I just had lunch with a woman I like very much. I see far too little of her and always look forward to our infrequent meetings. I told her that I was watching her carefully for clues on how to make love (and life) work after 50. The last I knew she had survived the end of one senior relationship and moved into another with a guy who came highly recommended by mutual friends, was just retiring from a good job, had kids and grandkids, was physically active and nice-looking and seemed to want to make a life with her.
When I told her she was my role model she rolled her eyes. She told me she had been with this great-seeming guy for three years and had sold her house in anticipation of moving in with him. As the date approached for that, he got cold feet and told her he needed more time and just wasn’t ready. My reaction would’ve been to scream a lot of hateful things and dump him, but she marched off and rented a place of her own and hung in there, thinking he was worth the trouble. As it turns out he was addicted to watching porn, which as she pointed out to me, would be a little awkward with your partner sitting next to you on the couch. Oy! She said they had been to couples therapy but he did not seem to be able to give it up.
This woman is beautiful, smart, funny and kind. She has already been through more bad life events than any one person deserves. She is resilient beyond all reason and as we kept talking it was clear that she had STILL not given up on love and she admitted she would likely start looking again as soon as she and porn guy finally moved irrevocably into the “just friends” category. She expressed relief at having not gone in with him on a vacation condo.
Although this is an extreme case, I have several other friends who have struggled to make romantic relationships work later in life. It makes me wonder if it is even possible. I understand that one of my very favorite writers, Anne Lamott, has found happiness in a relationship after decades on her own. I intend to investigate further to see how she’s done it. The truth is that we all have a TON of history at this stage of life and all those experiences and memories and times we were hurt/burned/disappointed rear their ugly little heads and swim to the surface when our new partner leaves a dish in the sink or a sock on the floor or speaks in a snarky tone or forgets to call for a couple days.
My poor sweetheart can barely make a move without reminding me of someone or something. I finally realized: I am 62 years old and have been married THREE times! It stands to reason that the poor guy is going to exhibit some characteristics of one of those men from my past every now and then. The trick is not to get triggered but instead to stay focused on all the traits that are uniquely his and make my heart sing. But even so, blending well-established lives is just plain hard work.
I know plenty of people my age, especially women, who have no interest in pairing up. They lead busy happy lives filled with work or fulfilling volunteer commitments, time with grandchildren, travel with friends, golf or tennis leagues and other hobbies like painting or writing, bridge or mah jong. They don’t want anybody in their space and certainly don’t want to be asked “What’s for dinner?” They may occasionally wish they had someone to hold hands with on a walk or at the movies or someone to escort them to weddings but those infrequent longings are not strong enough to make them seek a relationship.
And many older folks who are in good relationships choose not to marry or even co-habitate. As one friend said when I told her I was getting serious with John, “Nobody needs to move in with anybody!” She is a very cool person with a full life and a stable long term relationship with a man she does not live with. The economics alone make that hard for me to get my head around. Two mortgages or tax bills not to mention water and heat and electricity, just so you can each have your “own space”?
I am just old-fashioned enough to believe in marriage. I like the idea of saying “husband” or “wife”. It sounds committed and permanent. But it is also true that many relationships seem to be very happy right up until the point people say “I do.” I am certainly not privy to any Brangelina relationship details, but it did all crumble pretty soon after the wedding, right? I love the Joni Mitchell line from “My Old Man” that goes “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall keeping us tied and true”. But there are practical considerations like having the right to make decisions if somebody is hospitalized and …..ok I can’t think of any other reasons to get married right now, but it still seems like the right idea!
I think mostly I want to believe that something can still be permanent in a world where people don’t even RSVP to invitations for fear they may change their mind and not feel like going after all. We seem poised to forever be looking over the shoulder of the one we’re with to see if something shinier is there for the taking. We are terrified of settling. We are convinced we need to keep our options open. I don’t care. I know better than most that marriage is not necessarily forever. In fact, it is usually NOT forever. But I like the hope contained in the DESIRE to make a lasting commitment. I think it is like yoga class where they ask you to set an intention for your practice. You might not keep it, but at least you spent a moment focused on what you really want. Saying you want to spend the rest of your life as the committed partner of the person you love is a big step. I like grand gestures. They are hard and I have always liked doing hard things. Anybody can do easy things. Why not take a chance? As a man I was once married to said (like THAT narrows it down!!) “This is your life! There are no dress rehearsals.”
So, love after 50. Pro or con? Discuss with a bend towards hope. Because what else is there?