The Scariest Line in Cinematic History: “Take Me to Bed or Lose Me Forever!”

Creepy clowns and manics in hockey masks may make some people tremble in fear, but the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced in a movie theatre was while watching the movie “Top Gun.” Maverick and Goose are partying at the bar, then it happens. Carole, Goose’s wife, shouts, “Hey Goose, you big stud — take me to bed or lose me forever!”


Oh my god. She said…what? I froze. I didn’t want to watch. In the split second before he answered, I imagined Carole’s flirty demand being used as a punch line — or worse, ignored. When Goose answered: “Show me the way home, honey,” I started breathing again. I laughed at myself. What straight man would turn down Meg Ryan?

That was in 1986. Carole was played by 25 year old Meg Ryan, the perfect blonde girl next door. Of course she could dare a man to turn down her attention with the ultimate threat. Even though I was roughly her age, I was quite a few pounds heavier, with heavy breasts and chunky thighs. I excelled at ironic sidebars, not flirty come-ons.

That’s how I remember it, at least. I recently found pictures of myself from around that time, and I was surprised by what I saw. My dark hair was glossy, my skin was luminously pale, and there was a sparkle in my eyes that apparently disappeared soon after the picture was taken. The oversized flannel shirt I was wearing caught my attention. I was more buxom than Meg Ryan, but not heavy. Not even chunky. All the raw material was there for me to be as appealing as any of my friends, as any of the girls I envied. All I was lacking was confidence.

As one of the girls who hit puberty earlier than my peers, I grew up self-conscious of my shape, equating my 5th grade C cup bra with being fat, hence undesirable. Throughout my adolescence, I was certain that anyone who looked me over was judging my weight, not appreciating my curves. Wearing boxy shirts, often mens shirts, a size too big was my way of hiding.

In ways, I was lucky. In the article “The Risks of Earlier Puberty,” the American Psychological Association pointed out the potential issues girls face when they develop younger than their peers. I was younger, but not exceedingly so, and I already had an established image as a nerd; while some bullying took place, big shirts and finding a group of church friends who were quite prudish made it easier for me to create a non-sexual identity despite having a build that could have been sexualized when I was too young to understand.

Those factors also made it easier for me to end up in a sexless marriage. My relationship did not start out that way, but within a handful of years, we could go months without even a hug. The longest we went without any intimacy or physical contact was nearly two years. Tthere were years where I was lucky; maybe once every month or two we would trip the light fantastic…for ten minutes or so.

By the time I was in my early-30s, after not losing some baby weight and spending the vast majority of my time as a caretaker, I believed I wasn’t sexy enough or skilled enough to entice my husband to bed. On the rare occasions I tried to initate sexy-time, I was shut down quickly. It was more clear than ever that the Meg Ryans of the world could taunt men that they would be replaced if they didn’t treasure the chance to enjoy playing. I was not from that tribe. I was more the “they also serve who only stand and wait” part of woman-kind. Men fall over themselves for the Daphnes of the world. No one notices the Velmas. I believed the messages, both spoken and unspoken, that I was undesirable.

Picture from https://www.themarysue.com/daphne-and-velma/

That is not where the story ends. I stayed in the marriage far longer than I should have, but I did eventually leave, and I dealt with the issues that led me to stay in the marriage so long. I discovered people who found me appealing, even sexy, and encouraged me to explore that. Ironically, even though I was overweight, droopy, and no where near my prime, I discovered men who liked “Velma” types — and that all I had been missing was confidence that I could be accepted and desired.

“Sexy” is a mind game. I needed to learn that. Body image is a mind game, too. Right now, I am physically In better shape than I’ve been in a couple decades, but I am on the far edge of my 50s, heavier than my doctor thinks I should be, and there are days — even weeks — when sexy eludes me.

Curvy women who dress to be noticed catch my eye; even now, I don’t have that kind of confidence. Plus size women unselfconsciously dancing in public are heros to me. I haven’t done that since college, long before I started dating my ex. Despite feeling worlds more confident that I am desirable, the girl who is hiding her curves from the public is still part of me. It’s not the part that holds the power, but it is still there, lurking in the shadows.

Near the end of “Top Gun,” Kelly McGillis teases Tom Cruise with Meg Ryan’s line, but instead of flirty fun, she delivers it smolderingly hot. Even now, I’m not in a relationship where I could confidently challenge my love to “take me to bed or lose me forever” right that moment, but I’ve learned to use my words and state my needs with confidence that I’m desired. Usually… Sometimes. Even though I haven’t mastered Ryan’s flirty yell or McGillis’ smoldering whisper, I have found my voice.

On Turning 60: Delicious Decadence

“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all things that make you want to live to be a hundred.” —Woody Allen

I had a very slight hangover this morning. Because I have only rarely had a hangover, I had been at work an hour before I realized that my headache and slight nausea were probably from a girls’ night out that lasted longer than usual–the fact that we skipped supper in favor of appetizers probably accounted for the impact of the wine.

In other words, the list of crimes I committed against my body last night include drinking alcohol, not eating vegetables or fruits, sitting for a prolonged period, exposing my hearing to loud background noise, staying up way past my bedtime, and relishing fried cheese sticks with an amazing dip. When I consider the entire day,… well…unless a leaf of lettuce on a grilled chicken sandwich counts as a veggie serving, I went the entire day without vegetables. My step tracker accuses me of walking fewer than 6,000 steps yesterday, too, which is almost certainly accurate; I spent my day at a desk. It also points out that the previous night, I got about five hours of sleep. I had lost track of time while reading, so yes, I went into my day of debauchery without a good night’s sleep.

