“How’s the beef stroganoff?” the tall, slender gray-haired gentleman casually asked as he walked past my table.
I was just finishing up the last bites of this rich, creamy entrée, which I was enjoying along with a dry martini. I was at one of my regular watering holes, Dizz’s As Is, in Laguna Beach, dining alone while I waited for a friend to join me for a drink to celebrate her birthday. I told him I thought the stroganoff was great — probably not as good as my mom’s but very enjoyable, nonetheless.
We started talking about his favorites on the menu, because he dined there frequently. As it turned out, he lives right down the street from the restaurant. The conversation turned from food to other topics, and I found him interesting enough that I invited him to join me at my table, since my friend still hadn’t arrived.
The more we talked, the more I found him, well, captivating. He said he graduated from UC Berkeley with a business degree (my parents always claimed communists went there) and a law degree from USC, so I knew he was smart. He’d been a city attorney for many years, and was now retired and enjoying an active social and sports life with friends and family.
Looking at him, I couldn’t really tell how old he was. Could he be in his 70s? He was very lively, fit, engaging and well-groomed. (I admit it: I’m partial to men who are physically active and “in shape.”) The flirting that first night was so hot and heavy that, at one point, I joked that we should hop on a plane for Vegas and elope. He declined.
Then, the talk became personal. As it turned out, he had recently lost his wife several years ago to pancreatic cancer, after more than 30 years of marriage. I’d lost my husband around that same time, although we’d only been married for 11 years. The memories were still somewhat painful as he’d died after a lengthy illness, and I’d been his caregiver for those last years.
About a year after my husband’s death, I’d moved on and created a new life for myself and started dating. It was a completely different experience.
In my 20s, 30s and even early 40s, I’d always had a great time being single and always managed to meet people, although I did try a video dating service once. When I hit my mid 40s, I found that the once plentiful pond of fish seemed to have dried up a bit. So I set my intention on meeting someone and getting married. And I did, at age 44. It just felt right.
I thought that I’d be married forever.
Life has an interesting way, though, of presenting us with twists and turns.
When I started dating again, after going through the grieving process, I tried several popular dating sites that friends had recommended. I tried to stick to my age group or even slightly younger. (Where were all the 60-year-olds, anyway?)
After nearly a year, though, it was discouraging. I wasn’t really making any connections. Was I destined to date for another 40 years before finding someone that I really clicked with?
When I met Mac at the restaurant that night, I had no idea how old he was, although his gray hair was a clue. And I didn’t find out his age until about a month later, when I introduced him to an astrologer friend of mine, and she offered to do his chart. For that, she needed to know both our birth dates, to see how compatible we were.
That led to a moment that was a bit of a guessing game.
He said that he wasn’t in his 70s, but was older.
“Well, are you 90?”
“100?!?” I knew that was a stretch, but I couldn’t figure out where this was going.
“How about 80,” he said.
I was stunned. I would have never guessed. He looks much younger, and works out at the gym, plays golf and paints. He’s busier than I am. At 61, I wouldn’t have even considered looking at an online dating profile of anyone 20 years older than me. I mean, 20 years? I just wouldn’t consider that an age-appropriate gap. My husband had been older by 10 years and had aged quite rapidly, especially after retirement. It just didn’t seem a possibility that I would date someone more than 10 years older than me, much less 20.
There was just one problem: After my astrologist friend finished our charts, she pronounced us “a perfect match.”
At that point, I had to think about what I really wanted in a relationship, as I continued to see him. And all of our dates were just great. I realized that most dating sites would never have connected us, and if they did, I wouldn’t have entertained a date because I would have thought, “He’s too old,” and wondered whether he was “too wrinkled” or had “too many health issues” or was “too boring.”
And I would have been so, so wrong.
We’re still seeing each other casually, more than a year later. (He is busy with his family, and grandchildren.)
It has truly been an ideal relationship for me, and, I think, for him as well. I realized it after he texted me once to ask, “What would make you happy?”
How many people ever really hear that in their lifetime?
Sometimes, the best matches in life are the ones that just seem mismatched.
The author is a commercial real estate marketing executive in Aliso Viejo. She is on Twitter @occreative.
Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary? LA Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com
MORE L.A. LOVE STORIES …