Carolyn Lee Arnold’s memoir, Fifty First Dates After Fifty, inspired me personally beyond its literary value. The author was able to transform the story of her midlife recovery from a breakup into a readable and educational book, moving past the eat-pray-love model of experimentation and indulgence. This book both opens your heart and makes you think.
With attention to detail, realistic dialogue, and emotional intelligence, Arnold shows how the values she developed through years of personal growth workshops informed her search for a life partner. She was able to successfully apply the skills she acquired in matters of love, intimacy and sexuality to her dating adventures.
And when I say adventures, I mean they run the gamut—from spiritual ceremonies to sex parties, from gentle face-stroking to intercourse with abandon on the hood of a car (after a “safer sex” conversation, of course). What is so interesting is how she enjoys her dates with the innocence and exuberance of a teenager along with the confidence and life experience of an adult. It seems the people who surround her also illustrate how conscious sexual beings behave.
This is not to say that she doesn’t cry a lot, call on friends of both genders for comfort, and turn her heart into another character she talks to and tries to convince of one thing or another. She gets discouraged or goes a bit overboard just to see if she can swim.
But, as the professional social science researcher she is, Arnold keeps coming back to The Project—to gather data from every one of the “50 first dates” to understand more clearly what she wants and needs. The men she engaged with were sourced from singles events, online dating sites, ecstatic dance, hikes and meditation groups, workshops and through friends of friends. Singles will get plenty of ideas on that score!
The chapters are short and often end with an analysis. “I was attracted to Randy, and his questions touched me on a deep level…however, I wanted a man with better listening skills, a man who could appreciate the moment and nonsexual ways of touching.” “I wanted the type of balance that Ross and I had created at the party between closeness and independence. We were not threatened by mingling with others, because we knew we were returning to each other. I could imagine …doing that with a future partner… This should be possible. I could feel it.”
As a single woman of certain age, I know what I found fascinating about “Fifty First Dates After Fifty.” I recognized the same hopes for romance and significant connection with men as I’ve seen in myself. I also empathized with her doubts: “What am I going to do when I get to the fiftieth date?” Another appealing aspect of this book is Arnold’s modeling of how to candidly talk about being physical with the men she is getting to know, and with her readers.
That women’s memoirs are purchased by other women is a given, but what might a man think of this book? Too woo-woo and new-agey? Too much emphasis on conversation and being vulnerable? Aside from a curiosity about “sex parties,” I think a man might get some insight into what a woman is thinking and feeling, and that might make his dating life a little bit easier!
What Carolyn Arnold does for sure is make seem ordinary and easy what she calls the “Northern California lifestyle” of spiritual rituals, nude resorts, and deliberate, respectful polyamorous relationships. She also has a lot of fun with her data gathering and embraces a continuum of erotic activities with a lot more nuance than is usually expressed. The woman, like the memoir she has created, is frank, unabashedly sensual, and willing to meet others at the edge of possibility.