Dear Single Life,
You probably aren't terribly interested in my age group. We're the forgotten ones. Too old for the 30 to 50 singles and too young to be "buried alive" as I am here in Leisure World, where the average age is 76!!
I'm 61, widowed, look 51 and feel 45. I like to boogie--I like light rock--and am really going stir crazy here. Bought a place here because they are affordable . . . but I might as well be dead as be surrounded by people who almost are.
People from 55 to 65 are really in a hinterland--especially the women. Many of the men in this age group are looking for "cute young tricks." If I try bars, I meet alcoholics and/or married men out for a little variety in life.
Guess I should have stayed in New York--I might have gotten lucky and frozen to death, which beats being bored to death!
--Lonely in Laguna
She has a whiskey voice, model's legs and a wonderful, wicked sense of humor. She is as quick to joke about her life as to reflect, with a faraway gaze aimed at the Saddleback ridge outside her windows, that she is lonely, discontent, "in a sad place."
Seated on a couch in her white-on-white condo, Lil (anonymous shorthand for "Lonely in Laguna") smoked low-tar cigarettes and sipped a wine spritzer as she charted the path that brought her from Westchester County to Leisure World--from family hearth to singles "hinterland."
Born and reared in New York, Lil married when she was 18 and gave birth to the first of her four sons a year later. For nearly four decades, she and her husband raised their children and "did everything together," she said. "We played golf together, dined out weekly together, went on vacations together. We had our arguments and our little ups and downs--it wasn't a Shangri-La. But it was a happy marriage."
And a long one. Thirty-eight years after they took their vows, her husband, then 60, died of degenerative heart disease. Lil was 56.
"I was surrounded by family for so many years," she said, thin arms forming a protective arc in front of her. "I had a husband, four sons, a Siamese cat. Then one by one (my sons) married. Then my husband died. Then the cat died. So here I am--all by myself."
The months after her husband's death were a blur of "grief and misery," Lil said. Yet within the year, she felt "this almost compulsive urge to just get out there."
She took an aerobics class, a yoga class, an assertiveness-training class. She went to singles bars--with friends, or if none was free, alone.
"That raised a few eyebrows," Lil said, laughing. "My, my, " she mimicked, "look at the grieving widow!"
With a few years' distance, she sees that period as "an attempt to find an identity. My husband, wonderful as he was, was a little chauvinistic. And my sons were very protective of me, too. So there I was alone, and I thought, well, now I'm going to flap my wings."
The first man she dated was a lawyer--"handsome, my age, divorced, making good money. I couldn't believe it," she said. "I thought, I've walked out the door and found Mr. Perfect."
After a few dates, Lil wondered why Mr. P hadn't made an amorous move.
"So I confronted him," she said. "I asked him if he was gay or what the problem was."
He told her that he really liked her--he loved dancing with her to their favorite Tommy Dorsey tunes, talking about their children and the history they had both lived through--but he had fallen for his receptionist. His receptionist was 24.
After dates with a few other men, nothing special, Lil got involved with a bartender.
"It was what you would call a destructive relationship," she said. "He was charming and a lot of fun, but he was an alcoholic. We had a long affair, and even though I knew he was wrong for me, that the whole thing was not good for me, I kept saying to myself, well, it beats a blank. It's better than no one."
At least it was for a while. Three years into that unsatisfactory relationship, Lil made a clean break: "I quit a very good secretarial job, gave my furniture to my two sons who lived nearby, sold my car, got on a plane and came to L.A.," where one son had relocated several years earlier.
Once in Los Angeles, Lil found herself surprisingly intimidated by the city, the traffic, the strange, enormous newness of it all. Through her work as a Hollywood extra (something she did "for fun, it's not much money"), she met a woman who lived in Leisure World.
"I came here a couple times to play golf with her, and the thing that got me was the beauty and the tranquillity," she said. "It was a lot less wild and woolly than L.A. I felt safer here--a woman alone just needs to feel safer than I did in L.A. So I moved down here and hoped my life might pick up a little."
Lil has lived in Leisure World for three months--"I moved in Halloween Day," she said with a laugh. "Maybe that was an omen." So far, as her letter indicated, she is not thrilled.