Every Saturday night at the weekly dance at Leisure World in Laguna Hills, George Meffan hands out numbers to ladies in waiting, then escorts them one by one to the dance floor.
“I just hold up my fingers,” he said, demonstrating a three, “and the next woman jumps into my arms. These ladies spend $25 to have their hair done, and if no one asks them to dance, it goes to waste.”
How does he get away with such cockiness? Easy. There’s one of him for every three of them.
Meffan, 71, is a bachelor. And though the many single women he lives near are not necessarily lining up to remarry, they at least would like an occasional spin on the dance floor.
At a recent shindig at the retirement community, the ratio of single women to men was even greater than that unofficial 3-to-1 estimate provided by Leisure World spokesman Tim Taylor. Of about 45 people gathered around two tables marked “Singles,” about a dozen were men.
“How sweet it is!” said Edward Bauer, 75.
It’s not surprising that Leisure World has so many more single women than men. Nationwide, 16.2% of men over 65 live alone, compared to 40.6% of women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And women generally outlive men. In 1987, there were 17.7 million women in America over age 65 and 12.1 million men, the Census Bureau reports.
So in demand are eligible bachelors at Leisure World that people joke about a “Casserole Brigade” that instantly descends on new widowers.
Although it’s a joke, there is some truth behind it, residents say. “Not long after I’d moved here, a new friend called and said, ‘I’ve got some great news for you! My neighbor’s wife just died!’ ” Patricia Dear recalled, laughing.
Dear, a pretty “seventysomething” woman who was widowed 7 years ago, indeed coupled up--though not with the aforementioned widower. A few years ago, she met Saul Siedman, 76, at one of the Saturday night dances. Today they live together in Leisure World.
“Our children beat us to it (out-of-wedlock cohabitation),” Dear said. “So they approve. It’s not such a sin.”
“There’s romance in the old bones still,” Siedman said. “This place is like a soap opera. There’s as much romance and intrigue, dating and jealousy going on here as anywhere.”
Carl Adams, 73, and Mary Elmore, 69, are another couple with no matrimonial plans. “I’ve already been down that road twice,” Elmore said. “That’s enough for me.”
But some Leisure World singles do hope to tie the knot one more time. “I have every intention of getting married again, as soon as I find Mr. Right,” said Edith Tessell, a 60-ish widow who relocated from New York 6 months ago. “I found him once, and I’d like to find him again.”
In the meantime, she added, “if you have to be alone, Leisure World is the place to be. I’ve made so many friends here.”
Helen Chase, 70, doesn’t “rule out” marriage either. “You never know,” said the widow of 6 years. However, she allowed, “if all you’re doing is looking for a man here, that’s hard. There aren’t a whole lot of them.
“More important, Leisure World is great for single people because it gives you so many ways to fill up your day. I take exercise classes, needlepoint classes. I’m involved in all sorts of activities.”
“I don’t live in quiet desperation,” said Rose Miller, 65, who is divorced. “It’s not like I’m out to meet someone. I’m just out to have a good time.”
Ruth Mann, president of Temple Singles--a club at Leisure World connected with Temple Judea Laguna Hills--agreed that overemphasis on the pursuit of a mate could prove unfulfilling.
“Temple Singles was never intended to be a spouse-seeking marketplace, which doesn’t mean that beautiful relationships don’t come out of it,” Mann said. “But our main purpose is to offer a place where people can join hands and find solace in being single. We go to plays and musical events together and have dinners.
“There are so many more women than men in our age bracket that to make (marriage) your sole ambition would be a very frustrating goal.”
Carol, 68, a widow who declined to reveal her last name, said remarriage is no ambition whatsoever for her. “I date constantly, but I prefer to remain single,” she said. “I like to be free to come and go as I please.”
Besides, Carol said, “as you can see, it’s slim pickings around here.”
The scarcity of available men at dances may be a disadvantage for women, but it’s a bonus for bachelors; no man gets turned down for a dance in the singles corner.
An informal singles group called the Icebreakers meets every Saturday night and spends an hour socializing before the 7:30 p.m. dance. “Some people feel shy about walking into the dance by themselves,” Meffan explained. “This creates a situation where we can band together.”
And the dances give Meffan an opportunity to rule the roost. No, he wasn’t kidding; he really does assign numbers, jotted on small pieces of paper.
“I just want to make sure that every woman gets an opportunity to dance,” he said, hardly pretending his noble gesture is a sacrifice. “Life is beautiful.”