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Episode Transcript: Unexpected Love

LAURA STASSI:   00:06
This is “Dating While Gray: The Grown-up’s Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships.” I'm Laura Stassi. And if you need some inspiration because you're starting to feel like you'll never find The One, this episode’s for you: three stories of Unexpected Love.

I've been told that if I'm serious about wanting a long-term partner, I need to become intentional about finding him. And while this advice makes a lot of sense to me, intellectually, I'd still like to believe that when we stop trying so hard and just let it be, love will magically make its way to us. So that's why when I was scrolling through Twitter one day, I was so excited to come across this tweet. It's from a woman in California named Carol.

CAROL: 00:55
Okay, here's what I said: “Life is so strange. After nearly four decades of marriage, I never expected to be single again at 70. And I certainly didn't expect to find true love at the age of 73, in the middle of a pandemic. And now this” -- and it's a picture of my engagement ring, and it actually got 1.1 million likes.

LAURA:   01:19
Carol's tweet went viral. Isn't that great? Though I noticed in some of the replies that assumptions were being made based on Carol's age and long marriage. I decided to track her down and learn her story.

CAROL: 01:33
I wanted to know, is there anything I can't say?

LAURA:   01:36
Well, that's up to you.

CAROL: 01:40
I mean, is there anything that shouldn't go out on the airwaves?

LAURA:   01:43
Again, that's your -- this is not live. So it's your story, however you feel comfortable telling it. Let's break it down a little bit. Why was your singlehood, or singleness, why was that unexpected? I think a lot of people thought you ended up as a widow, but that's not the case.

CAROL: 02:02
No, I'm not widowed. No, I was married, as I said, for 37 years. And it wasn't a particularly happy marriage. But I was sticking it out, you know. And then quite by accident, I found out that he had someone on the side, and had had for a number of years. I suggested counseling. I had in mind that maybe we could resolve it or at least part amiably. And he refused that. And so I said, well, you can't live here anymore then; it actually was my house. So I asked him to leave, and he was not happy. But -- and now I think he did me a favor, for sure.

LAURA:   02:43
Oh, yeah. But I mean, it's so hard when you're in the middle of it to understand how you're going to come out happy and healthy on the other side. Even if it's a good thing to split. It's very difficult.

CAROL: 02:54
Yes, it is. And I was, I think I was mostly pissed off because I never cheated. And I had plenty of opportunity. (Laughter)

Well, we split in November of 2017. And I went back and checked and it was March of 2018 that I decided to start dating. And this is why I asked if there was anything I couldn't say. I went on Facebook, and my kids were absolutely mortified. But I posted” lately, I've been thinking about dating again, for you know, companionship, and sex.

LAURA:   03:33
I love it! So it -- this was not Facebook dating. This was just your Facebook page.

CAROL: 03:37
Just I yeah, I just said I'm thinking about dating again. And then I started signing up for different online dating apps.

LAURA:   03:45
Wait, so what kind of response did your Facebook post get?

CAROL: 03:52
My kids both said, Moooom!

LAURA: Yeah.

CAROL: But turned out that online dating is not that fun. You open yourself up to a lot of scammers, especially at my age. And I certainly had a number of men who either sooner or later asked me for money. So one of my friends said, Well, how much did you lose? I said, are you kidding? I wouldn't give anyone money.

LAURA: Yeah.

CAROL: But the worst was when I actually was on my way to meet someone at a restaurant that I wanted to try. And he calls me up and says oh, he'd gotten into some kind of difficulty and he needed money. And I said, sorry.

But I met some interesting people. I found out that you put yourself out there and most people just ignore you no matter how I tried to present myself and my profile. Mostly I didn't get any responses.

LAURA:   04:50
So then the pandemic hits and you're having these disappointing experiences, but you still stick with it.

CAROL: 04:59
Well, I did. I mean, I was on again and off again. And when the pandemic hit I had, at some point soon after, I ended up isolating at home. I just closed all my, all my apps and canceled all my memberships and all the dating apps and said, well, this is not going to happen.

LAURA:   05:18
So during the pandemic, you were off the apps.

CAROL: Yeah.

LAURA: You closed everything up. But at some point, then you got back on. Tell me about that.

