Who would have thought I'd be back in the dating market again?
When my husband died, I hadn't gone out with another man for 40 years. And boy, had things changed. Back in the '50s and '60s, the big first-date issue was whether to kiss good night. Now it was whether to hop into the sack.
At first, my relatives and friends were kept busy suggesting dates to me. But after a while, that trickled off.
Occasionally it was a matter of men who craved elegant dinners with wine, while I was content eating at buffets. Or maybe the dating would progress far enough to consider taking a trip, but our wallets didn't match the choices of destination.
What I found was that being alone most nights stinks. And that the rules for singles now are totally different.
On my first date, my escort quizzed me with a checklist: What kind of relationship was I looking for, what kind of food did I like, what kind of music, what kind of movies? I felt as if I were auditioning for a second date.
Some other winners I dated:
• Ira, who, when I asked if he was widowed, answered, "Yes, she died at 8:03 a.m. on Feb. 2, four years ago. We had a very special marriage." Tough to follow that act.
• Joe, with whom I offered to split the bill when the check came. He agreed. Then the waiter asked if I'd like to take the remainder of the food home. I declined, thinking it would look tacky on a date. But Joe quickly took it!
• Jack, who (on a first date) proceeded to tell me about his trip to Japan and the Japanese bath he got. After meticulous description, he said, "And the water was so hot, I didn't even get an erection." Did I need all that information?
So why put yourself through this?
"Most single seniors are looking for companionship with someone with shared interests," said Dr. Michelle Blodgett, director of the Counseling Center for Older Adults at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. "They want to spend meaningful time together, rather than romantic time together."
She believes the best way to meet people is through friends and organizations to which you already belong. "Tell the people you work with that you'd like to meet eligible people," she added.
Yet there are traps out there, such as potential partners seeking an easy meal ticket through life.
Blodgett advises women, "Don't disclose your last name or information to a strange man (that would) let him track you back to where you live."
When arranging to have dinner together, for example, singles' groups advise meeting at the restaurant.
Men should be wary, too. After being widowed, Ronald Brooks of Boca Raton thought too many friends were trying to hook him up, but he finally agreed to go out on a date. When that woman learned Brooks had been a Postal Service employee, she quizzed him on how long he had worked for the government and what grade level he had reached. He decided she was interested in what kind of a pension he received. That was the last time he saw her.
Most people interviewed for this article who said they had made meaningful connections discovered them through the same ways: either introductions by mutual friends, at their churches or temples, or in their bereavement groups.
That's how Arthur and Barbara Abrams of Wellington met. "We were at the same point in life and had a lot in common, loving sports," he related. And after a while, they agreed to get married.
What about Internet dating services?
"They're pretty useless," said Emily Rosen, a Boca Raton therapist who counsels groups on women's issues. "The people lie all over the place."
Blodgett agreed: "The Internet and singles' agencies may widen the net but may not lead to compatible persons."
Yet some widows jump into a relationship leading to marriage too quickly, because they don't know about handling finances, said Blodgett. "Some don't even know how to write a check. It's very scary, and they feel desperate."
Similarly, men who have been widowed may rush into marriage too soon because they feel helpless as well as lonely: They don't know much about cooking or using the washing machine.
In cases where the person feels an emotional need for a full-time mate, Blodgett said, "It's important to seek a support group or therapist."
But one thing remains the way it was when I was 18: When I fell in love again, I experienced the same heart-flopping when the phone rang or that special man was at the door.
That didn't change. And now we've been happily married for four years.
Molly Arost Staub, 71, is a freelance writer living in Wellington.