Sipping his post-dinner coffee, my father sits at one of his facility’s dining tables. Handsome still at 87, his white hair is slicked back, curling slightly behind his ears. He’s dressed in his blue sports jacket, a dotted silk square peeking out of the top pocket. A cane rests nearby, his balance beginning to be challenged. Still, my father’s mind and wit are intact, not yet diminished by the havoc of old age. Five other residents are dining with him: all senior women. Emily, also in her eighties, leans across the table and looks into his eyes. “John,” she purrs, “come watch the sunset from my apartment upstairs.” My father looks at her, puzzled. “Emily,” he replies, “the sun went down a while ago.” “Well, yes,” she says, “but the afterglow is stunning!”
Every time I see an elderly woman blatantly flirting with a man, I’m amazed. I don’t know why this jolts me; I guess I’ve always thought that pursuing romance ended at a certain age. But it doesn’t. Dining with him for seven years, I've observed my father and his peers and it’s clear to me: the need for love and companionship remains, no matter how old you are. Which is delightful! Who’s to say when it’s time to turn off one’s desires? Yet, it’s jarring at times to witness this amorous boldness from elderly women.
At my father’s senior residence, there are 97 women and 20 men. Five of the men are married, leaving fifteen singles up for grabs. This reality has its consequences: there just aren’t enough older guys around. Most of the ladies seeking a partner are subtle about it - but some of them are downright octogenarian hussies. I swear, when my father steps out of his apartment, one can hear them circling overhead, like seagulls on a defenseless oyster.
The seniors living here are required to dress up for the big social event of the day: dinner. Each evening they lay aside their warm-up suits and sneakers, and bring out their best ensembles, many outfits randomly sprinkled with stains from last week’s meals. Toting their scotch and other spirits in little jelly jars, most arrive by cane, walker or scooter. If love or friendship is going to blossom, this is their playing field.
Sitting in that same dining room last month, I watched my father weave his way towards me, stopping along the route to greet friends. “Hi there, hello, good evening, ladies,” he charmed. Spotting me, he waved. His blue eyes have grown filmy, but he doesn’t miss much. He almost reached our table when I heard it. “Johnnnnn!” Oh no, I thought, here we go. I glanced around to see who was pursuing him, and spotted a foursome of ladies dining at the next table. They were dressed in their finest, hair teased into various fluffy styles, jewels from the past hanging from their skeletal fingers. Alice, sitting closest to us, put her manicured hand out and tugged lightly at my father’s jacket sleeve. She’s seventy five, and considered one of the younger women in his community. Her pink lipstick glistened as she tilted her head. “Dinner tomorrow night, right?” Alice cooed. “Of course!” my father said, giving a little wave with his cane. “See you then.” He turned and sat down across from me, leaving the silver foxes whispering among themselves. I shook my head at him, and nodded towards Alice. With a broad smile, he put both hands up. “What’s a person to do?” he said.
Not exclusive to the dining room, the women’s crafty seduction can happen anywhere. Last week, my dad and I were held captive in the facility’s elevator. As the doors opened, I heard the familiar “Hello, John!” There stood eighty two year old Doris, a pink confection from head to toe, on her way back from aerobics class. “Hi there, Doris,” my father responded, as he stepped in. “Hi Doris,” I repeated. Her crinkly eyes flitted past me and fixed on my father. “So, John, do you have plans for dinner tonight?” My father leaned on his dapper black and gold cane and smiled. “Well, I’m eating with the Andersons tonight.” Doris beamed. “I know the Andersons! Let’s make it a foursome!” “Sounds good,” my father said, as I rolled my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong; after my mother died seven years ago, I encouraged my father to date, even remarry. But he had no interest then, and he still doesn’t. “Why not, Dad?” I ask. Shrunken from his original six feet, he looks directly into my eyes. “I’ve had the best; these women are just friends, and always will be.” He smiles, but I see the sadness behind his eyes. He’ll never stop missing my mother, I think. But still, he definitely basks in the attentiveness from the ladies. And, I’m sure he frustrates the heck out of them by not dating. But it doesn’t seem to thwart their efforts. “Hello, John!” persists, and the chase continues.
Like my father, most of the other available men seem to enjoy the attention. Never having to search for a dinner partner, they’ve achieved an almost celebrity status - always sought after, and always surrounded by a crowd. At times, I’m sure the eligible fifteen feel like a Chanel bag found in Filene’s basement. Every Monday night, all the single men in my father’s residence meet and have dinner together. I figure these stud muffins are exhausted from fending off admirers all week. Who wouldn’t want a night with the other men? These guys are the single piece of pork in the can of pork and beans.
Dining with my father, I’ll often see the married couples sitting together and eating. As the years go by, the husbands usually disappear first - but it’s not long before a new man is sitting with the widow. Trudy, who is 94, has had three different boyfriends since my father has lived there. All have them have passed on while under Trudy’s magical spell. “Trudy is off limits,” I caution my father. “Not even a drink!” “She’s harmless!” he laughs. “Those guys were old!”
As I observe this elder courting, it makes me think: I’m a baby boomer - is this scenario in my future? There are millions of women my age headed for the same situation; the gender statistics don’t look like they’re shifting very rapidly. Will I be dining in a facility, bedecked and bejeweled, delivering a coquettish wave to someone? Or sitting in my apartment, perusing the list of lone wolves living in my building? Hmmm. I think I might hold onto my high heels for a while. You never know….