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My Single, Senior, Challenging, Meaningful Life

Barbara Russek, picture by Meredith Mullins

My birthday this year came and went with no bouquet of roses gifted to me by a special man and nary a sweet nothing whispered in my ear. It’s just not fair, I silently reproached the universe.  Why are there so many more women than men over 60 looking for a relationship? Why have you made the senior world so lopsided?

As a devout cardiac Jew (Jewish in my heart) I have no idea if this unequal state of affairs is part of “some vast eternal plan,” as Tevye argues with God in Fiddler. Nevertheless, fair or not, c’est la vie.

Having lost my fiancé Ben some years ago to that evil pancreatic cancer, I’m part of a cast of thousands. So many women, officially married or not, are in the widow’s club. We did not ask to be members. Yet sadly we qualify.

And we are partly to blame.

Since most women outlive most men, why do practically all of us get involved with older men? Mea culpa. I did exactly the same thing. A seven-year age difference didn’t seem like such a big deal back then. But after far too short a time together, Ben was gone. No children. Thankfully, I was teaching during that very tough period. It saved me.

As time went by and I felt ready to date, I could see that the odds of meeting a nice guy were against me. Many age-appropriate men had already passed. Most of the others were married. I was told by several disillusioned female acquaintances that the few single guys were looking for a nurse with a purse 20 years younger. Paddling in the choppy waters of the dating scene, including dating sites, got me to thinking, “Could they be right?”

“Forget liking someone,” I confided to a friend in a feeble attempt at humor. “I can’t even meet an available man I don’t like!”

So, what’s a nice Jewish girl supposed to do? Rule number one: suck it up. What other choice do we have? Several other strategies work for me in my solo journey in a couples society.

First and foremost, I do all I can to stay as healthy and fit. A simple sniffle, (is that a symptom of Covid I wonder in a panic) or noticing that the cleaners have “mysteriously shrunk my clothes” can send my spirits spiraling down. Feeling well and good about myself gives me a fighting chance in navigating the world.

To this end, I try to maintain a balanced diet, with a small gelato or mini cone here and there, so I don’t feel too deprived. Since I’m triple vaccinated and always wear a mask when out and about, I’ve started taking a few indoor yoga (and other) classes at the J where a mask is de rigueur.

I also do my best to socially distance when out, and after returning home wash my hands, face, mask and even the car keys!

Equally important, I try to simultaneously focus on something greater than myself. Writing does that for me. Behind every article is the hope that it will have a positive effect on someone’s life.

I’m hard wired to socialize and enjoy going out for coffee or lunch al fresco with a friend, weather permitting. Attending a French conversation group on the terrace of the Alliance Francaise, craft festivals, and various other outdoors events are also on my agenda.

Other tools for living life as a single senior include appreciating such simple pleasures as tending to my flower box, bicycling on the Rillito, and browsing in my favorite thrift stores and consignment shops, which feed my love of style and color.

Occasionally my emotional toolbox is empty, and I need an extra dose of wisdom to replenish it.  A few years ago, Rabbi Richard Agler came to Tucson for a scholar-in residence weekend. He and his wife had suffered the unspeakable: loss of a child. Although our losses were quite different, I was impressed by Rabbi Agler’s words and asked if we could meet, hoping that he could give me another coping skill. He actually gave me three.

The first was to stay connected to the Jewish community, where I can feel accepted for who I am at services and other events, regardless of marital status.

He also encouraged me to continue involvement in the greater Tucson community, and to remain optimistic about the future.

So, following the rabbi’s advice, I’m toasting my new birth year and look forward to discovering what nice surprises—small or great—could be in store.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and are not meant to be construed as medical advice.

Barbara Russek, a local freelance writer, welcomes comments at [email protected]