March 27, 2017
By Laura Stassi
Country song advice to the contrary, whenever Jack* was given the choice to sit it out or dance, he’d usually sit it out.
“I’m a horrible dancer,” said Jack, now 58. “But after I turned 50, my attitude was screw it, I don’t care. I don’t care what people think about me anymore.”
That attitude helped Jack, then a grocery store executive living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, connect with Francine, a real estate attorney living in Nashville, Tennessee. When they wound up together at a Florida bar that was playing live music, “Jack asked me to dance,” said Francine, now 67. “I love to dance! But I find many men are too intimidated to dance. So I recognized confidence and a fun side of Jack that was appealing.”
They dated for four years before throwing themselves a splashy wedding celebration in Cuba in January. It was Jack’s third marriage, and Francine’s fourth.
As I wrote here, Jack and Francine met at the start of the 2013 July Fourth holiday weekend in Panama City, Florida. That’s where Francine owns a condo and where The Professor, Jack’s best friend from his Alabama childhood, now lives. The Professor and Francine had met on the online dating site Plenty of Fish. They hadn’t hit it off romantically but had developed a friendship, and they got together whenever they were both in town. Jack had traveled to Florida to visit The Professor and play golf.
That Jack and Francine met at all seems so happenstance that romantics can only conclude it was meant to be. Jack adds to the aura when he tells me he came very close to not even going to Florida for the holiday because he knew the forecast was calling for rain. But he had the time off from work, and he didn’t want to stay in Baton Rouge.
That weekend, Jack went with The Professor to meet Francine and her friend for dinner. It wasn’t a set-up; by chance, Jack and Francine sat at the same end of the table. “I got lucky,” Jack said and laughs, as though he still can’t believe just how lucky he got. After dinner, the group went to a bar with live music. That’s when Jack, no longer sitting it out, asked Francine to dance.
The men and women wound up spending much of the weekend together because just as predicted, “It literally rained all freakin’ weekend,” Jack said. By the end of the holiday Jack and Francine were making plans to see each other, and they’ve been together ever since.
“Francine’s very energetic,” Jack said. “Very. She’s waaaay more outgoing than I am,” he said, drawing out the word. “And not that I’m not outgoing, but she takes it to a level that most people only dream of.”
“She’s aged very well,” he adds drolly. “She gets around well, and she looks great,” noting that if he hadn’t known how old Francine was when he met her, he never would have guessed.
“Francine is just so straightforward with everything,” he said. “She’s unique to me in that there’s no hidden agenda with anything that she’s done. I mean, she just — it is what it is. And I realized that pretty quickly, just in the way she lives her life. It’s who she is.”
Jack got married for the first time when he was 30; that marriage ended after four years. A few years later, he got married again, this time for 16 years. Neither marriage produced children.
After his second marriage ended, Jack, by then over 50, didn’t start dating right away. Instead, he spent several months “just taking it easy, kind of getting the lay of the land, if you will.” He wasn’t lonely because during the week, a longtime business colleague used Jack’s house as a geographic bachelor pad, “so there was always someone around,” Jack said. Plus, Jack had a cat.
Almost a year after his divorce, Jack signed up for a three-month membership on Match.com. “It was OK,” he said. “I met several nice people. But I found online dating to be kind of like work.” When his membership expired, he didn’t renew it.
Jack also became active in his church, which had a singles program. About 15 people would meet up one night a week for a group outing, and they’d also get together every other weekend to perform service projects. The singles group basically was his social life. He even dated a woman in the group for several months before they split amicably.
After Jack and Francine met in July 2013, they were in a long-distance relationship for about a year. “Francine came to Baton Rouge some, but I mostly went to Nashville,” he said. “And over that period, I met everyone” — everyone meaning Francine’s more than two dozen children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as James, Francine’s friend whose supposedly temporary stay at her house several years ago has turned into a permanent living arrangement.
“I’m going to say it surprised me, but I got along so well immediately with all of her kids,” Jack said. “And I got along so well with James. I’m an extremely laid-back, live-and-let-live person. Always have been. It’s hard to rile me up.”
In mid-2014, Jack took early retirement, sold his Louisiana home, and moved to Nashville and in to Francine’s house. I asked him if he had any hesitations giving up his established life.
“Of course there was a little bit of hesitation, making a move that big,” he said. Jack had been with the same company for 17 years, “and I loved what I did. I had a very good job.” But he never had been a big fan of Baton Rouge and had always planned on retiring early anyway. “I’m fairly frugal and have always had a decent job,” he said.
He thought he’d wind up in Mobile, Alabama, where he still has family. But Jack grew to love Nashville and of course, he loved Francine.
“From Day 1, I just felt very, very comfortable in her world, if you will, even though it was totally different from my world,” he said. “It was just different – but it certainly wasn’t bad.”
I asked Jack if he had any advice for other people his age, particularly men, who are looking for love after 50. “You know, I don’t know that I do, ” he said, “because I wasn’t like oh, my God, I have to run out and find somebody and I have to get married or, you know, this has to happen.”
But if friends were to press him for advice, Jack said, he’d probably tell them this: “Don’t push it; you know, just let-it-happen-if-it-happens kind of thing. Put yourself out there, if you want to, through online dating or church, or whatever it is. But don’t go into it promptly expecting that, ‘I’m going to find the love of my life here.’ ”
After all, you never know when it’s going to happen, Jack said, and you never know where. “I’m still not a good dancer,” Jack said. “But I’ll dance.”
*Names have been changed.
Are you seeking, or have you found, love, romance or marriage at age 50 or older? Share your Dating While Gray experiences with Laura.