"Lonely in Laguna"--Lil for short--wrote a letter published in Single Life last Friday along with an interview. Calls and letters have been coming in since.
Lil is an athletic, attractive 61, a mother of four grown sons, a resident of Leisure World in Laguna Hills since October. Five years ago, her husband of 38 years died of degenerative heart disease.
Although she has made some adjustments to widowhood, and had one long, unfulfilling relationship with a man she described as "charming and a lot of fun (but) an alcoholic," Lil said she often felt lonely, "in a sad place." She spoke with great candor and wit about her desire to find love again, even though "most of the nice men my age are married, and the ones that aren't don't want women their own age. They want women a great deal younger."
Still, she refuses to "just dry up and blow away"--or to resign herself, as she sees other women her age doing, to life without romantic partnership.
"I think because I had a long and happy marriage, I'm just not content to be alone," she said. "I hear an awful lot of women say things like, 'I'm happy with my own company. I cook myself a nice meal every night. I enjoy my solitude. Now I have a chance to read and do the things I like to do.'
"They seem to be enjoying their independence," Lil said. "I would cheerfully trade all this independence for companionship."
One of the first calls was from Lorene, 63, who lives in San Clemente. In a voice thick with emotion, Lorene said that her husband of almost 40 years "dropped dead of a massive heart attack on the golf course" in October. "It was the shock of my life."
Too soon for her to imagine another relationship--or even a date--Lorene still identified with Lil's predicament.
"My husband was a wonderful, healthy, vibrant man. 'A giver in the world of takers,' is how it was said in his eulogy. The feeling I have is that I've probably had the only chance of meeting somebody like that. I feel it's a real impossibility to come across someone like that again.
"Lil wonders what's out there for her; well, so do I," Lorene said. "There's a very definite fear of the future. Is there going to be a real future for me? Will I have an interest? That may sound a little bit broad, but when you have a husband, he's your center. He's your future. I lost that, and I'm just trying to figure out what kind of a life I will have now."
A Leisure World resident named Irving sent along a copy of a letter he wrote to Leisure World News, a weekly newspaper distributed within the retirement community, suggesting the formation of a singles club.
"My own experience as a very new widower confirms the story (about Lil) in general," Irving wrote. "However, I do not believe that older men prefer young women to those of their own age. The problem is that there are no singles programs within Leisure World."
A divorced El Toro man, who said he was 60 years old and asked that his name not be used, also called to "confirm" Lil's experience.
"I went to one (seniors) dance, and I couldn't believe it," he said, laughing. "I thought all the people looked like they had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I feel like there are a lot of women around, but where do you go to meet them? I don't drink, and it's like Lil said--if you go to bars you're just going to meet a bunch of drunks."
Dear Single Life,
The article on Lil really struck a note for me! I'm 70, but I look about 60, and I'm very young at heart. I used to out-ski all the 18-year-olds on the hill when I was 52. (I learned to ski at 50.) I had to give up skiing because of arthritis in my hip, but I haven't given up dancing, jazzercise and walking.
Most of my friends say, "You're never home! I don't see how you can go out so much!" Of course, most of them have husbands to keep them company. They don't understand.
I'm taking a tap class, a class in West Coast swing and a French conversation class. But I get very lonely, too. And I've about made up my mind that there is NO man out there for me. I'm not 24, and I'm independent. I could no longer tolerate a man who tells you when to breathe and when not to breathe, as most of them are inclined to do.
Please tell Lil we have a dance at Mission Viejo Country Club on Thursday nights, and tell her we have a little singles group that has just started meeting at the San Juan Depot on Wednesday nights.
Like Lil, I am so fed up with women who tell me, "I enjoy my own company," as if to imply that I must be lacking something because I like to be with people more than (they do)--much more. Yes, Lil is right: It's almost as hard to find a woman friend as a man!
Dear Single Life,
I'd like Lil to know that she is not the only foxy, free-spirited senior citizen in Orange County.
Lil's first mistake was moving into Seizure World, as some of us jokingly refer to Leisure World. . . . But the only gates in life are the ones we create for ourselves and only we hold the key to get out.