Reflections of an 80-Year-Old Bachelor
In one of my favorite scenes from the movie, The Lonely Guy, Steve Martin enters a fancy restaurant and requests a table for one. Spotlights from all angles zero in on the lowly intruder as the diners shrink back in shock and distaste.
A long-time bachelor, I know that rebuff well. Once, after I was seated in a restaurant, the waitress asked, “Will we be joined by the missus?” “Highly unlikely,” I said, “I’m single,” and over her face passed a fleeting shadow of pity and mistrust.
I was always eager to get married, I told myself, certain the world would eventually beat a path to my doorway… someone from Publishers Clearing House would ring and—surprise! —present me with the woman of my dreams. Then one day I checked my watch and noticed that five decades had gone by.
Not that bachelorhood doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. When I turned 60, for instance, I threw a big party for myself, as fine an affair as any wife could have orchestrated, and as part of things I ordered a cake inscribed “Happy Birthday to Me.” That the inscription, when I picked up the cake, read “Happy Birthday to Mom” didn’t detract from the deep caring I’d shown for myself.
Though I’ve had several long-term relationships with women along the way, I’ve basically been going on “dates” all my adult life, searching for Miss Right, which sounds a little pathetic and also predatory—as if I only come out at night and stalk my game on all fours, foam bubbles dripping from my jaws.
While living in Manhattan, I even joined an online dating site, eHarmony, for a while (“Every 14 Minutes Someone Finds Love On eHarmony”), which was at least better than hanging out at some single seniors bar or cruising the Arms and Armor room of the Met or working the pews at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Whatever your age, dating is 8th grade over again, and, before meeting a woman for the first time, I sometimes get butterflies (wobbling now, not fluttering), and women get them too. One told me she started hyperventilating the morning of our date and couldn’t eat all day, and I suspect she was even more of a wreck after we parted.
Seeking aid from others can be helpful before a blind date, as I discovered while an editor at Success Magazine. I asked a colleague for a grabby opening line, and soon my office was filled with staffers, all tossing in ideas. The winner: “Hi, I’m Bob—here’s some cash.”
Honesty is the best policy in the long run, I’ve found. I went out with a woman named Louise for a while, a drawback being the scarcity of times in any conversation that I seemed to enter it. Finally at dinner one night I confronted her: “I feel you’re very self-involved—we nearly always talk about you, not me.” Leaning forward, she took my hands in hers and said: “Bob, tell me all about yourself.” Pretty funny, I have to admit.
Worst date ever was with a dour claims adjuster named Olivia. We met for a drink at a cocktail lounge, and her perfume—eau de something sweet and terrible—was so overpowering that I kept inching my chair back…as did she, clearly not liking me. Eventually we both had to lean way forward to reach our drinks. Then Olivia stood and left—I assumed to go to the bathroom—but she never came back. Which was fine: Being stuck with the bill was better than being stuck with her.
People seem intrigued by the life of a bachelor, and married friends often feel entitled to know more about my private affairs than I do theirs. When failing to reveal all, I hear them thinking, “He’s so withholding, so mysterious,” as if they, for their part, would willingly answer a question like, “By the way, how’s the sex with you guys these days?”
Dating can be disheartening, but worse is almost dating. Many years ago a single friend and I were having a drink at a bar and, noticing two fun-looking women at a table, employed a time-tested technique and sent over introductions by way of a napkin. The note started: “Hello, it is Ollie and Bob here, greatly admiring you from afar.”
They beckoned us to join them, and we all hit it off…the only problem being both were engaged. They thought the note was a masterpiece of its kind, though, and planned to show it to their fiancés. So I guess you could say we scored, though it was disquieting to know that the next readers of our elegantly-phrased overture would be two grubby guys.
The most complex moment of my bachelorhood occurred at sea. In the early 70’s I was hired by a magazine to write an article on the famed ocean liner, SS France, and I traveled free first-class from Manhattan to South Hampton. Also aboard was a team writing a brochure on the ship, including a drop-dead gorgeous woman named Evelyn. The photographer, wanting a shot of a couple holding hands on the deck as the sun set, asked if I’d pose with her? It should only take an hour or so.
Would I be willing to hold hands with Evelyn for an hour? Is that the question?
We met at the appointed hour, and the photographer said, “pretend you’re newlyweds on your honeymoon.” As my heart beat faster and the sinking sun left a requisite tapestry of reds and purples in its wake, I reached over and took Evelyn’s hand in mine—so slim, so soft, so there. We fumbled around trying to find a comfortable fit, and never have I been so aware of the many facets of a hand—the hills and valleys, crinkles and creases, curves and contours. Was this the first step toward a shipboard romance, perhaps something more lasting down the road?
I asked Evelyn some questions about herself, but she showed no interest in chitchat so I let my hand do the talking. I tightened my grip, she loosened hers; I moved my fingers around ever-so-suggestively, hers grew limp.
The photographer had us face each other, and I tried to establish eye contact, which she wanted no part of. Despite a nice breeze, our grip got increasingly wet and clammy. My arm ached too, and several of my fingers started cramping up. The marriage was already falling apart.
Free to declasp at last, I asked Evelyn if she’d like to have a drink, but, pretending not to hear me, she went her way, as did I—the only person now available to hold hands with being myself.
Okay, I hear you saying, “Enough with the anecdotes—go deeper, reveal more. There must be a host of complex reasons why you haven’t found your soulmate after all these years. Despite your self-reliance, you surely must miss the companionship of…” Yeah, yeah, maybe later, time’s about up.
