Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Q&A with Carolyn Lee Arnold




Carolyn Lee Arnold is the author of the new memoir Fifty First Dates After Fifty. A longtime social science researcher, she is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: What inspired you to write Fifty First Dates After Fifty?


A: I started writing it when I realized that the dating project I had designed for myself in my late 50s had not only been successful in finding me a partner, but had produced engaging stories, mostly because my approach to dating led to enjoyable experiences.


Women around my age were not always enjoying dating, and I wanted to share my dating approach and the hope that one could have fun dating and still find one’s partner.  


In my dating project, I gave myself the goal of going out with 50 different men to find my life partner. I saw dating as a research project—the men I dated represented different types of men to explore, so each date helped me determine what type of man and relationship I wanted.


None of the dates had the weight of ‘is this the one?” so I could enjoy each one more. I grew clearer on my vision of a partner and a relationship that would work for me, so I recognized him when he came along. 


Q: What impact did writing this memoir have on you?


A: Writing this memoir was challenging but enjoyable, as the dating project had been, and my life has been enriched by becoming a writer.


I relished the steep learning curve of making my experiences come alive for others in scenes, sensory details, and reflections, and my motivation to share my story kept me going until I felt proud of what I had written. Stepping into the community of writers has been an unexpected gift.


However, publishing this memoir has had a huge impact on my life—I have had to think of myself as larger and braver. I see now that not just my writing, but my personal experience is being judged by readers, because as a memoir writer, the story is me.


So I am learning to stand proudly behind my story, advocate for it, and protect my heart from harsh comments, just as I protected my heart from judgments while I was dating.

Q: Do you think your dating experiences after 50 differ significantly from those during your younger years?


A: Ironically, I had as much fun dating after 50 during this dating project as I had when I was in my 20s and 30s, because in both cases, I was taking each date lightly, and assumed that my real partner would appear sooner or later.


The difference was that when I was younger, this resulted in only short relationships of one to two years, whereas in this later period, I was definitely looking for —and found—someone to be with long-term.


The real contrast was between the dating years of my 40s and those after 50. I was miserable in my 40s, because I longed for a partner, but did not have the skills to choose the right one. So I continued the pattern of short relationships, only they were much more painful to leave because of that longing.


It was only after I started learning healthy relationship skills in personal growth workshops that I learned to choose friends, dates, and partners whom I truly loved and who reflected back the positive aspects of myself. 


Q: What do you think the book says about relationships, and what do you hope readers take away from your experiences?


A: My book shows that a few simple communication skills and attitude perspective shifts go a long way to enjoying not only dating, but the relationships that the dating leads to.


In workshops on love, intimacy, and sexuality put on by the Human Awareness Institute, I learned relating skills such as appreciating myself and others, respecting my own and others’ choices, the value of deep listening, the option of nonsexual touch, and the ability to not take things personally.


I brought these skills into dating, and my book illustrates how much they turned dating—and relationships—into a positive experience.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: During the pandemic, I wrote the first draft of the story of the 18 years I spent identifying as a lesbian from age 24 to age 42.


It takes place during the ‘70s and ‘80s, when there was pressure to be either lesbian or straight—being bisexual, let alone anywhere else on the sexual identity or gender continuum, was judged heavily by both sides. The word queer did not yet exist.


I want to show why a basically bisexual woman chose to be a lesbian (that part’s easy – who wouldn’t want to be a lesbian during the heady years of lesbian-feminist community building in the 1970s?), but also why she chose to “go back” to men after enjoying identifying as a lesbian for 18 years.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I definitely chose the right partner! We’ve been together for over 10 years now, thanks to the relationships skills we have, and also because we are so compatible.


We love living together romantically on long weekends, and enjoy time alone in our own houses during the week. We have the same high energy level, and our daily balance of work and play is also aligned.


Most days together we work in the morning and into the afternoon – me writing and he doing his research—and then go for a hike or bike ride or walk. Most of our pre-pandemic trips were active hiking trips, and we have kept up the hiking locally. In the evenings we enjoy each other or being with friends.


Agreeing on those balances of time apart/together and work/play has been crucial for a loving, romantic, and supportive relationship.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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