Are We Having Fun Yet? Or, I Don’t “Summer” Well

I want to use the word “summer” as a verb…

I have long aspired to being one of those people who uses the word “summer” as a verb.

As in, “where do you summer?”

“We summer in at our villa in Tuscany.”

or, “Why, in Provence, of course…”

or, for me, the pinnacle of “to summer, “…

“We summer in Maine.”

No Maine for me this summer. Spent the money on redoing Mike’s room as a computer lounge for our daughter. Money well spent, but I find myself missing the sea, the salt air, the lobster and the star-stuffed sky.

Not to mention the bracing cold of the sea (except that the water has been warming these past years – causing one old salt I overheard to complain, “the fish’ll be cooked befowah you catch ’em!”)

Yes, we could go down to the lake, where the water is reliably cold, even this deep into summer, but there have been lots of shore warnings this year – waves and rip currents.

So, ninety degrees again today and tomorrow, no air conditioning, humid. Feeling like a wet rag.

I don’t summer well, here.

Frizz, sweat and listlessness. After three solid days of digging weeds in the heat two weeks ago, and a little rain, finally, my front garden looks OK. But my vegetable garden is a shambles. Spent too much time on those darn chickens, and neglected to water it during a month long dry spell. So no squash, probably no zucchini (you have to be really bad at vegetable gardening to get through an entire summer with NO zucchini!) and a meager crop of beans – “haricot vert,”   but then, I’m not summering in France.

But I do get to go to rehearsal tonight.

I was admitted into an excellent choral group – serious, rigorous, disciplined but fun. Such a relief to be among singers who get it right the first time, sight-sing like demons, and could blow me out of the water, sitting down, with their voices.

And who actually read and sing the dynamics. Balance and musicality and glorious music, flowing right along. Wow.

I like feeling like I’m a little out of my league and that I’ll have to work hard to keep up.

Mike loved my singing and stoked my ego when I Puccinied or Mozarted along with WFMT, our classical music station here in Chicago. Bless you, dear, for that. It’s a rare man who will listen to “Oh Mio Babino Caro” or “Doretta’s Song” or “Musetta’s Waltz” or the “Allelulia” a couple hundred times without begging for mercy. But you never did. You listened.

And though I’m a diva who never misses a chance to show off a solo high note (Ridiculouswoman, remember?) I’m a real softie for choral singing – there’s something about a large group of voices united in song that gets me every time. I mean I get choked up when I hear the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the beginning of the derby each year (they’ve edited out the bad old lyrics) and I get a real thrill from any good performance of Beethoven’s 9th or Brahms Requiem. A Welsh men’s choir can stop me in my tracks, and I’m a sucker for a good sea shanty, too (probably influenced by my obsession with the Aubrey Maturin books.)

So tonight I get the thrill of singing with a large, talented, serious group of singers. And bonus, the church where this chorus rehearses is air conditioned! Hallelujah!

Wishing you the opportunity to raise your voice in song, with others similarly inspired, I remain,

your still-working-on-being-humble, devoted, warbling servant,

Ridiculouswoman

Fly Away – It Will Be OK

Because of that preening bird, I know Mike thinks it’s OK…

My oldest brother warned me about this: there would come a day when I didn’t think about Mike at all.

And I’d feel guilty about it, but it would be OK.

In truth it has already happened a few times, and I did feel guilty.

But yesterday was the first time I had a really surprising, truly upsetting lapse of remembering Mike: I forgot that we had planned an observance of the second anniversary of his death.

I scheduled the installation of new carpet, in what had been his room, on that very day: tomorrow, the 24th.

How could I?

I was caught up in a project for our daughter.

Who last week suddenly declared she wanted to turn his room in to a “computer lounge.”

I had already taken his bed (yes, separate bedrooms, long story, you’ll have to read the book if I ever get it published) out of there so we could make it her “art room,” and I hauled her art desk and her electric keyboard up from the basement to put in there.

The room is on the other side of her bedroom wall.  They had communicated to each other through the thin drywall barrier, like kids after the adults have gone to bed – knocking on the wall, whispering and laughing together, buddies, pals.

But now she wanted to take the art and music stuff out of there, and get a laptop, a desk and a chair for her new “computer lounge.”

I think she’s trying to recreate the quiet “break room” from the day program she just quit. That’s ok. It’s what she needs now – a space like that, but at home.

