits you like most in people and the country you last visited. A favourite quote and whether you forgive or forget. The song which can always get you on the dance floor and the last time you cried. Your bravest moment and if you’ve ever been in love, and how you knew. Your relationship with the truth and a treasured book. Whether you smoke or have ever flown a kite. Your sexual appetite and how you pronounce the word ‘scone.’ How you switch off and whether your parents are still alive. If you’re fashionable and ever experimented with illegal drugs. Your career goals and if you own a dog. If your glass is typically half full and if you prefer a bath to a shower. The nicest compliment you’ve ever been paid and if you like cooking. Trump or Obama, Leave or Remain. Whether you’d go to bed on an argument and how you feel about street beggars. Your go-to fruit and your attitude to money. If you like children and your worst personal habit. Roses or peonies and the last time you laughed out loud. Your shirt size and how you feel about alternative lifestyles. If you can ride a bike or have any superstitions. What board games you play and if you like open fires. What you’d do if granted one wish and whether you had a happy childhood. If you’re a colour or monochrome person, cornflakes or muesli person and whether you like Persian rugs. If you’re an early bird or a night owl, monarchy or republic. Your timekeeping habits and if you’ve ever carved a pumpkin. If you can speak Russian or ever owned a pair of crocs. The last time you spoke to your best friend and whether I’d feel safe with you.

Apart from that, you don’t come to mind at all.

On Us

With a busy life, and more years and experience behind me than ahead, these thoughts on dating again are without frills or façade. Because there is literally no time for the time-consuming games of youth, which would only send me running to your closest competitor – being some late-night jazz, a glass of wine and a good book.

One of my male best friends summarised my thoughts on dating as:

 “So, Mel, you’re basically saying you don’t mind a man spending time and money on you with the odd dinner, drinks or theatre date, but want him to know from the get-go you’re not looking for any long-term meaning and that you’re emotionally unavailable anyway as you don’t believe relationship lightening will strike twice in your lifetime.”

If you have to put it in that bad sounding way, I thought.

However, it wasn’t always thus and, who knows, I may not feel this way forever, but then “forever” is like fake news, not to be relied upon.

So, yes, that is probably what I am offering you. The you who this will not be enough for. The you who midlife is looking for a full-time, proper partner.

And that can’t be me until the thought of dating seriously again doesn’t make me want to climb out of a bathroom window and run screaming into oncoming traffic.

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3 Comments

  • To all of you who have sent me messages online, thank you for taking the time to read my latest essay. 10 minutes is a long time on social! However, I’ve noticed my comments thanking you won’t post and, if it’s not a malfunction, I suspect my account is being punished for using the anatomically correct terms for our reproductive parts.

  • Absolutely spot on! Only this weekend I dipped my toe in the world of online dating and my god it has been an absolute shocker. I know I’m 52, but my God they all look so old, and weird if I’m honest…lots of potential serial killers. Although my situation (being single) is very far removed from yours I do find myself wanting someone to do things with. I do not have a circle of friends and am becoming increasingly housebound. I’m not sure I am comfortable enough to go out on my own but I also fear that if I don’t this is it! Ironically I am now in a position to be able to enjoy a reasonably good life but feel trapped in singledom and loneliness.
    Please don’t read this as a shout for sympathy, I justed to respond to your post.
    P.s I remember your braids when you worked at Sprowston.
    Andrea x

    • Hello, Andrea! How lovely of you to read and then send this message. I know several people who have had great success and relationships with online dating and is becoming the norm and accepted way to meet people. I’m sure there are some n’er do wells online, but that’s as likely to happen offline, I guess. So happy to have heard from you again. Mx

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