Looking for Love at 60

Documentary filmmaker Nili Tal turned her camera on herself, and some of her dates, too, when she began looking for love on the Internet.

Nili Tal
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Nili Tal

I made my decision quickly. For more than 10 years I'd been alone by choice, since the last man in my life, whom I loved very much and lived with for six years. Two years ago I decided that since I didn't want to grow old alone I'd better get a move on and look for a mate. On my computer I found a wonderful (in my opinion, that is ) photo of myself and posted it to my profile on every dating site possible. I deliberated for hours over the "Who am I?" section of the profile. The final version was: "I'm really funny (especially to myself ), a shrewd backgammon player and crazy about Clint Eastwood. Anyone who thinks he's suitable should respond."

Nili Tal, with two models. Credit: Yanai Yehiel

I waited all night at the computer, hoping for a mini e-mail, a text message or at least a "wink," but no one responded. I immediately came to an important conclusion: It doesn't matter what I write, it's the picture that counts. I put on a black miniskirt, undid the top two buttons of my white blouse and gave my cheap Canon camera a come-hither look while my friend took some pictures. The images were quite sensuous. Just what I was aiming for.

I put three on the dating sites. No more than two minutes later the flood began: 1,320 men between the ages of 20 and 80 responded. They all sent pictures and offered to meet for coffee, wine, dinner, a few even proposed marriage. I wasted no time. I rushed to a bridal shop at the north end of Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv and started trying on dresses. I told myself I had to be ready for anything so I also looked for pointy-toed shoes and dreamed about a wedding hairdo, with banana curls.

Of course, I'm not going to tell you about the sex just yet. (We'll see how I feel about it later. ) The lies are far from horrifying. Every single person looking for love on the Internet subtracts at least five years and at least five kilos from their vital statistics. Not so terrible, in my opinion, since everyone really does look a lot younger than my grandmother did at 60. As for the videotape, I bought a professional video camera with a wireless microphone and asked the men who contacted me if they would let me film our date - and other things, should they happen. Many refused. But out of the footage from those who agreed I created the documentary "Sixty and the City" ("Bat 60 Mehapeset Ahava" ), which will be broadcast on the Yes Docu satellite station on Monday and and is being screened every Saturday in July at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

My first surprising date (who unfortunately declined to be filmed ) was Ron, from Kfar Shmaryahu. Sixty, very attractive, very rich, after coronary bypass surgery. It was a winter night with rain and thunderstorms. He called and offered to take me in his SUV to the Netanya beach to see the jackals. Yes, jackals at the beach in Netanya. "I'll bring drinks," he said.

I stood in front of the closet for at least 30 minutes, trying to decide. In the end, I went with something formal: jeans and a T-shirt. Ron arrived in a black SUV. He was at least 10 centimeters shorter than I, but at our age who cares? We drove to the beach. It was nice. The atmosphere in the SUV was intimate. Outside, as promised, there were jackals, rummaging through the trash. "Where are the drinks?" I asked, and he pulled out a thermos of black coffee. What a miss. Had he brought a bottle of red wine, the evening in the SUV, at my advanced age, surrounded by jackals on the Netanya beach, might have ended differently.

Oh well. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The next day, Ron invited me to swim in his pool. On Saturday, he asked me to join him for a ride in his two-seat, motorized glider. Although I had nothing against Ron, the flood of responses turned my head a little. Some were from men in their forties and fifties. And so, while the 60-year-old Ron was soaring above Ga'ash, I decided to gently reject his advances.

Suddenly I felt just like Samantha Jones from "Sex and the City," who lusts after young, tight bodies. I even heard from a few guys in their twenties. To go by the photos on their profiles, each one is at least a David Beckham or Leonardo DiCaprio.

Danny, 25, wrote: "Hey, what's up? You're such a beautiful woman, you're really special, you look so good for your age, I'd guess you were at least 10 years younger, wow, simply gorgeous. I may be young but I realize that you older women are the most beautiful and sexiest women in the world! If you're interested, send me a message and we'll talk, it'll be fierce!!"