CAROL: 05:27
I realized -- this was in January of last year -- that I had kept up with my women friends, I was on Zoom with several friends. I took yoga on Zoom, I did my piano lessons on Skype. But I didn't have a man in my life. I didn't have any male companionship; I never talked to a man. So I thought, I mean, this is really what I was thinking. I said, maybe I should go back on one of the dating sites, and just find someone that I could have a conversation with -- because obviously, it's a pandemic, we can't really get together.

And pretty quick after I went on, this guy pops up; saw his profile. He liked me, I liked him, whatever. And so we agreed to have a FaceTime date. He also teaches college, as I do. He also has grown children. He also has pets. We had similar views. So after the first FaceTime meeting, we agreed to meet in person.

LAURA:   06:29
Did you know right away?

CAROL: 06:31
No. I think he did. We started seeing each other two, three times a week. And all we would do would be walk along the water and talk because we couldn't, you know -- and actually had to convince me that it was okay to hold hands because we had hand sanitizer in our cars. So we would hold hands and walk along the water. This went on until the vaccine came out. And it was only available to people over 75. And at that time, I was 73. And he was 72. Or I was -- anyway, he's a few months younger than I am. So I was 73, I guess. So we had to wait. And then as soon as we were fully vaccinated, then we could actually get together in person in all our glory.

LAURA: Was that scary?

CAROL: We were just both so excited. We had been getting closer and closer. In fact, he had already told me he loved me. He was always looking towards marriage. And I had now spent three years living by myself and kind of liking it.

LAURA: Yeah.

CAROL: And I wasn't ready to jump into another marriage. I also, I've had two divorces. But as I got to know him better, I really wanted to be together. And so at some point, I said, you know, we could get married next Christmas. And he said, Sure, if we don't get married before then.

I just still can't believe it, actually. He really is perfect for me in so many ways. Not that we always agree. But you know what? He respects me, he respects my opinion. He tells me what he thinks. But then what I decide is up to me. And one of the things I find really attractive about him is his self- confidence. That's very attractive. And he's totally -- how shall I say it? He's not at all self-conscious about his body. And so he accepts mine too, because we're not, we're for sure not perfect. And, you know, it's just, it's just lovely. Because I wasn't consciously looking for love. I was looking for someone to talk to and companionship, and really enjoyed that the time we were dating that we couldn't touch each other. I really enjoyed talking to him, getting to know him. But I hadn't been looking for love. And it just it's, I don't know, it's just like a miracle.

LAURA:   09:18
Carol was looking only for companionship, and look what happened. She and her partner are making plans to get married, buy a house, and live in it together full time. And Carol told me they both feel like they got lucky. Seems to me that's a solid foundation for any committed relationship.

Next, we'll hear from two business colleagues who took the term “work spouse” to heart. That's after the break.

SILVER SINGLES BREAK
LAURA: Remember the pre-pandemic times when people who worked for the same company actually got together regularly, in person? Those daily interactions were thought to have professional value. But sometimes they led to much more. Here's what happened with two business colleagues we're calling Ross and Paula.

ROSS: 10:53
My name is Ross. I’m 63. Before I met Paula, I was in kind of a relationship, but it wasn't a committed relationship. It was, you know, a good friend I had done a lot of traveling with and spent a lot of time with but never really committed to them.

PAULA: 11:13
My name is Paula, I'm 60 years old. And before I met Ross, I was divorced for more than 20 years. And I was in an on-again, off-again relationship that really wasn't going anywhere. And I didn't want it to go anywhere. The first time I saw Ross, I was in the lobby at a new job. And a person I worked with closely came in with him; got introduced to him. And I remember thinking he looked cute and nice.

ROSS: 11:58
I didn't really at that time give it too much notice. But as we both ended up on the same program, and in meetings together, I started looking at her more and realizing that I was fairly attracted to her.

PAULA: 12:12
We developed a -- I'd say a business relationship because we were on a program together. And he was nice. Sometimes he was on the phone, sometimes he was in the room for meetings. And I noticed that he was a little bit mischievous. He looked like a lot of fun. But he looks extremely smart, which is also had thought the first time I saw him. And I got a lot of respect for him in the meetings we were in.

