Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I’m a 55-year-old widow. I was happily married for 30 years. Before he died four years ago, my husband Jack asked his closest friends to fix me up with a great guy. Not that year, of course, but in the years ahead. He asked seven couples to do this. Each promised him they would. Did they? Never. Not one of them. Do you have any suggestions for how I can meet my next husband?
Hopeful in Harrisburg, PA
I’m brimming with suggestions on this topic. One of them is going to work.
ENLISTING HELP FROM OTHERS
Let’s start with those seven couples. It’s appalling that none of them made an effort to introduce you to anyone in the past three years. The first year, I understand. If you’re still in touch with any of them, send an email, copying all the others: “I miss Jack every day of my life, but I’m ready to meet any of your male friends you think would be appropriate for me. I remember that you promised Jack you’d do this for him and for me, and I hope each of you will keep your promises. I’m eager to get back into the world of dating in the hope of finding a man worthy of being Jack’s successor in my life.”
Don’t hold your breath for an introduction from any of them.
Rule 1: Inform everyone else you know — including doctors and your dentist — that you’re ready to move on to the next chapter of your life. I mention doctors and dentists because they know so many people so well. I have a good friend whose marriage came about because she mentioned to her dentist that she was ready to re-marry and her dentist told an eligible man that the only appointment time he had was when my friend would be in his waiting room.
Then his nurse announced to them both that the dentist was working on an emergency root canal and was sorry they’d both have to wait. Within six months they were married. There was no root canal. The dentist had an inkling they’d like each other and could start getting to know each other while waiting to see him. And you thought dentists only caused pain.
Think of yourself as a detective. If you were a detective, would you leave any stone unturned? Your motto from now on is: “You never know who will introduce you to the second Mr. Right in your life.” Send out emails to all your friends, including from high school and college, if you attended. Someone you haven’t been in touch with in decades may know just the man for you, but would never know you’re ready to date without a clear signal from you. So send out a clear (but not desperate) signal. You could add a few words about what you’re doing these days, what you did between high school and now, and what you especially loved (and now miss) about Jack, but end with a clear statement that you’re ready to begin a new chapter in your life and you look forward to reconnecting with them and with any men they think would be appropriate. Scour your brain! Go to Facebook, go to your high school’s web site, find every email address you can to reconnect with everyone you’ve known over your lifetime. As anyone who’s attended a high school reunion will attest, it won’t matter that these men and women haven’t heard from you in 35+ years. The time melts away when you’re in touch with friends from your youth. Find them and write to them. Also inform members of the clergy, absolutely everyone whom you know and trust, that you’re ready. Neighbors, too, can be good sources of appropriate men. Maybe your dry cleaner knows of a man your age who never brings women’s clothes or children’s snowsuits to be cleaned. Maybe your favorite salesman in your local hardware store knows just the widower for you. But first, three warnings:
This column is for women over 50. It’s on the Internet, so anyone can read it, but in terms of acting on this advice, you have to be at least 50: it takes about half a century to be able to do the things I advise without getting into trouble. What kind of trouble? Man trouble. Big, bad man trouble. To repeat: This isn’t advice for any woman under 50. And it’s not advice for men at all, although men may well find it helpful to understand the feminine perspective. Advice on how men can find Ms. Right will be published next Tuesday.
This will not be brief. It’s the distillation of a lifetime of experience and observations. If you wanted a short answer, you shouldn’t have asked a question of such monumental profundity, magnitude, and major significance to the entire human race, especially to you.
THIRD WARNING: IT’S A WHOLE NEW WORLD OUT THERE
It’s not 1977 — the year you and Jack got married — anymore. It’s a whole new world. If you want to remarry, and your friends haven’t come through in introducing you to an appropriate man, you may have to resort to one of the acronyms of our era: DIY.
You may have to find the man yourself. I’m not referring to Internet dating. Despite all the treacly ads, I wouldn’t go there. You can find others who will advise you to go that route, but I’m not among them. One man I greatly respect found his wife through Match.com and they’re very happily married.