I think yesterday was a very good day–except for my body.  I engaged in work that I find fulfilling, I spent time with friends, I laughed and chatted, I texted flirty things to a receptive partner, I sang along with music as I did a bit of housework, and when I did go to sleep, I slept well. That’s a win, right?

Maybe. It depends on who I listen to. Three years ago I decided that I wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle, so I researched how I should change my eating and exercise patterns (or lack thereof). Even though I was good at research, I understood credible sources, and I had friends and family with professional expertise, I was overwhelmed with information overload and conflicting advice.

The process of sifting through information to figure out what worked for me and the seventy pounds that I have lost (and maintained) is a different part of this story, but it does influence my attitudes and fears as I consider my reaction to entering a new decade of living–one that feels like a threshold (at least symbolically) past middle age.

Or, as Woody Allen implies, do I need to give up everything that makes life enjoyable if I want to live a long life? Some of the most reputable information I can currently find urges that I cut sugar as far out of my diet as possible to lessen the chance of Alzheimer’s (which runs in my family), and other information suggests I can keep my arthritis at manageable levels if I am devoted to an anti-inflammatory diet. In other words, the way I eat is antithetical to a long, healthy life.

I grew up believing mashed potatoes and red meat were required at every supper, and that adding pie to the menu qualifies as fine dining. That is not how I eat now, but I have never made a meal out of steamed fish with a kale salad. If I ever start a church, communion will be brownies and whiskey. Eating like the experts (whichever experts are popular at the moment) tell us to does not come easily to me.

The pile of supplements my parents take daily are their talisman against poor eyesight, arthritis, dementia, stroke, and high cholesterol. My mother used to love both tea and chocolate, but at the recommendation of a magazine article decades ago, she completely gave up both in hopes that she would avoid breast cancer–something no one in my extended family has suffered from.  She seems to accept Allen’s premise that living to one hundred requires giving up everything that makes living that long worth it.

Or does she? My elderly parents both have hobbies that they are devoted to, family that they engage with regularly (constantly, some grandchildren might claim), and love going on the occasional weekend getaway, although they hobble around for a few days after overdoing it. My father’s quest to find the “dark web” both horrified and amused the rest of the family–and his browser history suggested that he found at least a few corners of the internet that probably are better left alone.  

If I define “the things that make life worth living” in terms of sugar, wheat, and other “vices,” prevailing opinion says that yep, Woody Allen is a herald of wisdom. Popular belief does not account for variables, though, including basic genetics. Stories of ninety year olds who chop wood and smoke cigarettes make the news every so often, and my Facebook feed has more than once brought news of a younger, health-conscious friend who passed away suddenly. Simply eating right and exercise is not a guarantee of a long, healthy life.

I have fifty-nine years of making some good choices, some bad choices–living deliciously and living deprived. When I was in college, a friend explained to me why he had become a vegetarian: when he reached old age, he wanted to be as vibrant and active as his eighty-five year old great grandfather. I knew plenty of eighty-five year olds. They  were the “gripe about young people and go to prayer meetings” type of old, not the type that spent Saturday evening dancing at a Detroit Jazz Club with his grandson. Since my friend knew a different type of elderly person than I did, he may have made better long-term choices than I did, thus creating a completely different old age than the one I anticipated. Maybe.

This is the point where I could have a heart-warming, inspirational epiphany about starting today to make the rest of my life active, happy, and healthy. I could make a color-coded plan to hop out of bed every morning to do yoga and cardio, eat a plant based lunch, and do some strength training before going home for a small dinner of legumes and veggies. (Confession: I have created plans like that more than once, and yes, with full color-coding. It can be a good re-set, but I’m not the type who can make that a lifestyle.)

Experience says that I could follow the plan with enthusiasm and gusto for…um….three days. Maybe five. Then I would start feeling guilty when I fell short, and a deprivation mindset would take over. At that point, the Woody Allen paradox would be in full force. That is not the way for me to create the type of life that makes me happy to wake up.

Part of my fear of old age includes my assumption that I am likely to experience physical and/or mental decline to the point that I will not find joy or meaning in life. Typing that sentence was almost physically painful as I pulled the words this way and trying to hide the depth of my fear in big words and complex phrasing.

Here’s the basic truth: in the last decade, I have made previously unimaginable changes–both rediscovering parts of myself and reinventing myself. As I watched the TED Talk about the Blue Zones project, I got excited as I considered ways Dan Buettner’s research might apply to my life.

And that excitement, more than any chart of goals, intentions, and restrictions, shows me that I even though I’m uneasy about tiptoeing towards sixty, my future is not about depriving myself of things that make life worth living. It’s about maintaining excitement about something.  Balancing my intake of vegetables to sugar and exercise to sloth becomes more important–and probably more instinctive–when I know there is something worth living for. Allen’s quote might have the right idea if the causal relationship is flipped: If you can find a compelling reason to live to one hundred, the specifics about how to do that are easier.

On Turning 60: New People

“Y’know. Emily, whenever I meet a farmer, I ask him if he thinks it’s important to go to Agriculture School to be a good farmer…Yeah, and some of them say that it’s even a waste of time. You can get all those things, anyway, out of the pamphlets the government sends out. And Uncle Luke’s getting old–he’s about ready for me to start in taking over his farm tomorrow, if I could…And, like you say, being gone all that time … in other places and meeting other people . . . Gosh, if anything like that can happen I don’t want to go away. I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones. I’ll bet they almost never are. Emily … I feel that you’re as good a friend as I’ve got. I don’t need to go and meet the people in other towns.”  Thornton Wilder, Our Town, Act 2

“I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones…I don’t need to go and meet people in other towns.” The first time I heard George impulsively decide that he was not going to agriculture college, I was astonished. George’s decision reeked of fear of losing the life he knew, not passion for Emily. I lived in the 60s & 70s version of Our Town, and I could not wait to graduate from high school so I could hit the highway in search of adventure. That’s how I remember it, at least.

