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Three North Bay women on getting married for the first time after 50

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When Deb Thea’s friend Alice died suddenly of cancer, her heart went out to the husband she left behind.

Defying her friend’s wishes for no services, Thea took it upon herself to organize a memorial, knowing the people who loved Alice, including her husband of 36 years Tom Ford, needed ritual in order to grieve.

“Afterwards,” Thea said, “I would keep an eye on him.” She’d swing by his workshop in San Anselmo with antiques she needed fixed or wrap up a sandwich and drop it off. Her mission was only to offer a little comfort and kindness.

But there was something about the mischievous Thea’s sense of humor, compassion and joie de vivre that caught Ford’s attention and ultimately his heart. Those small acts of kindness turned into a friendship and then a full grown love affair. One thing led to another and two years later, the onetime truck driver and jack-of-all trades was standing in a friend’s garden in Napa proposing marriage.

For Thea, who lives in Fairfax and owns Yankee Girl Antiques in Petaluma, it was a long-delayed moment of truth. She had never been down the aisle or even come close to getting hitched. But the lifetime bachelorette said with Ford, she had no qualms about swapping independence for security. At the seasoned age of 70, without hesitation, she said “yes.”

The bride wore polka dots. So did many of the 80 or so guests at their informal nuptials last May at the Churchill Manor in Napa. One of the perks of old age, she said with a chuckle, is you get to do what you want without worrying about what other people think.

“We didn’t have to please parents or kids,” she said. “We have no kids. We could just have fun.”

She still can’t believe she actually did it.

“I’m in the car and I’m going, ‘I’m married!’ I had a hard time even saying the word ‘husband.’ I’m calling him my boyfriend,” Thea said.

“Seventy years of not being married, And not even one year of being married? How did that happen? It’s like I fell asleep and woke up married.”

Later-life love

In the mid 1980s Newsweek came out with a declaration — roundly debated and later discredited — that a single, college-educated woman of 40 was more likely to die in a terrorist attack than get married.

But not all of those unmarried Baby Boomer and Gen X women were lamenting their lot. They were too busy having a life to actively search for a life mate.

“I just wasn’t that interested in getting married,” said Thea, who had several long-term relationships, none of which stirred a nesting instinct.

She is among a group who boldly clung to their independence through decades of life exploration, careers and even single parenthood and who are, only now, in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, feeling the call to commitment. The clock never ran out on true love.

Marin County writer Anne Lamott, who has chronicled life through a string of best sellers including “Operating Instructions” about her first year as a the single mother, announced last April she’d finally tied the knot for the first time to “the love of my life,” three weeks after receiving her Medicare card. For her outdoor nuptials at Deer Park Villa near her Fairfax home, the 65-year-old bride wore a tea-length white lace dress she bought on eBay, her signature dreadlocks pulled back with flowers.

Lamott told The New York Times that introversion had kept her from the altar. Yet in recent years she had begun to feel a good marriage was the one thing missing in her life. So she joined OurTime, an online dating site for people over 50, and met her soulful match in Neal Allen, a former vice president for marketing who had retired to a wooded house in Lagunitas to write. Lamott’s son Sam, 29, served as “man of honor.”

A soulmate at 70

Thea said for most of her life she dismissed the notion of a soulmate as “baloney.

“I didn’t buy into it. I had never seen anyone who was remotely like me,” she said.

She was gobsmacked however, by the similarities she shared with Ford, five years her junior. Ford was good at spotting quality antiques, knew how to repair them — his late wife was an antique dealer like Thea — and had a truck capable of transporting Thea’s finds.

“I’m already trained,” he quipped after they attended an estate sale together and he scouted like a pro while she watched in amazement.

“I have a 1985 Toyota truck with a rack. He has a 1986 Mazda truck with a rack. He hates Lima beans. I hate Lima beans,” Thea said. “There were so many things in common it was really easy. It’s like he was made for me. It’s very weird.”

Thea, who grew up on Long Island, studied art history at The University of Vermont, protested the Vietnam War and as a young idealist, joined VISTA, the government anti-poverty volunteer program, working in the inner city of Columbus, Ohio. After making her way to California, she took a social service job in the mayor’s office in San Francisco during a turbulent time that included the shooting of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Disillusioned — “I felt like I was just putting a finger in the dike” — she retreated to the world of antiques.

