When my marriage ended, I was middle-aged and worried—had romance left my life forever? Over the past few years since then, the questions grew: What about intimacy, sex, passion? Are middleaged women entitled to romance, or is it only for the young? How satisfying would a relationship be at this stage in my life? Which am I more afraid of—not finding romance, or finding it?
At 53, I needed help, so like Carrie in “Sex in the City” (but without her youthful beauty or wardrobe), I turned to the best resource I could think of my girlfriends. I invited five brave and honest single, middle-aged Jewish women to have a conversation about what, for lack of a better term, I called “late romance.” Joining me were Carolyn Projansky, 51, a filmmaker currently producing a documentary about white South Africans’ resistance to apartheid; Heidi Goldsmith, 51, founder and executive director of CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education; Laura Milstein, 45, development director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Joy Midman, 54, executive director of the National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health; and Rabbi Tamara Miller, 58, founder and spiritual leader of Capital Kehillah and director of pastoral care at George Washington University Hospital.
Carolyn: I separated from my husband a year ago, and I’m not very happy about being in my fifties and single again. I haven’t ventured out into that “single” world yet. Being single at 51 with children is much more doable than in your 20s or 30s without children because I’m not lonely.
Heidi: That’s my main identity right now—a mom. And it took me so long to get here. I have a young son adopted from Vietnam. Romance was something I invested time and energy in for years. I was even married for a few years, but that was 20 years ago. Daniel’s my romance right now. I’m sure eventually I’ll get back into it, but with a scrumptious four-and-a-half- year old versus having to go through all the dating, the meeting, and exchanging histories…I like men, but it’s actually been a welcome break.
Laura: It’s almost like I don’t remember I was married, because I’ve been single for the past nine years. My lifestyle is very much a single lifestyle, since we didn’t have children and now I’m past the biological point where I can have any. That is probably my biggest regret in terms of love. For nine years, I was a part-time ski instructor. I’m also a brown belt in Tai Kwan Do. I kind of feel like I have to say that, like you guys talk about your kids, because to me, my activities and my interests are really what I have, what defines me. It’s a luxury and a curse, because I feel like I’m always looking for interesting things to do, and it’s a lot of self-investment.
Joy: I’ve been widowed for seven years last week. I remember feeling so old as the mother of an eight-year-old son when I was 47, and then so young as a widow and the mother of that same child at 48. One of my issues now that my son is getting ready to go to college is the panic of not knowing—or thinking I don’t know—how to live and be alone again.
Tamara: I’ve been single for 18 years now, as long as I was married. I have four grown children, and I became a rabbi late in life, a wonderful challenge. At least 80 percent of the people in my synagogue community are single, but on a continuum. The span of life is so long now that you can be single, married, divorced and single again, second marriage, widowed. So, we can have romance many times over I’ve made one shidduch in my congregation. The lady was 38 and the guy was 31. That wasn’t bad. [Approving noises and laughter.]
Carolyn: Now that would be a shul I’d like!
Susan: The truth is I was interested in this topic because I’m afraid of it. One of the toughest parts of separating for me— I was 47 with a three-year-old son—was facing the possibility that I might never marry or find romantic love again.
Laura: You called it “late romance.” I want to challenge the word “late” because I feel it’s almost pejorative. What docs it mean? As opposed to “early”? As opposed to “on time”? Is it because there’s an expectation that romance has to do with having a family?
Susan: Does romance have a shelf life? [Laughter.]
Laura: I want to know this for myself as a reality check. Is body image an issue all the time?
Joy: A hundred percent.
Susan: When I feel overweight, I don’t project myself feeling confident, sexy, attractive. I think for a lot of women, weight is a huge issue. It becomes worse as we get older because of what happens to our bodies with menopause.
Joy: That’s why it’s called “men-o-pause.” [Loud laughter.]
Carolyn: That’s cute, but you know what? They don’t look so hot either!
