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.
|Joan & Robert line dancing, 2001|
Thirteen years ago today, I kissed Robert for the first time.
Six years ago today, I kissed Robert for the last time.
Sometimes I think that he chose to die on the anniversary of our first kiss, so that I could soften the memory of his death with the memory of our first kiss. But as vivid as that first kiss is is my mind, as clearly as I still feel the magic of the moonlight on the first night we dared to touch, these memories don’t soften the loss — or the harshness of remembering how this gentle, loving, good man suffered from a painful cancer.
On this anniversary, I keep writing sentences and deleting them. I could write in my journal instead, and every word would stay.
|Robert’s last birthday, 2007|
But I’m not just writing for myself here — I’m writing for you, my community of readers, and many of you have suffered your own losses, many fresher than mine. Some of you are with the person whom you love, and you can’t imagine how you could survive losing your beloved. Others have been alone for a very long time. Some of you are losing someone now.
So what would be of use and of interest to you?
Here are some things that I’ve learned over the six years:
1. It does get better with time. Everyone told me that, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine it during the first years. My heart and gut had been sliced into pieces, the elephant kept stomping on my chest, and the most important person in my world was gone. How could this possibly get better? But it did.
2. We are remarkably resilient. We survive. We learn to laugh again. We feel the life force within us filling us with possibility.
3. We gradually find ourselves able to connect with new people. Many of us learn to love again. No, I haven’t fallen in love again, but believe it or not, I feel more open to that possibility than I ever would have predicted. I am able to connect with men now, and that feels good.
4. We can find our beloved in our world if we look and listen. Sometimes I practice being really quiet and watching nature around me. Then a bird swoops close, alights on a branch, and sings. I like to imagine that Robert sent me that bird.Or that iris that I spot on one of my walks that looks like the one in the kimono painting he created for me for one birthday.
5. We carry within us the best of the person whom we loved. I’m not religious, and I don’t know whether there’s an afterlife. But I do believe that the special lessons we learned from our beloved, the ways we grew that would not have happened without this person, these are the ways that our beloved continues to live. And when we pass those lessons on to someone else, this is immortality.
If you lost a loved one, I invite you to share what you’ve learned since that loss that might help others.
(If you haven’t read Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty — my first senior sex book which narrates our spicy love story, learn more here.)