Men who fall in love at a later age

I just came back from a book signing event at the Kinzua State Park. I loved it. It was so great meeting people that also loved the Kinzua Bridge and those who were also saddened to see it fall. I found myself talking to people more about Tom than I did Nicole. As I have posted before, Nicole was loosely based on my own life. Tom was someone I made up, but with that said, I found many men relating to his character.

Writing about Tom reminded me of many men that I met in life, middle-aged, content in their lives and marriages yet longing for something more.

Tom was not looking to have an affair. He loved his wife, Rose, and the life that they shared together for 23 years. When Tom meets Nicole, something very deep stirs within him. As he becomes friends with Nicole, he realizes how he is falling in love with her. Like most men, Tom keeps his feelings bottled up. He retreats to the woods and his camp to find clarity. Alone, he tries to fight his feelings for Nicole yet, he feels helpless as he has never felt happier. He can talk with Nicole in ways that he can’t with Rose. Married men have often commented to me that Tom is experiencing that same internal dialogue and struggle that they have experienced when they meet a woman who they share so much in common with emotionally and intellectually.

Playing underneath all of this, Tom is middle-aged, and while he is content in his marriage, he feels less attractive then he once was. He is starting to gray, his hair is thinning, and while he is tall, he is pudgy in the middle, yet all that changes with Nicole. He has a hard time believing that she even finds him attractive. After being married for so long, like many people, he stopped feeling attractive and sexy. It is easy for men and women to get into their roles of husbands, wives, and parents. It is easy to forget what it is like to be attractive to someone after all those years together with one person, especially as we age and our bodies shift. Tom doesn’t realize how much he misses those feelings until Nicole.

Tom also represents what it is like to fall in love at an older age. A pivotal moment in the novel comes when Tom says “falling in love at this age is much deeper”. I believe it is fairly easy to fall in love when we are in our 20s with our lives ahead of us. It is a different experience in our 40s or 50s (or beyond). After our looks have faded and our expectations for relationships have evolved, falling in love takes on an entirely different meaning.

I am reminded of the quote from The Velveteen Rabit about becoming REAL. It goes something like this…

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I believe the older we become, the more real we become, so as Tom points out, this means that falling in love with Nicole at 44 is much deeper than compared to how he felt when he first fell in love with Rose at 21, as more of his hair has been loved off.

Love and Loss

The hardest part about writing my novel was reliving my father’s death. I remember sitting at my kitchen table, it was winter, the snow was falling, and I thought about the actual day I first met with the funeral director. My father had died only months before I began writing my novel.

I used that as a starting point to create Nicole’s feeling after her father died. She felt like the only person in her life that had supported and understood her was her father. She felt guilty for not being more attentive to her father after she moved to New York and got involved with going to college and then off to working on Wall Street. Even then, her father supported her when she wanted to quit a promising business career, to go back to graduate school and teach. Her friends thought she should keep her job on Wall Street with financial potential, her sister always thought she should settle down because that is what she did, and Nicole’s boyfriend at the time thought she should try law school.

For Nicole, her father was the only person she really let in. It had been hard for her to emotionally connect with her sister, since they chose such different lives, and her friends did not always understand the choices she had made.

Nicole experienced a significant loss when her father died, being this rock in her life. The theme of loss runs through the novel as Tom struggles with the death of his daughter to leukemia. When we meet him, it has been six years since she had died. He still can’t bring himself to talk about her. He has a wall so deep that he can’t speak to his wife, Rose, about her death. Rose can’t bring herself to talk about their daughter and withdrawals from the marriage. As a psychologist, I see this is very common in couples. I wanted to write about tragedy that parents can face about losing a child and how this can impact the stability of a once happy marriage.

Tom is forced to finally deal with his loss and confront what he and Rose had been missing in their marriage since her death. This becomes a turning point, as it would be for any couple.

A Career Driven Woman

As I mentioned, The Eighth Wonder focused on how I came to be in Bradford after finishing my doctorate. Unlike Nicole, who graduated from NYU with her Ph.D. in Political Science, my doctorate was from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Clinical Psychology.

I felt the same struggles as Nicole. I was 30 years old and alone. It was not easy at first. I felt like a failure. Many of my friends from high school and college were married and many had children, while I did not have anyone. I had just broken up with a long-term boyfriend. I had marriage proposals. Like Nicole, at that time, I just couldn’t commit.

I also had student loan debt and I did not pick a career that was going to lead to big money. I gave up a business career to go into psychology. Again, like Nicole, at that time, I wondered if I did the right thing.

I look back now, several years later, I realize that I did do the right thing. The Eighth Wonder is more than a love story between Nicole and Tom. It is a journey that Nicole is forced to take when she questions why she had given up marriage and children, things that every woman should want. Triggered by her father’s illness, the one anchor in her life after her mother left the family, she senses how alone in the world she has become. She doesn’t have a husband to lean on nor does she want to feel that dependent upon anyone. We see her fears unravel the more she becomes close to Tom. It is the first time she has ever been that vulnerable with a man.

The story focuses on Nicole’s ambition to teach at an Ivy-League school, something I had thought about after I graduated with my doctorate. It wasn’t until I started teaching at a small college that I realized how much I loved it over any big university.  Tom helps Nicole analyze her own ambition. Being ambitious himself before his daughter died, he realized that there was more to life after her death. We see this in Tom from the beginning with his focus on the community and giving back. Nicole is too wrapped up in her own issues.

Ultimately, The Eighth Wonder is a story about self-discovery as Tom helps Nicole realize what is most important in life, and that life is not always about money, status, or prestige but it is about being content at where you are in life and who you are as a person.