In closing, let me mention two momentous events that occurred this year. I entered a continuing care retirement community—and turned 80. What effect these milestones will have on my dating life remains to be seen, but I was encouraged by an encounter last week. A woman resident asked how old I was. “Eighty,” I replied.
“A mere baby,” she said. “Are you married?”
“Want a wife?”
Maybe yes, maybe no, but things are looking up. Truly, life begins at 80.
Robert Strozier’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications including Atlantic, Esquire, The New Times Magazine, and The NYT Book Review. He’s had plays produced in NYC, and a musical he wrote (book and lyrics) has had five concert readings. He also helped launch five national magazines, then served as Editor-in-Chief of two and a senior editor at the others.
38 Replies to “Table for One”
Bob, you are such a talented writer! This is a great story.
Knew more than one man who could have been the hero of this story. What else have you written Bob?
A bunch of things in various magazines. There’s a bio at the end of the piece. And some previous posts here, of course.
Ooh my gosh, you are an awesome story teller! Not everyone finds a soulmate, and dating never was fun for me either. Seems that you’ve made lemonade rather than focusing on just the lemon. After 2 relationships that lasted 2 years each, I thought I’d be single, too. It seemed a much better option than being like so many marrieds that were miserable. Just when I’d decided I’d be fine by myself, I met a guy. Ten days later we were engaged and married soon after. It’s been 47 years. Glad you are still open to finding the one. At any age, it can take you by surprise!
Inspiring story–I shall continue my quest with heightened hope. Thanks.
Hah! Another wonderful Bobster tale.
Thank you, Jane.
Wonderful story Bob! After 61 years of marriage, I can’t imagine a plight such as yours. Wow! Did I miss something?
Thanks. In answer to your question, who knows?
Such a well written (of course) piece that had me smiling, reminiscing, as well as bringing up hope, sadness, empathy and really looking at being unencumbered. Being married for more than 50 years has precluded me having as much me time as I might have wanted, but the joy of companionship has far outweighed the negative. Here’s looking at you kid…….let the game continued to be played as long as you have the desire, fortitude and humor to see life in all its glory!
Well said! Thanks.
Such a refreshing topic (Is bachelordom the new taboo?) with your usual light, sure touch. Love the honesty and the humor (e.g. your reply to the waitress). Thanks for this delightful story!
Thanks. Was just remembering another great scene from the Martin movie. His one friend gives a big party, and the place is packed until you notice that all the guests are cardboard figures.
Delightful and so well-written! You gave me my smile of the day.
Beats a frown any day. thanks.
Made me laugh — you’re such a funny fellow!
Laughing at me again, eh?
Always preferable to a frown. Thanks.
Bob, I loved this story and am still chuckling as I write. As we all eventually discover, humor is key in all things. Keep them coming, Bob!
How true, how true. Thanks.
Nicely told, Bob. Given what a rare & precious commodity a funny guy is, betting it won’t be long till you’re moving over to make some room at that table. Cheers! 👏🍾
If you say so. Thanks.
As a self-proclaimed “bachelor woman”, I can certainly commiserate!
Bachelors of the word, unite!
LMAO! I can certainly relate. I’ve been on my own for 33 years now and have a “blind date” this week with a guy I met on a dating site. I get butterflies too! It sounds to me like you’ve had a wonderful life full of laughs! Someone once told me, “Either way is OK. If you’re with someone, you have companionship; if not, you have freedom.” Sounds like a win-win. Thanks for the wonderfully amusing article. Made my day!
Good luck on your blind date! Thanks.
I loved it, Bob. I never liked dating either. I just wanted to jump right in for the relationship. Thanks ever so much.
I like your style.
This is an absolute masterpiece, Bob! I so appreciate the things you write for us OLLIs – each one is wonderfully full of humor, and some of them, like this one, are able to bring up powerful old memories and sometimes a tear or two. This story brings back lots of memories for me, since I have been single more of my years than not. One of the comments pointed out that hardly anyone can have both marriage and freedom – I found that having the freedom to experience some of the “interesting” encounters and exciting relationships I’ve had has made my life richer in a lot of ways! Thank you for the encouraging thought that maybe Life Begins at 80. I hope so, and may your new decade bring you love and joy!
Thank you for your lovely note, Mary. I believe you sent me the first comment I received on OC. Onward!
As the mother of a 40 year old son who is single, this was both uplifting and sad for me. He is a fly-fishing guide in the Idaho/Wyoming area and has truly found his calling. But, when you move to that area they say you’d better bring a woman with you because there aren’t many available ones there. Having 5 grandchildren already, this desire for him to provide more left a long time ago. Your wit and tenacity have obviously held you in good stead and your current living environment will definitely provide you with fodder for story sharing for many years!
Well, he certainly has a dream job, in any case, and you never know… Hope things work out well.
Oh Bob, I can’t stop laughing when I read your stories . . . My take on this one is this: how much all these women missed out on–instead of crying or yelling, they would have been laughing all their lives with you. Bad, bad choices on their part. Eat your hearts out, women! You deserve it. Stay miserable.
Ha. Junia, you’re great. I’ve had a lot of fun too, you know. I take responsibility for my life. It’s all about getting the plusses and minuses of things right. Anyway, I love having you in my corner.
What a fun story and generous writer you are. Thank you. Adagio
Do please tell us where to find your writing. Curious to know how you like retirement community living and being single doesn’t mean being lonely–that can happen in marriage also. Enjoyed your story.
What a beautiful piece of writing! You are very talented indeed!