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L.A. Affairs: Is he my boyfriend? My lover? I just don’t know what to call our relationship

(Michael Hirshon / For The Times)

I never know how to describe my relationship with Ken. It feels silly to refer to ourselves as boyfriend and girlfriend when our combined age is 143. Should I say that we’re lovers? Significant others?

It comes as a surprise to me that I’m facing this dilemma. I’d always figured that at this point my husband Ben and I would be looking forward to our 45th wedding anniversary. But one morning in 2008 he woke up feeling lousy and 90 minutes later he was gone. That morning I learned that forever is not the same as till death do us part. Getting through the next year was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

When I was ready to have a man in my life again, I chose someone I figured wouldn’t die on me anytime soon. Wrong. It turns out that even strong, athletic types like Michael can get cancer. Nursing him through his final six months was the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Past L.A. Affairs columns

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Which brings me to Ken. Although he and I had known each other casually through our synagogue for years, he had barely known Ben and didn’t know Michael at all. So I was surprised to see him at Michael’s memorial. A few days later I was shocked to get his sweet condolence note. In it he invited me to call him if I ever needed a cup of coffee or a shoulder to cry on. I pinned his note to my bulletin board along with the others.

I’m not sure why, but somehow I had the idea that Ken might be gay. I never saw him with a date, but then again we rarely saw each other in dating situations. He always struck me as a very nice guy, but I never saw relationship potential. Then again, I hadn’t been looking for it.

Considering that I’d managed to lose two men in four years, it took courage for Ken to ask me out. Well, technically I asked him out first. A few months after he wrote me that note, I found myself with two tickets to a chamber concert at UCLA. I thought, “What about that Ken? He’s a classy guy. I’ll bet he likes chamber music.” I grabbed his note off the bulletin board and gave him a call. He said sure, and asked if he could take me for sushi before the concert.

That was an interesting evening. Over cucumber rolls and spicy tuna we did the typical history-sharing. He was a retired newspaperman; I was still working in my field of early childhood education. He has three grown children and I have one. We covered a lot of ground. It was tentative but good, and I think we were both a little surprised to find ourselves together.

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During intermission Ken took my hand in his and asked, “Why me?”

“Why you what?”

“Why did you invite me tonight?”

“Because I thought you’d like the music.” Totally true, but not the total truth.

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He followed up. “Why else?”

“Well… .” I hesitated. Then it came out in a rush. “It hasn’t been very long since Michael died, and I felt a little funny about asking you out, but your note was so sweet. And besides, I sort of thought maybe you might be gay.” Which would, of course, eliminate any end-of-romance disappointments.

He laughed. “No,” he said emphatically. “Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not gay.” He did not let go of my hand.

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So instead of a gay friend, I ended up with the love of my later life. Ken had been single for a long, long time. During the decades I was married to Ben, Ken was a divorced man-about-town. He dated many women and had been serious about a couple of them. But for most of the previous 45 years, he’d been single.

We’d been dating a few weeks when Ken jokingly called me his Black Widow and asked if I thought it was safe for him to date me. I said I was making no guarantees but that if we were to end up together, I expected him to give me at least 12 years. We both decided it was worth the risk.

It’s been 2 1/2 years and we’re in it for the long haul. Or the short hop, if that’s how it turns out. But here’s the thing: Love at this age is different. The passion, the humor, the tenderness are all there. But we don’t stress about building a life together or how to raise the kids or career moves. Instead, we spend time with the people we love.

In short, we have a terrific relationship.

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We just don’t know what to call it.

King is a retired preschool teacher and author of the book “If I’m Jewish and You’re Christian, What Are the Kids?”

L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com

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