Never Too Late is a series that tells the stories of people who decided to pursue their dreams on their own terms.
In 2015, nine months after her husband’s death, Phyllis Raphael, now 86, ran into Stan Leff, now 89. exiting Citarella, a grocery store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Stan remembered me from a party on Fire Island in 1974. He said I was on deck serving snacks. But I didn’t remember him, ”said Ms. Raphael, a writer from Brooklyn. “We knew each other peripherally and saw each other at parties, but never spoke to each other until that day.”
By then, everyone had been married twice. Both were widows. Mr Leff’s second wife had died ten years earlier, Ms Rafael’s second husband, who turned 24, died of amyloidosis is a rare disease.
“We started talking. Several nights later, he called and asked me out, ”she said. “He got my number from a mutual friend who thought our meeting was a good idea and told him to call him.”
This call turned into a get-together. Then there was a date. Then came the second and third. So the relationship has changed. Then the novel.
Six years later, the couple are still deeply committed to each other. Ms. Raphael said they spend several evenings and weekends together; Mr. Leff sleeps in his apartment in a stately pre-war building on the Upper West Side. A retired bookseller, he lives four blocks from home. They are not planning to get married at the moment. (The following interview with Ms. Raphael has been edited and abridged.)
What was life like after your husband’s death?
I was going to a support group at a NYC hospital that was filled with grief, which was fine with me at the time. I went to dinner parties, and there were always five single women and two men. I didn’t think I would ever go to Match.com. I was about to throw myself at the mercy of three children and friends. Stan changed everything.
How did the relationship start?
We watched Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck for our first meeting. I found it very attractive. I enjoyed sitting next to him in the movies. We went to have lunch at the Lime Leaf, which is no longer open. I offered to pay my share; he offered to pay the bill. It fixed something. Soon after, we started dating.
We went to plays, movies, dinners, and strolls in Riverside Park. I couldn’t understand what we were doing. We watched a movie at my house that November, and I thought the time had come. I put my head on his shoulder. This opened the door. He told me: “Winter is coming. It’s getting colder. I’m not going to go home at night. ” I understood what that meant. We became lovers that night.
Have you ever thought that you would have a different relationship?
I never dreamed that there would be someone else. I knew I would be single, but I wasn’t looking for a relationship. When I started dating Stan, I didn’t think it would turn into more than widowed neighbor friends. When this happened, I was so surprised. I thought this part of my life was over, but it didn’t. At my age, you think, “Okay, if this is what life will give me, I will accept it.” So I started dating him seriously.
A few years ago, I submitted an article to Tiny Love Stories about our relationship. I originally wrote this as an exercise, which is what I do when I try to write and can’t get started. I wanted to write something and Stan was important in my life. It is still there.
How is this relationship different from the one you had with your second husband?
This is a different love. I loved my husband. We had a very good marriage. Over time, I began to understand him better, but I do not believe that we were kindred spirits. Sometimes Stan comes closer. There is sex, affection and longing for each other. We care deeply about each other. My kids love him, and that means a lot. He is devoted to his children. I couldn’t love someone I didn’t love. This relationship works for both of us. I’m crazy about him. Not as before with my husband, but differently. When he walks through the door, I am very glad to see him. This is not euphoria. You can take a breath, but we will suffer without each other.
What makes this relationship work?
We are two people who have a really good time together. We grew up in the same era. We laugh at the same jokes. We both love music shows. We remember the same thing. He is my friend, but much more. Stan tops my emergency list. I trust him. He makes me feel safe. He is kind, reliable. We are good physically. I didn’t understand what love really is, but it’s pretty close.
What are your plans for the future?
Stan fits this time in my life. He calls me his girlfriend. I call him my boyfriend. We are more than friends; we are more than lovers. I do not want to get married. I don’t want to mess with what we have. What we have is really good.
What suggestions can you offer people who are stuck?
Do something new that you don’t usually do, or something that you didn’t plan to do, or something that you are passionate about. Take an acting, cooking class, or visit a museum. These things allow you to connect with other people that you haven’t usually met. It can make your life more lively. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Think about what you want to do and then ask someone if they want to do it with you. Don’t be afraid to let something happen.
Are there any wise words to share?
Don’t expect. I didn’t expect this to happen or that I would be with someone for six years. I thought there should be other women in his life, but he didn’t. When I was married, I had expectations. I have none of this here. You never know what’s around the corner. This mindset has made me happier.
Life is a gift; it expires. When you reach my age, you will start looking back at your life. I feel like there are opportunities that I have missed, but I have learned a lot. We all have an expiration date. It is best to use the gift while you have it.
We are looking for people who decide that it is never too late to switch, change their lives and make dreams come true. Should we talk to you or someone you know? Share your story here…