Joy: Trust and being devoted to being with someone supercedes sex, body image, media images. I mean, you can have sex without romance. God knows plenty of people do it every day, and maybe some of us have. But this image of romance.. .you know, we grow up with the swept-off-our-feet fantasies. I had those fantasies, the knight in shining armor. It was in the ’60s and ’70s tie-dye image, but it was still this concept of someone coming in to save me somehow, to make my life full, to give me everything I needed. At this point in my life, things are very different.
Carolyn: Since separating, I find myself falling back—after 15 years—into the hope of being swept off my feet by a man. Maybe it was ingrained in me during so many years of being single. I was deeply in love in my late teens and early twenties, and did not end up marrying him. That experience was so intense and so wonderful. One of the good things about being separated is that I can again have that dream and the hope that I can find that feeling again. I am dying to have that feeling again because it was so transcendently wonderful. It’s a high! On the other hand, I’d settle for sex at this point. [Raucous laughter.]
Laura: I bet there are a lot of men out there who’d like to take you up on that!
Tamara: The truth is, sex is easier to find than romance.
Carolyn: Not always! [Laughter.]
Susan: Sex can really confuse us. What’s really romantic to me and what I need in a relationship now is to be cherished.
Heidi: On the other hand, I remember in my early 40s being faced with a choice—I either stay with a man who was very romantic and had everything on my list, or I go after my dream of having a child, and maybe later I’ll find someone to spend my life with, maybe not. The man cherished me, he was romantic…all that right stuff, but it meant having to deny another part of me, which was to be a mother, and I had to have that. Now I don’t need the movie-idealized, traditional one-on-one male love relationship to feel that wonderful feeling.
Tamara: I find that second marriages are more into the relationship, whereas first marriages are into the family. My vision of romance now is of a partnership where our purpose is the partnership. But if we say it’s only one man that’s going to give us romance, that’s a lot to ask of one person.
Carolyn: I feel like my marriage was for my children, and my next relationship will be for me….I think it’s biological. I really do. When my children were babies, the physical fulfillment that I needed came from holding these little creatures, the breastfeeding, the smells, the experience— that was so fulfilling.
Heidi: That’s intimacy, but I don’t think that’s romance.
Joy: I say intimacy and romance go together. I had lost my father five days after my son was born. We still didn’t miss a dinner with candlelight, whether it was at 10 o’clock, 11 or one in the morning. We were glued at the hip, which is why I’m still satisfied with my relationship. I mean, I still wear my wedding band. I don’t know if that has to do with the fact that I still have a child at home, or with me having not met someone I’m interested in, but it’s a wonderful buffer.
Tamara: For me, now, I want to explore the friendship before the sexual relationship. A solid relationship does have a good sex component, but first comes the deeper relationship. The more you have that, the more intimacy you can have in and outside of the bedroom.
Susan: So, intimacy is romantic. Tamara: In-to-me-see. In-to-me-see. You’re allowing the other person to see into you. How many of us really allow people to see us vulnerable and naked, in the spiritual and physical sense, and be comfortable with that? One of my rebbes used to say, people aren’t afraid of being isolated and cold and alone. They’re really afraid of the heat, of really connecting body to body, soul to soul.
Susan: The heat of a relationship, the cool control professionally. Because of the women’s movement, I believed I could do everything, have everything. Now I know it’s not so easy.
Heidi: That is definitely the product of feminism. I can’t have romance without it. I don’t want to be on a pedestal, and I don’t want to be with a powerful man to make me powerful.
Joy: For me, the partnership is the high. It’s also the spiritual element of sharing values and an ethos that can be very romantic in that sense of having a higher order. The whole point is it should be personal! My husband and I both worked at home, we both lived at home, we were partners. And one of the things I can remember—he was not born Jewish and he did not want a ketuba, a Jewish wedding contract. To me, it was always so critical. But I made the mistake of giving him the books to research it, and he said, “I’m not marrying you by signing anything with the conditions of getting out of it.”