So we were in meetings together for probably a few months. And then he was walking towards me one day in the building -- you were in a different building than I was -- walking towards me in the building. And I said, “I know you” -- because I don't know if he noticed me or not. So I said, “I know you.” And so we started talking. And then we very, very, very quickly learned that we had a lot in common. So I think from all those things we had in common, it became more of a friendship.

ROSS: 13:27
Yeah, we had both worked in telecommunications industry. So we both actually knew a lot of the same people. So we started off talking about telecom. And then when I finally said the company I worked at where her ex-husband was a high executive, and she said, oh, you work -- you know my ex-husband. I'm like, oh, now I know why the last name came to mind. And I told her I was sorry.

PAULA: 13:51
He did. He said, “Oh my god, I'm so sorry.” And then I knew he was actually a really nice guy, and he wouldn't necessarily blame me for the fact that I was divorced.

One of the holiday parties, my daughter was home and she had my car. And so I didn't have a ride to get to the holiday party. And he was at the building that day because he was going to the holiday party. So I might have asked for a ride. I don't know if I did or not; I probably did.

ROSS: And on the way, we talked a little bit more about - I don't know if where we were from or went to school, and we found out on top of all the telecom we had worked out together the fact that he knew worked with people I had worked with multiple people. And we had a lot in common -- we found that we went to rival schools. So that led us to go to some sporting events between the two schools.

PAULA: 14:52
Then we started looking -- we started watching games, and I got -- I hurt my back in an exercise class. I hurt my back really bad. And I ended up having to be on codeine and some muscle relaxers. So I live closer to the building he worked in most of the time. So I, I got an Uber to take me over there one day or got somebody to drop me off. And at the end of the day, I was going to call an Uber home. And I mentioned it to him because I was sitting close to him, I was sitting right across from him. And I mentioned that I needed to call a cab or an Uber to get home. And he's like, Oh, I can take you home. So he did, he gave me a ride home. And he said, and I -- because I was thinking at the time, oh my gosh, he really is a nice guy, because I was a little bit wary of men in general.

I remember it was a Wednesday night, if I'm not mistaken. And it was late in the day and -- very late in the day, and I just mentioned about needing to go get dinner or having to get dinner and he was still there working late as well. And so I don't know who asked whom, but we decided to go get dinner together. And we split the check and, and you know, just had a good conversation. It was really nice. It was in the summertime. And we were we sat outside and it was just a really nice evening.

So by that point, we'd probably like spent three or four times together. And then he met me when I was meeting a friend of mine. Now ironically, when he left that evening to go home, I was still there with my friend who I had, you know, thought about would he be interested in her, maybe we can set him up? Or make sure he wouldn't be interested in her. But she said to me after he left, she's like, why would you want to set him up with me? He doesn't want to look at anybody but you. She said, “He couldn’t keep his eyes off you. He was only focused in you.”

ROSS: 16:56
We actually went out again with her friend to a different bar. And her friend left, it was just me and her. And then as we were walking to the parking lot, I asked if I could give her a kiss. And I did. And I started walking to my car and she said, “Come back here. I'm not done with you yet.”

PAULA: Very true. Very true.

ROSS: So my biggest fear was, I hadn't been married before. I've had kind of these relationships that were fairly non-committal. And, you know, the question was whether I could survive and thrive in that type of relationship. But you know, with her, it's -- everything's very easygoing. Paula is great. So you know, no problem with it. Her daughter calls me her stepdad, and her son’s here. And I spend time at least driving him to work and, you know, doing a few other things with him as well. So that's a little, that's something I've gained other than, obviously, Paula who's, you know, a big get. There's other gets too.

PAULA: 18:02
So my biggest fear of getting married was my kids. I have two older kids who are grown and very independent, but I have another kid who is much more dependent. And I wanted to make sure that he was the right person to be able to bring into the house, and bring into the household. And so that was my biggest fear that he was in this -- because he had never had children, that he wouldn't necessarily be able to understand and be patient with mine.

ROSS: 18:36
I also was able to also have a great relationship with her two cats.

PAULA: 18:41
I think that he is a very, very big surprise because I wasn't sure that there were really men in the world, who could be as nice and as kind and as giving and also as smart and as funny and as fun-loving. And that I could be with somebody like that who makes me happier every day.

ROSS: 19:17
I was very fortunate to keep my mind open about getting married. I never really closed it to that. I always thought if the right person had come along that I would give consideration. And I'm glad that Paula came along.

