With her 47th birthday rapidly approaching, my best friend, Lisa, has dipped a toe into online dating for the first time. Lisa is professionally successful, slim and lovely, hilarious and brilliant, cooks like Ina Garten, dresses like a model, and has a head of hair that would make a Disney princess angry. In other words, she is rich, gorgeous, generous, sensitive, and authentically cool (and I am totally unbiased).
And yet, her experience online so far has been less than a fairytale. And so it occurred to us one recent evening while simultaneously trolling Match.com and watching The Bachelor (shut up) that there ought to be a competitive elimination dating show for ladies and gentleman of a certain age. That age being the white-knuckle hydroplane into the black ice of “the middle.”
Join us, won’t you, for The B-AARP-chelor. One man with a prescription for Viagra and a houseful of perimenopausal women in the pursuit of love, marriage, and the chance to spend down their retirement plans together.
- Watch as the women fight over the temperature in the house. It’s too hot!! No, it’s freezing!!
- Adventure dates…for colonoscopies!
- A night in the Fantasy Suite…where the couple talks about how much their knees hurt before dozing off in front of the TV while watching The Good WIfe!
- Swapping beauty secrets…like which derm has the lightest hand with the Botox!
- Dyeing each other’s hair…to cover the grey!
- Fine dining…before 5pm!
- And instead of a rose ceremony, the presentation of an aloe plant, to naturally hydrate dry skin!
We were kidding, of course. Sort of. This is the same kind of whistling in the dark we’ve been doing since we were old enough to whistle, since we were old enough to know there were awful things in the dark, terrible things we could only face by holding hands and telling jokes and making each other laugh until the laughing turned to crying and the crying let in the truth.
We have been friends for a very long time. So long, I have never known the world without her. We grew up together; tethered by our mothers’ lifelong friendship and our own sisterly attachment, which was forged in the fire of absent fathers and secrets we kept from everyone but each other. In the lonely confusion of childhood, she was as essential to me as my hands, my eyes. She still is.
In our 20s, our lives diverged. I married young, far too young, to the wrong man. And just as my first marriage was falling apart, Lisa married a man 20 years her senior, who promised her everything and gave her hell instead. I was already remarried and pregnant with my daughter, Emerson, when she left him. We were in our mid-30s by then, and in radically different places. She was raw from her divorce, and newly single. I was a newlywed and about to become a mother. But we were tied together more tightly than ever, and in the decade since we’ve each lived two lives, vicariously. Working mom and single world traveler. Gentrifying Brooklyn and chic Manhattan. The comforts of marriage and the excitement of potential.
I know her, is what I’m saying. I know her as well as I know myself, even better than I know myself, in some ways. And because I know her, from the way her hair misbehaves in humidity to the way she doesn’t feel properly groomed without a pedicure, I know what sorrow hides in that shadowy chasm between making fun of arrogant profiles on Match.com and the harem shenanigans of The Bachelor.
What hides there is the truth of being a woman in your late 40s who is still looking for the kind of love that feels like a homecoming. What hides there is the particular sadness of realizing that even if you do find that kind of love, you are too old to now to grow up with someone. What hides there is something that has already been irretrievably lost.
“This is some cast of characters,” I said, scrolling through potential dates for her. “Why does this 50-year-old man have a parrot on his shoulder in his profile picture? Is he a pirate?”
“You see what I’m up against?!” she laughed.
Despite the odds, she believes, we both believe, that is possible to fall in love, crazily in love, fantastically in love at our age, at any age. Who knows what surprises are yet to unfold? But for everything she has, everything she may yet still have, what she will never have is an uncomplicated beginning with someone who is still figuring himself out, who hasn’t already become whatever it is he’s going to be. A shitty first apartment together, to look back on and laugh about. Raising children together. Accumulating friends together. Making a life together.
Here in the middle, we already have our lives, and pasts. We have careers, and friends, cabinets full of good dishes and furniture we bought new. We’ve loved and lost multiple cats by now. We have children, some of us, and ex-spouses, ex-lovers. We have scars, and stories. Histories upon histories.
“It’s all so complicated,” she said. “The idea of taking two entire lives and fitting them together. It’s like starting a movie in the middle. Two movies that you have to watch at the same time.”
It is. But Lisa and I bet on love. We bet on hope. We bet on the improbable happy ending. Every single time. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it this far. Otherwise, we would have given it all up for lost a long time ago.
“Maybe,” I said, “Or maybe it’s more like when Emerson plays with all of her Playmobil sets at once.”
Emmy has a half dozen of these plastic sets — dinosaurs and mammoths, a whole zoo full of animals, a camper with a pop up top and teeny tiny dishes. She plays with them without consideration for time or logic, the camping family driving into a prehistoric adventure, the zookeepers tending the mammoths. She plays it all at once, history folding into the present to make a single story where a caveman takes a shower in an RV and a lion marries a saber-toothed tiger.
Maybe that’s what it can be like, to love in the middle. Two stories that seem disparate but somehow synchronize, like when you play Dark Side of the Moon and watch The Wizard of Oz at the same time. It may not be the kind of beginning we get when we are young. But it is a place to start.
We’re still debating the best sponsor for our mid-life version of The Bachelor. I’m pulling for Maalox. She thinks Lipitor.
That’s Lisa. Playing it from the heart. Every time.