So, back to the basement go the keyboard and the art desk and back into her bedroom goes the guitar.

The carpet guy called as we were driving to the hardware store (phone on Bluetooth, both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, no worries) to get another paintbrush and a few more of those little angle-tip spongy things that get the paint into the edges of places but not beyond.  He said they could come pretty much anytime.

“Do  you want to do it sooner rather than later?”

“Well, we’ll be finished painting today, so sooner, I guess…”

“We have Friday or Monday.”

“How about Friday?”

It wasn’t until I had parked the car at the hardware store that it hit me – we were supposed to picnic at the gravesite Friday. We were going to blow some bubbles and maybe let go of a balloon to symbolize setting his spirit free – letting him know that we wouldn’t try to hold him here anymore, that we’d be OK with our memories and his whispers from beyond – the songs, the hummingbird, the butterflies.

Our daughter saw the panic in my face.

“They’ll call in the morning to tell us when they’re coming, and after they’re done, we can go see Dad, like we planned.”

She was disturbed: somewhere in her over-connected, autistic brain, she must have realized that she also had forgotten, for a moment, the significance of tomorrow.

I cried when I was prepping the room for paint. The project felt like a kind of erasure, like we were obliterating something about Mike. Tears were streaming down my face as I brought the supplies into the empty room.  As I set everything down, I looked up for a moment – and was startled by a really bright red, fat, young male cardinal, fluffy and preening, in the branch of the big maple tree, very close to the window.

Mike loved birds. More of them came to the birdbath in the back yard when he was here. It wasn’t just hummingbirds, he was interested in all types of birds.

So it didn’t seem out of place to ask, “Mike, is that you, hon?”

I swear to you, that bird looked right at me. And then it opened its mouth wide, the way baby robins do while chasing their exhausted parents around the yard – “feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”

That was a running joke between Mike and me, when it seemed our daughter could never stop needing more food – cook for me, more for me, feed me, feed me, feed me!

“Oh, hon, I’m sure that’s you! I hope you’re OK with this, with us changing the room!”

That bird looked right at me again, sideways, with a look that said, “of course it’s OK – about time!” And then it flew away, up over the top of the house.

It is supposed to rain tomorrow. That forecast was why we scrambled to get the paint done, so we could keep the windows open without the damp slowing the drying. But we also wanted to get it done so we could visit his grave on the anniversary day.

But the carpet is coming instead.

So we went there today. We blew a few bubbles.  Most of them sank to the earth quickly, but one drifted high above the trees, into the clear blue of today’s rain-free sky.

We came home and ordered a desk, and began looking online for a laptop and a chair.

Claiming that room as her own is, I think, a sign that our daughter is beginning to understand she can live, maybe even happily, without her Dad physically here. She can keep him in her heart and memory, even as she comes to accept that he will never again be right there on the other side of her bedroom wall.

And it’s OK.

And because of that fat, preening, joking cardinal, I know Mike thinks it’s OK too.

Wishing you relief from sadness, and joy in little moments of progress, I remain,

Your loyal, grateful, starting-to-heal, trying-to-hope,

Ridiculouswoman

Move over, Miss Jean Brodie

Am I delusional..about love with a younger man?

Got the all-clear from the radiologist (mentioned toward the end of “Divestiture, Episode One,”) who thought he saw something, which once snipped and biopsied turned out to be nothing, which made me feel, if not “young” again, at least “younger.” Ready to roll. New lease on life, and all that.

Time to dive back into the ridiculous pursuit of online dating!

Or not.

“For Online Daters, Women Peak at 18 While Men Peak at 50, Study Finds.”

Wait, what?

OK, I can understand aiming a little out of one’s league. Maybe even a little beyond the ballpark altogether. Study says everyone does that.

But a 50 year old man preferring an 18 year old girl?

That’s just creepy.

What the hell would they talk about?

Get real. The man in this equation is not much interested in talking. In fact, such a man likely finds intelligence and advanced education off-putting. Unless you’re as gorgeous as Amal Clooney. See end of article, referenced above.

Now look, I admit, when I tried this online dating thing before, I aimed a bit below my senior league, age-wise. A little bit more than the average “25% more desireable” below, as it turns out.

