Cupid knows no age limits

Love: Just when you least expect it, along comes a man who has all the right numbers.

Life After 50

March 25, 2001|By KAROL V. MENZIE | KAROL V. MENZIE,SUN STAFF

Not too long ago, I fell in love.

Hardly surprising: Everyone does, sooner or later.

It was the later part that caught me off guard. At my age, 55, my mother had lost her husband to a heart attack and began the first year of a widowhood that lasted until she died last June at 91. Her older sister, my aunt, who lived to be 100 1/2 , spent longer than my entire life as a widow, having lost her husband in 1944.

I might have guessed, when I served for the second time as maid of honor at my sister's wedding, that things would be different for us.

The first time I fell in love - as opposed to like or lust, or that old fooler, attraction by proximity - I was 19 and a freshman in college. My love was a foreign national thoroughly detested by my mother - as thoroughly I was abhorred by his parents. The love was real, but we were just kids. My mother pushed; his mother shoved. I walked away from my family to be with him, but when the time came for him to stay away from his for me, he couldn't do it. I still miss that boy, though the man, who later endured great hardship, became a different person, and a stranger.

The second time I fell in love, it was with a city and a way of life and a history so different from my own. Unfortunately, I chose to marry a single representative of this collective infatuation. Our parents really liked us, and each other, and maybe that should have been a sign too. It turned out that he and I were like two magnets always facing the wrong direction, constantly pushed apart by the very force that attracted us. Happily, though the marriage didn't last, the friendship did ... as long as we live on opposite sides of the city.

There was a third great love, who also and rather abruptly became a stranger. After nearly a decade together, I simply dropped off his radar screen. He couldn't see me or hear me or care for me. I knew he had found someone else.

That departure broke me into a million pieces and made me a stranger to myself.

Two categories

The climb back into reality was long and difficult, and I wondered at times if it was worth it. At least, early on, I was given some good advice by an extremely wise woman, a counselor. It was a road map for relationships, something I had never had before. I was whining one day about how my former love had done me wrong, and she asked, "What drew you to this person in the first place?"

"He's funny, he's cute, he shares my politics -"

She didn't let me go on. "All Category 2," she said, explaining that there are two kinds of qualities in people.

Category 1 characteristics include honesty, reliability, loyalty, responsibility, compassion, humility (the opposite of hubris), generosity, equanimity, kindness and being nice to everyone, even people who don't matter like waiters and clerks. The elements in this category are absolutely essential in forming a lasting relationship.

Category 2 characteristics are, in contrast, "the fun stuff": sense of humor, good looks, musical or artistic talent, clothes horse, wine enthusiast or you-pick-it aficionado. While these are the elements that may initially attract you to someone, they are not by themselves strong enough to build a relationship on.

You can hold out for the 2s, but you can't do without the 1s.

I could see the value of this revelation, but I couldn't, at first, figure out how to put it to use. You can see compassion and good manners, but how do you know if someone will be honest or reliable forever after?

As the years slipped by, I gave up. I returned to practicing art and music. I joined a church. I got a pug. I moved. I quit one job and found another. Love, I concluded, was simply not in my cards.

Then, since I was truly not looking for it, love blindsided me.

The right stuff and more

I met a splendid man. And he's older than I am, which worried him but not me. He's kind, considerate, honest with me, reliable - in short, all the 1s. He's also good-looking, extremely smart and quite funny. He cooks, he gardens, he reads, he does laundry, he takes out the trash. He tolerates my rather enthusiastic small dogs, and shares my faith. We've agreed to disagree about politics.

When we took a trip together recently (it involved driving a truck through a torrential downpour in a distant, apparently uninhabited, state; don't ask), I teased him about his luggage. Did he really need two suitcases? What, exactly, was in them?

Over the course of the trip, I found out what was in them: everything I needed. I needed a neck pillow; he had one. I needed headache pills; he had them. I needed socks; he had some. I needed scissors to trim my bangs, and, by gosh, he had those too.

So here I am, contemplating retirement and remarriage at the same time. I guess the lesson is, never give up on love.

Of course, to do that, you need to hang on to hope, and that may be the harder task. As we get older, as all print gets smaller, as all bones develop aches, as contemporaries succumb to illness and young people lack any reference for our jokes, it's difficult to imagine that life will get better.

But even if you don't believe in love, love still believes in you. It will find you. And love, every time you touch it, feels new.

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