I was one of those people who were lucky enough to meet and marry my perfect partner and experience real, true love. I know not everyone gets to have that and I never took for granted how lucky I was to have my husband in my life. My love for him was so intense, that I just never thought I could survive if I lost him. And then I did.
When he died unexpectedly at the age of 55, I was devastated. I always told myself that I would never date again if something happened to him. He was just so perfect for me.
But as my intense grief began to subside, I realized that I just wasn’t the kind of person who was happy living alone, so I signed up on a few dating websites.
My husband was handsome and funny and kind and was so well-loved by everyone who knew him, that there was standing room only at his memorial service. Since I was a teenager, I had a list of all of the qualities I wanted in my perfect partner, and he checked all of the boxes! So of course, I compared every man on the dating sites to him and they all seemed to fall short.
Every now and then, I would start corresponding with a man on one of those sites. Usually it was someone who was creative and funny and enjoyed nature as much as I did. But eventually I decided that there just wasn’t enough between us to even want to meet. They just weren’t “the one” for me.
Since I have always been attracted to men who liked to garden or build things and work with their hands, I would sometimes hang out in Home Depot or the plant nurseries, hoping to just casually bump into a man and wait for the sparks to fly. Often I would start a conversation with a man that seemed interesting, only to have his overly protective wife or girlfriend stroll up and possessively take his arm.
I was on and off of the dating sites for years and never once went on a date with anyone because I just didn’t want to face the reality that no one would ever compare to my husband, in my eyes.
Four years after my husband died, I still hadn’t been on a single date, when a much younger man came to my house to do some work. I wasn’t thinking of him in any sort of “romantic” way, because he was a lot younger than me, had a long beard and some pretty crazy tattoos. The work he did in my house lasted several hours and we talked the whole time. Not only did we share the same kind of sense of humor that allowed us to just come up with a quick reply to what the other said, but we had very similar personalities – sort of introverted, quirky in a way, and we were both nature lovers. By the time he was getting ready to leave, we felt almost embarrassed because we got along so well. But not long after he left, when he wasn’t on company time anymore, he called me and told me that he really enjoyed meeting me and wondered if I wanted to keep in touch.
“Why in the world would you want to keep in touch with someone my age,” I asked. And he told me that he doesn’t usually meet somebody that he gets along with that well, and besides, “age is just a number.” So I said yes.
We developed an unlikely friendship. He lived over an hour away from me, but began calling me almost daily and we would talk for hours. Since he knew I was still depressed from the loss of my husband, he tried everything he could think of to make me laugh, from telling me jokes he had heard to teaching me about comedians he liked. He genuinely seemed to just want to help me find happiness and it confused me, because his kindness just didn’t fit in with the impression that I would have formed of him from his age and outer appearance.
He was on several dating sites and kept trying to convince me to keep giving the sites a chance. “Don’t wait for Mr. Right,” he would say. “It doesn’t have to be true love, just go out and meet people.”
But I never did. In my mind, he just didn’t get it. After all, I had lost my one true soulmate. Why would I want to settle for less?
We had known each other for about six months, when he called me and said that he wanted to come over and take me on a real date. “What?” I asked “What do you mean by a real date.” He said that he would come over and we would go out to lunch and then we would wander around an antique mall, which was something we both loved to do.
“Why in the world would you want to do that?” I asked.
And he told me it was because he just wanted to remind me how nice it could be to just go out without it having to mean anything other than having fun.
So he came over. We knew each other fairly well by then, but since we hadn’t seen each other in 6 months and he had used the word “date”, I was somewhat nervous. We went to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch and then wandered around an antique mall and we talked and laughed and had a really great time. And the afternoon we spent together really proved his point.
Since my husband died, I had closed myself off to anyone who I didn’t feel was perfect for me as a romantic partner. I would categorize everyone by looks or age or some other criteria that made me feel like they just weren’t right enough to even want to spend time with. I had so many requirements for what I wanted, mostly based on what I had with my husband, that I didn’t give myself the chance to just enjoy getting to know people for their own unique qualities.
Even if he was closer to my age, he and I wouldn’t be right for each other, romantically. But as friends, we really add a lot to each other’s lives. I add the wisdom of my age and he adds the carefree spirit of his youth.
We’ve known each other for almost three years now and have become very close friends. And the friendship never would have happened if we hadn’t ignored the external things that made our friendship so unlikely and just enjoyed the things we have in common.
Its kind of hard for me to admit that someone so much younger taught me such a valuable lesson, but like he said “age is just a number.” And appearance is nothing but a package that wraps around the soul of some pretty great people.
(This story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Age is Just a Number, c2020)