Because I have spent decades working with teens, George’s assertion that he knows all the people he needs to know feels tragic. Usually, young people are eager to find what is out there beyond their backyard. Even accounting for the massive differences between the time period of the play and now, I cannot imagine voluntarily choosing such a narrow, limited life.

Now that I am living back in the same Our Town setting that I vowed to flee, I am reconsidering the issue of old friends vs new people with a range of nuances and related topics that Thornton Wilder could not have imagined. Thanks to Facebook, people who I have not seen in person since high school graduation know that I had roasted parsnips last night. People I have not seen since I stopped attending the church we grew up in have enthusiastically approved of the color I recently painted my bathroom. Some of them live miles away, some in the same town we grew up in, but very, very few of my “old friends” are friends of mine in any sense beyond the “Facebook friend.” Our shared history is simply that: history.  

My Facebook is littered with friends from previous jobs, previous towns, previous relationships–the detritus of past phases of life. When I am looking for someone to go out to dinner, or I find an event that I’d like to attend with a friend, very few of these people are who I reach out to. We tacitly agree that we are “friends,” but in a historical sense. For a significant portion of my friends list, Facebook is a museum of people I used to know.

The people who I do socialize with, who I text frequently or play board games with are for the most part well within my comfort zone. I have known them for quite a while, often from work or family connections. At this stage in my life, it is easy to hang out with the people who have been woven into my life for years. I could become complacent, comfortable in my niche.

However…

My small town is literally smaller now than it was; since I was in high school, we have lost about a third of our residents.  I do not know everyone–not even close–but at this point, I will be surprised if an opportunity for a new romantic relationship or potential good friend pops up in my own backyard. As my “old friends” move closer to their children who left the area or retire to more scenic vistas, my social scene becomes more limited, which is something I am already starting to experience. In very concrete ways, I have friends, but no tribe, no web of relationships that weaving a barrier between me and times of loneliness.

Better yet, new people mean new stories, new ideas, and new opportunities. As much as I enjoy my old friends, we know each other’s dance steps too well. We can laugh before the punch line and anticipate the gossip. Having new people keeps our conversation and our minds vibrant.

My great-grandmother lived with my family for the last decade of her life, and in that time, the only new people she met were my siblings’  and my friends as they tromped through the house. My parents, active octogenarians who routinely share family gossip on Facebook, have not added anyone into their social circle in decades unless the person married into the family.  When they were younger, though, all of them left the security of home to meet new people and see what the world had to offer. They were not George Gibbs, too wary to see what was past the county line.

Right now, I have plenty of options for connecting with others if I simply reach out.  Facebook, Twitter, dating apps, and participating in a variety of activities could has kept a flow of new faces in my life, people who might fit into the fabric of my life.  

In Our Town, George is a broken man, widowed young at the end of the play. If I were to write a sequel to Our Town, George would be old well before his time, stymied by his inability to move past the old and embrace–or at least sample–something new.  One secret to loving life, to staying engaged mentally and physically, is to be open to new people. My challenge to myself is simple: Don’t be George. That is not the path to an interesting, fulfilling future.

On Turning 60: Wrinkled Souls

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” Samuel Ullman  

Wrinkled souls. That phrase caught my attention. Over the course of my career, I have worked with teens and young adults, and the phrase “wrinkled souls” called specific faces to mind–the students who had given up (or never had) hope. The teens who believed that the moments they were living right then, regardless how stunted and dismal, were as good as their lives would be.

These are not the wrinkles of sages, earned through a lifetime of living. The wrinkled soul Ullman summons is the person who does not see anything ahead that is worthy of enthusiasm. There is nothing  joyful to anticipate, no good surprises in germinating for later, no beliefs or ideals or passions to lead a person to a life worth waking up for.

When I Google images of enthusiasm, my screen floods with pictures of action: pumped arms, wide smiles, jumping.  The face of enthusiasm is energetic, and even the teens I knew with wrinkled souls had moments that might read as enthusiastic, times when they made a touchdown or passed a test. That was transitory, not enough to build a life of enthusiasm. It takes years of disappointment to wrinkle a soul; some transitory successes do not replenish a depleted soul. Reaching those teens, those cynical, disheartened people, takes more faith and hope than I have been able to summon for a while, but throughout my career, I have seen young people with wrinkled souls find something worth the energy of believing in and caring about. When that happens, it’s magical.

I can analyze what factors probably contributed to the wrinkled souls of the teens I worked with, what traumas and situations caused them to have belief systems that lead to hopelessness. The analysis is not as easy when I turn the mirror towards myself.

I have reached the age where old friends start conversations with “Remember the time…” more often than they used to. Listening to my peers grouch about “young people” is too common, too, as I wonder when my friends became so wrapped in their successes that they apparently do not see the mess we have made of the world. Bit by bit, their enthusiasm and belief in the future seems to be drying up, and preserving what they have here and now is their prime directive.

Everything I said in the last paragraph–hell, the previous few paragraphs–is abstract and vague. Bloodless. People with enthusiasm, people who have ideals they focus on, things to anticipate–they drip with the elixirs of life. A soul can’t wrinkle when it’s fed like that.

