Client Spotlight: Carolyn Lee Arnold

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  1. Carolyn, please tell us a little about yourself, your background:

I drew upon my thirty years as a social science researcher and ten years as a relationship workshop assistant to create the dating project in my memoir, Fifty First Dates after Fifty. A native Californian from Los Angeles with a New England education, I found my true home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I prepared for dating and life by attending spiritual ceremonies, working in free clinics, leading women’s backpacking trips, hiking the local green hills, identifying as a lesbian-feminist in the 1970s and ’80s, and earning graduate degrees in women’s studies, statistics, and educational research. Fifty First Dates after Fifty is my first book. Still a feminist, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my partner, one of my fifty dates.

  1. Tell us about what inspired and led you to want to write a book(s):

I was inspired to write a book when I turned 60, after I had spent an enjoyable two and half years dating 50 men and found the right partner for me. I knew many women my age who were not enjoying dating, and I realized that my approach to dating had helped me avoid many of the dating pitfalls that older women often experience—settling with someone who is just OK, dropping out of dating because they get hurt once or twice, or not even starting because their list is so specific that no one matches it enough for a first date. So, I wanted to share what I had done—the process as well as the happy result —to inspire more women to enjoy dating and give them hope that they could find their perfect partner.

My approach to dating was this. At age 57, I was breaking up with a noncommittal boyfriend and wanted to find a long-term, committed partner. Since I had never been in a long-term relationship, and I was a researcher, I decided to make dating into a research project—I would date a variety of men to find out what would be the best type of man and relationship for me. I set a goal of going on 50 first dates, inspired by the movie, Fifty First Dates (hers had been with the same man, mine would be with 50 different men). The project succeeded in a way I had not predicted. Not only did I find the perfect guy for me, but I enjoyed dating during the several years the project took. I could have gone on for a long time! Dating still had its ups and downs—the ecstatic moments and the heartbreaks—but my goal of 50 dates pulled me forward and gave each date less weight, so I could appreciate each man and move on more easily when either of us decided we weren’t a match. It helped me avoid those dating pitfalls and identify the right partner for me.

  1. Can you tell us about your book Fifty First Dates After Fifty: A Memoir?

The book follows my dating journey during those two and a half years, from the break-up with my non-committal but beloved boyfriend, through the fifty dates, to the moment when I declare that my search is over and I have found my partner. There is also an epilogue ten years later, because we have been together for ten years, and it is still apparent why we are such good match for each other. I shaped the story to draw readers into my world and experience my journey with me as I tried to resolve my conflicting needs for independence, closeness, freedom, commitment, emotional and sexual intimacy, time together and time apart. I delve into twenty or so dates that contributed the most to moving me forward on this quest, although I mention all the dates at least briefly to give the reader the sense of what fifty dates felt like.

  1. What did you learn about yourself when writing the book?

From writing, I learned that I could do it! I could move from being a social science report-writer, to a writer of stories that people would want to read, if I just kept practicing. My first drafts sounded more research-y than story-like, but I improved by taking classes in creative nonfiction and memoir and getting guidance and feedback from talented teachers and classmates. It took ten years, but now I’m proud of what I’ve written. From reading what I had written, I learned that I was blessed with an optimistic, can-do attitude from my parents—a connection to them that I treasure, since I lost my dad in 1995 and my mom in 2017. I experienced my dating journey as enjoyable along the way, but after I wrote down the fifty dates and read the whole story, I realized that I had experienced a lot of rejection along the way. I hadn’t noticed it because both the structure of my dating project and the positive attitude I’d learned from my parents buffered me and carried me through to my perfect partner.

  1. What has been the most rewarding experience that you took away from writing your first book?

It is rewarding every time I read an excerpt from my book and someone, usually a woman but sometimes a man, says, “Oh I can so relate!” I have been doing readings from the book for the entire time I’ve been writing it, and seeing my stories delight and/or touch people—those are the moments I most enjoy as a writer, now as an author. It is so satisfying to know that I’ve created something that enhances my readers’ lives in some way, either as inspiration, recognition, or entertainment.

  1. What is your biggest challenge when writing and how do you overcome?

The first big challenge was to learn how to write a story that someone else would want to read, after decades of writing research reports. I had to learn to show not tell, and to use dialogue in scenes, but sparingly, to move the story forward. I overcame this by taking class after class in creative nonfiction and memoir, going to writing retreats and conferences that included classes with feedback, and exchanging writing with my new writing friends. Classes provided the discipline of deadlines and word count goals that kept me writing my book despite a full-time job and a busy life. Practice does make perfect, and classes force me to keep writing, so I still take classes to continue that learning and practicing. The other huge challenge was to learn how to portray the milieu I lived in, which was the Northern California counter culture world of personal growth workshops, spiritual ceremonies, and sex-positive communities, even though I could barely see it because it was the air I breathed. My classes taught me how to write with my five senses to draw readers into the scenes so they could experience them from my point of view. Some of my early reviewers say that I have been able to normalize that culture for people who are not in it, so I seem to have succeeded, at least for some people. Others have said it is all “a bit much” for them, so my book is not for everyone.

  1. Do you have any future books/writings planned?

Yes! I have a second memoir in the works. From 1975 to 1993, I identified as a lesbian. The story of my desire to be with women, my decision to declare myself a lesbian, my years in the exuberant Berkeley and San Francisco lesbian-feminist community of the 1970s and 80s, my decision to go back to men, and why that journey took 18 years, is the subject of that memoir. I wrote a first draft during the pandemic, and I will be turning back to it after Fifty First Dates after Fifty is successfully launched. My lesbian-feminist years were an important influence on my attitude towards men, and they play a role in Fifty First Dates after Fifty, but they needed their own book too.

  1. Is there anything else you think we should know?

My website is full of interesting information!

1) Adventures in Dating and Life Blog. I learned a lot about dating during my dating project, so I have started a blog to share dating tips and other inspirations. I invite you to sign up for it on my website to be notified of new blog posts and any book-related events.

2) Dating and relationship resources. I am not a dating coach, so on my website you can find dating resources— organizations, podcasts, coaches, and counselors—that provide support for people who are dating or in relationships.

3) Book info and colorful posts. There are descriptions of my book, including reviews, and links to my Facebook and Instagram pages, which are very colorful.

4) Links to order the book. See below.

  1. When is your book available?

It is coming out on November 2, 2021, published by She Writes Press, an award-winning independent press. It can be pre-ordered for delivery around that time.

  1. Where can the public purchase your book, Fifty First Dates After Fifty: A Memoir?

It is available wherever books are sold. I encourage everyone to order from their local independent bookstore, because it is those stores that are supporting books from independent presses and providing the diversity in the literary world. On my website I have a page with links to all the usual outlets, including Bookshop and Indiebooks, where you can look up the closest indie bookstore to you and order the book from them, either by mail or to pick up.

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