Carolyn: I was actually a feminist studies major in college, and I was a very radical feminist. I think that, in some ways, putting my politics first was a barrier that I put up for many years, between me and the possibility of having a relationship. I was looking for this perfect man who was as feminist as I was, and I never found that person. Now that I’m 20 or 30 years older, I feel like I’m more tolerant, more accepting of the fact that people come with baggage at whatever age. Over the years I’ve become much more comfortable with my own feminism as a kind of fundamental foundation for my own self I don’t need to prove it anymore.
Laura: Sometimes in a relationship, I’ve found the most difficult thing is to maintain my own needs. I don’t know how you guys raise children, because I feel like I’m just a full-time job! [Laughter] When I get involved in a relationship, I want to be able to go with a certain amount of compromise. Sometimes I find that I lose myself, my focus. [Many murmurs of agreement.] It makes the relationship all messed up. It’s a vicious cycle. When I stop a relationship, I get all this energy back. I feel like I get shot out of a cannon. I feel the best ever when I’m not in a relationship. [More agreement.]
Joy: So often you can become who you are better when you’re not appended. I think it has to do with being a woman. You do sublimate.
Carolyn: When you’re in a couple, I think that becomes the defining focus of your life, and it’s hard to let friends in. Since I separated, I’ve been able to focus on my women friends. They have always been the most reliable part of my life. Because my husband was somewhat resentful, I had to literally sneak around, calling my friends at night after he went to bed, because he was jealous of my time being spent calling my friends, rather than spending the time with him in the evening. I will never put myself in that kind of a situation again.
Tamara: Well, if men would have more relationships, friendships, with men…
Carolyn: Maybe men need to have their “feminist movement” as well! It is happening, little by little. My ex-husband has joined a supportive men’s group. If he had had that men’s group when we were married, it might have made a difference to the marriage. It’ll make him a better husband to somebody else! [Laughter]
Laura: I think if there are men who are very much in touch with themselves and can be authentic in the relationship, that’s where the equality comes from, where you can have a partnership. Of course, I haven’t quite found one yet….
Susan: When you’re saying that, I’m thinking—Okay, ladies, where’s a group of men on this planet sitting around having this conversation? [Laughter.]
Joy: Do you think there’s romance in the frum world?
Susan: In the frum world it’s very different. When you’re 18— you meet a guy three times and, if he’s acceptable, you get engaged. Then, over time, you learn to love.
Laura: I want to bring God into this discussion. I feel like, for me at this point, unless I feel in line with God and higher purpose in every moment of the relationship, it’s not right. And two people—what is most important? Is the relationship most important, or the relationship with God most important?
Heidi: For me, too, if a person doesn’t have that level, that spiritual “thing” to them, I don’t know if we could really connect.
Carolyn: I don’t function on a spiritual level, I have to say. My spiritual-ness is my politics and my work. I need somebody who’s intellectual. One of the things that attracted me to my husband was the fact that he was always interesting. We always had something to talk about. [Laughs.] Maybe I don’t have a broad enough definition of spirituality.
Tamara: I never thought about romance being close to spirituality, but when you’re in love, you’re connected to everyone and loving of everything and everyone. So, in a way, my growth has been that I can be in love with life. I’ve learned a lot from my relationship with God that I want to apply to my relationships with men and women. I’m trying to change my image of what love is. It’s not about falling in love or getting that high. It’s about really having a devotional relationship to each other, healing each other’s wounds.
You know, my most memorable, loving, passionate and deep spiritual relationship was with an Orthodox young man who was steeped in study, in text. There was something very romantic about the intellectual and the spiritual that comes together when you’re studying text together. On the other hand—he was younger and there was something missing…. besides commitment. [Laughter.] I realized he was never going to come up to my consciousness, it wasn’t part of him. It’s a different kind of equality.
Laura: Unfortunately, I’ve found that the men who have the deeper spiritual side tend not to have the more material.
Susan: So, in other words, we’re not attracted to those guys.
Susan: We find the guys that are a little tougher, not so deep thinking, not so spiritual, more appealing to us. It’s very hard to find the combination that’s sexy. But, Laura, you said before that intimacy and romance do feel extremely spiritual to you.
