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Age Isn't Just a Number — It's The Number

Writer and storyteller Carolyn Meyer details her adventures dating in her 80s in this essay from 'The Moth Presents: A Point of Beauty'

spinner image Illustration of laptop computer with hand coming out of it holding a rose; another hand behind computer holding stick
Illustration by Dan Bejar

The year I turn eighty, which was about eight years ago, I walk into my neighborhood bar, and the bartender says, “What can I get for you, young lady?”

He’s smiling.

I tell him, “Well, I’ll have a glass of red wine — pinot if you’ve got it — but please don’t call me young lady.”

Whether it’s a bartender or a security guard at the airport, or even my doctor — they don’t call a twenty-five year old “young lady,” but they call me “young lady” because I’m obviously not young.

I haven’t been a young lady since Richard Nixon was in the White House.

Now, maybe they think it’s flattering or cute.

Well, it’s not. It’s condescending.

Because of my white hair they make assumptions about me. They have expectations. They deny the wholeness of who I am.

So, the bartender pours me a glass of pinot noir, and he says, “Oh, age is just a number.”

Well, it isn’t just a number. It is the number. Back in the day, it meant I was old enough to drive a car, to walk into a bar and order a drink, to vote. But the year that I turn eighty, age takes on a whole new meaning for me.

I’ve been a writer for fifty years. I’ve been divorced twice, widowed once — but I still think I have a whole lot of living left to do if I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone and take some risks.

So, I sign up for online dating.

I have a pretty good idea of the kind of guy I’d like to meet — a sapiosexual. A man who thinks the sexiest part of a woman is between her ears. I’m not looking for a husband — I’ve had three of those — but I definitely want a lover. Not just somebody to go to the movies with.

I decide not to lie about my age — low maintenance compensates for high mileage — and I write what I think is an intriguing profile. I post some recent pictures — and the algorithms kick in. You don’t smoke. You both like dogs. You both lift weights.

What more could anyone ask for?

So, I start meeting some of these guys for coffee dates, and they’re nice. They’re pleasant enough, but I always feel like I’m interviewing a man I don’t want to hire for a job he doesn’t want to get.

But then along comes Michael. Michael’s an architect. There’s a picture, a photograph of him — silver temples, a good-looking guy — and candid shots of him riding his Ducati motorcycle and strolling through a museum somewhere.

Now, Michael is ten years younger than I am. It doesn’t seem to bother him, and it sure doesn’t bother me. But there is an issue here. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his home is a thousand miles away, in Lincoln, Nebraska. But I think, Let’s see what happens.

We exchange messages through the website and then on our personal email accounts. And then very quickly, we’re talking on the phone. We have a lot to talk about. I’m talking about the book that I’m working on. He talks about his architectural projects. We talk about the personal stuff, our marriages and disappointments, our enthusiasms and our dreams.

Pretty soon we are talking every day. Every day.

He calls in the morning and says, “Talking with you is a ray of sunshine in my life.”

And he calls in the evening and says, “You are my sweet addiction.”

Oh my God. Yeah, I just love that. Who wouldn’t?

One night — when we’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve really come to trust him and feel comfortable with him — I tell him about the double mastectomy that I had decades ago and how it still affects how I feel about myself as a woman.

We end the conversation and say goodnight, and Michael sends me a message: “My dear Carolyn, you’re a strong woman. I’m growing fond of you. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal with me.”

spinner image Book cover that says The Moth Presents A Point of Beauty, true stories of holding on and letting go
Meyer’s essay is published in The Moth’s collection, “A Point of Beauty.”
Courtesy of Crown

Well, I am growing very fond of Michael.

Naturally, we begin making plans, talking about how we’re going to meet.

Michael has an idea.

He has to go to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia — he’s the lead architect on the shopping center that’s being built there. He’ll be there for ten days, and on his way back, he will stop off in Albuquerque. We’ll spend some time together and get to know each other and see where this is taking us.

