“The human heart, at whatever age, opens to the heart that opens in return…”
– Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849)
A few years ago the Bafta-nominated screenplay writer and novelist Deborah Moggach fell in love. The fact she was 62 (her new beau is also a writer of similar age) felt immaterial. What did feel important and continues to do so is how “teenaged” this new relationship has made her.
We often imagine that life ends at the nursing home door—that it is loveless and lonesome, with death suspended close by. We make this mistake when we refuse to see the need for love and intimacy even in the most incapacitated elderly. Our youth-centred culture equates love with sex. We are living in a time of significant demographic change. According to statistics from the UN, the population of older people has trebled since 1950 and is due to treble again within the next forty years or so. Given that thriving romantic relationships result in major benefits for physical and mental health, understanding the importance of successful romantic relationships and how they can be forged, established and maintained could have life-changing benefits for an elderly and aging population.
Love in old age is something that we rarely see around us. It is seen sparingly on television or in the movies, and many younger couples seem to even deny to themselves that it goes on at all. This is an unfair representation however as love in old age is just as valid as in youth, and if anything it is actually more important to find companionship as you get older.
Nevertheless, there are problems associated with mature dating that make it more complicated and less known or publicised. The first problem is that the amount of years we’ve been alive drastically increases the amount of baggage we are likely to have from previous relationships etc. If you are in old age and you do not have a partner, then chances are you are widowed or divorced, possibly with children or grandchildren and with all of the issues and complications that go with those things.
This means that you do not just date a person but their whole history and that can make things complicated. Similarly though you also have more trouble finding someone suitable for you as there are simply less people available on the market – and fewer places to meet them. At the same time your lack of energy and mobility is likely to mean that it is even harder to get out there and meet people, while you are also likely to have become accustomed to a certain routine that you are comfortable and happy with and unlikely to want to disrupt. It can then seem like a big upheaval to introduce someone new into your life, or to start going out more.
Additionally, as you get older your libido inevitably diminishes and you start to be less interesting in, and capable of, sex. This can take some of the passion out of a relationship but what’s left is the companionship and friendship that is far more important at this age.
These are reasons that mature dating is harder and less common. However they are not reasons that it can not or should not happen, and it is still very much possible to overcome or sidestep these obstacles. If you do then you can give yourself a new ‘lease of life’ and start enjoying your elder years. If you are staying single in memory of a previous partner then you should know that that is not what they would want for you, and that it is possible to have a bit of fun and companionship without ‘replacing’ the love of your life. Even if you are just ‘very good friends’ it will mean you have someone to look after to you and to go to see films with and eat out at restaurants with. And as you get older this will also mean you can look after each other thereby avoiding becoming a burden.
Once you meet someone that you are interested in then you can be as serious or otherwise as you like. All relationships do not necessarily have to end in marriage or involve sex. At this age you make the rules and if you set clear guidelines at the start then you can enjoy a relationship that will give you both what you need without getting too complicated. You might have been out of the game for a while, but it is never too late to get back and when you do you will see that the advantages radically prevail over the difficulties as you find a partner to share your life with.
Physical aging or getting old does not necessarily mean a decline in health or emotional wellbeing. Elders’ health can be drastically improved by exercise and research in cognitive neuroscience laso points out to the flexibility of the human brain to adapt. It is possible for the human mind to make connections throughout one’s lifespan, even though reflexes may deteriorate. TriBeCa Care’s professionals encourage their elderly clients to view the aging process as a productive phase and not one of decline and deterioration. Rather, to positively see it as a time of development.
Love has immense potential. It has the power to transform. It is a powerful energy in human development. As catalysts of change, TriBeCa Care’s social work professionals can harness and channel love’s power “to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people,” including older adults experiencing the delights and tortures of romantic involvement.