There I sat, an elderly woman in the thick of TGIF revelry, wondering why my friend, Kate, chose to meet me in what was obviously a singles bar. The music was abusive, the energy manic and every now and then, strained laughter rose like a shriek above the raucous crowd. I felt painfully out of place.
At last, I spotted Kate headed my way with her usual perky smile. “Let’s find a better bar,” I said as soon as she sat down; “We’ll drown in sensory overload here.”
Kate argued for staying. “You got us a nice out of the way table,” she said; “With a front row view of Zoomers in their natural habitat. What could be better?”
She didn’t have to say more; I loved watching people with her. We leaned in close to hear each other and Kate said, “Remember when we were their age?”
It was like a cue to shake our heads and ask, “Where has the time gone?” It can be such a shock to realize we’re old that people my age tend to ask that a lot. Then we both got Margaritas and settled back for some serious people-watching. Typically, elders make great watchers because no one pays attention to us. We can observe people, even stare and point with impunity.
What hit us first was the flirting. Sex sparks were flying everywhere. Women as well as men were coming on strong like macho cowboys and Latin lovers; and men as well as women were vamping like Marilyn Monroes. We decided all that was okay but it took getting used to.
After another round of watching, I asked Kate if she wished she could be young again. She gave me a what-a-stupid-question look and said, “Who wouldn’t?”
“Me,” I said; “Look at them.” I pointed out one stressed or anxious looking twenty-something kid after another (they looked like kids to us) and even some who seemed scared. I could spot them because that was me at their age and I’d hate to be that way again.
“Now that you mention it,” said Kate, “I was pretty insecure myself back then; it took the fun out of everything.”
“I bet that’s what’s going on with the uptight woman at the end of the bar,” I said.
Kate had already noticed her and said, “She’s been hoping so hard to attract someone.”
“They all are,” I said. “The biological imperative to mate is breathing down their necks.”
“Oh that,” Kate groaned; “I can’t count how often I wanted someone who didn’t want me or didn’t want someone who did. What a misery.”
“Talk about misery,” I said; “How about all the times we fought or couldn’t stand the very people we supposedly loved?” Those painful arguments seemed so unnecessary in retrospect. And sad. Kate agreed and said she had so little self-awareness in her twenties that she wound up in the same stupid mess over and over. I hadn’t been in love for ages–neither had Kate–but thought it probably would be better now than ever. “’Cause we’re better,” I said.
She gave me a “Maybe” on that, but admitted it had taken her decades to drop her self-defeating habits. “Still,” she said, “No matter how much stronger or wiser we are, nothing beats the thrill of young love.”
She had a point there. “It’s unfair,” I said; “Just when we reach peak emotional maturity and could have the most open, fearless, love of our lives the–”
Kate cut in to say, “The body enters break-down mode.” Then she fished the lime from her drink and sucked it thoughtfully. “Of course,” she added with an impish grin; “Maybe love at our age could still be thrilling…”
I braced for what might come next, “…If your lover goes for sagging boobs and dried up you-know-what.” That felt brutal. And she wasn’t done.
“And that’s just the half of it. Picture this: you’re snuggled up with some nice enough old gent only his chest is concave, there’s hair in his nose and he’s weak and wobbly–and I don’t just mean his equipment. Would he light your fire?” I had to admit his physical condition would more likely ignite my sympathy, “But something else about him might excite me,” I said.
“Like what?” she challenged; “Name one way an old dude could still turn you on.”
I was pondering the question when a male voice said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but hear.” I turned to find an old man behind me. My perch on a high bar stool put us eye to eye and he was looking straight at me. Intently looking. Without taking his eyes off me he said, “Every age has its own thrills.”
It was one of those looks that can penetrate your soul, if you let it. And without thinking, I did. Ordinarily, a moat full of mind-stuff like fears and habits comes between me and other people. But this was not ordinary. I opened to his look… felt the thrill of deep connection… for a long timeless moment… then suddenly freaked and looked away, mumbling something stupid about being there with a friend.
When I turned back, he was still giving me that look. It was electrifying. There wasn’t a thought in my head or even a “me” to think it…. This time he broke the spell. “I’m sorry,” he said with a slight bow; “I have an appointment.” The bustle of the bar re-materialized, I saw the man’s worn face, stooped shoulders, thin hair. “We’ll meet again,” he said as if it were destined, then turned and disappeared through the crowd.
I stared after him, stunned.
“What was that all about?” said Kate.
“I’m not sure,” I said, “But I think I can answer your question.”
Janet Amalia Weinberg is a former clinical psychologist and editor of an anthology which was an Independent Publisher Award Finalist (Still Going Strong; Memoirs, Stories, and Poems About Great Older Women, Routledge ). Now, as an an elderly woman herself, she writes to change typical distorted views of old age.