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You don’t have to be a “10” to find love, even after 50

If you are over 40 and don’t think that that online dating “works,” take a look at the piece below, the “Vows" section of the Sunday New York Times, March 23. Diane Cole and Philip Barnett found each other on JDate in 2002.  Now 55 and 61 respectively, they had each been married and widowed.  If you can still access the Times article, take a look at the little video that accompanies the write-up.  It’s sweet, but you’ll get to see that these are two ordinary people with an extraordinary story. 

You’ll also get a perspective on the experience of a 50ish widower on a dating site: These guys are pretty popular.  Just like pretty women under 35, single men, particularly those who are widowed or divorced, are desirable commodities.  Older men who have been married tend to like being so, and will go about getting themselves married again in pretty short order.  As Philip says in the video, there are many more widows than widowers, so even though ideally, men and women should have some time between a divorce or death and a remarriage, these folks are good risks, since they are experienced at being coupled and want to do it again. 

Diane Cole and Philip Barnett

WHEN an armed band of American Muslim militants invaded several buildings in Washington on March 9, 1977, Diane Cole, then 24, became one of more than 100 hostages. The gunmen threatened to decapitate captives before she and the others were released 39 hours later.

As Ms. Cole sat in fear, pondering her fate, Philip Barnett was in Spring Valley, N.Y., and unable to sleep; his wife’s uncle was also one of the hostages. He recently recalled how he had wondered about the others being held, and how he had prayed for all of them. Dr. Barnett, now 61, would eventually come to know Ms. Cole, 55, but only after they both found themselves widowed and alone after long marriages.

Even before those frightening hours in Washington, Ms. Cole, who became an author and a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report, had been tempered by heartbreak. Her first husband, Peter Baida, nearly died of cancer while they were dating as students at Harvard. As Mr. Baida fought for his life, her mother died of cancer. From that crucible came her 1992 memoir, “After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges.”

That book ended on a note of optimism. Yet for a living memoirist, there are always new chapters. When Mr. Baida died in 1999, he left her with a 10-year-old son, Edward, and a message: grief should not trump joy.

“All the things she has endured could have crushed someone with less fortitude and spirit,” her cousin Judy Rousuck said. It was two years before she was ready to “move away from the cold terrain of grief,” Ms. Cole said. “I wanted warming up. I wanted romance.”

She turned to the Web, but men she encountered were filled with bitterness about past relationships. “I needed someone who spoke in tones less bitter and more sweet,” she said.

When she saw Dr. Barnett’s online profile in April 2002, she sent him an e-mail message. In his response, he offered understanding, noting that his own son and daughter were grown when his wife, Sarah, died, whereas Ms. Cole was left to fend for a young child. He also explained he was busily fielding e-mail from other women. “I never had such attention,” he wrote. “I married the only girl I ever dated, and the only one who really spoke to me.”

Nevertheless, they began an e-mail exchange that uncovered that both had longstanding interests in baseball, classical music and Jewish philosophy. But when she offered her phone number, he replied, “I feel more comfortable writing rather than speaking.”

In that same exchange he again mentioned the long list of women, but then dangled encouragement. “Few of these women are as interesting as you are,” he wrote.

In May they agreed to meet for dinner on the Upper East Side. For her, it was “comfort at first sight,” she said. Before parting she gave him a copy of her memoir, which Dr. Barnett, a professor and science reference librarian at City College in Manhattan, stayed up into that night reading.

They started seeing each other regularly, sometimes with Edward. Ms. Cole was touched by Dr. Barnett’s “sweetness, honesty, modesty and sense of humor, not to mention his intellectual curiosity,” she recalled. Comfort and healing grew to love, leading the three of them to take trips to Iceland and Norway.

“Diane has a big heart; we’re so compatible,” Dr. Barnett said. “She teaches me Shakespeare. I teach her science. I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again, and I am.”

Last summer they decided to marry. Explaining the timing, Ms. Cole said: “As a mother, my priority was to see my son settled into college life. And then we decided it was time for us to move into the next phase of our lives, too.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld led the couple’s ceremony at Bayard’s in Manhattan’s financial district, a party space in a 19th-century mansion that is filled with nautical accents. Ms. Cole, in an off-white cream satin Escada gown with gold sequin straps, stood with Dr. Barnett under the wedding canopy, bringing together past and present for their future.

The parents of her late husband sat up front as Ms. Cole, who wears their son’s wedding band on her right hand, held out a forefinger, on which Dr. Barnett placed the band once worn by her late mother. (The Baidas refer to Dr. Barnett as “their new son-in-law.”) The bride then gave Dr. Barnett a wedding band, one from his first marriage.

“Although many people already thought of us as an old married couple, we wanted to affirm in public our love for each other and this unexpected happiness in our lives,” the bride said before the March 9 ceremony, which happened to fall 31 years after the siege in Washington. “Now I can reframe the anniversary from one of terror to one of joy.”



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