Book Of LOVE

Special To The Jewish Week
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As often happens, Shirley Friedenthal recently met a beautiful older woman who lives alone. And as also often happens, Friedenthal soon learned the details of the woman’s love life. The woman confided that she’s 77, still working, and still very interested in men. Alas, she didn’t know how to find one.

“I said, ‘You know, you have to get the book!’” Friedenthal recalls. Just shy of 77 herself, Friedenthal recently co-authored “It’s Never Too Late To Date” with her boyfriend of five years, Howard Eisenberg, who is 82. “Life doesn’t have to stop,” says Friedenthal, who carefully planned her own dating strategy following the death in 2003 of her husband of 39 years.

The book, a combination of inspirational stories, prescriptions to cure the lonely-hearted and motivational poetry, guides older singles searching for romance. Although the breezy tone may turn off some readers (lovers are referred to as OOs, short for one and onlys; and the authors suggest tattooed-on eyeliner to attract a man, for example), it also offers much prudent advice (don’t seek your lost spouse; don’t be afraid of online dating services; modern medicine allows older couples to enjoy sexual intimacy).

Self-published by ASJA press this year, “It’s Not Too Late To Date,” will be feted at a cocktail party at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan on July 29 at 6 p.m., where the authors will regale the audience with anecdotes and advice. “The Early Show” on CBS has also expressed interest in inviting the pair to appear this summer, along with Alec Greven, who at the age of 8 wrote, “How To Talk To Girls.”

Eisenberg, author of a half-dozen books, several together with his late wife, Arlene Eisenberg (best known for her “What To Expect” series on childbirth and parenting), didn’t immediately take to the topic of dating. “Shirley kept telling me a book was needed for older people. She kept telling me stories of women who didn’t want to put their faces on JDate, who would say, ‘They’ll think I’m desperate.’”

Now, Eisenberg realizes, “We’re breaking new ground here.” Other guidebooks for singles, “They’re all for 20 and 30-somethings,” he says.

The book may be one of the only how-to manuals on the topic, but many older individuals grapple with the etiquette and experience of looking for love — in literature as well as in life. Anne Roiphe wrote about her forays into the singles scene in her most recent memoir, “Epilogue” (Harper), which was published last year and chronicles Roiphe’s life as a widow at the age of 70.

Eisenberg and Friedenthal hope that the example of their own courtship can inspire older adults. And in a sense, the collaboration on this project showcases the success of a relationship between two very different individuals, in this new chapter of their lives.

Whereas Friedenthal is bold and boisterous; Eisenberg is quieter, more reflective. Whereas she’s an atheist who ordered shrimp cocktail on their first date; he’s an observant Jew, and is well known at the Conservative Minyan Maat for his weekly poems that culminate the service. Whereas she knows how to dress glamorously (this afternoon she’s perfectly coiffed and wears a simple, elegant black jacket); he’s not a style maven, and relies upon her sartorial sensibility (he appears today in a golf shirt and khakis and some Mephisto brown shoes).

The tale and tips in “It’s Not Too Late To Date,” are told in the voice of Friedenthal but largely written by Eisenberg. “He wrote it. I would correct it,” says Friedenthal. Eisenberg raises his eyebrows in surprise — or perhaps amusement, “You corrected it?”

Eisenberg may have been the primary wordsmith, but Friedenthal proved to be a talented reporter, sometimes without even making an effort. “I have this ability,” she says.

“Everybody tells me their stories.”

You can’t even write them all,” says Friedenthal. “Just yesterday, I met this older woman alone. She was a mess. I gave her a few little tips. Her make-up was atrocious. She was too fat.” At another point recently, a couple in their 70s sat next to Friedenthal at the theater.  They complained of the absence of sex in their marriage. Friendenthal advised, “You have to do this and that. I guarantee it will work.”

In addition to Friedenthal’s impromptu fact-gathering at theaters and restaurants, the couple held a series of “socializing sessions” at the JCC in Manhattan during the researching phase of the book.

Susan Lechter, the director of senior programs at the JCC, was impressed by Friedenthal.

“She adopted a certain mindset. Once you embrace certain things about this world, it’s much easier” to date successfully. Still, Lechter warns participants in her senior programs to keep their expectations in check: “I see people all the time who find it hard to find a match,” she says.

“It’s Not Too Late To Date” kicks off with two inspirational tales: the story of Minnie’s Makeover, which chronicles how Friedenthal transformed her own mother from a hopeless widow dressed in “shmattes” to a woman with the carriage of a queen and the confidence to attract Harry, her second husband and first love; and the story of How Shirley Met Howard.

That romance didn’t begin with a crackle of fireworks, but with an outburst of another sort. “When I first met him he was crying every time,” yearning for his deceased wife, recalls Friedenthal. She decided to apply the “Shirley treatment.” “He was suffering and I wanted to help him,” she recalls. “He kept saying he’s desperately seeking Arlene. I’m the complete opposite of Arlene. I wanted him to know it’s very hard to find a duplicate of anyone.”

The words touched Eisenberg, and for the first time in three and a half years, he perked up. “She dragged me out of the quicksand and made my life livable,” he recalls.

“His real personality came out,” remembers Friedenthal, who had already turned down several suitors. “I never went out with anyone else after that.”

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