By Christina Cheakalos
April 22, 2002 12:00 PM

In July 1989, Ted Wentworth, a 50-year-old widower, attended a picnic in Westminster, Calif. “I scanned the crowd and thought, ‘I don’t know what she looks like, but my future wife is here,’ ” he recalls. ” ‘She’s going to have to show herself in some way.’ “Suddenly a woman wielding a giant water gun squirted him in the face. “I had never done anything like that before,” says Diana von Welanetz, then 48 and four months a widow. “It was totally out of character.”

Wentworth wrestled the weapon out of her hands and invited her to dinner. Another man might have shouted “Check, please!” when Von Welanetz told him that evening that she had brought the toy gun to the picnic because her late husband told her to. Another woman might have bolted when Wentworth described how he kept computer records on the 130 women he had dated since his wife’s death two years earlier. Instead, the two were so smitten they married that December.

Twelve blissful years later each has written a book to inspire and assist other bereaved, befuddled middle-aged daters. In his just published Build a Better Spouse Trap: A Street-Smart Dating Strategy for Men Who Have Lost a Love, Ted, now 63, offers tips on finding, assessing and keeping a potential mate. Examples: “Stay within your generation—no trophies!” and “Learn to fight fair.”

Diana’s 2001 book, Send Me Someone: A True Story of Love Here and Hereafter, is a meditation on marriage, remarriage and fate. Two weeks before her first husband, Paul von Welanetz, died of cancer, recalls Diana, he told her he didn’t want her to be alone. “Then send me someone,” she said. “I will,” he promised. The moment she met Ted, she sensed that vow had been fulfilled. “I still feel the love I had for Paul,” says Diana, 61, who also cowrote 1995’s Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook. But losing him, she adds, “brought me a beautiful new love. Death is a graduation, not an end.”

Until she married Paul, Diana had known little happiness. Her late father, Beverly Hills financier Eugene Webb Jr., suffered from bipolar disorder, and his drastic mood swings marred her youth. At 18, Diana says, she realized she had a special intuitive gift—while listening to a song by Elvis Presley, for example, she “knew” she would date him. Three months later she met the King in a Paris restaurant, and they went out four times. “He kissed me and sang ‘Fascination,’ she says. “From then on, I trusted my intuition.”

In 1962, two years after dropping out of UCLA, Diana was in Hong Kong with her father and mother, Marguerite (also deceased), when she spotted Paul, a salesman, in a hotel lobby and instantly understood that he was the one. They wed in ’63, had a daughter, Lexi—now 33 and a psychologist—and wrote a series of cookbooks together. In 1985 Paul and Diana created the Inside Edge, an Irvine, Calif.-based motivational organization. “When Paul died four years later, she says, “it was like a cloud had covered the sun.”

Ted, a trial lawyer, knew the feeling. Raised in Morristown, N.J., and Sacramento, Calif., by Theodore, a developer, and Alice, a homemaker (both deceased), he was devastated after his wife succumbed to breast cancer at 45 in 1987. He had met Sharon, a teacher, when they were neighbors in an apartment complex. Married in 1965, the couple had two daughters, Christy, 34, a lawyer, and Kathy, 32, a psychologist. After Sharon’s death, says Ted, “I had a huge love inside me, but for the first time in 22 years I had no one to give it to.”

Four months later he began dating. Methodically. After each rendezvous, Ted fed data into a software program he had designed. “I would, for example, enter the name of the date’s dog,” he says. “If you see each other a second time and you don’t remember the dog’s name, she’s going to think you’re not interested.”

Diana was still reeling from her own loss when she organized the picnic for members of the Inside Edge, one of whom invited Ted along. After six dates, Ted knew he wanted to marry Diana. But before asking for her hand he asked permission of her family. Says Lexi: “I was okay with it, because I saw how much he loved her.”

And how much her mother loved Ted. Whether at their spacious one-story house in Corona del Mar or on their 130-acre ranch in Temecula, they still act like newlyweds, cuddling, cooing and completing each other’s sentences. “Ted has taught me that life is a dance,” says Diana. “You just have to boogie.”

Christina Cheakalos

Vicki Sheff-Cahan in Temecula