This is a piece I published in an anthology years ago. I’d just read about the Secretaries of Juliet in Verona. These ladies provide advice to lovelorn souls who leave their messages of lost passion behind. Love as an older person has so many differences from the narrow view of romance portrayed in the media, perpetuated by writers (and I find myself among that number). Without further ado, “Wait Juliet.”
Upon reading about the labors of the Secretaries of Juliet to the lovelorn, I thought of two great advice givers. One was Yogi Berra, who said, “Never answer an anonymous letter,” and the other, Oscar Wilde: “The only good thing to do with advice is to pass it on. It is never of use to oneself.” Giving advice about love is a perilous profession. As a woman of a certain age, I feel qualified to do anything but give advice on love; describing my familiarity with love between the elderly should not be considered advice, merely musings.
Falling in love at forty-something isn’t the simplest course, nor is it advisable for anyone of any age to consider love among the gray-haired straightforward. It has no fifty shades, I assure you. The first thing one realizes when diagnosed as an antique romantic is this – the object of your affection may be obligated to spend a lot of time overlooking old habits, a sagging stomach and past mishaps. Hope may spring eternal, but patience? Ah, that’s another matter. And when anyone whose title has the prefix “ex” comes into play, love’s risky lack of rulebooks can cause well-warranted discomfort. Consider new beginnings when time itself has a slender brittleness. When you wonder how long you will have to share your beloved’s company, love which sees its own end however distant, fate’s compassion seems more curse than blessing. So this lover did exactly what romantics tend to: look toward the past, for nostalgia, inspiration, and denial. At 56, I became a novelist specializing in romance. Unanticipated, perhaps immature – but sustaining. When two lifelong passions intersect, madness ensues.
Hope being essential to the cause of love and productivity in later years, insanity possesses its own twisted logic. My lover became my reader, exploring paths of imagination long abandoned. My dovetailed careers became one, and I received the imprimatur of my beloved to follow the muse. In earlier years, I was parent. In later ones, my children stare back at me, wondering what fate has wrought other than acceptance of self and the occasional rejection letters that prompt insecurity to burst from its hiding place, pouncing on the unsuspecting. Such disappointments life brings, and strides are broken, not lost.
In the twilight of years, but the rediscovery of passion, pragmatism and compromise are key. Yes, you’re accustomed to showering with volcanically hot water, but now, there is a second in line who is doomed to the morning deep freeze. The love poet now leaves messages on the refrigerator’s white board: “milk, bread, onions.” The cold slap of reality strikes. Regrettably, you realize, even after years together, the habits you enter the relationship with are ones most likely to survive.
None of this is intended to deny the beauty of this minor miracle, the rebirth of passion and purpose fading-rose-romance brings. Our daily kisses, a mutual smile and the depth of our conversations still steals my breath away. I utter prayers for my single friends who wish for true commitment, a love which contributes intimacy and solace. My good fortune brings with it the fear of loss comingled with gratitude and survivor guilt.
I can testify to my thanks for falling in love in my later years. Despite its pitfalls and my own foibles, I have found love with someone whose decision made as a mature adult led me to feel confident about the future, despite its possible brevity. Length of time, or the lack of it, does not detract from the lovely; it adds poignancy, intensity, and meaning. This weekend, I was choosing some Queen Anne’s Lace, planning to press it in a book for later use in a scrapbook. These unique flat white blossoms dot the roadsides; if one didn’t look closely enough, they might be just another weed. Of course, lovely floral Juliets in bloom were chosen for pressing, but my eye was also drawn to the round green globes the aging flowers became. When the blooms themselves are spent, they pull inward into a veined ball, their remaining seeds within, protecting them until fully dried and ready for fall. I picked a few older blossoms, too, because these summer snowflakes aren’t really weeds and should find a home in a garden, not mere display at the side of a road. I became fascinated looking at the spiky green structure holding them together until nature appeals, and they are reborn in their daughters, next summer’s Juliets.
I am sure the Secretaries of Juliet would concur with me, believing love grows even where unexpected. Love in the age of the green globe must be nurtured, cultivated, allowed in. Any love can seem all too brief, but hopeful choices, to seize another’s hand, even with its soon-to-be-protruding veins must be made.. So, Secretaries, you may be reluctant to give advice to senior citizen loveseekers, even if you have heard it all. Like Queen Anne’s Lace, each of the queries about love the good ladies respond to is a unique appeal to the wild impulses in us, even in those whose days of lithe loveliness are in the past. Those of us who now appear more like Juliet’s aging handmaiden are smiled upon when love and passion deliver us from solitude and yearning. Our letters on Verona’s wall, though they may have gone unheeded at first, are answered in their own time. Who knows how long time will allow us? All we can do is take our blood pressure medication, take our blessed pulse and take a moment each day to look in the face of our beloved and find sweetness.
Let’s visit again, y’all.