At 28, I've finally started to feel like a grown-up. When I was in my early 20s, I dated sleazy photographers or DJs who never introduced me to their friends. At 28, though, I'm partnered with another 28-year-old, and we're even buying a dining room table so we no longer have to sleep in spaghetti sauce.
Based on statistics, it's getting harder and harder for people to find their soul mates. The percentage of married households in the US is lower than it's ever been and people are waiting longer to tie the knot. It's becoming more and more common to meet divorcees below the age of 30, too. I wanted to know what it's really like to attempt to find true love or spend Valentine's Day with the same bag of bones for decades, so I called up some veterans dating experts: three grandmas.
These women have literally created lives, yes, but they've also lived vibrant ones. Joanne, a 66-year-old from Brooklyn, warns of the importance of encouraging people to come out of the closet, and says online dating is just as shitty at 66 as it is at 26.
Bella, who asked to use a pseudonym, is 77 today, but she left her husband after 25 years of marriage at age 45 to travel. Since her divorce, she's found difficulty finding a man who can keep up with her passion for seeing the world, though she recommended that others don't give up on their dreams for a relationship.
Honey is a happily married cancer survivor. Before we got off the phone, the 71-year-old warned me: "Be very nice to your girlfriends, because they're going to outlive your boyfriends." Point taken.
Anyway, I'm spending Valentine's Day on a beach in the Caribbean with my boyfriend. If you're solo masturbating and eating some nachos to fill the romantic void this weekend, or simply need some encouragement about finding your perfect mate, take a break and read what these grannies have to say.
66 Years Old
Brooklyn, New York
VICE: Are you currently dating?
Joanne: Right now I don't have a love life. I've had two husbands. My daughter says I'm a man hater, which I'm not! When I separated from my husband eight years ago, my daughters put me online to meet someone new. I was reluctant, but did use the dating site to meet a man who seemed nice. He came to my house, but had I known what he looked like in reality, I would have not opened the door. He had this turquoise car and was like, "I'm going to take you out to coffee. Is there a Dunkin Donuts anywhere?"
I will never date a man who has less than me. I have a new car, I have two homes, I'm not rich by any means, but I don't want someone who wants me to support them. I find these women who are older than myself, with younger guys, or men their own age, and they're supporting men. They all say the same thing: they don't want to be alone. I'd rather be alone.
What was your first love like?
My first husband, my daughters' father, was this macho, Italian man. I'm Italian, but that's not my type.I married him on the rebound after breaking off my first engagement, which was with my first love.
Why did the engagement end?
We had a wonderful relationship. My girlfriends liked him, [but] he used to say to them, "I want a platonic relationship [with Joanne]." We had to look up the word "platonic." At the time, I didn't understand, you know? I was madly in love, he was madly in love, and we got engaged anyway.
A month before the wedding, we were looking for an apartment, and my parents said, "Why don't you buy a house? There are houses for sale, we'll give you money and he can get a GI mortgage," because he was in the Navy. I found out that he couldn't get one because he had a dishonorable discharge.
Why was that?
I didn't know why at the time, but I should have known. He said, "You have to come some place with me, Joanna. I need to introduce you to this woman I speak to." So he takes me to the city to meet a psychiatrist I didn't even know he had. And she told me he's gay! Now this was in 1970, and everybody was in the closet. And of course, I didn't marry him.
What did he say?
He was devastated. He begged, he pleaded, he said he loved me. He said yes, he did have a relationship with someone in the Navy; he did have a boyfriend before me. I should have known—he worked on Wall Street but was a hairdresser on the weekends.
What happened to him? He was your first love, after all.
I don't know. It feels like he disappeared from the Earth. One of my girlfriends saw him with a boyfriend at a beauty parlor once. He was very paranoid about dying, and I'm sure the spread of AIDS intensified those fears. I remember he had a white shirt and a pair of jeans and he said, "If anything happens to me, Joanne, I want to be buried in this." Maybe he committed suicide, maybe he had AIDS, but no one ever heard from him after we split up.
If you could have given yourself any love advice when you were in your early 20s, what would it have been?
I didn't look for the right things. I never thought about what my husband made as far as a living. It was just [about] getting married and getting out of the house because my folks were kind of strict. All my girlfriends were married or engaged, I was supposed to be married with them. So I married my husband quick, or else I was going to be an old maid.
