Highs in the Low Fifties
by Marion Winik



Globe Pequt Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-762-78713-5.
Reviewed by Judy Alter
Posted on 11/04/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

I've been where Marion Winik was—a single mom in my fifties. But I was neither as desperate for love nor as bold about putting myself out there as she was. When one of my sons said to me, years later, that he didn't think I tried hard enough, I bit my tongue to keep from reminding him that most men saw me as having too much baggage—as in four children. Winik had one child at home, the others grown and gone. And she had a lot more nerve—or determination—than I did. She put herself out there.

Still, I could quickly identify with her desperate quest, looking for love in all the wrong places—Match.com, Craigslist, bars, and friends of friends. She recounts it all in such a wonderfully open, honest, and self-deprecating manner that you can't help but chuckle. This isn't laugh-out-loud humor. It's more the kind that calls forth an understanding smile. It made me think, "Gosh, I wasn't the only one." And when she decides that instead of "Sensual, sassy and smart," she should make her dating profile headline, "Hire the handicapped," I did laugh out loud.

Hers is a long list of men, some near-misses, some just not right, and some embarrassingly awful. Interestingly, she kept in touch with some of them—the South American laborer who was working on her basement redo and tried, clumsily, to seduce her to get money to bring his brother to America--came by for lunch until his boss found out. There was a biologist she thought good-looking enough to be an underwear model (not that she ever saw him in that garb). Uncle Norman evolved from suitor to an avuncular figure who still comes by with popcorn to watch an occasional episode of American Idol. The guy who wasn't interested in a physical relationship with her forgot her so totally that a year later he contacted her again on Match.com and then had to apologize for his mistake. She has remained friends with a man she went to summer camp with and found years later—but as a romance, it didn't work out. She had a brief but intense reunion with her second husband, to their daughter's great delight. But then they each remembered what bothered them about the other.

And there was the man who lived on a boat and was a fantastic kisser but a hesitant lover. He wrote asking for distance, but, swooning about those intense kisses, she pursued him. Finally he wrote that he was going into therapy and could not communicate with her any more. That opened up a whole digression and sent Winik herself back into therapy. Her therapy history dates back to her pre-teen years and includes the time she threw her purse at a therapist. A good therapist, she knows, is like a good husband—hard to find. She finally connects with a woman she likes and trusts. The woman asks her to list the qualities she'd like to find in a man, and, after studying Winik's list, announces, "You want to date yourself."

At one point, Winik makes the decision that most single women reach at one point or another. Some stick by it; some don't. She decides that her life is full enough with work, family, and friends, and she simply doesn't need romantic involvement. On yet another blind date, she announces boldly that she's not interested in a relationship, and the man groans, "Don't tell me. Your life is already full enough with work, family, and friends." That hit home with me, and I thought, "Omigosh. I've become a cliché."

Throughout her account of her futile attempts at romance, Winik's friends encourage her, her grown sons remain skeptics, sometimes amazed at their mother's antics. The sanest voice comes from Jane, her daughter, who is nine at the opening and maybe eleven or twelve at the close. Jane judges the men that her mother brings home and assesses them pretty accurately. And she turns out to be her mom's best companion.

You can't begin to get the flavor or the humor of this slim book from my review. You simply have to read it yourself. If you're happily married, you may be unbelieving; if you're unhappily married, you may take a second look at what you have. And if you're single, like me, you'll sigh in sympathy, praise the Lord you never did some of those things, and maybe accept your single state with its blessings. Still, a companion for museum openings, art shows, dinners and the like would be nice.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Marion Winik is the author six books of creative nonfiction, writer of an award-winning bi-weekly column at BaltimoreFishbowl.com, author of essays for New York Times Magazine, O, Salon, and Real Simple, among others. She teaches writing at the University of Baltimore and was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in creative non-fiction. She has appeared on the Today Show, Politically Incorrect and Oprah. Visit her website.

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