I am so excited about this, but I am also apprehensive. When we actually meet and he sees me in the flesh, is he still going to be attracted to me? I mean, the wrinkles, the flab, the mastectomy scars. I worry about it.

But we proceed with this plan.

He flies to Malaysia, and we still continue to talk every day because we figured out this fourteen-hour time difference. He tells me about the delicious Malaysian food, and the translator he’s hired, and the engineers he’s working with. He has all sorts of funny stories to tell. It’s almost like I’m on this journey with him.

Soon he will be coming to see me, and I begin to make plans about what we’re going to do. I get a haircut. I buy new underwear. I plan the meals that I’m going to cook for him and the trips I’m going to take him on around New Mexico. I am really, really excited about this.

The morning that he is to leave, he calls me, and he sounds terrible. He is so upset.

“Michael, what’s wrong?”

He says, “I’m down at the port, at the customs house, and I’m waiting to sign off on some equipment — specialized equipment that we need for this project. And the customs people won’t release it to me because the fees haven’t been paid.”

“Michael, that’s terrible! What are you going to do?”

He says, “Carolyn, you know I’d never ask this of you if it weren’t that my whole career is tied up in this. Could you possibly lend me some money to pay those fees? I promise I’ll pay it back as soon as I get home to Nebraska.”

“Well, of course, Michael. Of course I’ll help! How much do you need?”

“Fifty thousand dollars,” he says.

“Fifty grand? Michael, I don’t have fifty thousand dollars.”

My problem-solving kicks in. “Well, call the bank in Nebraska. Call your business partners. Call the shippers of the equipment.”

He has a reason why none of this will work.

“Well,” he says, “could you make it thirty thousand?”

As the dollar number drops, the red flag goes up.

There were probably red flags before, but I didn’t see them — or maybe I didn’t want to see them — but all of a sudden, everything is crystal clear.

His plan to come to visit, being his sweet addiction, who he says he is: None of it is true.

“No, Michael. No.”

And I hang up. I end the call, and that’s that.

Then I go to Google. Why, might you ask, did I not do this in the first place?

Nevertheless, I enter his name and add “fraud,” and up pops his rap sheet. He’s done this before, more than once.

I am not his first “sweet addiction,” as it turns out.

The photograph of the good-looking guy with the silver temples? There’s a Google thing for that too. The photo is Peter McAllum, an Australian movie star.

So, I report Michael to the dating site, and he is banished. Well, I’m beyond disappointed. I’m hurt. I’m embarrassed that I was fooled for as long as I was. I am also extremely pissed.

But I get over it. I move on.

I get back to writing again.

And then I think, maybe I should put myself out there and take another risk — decide to step outside the comfort zone, do something.

So, I sign up for an improv comedy class.

And a few months later, I’m back at that same bar doing stand-up.

I will confess to you that it’s pretty raunchy stuff. The audience doesn’t know what to make of it. Neither does the bartender.

Then I develop a one-woman show and perform that, and I do another one. I keep putting myself out there, all of me — taking the risk.

And you’d think that I would’ve learned to stay away from online dating, but I think, What the hell? Give it another shot.

So, I sign up again, and along comes Robert. Robert is a photographer. He lives in Albuquerque. Turns out we’ve met before. He came to see one of my performances.

I know over that first cup of coffee: Here is a man who really looks at me. He sees me the way I have always wanted to be seen. He sees the wholeness of who I am.

That cup of coffee was a couple of years ago.

Last June, the day before my eighty-seventh birthday, Robert and I were married.

I knew that this was the kind of man I was ready to take another leap with, and now the two of us are writing the next chapter of our lives — together.

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This story was told at the Silver Ball on May 26, 2022, at Spring Studios in New York City. Director: Sarah Austin Jenness.

Excerpted from the book The Moth Presents: A Point of Beauty. Copyright © 2022 by The Moth. Published in the United States by Crown, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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