Laura: Yes, and probably the most frightening thing to me also, which is why I haven’t been married for nine years. Whatever happens in one’s life, to be able to make that journey with another person…it’s like continuing your selfgrowth with another soul.
Susan: Speaking from my own experience, the day that my husband moved out, I felt I got myself back.
Carolyn: Me, too. But I’ve got all of these fears about financial security. Frankly, I don’t think I would marry again unless I was marrying somebody who had significant financial security. I’m the artist who’s not making any money. Why put up with all this stuff if you don’t have any security?
Tamara: I have to say a rabbinical thought here, which is that there is no such thing as security. There’s only faith. Security is within ourselves. That’s also what feminism taught me. Men come and go, money comes and goes. Health comes and goes.
Carolyn: But my grandmother said, “Rich or poor, it’s better to have money.” Of course, if I fell in love, this whole idea would go out the window!
Susan: When was the last time one of you was attracted to someone?
Heidi: Well, attracted is one thing. Moving it to bed is another! But it’s so reassuring to know, oh, I work. The heart works again, I work again. Oh, thank goodness. I thought I was just frozen, maybe forever. But it works just like it used to!
Carolyn: I had the same feeling when I found a couple of men I was attracted to, but they weren’t available. Part of it is an issue of supply and demand. There was never a big enough supply to choose from.
Laura: I think we artificially overemphasize couple-ness. How many times have you gone somewhere as a couple and felt uncomfortable even though you were with someone?
Tamara: I’ll tell you when I feel the most single. I officiate at a lot of weddings, and I’m happy to do it. It’s wonderful. Afterwards, I say to myself, “OK, which table are they going to put me at?” [Laughter.] Sometimes I even ask, “Maybe there’s a single man you could put me next to?” But it’s usually Aunt May who can hardly hear. I have the professional cover of being a rabbi, but still, when everyone’s dancing and people don’t ask you to dance because you’re the rabbi….Sometimes I wonder if people even know I’m single.
Susan: What makes weddings romantic?
Carolyn: It’s an ideal. Everything’s going to be wonderful. I’m concerned that I will not be able to have that hope again. That I’m too skeptical and cynical.
Tamara: Oh, yes! I hope so.
Joy: Is it more difficult for you to meet people?
Tamara: It may be more difficult because I’m a rabbi, but I don’t use that as an excuse. Some of my best friends are rabbis, and they’re married. So we could all have excuses.
Heidi: Excuses? I have mine! Oh, I’m too busy with my kid. I don’t have the energy, which is partly an excuse and partly real. Once you’ve accepted that Plan A—the child and the husband—is not going to be yours, or was yours in the past but not forever, you have to re-think everything. I said I haven’t thought about it. Because I’m in Plan B. This is not the plan I had for 20 years. I had to make a new one, and it isn’t finished yet. Is romance part of my Plan B? I’m guessing it will be, but where docs it fit?
Susan: So, how to find someone to love, to fit into our lives and plans? How to find romance? The Internet? Professional matchmakers? Singles functions? Synagogue? In-to-me-see. Are you going to find that on JDate?
Laura: Surprisingly, every man I’ve dated in the last eight years I met online.
Carolyn: I went on JDate when I separated, and I found two men I’d dated before I got married. It was traumantic, because I don’t want to get involved with somebody else’s cast-offs.
Tamara: I don’t know what it is about Jewish men. Maybe they’re just too much in their heads. I think that Jewish men and Jewish women are looking for that connection, but sometimes they can’t find it in their own Jewish community.
Laura: If you are honest with yourself and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the world, that’s what you get in the romance and the relationship. I think that tonight was as rich and fulfilling as you could get. Too bad we don’t have dates like this! [Laughter and much agreement.]
Susan H. Barocas, currently working on a Masters in multi-tasking, is a writer, filmmaker teacher and single parent. She is working on a book about family food and a film about a Jewish landmark in D.C.
Have Computer. Will Romance Follow?