From Rani, also 25: "Hi Princess, good evening to you. I just wanted to say that you're so beautiful and sexy it hurts and you have an amazing smile and I would really love to meet you. So take a look, enjoy, and if you like I'd love for you to message me back. 'Til then, have a super night..."

I was stunned by the flood of responses. Long-dormant hormones stirred to life. Was I about to plunge into a series of wild sexual encounters with 20-somethings, or would I pause for a moment to think about what I really wanted? I paused for a moment and decided to set off headlong. What do I have to lose, I asked myself. I've known great love. I was married three times. I have two sons and five grandchildren. I'm a 60-year-old filmmaker with a stack of movies to her credit that have been broadcast on practically every television channel possible. I've been reading Haaretz for 40 years and I live in a house with a yard and I have a dog and a cat and I'm looking for love. What do I have to lose? Let's get on with it!

Edward Shadin, a 46-year-old Frenchman and simultaneous interpreter (French-English, English-French ), sent pictures of himself, his farm and his room. We corresponded and talked on Skype for several weeks, and when I told him I was coming to France to shoot a documentary, he invited me to visit, promising to wait for me at the train station. In my mind's eye I saw my train approaching the station; he is on the platform, our eyes meet. I made a firm decision: If the chemistry was right I'd stay with him and start raising geese.

The trip from Paris to Sauternes, in Bordeaux, took three and a half hours. I'd asked his permission to bring the video camera and he'd consented. Various scenarios ran through my mind: Of course I'll have to sleep there, and what if I'm not attracted to him? Should I say, "Do you have another bed here for me?" or "Where did you plan for me to sleep?" or "Huh? There's no other bed?" In the end, I didn't need to ask.

The train pulled into the station in the late afternoon, and Edward was waiting for me on the platform. We drove for an hour to his home. He lives in the roomy attic of a 16th-century farmhouse. He has a large space, like a loft, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Fragrant flowering vines surround the house. Below are a stable and a winding path that trails off into the distance. The next farm over is more than two kilometers away. Was I afraid? Nope.

Edward's mother lives on the main floor of the farmhouse. A fire blazed in her living-room fireplace. He told me she had been in charge of the film industry in one of the former French colonies in Africa.

Edward said he'd been on the dating sites for a while and had once flown to Miami to meet a 32-year-old single mother after a long period of Internet and Skype contact. "It was awful," he told me. "When we were corresponding she was terrific, but when I got there she was really rude to me and I was staying with her, it was terrible. So I decided I would never do that again."

"You know what I thought when I got here?" I asked Edward. "I thought, I'm going to someone I don't know, he lives in a small village and it could be dangerous. Maybe he'll hack me to pieces."

"I thought about that," he answered. "Not about hacking you into pieces, of course. But I thought, there's no way to know what will happen. Like what if I acted like a jerk and we had a fight and I refused to drive you to the station?"

In the morning, Edward drove me to the station, and I had to put away my dream of the goose farm.

The Internet made me bold. I'm sitting across from a man who is lonely and looking for someone, just like me. We are in pain together. Neither the men nor the women are finding anyone. I read in an article once that only nine percent of singles my age find a mate. I hope to be in that minority, but not at any price. Not at the price of my freedom and independence. I hear that mantra from many women my age.

My second filmed date was with Beber Atlan, from Eilat. He suggested we meet at his apartment, in the city's industrial zone. Sounded nice, better than coffee in a cafe yet again. Beber is 56, divorced and has three children. I packed my video camera and headed south. In the evening I got dressed up and took a taxi from my hotel.

Beber greeted me at the entrance to a public bomb shelter in a white tank top and jeans, studded leather belt and cowboy boots made of textured brown leather. When I saw him I knew that I wanted him. "Follow me," he said, and I followed him down the stairs. A model of a human skeleton hung on the wall. "Where are we going?" I asked, whispering for some reason. "You'll see in a moment," he replied.