Despite years of being single, Thea said she never felt lonely or desperate. She developed many close friendships with a wide variety of people.

“Lots of times when people get married they only have a couple of friends. I think Tom has fun being with me because we have so many things to do and I have all these friends who have been nurtured for all that time.”

The relationship with Ford unfolded slowly. Their shared grief over the death of Alice from leukemia only brought them closer. Their friendship turned to romance when, one day in a coffee line, Ford came up from behind, turned Thea around and kissed her.

His proposal was spontaneous. At a friend’s home, they were surveying the lavish garden when Ford said it would be perfect for a wedding.

“He said, ‘Well, do you want to get married? Here? I’d get down on one knee but I probably couldn’t get up.”

“I admit I could have done it a lot more gracefully and little more formally,” he conceded.

Some might ask, why get married at this age?

But Thea said there are benefits to making it legal. The financial security, knowing each would be taken care of, the ability to make medical decisions for each other if needed and simply having someone there in sickness and in health.

Their vows cut to the chase. He promised to help her repair and restore her antiques “without much grumping and growling.”

She promised to love him even as he railed at every single driver on the road.

“He’s just what I pictured I wanted,” she said. “Somebody who reads and somebody who can build things. Somebody who is kind of masculine and take charge. But generally what’s weird is that I feel safe all the time, and I’ve never had that. I never felt like I could put my shoulders down. I see now what a struggle it was.”

Married life begins at 60

Cindy Jacobs spent her early years as a free spirit, traveling the country and entering relationships with men who were interesting but not marriage material.

“Some of my choices were not so good,” she said with a self-forgiving laugh. “I know that and it’s a good thing I didn’t marry them. And I also didn’t want to get married when I was younger.”

Like many young women who came of age in the 1960s, Jacobs was more focused on sampling new places and new things in a world that was opening up with possibilities. She dropped out of high school in Evanston, Illinois, and became a copy girl at the Chicago Sun Times. The she answered the siren call of New York, where she waitressed in a coffeehouse on the Lower East Side.

“It was great fun,” she remembered. “New York was wonderful.”

The years passed. There was the grand plan with one nice guy to live off the land in Idaho. It didn’t pan out. They wound up in Berkeley but eventually broke up, and Jacobs drifted north to Portland, got her GED, went to community college and then headed home to Illinois, taking a job in the library at Northwestern University and soon discovering a passion for psychology. She threw herself into her studies, getting a master’s degree and becoming a school counselor.

Life was good. And busy.

“I loved it,” she said. “I loved working with kids. I had summers off and I would write.”

But she never found a perfect mate. As she got older, her dating options diminished. By her 40s she hit an emotional snag.

“I did go through a period where I really mourned not having children,” she said. “That caused real sadness to me. I even considered adopting a special needs child, but then decided, maybe not. And then I got through it. I worked with kids most of my life and I have many nieces and nephews. I just adored them.”

At 50, she was at peace with being single but still kept a window open in her heart for the possibility of meeting someone.

“There was a part of me that thought, maybe. But I didn’t feel like I needed it. I had a full life.

“There’s the old saying, ‘When you’re not looking any more, you meet somebody.’ And that’s what happened.”

At the Windy City Jitterbug Club, she met fellow dancing enthusiast Kerry Jacobs, a recent widower who was in high demand as a single man in a sea of many women.

But there was something about Cindy, a delicate and cool-headed blonde who “seemed to have her act together,” that intrigued the retired telecom engineer and sales rep. Cindy was drawn to his kindness and stability.

“He’s a very nice man. And he’s handsome and he could dance. He had a lot going and, I didn’t know it at the time, he’s also very smart financially. He’s somebody you could trust.”

For the first time she had met someone she could imagine being married to.

Kerry, 76, who had married and had two kids in his twenties, said there was something stimulating about dating a woman who had never been down the aisle.

“If I had been out with a lady who had been married, we might talk about the marriage,” he mused. He found the stories of her early adventures captivating. On a trip to California they decided it would be a great place to live. But Cindy seemed a little hesitant. When Kerry asked if she might be more comfortable if they were married, she took it a proposal and said yes.

“I just think I was ready,” she said of her certainty at age 59.