I know senior citizens whose souls are overflowing. People who are still learning, acting as if they have another three or four decades before nature will slow them down. One couple I know bicycled the Canadian Rockies when they were in their sixties, and I recently chatted with a man in his seventies who is working on memorizing all of Shakespeare’s sonnets; he performs them locally every chance he gets.  Even though I have been told by multiple people that grandchildren are what make life worth living when you are older, I can look around me and find examples of people who create enthusiasm for their own projects and goals, too. Finding the passion to harness into action as I hit my next stage of life is the challenge. Right now, I am so invested in this stage of my life that I have trouble seeing the next part as vibrant and….well….juicy.

When I was in college, I drove an Oldsmobile that needed oil constantly. Everytime I put gas in, I would pop the hood, pull out the dipstick, wipe it off and reinsert it, then pull it out again to see if I needed to pour in a bit more oil.  As I am approaching this next stage, I wish there was a soul dipstick, a way that I could check every so often that I’m keeping my soul well hydrated. I will, eventually, have to accept wrinkles on my face. Wrinkles on my soul, though…not if I can help it.

Intention, Priorities, and Wibbly-Wobbly Time: Actions Tell the Truth


“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”
~ The Rolling Stones

This past week, I saw my boyfriend five out of seven days. Less than four hours of that was just us alone. The rest of the time, we were surrounded by people, much of it in passing at a workplace. Still, between weather and vacations and illness and schedules, I’m happy that I saw him that much. None of the time was “special,” but then again, all time together is special, isn’t it?

My children are grown, and I recently went to a once-in-a-lifetime concert with one of my kids. I had more “special” time with her than just the two of us have had together in years. The fast food we ate while driving home following the concert as we excitedly rehashed the performance was more of a communion between us than the more expensive, restful lunch we ate the following day.

All time together counts, having time together is always a gift, but all time is not equal.  Talking about anything as ineffable as the quality of time will offer flawed generalizations, but recognizing that there are differences, that all time is not equal, is a starting point.

A few years ago, I was delighted to learn about “ordinary time.” In the traditional Christian calendar, ordinary time is the time between Advent and Lent, then the time between Lent and Advent. For Christians, it is the time between their big holy seasons. It is called ordinary time because the weeks are counted in ordinal numbers, not because it is blah or boring. However, in real life terms, it is the daily stuff. It is the going to work, having lunch, doing laundry, watching Netflix as the kids do the homework time. It is nothing special, but it is the building block of life — the sort of time that seems like no big deal until it is gone. Those of us who have suffered a loss or change — -a death, children moving out, roommates leaving — we realize then how routine minutes gave life its texture and meaning. Ordinary time is not flashy, but it is essential and has magic and meaning of its own.

But It is not kairos time. Kairos, the youngest child of Zeus, was the god of opportunity. Kairos time is the exactly perfect moment, the special time wrapped in glitter in your memory. The family vacation to Disneyland, the overnight get-away without the kids, the date night with no urgent texts or messy emotional moments marring it, the deep conversation that reaffirms your connection, the cudding with no alarm clock ticking — those are examples of kairos time. Kairos time is what we tend to count as more important. It is the time that means something special, that feels as if  it reaffirms the priority of a relationship. Kairos time feels damn good, but ordinary time is the base creating kairos time.

Because I am in a polyamorous relationship, time is a topic. My boyfriend and everyone we are involved with is committed to creating lives that make room for loving other people, trying to accommodate at a minimum, everyone’s needs–and ideally, at least once in a while, people’s wants.. However, some parts of our lives, hence our time, are still non-negotiable. Laundry needs done, floors need mopped, cars need taken in for oil changes, and children need attention and love.

Those of us who work to live out our belief that love is an unlimited resource and multiple relationships can be healthy for everyone involved know the truth of that: balancing everyone’s needs, drives, and emotions involves conversation and calendars at least as often as condoms and cuddles.

When time together gets out of balance, it can be very difficult to remember–even to believe–that people’s intentions are to find time to be together. That gets even more complicated when the people involved are trying to figure out what kind of time is needed. Is an ordinary afternoon enough, or is a date night or get-away called for–if and when possible? Just as people have different needs and expectations, so do relationships.  Finding the balance, then keeping it as close to balanced or figuring out how to re-balance is a challenge to some degree for all the poly people I know.

But that’s not different than other relationships. People who have multiple close friends, or multiple children, or parents and in-laws all have times that they talk about how to balance time and recognize that ordinary and kairos are different. That’s why being with the grandkids on Christmas Eve “counts more,” in a sense, than spending a random evening in January watching television with Grandpa does. That’s why a friends’ get away to a bed and breakfast in wine country is more of an event than grabbing lunch on a weekday with the same friends. Issues with balancing ordinary time and kairos are not the exclusive realm of poly relationships.

We can insist all we want that we intend to pay attention to those we love, that we intend to show how important they are, but the action of making time shows our true priorities–and having a balance of ordinary time and kairos time requires planning, commitment, and conversation. Saying “all time is special” may philosophically be true, but in terms of showing that a person is a priority, recognizing the balance of ordinary time and kairos time each person, each relationship, needs makes the difference in how well all the relationships function. It is easy to feel jealousy instead of generating compersion when feeling ignored or unneeded.

Time has another trait worth noting here: it keeps on ticking. Whatever is happening now, good or bad, will change. Karios time will end, ordinary time will segue into a different type of ordinary time. Unbalanced priorities can be discussed and worked on correcting, but there won’t ever be “the answer.” Creating the best relationships possible based on the unique needs of everyone involved takes communication, patience, and more than a touch of self-awareness. For me, thinking through the differences between ordinary time and kairos, and how I emotionally respond to perceived imbalances help me quell the gremlins and focus on compersion, trusting that joy, like love, is an unlimited resource.