LAURA:   19:32
Ross and Paula were engaged when the pandemic struck. Ross moved in with Paula. They spent lockdown together and then got married in July of 2020. They've been living and working from home together ever since, though they're both scheduled to go back to in-person in the next month or so.

Sometimes love finds us not only when we least expect it, but also in our darkest moments. That’s something Kathy knows. She's in her early 60s, was married and then got divorced when her two kids were young. After that, she kept busy being a mom, teaching, running a horse farm. Eventually, she went online and in 2010, she met a lawyer we're calling Brad.

KATHY: 20:17
I was looking for the intellectual, logical, find a solution – kind of, I say “chop, chop, lollipop.” Like, get her done. And driven, somebody who was driven, who I considered driven.

LAURA:   20:35
And he fit that bill.

KATHY: 20:37
Yes, he did. He did fit the bill. Yes.

LAURA:   20:42
Kathy and Brad fell in love. And by 2015, they had moved in together and were making plans to get married. But then something horrific and unthinkable happened.

KATHY: 20:54
I was with Brad the night it happened, and some other friends, at my little horse farm, my house. And we were playing cards and Garrett, my son, who was 18 at the time, he came home to do his dishes before he went back out -- because he had to do the dishes and throw hay for the horses. And he was goofing around with all of us. It was a Friday night, and his prom was Saturday night. So he was really up. Graduation was two weeks away. He had paid for Senior Week, was going with his friends, all these good things. And so he left the house, said, “I love you, Mom.” And then he was supposed to spend the night with his friends. And the girl that he was going to the prom with, they apparently had a fight there. And he left very upset. I don't know what the fight was about. But he left. Didn't put his seatbelt on, didn't put his shoes on. And he was in my mother's car. I don't think the power steering was working, really bad roads. And I think we adults know that, that driving so emotionally distraught is basically like driving under the influence, you know. And he, he had an accident; didn't survive.

LAURA:   22:24
I'm so sorry. That must have been …

KATHY: 22:30
Yeah, it's a life changer. No doubt. And, you know, I was just feeling so appreciative that I had raised these two children pretty much on my own, and they were really good people.

LAURA:   22:48
I thank you for sharing, because I think so many of us don't even want our minds to even contemplate the many ways that your life changes forever when you lose a child. So thank you so much for sharing that.

KATHY: 23:02
So Brad, had the good qualities that I thought were so important prior to losing my son, which was he was intellectual. He was logical. He was true to his word. But after Garrett's accident, there were so many times I just wanted him to put his arms around me and just be there and just sit with me. And it just wasn't happening. I would find myself going to crisis centers and looking for other people, because he just didn't have the empathy that I craved so much. Not that there's anything anybody can really say or do. But they can be there. Just the presence, somebody's presence next to you. Just holding you is all the most probably someone can do for you. And I just did not -- it wasn't happening, I would notice.

I'd be crying. And he would continue to cook dinner, for instance, or, or continue watching a television show. He just wasn't like tuned into that. So then in 2018, when we broke up, I didn't want to be alone necessarily. And so I was trying the internet dating thing. I was back there again, which was okay, but now, I had this huge story behind me that on a first date, it's just so heavy for a first date. And any first date, almost, the man is going to ask about your children. And so that was really big to me.

And yes in the background, my mechanic, Tom. I guess I always -- I don't know, I always had a really good feeling about the man. He was just so gentle and so kind and the way he carried himself so well. I didn't know anything about him personally, but I knew I liked his aura.

LAURA:   25:15
How long had he been your mechanic?

KATHY: 25:17
Oh my gosh, oh, at least for eight years or so. I went in with my check-engine light on and, and that visit, it was near the end of the day. And I guess he was getting ready to close up. There were other customers around. And that's the first time he really had a conversation with me. And it turns out, we went to the same high school and never -- we didn't know that. We knew so many people in common. And I thought, well, I should just tell him I really need my commercial lawn mower to run. I can't get --nobody can get it started. So I mentioned that. And he said, “If you want me to fix your lawnmower, I'll do that.” But he didn't say where or when. And so I left and the next morning, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” So I think I texted him. And I said, “If you were serious about the lawn mower, that would be great.”

