Late Life Love

latelifeloveThe new movie “The Age of Love” by Stephen Loring explores the dating and romantic desires of singles over the age of 70 where a number of senior citizens are filmed giving speed dating a try. Many younger people will find it surprising and some even gross the idea of people of this age deliberately moving into the dating scene attempting to experience again the thrill of romance and perhaps mate selection. I find nothing surprising about this.

As I’ve written elsewhere I grew up in Bradenton, Florida where retired couples lived in large numbers and where remarriage of widows and widowers was an regular occurrence. My father was a minister and I would sometimes go to the weddings and join in the festivities. It was clear that the romance and the affection, to say nothing of the teasing and banter, between bride, groom and friends was essentially the same as I typically witnessed at the weddings of young people being married for the first time. I have never found it surprising that romantic love can be rekindled at any age. I have never found surprising that romantic love between a husband and wife could last for a lifetime. It clearly did with my parents.

I’ve also never found it offputting to realize that physical attraction and affection could be enjoyed among people decades beyond their prime in youthful beauty. Perhaps the older we get the less picky we are. Perhaps physical beauty as traditionally defined just becomes less important with each decade as deeper qualities become more valued. After all, aging doesn’t occur suddenly but is a process that takes decades, decades to allow for the gradual adaptation to change.

A point that I’ve frequently made is that dating is the American way of mate selection. It is seen as an individual’s right in America to choose one’s own dating partners. We are not an arranged marriage culture where permission of family members is required for dating and marriage. All young people cherish their individual rights to choose in this area without undue meddling from those around them. I have however frequently found that when senior citizens reenter the dating world their adult children have a real difficulty extending to their parents the same rights they claimed when they were teenagers and young adults. Many times it seems too challenging for the adult children to not intervene to block a budding romance of a widowed parent.

The practical reasons given for such concern are hardly surprising. By this time in life financial arrangements for retirement have long been established. There is a real fear on the part of the adult children that reckless financial decisions could be made by a parent under the influence of a new romantic partner. In more extreme cases there is even the fear for the physical safety of an aging parent in a new relationship.

Less practical but much more emotional reasons are often at the heart of the adult children’s opposition to a single parent dating. Even where one parent has been dead for some time the child could see it as an act of betrayal or unfaithfulness to the dead partner to seek love with another. Such dating could also awaken rather childlike feelings of having a mother or father’s affection taken away by a rival. There is also the fear of simply introducing a new complication to the already established extended family structure and patterns of interactions.

This is only a quick look at what can be a very complex phenomenon that most extended families will have to deal with at some point. These late life romances can frequently bring with them some real emotional and practical challenges. The more adult and rational all parties can be in discussing each one’s real concerns about these situations the greater likelihood that the extended family will simply become stronger and better meet the emotional needs of all. This is enormously more desired than using power plays, ultimatums, threats and withdrawal of love. The healthy way is to stay engaged, with everyone hearing and taking seriously the concerns of each other family member. No one has the right to dictate one adult to the other and should not try. Yet each is connected to the other frequently by decades of relationships that are precious and hopefully endure for a lifetime.