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The Social Media Page That Gave This Woman a New Life

It turns complete strangers into transformative friendships.

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“I’m too old to make new friends.”

Lisa Marcellino told herself that five years ago, and she believed it then, back when her trust and her life shattered.

Her husband of 34 years had been unfaithful. Lisa found out by chance, from a random text that popped up on his phone. For two weeks, she told no one about his betrayal. She didn’t even confront him. It was all she could do to just breathe and let the hard truth lodge somewhere between her stomach and her throat.

“I felt like someone was stepping on my chest,” she recalls now.

What would she do? Greg had been her college sweetheart, her best friend, her one-and-only lover. And here she was, 61 and single, scared and living in Cincinnati, where her home no longer felt like a home. Their daughter, Katie, was busy with her own life 300 miles away in Pittsburgh.

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Lisa Marcellino thought she was too old to make new friends in her 60s. But then she created the Kentuckiana Ethels, all members of The Ethel Circle, a closed Facebook group for older women. Seen here, Lisa greets guests as they arrive at their most recent gathering.
Rachel Waters

Lisa moved into an apartment and poured her energy into her job organizing student activities for a Catholic school. The big gala she orchestrated at the start of 2020 was a huge success, and that brought her acclaim and a glimmer of happiness.

“Everyone came up to me and told me, ‘You did such a great job.’ I loved that,” she says, noting that she took a personality test years ago called “What kind of bird are you?” — and the test revealed she’s a peacock. That means she’s got sass and pizzazz and loves to be where the action is.

“I love to be on stage,” she laughs, explaining how she’s a colorful old hippie at heart. “I proudly claim my peacock status.”

And then … along came the pandemic, bringing isolation and loneliness on top of “overwhelming” heartbreak.

Lisa feared her brilliant peacock personality might be dulled forever. “My feathers were withdrawn, for sure,” she says.

That’s when the sad cycle started in her head: “I’m too old to make new friends, I’m too old, I’m too old … I really had a pity party.”

Her daughter snapped her out of it: “You’re never too old!” Katie told her.

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The Kentuckiana Ethels gather at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens in Louisville, KY.
Rachel Waters

Lisa got a therapist and a pile of self-help books, and she read and read and started to heal. Then, she got the ultimate mood lifter: her first grandson, Gabriel, now 4, was born.

And then came a revelation: “I need to go home,” Lisa thought. Home, the place she’d grown up, Louisville, Kentucky, where she had family and a circle of lifelong friends.

“I asked my parents if it was OK if I stayed with them for a couple of months, and I soon realized my mom (Betty, 88) and my dad (Chuck, 90) needed me, especially at night,” she says. “I live with them now and help care for them. I’m sitting here in my childhood bedroom.”

Lisa redecorated her bedroom — with a peacock theme. And she started repopulating her plumes.

“One of my high school friends told me about The Ethel Circle,” Lisa says. “I joined and started reading. Here are women in the same position …navigating their golden years, finding themselves widowed or divorced.”

The peacock in her decided to do what she knew would make her happy: gather a flock. She asked local Ethels to lunch. Why not? The first attendee walked into the restaurant wearing a rainbow-colored caftan, and Lisa thought: “Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

The gatherings grew and grew. Last month, 21 “Kentuckiana Belles” showed up at Lisa’s lunch.

One woman told Lisa she had anxiety about going and almost didn’t come, but then she realized: “If I don’t go today, I may never go.” And Lisa assured her no one ever sits alone or feels alone at an Ethel lunch.

As she puts it: “Some are taking care of husbands, some have husbands who aren’t social, some have never been married, some have health issues. One is on dialysis, We all have something — good, bad or ugly. We’re not alone.”

Doesn’t matter if you’re a peacock, a dove, an owl or an eagle — everybody’s a spring chicken when Lisa throws a party.

The past year has reminded Lisa: “A happy life requires making your own fun.”

She turns 66 soon, and she’s now friends with her ex-husband. They have a second grandson, Adrian, who’s 2, and they spend holidays together as a family. She tends to her parents and works part-time at a nonprofit that helps students get tuition aid.

Life is not what she expected it would be 35 years ago, but it’s still good because she made it good.

“I don’t know if there will ever be a partner in my life again, but who knows?” Lisa says. “Maybe I’ll just grab some pals and some margaritas, and we’ll plop down in a king-size bed and watch TV and laugh all night. We won’t be alone.



“All these wonderful women I’ve met, we tell each other: ‘We’re all grown-ass women! We can do anything!’”

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Lisa Marcellino and her Kentuckiana Ethels recently toured the Waterfront Botanical Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky
Rachel Waters

Photographs by Rachel Waters

How have YOU made friends later in life? How have YOU found purpose? Let us know in the comments below. 

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