But for me, seeking men in that range still puts the guys well into their actual “prime” (e.g., into full-blown adulthood) and seems way less cringey than a 50 year old guy looking for a girl who could easily be younger than his youngest child. That’s just gross – and ridiculous. And dangerous for the fragile, still-evolving self of a teenage girl.

(And if you haven’t watched “Nanette,” as the NYT article recommends, do so now. Like it says, I’ll wait.)

Anyway what teenagers actually go on online dating sites? Don’t they have a name for how they intend to mislead and make fun of whoever pursues them, if they do? Catfishing, right? And aren’t they too busy Instagramming or Snapchatting each other? To make fun of the ancients they caught in their catfish net?

What the hell are these middle-aged men thinking?

Well, the same thing they’ve been thinking since the dawn of time, apparently. They are thinking about mating. And having some arm candy that won’t argue with them, won’t challenge their ideas about themselves, or challenge any of their ideas at all, or have any ideas – coherent ones, anyway, I guess.

But then, what was I thinking? Am I as delusional as these fragile-egoed guys? Covering up my mirrors, believing that my inner beauty, when I can access it, on those rare occasions when I can keep myself from being a patronizing, superior smartass (see previous paragraph in re: challenging ideas, or ideas at all, etc.,) will create a glow that can erase twenty years from my face and attract a  much younger man? (hey, c’mon, even I’m not ridiculous enough to believe that I could erase those years from the rest of me – just, you know, HEY! MY FACE IS UP HERE! kind of thing. It’s just that my face looks a helluva lot more like that cartoon up at the top there than I seem to think it does.)

Remember that magnificent Maggie Smith film performance as Miss Jean Brodie? Where she was always strutting around, announcing, “ay-ee em in my-ee prrr-eye-eem” and “give me a gurr-ul at an im-preeshnable a-yeege, and she is my-een foreverrrrr” – which doesn’t work out so well – turns tragic, actually, because in addition to harboring an unfortunate admiration for fascists and a penchant for inappropriate love affairs, she has a disastrous tendency to encourage same in her young students.

Miss Jean Brodie was truly delusional. Please don’t let me go full Jean Brodie  (of course you don’t have to worry about the fascist thing, just the inappropriate love affairs. Or more accurately, the pursuit of them.  The delusional, ridiculous pursuit, or hope, or belief in, the possibility of love with a younger man. In my defense, however, Mike was two years younger than I am. So there’s that anyway. But two years. Not twenty.)

But I digress. I was talking about inner beauty, radiating from the face.

From the face you get the smile, the intelligence, the spirited repartee.

Oh, I forgot. Spirited repartee need not apply.

It gets worse. The study suggests that for online dating, the level of interest in women declines precipitously based on age, and that the men on these sites, while dipping way down to the teenage shallow end (snark) rarely look more than a year or so above their own age on the deeper end.

OK, hell with that. I elect to believe that Real Men Don’t Use Online Dating Sites, and I intend to take my business (and my inner beauty) elsewhere.

Perhaps to organizations with “silver” or “senior” in their names.

Places that have shuffleboard and shuttle buses, God help me.

I’ll be the hottest babe there!

Hell with that. Break out the Oil of Olay and get me to the gym.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, I remain, your devoted, not-really-humble-enough, and certainly not-very-obedient, servant,

Ridiculouswoman

Mirror, Mirror…

Maybe I should cover up those mirrors…

Mirror, mirror…

It must be the frosted glass shades that soften the light of the LEDs in the brass light fixtures in my downstairs bathroom.

The lights above the two large oval mirrors shine down from above. That bathroom had two sinks when we moved in, and I didn’t even think of reducing those to one when we redid it – I should have, and I should have put the laundry there also – live and learn – I’ll never be able to afford redoing it now, unless I win the lottery.

The lights are quite bright, despite those white glass shades.

Every time I catch a glimpse of my face in one of those mirrors, lit by those lights, I see a beautiful woman.

I think, “damn, Annie, you’re cute! You’re beautiful!”

So I try to take a selfie that won’t show me holding my phone, taking a selfie.

And in the photo of me, taken when I think I look gorgeous, I see a hag, a crone, with wrinkles and sallow skin.

What’s going on here?

Do I own magic mirrors?

Is the camera in my phone defective?

Maybe I should cover those mirrors.

