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4 Things I Learned About Relationships from My Characters

By Shirley Goldberg February 28, 2021 Dating

When I started guest blogging for Sixty and Me, I had no clue two of my main characters would beg to join me. But Sunny Chanel (Middle Ageish) and Dana Narvana (Eat Your Heart Out) insisted.

Besides, I have a secret.

Too often, my inner voice is my characters from my novels arguing with me while I’m writing. This past week they schooled me about what makes relationships work.

“Dating in your fifties or sixties isn’t easy,” said Sunny.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Dana.

“If you mess up in life, you’ll mess up in your books,” Sunny said, wagging a finger at me.

Sunny, Dana, and I have a little relationship wisdom to share.

Give a Guy a Chance

“How soon do you know he’s the guy for you?” they challenged. “Or not?”

“You know right away,” I said. “All it takes is a meet.”

“It’s not that simple,” Sunny and Dana, together, yelled at me.

Such know-it-alls.

“Dismissing a man because he’s balding or talks too much or doesn’t talk enough because he’s nervous? You could miss out on someone worth knowing,” they moaned. “Give a guy a chance.”

“You could disregard your best buddy,” Dana said.

I get it. Beta guys get overlooked. Guys who’ve made a mistake deserve a second change. Good relationships take time to grow. Don’t ignore a pal because you’re too close to him. Instead open up to the possibilities.

Twisted Ideas About Online Dating

My characters pop up even when I’m having serious conversations with my friends.

“I don’t have the nerve to start online dating,” a friend complained while we were having lunch on Zoom the other day.

“We’ll help,” my characters said inside my head, jumping on their toes eagerly.

“I’ll help,” I said. I must have had a smirk on my face because my friend asked what credentials I carried for giving dating advice.

“Together, we have about 300 years of dating experience,” Sunny and Dana boasted.

“Oh, once I met six guys in one week.” I blinked, daring my friend to challenge this statement. (It was true.)

“Overbooking isn’t a good idea,” said Sunny.

“I agree.” Dana nudged Sunny with her elbow. “She forced you to meet four guys one weekend, didn’t she?”

I ignored the bickering in my head and told my friend about the dating contest between two of my characters in Middle Ageish. How they encouraged each other to never give up.

“Contest? Your characters?” She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed with her mouth open, sprouts landing on her desk like fairy dust. “Like that’s real life?”

“You forced us to do all that dating,” Sunny and Dana piped up in their own defense.

“That’s insulting,” said Sunny.

“She has her nerve, your friend,” said Dana.

“Yes, a contest to encourage each other,” I explained with my sister voice. “See who dated twenty-five guys first.”

“What were the rules?” My friend was curious.

“We had to spend forty minutes with the guy for it to count,” Sunny reminded me. I repeated this out loud so my friend would understand this was not a fly by night competition.

“That’s it?” She leaned closer to the camera and her eyes brightened. “So it’s a numbers game. I get it.”

“Yes,” I said. “Unfortunately, it is.”

“Tell her the loser takes the winner to Pepe’s for pizza,” prompted Sunny.

“Yeah.” I had a feeling my friend was getting into this contest thing. Inside my head Sunny and Dana were arguing, and I almost missed what my friend said next.

“My profile could use a spiffing up.”

Was this a hint?

My friend stood and adjusted the camera. “I’ll email my profile and you’ll pass it on to your characters? I need some clever, pithy remarks. To get hot guys to write me back.”

“Oh, I think your friend is winning this one. And we’re coming to Pepe’s with you,” Sunny and Dana whispered in my ear.

That Old Chemistry Thing

“Mistaking chemistry for the real thing is always a mistake,” chided Dana one day when I was walking on the treadmill minding my own business and listening to Diana Krall on my iPod.

“Yeah,” said Dana. “I kept filling in the blanks, hoping Freddy was into me.”

Freddy was based on a man I nicknamed Toxic Man. We dated sporadically, and when I say sporadically, I mean there were months-long gaps between dates. But Freddy was a back-burner man, meaning he kept me on the back burner, with phone calls and texts to boost his ego. Lucky for me, I gradually weaned myself off Freddy.

Since Dana didn’t want to make the same mistakes I made, she outfatuated herself and stopped answering her phone.

“My birthday is important,” she whispered to me, her eyes bright with a hurt defiance. “He didn’t want to do anything special on my birthday. Because I wasn’t special to him.”

Sunny gave Dana a hug, and so did I. In my head.

Know What You Want in a Man

“That dating contest with Dana helped me figure out what I wanted in a man,” said Sunny.

“You mean like if a man doesn’t go out of his way for you early in the relationship?” I said.

“Sure,” said Dana. “He’s showing his real self and that rarely changes.”

“It takes a lot of time to get to know someone,” said Sunny. “I pay attention to the little things.”

This conversation reminded me of my two dates with a real estate lawyer who loved opera. The second date was dinner at an upscale restaurant. Obviously, the guy was trying to impress me.

On the drive home, he had the opera station going on Sirius radio, and I, being one who loves a little after dinner rock and roll, asked if he could find the Elvis station. But Lawyer Man said he preferred opera and wouldn’t change it.

Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that makes you realize the man you’re trying on for the evening is not for you.

What Everyone Wants

As a writer, I read books from a different angle than most non-writers. I’m analyzing and overthinking as I read.

In the end, though, when it comes to relationships, I’m like everyone else. I want to spend my time with my special person, the guy who thinks – and shows – I’m special.

For more dating tips and stories, you can check out Shirley’s new book, Eat Your Heart Out.

Do you give a guy a chance if he isn’t your usual type? What does it take for a guy to ruin a relationship? Do you know what you want in a man? Are you looking for chemistry in your relationships, or is there something you find more important?

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The Author

Shirley Goldberg is the author of Middle Ageish and Eat Your Heart Out, both romantic women’s fiction with seasoned characters. Her website,, offers a humorous look at living single and dating in mid life. Shirley’s friends nag her to tell them which stories are true in her novels.

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