The Cold Equations: Opportunity Cost in Low-Key Sexual Harassment

When I was in junior high, girls who stopped for a drink of water at the intersection of the hallways were asking for “it.” The drinking fountains were a constant wheel of fortune: would I be able to lean slightly to get a drink without being groped? Every girl I knew was a potential gropee in that game; I still believe that — hopefully — only a small percentage of the boys were gropers. When possible, girls monopolized the fountains for the three minutes between classes, seeking safety in numbers.

The teachers across from the drinking fountain regularly shoo’d the “clumps of girls clogging up the hallway,” as they referred to us, down the hall. These teachers could see when several girls were crowding around the drinking fountain, but claimed they never saw the boys’ hands snake around to grab our breasts or shove their fingers between our legs as we bowed for a sip of water. After a few attempts at reporting the assaults and finding that our teachers were unwilling to do anything as simple as stand by the drinking fountain to make the point that no one should touch anyone else, we quit reporting it. Those teachers — two popular male teachers in their first few years of teaching — made it clear that continuing to complain made it likely that we would be labeled paranoid, sex-obsessed snitches.

Telling our mothers led to problem-solving, like the idea that we should get a hall pass during class when the halls would be relatively empty to get a drink instead of doing it during class changes. As far as I recall, going to teachers or principals was never suggested. Learning to navigate low-key harassment was part of growing up, apparently.

That was more than 40 years ago. I rarely contemplated that facet of my early teen years, and when I did tell that story, it focused on annoyance that the teachers would not do anything. Until the cultural discussion of #metoo started, I did not consider the water fountain groping to be sexual assault. In my mind, it was not even sexual harassment. It was boys being boys, and we could either figure out a work around or tolerate it. It did not happen every time, and it only lasted a moment — and sometimes, if I turned fast enough, I could “accidentally” elbow the offender in the gut with a fair amount of force.(And yes, the teachers did usually notice elbowing. I once was forced to apologize for my clumsiness to a groper. It was still worth playing the odds to see if I could nab the culprit.)

The past week, though, I find myself in a vaguely similar situation, which has me re-thinking other times when I either failed to create boundaries or chose to not enforce them. I again find myself in a situation where I could shrug a man’s behavior off as an example of “men being men,” with no malicious intent or ability to learn better (following the old dog/new trick theory of learning), or decide on a course of action to ensure it does not happen again.

Stated that way, the decision sounds obvious: take action to ensure it does not happen again. The flow chart is not that clear, though. Trying to make sure it does not happen again offers three branches:

  1. Tell the man in question that his groping, then forced kiss was inappropriate and he needs to both apologize and be warned that if anything like that happens again, our friendship is over; I’d give excellent odds that this option would include snarky comments pointing out that we have played and flirted occasionally, so do I expect him to read my mind about when he should not try to initiate something? (Hint: when I have my coat on and am getting out my keys, I’m signaling that I’m leaving. That is not code for “abruptly stick your hand up my shirt while you grind against me.”) Knowing him, the sarcastic comments would happen every so often, so this would not be a one-and-done discussion, unless the done refers to our friendship.
  2. Tell the man I’m having health issues and any sort of sexual activity is not possible for the foreseeable future; he was sympathetic when that was true earlier, but he checked with me every regularly to see if the situation had changed and I could play; that got old — and I got better, so our relationship was again physical at times; hoping that my situation would change would be reasonable, so the topic would be raised again. And again.
  3. Tell him that I’m in a new relationship, and it is monogamous; history shows that he would accept this reason with no future hassle as long as I occasionally mention my new boyfriend. Another advantage to this is that it does not upset any social groups or change our friendship in any fundamental way — we could still be in touch, still chat about common interests, even go out to dinner sometimes, all with a high degree of confidence that he will keep his hands and his suggestions to himself. Because we live in different cities, this option is viable. We don’t have common friends who would know any differently. The downside: it is a lie, even if it is for the greater good of preserving our friendship in a drama-free manner.

This sort of consideration, playing through the opportunity cost of each option, may seem like overthinking, but similar conversations with female friends over the years make me believe this thought process is not unique to me. A friend in an abusive marriage spent weeks talking through possible approaches to dealing with or escaping from her husband. Another friend in a supervisory position played through a variety of ways to tell a new hire that his compliments on her clothing and appearance were crossing a line. There are consequences for not letting boys act like boys — especially when the “harassment” is as low-key as a breast squeeze and bruising kiss from a sometime lover or getting bumped into in a hallway so that the man involved (possibly accidentally…more than once) cops a feel. “That doesn’t really hurt you,” I was told when expressed dismay that I again got bumped into by an older man. “Maybe he got a cheap thrill, but you’re ok,” was my partner’s reaction.

Thanks to #metoo, we are now telling some of these stories, and we are having discussions about definition and degree, consequences and consent. My generation should have started those discussions when we were inventing disco, I know, but somehow the buzz about Saturday Night Fever involved surprise that Travolta could dance, not that the movie was a sympathetic portrayal of a character who attempted rape after some moderately stalk-y behavior.

Discussion of these topics, however, should not imply agreement on them. One friend said that choosing to work in an environment with men means you deal with their behavior without whining — she admitted that an extra heavy staple gun that she kept on her desk has fallen on the feet of men who leaned over her desk in an apparent attempt to look down her shirt or crowd her too closely. Friends applauded that as a brilliant solution, far better than reporting the issue to HR. “No reason to get a reputation as a tight-ass,” one of my friends said. None of the stories we told involved “real” sexual assault or harassment, just the daily stuff that happens.