You must know of that wonderful film called “My Brilliant Career” where the protagonist, an independent, unusual young woman in late 19th century Australia, played by Judy Davis, becomes despondent about her life and prospects, believing she is plain, and frustrated with efforts to marry her off – until a wiser older woman she is visiting covers all the mirrors in her house, forcing that young woman to realize that her character, intelligence, sense of humor and grace make her attractive. And, spoiler alert, she does attract a really nice man, but ends up turning him down to maintain her independence and pursue her dream of being a writer.

Covering up the mirrors was a good idea. I’m going to stop taking selfies in good light with a bad camera, and I’m going to stop being so concerned looking my age.

I’m going to walk through the world believing I am the beautiful woman I see in my magic mirror, remembering that it is intelligence, wit, grace and the kindness I am trying to convey that might make me attractive. I’m going to believe that my belief in myself will make others believe I am beautiful, too – inside and out.

I’ve seen a few photos of me, lately (taken by my brother, at a Cubs game, with a better camera than mine) where I look, um, unobjectionable. Tolerable. Even, dare I say it, attractive? In them I look relaxed, confident, happy, like I’m having fun (and who doesn’t have fun on a sunny day at Wrigley?) and like I’m not concerned about what others think about me – only concerned about having fun with the people I’m with, in that moment.

And I have seen a photo of me having fun by myself, last night, celebrating my acceptance into a rigorous Chicago area choral group. I was actually trying to use my camera as a mirror (oops) to discreetly reapply lipstick (see “Middle-Aged Woman Rules”) while sitting at an outside table at a local restaurant, straining to see – which struck me as funny – and remembering how appalled my Grandfather, Father and brothers would be, me putting on lipstick IN PUBLIC, for God’s sake, which also struck me as funny. These men believed, and those still with us still believe, that ladies are supposed to excuse themselves to do that, elsewhere. Unseen. Just come back looking better and let whoever you are with try to figure out why.

So I was laughing about that, and about bothering to put lipstick on in the dark, trying to use my phone’s reversible camera as a mirror, and I accidentally snapped a selfie.

And here’s what I found on my phone today:

IMG_20180816_195917.jpg

Not too shabby, huh? Bad light and all?

Actually, I messed with the photo to brighten it up and somehow managed to delete the original before it was backed up, so I messed with this one to try to darken it back down to look like it looked originally. Whatever. You get the idea. I look happy, relaxed and unworried about being ridiculous, taking a selfie in the dark.

Mike found me when I had stopped looking, or at least when I had made peace with the possibility of never finding “the one.” And then he showed up.

He helped me understand that I didn’t have to try so hard, that I would be more attractive if I just chilled out a little, enjoyed the moment and took the pressure off.

His favorite picture of me was taken on our honeymoon, in the morning, before make-up, where I thought I looked disheveled and washed-out.

He loved it because he thought it revealed in my face my innocent heart, undisguised by artifice or excessive concern with my looks. He saw ME when he saw me, and he loved what he saw.

I’ll take another look at that picture from time to time, to remind myself that there’s someone inside me, behind the lipstick, worthy of being loved.

In the meantime I want to be the kind of person who has that effect on others – reminding them with a smile or a conversation that they are seen, that they are loved, that they are worthy of love – and that they are beautiful.

I’m sure you’ve seen that viral video by Shea, from Chicago, of people’s reactions when they are told they are beautiful, and all the others inspired by it, so I didn’t link any of them here – but if you haven’t seen them, just search “people react to being told they are beautiful.”

A Visible Woman

Patrick … saw me – he treated me like I was actually there…not …invisible

For Patrick, from Erie, Pennsylvania

A young man struck up a conversation with me as I was waiting outside by myself for a table at a very tiny, very crowded Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville.

He looked a lot like a young Jason Bateman (not that I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman – it just bugged me so much that I couldn’t think of what actor this guy reminded me of that later that night, I thought of a movie trailer I had seen that guy in, and Googled it by the little I remembered of the plot, even though it wasn’t the type of movie I’d ever go see,  and I lucked out by finding it on the first try).

We’re going to let it slide that the younger-Jason-Bateman-look-alike’s initial purpose in talking to me was to encourage me to accept a table outside on a hot, muggy night, so he could show his visiting Dad and Uncle the very quirky décor inside the crowded little place. He was afraid they wouldn’t get in, and because his visitors were from out of town and might not have another chance, he wanted them to see the inside. Fair enough.

