Late-life romance spurns old age for technology and new beginnings
Startup editor's note: OMG! You Met on the Internet? is an excellent example of a book that needs to be written. Not because the authors were the first people ever to fall in love online. What makes this story unique are the personal histories of two good people whose hearts had been broken and left for dead.
Below, I offer some tips for how to handle this type of book, why knowing your audience in the beginning is helpful. —DGC
John was a widower in the Northwest who was tortured by profound grief after the loss of his wife of 52 years. Donna Marie resided in the Northeast and suffered from the belief that her life had lacked a little luck and a lot of love. She was depressed, obese and needed the help of a wheelchair or walker to move about. Meanwhile, John was losing weight because sorrow had stolen his appetite.
Although thousands of miles once separated these two lonely hearts, they are now a happily married couple. They travel often, love to dance, laugh a lot and occasionally bicker, but know that they share a miracle that neither of them saw coming. For that reason, their new mission in life is to preach a simple gospel to seniors and others who seek a companion: Don’t give up.
“I thought life was over,” says Donna Marie, who grew up in the Rochester, New York area, married, had children, divorced and then battled cancer more than once. “I had nothing to look forward to, except death. Maybe that would be merciful, but, gosh, how about a little fun first?”
John admits he could no longer find purpose in life, though he and his first wife had farmed successfully for decades in the state of Washington. “I’d lay awake at night and wonder, why go on?” he says.
The answer to that question came unexpectedly when John, while fiddling with his smart phone found a dating platform. All he wanted was someone to talk to. He joined the website, identified himself as Lonely Farmer and scrolled through profiles of mature women until finally deciding DL Saucy sounded interesting. He tapped out a short note:
Lonely Farmer: I recently lost my wife of 52 years and feel lost … and just need someone to write to …
DL Saucy was Donna Marie’s handle. She was happy to see a message in her mailbox.
DL Saucy: What’s your name I am Donna
When John saw her message, his spirits lifted.
Lonely Farmer: hi Donna my name is John
Simple beginnings led to numerous candid online chats about family, longing, sex, aging, health and, eventually, the suggestion of a rendezvous. They’d only known each other for three weeks.
The story of how negotiations for a meeting in Las Vegas eventually led to wedding bells for John and Donna Marie Peterson is included in their new memoir, OMG! You Met on the Internet? How an online romance conquered grief and depression while restoring faith in a higher power. Their goal in becoming authors was to encourage other senior citizens to stay in the game.
No Surrender: Ignoring old age
John and Donna Marie did not consider themselves digital experts when their relationship began. But when they began to click that provided an incentive to learn more. For example, when texting via the dating platform limited their ability to communicate in a fluid way, they decided to rely on another ubiquitous technology: The smart phone.
The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that follows social trends, reports that the number of Americans with online dating experience was very small in 2005. The advent of mobile apps on smart phones has helped participation to triple. Now over 15 percent of adults seek mates online.
“Technology can sound so cold,” says John. “But it revolutionized our relationship. With Skype and FaceTime, we could see each other and communicate more naturally. Donna would take her phone on a shopping spree and I could go along for the ride. I also could meet her family, so they knew I wasn’t some ogre on the prey.”
It comes as no surprise that online dating has grown among people between the ages of 18 and 24. Yet Pew also sees expanding trends among people in their 50s and 60s.
Donna Marie and John are outliers: she was 67 and he was 72 when they met on a platform that has since been closed. In a sense, each of them silently asked a question that various studies have strived to answer: When does old age begin? According to the New York Times, a Pew poll of 3,000 suggested 68 as the gateway of feeling old.
But the Petersons, while acknowledging the physical limitations that come with hard-won wisdom, decided to set their own standards.
“I was sixty-seven, bed-ridden and yet when John and I got comfortable with each other—like in about a week—I confessed, ‘I want to be naughty.’ What man would turn down that offer? But then I added, ‘And I wear Depends.’”
Love, Weight Loss and Nose Bleeds
The couple finally met at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, with Donna Marie’s daughter in tow. She had to push the wheelchair her mother needed because she did not dare walk the length of the baggage area.
John didn’t care that his new girlfriend was overweight. He leaned over, handed her a rose he had purchased in the arrival terminal and kissed Donna Marie on the lips.
“I could have fainted, but thankfully I was already sitting down,” she recalls, adding, “He was so handsome in his blue shirt.”
A wheelchair was not needed that first night on the town, which included a candle-lit dinner, wine, holding hands and a walk to a hotel room they mutually agreed to share. Yet, Donna Marie’s health issues were a hazard that might shorten the relationship.
“It made no sense to say, ‘You must lose weight.’ But I wanted her health to improve. So, I encouraged Donna to do some simple things that would naturally help her drop some pounds. A change of diet, simple exercise,” he said.
Donna Marie believes the weight came off because she didn’t feel pressure to suddenly change her body type. Being skinny was out of the questions, but being fit was well within reach. John’s love and patience made it easy for her to alter her habits and succeed.
Then months later, when the romance had reached full-bloom and talk of marriage was in the air, Donna’s nose began to bleed profusely and it would not stop. Through the years she’d harbored some bitterness about life and had endured many serious health scares. So, naturally, her first thought was, “Just my luck. I’m going to die and not live happily ever after with John. I was hysterical,” she says.
The harrowing chaos of calling an ambulance to the remote setting of John’s Washington State farm is cinematic and well-told in their memoir. John hopped in his truck and followed the EMTs at full speed with the hope that his lover could see his headlights from the back of the emergency vehicle. They remained in the hospital all night, emotionally exhausted by the ordeal. And resolute in their beliefs: Live goes on, if we believe.
The Long Dance
The Peterson’s stay fit, emotionally and physically, by dancing. In years past, Donna Marie was a ballroom dance teacher and while she and John were still communicating online she promised him some private lessons. He was an eager student.
“We don’t pretend we’re in our twenties or thirties. But by listening to our favorite music from those times, we get the itch to dance and hug and laugh and cry. When we slow dance we hold tight, other steps mean only our fingertips touch, but we’re still attached,” she says.
The impulse to teach, or rather share, became the basis for their authorial debut. They were tech savvy enough to save all their text conversations, which provide an authentic portrait of two lonely people falling in love. Portions of those chats—replete with typos and online abbreviations—are used to shape sections of the narrative. Not only were these two lovebirds utterly frank with each other, in telling their story they truthfully convey excitement, doubt, deep longing and, finally, a thoughtful decision that take a leap. One year after their online romance began, they exchanged vows and became husband and wife.
The Petersons describe the miracle of their chance meeting as spiritual. Something bigger was at play, they say, and fortunately each intuitively knew that at this or any age action was required to sustain the dance.
Their book is instructive not because they preach a gospel of any kind. Rather, by being unsparingly honest about the contradictory feelings they experienced throughout their journey, the reader can contemplate various life lessons.
That, of course, is what sustained them through the 12-month creative process that resulted in OMG! You Met on the Internet? They simply wanted other people, lovers and seekers of all ages, to be encouraged and reconsider the possibilities of reaching out in the darkness.
SMART STARTUP AUTHOR CHOICES!
So what did Donna and JP do right when launching their book project?
In conclusion, a paperback or digital edition of your book is the best way of telling others who you are. This is true for people like Donna and JP who are on a mission, of sorts, and fir business people, therapists, physicians and other professionals. A book, short or long, consolidates your unique way of thinking, being and sharing.