BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
People on love’s road rarely find a smooth path.
Just ask Christine Rainey.
Rainey was enjoying the 13-year relationship she’d built with her partner, Sandy when tragedy struck.
A 2002 car crash stole 41-year-old Sandy’s life and left Rainey on her own.
It took three years before Rainey started to build her new life.
“I wanted to wait until I was ready. I didn’t want to date to fill a hole in my life,” said Rainey, 53, a Northville resident. “I can tell you, it’s more intimidating to be a 50-year-old woman and suddenly realize I’d better start dating or I’ll spend my life alone.”
While some in her situation would have given in to their fears, contenting themselves with nights alone with the TV and pints of Ben & Jerry’s, Rainey jumped into life in the deep end.
Dating is a rich experience for women over 50 – even for “serial monogamists” like her, she said.
“What I appreciate now is the infinite variety and wonderful opportunities available,” she said. “There’s that elation mixed with terror. Twenty-five years ago, it was just terror.”
While youthful impatience once spurred her quest to find true love, Rainey said today she’s totally “at ease in her skin.”
“I will say I absolutely love how lesbians feel free to be completely themselves. If they want to be girly and frilly and pretty, they feel free do that now,” she said. “If their sense of beauty is something else, everyone is okay with that. That wasn’t true in the 70s. Femmes were looked at askance.”
Rainey told her friends and family she was searching for a relationship.
“My mom is so wonderful – she’s 81,” she said. “I said, ‘Mom I feel ready to start dating.’ When we go shopping, she’ll point a woman out and say, ‘She’s cute.'”
Online matchmaking was another method Rainey tried out.
“That’s been an interesting journey,” she said, laughing. “I found there is an amazing spectrum of people out there.”
Dating is often filled with awkward moments, she said. Halfway through her first date, Rainey realized she was still wearing her wedding ring.
“You start talking and you’re forcing the conversation and the next thing you know you are looking at your watch,” she said.
Rainey has taken a cautious approach to love, with weeks of emailed messages, followed by a daytime coffee meet-up before a full-blown “first date.”
So far, she’s met someone who is her best friend.
“There are days that are just sunshine and roses – you’re having a fabulous time. There are other times when there are dragons growling at you from under the bed at 3 a.m.,” she said. “For me, personally, I just approach it as, this will be fun. Here’s a fabulous opportunity to meet someone.”
Friends’ connections have been the best way to meet people – and online hook-ups the worst, said Michael Brown, 26.
“They can misrepresent themselves in their physical demeanor or the way they act,” said Brown, a Royal Oak resident. “They wind up being a lot more needy than they lead on.”
In one Internet meet-up, Brown discovered his date had used his brother’s photograph as his own. The man spent the evening talking about previous relationships.
Brown said he’s taking it easy on the dating scene, for now.
“I’m more interested in figuring things out in my career and focusing on other aspects in my life,” he said.
Past experiences have left a lasting mark.
“I’m not much of a trusting person to begin with,” he said. “On a scale of one-to-ten, in terms of trust, I was a three or four. Now I’m a one.”
Museum outings, dinners in nice restaurants, rock concerts and operas are Brown’s idea of fun dating options.
His ideal man is someone thoughtful and concerned about world events who enjoys quiet times as well as good conversations.
“That’s the litmus test for me,” he said. “I appreciate the ability to be with someone and have moments of silence that aren’t uncomfortable. If I can achieve that, I feel there’s a level of comfort I can build on.”
Kirsten Ussery, 27, said she doesn’t know where to find people who are interested in a relationship.
“There aren’t many places to go besides the clubs,” said Ussery, a Detroit resident. “When you’re out and about, you can’t really approach anyone because you don’t know their sexuality, so you don’t know what kind of experience you’ll have.”
Ussery said she ended a five-year relationship last summer.
“I think part of it is, I don’t want to be in that whole scene – with the rejection,” she said. “I think that’s the problem for me.”
Right now, Ussery said she’s focusing on enjoying every aspect of her life.
“My mindset is if I do that, I’m going to attract that person who is right person,” she said. “I’ve been doing some painting and writing poetry. I have a lot of projects and goals I’m working on.”
Musician James Stephen, 29, has had a few bad dates in his time.
“There was one guy I went out with – it was a first date,” said Stephen, a Ferndale resident. “He tried to get overly intimate in the movie theater. It was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know anything about you.'”
Several of the clubs he’s visited seem to revolve around drugs and sex, he said.
“I’m a young rock and roller, but I’m very old fashioned when it comes to relationships,” said Stephen.
Many gay clubs are spots for people devoted to dance music and Abercrombie & Fitch, he said.
“I don’t really connect to Cher and Madonna,” he said laughing. “I think I’m a bad homosexual.”
Despite his experiences, Stephen hasn’t lost his faith in love.
“I haven’t given up, but I think I’ve stopped obsessing about it,” he said. “I’m not a person who needs to have a boyfriend to be happy, but I’m always looking for the right guy.”