Shirley’s Two Cents

(questions warmly welcomed)
Dear Shirley:

I’m writing this not because I need help, but because my Mom does. My Mom lost her husband — my Dad — five years ago, and she’s mourned her loss ever since.  I understand that. If my wonderful husband died, I would take it hard, too. But even though I tell her that her life isn’t over — so far as having another man in her life is concerned –she seems to think it is.

Not that she’s totally miserable. She has girlfriends and volunteers at our community hospital. But I think she’s missing out on the love and affection a partner could light up her life with. Should I give up? Is she a lost cause? Or is there a way — besides nagging which doesn’t seem to work — to get her dating again?


Dear Regina:

Funny you should ask.  The first chapter in our book is entitled “Minnie’s Makeover,” and it’s all about a similar problem I had with my own Mom after my father died. It had been a bad marriage, and I suspect that in some ways she was relieved that it was over.  Still she was clearly lonely, and whenever I visited, I’d find her sitting listlessly in the living room in a house dress eating potato chips and watching TV. Maybe she thought her life was over, but I didn’t. I lured her out of her apartment in Lawrence, MA and into mine in New York but telling her how much happier she’d be surrounded by her grandchildren.

She took the bait and I proceeded to do a total makeover on her — clothing, hairdo, even bunions and the unsightly hair growing on her chin. I put her on a diet, helped her into an up-to-date wardrobe, and presto, after an ad in a local paper brought interested responses, within six months she was married. And very happily. When her husband died five years later, she told me they had been the happiest years of her life. And she whispered, “And I never knew that sex could be so wonderful.”

There’s a lot more that you can read in the chapter. The point is that it really is never too late to date — my mother was in her 60s — and (I hate to sound like a commercial, but how else can I say it?) the book will give you lots of tips about cyberspace dating and a lot more that can help you get a man for your Mama. It’s a little crude  to say that having a man in her life will get her off your back — because your concern tells me how much you love her — but I guarantee that helping her find a new partner will be good for both of you.

So good luck and happy hunting!


Dear Shirley:

I’m dating a kind and generous man who is retired, but now, because of what the stock market did to his 401K nest-egg, is cautious about picking  up our restaurant, movie, and other expenses. I sympathize, but I can’t help  feeling envious when my best friend tells me about the expensive gifts her boyfriend buys her and the up-front seats for the opera. What would you do? What do you think I should I do?


Dear Abbey:

I have a friend whose man recently bought her a $12,000 bracelet at Tiffany’s. (She wore it once and then buried it in her bank safe deposit box.) He pays for all their travel, too — cruises, the works. Then again, I have a friend whose man isn’t nearly as free with his funds, but they get along like Adam and Eve before she picked the apple. Lasting relationships aren’t built on mattresses stuffed with $100 bills. We’re all waiting for the  Recession to end, and eventually it will. (It better.) Until then, if you really like your guy — and it sounds like you do — be patient, go places  “dutch,” and enjoy every minute with him. Confucius may not have said it, but “it’s better to have a good man’s arms around you  than a diamond necklace around your neck.”


Dear Shirley:

My man is retired. I work three days a week as a consultant. He wants to be with me all the time all the other days. I guess I should be flattered, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but it’s too much. To be perfectly candid, it’s getting so I can’t stand it. How would you handle it?

— Betsy

Dear Betsy:

You have to be perfectly candid — not just to me, but to him. Don’t keep what you’re thinking a secret. Communication connects. Without it, there’s a disconnect, and that only leads to trouble. So tell him what’s on your mind before you lose it. If there’s a thorn in the side of your relationship, don’t let it get infected. Yank it out. The only people who can tolerate being with someone else every possible minute of every possible day are Siamese twins. And that’s only because they have no other choice. So be honest. Tell him everybody needs space now and then. And then make nice. Close the conversation with a big hug and a long kiss.

— Shirley

Dear Shirley:

I’m involved with a man who is very religious, and I’m not and never have been. He goes to church regularly and teaches Sunday morning bible classes. I’d rather play tennis, so I find myself bickering about his inclinations, and he’s not crazy about what he calls my atheism. Should I just move on? (Truthfully, I like him too much, Like the song says, “with all his faults, I love him still.”) What are my options? Besides dumping him, that is.