When I found out that the 67-yearold mother of one of my friends had met her “significant other” on the internet, I googled “Jewish Internet dating”—2,090,000 results! The top 10 sites split between the actual dating sites and sites that wanted to give me advice on how to do it. One site offered men advice on how to create a “masculine and confident dating profile” while for women, a “sexy dating profile.”
Feeling a bit cynical, I phoned this woman for verification. I’ll call her Alice. Yes, she was delighted to tell me, it’s true, and I had caught her just a few hours before she was leaving on a two-week vacation with “Mr JDate.” We’ll call him Richard.
Alice took up Internet dating in 2004, two years after the death of her second husband. “JDate was the only site I used,” she says. “At the beginning, you spend a couple of months on how to pick up and answer ads and how to write a succinct response. You have to give enough pertinent information without putting yourself on the line.” Alice used a pseudonym and gave out only her cell phone number, so she knew anybody who called asking for her other self was from the Internet.
After she and Richard met online and exchanged a few emails and phone calls, they decided to meet in person at a restaurant halfway between their two Massachusetts homes. Alice felt this was totally safe, and was impressed when he came out of the restaurant to meet her and “walk me in like a gentleman.” She describes it as a completely natural relationship from the beginning. “Here was somebody who fit. It was as if we had known each other for a very long time.”
Before Richard, Alice enjoyed meeting “some interesting people” from Internet connections, but also had her share of strange encounters. “Some guys start out sounding very nice and interesting, then out of nowhere you get weird questions or comments.” Like the one who couldn’t wait to get together with her and tell her all of his great first date stories. She told him she wasn’t interested in being one of those stories. Overall, Alice found “a lot of people were much more polite than you ever would have expected.”
According to the online Dating Services Information Guide, there are a lot of Alices and Richards out there; JDate.com boasts about 500,000 registered Jewish singles, with 15,000 joining every month and hundreds of couples who have met and married through the service. (More details on them are available at the site’s Happy Endings section.)
But those numbers didn’t add up for Marsha (a pseudonym), 49, from Connecticut, who first tried JDate when she separated from her husband in 2001. “I didn’t have a clue what it was about,” she says. “I did it because my sister was successful at meeting people, and I live in an area without a significant single population.” When her sister was 40, she met her husband through the internet. Marsha’s experience was quite different, “it was very heady the first few times that someone was interested and we got together, almost a kind of adolescent feeling of sexual energy and potential romance,” she says. “Now I find it disruptive and too time-consuming. It takes a tremendous amount of time searching, reading and writing responses. The process is also a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I get too little return for the amount of time I have to invest. Right now, I can’t do that and parent my children, work and take care of my house and the rest of my life.” What she finds positive, however, is the knowledge that when she’s ready there are other single people out there who are her age and looking for partners.
Danielle Werchowsky, 45, of Arlington, Virginia, hasn’t found a lasting romantic partner, but over the past 10 years that she has used Internet dating, she has had good dates and even made a few lasting friendships. One change she has noticed over the years of using internet dating is that “in the mid-40s, there’s not as much property on the market as when you’re younger.”
Now the single mother of a two-year-old, Danielle advises that “it’s important to get on the phone relatively early to get a better sense of the person, but then don’t drag it out with a lot of calls. There’s something about face-to-face chemistry that can’t be duplicated on the telephone or Internet.
The Fairy Godmother of Introductions
by Sandee Brawarsky
I was once a relationships expert. That was the tagline that producers attached to my name, for about eight months more than 10 years ago, when I did a circuit of radio and television appearances, including Oprah.
My so-called expertise came from the fact that I’d written a short, cheerful book on dating called How to Meet Men As Smart as You, published by Simon & Schuster. I wrote the book at the suggestion of a friend who’s now my literary agent; I had by then introduced six couples who’d gotten married, and we agreed that I might have something useful to say on the subject. Aside from the obvious traits like intelligence, sense of humor and sophistication, “smart” really signified someone interesting—a man with whom to have a never-ending conversation.