Several of my friends who have both sons and daughters have told me how much more concerned they are about their sons than their daughters. “His career could be derailed with an unjust accusation,” a friend said. When I asked about her daughter, she shrugged. “My daughter knows how to deal with life,” my friend said. Both statements are true — but that does not make either of them right.

Most of my friends and I were born at the end of the Baby Boom or soon after. Our attitudes were formed after the birth control pill changed the sexual landscape, and before AIDS changed it again. None of us have the same mores and expectations that we did when our hair was styled like Farrah Fawcett’s, but those experiences are still part of our history. The man who recently groped me is slightly older yet, part of the Howdy-Doody section of the Baby Boom. He’s enlightened, but only in comparison to the norm through his college days. Even though times have changed, history comes through.

I hope — no, I believe — that my grown children and their friends would frame all of these experiences differently, and their flow chart of options would include either more honest options or the willingness to walk away, damn the consequences. I am also confident in saying that most men, most of the time, are aware of social boundaries and operate within what is appropriate in given situations. Men do not want to be “that guy,” and most of them aren’t.

As I thought about my junior high water fountain situation, I realized that as far as I know, none of the girls told the boys — the “nice” boys, the ones we knew were not the gropers — what was happening. Our cousins, brothers, boyfriends — I think it is very possible they didn’t know. Maybe they saw a girl get groped at the fountain once or twice, and shrugged it off as an anomaly. Maybe they heard a friend brag about touching a girl at the fountain and laughed at the obvious fiction. I have to believe that most of the boys I counted as friends in junior high would have been embarrassed and appalled if they knew that was a fairly routine experience for the girls in our class. Probably. Maybe.

So what am I going to do — if anything — about my recent experience? I don’t know. The idea of controlling the situation so he doesn’t have the chance for a repeat groping, like our mothers suggested about the water fountain, may be the path of least resistance and the most honest. On the other hand, I’ve always liked the name Tod. He could be a forest ranger who writes poetry during his stints in the fire tower. That could work.

Dear Unexpectedly Single Men of a Mature Age: Notes about Dating….Again.

Caveat: Because my experience is with cis-gendered, hetro relationships, the assumptions and words I use reflect that. The hints may well apply across genders and orientations, but I don’t assume that’s true.

Dear Single Men of a Mature Age,

After years of having a partner, you’re footloose and fancy-free…possibly not by choice. Definitely with a couple decades of experience and baggage. And you have realized that there are only so many microwavable dinners you can stomach before you’d like company. Preferably not the same people you see at work or around the neighborhood.

Maybe a friend knows a nice single woman who you meet and click with, and you don’t have to eat meals alone as often. If that’s the case, this note is not for you. Instead of reading this, call her and say something thoughtful to her. You don’t know how lucky you are.

If you’re still reading, here are a few tips. If you haven’t been dating for a decade or two…or three..the world has changed. Unless you happen to get lucky by having a friend who knows a nice single woman, you probably need to change your approach and assumptions, too. Or do you have a fondness for microwave meals and watching the weather channel?

Not all of my tips may apply to you, but before you dismiss them, consider this: what you’ve been doing may not have worked as well as you wanted it to, or you would have stopped reading a couple paragraphs ago. You may have been thrown a hard curveball, and your current life is different than you expected it would be right now. Taking a few moments to think about new approaches might be called for.

  • First, know that you have baggage, expectations, and assumptions. Everyone does, and you’re not a starry-eyed teen just starting out, so you have more than you used to. Take the time to think about what those issues may be — if appropriate, with a therapist — and know that if you are successful at connecting with new people, you’ll find that you have even more baggage, expectations, and assumptions than you thought. That’s ok. That’s a sign you’ve had life experiences and you’re still growing.
  • Learn enough about technology to use a dating app and to text or message. (More about the dating app in a bit) Every mature woman I know texts a fair amount. They text to each other, to family, to arrange social/work/volunteer times. Get comfortable texting a hello and a quick thought — a whole conversation isn’t required, but texting and messaging are how people keep in touch. Even if you’d rather call or email, a quick text to say “good morning” is usually appreciated.
  • Use your words! Ask questions. Clarify, and be open to new ideas or ways of doing things. Find out if texting is appropriate or if they’re prefer you call. Let them know if you like it when they initiate contact, or if you’re from the school of thought that feels it’s too forward for a woman to hit the send button when you’re not expecting it. You’re allowed to have preferences and to express them, but having a discussion instead of issuing edicts (or worse, expecting her to “just know”) is how grown ups operate now.
  • Consider what you’re looking for. Do you mainly want a social companion, someone to go to the occasional event with, to watch movies or eat dinner with, no deep emotional ties or chemistry needed? There’s nothing wrong with that — and you might be surprised how many women would find that to be exactly the sort of relationship they would like. Are you hoping to find someone to marry — or at least intertwine lives somehow? It’s even fine to admit you’d like someone to cuddle (or more), but you don’t want a commitment. Even though situations can change, and you could be open to a combination of possibilities, think about what you are actually hoping to find. Be willing to have those conversations and have them sooner rather than later — especially if you have a strong preference. Don’t assume that every woman is looking for another husband. (I don’t know any over the age of 50 who are, in fact, but my sample size may be too small.)
  • Unless you have an extensive social network, using a dating app might be a good idea. It’s fine to put a picture or two of you a few years ago on your profile, but include one or two recent pictures, too. Have at least a couple pictures that are just you, not you and your kids or grandkids, or you and your ex (yes, I’ve seen that on profiles.) If you have hobbies, interests, or passions, share them. Put some thought into what you write on your profile so it attracts the sort of person you’re most likely to connect with.
  • If a profile hits your fancy, don’t message “hey beautiful.” Ask a question or comment on some info from their profile. Show that you read it and you’re not randomly messaging every female. And respond if someone messages you, even if the response you make is a polite “Thanks for noticing me, but I’m not interested.” Saying things like that on dating apps is acceptable.
  • And — -maybe most importantly — try not to ghost. Ghosting is just disappearing. You’ve been in touch, maybe even gone out a time or two, then….nothing. You realize you’re not interested, or that you aren’t ready to make new friends/have a relationship, or…whatever. Ghosting is not answering a text, not making a call, ignoring an email until it would be awkward to answer — those are all easy outs. If you realize that you’re not interested in continuing, say so. “I’ve had a good time, but I’ve realized that…” is a perfectly fine way to say you’re moving on. There are probably a hundred other ways to frame it. But be a grown up and say good bye, even if your only reason is the chemistry isn’t there. You don’t have to argue your position or earn the right to walk away — that’s your prerogative — but unless there’s a pressing reason to ghost, don’t. And if you feel as if a woman is ghosting you, ask. Be ready to accept whatever she says, but don’t sit there wondering.

