70 Going On 35

Author Paula Rosenberg got new insights on relationships when she found her grandmother Agnes's 1988 diary. (All article photos courtesy of author.)
No matter how old you are, new relationships can make you feel like a kid – in all the good and bad ways.

By Paula Rosenberg

“Do you want to come over tonight?” I asked Will after we’d finished lunch.

“I have a lot of work to catch up on, but I’ll call you when I have some free time,” he said as he bestowed a half-hearted kiss on my cheek.

He never did call and I’m fairly certain he only took me out that afternoon so I could return the reading glasses he’d left at my apartment. At 35 years old, I was surprised that a brush-off could hurt this much and that after twenty years of dating I could still fall into relationships with partners who took me for granted.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I tend to dwell on my failings when it comes to romantic relationships. It’s during these moments that I wish I had a parental figure to turn to for sage advice. Both of my parents are deceased (my father passed away when I was 11 and my mother when I was 29). I love my sisters, but as the token single I sometimes feel like the odd girl out. My best friend’s parents once gave me their contact info because they were concerned about my orphan status, but I didn’t think Mr. and Mrs. Sangalli wanted me calling them with questions about my sex life.

My siblings and I have slowly been going through our parents’ things, sorting what to keep and what to chuck. While cleaning out an old nightstand drawer, we found sheets of loose-leaf paper that turned out to be a journal my maternal grandmother kept in the summer of 1988.

Paula Rosenberg’s maternal grandparents on their wedding day. 

My grandma Agnes was an incredible woman. She married in her twenties and had my mom a few years later, taking work as an executive assistant to provide for them both when my grandfather died unexpectedly. In her forties Agnes married for the second time, to the man I would know as Grandpa Joe. They were together for twenty-five years before he passed as well.

Though she was saddened by Joe’s death, Agnes wasn’t one to wallow. She had always been gregarious. Since her high school days she had been known as “Good-Time Aggie.” At age 70 she moved out of the house she had lived in with Joe and found a one-bedroom apartment. She remained in that rental for several years until she underwent a quadruple bypass during the early part of my childhood, at which point my dad insisted she move in with us.

The journal I’d found was from her time in that bachelorette apartment. It mostly revolved around her relationship with a man named Art, who was the first serious partner she had after losing Joe. The only strong memory I have of this beau was spending an afternoon at his house. My sister Sarah and I were put in front of the TV and Agnes told not to leave that room until the Archie cartoon was over. After reading this journal I understand what was going on during that 30-minute show and I haven’t been able to listen to the song “Sugar, Sugar” in the same way.

Agnes was attractive with her then-blonde curls and piercing blue eyes, but she wasn’t a senior sexpot a la Jane Fonda. She looked more like Betty White’s Rose Nylund character on The Golden Girls. I felt her dating journal would hold advice that a short, apple-shaped woman like myself could learn from. I thought it would be wonderful to go through her reflections, because certainly after fifty-plus years of being on and off the market and two marriages under her belt, Agnes would approach dating with a level of maturity and realistic expectations that I was still lacking. She would know her worth and accept nothing less than someone who would love her unconditionally. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Her journal read like the musings of an adolescent who had never dated before. It began with the first time she spent the night at Art’s house, which was wonderful but the next morning Art had decided he was going to meet up with his buddies to play golf. As he left to make tee time he told her, “Honey, if you want to go to your apartment you can and stay as long as you wish.” Agnes was offended. In her words, “What is this man trying to tell me? Is he giving me a quick brush-off?”

Still fuming, Agnes went shopping. While she was checking out, the man behind her in line was staring in a way that made her uncomfortable. As she described, “It puzzled me to see this man I had never seen to eye me so curiously.” She quickly gathered her purchases and headed out. She realized in her distraction at that morning’s events, she’d forgotten to get dressed and had been shopping in a housecoat and Dearfoam slippers. Mortified, she began to cry as she drove off.

Anges’s bad day extended into the evening when she returned to Art’s home. She explained her fiasco of forgetting to dress before running her errands. As she put it, “I thought he’d blow a gasket!” He yelled at her, furious that she’d allowed herself to be seen in public that way. Agnes burst into tears and Art eventually apologized. He blamed his overreaction on struggles with erectile dysfunction. Agnes wrote, “He didn’t want to tie me down to him since he felt his penis wouldn’t erect and he couldn’t fuck me.”

This was odd since they seemed to have successfully slept together the previous evening, but I guess sex is always an issue in relationships even when you’re a septuagenarian. Although they made up after this incident, this was just the beginning of Art berating Agnes.

She was nervous because Art insisted on enrolling them in a bowling league even though she wasn’t good at the sport. Agnes begged him to help her practice before their first game but “each evening he had a reason to procrastinate on our trip to the bowling alley.” Sure enough, she developed a Charley horse during their first game.

Art chastised her, “This performance today is enough to break us up.” She debated leaving him, to which he replied that if she abandoned him she’d feel like she was going through life with a broken pencil. “You’ll be able to write with it, but it won’t be the same.” For whatever reason, that lame analogy worked and she stayed.

Shortly after that conversation, Agnes fell, resulting in a minor leg injury. She called Art to tell him about her accident and asked if he wanted to come over. He told her he was busy watching TV. She waited by the phone for three days and he never called. That was the last straw. Agnes broke up with Art by mailing him a pencil she broke in half.

While Good-Time Aggie’s journal wasn’t the elder advice I was looking for, I found comfort in reading it. Finally I felt okay about not having relationships, sex, and affection figured out at 35 because as it turned out, love was just as confusing for someone twice my age.

Paula Rosenberg is the Senior Manager of Seller Success at Vimeo. Also a freelance writer and online media strategist, her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications including The Villager, Downtown Express, Brit + Co. and InterFaith Family. Paula’s passion for wellness, adventure, and geekdom can be explored on her website modspinster.com, or follow her on Twitter at @NYC_Paula to learn more.

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