I didn’t care, because I was just hungry, for Thai food specifically. I’d sit anyplace if I could get fed. The hostess was true to her word in seating me in about five minutes. During that five minutes, another nice couple put in for a table and waited, this young man showed up with his guests, and two huge parties of 8 or so all left simultaneously – so the other couple, the young man and his guests, and I, all got to sit inside, under the impressive collection of toy robots, street signs, Cubs paraphernalia, etc. And I ended up sitting at a two-top right next to younger-Jason-Bateman guy, diagonally from his Uncle, who sat opposite his Dad.

After checking with me to see if I was a person who liked to talk (HA! Ok, stop laughing now, followers who know me) he skillfully apportioned his conversation between me and his Dad and Uncle, and managed to engage all of us in comfortable conversation for the duration of our meals.

I introduced myself and he told me his name was Patrick, that he was from Erie, Pennsylvania and had been in Chicago for about two years. The rest of it was pretty light stuff – how he ended up here, his educational background and job, and then mostly baseball and other sports, recreational opportunities on the lakefront, the relative severity of winters in Erie (regular snowfalls of 6 feet or more) and Chicago (regular bouts of subzero temperatures) etc.

When I had finished my meal and settled up, I told Patrick as I was leaving that it had been nice to meet him and wished his Dad and Uncle a pleasant visit.

And as I did this, Patrick stood up (well, sort of half stood up, but hey, it was a tiny, crowded restaurant) and shook my hand good-bye.

Let that land for a minute.

When was the last time you met a young person (I’d say he was maybe 26?) who had been raised to observe often forgotten courtesies, like rising when a lady (or anyone older than you) was arriving or departing? I was touched, and charmed, especially because it seemed like an unconscious habit – this is something Patrick does for ladies and his elders, I suspect, without really thinking about it.

But what really made my day was that Patrick saw me – he treated me like I was actually there, not as if I was an invisible woman. He just marched right up to me and started talking (about me maybe sitting outside, but we’re letting that slide, remember? He was gracious enough to keep talking to me once everyone was seated.)

I’ve seen posts by women my age, or even quite a bit younger, who wrote that they felt a kind of freedom in their invisibility, knowing that because of their, erm, maturity, nobody would really pay much attention to them in public (unless they made a spectacle of themselves, and as we know, I’m the one who specializes in that – see the latest episode related over there in the “Snark Tank”) and they could go about their business without worrying about what anyone thought and without being accosted for attention from others. They were fine with whatever attention they got at home. From their still-living husbands.

Invisibility doesn’t work for me – while I have always enjoyed my own company and have been happy in solitude when I have chosen it, I still crave social contact with adults who are not emotionally dependent on me to help them cope with shared grief.  So a casual conversation with a good-mannered person (ok, man, but as the supply of them is inverse to the age of the woman, I’m trying to enjoy the company of women, more, too) who may only have been talking to me because he had good manners, can make my day.

So thanks for treating me as visible, Patrick. It made the difference between a day that might have included weeping and a day that didn’t.

(And thanks also for seeming genuinely surprised that I was old enough to have had my heart broken by the Cubs in both ’69 and ’84 – things your Uncle remembered in detail, but that certainly occurred before you were born).

Looking forward to my next encounter with a nice man (ok, person) with good manners and the grace to seem surprised by my age, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, lonely but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode Two

We sit quietly in the dark…with no chickens to feed..finally, truly absorbing his absence.

Is there any such thing as “Empty Coop Syndrome?”

The chickens are gone. Deliberately. I gave them away to a nice couple, who have much more land than I do. The lady of the pair teaches others how to have backyard chickens, so she knows much more about them than I ever bothered to learn. She may even help me find someone willing to buy the coop and take it away.

I can’t eat three dozen eggs a week. Six chickens for two people, one of whom doesn’t really eat eggs, were way too much.

Plus, although frozen chicken poop is much easier to clean up than fresh, I wasn’t looking forward to another winter of dark, 15-below mornings, and worrying about if I had kept both the chickens and their water from freezing.

So, buh-bye, chickens.

And I miss them.

Wha?

How could that be? I found them amusing, but also pretty disgusting, and I was getting lazy with them. They are better off where they are. And the nice lady who took them let me know that they have already adjusted very well.

I guess it is just a habit I developed over the last year, looking out the window to check on them – replenishing water and food, tossing them the occasional treat, letting them out for a romp in the yard.

