As my husband and I handed our coats over to the hostess at the restaurant we had chosen for our Valentine’s Day dinner, I scanned the lobby area, which featured a crackling fireplace facing a virtual wall of windows. I couldn’t help but imagine what the view must be like in the summer months at this hour–when, rather than our reflections gazing back at us against the backdrop of the night sky, we would have a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and rocky Maine coastline.
“We’ll have to come back later in the season, but before the tourists show up,” I murmured to my husband over my very hearty pour of a delightful Malbec. I felt I should speak quietly, as the room was lightly populated by several other older couples, and I wasn’t sure to which faction they belonged: locals, tourists, or, separate from tourists but not-to-be-confused with locals, the snowbird homeowners.
After we finished our drinks, the hostess brought us to our table–and as we followed her through the dining area, I noted that, like the fireplace room, we were surrounded by couples that were at least 10 years older than us. This is not notable in itself, as the population in this town runs on the elderly end of the scale; our average age of year-round residents far exceeds that of the national average, and this is a popular area to retire to, if you aren’t the snowbirding type.
Once seated, we gazed about, and as is our wont, quietly made up life stories and narratives for the couples surrounding us. This amused us until our appetizers and second round of drinks arrived–at which point we engaged in a more traditional and interactive conversation together.
An hour passed unnoticed, and when my husband left to use the facilities, I looked around. At some point during our dinner, the room had undergone a drastic turnover; all in the course of 60 minutes, the retiree set had gone home to their nightly rituals (“Past their bedtime,” my husband quipped upon his return), and the younger set had come out to play. We had now become one of the oldest couples in the room.
While most of these beautiful young diners appeared to be thirty-somethings, perhaps out for a night with a sitter at home for their young children, one couple in particular, at the table immediately to our left, ensnared my attention. They could be no older than 22; the waitress must have thought the same, as she asked each to show their ID. The young man had hipster, thick-framed glasses on, a long wool scarf, and a long, loose blazer (“Looks like he’s wearing a Harry Potter costume,” I whispered to my husband). His date was wearing a fluttery red satin blouse, black skinny jeans, and 5″ stiletto heels.
A sharp and bittersweet stab of nostalgia flooded my heart as I remembered many a Valentine’s Day from the days when my husband and I were dating–we had many of them, as we were high school sweethearts, and didn’t marry until a year after we graduated college. I recall rooting around in my closet for my fanciest outfit–which was hard to come by in the college years–and in those days (the 80’s), fancy=tacky. I have one favorite photo demonstrating this painful-to-recall era: my husband, in black pants, black shirt, white skinny leather tie and suspenders, and me–BIG hair, red satin jumpsuit, with wide black belt, shiny black pumps, and clunky, oversized black earrings and bracelets. We thought we looked FANTASTIC.
And as we sat, surreptitiously watching this young couple enjoy their evening, we couldn’t help but realize that, as we did the same all those years ago, there were undoubtedly older couples doing the very same thing as we were at that very moment, watching us with that bittersweet blend of amusement, nostalgia, and longing.
We paid the bill, and as we walked back through the dining room–filled with young, happy faces–to the coat room, we smiled at each other.
“It’s getting late,” I told him.
“Almost past our bedtime,” he added, helping me into my coat. “People our age really need a good night’s sleep, you know.”