Was I afraid? Nope.

We reached the basement of the shelter. In the center was a canopy bed with a leopard-print bedspread; lamps on the sides gave off a red light. Above the bed was a wall hanging with an image of a green-eyed woman in a burqa. On another wall were posters of his kids and photographs of him with the singer Enrico Macias.

Beber got a few cans of beer from the refrigerator. On a table with a red velvet cloth were bowls of nuts and sunflower seeds. Red velvet throws were strewn haphazardly on the couches. This bomb shelter was the sexiest place I'd ever seen.

Going on a date with a camera is like coming armed and ready for battle. A camera changes the nature of the date and is very hard to ignore. I must think about what I'm saying at all times while filming both of us. Usually I would put down the camera somewhere and go to sit next to "the intended." I had to stay close to "the intended" even if I wasn't too interested in him, in order to ensure that I'd be in the frame, too.

A few more basic conditions had to be met for all this bother to produce a successful result. For example, ideally the microphone would be clipped under the man's shirt. Under the tank top, in Beber's case. It's the sort of contact that always embarrasses me. "Here, just let me undo your belt. Take your shirt off for a moment. Just relax, I'll take it off for you. Now I'm slipping my hand under your shirt. I'll try not to touch you." Or, "Put in your hand and pull out the microphone. Good, I just have to clip it to the edge of your shirt so you can't see it. OK, now raise your head and let me attach it the right way. Now turn around, I need to find room in your pants for the transmitter and make sure that you can sit down comfortably. (The receiver is on the camera )."

And throughout all of this professional contact/non-contact, our connection is building. Hallelujah. Beber and I have a friendly singles' conversation, the camera sits in its spot and I'm free to drink the beer and taste the nuts.

Beber tells me that he's been divorced for more than 20 years and has been alone all this time. "I'm afraid of getting used to being lonely," he says. "I'm afraid to approach a woman. I don't know whether she's available, or married. I'm afraid. Maybe she has a boyfriend. So I don't approach. If she gives me a signal I'll come over. People think, what's going on here? But nothing's going on here. And every night I sleep alone.

"Every man and woman dreams about having cheap sex, but that doesn't bring me a real partner. If I find a woman, she'll be a queen. A queen. For example, I could come home from work and tell her, 'Yalla, sweetheart, pack a bag, we're taking a trip.' Where? To Tel Aviv, Turkey, Greece, Italy. If I'm happy I'll make her happy. I'm just waiting for her to come already. I've been alone for so many years. I'm afraid I'm getting used to it."

I had thought that loneliness wasn't a problem in Eilat. But it seems that while the female tourists come and go, there aren't a lot of single women living in the city. Beber tells me he was a nightclub singer in the 1970s and '80s, and he shows me his sound system. He put on some music, picked up a microphone and began singing a Hebrew version of a Julio Iglesias song: "I walk in the rain. Alone on the sidewalk sits a woman, umbrella in hand. I turn to her, suddenly it's just the two of us. This lovers' night in the rain. And when everyone is sleeping, we're alone there in the darkness, surrounded by the stars, without fear, like a pair of doves, just you and I in the world."

He sings and I film him, focusing on his hands, on the smoke from his cigarette, on the microphone he's holding, on the tight jeans, the white tank top. And then Beber surprises me: "Me, I only go for brunettes. Nothing else will do. Brunettes really turn me on." All that's left for me to do is to unclip the microphone, pack up the camera and consider dyeing my hair. But after Beber tells me that he wrote a song for Moran Atias, I realize that my blonde hair isn't the only obstacle; it's my age, too.

