Saturday, January 14, 2023

Q&A with Nan Bauer-Maglin




Nan Bauer-Maglin is the editor, with Daniel E. Hood, of the new anthology Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60. Her other books include Widows' Words. She is professor emerita at the City University of New York. 


Q: What inspired the idea for Gray Love, and how did you select the stories that appear in the book?


A: I turned to writing about personal issues early on in my career---ever since I remarried and inherited a blended family. Any family issue that perplexed me and I assumed did so for others became fodder for a book.


I wanted to hear how other people dealt with being a stepmother and having stepchildren so I put together collections first on stepfamilies, and then on retirement, death and dying, being dumped from a long-term relationship, first-time parenting after 40, among a few others.


I considered my books conscious-raising groups in print. I wanted to hear a rich variety of voices and how they dealt with a specific condition or experience like widowhood.


A little over a year after my husband of 36 years died of pancreatic cancer, I ventured onto OkCupid and I was approaching 76 and like most seniors, I knew little about modern dating practices. No longer the bar, the workplace, the friend of a friend, now meeting online is displacing all other ways to connect. Senior singles in America make up one of the fastest growing demographics in online dating. So, I figured I would try.


While I navigated the online marketplace, I was anxious to hear from other old people about their dating adventures. Thus, the germ of Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60 was born. BTW, most books I looked at then (around 2017) were about dating as a young person; a few briefly covered age 50, but almost none went into depth regarding older people and dating.


To find writers, my co-editor and I wrote a call for stories that we distributed to friends and colleagues and posted online on various sites. It was a snowball effect. It was important to have some diversity in the pieces: many more women than men wanted to write, so we reached out to specific people we were told about.


Forty-five people contributed to the volume: 13 men and 32 women. Four pieces are authored by couples. Contributors’ ages range from 59 to 94—one going on 60, 11 are in their 60s, 20 in their 70s, another 11 in their 80s, and two in their 90s.


More details about Gray Love contributors: Place of residence: New York City, 13; New York State, 7; New Jersey, 7; North Carolina, 3; Ohio, 2; Florida, 2; California, 2; Pennsylvania, 2; England, 2; Oregon, 1; Virginia, 1; Wisconsin, 1; Canada, 1; and Denmark, 1. Most identify as white; two as African American, one as Chinese American, and one as Latina.


In terms of sexual orientation, most identify as heterosexual, two as homosexual, and one as lesbian. Some have designated their religion as Jewish or Christian, often clarifying with words like “born Protestant” or “culturally Jewish,” while others wrote: none, atheist, Buddhist, Dharma practicing, mixed religion. Others did not answer the question at all.


The people writing here represent a significant segment in the United States. People over 60 account for 22 percent of the total population—we are 73 million in all—and that number is expected to rise to 26 percent by 2030. The New York Times writes: “The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that between 2010 and 2050 the number of people aged sixty-five to eighty-nine will double, and the number over ninety will quadruple.”


Putting together a book of writings by people over 60 has its drawbacks: two of the subjects of two different essays have died since submitting their stories. There are also joys: reports of two marriages and one couple relocating so they can be closer to each other.


Q: How did you and Daniel Hood collaborate on the project?


A: I asked Dan to co-edit the book (we met on Match) as I especially wanted to get a man’s perspective. When we first met, I was working on the manuscript for Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, The First Year, The Long Haul, and Everything In Between. I asked him to help me with the endnotes.


Given his experience with his own books (most recently Redemption and Recovery: Parallels of Religion and Science in Addiction Treatment), he took over what was causing me a lot of anxiety. I understood then that he would be a good coeditor for a book I was contemplating on dating.


Together we wrote and rewrote the introduction many many times and we edited the 42 pieces in the book. I asked him to edit the few pieces that were written by friends of mine for the sake of objectivity and I wanted him to also go over the stories written by men. It proved to be a good collaboration, I think. He says he agrees.

Q: Could you say more about your two stories that are included in Gray Love?


A: I started writing “Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind” around December 2017, a little over a year after my husband of 36 years died of pancreatic cancer. I was in my mid-70s, dipping my toe into online dating.