— Virginia

Dear Virginia:

This is not an easy one. You could take him to New York City to the Darwin and other Evolution exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, but that’s not likely to change his mind. He could take you to an exorcist, but that’s not going to change your mind either. What you need is a meeting of the minds and the only way that’s going ot happen is through compromise and tolerance. Looking ahead, maybe you can persuade him to drop his Bible class for a semester or so and take up tennis. Or, if that’s just not going to happen, just tell yourself that nobody’s perfect and live with it. I don’t know any man who’s flawless — or any woman for that matter. You might try that old-fashioned “Make a List” approach with a yellow pad. His good points. His “bad” points. If the good outnumber the bad by a large enough margin, you’re a very lucky lady. You don’t have to go to his Bible class. Just live and let live.

— Shirley

Dear Shirley:

The man in my life is what used to be called “the strong silent type,” but truthfully, he’s more silent than strong. When we go out to dinner with friends, after he’s ordered, he hardly says another word. Except maybe, “Please pass the salt and pepper.” When we have friends at my house, he disappears into the kitchen to wash the dishes or to his room to check his e-mails. I sometimes wonder how I ever hooked up with him. Maybe I was doing so much talking that he got out of the habit. But he is a very kind man. He’s a retired chemical engineer and very smart. Ask a question and he either knows the answer or goes right to his computer and finds out. And, I guess, one other thing. He’s not the least bit shy in bed. So you know what? I think I’ve answered my question before I even asked it. I’m hooked up and I’m going to stay hooked. — Janice

Dear Janice: You sure made it easy for me. Thanks.

— Shirley

Dear Shirley:

I met a very attractive man at a course I was taking at our community college, and we went from dating into a relationship. Along the way he’s gone from being “the perfect gentleman” to domineering and even abusive. I really love him and I’d hate to lose him and have to start looking all over again. What would you do?

— Sybil

Dear Sybil: In two words: Dump him. A man like that will never change. He’ll only get worse. Get out of that relationship while the getting’s good, It’s better to carry on with a slightly bruised heart — which will heal soon enough — than with a bruised body. And from what you say, that’s the direction you’re headed in with Mr. Imperfect. And don’t worry about having “to start looking all over again.” There are tens of thousands of lonely guys out there and your computer allows you to pick and choose. You got one. You can get another. Just persist, persist, persist. And better luck next time!
— Shirley

Dear Shirley:

I’m 60 and a widow. I’d love to have a man in my life, but I’ve always been shy and I’m afraid of rejection. Got any suggestions for me?

— Felicia

Dear Felicia:

Someone once told me that the first step in building the George Washington Bridge was to tow (or maybe they fired it) a single cable across the Hudson River. Little by little, the rest of the bridge rose on that slender steel thread. Relationships can be built the same way — closing the gap between a man and a woman at a museum, in a restaurant, even in a bus or on a train. They can start with a compliment: “I love that tie you’re wearing.” Or, “You have a wonderful smile.” (And if you’re feeling really brave, continue with, “Hmm, are you available?”)

Bridge-building can begin with an observation: “I notice you’ve been admiring that painting. What is it about it that grabs you?” In a restaurant with an interesting looking man alone at the next table, leaning over, it might be, “There are so many good things on the menu I can’t make up my mind? What looks good to you?” The big secret is that men want to meet women as much as women want to meet men. There are golden- moment opportunities everywhere,and when they come along, you can either build a wall of silence or a bridge. Make it happen. If it doesn’t, if the man in the museum excuses himself and moves on, don’t take it personally. Sometimes (as Sarah Palen was tempted to do) we build Bridges to Nowhere. Press your Bravery Button and when the next opportunity comes your way, seize it. Build a Bridge to Someone. Someone really nice.


Dear Shirley:

I’ve been seeing a really interesting man for six weeks, and I’m beginning to think he’s the guy for me. I feel warm and loving toward him, but I think it’s too early to sleep with him. Or is it? Is there “a right time?” And should I wait for him to suggest it, so I won’t seem too aggressive? — Jodie

Dear Jodie: There is only one right time — when the time feels right to both of you. And I guarantee that if you’re ready, so is he. So go for it — but not until he gets an HIV test. That’s not an easy subject to raise, but in this case candor is the best and only policy. Older men have gotten a lot more active sexually since Viagra brightened so many bedroom doors. They’ve also gotten — and the statistics bear this out — a lot more STDs. This is one thing you don’t want to live with the rest of your life, so testing is as important for 50-, 60-, and 70-somethings as it is for elementary school pupils. But to show him that you’re playing fair and being sensible, tell him that you’ll get an HIV test, too.


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