Featured Story

Jenifer’s Journal: Heartland

… I’ll take my chances — I forgot how nice romance is…Billy Joel

Happy Valentine’s Day, Shelter Island!

Though plenty of valentines get swapped within my family every year — to and from kids, grandkids, siblings, even, it’s been nearly five years since I had a partner with whom I could do the same. 

I’ve shared my widow’s journey with my readers for the past few years — losing Tom in June 2019, becoming familiar with the terrain of grief and gratitude, loneliness and, eventually, the yearning to find a romantic partnership again. How many seniors have found themselves in this same uncharted territory? It’s not that life can’t be rich and fulfilling without a partner.

For some of us, flying solo can bring surprising rewards. But if we find ourselves open to loving again in our 70s and 80s, though society tends to label it as “cute” or “quaint,” it’s not. It’s just what it’s always been — romantic.

I’ve filled you in on my return to online dating. Having “met” Tom on Match.com many years before, I was convinced that, with his spectral guidance, I’d find love again.  “Spectral guidance?” OK, that might sound a little crazy, but other widows might know exactly what I mean.

I’ve found, to my astonishment, that in the years following his death, my relationship with Tom has continued somehow. Maybe it’s because, with the petty disagreements and misunderstandings of earthly life removed, it feels to me like we’re closer to one another in some ways than ever before. What’s called for?  A psychologist? An endocrinologist?

Nah, I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, though I have to admit that believing my dead husband, like a metaphysical matchmaker, might help me locate the “right” man was a little … extreme. 

One problem, aside from my being nearly two decades older now, was finding myself pretty much looking for Tom again. I spent months on a fruitless online search before I realized what I was doing. Frankly, I even suspected — if it were possible that he could exert some otherworldly influence — that he was misleading me on purpose just to prove the point that he is irreplaceable.

Well, he’s proved it, but still I thought he’d find a way to give me at least some kind of stamp of approval if I did manage to locate a reasonable “Tom” facsimile. I never did.

My online dating site subscription ran out several months ago. It was a relief. Not that I hadn’t met several perfectly nice men. I had some good phone chats, some tasty lunches, but in the main, the results of my efforts proved pretty dismal.

Over and over the cycle repeated itself: The temporary excitement that came with each new possibility which, sooner or later, evaporated like morning mist, leaving a residue of disappointment. Listen, as my first long-ago online experience proved, it only takes one success to find a wonderful partner.

I still encourage anyone interested in increasing his or her romantic options (and guaranteed if you’re older and living on an island, you need them increased!) to prudently explore online dating sites. As for me, however — been there, done that.

But then, this past Thanksgiving morning, while I was peeling the potatoes and watching the parade, I guess I didn’t hear the phone ring. At some point I noticed it blinking.  A message. I immediately recognized the voice.

My first official boyfriend, from 60 years ago, when I was a freshman in college, and he was a senior. Like cicadas, he had taken to appearing in some form or another — in person, phone call, letter, text, etc. — every decade or so. 

He’d come to Connecticut just after my divorce. Then, when I moved to Montclair, N. J., then when I came here to the Island, and over the several decades since. Yes, he was about due.  He was always married, or I was, but he would always tell me how much I meant to him and then — poof! — disappear.

But now it was Thanksgiving, about which I’m particularly sentimental, considering I met Tom in person for the first time on a Thanksgiving weekend, and the potatoes were peeled and the family not here yet and he’d left his number, so I called him.

He hasn’t disappeared yet. He came for a visit just before Christmas, then again last month, and we text and talk on the phone, and we laugh a lot. And he’s not married, and he says he cares very deeply about me and always has, and I’ve told him that this would be a highly unlikely romance, way too “geriatric rom-com,” and he says, “Let’s find out.” 

Oh, and his name is Tom.  You can’t write this stuff.