On my last trip to Las Vegas at age 25, I played roulette every day after swimming. One afternoon, Richie Havens gambled at the same table as I did. He didn’t recognize me.
Now several decades later, I am heading to Vegas this Thursday to speak on a panel at AARP’s national event. As an AARP columnist, my beat is late-life love.
Talk about material. Between my first and second marriages, I had six-month to two-year relationships and one to several dates with men who were terrific, decent, kind, smart, obnoxious, creepy, nauseating, angry, and nuts. I turned my experiences into essays for magazines and newspapers. Occasionally I wrote about the swell guys. I had more to say about the loons.
My life raft through the dating trenches was my parents’ wisdom. Now with the AARP event falling between Mother’s and Father’s Days, their spirits and smarts are with me more than ever, particularly in terms of love.
My first steady beau following my divorce was a bad boy. Billy Bigelow without a carousel or voice. “He’s missing that fine coat of polish,” was how my mother put it. “I see why you like him.” Huh? In college I thought I was to find someone WITH that fine coat of polish. A brilliant future, too. Mom went on, “He’s got that special manly quality.” When I told her I doubted he was my forever guy, she said, “I see that, too. If you get married again, make sure that physical thing is there. It’s the glue.” When I asked if she had ‘that thing’ with Dad, she blushed. “Can’t you tell?” Wow! Great news, Mom and Dad! Great news!
Fast forward to my 50s. I brought the well-dressed, polished good boy I was seeing to the nursing home to meet her. When she and were alone, I asked if she liked him. “I’m not the one who has to like him. You do. What I think doesn’t matter.” At that moment, I recalled trying on clothes in the fitting room at Berger’s in Buffalo when I was 8. My mother thought a plaid dress with a full skirt looked pretty on me. I was not sure. “You’re the one who will be wearing it so if you’re not sure, let’s not buy it,” she said. We left the store without the dress. Decades later, I left the ‘polished’ guy.
Trust my gut! Enjoy physical love! Mom’s surprising, yet powerful lessons influenced me—big time—as did her constant reminder “Good things take a long time to develop” when she saw my frustrations with learning to play piano, revising my work, mothering, and men. After sharing a dating horror and saying, “I can’t take this anymore,” instead of coddling me or attending my pity party, she said what she’d said on previous occasions when I wanted it all to happen fast, “Of course, you can.”
My father and I were great pals. We invented games and words, painted by numbers, and played cards, Ping-Pong, and beauty parlor during which I’d style his balding brush cut into one of my two favorite hair-dos: a bouffant or parfait. Whatever the activity, we had a hoot. Dad was fully engaged. I got the message I was good company and that others—girl friends and eventually a man—would feel the same way.
His regular advice as I got older that “It only takes one” served me well when an editor rejected my work and when I had an awful time with a man. I ‘got’ that we do not click with everyone nor are we supposed to. Despite spending a lot of time with guys who missed the mark, I ‘got’ too that I had something to offer a terrific, non-jerk of a man.
Thank you, Mom and Dad for teaching me about patience and persistence, for making me think I was fun and fine just as I was, and for the confidence and chutzpah I needed to carry on. How I wish you were here now to see me with “My One.”