I have my mother's permission to publish this article.
My 81-year-old mother is giddy. “I feel like a teenager,” she tells me through the phone. My mother goes on to explain that the previous week she had been waiting for a bus on a bitterly cold day, heading off to her snooker class, when a classy elderly gentleman in a black SUV pulled over and offered her a ride. (Yes, my mother takes snooker classes. She was taking line-dancing classes, too, but the teaching style didn't work for her.)
“Are you trustworthy?” my mother asked him through the open passenger window.
“I think I am,” he replied. My mother pauses her story and then repeats the line, ‘I think I am,’ with a calm and confident tone, rather than the questioning tone she initially used, because the gentleman was calm and confident when he said, ‘I think I am.’
Satisfied that she was safe, my mother climbed into the SUV, and off they went.
“He was quiet, so I did most of the talking,” my mother says. “But now I’m kicking myself because I didn’t ask for his phone number. I could have told him that I’d like to buy him a coffee sometime as thanks for the ride.”
With the exception of one 3-year relationship, my mother has been single since she and my father ended their marriage almost forty years ago. Many times over the years I have heard my mother celebrate her freedom and independence. Indeed, she has always been the most enthusiastic and stalwart single person I’ve known. Nonetheless, every few years interest in romance comes alive in her heart.
“Maybe I’ll meet a man,” I’ve heard her say more than once, often before setting off on one of her travels. And, now and again my mother reports that an astrologer or a psychic told her she might meet someone.
My mother was not fed the kind of love that children need in order to learn how to trust that a relationship can be a place for intimacy and autonomy, for healthy dependence and healthy independence, for freedom and surrender. How much of my mother’s love of her single life has been due to her personality and how much has been a response to the pain of not being adored, cherished as a child, or even wanted, or held close, or held much at all? I don’t know. But I do know that the pain of not being held and wanted as a child cuts very deeply into the heart. And I am certain that the longing to love and be loved, to bond, is never lost, no matter how far it is sent into exile.
“I have a plan,” my mother tells me with excitement that truly does remind me, wonderfully, of the energy of a teenager.
“I will go to the same bus stop at the same time and day as when he picked me up last week. Maybe he travels that route each week on a consistent schedule.” And then she laughs. To me, it sounds as though she is laughing at the odds of her plan succeeding while also laughing with a joyful desire to try anyway. I love the plan. Sure, the odds are not good, but the payoff… romance is always worth a long shot.
A week after the call with my mother I’m in a grocery store staring at a stack of aged Gouda cheese that is on sale. I love aged Gouda and the sale is significant. One block of Gouda is already tucked into my shopping bag. But I linger and consider buying another block for my mother; she, too, loves aged Gouda. I’m imagining her delight at receiving the aged Gouda in the mail while also weighing the cost of shipping when a voice next to me proclaims, “That is the best cheese in the world!” I turn to the voice and look into the beautiful, dark-brown eyes of the gorgeous woman who has just hailed to the glory of said aged Gouda.
To say that I am caught off guard by this woman and her passion for aged Gouda, would be a fair assessment. But I do my best to rise to the occasion.
“I know!” I say with enthusiasm as I show her the block of aged Gouda in my bag.
“I’ve already got one and I’m considering another!” I’ll admit that I could have put more passion into my voice, but it was a start.
“Good,” she says, flashing a lovely smile and nodding with fun-loving approval. Over the course of the next millisecond, I scramble around in my mind, searching for something more to say, something witty and intelligent and bold.
“I’m thinking of getting one for my mother,” is all I can come up with. (I promise you this: the next time a Gouda Goddess greets me with such gusto in the cheese aisle, I will be ready. I will have a bucketload of lines that I’ll have thought of and stored away for such an occasion.)
In response to my idea of giving my mother a block of the world’s best cheese, the Gouda Goddess flashes another smile, begins walking away, and says in parting, “Great idea. I’m a mother and I would love to be given that cheese.” It’s a very large and busy grocery store and she disappears into the throngs of shoppers. Needless to say, I grab a block of aged Gouda for my mother. Heck, I grab another one for myself. A bubbling feeling is bouncing around my body, a feeling that I would have to describe as, you guessed it, giddy.
I continue my shopping, trying to remember what I need while wondering if I might bump into the Gouda Goddess again. Maybe she’s a single mother... maybe she’ll be in the frozen foods section… maybe she’ll be in the checkout line…
Did I see the Gouda Goddess again? Did the classy gentleman in the black SUV find my mother waiting for him by the same bus stop? The answers to those questions may seem important (who doesn’t love a fledgling romance), but what is more important to me is to romance all of life, the highs and the lows, the longing and the fulfillment, the aloneness and togetherness. If we don’t romance it all, then we will almost certainly put far too much pressure on a romantic relationship to fulfill our need for love and to save us from the things we don’t want to face or feel. Or, we may feel ashamed or depressed about being single or about being in an unfulfilling relationship. If we are willing to open our hearts and deepen our connection to the highs and the lows, we can have an ongoing rich and rewarding romance with ourselves, with others, and with life.
Of course, a romance with someone new is a wonderful thing to celebrate. But equally wonderful is gaining the capacity to love a part of yourself that you had buried away or even hated. I have had the honour of supporting people to romance aspects of themselves that they had buried away, romancing these aspects by opening their hearts to them and cultivating a loving connection. I have helped people who have rarely shed a tear for their entire adult lives open their hearts and grieve pain or loss that they had held for many years. That kind of heart-opening and deepening of connection is a wonderful as any other kind of romance you can think of.
If the classy gentleman doesn’t find my mother again, I know that she will open her heart and build a connection with the feelings that arise in her and with the parts that long to connect intimately with a man. That’s what my mother does, in her own way, and that is why she maintains a zest for life and an adventurous spirit like few others I know. And I have my own ways of romancing my emotions and inner parts, and those romances often lead me to write new songs or discover new dance moves or breathe more fully or open more courageously. And so, for this holiday season and this darkest time of the year, I offer a toast to a broader and deeper definition of romance.
And now, I'm going to go and romance a piece of Aged Gouda cheese.