But I also know that I got them in the first place sort of as a way to hang on to Mike – we had talked about it, but he got sick before we got around to it. And even if we had done it when he was well, I know I would have been the one dealing with the water, the food, the bedding and the poop.

Thinking about that got me thinking about how I’m spending my time: spinning my wheels. Getting and leaving the same kind of job I had when he was sick. Doing the same kinds of things. Occasionally trying to make the same kinds of food he made, for our daughter.

August 24 will be two years since Mike died, and it is time to stop doing backward-looking things in memory of him, for him, and start looking forward, figuring out how to live complete lives, for the of the rest of our lives, without him, for us. With joy, love and laughs – for where we all are, now. Mike in the next world, and as our daughter keeps anxiously repeating, the two of us, still here in this one.

Certainly not doing things that only remind me of things he would have left me to do on my own, anyway.

He might not even have eaten the eggs. He never was that into the fresh vegetables I grow in the back yard, either.

The chickens were a distraction, a form of “displacement activity,”  from the things I’m trying to focus on right now – love and laughs, and my adult child, who really needs my time.

Because as soon as I quit my job, she decided to quit her day program. The “Mommyitis” I wrote about in “Fatherless Days”  has intensified – she needs me to sit by her, stay by her, be by her, all day.

Her other caregiver, a wonderful woman who is a genius at getting her to get out, do stuff, play, shop and interact with the outside world, went on a well-deserved vacation. Should be back now, but we’ll give her some time to recover.

But that made my daughter very nervous. Was this another abandonment?

And then the horse she rode most often at her therapeutic riding center died.

How much of this is she supposed to endure? Life is full of loss, but c’mon, this is kind of piling on.

So, that sing, speak, write thing? We’re going to have to figure out how to do that very early in the morning, or in the evening when other helpers are available to keep her company.

In the meantime, we, together, she and I, must learn to sit with Mike’s absence in this house. Something she didn’t really get the time to do, two years ago. I thought maintaining her routine would comfort her. She had so much to go through – leaving her transition program, learning to use public transportation, starting her day program, getting a job. But she never really got the time to just feel the grief, the sadness, the starkness of his departure, and his absence, from this life. From ours.

She deserves that time, and I need to give that to her.

It’s working, I think. She has started to think about what an independent life might be, outside this house. She has started to think about ways we can update her spaces in this house, until she’s ready for that next huge step (although she seems to want to replicate a space from the abandoned day program – a quiet, computer-lounge kind of space – but that is a more adult kind of thing than a play space, and I want to support her in that.) She’s become open to rearranging furniture, or getting some new carpet,  and she wants a new desk, if we can afford it.

Because she can’t live independently outside this house until she learns how to live without her Dad in this one, I don’t think. Not without the happy memories, the Journey songs, the butterflies and the hummingbirds – but without the expectation that he will ever be here again, that anything we do can bring him back or that things could ever be the same, that we could recapture him here, somehow – conjure him up like some immortal interactive hologram to keep her company. Not going to happen.

So we sit quietly together, in the dark after sunset, with no chickens to feed (but with a sad-eyed, fat, arthritic, aging cat that Mike had a sort of love-hate relationship with), the two of us (well, the three of us, because the cat seems to miss him, too) finally, truly absorbing his absence.

And maybe just starting to get a glimmer that, even carrying that absence with us, life can go on. And that it will be OK.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then I remain, your humble, devoted, struggling but trying,

Ridiculouswoman

Rules of Attraction, or, Love in a Time of Confusion

Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed, anymore?

I’m not ogling, I’m…I’m…appreciating!

But when does a smile become a leer?

Is there, now, any appropriate way for one adult human to indicate attraction toward another adult human? Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed anymore?

Must we revert to formal introductions, chaperoned courtship, and a kind of Regency-romance style of communication? (with apologies to Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, whose cynical proposal of marriage to Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, is echoed in the image above – credit where credit is due). “My dear sir, it cannot have escaped your attention that I find you to be the embodiment of male pulchritude (translation – “damn, baby, look at that butt! And those sculpted arms!”) and that I would greatly enjoy appreciating you more closely, you gorgeous hunka…”

Oh, wait – I digress. That’s not exactly Regency style, and is clearly off-limits. If you say it out loud.

What if you say it with your smile and your eyes? Bad? Wrong? Certainly ridiculous, in my case.

