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:
Sex is complicated enough when it’s easy — but when we’re in grief, it’s especially mysterious and confusing. How do we nurture ourselves as sexual beings when we’re grieving the death of a partner? Why does taking care of ourselves sexually even matter when we’d rather hide under the covers and wail? What do we do with those sexual feelings that arise despite our misery? How do we know when it’s time to open ourselves to a new sexual relationship, whether it’s a friend with benefits or a new love connection?
stumbles along the way), my attempts to dip my toes in the dating pool, and what I learned.
Additionally, I could use your experiences and perspective in these areas:
2/19/19 update: I edited this list again, deleting those topics that I no longer need and adding a few new ones. If you’d like to share your personal experiences or tips, even just a couple of sentences, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll use short excerpts from your sex-after-grief journeys along with my own, plus quotes from professionals. Choose one of these topics and email me with “Sex after Grief” as your subject header if you’d like to contribute. **DEADLINE 2/25/19!**
- Your first partnered sex after/during grief, what it meant to you then, what it means to you now
- How did you know when you were ready for partnered sex with a new person?
- Feelings of guilt/betrayal of deceased partner when you wanted sex or had sex with a new person
- Sex after grief when you’re in a non-traditional relationship style: poly, kink, etc.
- Adventuresome sex after partner’s death
- Getting sexual in stages
- Advice about sex and grief from your grief counselor/ therapist/ coach/ surrogate
- Dating while grieving
- Your first time with a new partner — how did it go?
- Communicating with a new (or potential) sex partner about desires, boundaries, uncertainty, safer sex
- Solo sex during grief
- What happened next? How you moved forward. Reflections on how far you’ve come.
- Advice for newly bereaved
- Unexpected joy with new sexual partner
- Cautionary tales, warnings while we’re vulnerable
People of all genders, all sexual orientations, all relationship styles are invited to contribute. Notice that I haven’t said that you need to be age 50+. Sex after Grief will be primarily, but not exclusively, for our 50 to 80+ age group. Whether you’re older or younger than 50 and you struggled with death, bereavement, and regaining your sexuality, your story is welcome.
Thank you so much for getting involved and helping other people who share the journey we never wanted to take. I hope to hear from you.
Thank you to all of you who emailed me since I first posted this 11/25/2018. Thanks to you, this book will be filled with diverse experiences and perspectives.
June 2019 update: the book is written! Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved comes out August 2019! Learn more here.
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.