I would never feel like that again. My father was always putting me down, telling me I was stupid. I think if I didn't have that negativity toward myself, thinking I wasn't good enough, I don't think I would have married my first husband. I love my children. I feel what is meant to be is meant to be. But I would have lived my life totally differently if I thought more of myself and thought more about myself. I would have picked the man; he wouldn't have picked me.
77 Years Old
VICE: Tell me about yourself.
Bella: I'm divorced. I married when I was 20 in 1961 and stayed married for 25 years. We had three children. We got married because I was pregnant.
Do you think you would have gotten married if you weren't pregnant?
Maybe not. Well, I was not happy in my home life [at my parents'] so it was a door for me to escape.
Have friendships been an important part of your life?
They're very important, especially since I recently dislocated my shoulder! If it hadn't been for friends, I wouldn't have had enough food in the refrigerator. I do like living on my own and being dependent on myself. That's very satisfying to me. I have two cats.
Do you stay in touch with your ex-husband?
Yes, I do. We're in touch because of our children. He's on his third marriage right now. When I see him, I often wonder what interested me, but I think escape was the motivation. He's a good man; he's a good honest man.
Why did you leave your marriage?
I had goals that I wanted to pursue. The industry I was working in [air travel] allowed me to travel, which became my biggest goal. At the time, my children were of the age where they certainly didn't want me interfering in their life other than simply being there. And since I had gotten married very young, I wanted to do the exploring that I wasn't able to do when I was young. I needed to have a sense of freedom, which I really never had. Between ages 45 and 69, I had a lot of that! It was great. Plus, I met a guy that I started dating that I really liked. A lot of good things fell into place.
What happened with the guy?
I lived with him for eight and a half years, [first in Cleveland]. Then we were both transferred to Florida for our jobs, so I moved with him to Florida. I was at the point where I wanted to get married again, but he couldn't make up his mind if he wanted to do that, so I had to leave. This was 1998.
Have you dated since?
Oh yes, but nothing serious.
Did you have any foreign flings while traveling abroad?
Yes, I did! Again, nothing serious.
How is it dating different when you're older?
There's no naivety. When I was living in Chicago, I decided to join one of these dating programs where it's " just for lunch." I was really surprised how a lot of the men really weren't into travel. They were content in a simple lifestyle, so it didn't turn out to be that interesting to me.
How does dating in 2016 seem different to you?
It seems like all of those programs like Match.com asked, "Are you interested in more than one date?" That was interesting to me, because if you went on one date and it wasn't what you wanted, then you could go on to another date. You didn't have to want more than one!
71 Years Old
US Virgin Islands
VICE: Hey, will you introduce yourself?
Honey: Everybody calls me Honey instead of Grandma. My first grandchild heard my husband calling me "honey" all the time. He said, "Honey, can you get me a glass of wine?" and my little [grandson] Jack, who was two at the time, said, "Honey, can you get me a glass of milk?" and it stuck. I've been married [to my second husband] eight years, and together we have five children and six grandchildren. Three of the kids are mine, and two of the kids are his. We're all mixed up.
How did you meet?
We met at a party in 1980. We're both cancer survivors. I'm a 25-year breast cancer survivor, and he's a 12-year prostate cancer survivor. That's probably what brought us together.
What advice do you have for searching for the right partner?
You better like them. Never mind being madly in love with the person; you better like them. I have a sign in my kitchen that says, "Kissing don't last, cooking do." But old or young, you meet someone, you're attracted to them, and you hope they are as nice as they appear to be when you first meet. You ought to spend some time really making sure that that's true. If you jump into something, there's no going back. Just because it's the time to get married doesn't mean that the person you are dating is the right one to marry.
So how do you know?
Well, that's the mystery. Maybe when you care more about them than you care about yourself, or when you can comfortably imagine yourself taking care of them when they're not as [healthy] as they are now. You have to know that the person is going to have your back—and you're going to have their back—no matter what.
Love is the scariest thing on the face of the Earth. But it's also the most wonderful. It's why we get sucked into it over and over. But eventually hopefully you meet the right one and it all works out. It really helps if that person is your best friend. If you'd rather spend time with this person more than any other person, then that's a good sign.
Do you believe in finding "the love of your life"?
Yes, I do. I absolutely do. That's what I call my second husband, "the love of my life." Love is just as scary when you're old as it is when you're young.
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