SOUTH PORTLAND — Susan Tan moved to Maine in 2018 for a fresh start after her 42-year marriage ended in divorce. A retired public school art teacher from Columbus, Ohio, she joined a social meet-up group to connect with locals and maybe make a love match. When that group dissolved amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the watercolor artist stepped outside her studio and painted a 100-foot-long mural of iconic Maine scenes on her stockade fence.
Conversations with neighbors and others who passed by helped Tan keep her wits about her. But she was still lonely. She tried online dating, only to find that dealing with ghosters, scammers and other disappointments of the digital mating scene was seriously challenging for someone who last dated in her 20s. “Moving to a new place, creating new relationships was hard,” said Tan, 73.
“But I did not like living alone and being isolated.” Fortunately, she has a daughter in Los Angeles who had some experience with modern dating and gave her the confidence to continue her search. Advertisement Megan Tan began recording phone calls with her mother in 2014. She had just moved from Ohio to Portland with a former boyfriend and she wanted to capture their open, supportive conversations for posterity, knowing that her mother wouldn’t always be there. “I record our conversations selfishly because she’s one of the wisest people I know,” she said. Tan, 32, is the award-winning creator of “Millennial,” an independent coming-of-age podcast she produced for PRX/Radiotopia from 2014 to 2017, when she was living in Maine.
She’s now a host and senior producer at NPR station LAist, where her credits include the podcast “WILD,” co-hosted by her fiance, Erick Galindo. Tan stepped up recording conversations with her mother in 2019, when Susan Tan left her apartment in Portland and bought a house in South Portland. “She was dating and I was dating, too,” Megan Tan said.
“But the last time she dated was four decades ago.” Tan was “embarrassingly familiar with dating,” she said, so she decided to become her mother’s dating coach and help her “find the love of her life before her life is over.” Advertisement Their candid coaching sessions are the basis of a new audiobook, “Now or Never: How to Find Love When Love Feels Impossible,” by Megan Tan.
The eight-part series, which launched Thursday on Audible, takes place in Maine and was gleaned from hundreds of recorded phone calls with her mother. “The mission of the show is to encourage anyone who has given up on love to keep going,” Megan Tan said. “And to specifically help those 65-plus maneuver in the online dating world.” Tan knew she would have plenty of territory to mine.
Gender roles have changed significantly in 40 years, and meeting people has gone virtual with the advent of dating apps. Tan also knew that if her mother wanted to find a partner, she would have to overcome her own discomfort and insecurities and put herself out there. Each episode tackles a different topic, such as creating a dating app profile, identifying scammers and finding love after loss. “My daughter was this amazing, wonderful cheerleader who helped me do something out of my comfort zone,” Susan Tan said. Throughout the series, men set her heart on fire, lie to her, don’t call her back and break her heart. Advertisement “He kissed me,” she says happily at one point.
“I felt like I was on cloud 9-9-9!” Later, crestfallen, she asks, “Why would a man who kissed you not call you right back?” And there’s frank talk about sex, including the first time Susan Tan tells her daughter she wants to find someone to cuddle with. “Sex and intimacy don’t diminish in importance as you age,” Susan Tan said.
“That’s one of the myths. Human connection and human touch are really important to living well and expanding your life.” Each episode features Megan Tan’s interviews with a different dating expert – except the last one. “My mother is the expert in the last episode,” she said. “She goes through a transformation of learning to love herself later in life.” Susan Tan describes that transformation as a necessary step toward finding romantic love.
In the end, she said, she stopped chasing it. That’s her advice to others. “Don’t give up on it, but don’t chase it,” she said. “It’s got to be the right time and the right place.” Send questions/comments to the editors. « Previous Next » filed under: