After two failed marriages, can a woman over 50 find the man of her dreams? Should she even try? Writer Tricia Elam Walker, 60, says, “Yes!” Here, on the first anniversary of her marriage to her soul mate, she shares her love story.
My first husband and I were lovers but not friends, and my second was a friend but not a lover, and now I wanted a chance to be both at the same time. I don’t regret my first two marriages because I clearly had lessons to learn, and, besides, there was no other way for my three amazing children to come into the world. After I extricated myself from the second one, though, I didn’t want to even think about being with another man. As cliché as it sounds, I spent the next nine and a half years healing myself. My practice of Nichiren Buddhism helped me take responsibility for my role in each situation, as my natural inclination was to hate the players instead of the game I chose to be a part of, and move on.
I found a therapist who helped me understand my poor choices in mates. I realized that I had not thought well enough of myself. If I had, I would not have chosen men who could not prioritize me. With that knowledge, I carried on with my life, writing and publishing a novel, raising my children, caring for my aging parents and embracing my friendships. At one point during my lengthy hiatus, I was walking around Washington, D.C., my adopted city, with a close friend, and she noted, “You don’t even look up.” What she meant was I didn’t pay attention to men who showed interest in me. She was correct; I could not have cared less.
But a few months after her remark, the ice around my heart began to thaw. As I was writing down my goals for 2006 — the year I turned 52 — I acknowledged that I had a desire for a relationship. That felt huge and a little scary, so I decided on something bite-size instead — a kiss. (I hadn’t had one in almost 10 years!) Not just any kiss. I wanted the kind you feel all the way down to your toes, the kind that makes you dizzy and feverish. I knew it would happen, but when, where, how and from whom? I didn’t have a clue.
I started looking up and smiling back at male strangers, giving out my phone number, even going on a few dates, but it was like getting back on a bike after many years. The wheels felt wobbly and the pedals were stiff. And none of them were kiss material.
When November 2006 came to a close, bringing mounds of snow but no kiss, I reminded myself that I still had one month left to pucker up. Around that time I thought about a guy I met in law school back home in Boston during the mid- 1970s. He really liked me but didn’t have enough swagger in him for my tastes, so I turned him down. All those years later, his unabashed interest, corny jokes and pleasant demeanor seemed very endearing. Last time I checked, though, Chuck Walker was married.
We had dinner once 15 or so years out of law school when he passed through Washington. He spent the whole time sharing adorable stories about his daughters. I remembered feeling comfortable with him and talking late into the night — all very platonic and above board — but when we parted he said, “You know I’m going to be your third husband.” I laughed it off dismissively because, like I said, he was married, but never forgot it. Eventually, Chuck and his wife crept toward divorce.
On December 3, 2006, I got the kiss of life! It rocked my world and shook up my karma. It was a kiss as big as the universe! Instantly, I was excited but also frightened. I didn’t know what to do with the burst of feelings that had been packed away for years.
I couldn’t sleep. Chuck told me later that he stayed up all night, too. Another friend, wiser than me, said, “It’s good that your heart is open now after being closed for so long. Don’t be afraid.”
Over time, Chuck continued to steadily and consistently romance me with flowers, serenades, declarations of his love and how beautiful he thought I was. I was not used to this treatment, but I began to enjoy feeling adored and acknowledged to myself that I deserved it.
With him, my previously stone heart finally felt safe.
The other great benefit that I hadn’t anticipated was Chuck’s love for and devotion to my parents. Ironically, Chuck was a mentee of my dad, one of the first black judges in Boston, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. (He reminded me not long ago that, via my father’s invitation, he was actually present at my first wedding.) While I was away, he began regularly checking on my dad. My mother developed Alzheimer’s and was moved to a nursing home.
On the sixth anniversary of our first kiss, Chuck suggested we go “ring shopping.”He proposed a few months later in my mother’s nursing home room with my dad present. (He told me he wanted to do it before either of my parents left this earth.) Like the old-school guy he is, he dropped to one knee. My father said, “I don’t have my hearing aids on, but I see what’s happening” and told Chuck he was a “class act.”
We had our dream wedding on May 11, 2013, after going through couple’s counseling. At first, Chuck balked, but now he is appreciative and credits the counselor with helping us stave off problems. He even recommends it for all couples rather than waiting until there is a crisis.
But our relationship has not been without challenges. Chuck belongs to the Church of God in Christ, and we planned a Buddhist/Christian ceremony. Although his minister had met me and seemingly approved our union, he announced that he could not perform an “unevenly yoked” marriage just 10 days before the wedding. This gave Chuck pause, which pissed me off, but we found a minister (an old friend of his) who, along with my Buddhist officiant, created a magnificent day.
Our grown children are still adjusting to our relationship because, no matter how old, most children want their parents to be together. My daughter even commented that when I die, she plans to bury me with her father. (One more reason to write out one’s final wishes. LOL.)
It was not easy for me to relocate to Boston, or for us to pack and unpack two households, sell both our houses and merge our finances, but we did. We have grown individually as well as together and continue to do so.
Chuck and I are friends and lovers.
Our union was written up in the New York Times wedding section, and the author of a book on older people finding love contacted us. She asked us to give advice for other couples. Mine: “Make sure you are great friends.” Chuck’s: “Make sure you share an intimate kiss at least once a day!”
Tricia Elam Walker, a lawyer and college administrator, is author of the novel, Breathing Room.