I wrote the blog post below on December 10, 2010. I’m revising and reposting it on Dec. 8, 2019, as I near the 19-year anniversary of my first meeting with Robert. I find myself sad and contemplative — but also grateful that I had the honor of loving Robert and being loved by him. So much has changed in my life in the past 19 years that never would have happened if Robert hadn’t been looking for a new place to dance and found my line dance class.
December 10, 2000 turned out to change my life in every way: my emotions, my personal growth, my sexuality, my view of aging, even my career. That was the evening that Robert’s life journey landed him in my line dance class. He had recently moved to Santa Rosa and was looking for a place to dance.
Here’s how I tell it in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (the book that never would have been written without that eventful evening):
Love Dances In
The day that Robert Rice walked into my line dance class, my hormones thought they were twenty years old again. His smile, fit body, and grace of movement caught my eye immediately.
Then, when he started to dance, his years of tap, modern dance, and ballet training were revealed in every movement, and I was lost at sea. His nimble feet, muscled thighs, and sensually mobile hips commanded my attention. I wanted to touch the inviting curl of chest hair that peeked through the open top buttons of his shirt. I met his dazzling blue eyes and pretended to breathe. For the rest of the evening, I kept losing my place in the dance I was teaching because I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Robert kept coming to class and danced into my heart. I tried to engage him in conversation after class occasionally, and he responded almost warily, answering me but not giving me any signals that my attentions were welcomed or reciprocated. I wondered: Is he gay? Attached? Or simply not interested in me?
I started inviting him for walks after class, which he accepted. We talked, but never very personally. I told him about the Internet health book I was writing, and he told me about his art and the English gardens of his travels. There was no touching, no eyes locking, no double entendres, no intimate details revealed.
We choreographed a line dance together, which felt extraordinarily intimate to me. We were using our bodies to communicate and showing each other movements, which was very sexy. But the harder I tried to push to the next stage, the faster he retreated.
December 8, 2019 update:
I wasn’t sure whether — or how — I would write about this today. I read my past posts about losing Robert, and my past posts about loving Robert. I reread the little book he wrote just before he died: the last thoughts he wanted to share.
Then when I started reading some of the cards and letters he wrote me, I decided I’d let Robert speak for himself. I share some of these to show you that it’s never too late to find your great love, and maybe we shouldn’t settle for anything less.
If your beloved is with you still, please set aside the petty things that annoy you, solve the big issues as best you can, communicate your needs in an honest and loving way, and please let your loved one know your gratitude and appreciation. Surprise your loved one with sweet messages. Make every day together count.
And if you’ve lost your loved one, know that it does get better year by year, especially if you stay active and let people get close to you. It’s all too easy to close down and shut people out. But don’t! Find ways to live with joy and clarity. Keep learning. Use your skills and knowledge to help others.
|Front of postcard|
One the first anniversary of Robert’s death, a grief counselor suggested that I do one thing that honors my memory of Robert, one thing that I’ve never done before, and one thing that helps other people. That turned out to be good advice, not just at year one, but at every anniversary, birthday, and holiday — those days when the pain can be especially sharp.
Moving forward, I’ve learned, doesn’t mean that we’ve left our loved one behind — it means we take with us what we shared, what we learned, and above all, that we know how to love and live fully. Eventually we find that the tears diminish as laughter grows, and when our hearts open, joy can enter.
|Back of postcard|
I welcome your comments.
I never knew Robert as the dashing 50-year-old dancer in the photo — he was 64 when we met (still dashing and still a dancer!), and I was 57. Looking back, we were youngsters. I’m now 71; he would have been 78. How I wish we could have grown old together.
In case you’re new to our story, Robert and I had exactly seven years together — first kiss to last kiss — before we lost him to cancer. Our love story catapulted me into this world I inhabit now, the world of writing and speaking about senior sex. This August, I will have had as many years without him as with him.
Today I bought a new car. I sold Robert’s 2006 Volvo, which I had been driving since he died. It felt like one more letting-go to sell his car. A few months ago, my 16-year-old cat Amo died. Robert had never liked a cat before, let alone loved one. He loved Amo.
I know that my memories of Robert won’t fade just because my cat died and his car is gone, but it feels like some pages of our time together have been ripped out, or maybe I’m living chapters of a new book that doesn’t include him. I don’t know if I’m making sense, or even if it’s a good idea to write this for my public blog instead of my private journal — perhaps you’ll tell me.
And yet, much as I still ache to hold my sweet Robert, to kiss his warm lips and hear his loving voice, I’m never truly without him. He’s here in my house with his art adorning my walls. He sends me bird chirps and flowers and the occasional salamander. He rustles the trees and smiles at me on the dance floor. He tells me how proud he is when I finish a new book — a book he’ll never get to read.
|Brian Rea for The New York Times|
“How we write about love depends on how old we are,” observes Daniel Jones in his Modern Love column in The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2015. He explains:
The young overwhelmingly write with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Their stories ask: What is it going to be for me?
Those in midlife are more often driven to their keyboards by feelings of malaise and disillusionment. Their stories ask: Is this really what it is for me?
And older people almost always write from a place of appreciation, regardless of how difficult things may be. Their message: All things considered, I feel pretty lucky.
This last point hit home with me. As a sex educator, I hear people’s problems all the time. But I also hear the good parts — the humor and joy and sweetness of what happens when we love at our age. Those of us who are lucky enough to have found love at this time of our lives are radiant with joy telling our love stories — even if that joy is tempered with the sadness of loss.
I know I feel that way. On this Valentine’s Day, I’m remembering how my dear Robert made Feb. 14 a true celebration of love for seven years with gifts, cards, whispered endearments, languid lovemaking, and lots of laughter.
As sad as I am that I will never hold Robert again on Valentine’s Day or any other day, that feeling has nowhere near the power of the joy I feel that this love was in my life. It feels like a miracle that we ever found each at all, let alone so late in life.
|Joan and Robert 2001|
What if he had never wandered into my line dance class that eventful night? We might never have met, never have crossed paths.
What if I hadn’t been assertive (aggressive?) about making the first moves? He was content to see me as his dance teacher (which in itself is bizarre, since he had formal training as a dancer since the age of two, and I had no formal training at all), and he thought that was an uncrossable boundary.
What if I hadn’t dared to proposition him? (You didn’t know that part of our story? Read it in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty!)
What if we had never realized one of the most important themes of our love story: that the ways we were the most different were the ways we most wanted to grow.
You see, at first, we saw our personality clashes and independence as proof that we were too different to ever come together as a couple — it would be too much work, too many compromises, and besides, we were satisfied with the way we were, thank you very much.
|Robert and Joan 2006|
But over the few years we had together, this attitude changed. The closer we got, the more we came to respect our differences — even laugh about them — and the less we felt we needed to resist change. In fact, we discovered that compromise led to change in directions we each wanted to grow.
Once we saw our differences as an opportunity to grow in ways that would be as good for us individually as they were good for us as a couple, we stopped resisting, reframed what we were willing to do for each other, and we blossomed together and apart.
What did you learn about love and about yourself in later life? I hope you’ll share your experiences.