LEARN TO SEPARATE THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
YOU ARE NOW YOUR OWN PRIVATE EYE, AND DON’T FORGET IT
There’s no substitute for sizing up a man in person. But in this new world of highly detailed information available on the Internet, I cannot advise you more strongly than I do not to give your first or last name, your email address, your telephone number, your home address or even the general neighborhood where you live, or your place of employment to any man you meet in public. Get his email address, full name, and telephone number. Tell him you’ll contact him and the subject line will read, “From the person you met at the [give name of supermarket] on Wednesday, August 31.” You are not being paranoid nor am I being paranoid to suggest some “due diligence.” Remember, you’re not trying to uncover every twist and turn of a man’s life. You just want to be sure to rule out — in advance — two specific problems:
What is the main characteristic (other than a rap sheet) you’re trying to detect? A married man. A married man is worse than spending the rest of your life alone. A married man is, by definition, a liar and a cheat. To whom is he lying and whom is he cheating? That would be the woman he promised “to love and to cherish till death do us part.” He can be God’s gift to humanity, a surgeon who goes to Third World countries to operate on the wretched of the earth. He can be a dentist who flies to Haiti for Operation Smile. It doesn’t matter. If he’s married, he’s off-limits. He’s trouble. He’s heartache. He’s the perfect answer to your prayer to be hurt like you’ve never been hurt in your life. He’s the person who’ll make you want a 300-year-old oak to fall on your car, crushing the life out of you so your family will avoid the post-mortem humiliation of your suicide. He’s the guarantee that if you have king-sized sheets, you’ll end up with a 108-inch handkerchief into which you’ll blow your nose and cry yourself to sleep for months on end. He is, in short, a very bad idea.
Start by checking for a wedding ring. Far from dispositive, since many married men never wear them, but it’s a start. And of course, if you see a non-sun tanned band on a tanned ring finger where a wedding ring would be, you can bet your bottom dollar that the ring is in his pocket, secreted there while he was talking to you.
After getting his contact information from him, go to www.whitepages.com and see if he’s listed as living with any women. If you Google “search for people online” you’ll find many additional ways to find more information about anyone you meet.
Your research should also include calling his home from a phone that isn’t yours to see if a woman answers or if you get a voicemail message saying, “Janet and John aren’t home now.” Funny how he never mentioned Janet when you met him. That’s his prerogative, the scumbag, but it’s your responsibility to yourself to discover if “Janet” exists before you take your first sip of latte with him.
* * * * *
The next point may seem obvious, but it bears stating: you will not meet your next husband when you’re at home — unless you have a lot of home repairs done with a lot of men, as it were, coming and going. Other than finding a plumber-husband or a painter-husband — which could be great — my first piece of advice is: get out of your house or apartment. But read this column first.
GETTING READY FOR YOUR RE-ENTRY INTO THE WORLD OF MEN: LOOKS MATTER — YOURS
Rule 2: Don’t go out without looking your best. I don’t mean getting all dolled up, but look as you would if you and your husband were going to the movies together, or going out for a casual dinner with friends. You’d wear some make-up, wash your hair, and generally look as good as you could without going all-out.
Rule 3: That brings up your appearance in general. It’s important. It’s not the only thing that matters, but to pretend it doesn’t matter at all is like living on an absolutely charming but different planet.
Down here on Earth, a woman has to help nature along, or work with nature to achieve the best results. You could say, “Belladonna, I’m never going to look like Catherine Zeta-Jones.”
The point is, you could look like the best possible version of yourself. Here’s an analogy to keep in mind. A college student who failed his first midterm exam went to see his professor. “How can I get an A?” he asked. His professor replied, “First figure out how to get a C.” How do you get a C? Or even a B?
a. Lose unneeded pounds. Even if you never meet the man of your dreams, you’ll live a healthier life and be freer of all manner of illnesses from arthritis to diabetes to heart disease to high blood pressure — to name but a few conditions where extra weight doesn’t help. There is no condition where being overweight is an advantage, except being a Sumo wrestler. Then it’s invaluable.