I wrote the piece because I had become discouraged when the first person I was interested in ghosted me (at that point I did not know the term), and I was becoming even more discouraged about the kind and quality of men I was encountering.


Not all the men I met in this dating process were negative, however. Number 4 became a friend and I actually have a correspondence with the woman he met on Match and subsequently married. And number 9 became the co-editor of Gray Love.


I wrote over 10 drafts of “Close Encounters” in the next several months. As I said in question #1, I write to work out problems in my own life and I seek (and anthologize) stories from others because I think the same problems might be plaguing them as well. While I never figured out where to send “Close Encounters” for publication, that piece became one of the seeds for Gray Love.


There is an untruth in that essay, I wrote: “If I ever do go back to online dating sites, I promise any man who writes or dates me that I will not write about him for publication. I do not want to further jinx my chances. I am writing this now because that is what I do; I write about my life and experiences in order to take some control. But I promise not to do it again.”


Well, I broke that promise. I did not stop writing about the men I met: “A Cozy Crowded Bed,” the other piece, is evidence of that.


“A Cozy, Crowded Bed” was first published March 12, 2019 in “Tiny Love Stories,” a New York Times column, and then in the book tiny love stories: true tale of love in 100 words or less, edited by Daniel Jones and Miya Lee.


My story originated with the prompting of Sylvi Stein, a high school student I was mentoring in the program Girls Write Now. Sylvi and I would meet every week and work on her writing. She became interested in short forms and suggested we each write stories using only 100 words. My result was “A Cozy, Crowded Bed.”


I wrote the piece very quickly; it felt right. I submitted it to the Times along with a required picture-- the “crowded” bed: his late wife, my late husband, and us. “It’s kind of cozy.” I was glad to see they accepted a love story about older folks since most of the tiny love stories published up until then were about younger couples.


Q: The author Pepper Schwartz said of the book, “This is a book that people of a certain age should read--but also people who will, I hope, reach a certain age--because they should know that love and passion can exist way beyond reproductive years.” What do you think of that assessment, and who do you see as the book's readership?


A: Pepper Schwartz’s book Dating After 50 for Dummies is a leader in the “how-to” field right now; it was a pioneer in 2014. I much appreciate her endorsement and take her words very seriously: “love and passion can exist way beyond reproductive years.”


In fact, some of the Gray Love writers say that they have had the best sex in their lives and they are not embarrassed to talk about it among themselves and with others. This book counters the myth that desire is not part of an older person’s life, that we are not only grandmothers and grandfathers, but can be lovers and partners as well.


As Susan O’Malley describes it: “Sexuality is very different from when my partner and I were younger. With Sebastian, I feel very comfortable, safe, with a sense of completion and joy, erotic but in a different way. When men are not so focused on their orgasm, which may or may not happen, there is more time for eroticism and pleasure together and for the woman to get what she needs. There is more stroking and touching, and lovemaking lasts longer. Sebastian’s comment that I have taught him so much about sexuality amuses me—me, a good Catholic virgin when I got married at twenty-two.”


This book can be a good Valentine’s Day gift, one that daughters and sons or a friend can give to anyone over 60 who is living a solo life and who may need support to explore a different arrangement. While the title Gray may imply old, this Gray in Gray Love is vibrant.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am concentrating on publicizing Gray Love right now. This may be my last book, for as I said, I have put together collections of writings on issues that have perplexed me and that I thought were also issues that other people were concerned about.


Given that I have covered everything from stepfamilies, parenting, retirement, death and choice, widowhood, and now older dating, I do not see a pressing topic on the horizon that needs to be addressed. However, I am always open to putting together collections. I love editing and I love hearing other people’s voices as they openly deal with life’s problems.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love the cover; it is striking and suggestive. It is like Rorschach test. Upon seeing it, people tell different stories; see different things: the heart full of wire/string/whatever is feeding the other heart. Or, the heart with the black squiggly lines in it has depleted the other heart.


It is about a complicated relationship. It is about attachment and connection. It is about dependence. It is about mutuality. It is about love and its windy path. People will see what people will see. What do you see?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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