The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These singles refuse to settle, even in their 90s

Miriam and Harold on their blind date at Politics & Prose in Northwest Washington. (Courtesy of Politics & Prose)

“What did I do to deserve this?” Miriam Steiner asks. By “this” she means the flurry of attention over a photo of herself on a blind date. People go on blind dates all the time, right?

Maybe not when you’re in your 90s. Steiner is 93. Her date, Harold Sharlin, is 90.

Since the photo was posted Monday on the Facebook page of Politics & Prose (with the couple’s permission), the D.C. bookstore where Steiner and Sharlin met for lunch the day before, Steiner has gotten an unexpected introduction to the power of social media. She hasn’t seen the photo online — “I don’t even have cable!” she says. But since its appearance, her phone has been ringing relentlessly. When we spoke about her date, another call clicked in — a solar-panel salesperson she thought might have been CNN.

The saga began innocently enough: Last week, Steiner was out with friends at a Garrett Park, Md., restaurant when her server asked her whether she was single and might be interested in dating the server’s grandfather. “She was very ‘Oh, you’re just the one for him,’ ” Steiner tells me. She gave the server her phone number. The next morning, Sharlin contacted Steiner.

This wasn’t the first time that Sharlin had made a cold call. He has used online-dating services such as JDate and had several long-term relationships since his wife of 53 years died in 1998. “I had a happy marriage, ecstatically happy,” he said in a recent interview. “I’d just like to have a woman in my life.”

Sharlin made his pitch to Steiner while she was eating breakfast. She said yes without hesitation. “I thought: What have I got to lose?”

Steiner hasn’t been on a date since her husband died in 1999. The couple had been married for 54 years. Since his death, Steiner says: “I never wanted to date. I never thought to date.” As for love: “I’m 93. I’m not looking for the love of my life. I had him. He’s gone.”

And yet on Sunday, Steiner got dressed in a purple suit and a white blouse — “I don’t go anywhere like a slob. I always make myself look attractive” — and arranged for Metro Access to take her from her home in Silver Spring to the Northwest D.C. bookstore. (The location was Sharlin’s idea; he’s a regular at the store.) Steiner, who uses a walker, told the service to pick her up in three hours — a very hopeful plan.

When she arrived at the store, Steiner says, she saw an older man in the Den, the store’s cafe. But she wasn’t sure it was Sharlin because he was eating and they had planned to dine together.

“There was a mix-up,” Sharlin told me. “I thought I said meet at the cafe, but she went outside.” He may have arrived early — Sharlin says he wasn’t wearing a watch — so he decided to have a late breakfast while he waited.

Confused, Steiner went outside and sat on a bench in front of the store. Her daughter came by later to check in and had to show her mother that the lunching man was, in fact, her date.

Not an auspicious beginning, but Steiner said the rendezvous went smoothly enough. Sharlin concurs. “We talked a lot about family,” he told me, and about their interests. “I’m a conversationalist,” he says. Steiner, he told me, is “a funny lady. She’s outspoken. She talks loud. I think everyone around us could hear her.” Some people, he noted, commented about their walkers. Steiner insisted hers (she calls it her Cadillac) was nicer than his, Sharlin told me. But “mine is better than hers, I don’t care what she says!” he insists.

That, apparently, wasn’t the only thing they disagreed about. Sharlin, who has written several books and is the chief executive of a volunteer organization that brings scientists into schools, calls himself a political junkie. Steiner, he told me, had little interest in talking about his favorite subject. They both enjoy reading, though perhaps not the same books. Steiner is currently reading a book by romance novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford; Sharlin is reading “Why Homer Matters.”

After about an hour, Steiner suggested they go outside: “It was a beautiful day, so I said, ‘What are we doing stuck in here?’ ”

They went up Connecticut Avenue together, side by side in their walkers. After about half a block, the pair sat down at a table and chairs in front of a gas station on the corner. They talked some more. Steiner learned that Sharlin used to teach; she’s a former medical secretary who spent much of her life in the Bronx. Steiner says she chatted with passersby as she waited for her ride: “I’m a very popular girl.”

Steiner says she had a nice time, but don’t let that smile in the photo fool you. “It was nothing sensational,” she told me. Sharlin agreed: “We had a good time together, no question. But I’m satisfied with my life before I met her. I’m satisfied with my life after I met her. I think she feels the same way.”

Sharlin, who has a large extended family (three children, 10 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren) and is very active with his synagogue, has a pragmatic view of dating late in life: “When I got married, I thought it would be for the rest of my life.” The relationships since then have been more casual. “They wear out,” he said. “I don’t think I broke anyone’s heart, and I don’t think anyone broke mine.”

When it was time to part ways, Steiner said farewell and thank you — that was it. “He didn’t say boo, so I didn’t say boo,” she says. “He’s an intelligent man. But I’m not looking for anything like that.”

Not even companionship? “Reading is my companion,” she says. She takes a book with her pretty much everywhere. Also, she says, she has lots of friends and family (two daughters, two grandchildren) and in the summer swims every day. “I’m very happy with my life as it is. … I’m on my own. I do my own thing.”

Sharlin feels the same way, though he did jokingly ask whether we might include his number with this article.


The best spots in D.C. for dates 1, 2 and 3

When your widowed father finds someone new

Yes, I miss my husband. But I’m also discovering the pleasures of living alone.