I continue dating but begin to weary of having to give the same presentation each time. Who am I, how long was I married for, what do I do for a living, how many children, am I a grandmother yet, where do I live. I don't have a choice. Usually I shower the man with questions, and he has a right to know something about me, too. This is getting tedious. I'm dreaming of the second date, when we've gotten past the stage of the same old questions. There were only two men with whom I had a second date, and a third.

One evening I found an e-mail from Mack in my inbox. "Hi sweetheart. It's me, Mack, from Atlanta, Georgia... Is your father a scientist? Yes or no? If he's not a scientist, then how did he make a gorgeous sex bomb like you?... Are you sure you're not a microwave oven? Because you made my heart melt... Love you... Bye."

The nicest thing about the dates with men my age was the excitement that came before, the preparations. For the most part the actual meeting was a disappointment that lasted a long time. And then I'd come home, sit down at the computer and come across a young man who promised loads of thrills: "I dream about an older woman," or "I had a 57-year-old woman a couple of months ago. Give it a try. What could happen? I'll thrill you. You should give me a chance." I hesitated at first but eventually gave myself permission and dated some young men. It felt like role reversal. The Internet allowed women like me to do what we had never dared before.

The first year I went out with about 50 men but didn't find love. Friends told me about this woman who found love on the Internet, and that woman who had an amazing man, and I had nothing. I decided to see my neighborhood plastic surgeon for Botox. I was told it paralyzes the forehead, smoothing out the horizontal creases and also, to some degree, the vertical ones between the eyebrows. Maybe a paralyzed forehead would do the trick.

I was injected. A week later my forehead was smooth as marble. But the paralysis didn't bring me the man I longed for. After three or four months, the wrinkles returned. I heard stories about women in New York giving Botox parties, and doctors who for $500 did the treatment in hair salons. In my "neighborhood" it cost NIS 3,500. After I'd already paid, my best friend said I should have done some market research first. Turns out her dentist gives Botox treatments for NIS 2,000, and the effects last five months. I decided not to rush off to her dentist. Maybe a veterinarian would do it for even less.

On my dates I discovered a bleak reality. Nearly all the men had left their homes to their exes and were living in small rented apartments. Some were in tiny studio apartments. "They're poor," explained Candy Hogan, an American divorcee I met on a seniors' cruise in the Mexican Riviera. "We're much better off than they are," she said.

My dream date turned out to be Gil Gilad, 56, from Tivon, a divorced father of three. He was looking for love just as much as I was. He told me he had been laid off and was job hunting, sending out dozens of resumes every day. "It's not ideal to be looking for love when you're newly unemployed," he told me on our first date.

As usual, I asked how many dates he had been on, and he told me about one of them: "I took a cooler and we went for a hike in the Galilee. We ate and drank and it was nice. Then we went to her house. All of a sudden I feel her undressing me, almost violently. I find myself in the role of rape victim. She was a judo instructor. I managed to escape from her and it made me realize that things have changed, that now you women can go ahead and do whatever you want."

Gil left but we remained friends.

In the past year I went out with 20 men, and today I love a man who is around my age. At this age we're both looking for the same things and the odds that we'll grow old together are looking pretty good. W

"Sixty and the City" will air on Yes Docu at 10 P.M. on Monday. It depicts Tal's unconventional, two-year quest for a mate, in Israel and abroad. Tal is a well-known producer and director of documentaries. She made "Ukraine Brides" for the Channel 2 franchise holder Reshet in 2000 and a sequel, "Ukraine Brides 8 Years Later," for Yes Docu (2009 ).

"The Girls from Brazil" (2006-07 ) depicts her journey to Brazil with four young Israelis searching for their birth mothers. "Till Death Do Us Part" (1998 ) is about the murder of Einav Rogel, on Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan. "Murder without a Motive," is about the killing of Asaf Steierman. In "Bruna," made for Keshet, another Channel 2 franchisee, Tal returned after 20 years to Bruna, who was adopted in Brazil by an Israeli couple as an infant and returned to her birth mother by the courts two years later.