And while he was fixing the mower, I stood there and talked to him that entire time and probably took him three hours. I thought, he is so patient. He never cussed once, even when he had to go get another part. Seriously, it was like wow, this is amazing. That said so much to me.

He ended up having dinner with my daughter and myself. We sat outside, and then he went back to working on the mower. But the next morning, he texted and said now he wanted to come over and make sure the mower would cut. So then he came over to make sure that the mower cut, and I had dinner for us again outside. And I had another friend there because I was so nervous. And I'm not a nervous type person. But I was -- I liked him so much that I was I guess I was nervous about it. And he told me later that he felt like he was having a heart attack driving up, you know, to my house. Like he was so nervous too.

And the next morning, he texted me and said, “I'd like to take you to dinner, just name where and when.” So I said that would be great. But I said, “I'd like you to take me to see my horses first” because I had moved my horses up to another farm. And he showed up for that date with a big bag of carrots, which was perfect. And he was so good around the horses, there was that gentleness, that kindness, that patience. I saw that again. It was a long -- it was a good evening. We got to talk in the car, talk at dinner, you know. He dropped me off at my door and he left his cell phone. So he dropped me off at the door. And then he came back to get his cell phone. Now he says I kissed him. I don't remember; I thought he kissed me.

But it was like we just knew from then on. We eat together every evening. Often he would pick something up after work. And we would just sit outside on the deck and play cards and just get to know each other.

LAURA:   28:13
We talked earlier, and you said you never would have connected with him online because he didn't fit your parameters.

KATHY: Yes.

LAURA: Tell me how he didn't fit what you thought you wanted.

KATHY: 28:25
I don't know if it's what I thought I wanted or what I thought I was supposed to be looking for. My dad was an MD, and I got my master's and became a chemistry and math teacher. And I guess I always felt like I had to have the -- Brad was an attorney -- felt like I had to have that, be with a doctor or an attorney. And so that's yeah, online, that's pretty much where I was. And but then of course, like I said my life completely changed. And so did what I needed and wanted.

And Tom is such a blessing. He has three cats. When I met him I had four. One of his cats, he had saved at his station. It had broken his leg. Somebody had left it there and he took it home and -- and this little black cat loves him. Talking to him like with their little meow, and my daughter and I just -- we just melt. We just see him carrying this cat around the house, like talking to the cat, and we just look at each other we say oh my gosh, that's so cute. Like he just, that's the kind of person he is.

He has three grown daughters, and they all adore him. On the weekend mornings, he knows that I like Dunkin Donuts. He goes out and gets me a coffee every Saturday and Sunday. And if I'm cold, he builds a fire. I mean, he just he takes care of me.

LAURA: That's beautiful.

KATHY: Yeah, it really is a beautiful thing. He -- I have to give him so much, so much credit for me being able to move forward with my life. And you know, I'm always going to be broken from losing my son. But there's still a lot of lot of beautiful, beautiful things out there. And my relationship with Tom is, is really something that I treasure.

LAURA:   30:26
Kathy told me Tom was already aware of her son's accident before they started dating. In fact, the night Garrett was killed while driving his grandmother's car, his own vehicle was in Tom’s shop to get some work done.

I think a lot of us understand the feeling that we don't need to do a big search for romance because we'd rather rely on “if it's meant to be, it will be.” But that doesn't mean doing nothing. In fact, Kathy told me that someone once reminded her of the ancient adage, “leave no stone unturned.” It means doing everything you can possibly do to achieve your goal.

So if romance is what we want, how about striving to see the people we come across in our daily routines through new eyes? We never know who we might encounter at the dentist or doctor's office, the veterinarian practice where we take our pets, the local watering hole … or the auto repair shop.

END CREDITS
Dating While Gray is produced in partnership with WUNC-North Carolina Public Radio. Our producer is Morgan Givens. Charlie Shelton-Ormond is our editor, Lindsay Foster Thomas is WUNC’s director of content, and Jenni Lawson is our audio engineer. Katy Barron edits our e-newsletter. I'm Laura Stassi. If you have a question or a comment, email datingwhilegray@wunc.org. And now you can also leave me a voicemail. Go to datingwhilegray.com and at the top right, click on “Talk to Us.” I'd love to hear from you, and thanks for listening.