My underlying message then to women—of all ages—was to stay hopeful and open to possibilities; to be creative in going out to a lot of places where you might meet a like-minded guy and—here’s where my matchmaking came in—to ask all sorts of people in your life whether they knew of interesting single men. The key was in the asking: reaching beyond your usual circle of acquaintances and posing the question with confidence, thinking of it as enabling the person to do a favor for both parties. One idea I really like, shared with me by a friend, is to ask real estate agents—they’re often the first to know of single men moving to a new city or just across town to a new (single) home. In my book, I spoke about dating as though it were like looking for a job, but much more fun.
What has changed in the decade since the book was published? Ten years later, several of my long-time single friends are now married; some friends who seemed married for life are single again, once again thinking about dating. I offer the same advice of a decade ago, the same gentle shoves to be out in the world shaping a good life and enjoying it. And I suggest ignoring the advice of those who urge coyness, manipulation and an invented unavailability.
Since the book was published, I’ve introduced two more couples who have gotten married, bringing my total to eight. And I have a few others in the works. I’m often asked how it is that I have such a knack for making matches. I have to admit that I don’t have any special talent—I just do it, and I do it often, recognizing that I’m wrong more often than I’m right. I keep trying, and I urge others, both single and married people, to do the same.
Even in this Internet age, I continue to think that meeting people through others might be the best way to find someone great. This is true even when, as is most often the case, the friendly matchmaker seems to have gotten it all wrong.
In the book I mentioned using the Internet as a tool, but JDate and Match.com were unknown. Now, I know many couples who’ve met through these Internet services, even couples whose paths had literally crossed often in their everyday lives but who didn’t ever notice one another until they saw each other’s online profiles, if you’re comfortable writing and appreciate a certain anonymity, the Internet can be a great way to meet people, because it brings you new communities to draw from, plus it’s a useful way to reconnect with old friends…and former boyfriends, who may turn out to be new possibilities.
But dating online has its own challenges. A friend who’s a psychoanalyst tells me that people make the same mistakes in internet dating that they do in life (like making snap judgments and dismissing people too quickly).
I am sympathetic to the many people who say that, as much as they try, finding someone to date can be tough work, and discouraging. When I was called the fairy godmother of dating, I said that I wished I could wave a magic wand and help people to connect. There’s no magic wand, but there is good news all the time. The last three of my friends who found significant others, after many years of effort, met them, respectively, on a city bus, through an introduction and, years earlier, when the two worked on a project together (and he was married). As heartening as these connections are, I’m also moved by the stories of other women, who lead full and fulfilling lives, sometimes with romance, and remain decidedly single.
A Tale of True Love Found
by Susan H. Barocas
New Yorker Amy Stone seemed surprised to find her bashert—her intended one—when she was in her 50s. “I wasn’t looking very hard for a husband. I’d always figured I would get married—and then, after a certain point, I thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen. That’s when it did.”
Stone was 57 in 2000 when she met Ed Krowitz, then 66, through a friend from college. Their first date lasted five days, although Ed “went home to cousin Stanley’s every night.” They were engaged one year later and married in 2002, one month before her 60th birthday on the front lawn of her childhood home in New Rochelle, New York. “I spent my entire life in mostly short-term-but-sexy romantic relationships with inappropriate people,” Stone reflects. “As I got older, I calmed down a teeny bit.” She also found herself working such long days at a Jewish nonprofit organization that her major relationship was with her cleaning lady.
Then, in her early fifties and still up for romance. Stone, who had spent her post-college years in Thailand in the Peace Corps and then as a journalist, made a list of what she was looking for in a man: a U.S. foreign service officer, silver hair, wire-frame glasses, not Jewish. “Then I met Ed, and he had three out of four. He was Jewish. Now I’m very glad he is.”
Krowitz is also, according to Stone, “totally romantic.” On the day she was fired, she came home to Champagne chilling, a bubble bath with rose petals, and a celebration— because now they’d have more time to be together.
As much as she delights in the candlelight, rose petals and Champagne, which have continued. Stone knows she has also found a deeper romance. “Even in our worst moments, we groan, but we know we are each other’s life partner in this great adventure.” They’re spending this year in China.