Aging is OK, given the alternative. But when my nine-year relationship ended about a year ago and I threw myself back into the dating world again, a thought crossed my mind from time to time — will I ever find love again? Not marriage or someone to live with necessarily, because I’m not sure I want that, just companionship … oh, OK, and passion and sex.
Let’s face it — as you slide into your sixth decade, there are some realities one must face. Illness, infirmity, death. I am entering the age of loss, and I am learning to accept that with grace.
So it was so wonderful to chat with Eve Pell, who, at age 67, fell head over heels in love with a widower 10 years her senior, whom she married when she was 71. Her Modern Love essay in the New York Times was not only one of the most-read in the decade the column has been running, but it also lead to her publishing a just-released book, Love, Again: The Wisdom of Unexpected Romance, in which she shares stories of other couples that found love late in life, too.
It’s not a message most of us hear about being older.
“People tell you that old age is dry and boring and your body falls apart and you start to forget things,” she told me, and those perceptions can be damaging. “Very few people tell you the good side of age.”
Much of that has to do with the ways older people are creating intimacy. What surprised her was how many older couples found more than just companionship, which is what most of us believe older people want in a partner. No, there’s a lot more going on, she says. “The intensity and the passion that people feel for each other, it’s way more than companionship. Companionship itself is beautiful, but there’s more.”
Like sex. Fifty-four percent of men and 31 percent of women over the age of 70 say they are still sexually active, and a third of those say they’re having sex at least twice a month (while I wouldn’t consider that “frequent,” that was enough for the survey-takers to deem it so).
But sex and passion aside, Eve and I talked about the hard realities of falling in love later in life. While we all know on some level that everyone we love is going to die, meaning that we will either be the one who goes first or the one who goes last in a romantic relationship and there may be a lot of caregiving involved, it usually isn’t at the top of our list of things to think about when we’re in our 20s and 30s, falling in love and perhaps getting hitched. Sure, we mumble “for better or worse, in sickness and in health,” but who really focuses on that? No one! Die? Yeah, yeah, yeah … some day.
But for older people who fall in love, you bet it’s not a “some day” kind of thing. It’s a “one day really soon” kind of thing.
“You know when you are getting together with this person, one of you is going to see the other die and you’re willing to deal with that,” Eve told me.
So then, why go there? Why put yourself into a position when caregiving and death are inevitable, and sooner than later? Oddly, there’s an upside. “The whole shadow of mortality gives an intensity and a bittersweetness to these late-in-life relationships that you don’t have when you’re younger,” she says.
Beyond that, when you reach a certain age in life, your relationships are different. By 50, 60, 70 or later, you’ve had a career, you’ve had the kids you’ve wanted or not, you’re settled into a place that feels like home, and you most likely have some financial security. Those are no longer daily necessary distractions. So now what?
“You have nothing left to do but love each other and be happy,” Eve says.
That’s what I would hope all couples might want to consider — loving each other and creating happiness together. For older people who have been there, done that, it’s easier. They are willing to consider different ways of being together, such as LAT (live alone together) relationships. Now, if only younger couples could do the same!
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