I’m sure I’m missing crucial tips, especially for those of you who have been blindsided by a sudden divorce or death — I’m so sorry, but the world you’re waking up to isn’t the same as it was. Once you get your bearings, though, you may be surprised by the possibilities surrounding you.

Dear Craigslist: Could You Please Bring Back Your Personals?

Almost a year ago, Craigslist shut down its personals department. I understand why. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act has a noble goal. My request that CL reconsider is completely selfish — but a quick web search shows that online sex trafficking is still an issue a year later, so Craigslist closing down their personals section did not solve the problem. There has to be a way that CL can comply with the law while still allowing personal ads, doesn’t there?

Since my divorce nearly a decade ago, CL was my most successful means of making connections with other people. I’ve been on every dating app I have heard of, out of curiosity even when I saw that I was not its intended audience. I have accounts on a variety of social networks as well, everything I’ve run across from Facebook and Twitter to little-known special interest networks. Through it all, Craigslist has been my go-to for making every type of connection.

CL offered something that none of the other platforms do as well: deliberation. Posting an ad could be a couple sentences whipped together at a moment’s impulse or crafted in several drafts with attention to tone, audience, and purpose beyond what a college comp class could ever require. Either way, what a person posted was not a “fill in the blanks” sound bite approach. Pictures could be included, but it was again a choice, it was not an obvious absence if you posted an ad sans smiling face — or other body part.

An ad could be a sentence long or include specific details about what the author was looking for, backstory about the author’s life, and any other random thoughts. There was no specific format or formula. People writing ads could lie, and their motivations could be as murky as mud — but we veterans of the Dating App Life know that’s true for any online interaction. The cookie cutter approach of most dating sites, many even offering checklists to describe yourself and what you are looking for, squelches individuality. Wants, needs, dreams, and identity did not have to fit in an easy to define list on Craigslist.

Deliberation continued when people decided to answer an ad. There was no simple swiping, no snap judgement about someone’s smile or fashion sense. On dating apps, I often get a generic, “Hey beautiful,” the app equivalent of casting a line into the ocean. When I posted a CL ad (which I did maybe ten times in six or seven years), I rarely got a response as lame as “hey beautiful.” Some men took the time to write a paragraph or two response, some wrote only a couple of sentences, but it was clear that most of them read the ad, considered their answer, and had some reason for thinking I might be worth checking out.

Bumble is in the news now, championing their“women contact first policy, claiming that will give women more power to avoid unpleasant interactions. Maybe — but it is still people deciding who they are attracted to based on a few pictures and some cookie-cutter description. Furthermore, my experience with online dating suggests that the more unpleasant, even abusive, interactions take place after a few times of messaging. Finding a bunch of “Hello Beautifuls” in my inbox from men who clearly are just seeing if I answer is not nearly as frustrating or upsetting as messaging someone for several days, only to have them say they don’t really like fat chicks, but if I lose weight, let them know, or some similar, more personal attack. Even though OkCupid’s format allows more writing, and offers questions to determine your “match percentage,” which is some improvement over other apps as far as I’m concerned, even there, swiping and pictures are the determining factors. No app or site that I have found comes close to the depth and versatility that I experienced using Craigslist — and CL was free, unlike all the other apps, which incessantly offer their paid services. And CL’s search options beat any website I have seen, too.

I have fond memories of people I emailed, messaged, and met via Craigslist ads. I have a few close friends who started out as people who either posted ads or answered them. For small town older women, meeting people new friends — or if you’re lucky, lovers — can be difficult. Dating sites skew younger, and they offer many more connections if you are near a bigger city. For me, older and in the middle of nowhere, CL personal ads were a life-changer.

So please, Craigslist, I miss the odd little hyperlinks, the notices about safe sex, and the barren white screen with basic black type. I miss the thrill of a trickle of emails from possible new friends as we see if there is a possible connection. Please, pretty please, figure out a way to come back.

Why I Did–And Didn’t–Change: A Tale of Metamorphosis

In the past three years, through all the events and changes in my life, there’s one that I’m most stunned by, one that reminds me that it’s not over till the fat lady sings — or not. I’m more than 60 pounds lighter than I was about three years ago.

