Could it be that when we blatantly ignore and disregard an entire demographic as active sexual agents, they find themselves exempt from the larger
conversation, be it medical, cultural or familial? I recognize this as overarching speculation, but my grandmother certainly did.
Upon my grandfather's death, my grandma Irene was left without a man for the first time since the age of thirteen. Now a widow after nearly five decades of
marriage, she spun into a single panic. Our family urged her to fill her empty days, take up a new hobby, volunteer at the library, join a bingo club -
anything to get her mind off the new-found void. In our eyes her romantic life was over. It was uncomfortable to think of her as anything more than an
inextricable part of a whole, a package deal of family, of my family -- her and my grandfather in their matching cruise-wear, spending leisurely days as
card game partners for life, hand-in-hand at the buffet line during their early bird Sunday dinners. She was a maternal presence, not a sexual one. We
disregarded her desire, hence she disregarded our advice. But our relentless heeding only led her to the Internet.
Irene may have been 78, but she was as media-savvy as any member of the Millennial generation. She had seen it on a TV news program or read about
it in a magazine -- everybody's doing it, she said. The "it" in this case was online dating. Soon she had a profile, or rather, multiple profiles. On sites with hopeful
clichés for names like "Plenty Of Fish" or the aforementioned "Silver Singles." She was uploading stylish photos and clicking off preferences
(non-smoker, male, loves travel and movies) with giddy aplomb. And within the hour, messages started rolling in.
When she flew up from Florida to visit my family for Thanksgiving, her first impulse after hugging us hello, was to rush to our computer to check her
overflowing inbox. With an eyeroll and a sigh, we gradually accepted her foray into online dating. It was a distraction she welcomed. Who were we to fault
her for it? But it might have been too late for her to accept our acceptance.
We tried to ward her away against scammers and cheaters. A vulnerable widow
was prime prey for gold diggers and the rest of their sleazy ilk. One compliment was all it took to bowl her over. "But Roger thinks I'm gorgeous," she'd
exclaim. "Roger is also 39 and unemployed and lives at home with his mom who is younger than you," I'd reply. Even when our advice was in her best
interest, it was usually abandoned.
When she finally did meet someone, it was in a rare moment of self-forced socialization at the local senior center, and not the result of any online
correspondence. It was Luigi Del Mar's lush silver locks that she was immediately attracted to. She always valued a full head of hair. Adorned with gold
chains and a gruff guido accent, he wouldn't have looked out of place on an octogenarian version of The Jersey Shore. Lou exuded cocky machismo. He was
a World War II veteran and a retired postal worker, as well as a recent widower following half a decade of marriage. Irene had met her match.
One of the first times I met Lou, he talked at length about his army days. He was stationed all over Asia and spent ample time in India. "It was there that
I was introduced to the Kama Sutra," he said. My mind raced back to that conversation with Cliff nearly a decade ago. We were discussing the dictionary all
"Oh really," I said. "Tell me more."