You can tell yourself as much as you like that some big men like big women. That’s true. But those big women will not be as healthy as they would be if they lost their extra pounds. Same goes for men.
b. Makeup: I’m not an advocate of the loaded-for-bear look — the slash of scarlet lips, the turquoise eye shadow, the “blush” that looks like the aftermath of an assault, the Tammy Faye Bakker mascara. Far from it. But any woman over 50 who thinks she looks “natural” without a touch of make-up is absolutely correct, and is also making a major mistake. Not everything “natural” is a plus. As Michelle Pfeiffer says in the comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman, “Think about it. Tobacco is natural, Prozac is unnatural. Earthquakes are natural, television is unnatural.”
In real life, it takes a good deal of make-up to look appealingly natural. So, let’s get going.
c. A word about changing your hair color: as a general rule, don’t. Many women do it very successfully, but many, alas, don’t. Please be very careful. You may think that a happy brunette or reddish rinse will hide all the gray and make you look 30 years younger. Actually, no. What it will do is make your hair have glints of crepuscular purple or other-worldly coppery tones, colors that look better as a vehicle’s paint job than as a woman’s dye job. You won’t look genuine, authentic, or real. Subconsciously, this will translate to the male brain as this: if she’s trying to hide her gray hair, what else is she trying to hide? It’s like your reaction to a toupee. First you spend a lot of time wondering if it is or isn’t. Once you decide it is, you can’t help but wonder what else is the wearer hiding? Note how stunning Jamie Lee Curtis looks with her silvery gray hair:
She looks gorgeous, confident and real. She wouldn’t if she tried to hide the gray. Real men aren’t afraid of being with a woman with gray hair. CNN’s brilliant, luminous Jill Dougherty has never looked more beautiful than she does today:
Rule 4: Get a free makeup lesson. Did you know that cosmetics counters in big department stores will give you a free makeup session? Be sure to begin by telling the salesperson that you want makeup for everyday, and specifically for daytime, not for a special occasion. Their default mode is to make you up for an evening event and that’s not what you want because you’re not going to meet your next husband in a bar, a dance-hall, or any other dark and sultry place.
The cosmetics salesperson will make you up, and will also want you to buy the products you try on. But you don’t have to buy them. How can you avoid it? By bringing with you a blank piece of white paper or a notebook. Whenever the salesperson suggests a lipstick, ask him or her to dab a little on your paper. Write down the name of the product next to the dab. Same with the eye-liner pencil, the eye shadow, the makeup base, and blush.
Treat this experience as a tutorial. Ask questions. If the salesperson advises you to stay away from lipsticks with “blue” in them, ask for an explanation. They have their own color language that most of us don’t understand. They see blue where you see pinks or reds. Get them to explain every suggestion they make — not as if you’re challenging their authority, but because you want to learn.
When the session is over, thank the salesperson and say that you now want to go outside to see how the makeup looks in natural light. Make sure to bring a good-sized mirror in your purse that day.
Department stores and cosmetics shops use very flattering lights. Mother Nature doesn’t, except at night. There’s nothing more cruel than sunlight. OK, water-boarding.
Go outdoors, take out the mirror, and look very carefully at how all that makeup looks in the harsh light of day. If any of the colors look good in daylight, put a check next to the color on your piece of white paper or in your notebook. That means it’s a good color to buy. Any color that looks ghastly in the harsh light of day, cross off your list.
If everything you see in your mirror in daylight looks horrible, go back and tell the cosmetics person, “You know, I bet this would look great anywhere with lighting that’s like what you have here inside the store, but I need a look I can wear outdoors. Could we start all over again and try for some colors that won’t look as if I’m very made-up?”
If the answer is no, don’t worry. Just walk over to a different counter of a different cosmetics manufacturer. They all do the same free makeup session. Say you’ve just had a session at one counter and you went outside and found the colors too garish for daytime. Remove all the makeup from the first counter and start over.
Ultimately, if you devote enough time to this you’ll get a great new look.
Now what do you do? If money is no object, you could buy the suggested cosmetics at the department store. But if money is tight, take your white sheet of paper with your favorite lipstick and other makeup colors that you’ve checked off, and head to your local Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, or CVS and match the colors that looked best to less costly equivalents.