By Janet Call
I was searching for something to write about when I scanned the schedule for the Senior Center and noted that there would be a session of speed dating from 4:30-6:00. Now here was something with incredible potential: what if two lonely people connected and lived out their golden years together? What if a pair discovered they grew up ten miles from one another and developed a wonderful connection? What if love could still be a possibility despite age or appearance or proximity? With these possibilities in mind, I put on some makeup, donned a clean shirt and earrings, and strolled to the Center.
I wish I could say that the air was charged with excitement and anticipation, that the participants had a sort of giddiness about them, and that the hope for finding love was alive and well. But it was not quite like that. The ambiance did not feature the slick dance floor or alluring dining tables or decorated columns of my youth. No tall muscular athletes with dark hair and deep-set brown eyes lingering at the sides of the room, no buxom beauties tossing their long blonde hair while gossiping about the latest movie, no jazzed dee-j eager to play the perfect song in the background.
The images of our youthful meetups bore little resemblance to the spectacle in front of me. We had no view of a setting sun or a starlit sky or even a dimly lit auditorium. Instead, the room was brightly lit so we wouldn’t fall, and we started at 4:30 pm so that in case we wanted to get to the senior buffets there was still time. Two rows of chairs facing each other lined the room, conveniently separated by six feet of space to guard against COVID.
I got there early to observe my companions for the afternoon. If you looked carefully, you could spot ruby red lipstick or a colorful beaded necklace or a beautiful blue dress; one woman even wore high heels. Another sat with a bag of yarn and knitted furiously as more people arrived. Several chatted loudly as they adjusted their hearing aids, one declaring that she hoped the men weren’t smokers because that was disgusting. Another declared her preference for men who loved cats. You could make out the nervous twitter and the air of expectation from the 31 occupied chairs.
As we waited, I chuckled thinking about what kind of lines these suave older guys might use: Do you play Bingo? Cause I swear I’ve seen you B4. Do you have an oxygen tank? Cause you took my breath away. Make like a compression sock and give me a squeeze. At precisely 4:30pm, the first of the men arrived and was greeted by wild applause; he was a kind-looking bald guy wearing knee high white socks and sandals, a blue tee-shirt and khaki shorts. He scanned the room carefully, a bit intimidated, then sat down cautiously. Soon a tall white-haired gentleman arrived and a woman waved frantically for him to sit next to her, which he did. So there we were: 31 females and 2 males. These guys had better odds than Reagan did when he ran against Jimmy Carter. The obligatory 60-second exchanges started and proceeded rather smoothly until the whole process broke down when one woman refused to move according to plan and continued chatting with one of the men well beyond the one-minute interval. This caused several ladies to quietly depart and head for the atrium and more wine. They spent the rest of their time laughing and talking with one another.
I could not help but draw some conclusions about the women who showed up. We are the teachers and nurses and grandmothers and storytellers of a sometimes painful and unfair history. In some ways, it is fortunate that my sisters of the next generation may not have to deal with the many obstacles we have: lower pay, rampant sexism, domestic abuse, limited career advancement. We grew up with fewer opportunities in so many aspects of our lives; in a way speed dating was just another thing we know all too well: expecting and experiencing less.
I doubt anyone found love this afternoon, and the truth of the matter is that growing older is not easy. We may have lost our confident strides across a crowded room and our perky breasts and our ability to smile ever so coyly to signal attraction, but we aren’t “over” yet. We are still capable of quelling our nervousness to risk a chance to meet someone special to continue this strange and wonderful journey of life. Robert Frost declared, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” I think he’s right. On this hot summer afternoon of speed dating, I’m enjoying my wine and new gal pals tremendously.
Janet Call is a retired high school teacher, a grandmother, a traveler, and a writer. She published her first novel Empty Desk in 2018; she currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.