For over 1700 days, I logged everything I ate without fail, stopping when I hit a specific calorie goal. In that time, there were a handful of days, usually special events, when I took the easy way out, designating it an “no clue but a lot” day. Since late last fall, though, I’ve had trouble summoning that degree of habit — and I’ve put on a few pounds, just enough that I notice when I’m wearing my most close-fitting jeans.

That has led me to consider the circumstances when I first committed to changing my life. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, but my eating hadn’t changed; I was simply sitting a lot more due to a new job. A gain of about 10 pounds (and going up one pants size) led to the epiphany that it was time to do something–and I finally had the conversations with myself that made me focus my energy to changing, one step at a time.

Here’s an important part: no one made me do this. No one was my Jiminy Cricket or my personal food cop. Even more importantly: no one shamed me into this, and no emotional or logical arguments convinced me to limit my calories, log everything, or to make exercise a regular part of my week. (Important note: I did consult with my doctor, and we did a full examination and testing to determine that I did not have any physical conditions causing or exacerbating my weight. For me, lifestyle was the issue.)

Why did I succeed in losing? I decided it was time, and I accepted that every day was a new chance to make decisions. Not living up to my plan one day was not a failure; it was a combination of choices I made that day. The next day was a new opportunity to make different choices. And through trial and error — lots of error — I found what worked for me.

A few friends and family claim credit for uttering the words that finally tripped my trigger, but they are deluded if they believe they said anything that I hadn’t been hearing since I was twelve (or younger). They had not said anything that I hadn’t said to myself. The list of things that people have said to or about me in my hearing in the mistaken belief that it would motivate or shame me into change is long and appalling. I was young when I learned that the social guidelines for what constitutes polite behavior are different when you’re interacting with someone who is fat, especially if you “care” or “are concerned.”

In the years before I resolved to change, I had gotten letters and emails from friends who were concerned about my “health”–and they managed to include a few words about how much more likely I would be to find dates/relationship if I lost weight; people discussed in my hearing range whether a makeover would be worth the effort if I didn’t care enough to lose weight so I’d “be hotter” (I hadn’t asked about a makeover or anything similar–I was enjoying a holiday when others started freely offering their opinion). I had even hit the point where a random person in a grocery used me as an object lesson to a young girl about what happens if you don’t watch your weight, complete with pointing out that I didn’t have a wedding ring, so I must be one of those sad, lonely cat ladies (yes, I was buying cat food for my cat).

Variations on all of those happened more than once–and I’m not mentioning the micro-comments like students asking me if I’d always been heavy, students telling me about their single uncle who likes “thick” women, or comments made by men online. The popular “You’d be pretty if you lost weight” doesn’t scratch the surface of what heavy women regularly hear. I felt shame, but not motivation.

I also had more than one doctor not check me for actual injury when I went to them with issues with walking. Both my hip replacement and my torn meniscus could have been identified and treated much more quickly if I had been taken seriously instead of dismissed because “well, you can’t expect to feel like dancing at your age and weight,” as one of them said.

All of that was just part of life as I knew it prior to losing weight. The comments, the judgement, those simply showed that people didn’t know “the real me,” the part of me that has always mattered far more. My mind, my ideas–insult those and I’d react, but talk about my physical being — I could shrug that off much more easily than most people might imagine. Besides, even though I didn’t own a mirror (true story–except over the bathroom sink), I knew the truth: I was heavy.

And I still am. I can buy clothes in the junior section now, but in the bigger sizes. The last few months, I have become aware of how easily I could go back to the mindset and lifestyle from before my changes. Right now, I’ve perhaps become too comfortable in my skin. I haven’t been deciding to make better decisions one day, then again the next, then all over the next day. That takes a level of belief and focus that I need to rekindle soon.

I’ve thought about what finally triggered my commitment to losing weight, which involved a whole web of other changes. The conversations that hit me hardest about my weight and lifestyle didn’t deal with my weight at all. My weight was a symptom of a life out of balance. I was seriously burnt out at work. I was overextended physically and emotionally. I never learned the joys of physical exertion, so all my escapism and stress relief took place in my head, in sedentary ways. I could list factors contributing to my life being out of balance, but it’s a universal story; only the details differ. I can rationalize how my life and my weight got skewed, but that’s child’s play for a wordsmith. The truth is simple: instead of dealing with the imbalances, I ignored, compartmentalized, and rationalized.

The letters, the buddy plans to lose weight together, the helpful “chats,” the pointed looks, the “God has put a burden on me to talk to you about your weight” (another true story, again more than once)–how often do those succeed? From my experience and observations, never.

The reason I am sharing all this, as embarrassing and personal as it feels to me, is simple: if you don’t feel comfortable having a conversation with someone about how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and personally, don’t feel entitled to start a conversation about their weight or health, either. Regardless who or what you are to a person, you are not automatically entitled to have those conversations. Your need to feel as if you’ve “done something” is self-serving–get over yourself. Furthermore, if the person you want to change is a child or teen, my advice still applies.

So far, I am the only one who has noticed my weight gain. I am also the only one who knows about the emotional, spiritual, and physical imbalances that are contributing to my current poor decision-making. Breaking through the ennui that has me in its oh-so-comfortable grip is my challenge, and through trial and error, finding a system that again invigorates me and holds me accountable — with a joyful look to the future — is something that I can do, but I am the only one who can. And for me, probably like many other people. it is not about the food. That is what I need to remember.

This is an updated revision of a piece I published two years ago on my personal blog; this reflects my mood, situation, and musings as of February 2019