Just shy of her 60th birthday they got married in a big traditional wedding at a nice hotel. Cindy wore a full length white gown and veil. They moved almost immediately to Healdsburg, where they have spent the last 10 years volunteering and sharing their mutual love of dancing.

One of the nice benefits of marriage, Cindy said, was getting the built-in family she didn’t have. Kerry has two grown children, a son and daughter, and grandchildren.

There have been some adjustments to being a Mrs. after so many years a Ms.

“It was a challenge at first. But mostly I was so happy I could deal with the challenge. I was used to doing whatever I wanted when I wanted and I didn’t have to please anybody else. It took me while to figure how to negotiate the whole thing.”

Kerry maintained that they maintain harmony by giving one another a certain freedom.

“We don’t have too many expectations of what the other person is supposed to be doing. Cindy does her thing and she’s OK if I want to go out and play poker.”

To anyone asking why she waited until almost 60 to get married, she has a quick and sure answer, “Oh, I was just waiting for the right man.”

Not holding back at 58

Kathy Meadows always traveled through life at a sprint, determinedly taking on one new challenge after another, including raising a daughter on her own.

Fleeing home after high school, she traveled the world, went to cooking school in San Francisco, ran kitchens and even had her own restaurant in Fiji for six years.

“I’ve had relationships but there was no marriage and no long-term healthy relationships,” said Meadows, who works in the home mortgage business in Santa Rosa.

In Fiji, she had a daughter Lena, now 26.

“Her dad and I had a good relationship,” she said, “but it wasn’t marriage material.”

With the blessing of Lena’s father, Kathy brought her 3-year-old daughter back to the U.S. and put romance on the back burner while she went back to school and shifted to a career with more family-friendly hours.

“Before, I didn’t feel the need for a relationship. I was focused on raising my daughter and holding it together financially and having a home. But once she grew up and headed off to college, I knew it was my time to explore.”

It took a certain courage to post her profile on Match.com. But the exercise helped her clarify what was important and sift through what to share about herself. Kathy posted that she wanted “an adult playmate for this beautiful place we live in.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have a partner to do things with, the hikes, the wine tasting, the music and the summer events.”

The exercise, and the law of attraction, brought a couple of “starter boyfriends” she found “attractive but not suitable” for the companionship and deep connection she yearned for at her age.

“I’m super independent. I’ve spent all my life doing everything myself because that is what gave me freedom. So now I was ready to explore a partnership.” Even so, marriage wasn’t on her mind. “I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment.”

One of the commonalities of women who marry in the autumn of life is they are more certain about their priorities.

“I was really clear I wanted somebody who had parented,” she said, “because the guys who hadn’t seemed very much like they never fully grew up.”

She got a ping from Roger Meadows, a divorced software engineer with three grown kids and six grandkids. Meadows also wasn’t looking for marriage either, until he met Kathy.

“I was really attracted to Kathy’s strength and independence and beauty. But as we got together in the early stages I began to wonder if her independence would allow the kind of relationship I wanted,” said Meadows, 68. But they both had baggage, he said, and they began to work through it.

“Growing is important to both of us and part of that is giving up old ways,” Kathy said.

When he first broached marriage at a small cafe in Railroad Square, Kathy looked “like a deer in the headlights,” he said. Ever the gentleman, he had already asked her daughter and her mother for their blessing. She didn’t say yes right away, but by the end of the evening they were engaged.

“If you hadn’t been as nudging as you were, I might have drifted away or stayed with a barrier,” she told him on a recent afternoon at their Santa Rosa home.

The got married four years ago this May at the Rockpile ranch, owned by the family of Roger’s son-in-law with all their kids and grandkids and assorted family there in support. Kathy wore a simple beige dress. She was 58.

Their synergy, they say, extends beyond attraction or common interests. They both became very committed to developing a healthy relationship, growing together and remaining open, something that comes with life’s seasoning. They make time every week to iron out anything in their relationship that needs addressing. They also, as a ritual, renew their vows and regularly go on relationship “retreats” together to set shared goals.

Kathy married late. Roger was worth the wait, she said.

All three women said they believe their maturity led to a better choice of a mate and healthier relationships. And all three suffered no loss of romance.

“She’s an amazing woman. I’m really lucky to have her,” Roger said.

Kathy paused a moment and added, “When I realized Roger adores me, it took my breath away.”

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