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.