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In a month dedicated to hearts and flowers (along with piles of snow), what better time to celebrate romance—the attraction and connection that brings two people together and, if they are lucky, lasts throughout their lives. Despite the common portrayal of youthful passion, no one is too old for romance. Nor is it ever too late to find lasting love. The desire for connection doesn’t have an expiration date. And as the American population skews older and older, more attention is finally being paid to the role of romantic love in the lives of senior citizens.
For those already in a long-term partnership or marriage, love is likely to be more fulfilling. Despite the ailments of age, older couples are often more satisfied with their lives and happier in their marriages than younger ones. Senior citizens also are often likely to be content with what (and who) they have, and more likely to view their spouses as loving, even when they disagree. Their love is more likely to be built on friendship, compromise and the security of having someone they can depend on to share their ups and downs. This isn’t to say that the fireworks of young love are completely abandoned. Older couples who engage in kissing, touching and other affectionate contact experience a higher quality of life, according to a United Kingdom study of almost 7,000 men and women aged 50 to 89. This is especially true for couples married 50 years or longer, who experience an uptick in their romantic activity, according to a U.S. study. Of course, health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, depression dementia and chronic pain may limit this. Older couples have many other ways of keeping the romance alive, of course. Those who have stayed together for decades generally are good at communicating, listening to each other, laughing together and sharing both the good times and the bad. They regularly demonstrate affection but also accept the challenges of aging. And they find new ways to enjoy life together, whether by taking up a new hobby or just going for an evening walk. GreenFields residents Judie and Bob Knott check all those boxes after 57 years of marriage. “We listen to each other and appreciate each other, and we communicate,” Judie says, adding “having a sense of humor is so important.” The couple also has adopted several ways to express their devotion. They write love notes to each other and pass a small, red glass heart ornament back and forth, hiding it for the other to find. “I’ll hide it in Judie’s sock or the toe of her shoe,” Bob said, while Judie has tucked it into his golf glove.
Residents Shirley and Cliff Mathewson also have their ways of keeping their love strong 70 years after they tied the knot. The secret is that they have remained best friends, Shirley says. “We take care of each other, and get along well.”
One important aspect of keeping love alive for the long haul is finding support when one partner needs a higher level of care. Rather than putting the entire responsibility for care on the healthy spouse, it is important to allow friends and family to help, or to even to make some lifestyle changes. This enables a husband and wife to fulfill the role of spouse and lover rather than functioning mainly as a “patient” or “caregiver.”
Sharing a loving bond over a lifetime—or choosing to live in a community that offers a range of activities, support and companionship, can prevent the loneliness many seniors face. Older people who live alone are particularly affected, with 60% feeling a lack of companionship and 41% feeling isolated, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Sadly, many elderly Americans have no choice in the matter if they have lost a spouse or partner. Some may feel they can never love again, while others may feel their age makes them too old for another romance. However, an increasing number of senior citizens are giving love another chance with the help of online dating services, mutual friends, group activities or senior communities and organizations.
Beginning a new romantic relationship late in life can have its challenges to be sure. Some elderly people enjoy their own space, have little tolerance for change, already live full lives and may be cautious about exploring a new partnership. Others may find their adult children uncomfortable or unsupportive with the idea of their parent dating or remarrying.
Yet, the numbers don’t lie: Millions of seniors are pursuing—and enjoying—late-in-life romances. They aided by the sure knowledge of who they are and what they want. And they aren’t as willing to compromise as they might have been when they were younger.
Today, it isn’t difficult to find a story about an 80-something who found true love, a nonagenarian who met her second husband in a senior community or a couple, aged 70 and 80, who held a joint 150th birthday party to announce their engagement. It truly never is to late to fall in love—or to keep a long-time love alive.