How They Met: Late-Blooming Love
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How They Met: Late-Blooming Love

It took each of them 50-plus years, but John and Paula finally found each other.

A Potential "Mr. Right"

I was sitting on my patio in Margate, Florida, reading the Sunday paper. Same old, same old, I thought, and flipped to the personals. I was still looking for Mr. Right, even though, at 50, I'd had enough fix-ups and coffee-after-work blind dates to open my own Starbucks. It's not that my standards were unreasonably high; I just wasn't willing to compromise. Even so, I firmly believed that my bashert, a Yiddish word meaning "fated to be," was out there somewhere.

Then, among the requests for buxom blondes and offers of long walks on the beach, an ad caught my eye: HARRY SEEKING SALLY. Financially secure former New Yorker, 52, seeks refined Jewish female, without kids, for a long-term relationship. It was like reading a description of myself. The word "refined" told me this man was looking for substance. I was less taken with the "former New Yorker" part. I hailed from the Big Apple, too, but 20 years of dating urban men had pretty much convinced me there were none I'd find compatible.

I clipped the ad, tucking it away to give myself time to mull it over. A few weeks later, when a friend's offer to fix me up fell through (I was "geographically undesirable," the man said), I dug the ad out and dialed the number.

An Instant Connection

I liked the way John sounded on the message -- friendly and smart. He called back the next day and we chatted for quite a while, filling each other in on biographical basics. John was relatively new to Florida, a retired real-estate developer who was now in consulting. I told him I worked from my home office for a Massachusetts-based software company. I asked if he'd placed many ads before and he said this was his first since moving to the area a year ago. By the time he said he'd like to meet, I was thinking the same thing.

Since I was about to head off for a 10-day vacation, we decided to wait until I returned to get together. In the meantime, we had two or three phone conversations. With each one, I was struck by John's kindness and sensitivity and by the similarity in our tastes.

But I'm as realistic as I am optimistic. Until we met in person, I knew, all bets were off. We set a date to meet, but I woke up that morning with a raging sore throat. When I called to cancel, I worried that John would think I was blowing him off. His answer reassured me. "Don't say 'cancel,'" he said. "Say 'postpone.'" We set a new date for the following week.

John and Paula's Great First Date

Oddly, we'd been so caught up in our conversations that neither of us had even asked what the other looked like. So when the bell rang that Wednesday evening and I opened the door to a handsome guy with a great smile, I thought wow. And the pleased look on his face told me, "Same to you!" Chemistry was not going to be a problem.

That evening, we talked and talked, sharing some of our comic misadventures in dating. Like me, he'd always assumed he'd marry but had never met the right person. He told me he'd become a full-time Floridian after his parents died and there was no longer anything tying him to New York and the cold winters he hated (me, too!). Lest I feel too smug, he also mentioned that I wasn't the first person he'd called. (I loved that he felt comfortable enough to admit that.) He joked about one woman who'd said, "I don't have kids -- they're in New York." Amazingly, we even talked about that. We felt the same way: We both thought we'd have been terrific parents but that, in our 50s, children were not in the cards.

By the end of the meal, which lasted for hours, I was seriously in like. When he brought me home and volunteered to come with me while I walked my dog, Max, I knew he was a keeper. As he said good night, John brushed my lips with his, saying he'd had a wonderful evening and would call me.

Meant to Be?

Four days later, I hadn't heard a peep. I felt almost sick. Had the only person who'd made me feel giddy in a long time given me the infamous "I'll call you" brush-off?

When the phone rang that night, I was thrilled, but oh-so-casual. We picked up where we'd left off, and by the third date, we were a couple. (He waited to call, he later confessed, because he was "still playing the stupid New York game.") Every time we saw each other -- which was constantly -- we marveled at how perfectly our lives meshed. For example, John's mother used to say he'd never get married because no woman could stand a man with neater drawers than hers. Hello? My clothes are not so much put away as filed, by category and color. It was obvious that he was my bashert.

The Turning Point

There was only one problem: I wasn't sure he realized it. He'd said "I love you" after a couple of months, but he hadn't stayed a bachelor for 52 years by asking just anyone to marry him. I decided I could be truthful, so I told him I felt rather silly being a girlfriend at fiftysomething and that I hoped eventually to be more than that. He wasn't at all defensive, but he said he wasn't ready to make that decision.

Okay, at least I'd spoken my mind. Nothing came of it -- or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me, a visit from John's oldest friend, Kevin, was a turning point. One night, John and Kevin had a long talk over a bottle of wine. Actually, as John confided later, he did most of the talking, explaining to Kevin that he loved me but was unsure about making a permanent commitment. Kevin just nodded, and let John rattle on. By the end of his monologue, John told me, he'd figured out what to do.

We celebrated the anniversary of our meeting with a lovely dinner at a waterfront restaurant. The M-word had not been uttered since the day I'd broached it, so I assumed the topic was tabled, at least for now. After dinner, we went back to John's condo, where he handed me a small box containing my favorite perfume. I was thinking, How sweet, when he handed me an even smaller box. I opened it tentatively, unable to focus on the fact that it could contain only one thing.

The ring, which had been his mother's, was a series of diamonds set in the shape of a flower. John placed it on my finger and asked me to marry him. I was so floored I couldn't even muster a gracious reply. "Do you realize what you're saying?" I gasped.

"Yes," he said softly. "I do."

Marriage at 50-Plus

We got married on July 18, 1999. In Hebrew the number 18, or chai, is sacred; the word itself means life. We thought it fitting to begin our marriage on a day filled with as much magic as our lives now held. After a honeymoon in Paris, we settled into a new house, bringing nothing but our clothing and personal effects. Every stick of furniture we bought together, with love.

And just to show you how in sync we still are, two years ago we decided we wanted to live nearer the water, so we sold our house and moved into a condo on the ocean. We'd lived there for exactly a week when we looked at each other over breakfast and said, "This doesn't feel right." It was uncanny. "Life's too short," we agreed, and we got on the phone and proceeded to buy back our old house.

What can I say? It was bashert.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, October 2005.