But if online dating is just too creepy and scary, and when merely striking up a conversation with a person to whom one is attracted feels perilous, how is anyone going to find love?

Or more to the point, how are adults to find each other to share (after an appropriate period of “getting to know one another,” probably vetting by trusted friends, and maybe a background check and some medical testing), erm…. how shall we say this? to share, erm, … mutually consensual physical affection?

There’s a chapter in my book called, “God Help Me, I’m Turning Into Betty White!”

No offense, Betty, I love you – everyone loves you – I’m just referring to that shtick you do, where you look sideways at a much younger man – with obvious, intense and substantial appreciation.

The chapter in the book recounts a fleeting incident of that kind of thing, where the younger man almost certainly didn’t notice me noticing him, and I noticed how ridiculous I was being anyway.

But Betty has been doing that bit, or playing characters who behave that way, probably since she was younger than I am now. And it is (was?) funny because women of a certain age are not supposed to feel, and certainly not supposed to display, desire. Because that would be ridiculous, right? Hilarious?

Well, it may be ridiculous, and maybe hilarious, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

Is the Betty bit ok, anymore? Or is that not OK? Seriously, I’m asking. I used to think this sort of thing was utterly harmless. And for God’s sake, Betty White is pretty damn harmless. And funny.

But if women object to being objectified, men get to object, too. It’s a goose/gander thing, right? Equal is equal.

Does that put any form of appreciation for another adult’s physical beauty off limits?

Case in point: I was in the local drugstore (pharmacy, or “chemist’s,” for you users of British English) the other day, looking for this little loofah thing I could have sworn I bought in that store, but I couldn’t find it.

So I went looking for a store clerk to help me find it – and as I turned toward the sound of someone asking an unseen clerk for help, I saw a stunningly handsome man striding around the corner of the aisle, toward the unseen clerk who was trying to help him find what he wanted. They later resolved the problem by ordering the item for him at the desk.

Where I waited, at what I hope was a decent, respectful distance, for my turn to speak to a clerk to help me find what I needed, which, it turned out, they also didn’t have.

But I waited long enough to ….um,….appreciate this guy. Trying to be discreet, but still. I appreciated him long enough to notice that he was the embodiment of my current (unattainable, I suppose, much to my regret – but see, “lack of youth and beauty finds recompense in experience and enthusiasm,” above) ideal – jeans, work boots – obviously made his living working hard, and from the look of him, working mostly outside. Black hair. Good natured with the clerk. A nice, nice looking guy, who appeared to be the kind of guy who knows how to do stuff.

And look absolutely amazing while doing so.

I mean, this guy could stop traffic.

(And actually did, later, when we both tried to pull out of the parking lot at the same time. You know how that goes – you go and stop, because you see another person pulling out, and then they stop because they see you, and you both wait a sec, and then you both start going, until someone makes a decision about who gets to go first. In this case, he backed his pickup truck – my new favorite vehicle, when driven by the likes of him – out a little, saw me coming, and stopped, but I stopped too, and then we both started and stopped again, and then I waved him on, laughing).

He was laughing too, flashing a blindingly beautiful smile. A smile that suggested that he knew I had appreciated him, and (sadly, to me) thought it was funny.

He turned right, I turned left, and that was that.

And the day just continued like that – it was a lovely, sunny day, I was in a good mood, wearing a bright rose-orange t-shirt, jeans and shades, and my hair was blowing around, fetchingly, I thought, in its naturally curly state, and good-looking men were walking, biking and working outside, all over the place.

And I smiled at them.

That’s OK, isn’t it?

Or isn’t it?

The more I think about it the closer I come to another panic attack.

The men I smiled at that day weren’t seeking attention from me. They were just out and about, doing what they do.

Was I wrong to smile at them, appreciatively?

Seriously, I’m asking. Was that wrong?

Because I’m not very good at hiding my, erm, appreciation for good looking, talented, kind, effective men who look like guys who know how to do stuff – fix things, build things, open things that won’t open, close things that won’t close, etc.

Handy man. In the practical and the James Taylor sense (“I fix broken hearts, baby I’m your handyman…”)

What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do?

Get me to a nunnery?

Still hoping to find affection, somewhere, and awaiting your sage advice, I remain, your humble, devoted, confused, anxious,

Ridiculouswoman